Christmas greetings from the Parker Fergusons: Byron, Toni, Nolan, and Kyra.   Most years coming up with a theme for the Christmas newsletter is a challenge, but this year the theme jumps out at us and slaps us upside the face.  For the Fergusons, this is SENIOR YEAR! Mostly, of course, because Nolan and Kyra began their senior year of high school, but also because Byron turned 50 this year, and according to the AARP who rudely sent him an invite, he is now a senior, too.  Yippee.

As the year began, only one of the Fergusons was a senior, she who shall remain nameless, but her initials are Toni Ferguson.  Toni, older and wiser than all of us by at least a couple years, conspired with Byron’s sister Diane to mount one last great family vacation, figuring that by next year Nolan and Kyra would be off to college, off to work, and too busy for their folks.  As readers of previous editions of the newsletter will know, having a relative (Diane) who travels too much, acquires lots of frequent flier miles, and then is generous with them, is way better than having to travel for your own work.

Originally, Toni and Diane teased the family with the idea of a trip to Germany.  Nolan is quite the WWII buff, and the rest of the family are fans of.. beer, pretzels, polka, bratwursts, Der Wiener Schnitzels, BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, and Heidi Klum.  Ok, only Byron is a fan of that last one apparently. As soon as Toni heard the name Heidi Klum, she started petitioning the IOC for a change of venue, saying how much more educational it would be for everyone to see Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, or any number of other venues with British Royals.  Toni finally threw in the bonus incentive of seeing the play “Spamalot” and Byron relented his dream trip to Heidi, ahem, he means Germany. Besides, he heard Heidi has a flat in London now.

Toni spent most of January and February surfing the internet, obsessing over every detail of our March “spring-break” trip to London and Paris (because if we’re going to London, we might as well pop over to Paris, too’.)   It’s what she does. Fortunately the rest of the family was able to pull her away occasionally. Voodoo donuts opened a store in Denver in January, which got her attention. We ate a $76 donut there. Ok, turns out the donut was $1, but not renewing your license plate will get you a $75 ticket when parked outside.  It was good, but not $76 good. Toni warned Byron several times to renew his registration, so, trust us, she didn’t help him pay.

Finally, March was upon us, and Toni could finally initiate her travel plans.  Loading up the clan, the family traveled to London from Houston, TX, on the same plane as Byron’s sister Diane and her husband Rick.  Apparently not even Diane can spend too much time with Byron, because she upgraded their tickets to first class to get away from him. As Byron sat in front of a non-working entertainment system in a non-reclining seat trying his damndest to get comfortable, Diane and Rick reclined to nearly horizontal in their first class barcaloungers and promptly drifted off to a peaceful sleep.

Morning couldn’t come quick enough for the Fergusons from the back of the plane.  Eight hours later, attendants passed out miniature dollhouse tea-plate sized croissants to the

interlopers at the rear of the plane, while the smell of bacon, earl grey tea, and fresh exotic fruit wafted backwards from the privileged first class where presumably everyone speaks with a Downton Abbey accent.  Finally on the ground, Byron, Toni, Kyra, and Nolan were tired, smelly, and extremely hungry. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Diane and Rick strode rapidly through the concourse, as we struggled to keep up, passing one dining establishment after another, till finally Byron put his foot down and said, “Can we stop for a sec and get something to eat?”  Diane asked incredulously, “How can you eat? They fed us so much food I can barely move. The blintzes were amazing, the baked brie fantastic, and I’ve never had crepes that tasted so good. Ever. Really.” Byron just blinked, “We got a croissant. A very tiny croissant. Really tiny. I mean it. No butter, even.” Diane just laughed uproariously, but conceded to stopping briefly and watching the rest of us eat some prepackaged breakfast food from Commoners-R-Us or something like that.

The London visit was filled with traditional and untraditional sightseeing.  Traveling out from our London flat daily, the Fergusons + 2 took in several touristy attractions including the Tower of London, and the London Eye, and some less touristy attractions.  On one day, for instance, we traipsed over to Abbey Road to attempt taking our picture crossing the road in our one leg / one arm out position just like the Beatles on their Abbey Road album.  Making this slightly more complicated, is the hundreds of other tourists attempting the same thing without anyone coordinating whose turn it is, and that the road is a busy thoroughfare where drivers either don’t know that tourists will be darting out in front of them, or take perverse pleasure knowing and specifically take that road to mow down a few.  Ultimately, we weren’t entirely pleased with the final pose in our picture, but were pleased that we were still alive.

No such crowd of traffic or tourists was at one of our other stops, a deserted, slightly shifty, downtown alley featuring Speedy’s Cafe (closed on our initial visit.)  Only one other slightly off tourist could be seen taking their picture in front next to the pile of smelly trash bags. We were actually there to see the black door next to Speedy’s Cafe, a door which portends to be 221B Baker Street, or the home of Sherlock Holmes consulting detective, on the wildly popular BBC Sherlock.  Trust us when we tell you, you must watch it. The other tourist was apparently just a fan of Speedy’s Cafe.

Without a doubt, Toni’s favorite stop was a tour of Buckingham Palace. Toni got to sit on her Royal settee, drink champagne, and finally leave via the front entrance.  Since no one actually knew that she wasn’t a royal, Toni took this opportunity to wave (in that all fingers together cupped hand sort of way) to the commoners outside the gate (who’s in first class now!)  She’s convinced that at least some folks thought she WAS a royal. Kyra, not convinced, tried her best to look like she wasn’t with her mom.

Kyra’s favorite stop was the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter studio tour.  Kyra got to see the great hall, diagon alley, masks, props, and more Harry Potter paraphernalia.  As the tour group progressed, eagle-eyed Toni spied a worker refitting a bridge from the movie. Several rather large pieces of wood lay next to the worker.  Toni unabashedly approached and asked, “Can I have a piece of this wood?” The worker, with a look that clearly read, “uh, why would you want that,” instead said, “uh, sure.”  Toni, beaming, handed the broken, approximately 3’ long, won’t-fit-in-your-backpack-you’ll-have-to-carry-it, vampire stake shaped grey wood to Kyra. Kyra would only have been more embarrassed if Toni had ripped the wood off the bridge directly.  Toni remains convinced, however, that inside, Kyra is thrilled with her new “official” “movie prop”.

Nolan, Byron, and Rick toured the RAF museum, Duxford airfield, the Churchill war rooms, and their favorite, the HMS Belfast.  We’ll skip the details. Cool places. Not that funny.

Another highlight, was visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.  Truth is, it’s Sam Waterston’s recreation of the Globe. The real Globe burnt down, and the land was sold.  The facsimile Globe’s not bad for something built by an American. We got to tour the grounds and stand in the various parts of the theater.  Toni started moving for a hand hewed giant support beam with her swiss army key chain, obviously intent on getting a new souvenir. Kyra, now on to her mom’s evil plans, intercepted and laid down a stern, “MOM!”  International theater crisis averted.

After, the near theater crisis, The Fergusons decided to try some decidedly more modern theater experiences.  The Fergusons met up with friends the Feuerborns (who live a ways out of London) for some West End theater. Toni and Julie Feuerborn elected to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.  This is Toni’s 33rd viewing of Phantom of the Opera. Usually she sings along in the audience. Byron, Nolan, and Kyra, well aware of Toni’s singing proclivities elected to attend Spamalot with Dan and Colleen Feuerborn.  As great as both shows were, the entire group laughed more during their dinner at Champagne Charlie’s around the corner. Our waiter, who didn’t normally work as a waiter, or at that restaurant, kept us in stitches. In our private dining room, the young curly haired brit “surfer” cracked wise about this and that.  Honestly, if we could remember everything funny our waiter said, the Christmas newsletter would just be about that. Either because we are now seniors, or possibly because we’d been drinking, we find it hard to remember all the exact details. We do know everyone ordered British pub food; with the exception of Nolan who pretty much always orders burger and fries.  Our young waitered delivered our food, querying who had this, who had that, then saying as he got to the burger and fries, “well, I guess we know who got this one, young master Nolan.” We fully expected the waiter to break into songs from Oliver at that exact moment.

The Fergusons eventually left Diane and Rick in London for a few days in order to visit Paris.  Reservations for a specific time at the Eiffel tower had already been made. Getting to Paris later than expected, the Fergusons jumped in separate cabs- first to their rented apartment to drop off suitcases, and then quickly into a second, desperately trying to make a Eiffel Tower reservation.  Both drivers, obviously ex F1 drivers, zipped in and out of otherwise stopped traffic. The second driver had, obviously, never transported more than two- and definitely not in the front seat, as all his personal effects had to be moved, and the seat was as far forward as it would go in the micro-mini cab.  Byron endured the second half of their mad dash to the tower face pressed to the windscreen. The F1 drivers managed to shave a full ½ hour off the predicted travel time and the Fergusons arrived on time. It too, however, another ½ hour for Byron’s nose to return to straight.

In addition to the Eiffel tower, the Fergusons took in the Louvre, Musee d’Armee (where Napoleon’s Tomb is), and shopping, but most of our adventures were while eating.  We had a square thing with an egg in the middle claiming to be a crepe. Interesting. Later in Paris, Byron ordered a Andouillette w/ Sauce Mustarde, which he took to be Andouille sausage with a mustard sauce. The waiter did his very best using his broken english and pointing to his stomach to talk Byron off his pick, but once Byron figured out what he had ordered probably was intestines of some sort, he was not going to become that stupid American who didn’t know what he was ordering (even if he was,) and so ate them.  It must be pointed out that at least one blog writer referred to Andouillette as the “Dish of Death,” and remarked that not even Stephane Renaud, a great cook, could make these good. Byron remarked only that the sauce was good at least. Nolan had a hamburger and fries. Good call.

Traveling back to America, Byron’s sister Diane traveled coach with the rest of the family, only able to upgrade to bulkhead seating.  A well placed $20 assured that first class was “filled.” She ate tiny chicken and tiny croissants with the rest of us. Toni waved goodbye out the window with her newly acquired “royal wave.”

Back in America, life continued relatively normally through August.  In August, Byron, Kyra, and Nolan all became Seniors- just in different ways.  Byron had a birthday and turned 50. “Jumping Jehosaphat,” exclaimed Byron when he received his AARP invitation.  Initially fuming, Byron slowly warmed to being a senior as he saw all the discounts he could get with an AARP invitation.  In honor of Toni’s uncle Don, Byron now wears a baseball cap that says, “Where’s My Senior Discount” whenever they go out. Toni just sighs and tells servers, “Ignore him.  He just turned 50.” “Ah,” they say, nodding in understanding agreement.

Nolan and Kyra, also became seniors, by starting their senior year of high school.  Both continued to drag their feet in in getting their driver licenses. Finally fed up with taxi duty, Toni scheduled driver’s test for both kids.  Kyra went first, and passed. Kyra reported that her testing instructor was none too happy, however, with her father’s “start your turn at the intersection” instructions.  Byron stands corrected. Fortunately, Byron started teaching Kyra how to drive before he turned 50. He now drives around town with a perpetual left turn signal doing about 22 mph.  

Nolan passed his driver’s test shortly after Kyra.  Now the two can drive themselves to school, krav classes, scientology centers, dates, and parties (listed in order of our concern.)  In honor of both children passing their driving tests- The Fergusons bought a brand new car.. for dad. Dad’s ten year old Toyota Echo is now shared transportation for the twins.  The Echo is relatively slow, relatively beat up, will not impress anyone, and is barely capable of climbing the hill to high school; all benefits in Byron and Toni’s minds. That said, it also gets 40 miles to the gallon, and if the two were to only drive it to high school would not require refueling until 2020, which is probably the only benefit Kyra and Nolan would agree with.

Also of not this year is how desperately Byron is trying to prove he’s not 50, now that he actually is.  He’s suddenly uber concerned with his fitness, walks a lot, and has even “run” several 5ks, including one with Nolan.  At the shared 5k, Byron told Nolan not to wait. Nolan said, “Don’t worry I won’t.” Byron ran a record ( for him ) 13:30 mile, which is only slightly better than walking.  Nolan blew past him in about the first 50 feet finishing the 3 miles with about 9 minute miles. As Byron huffed up to the finish, Nolan sat waiting and said, “what took you so long?”  Byron muttered something about whippersnappers under his breath, and limped back to the car, where he may have pulled a hamstring crossing the parking lot.

Late in the year, both Nolan and Kyra acquired…. wait for it…  jobs! Byron and Toni are so excited for both kids to experience the “excitement” of real world employment.  Kyra, now working at a Subway restaurant, brought home her first paycheck of around $70 and wanted to know what the heck the eleven dollars of deductions were for.  Both parents could only smile and say, “Welcome to America!” Nolan, still waiting for his first check, helps with daycare for kindergartners, first graders, and second graders, for two hours a day.  After only a few days of this, Nolan declared, “I hate kids. Why do they have to cheat?” Byron and Toni find this extremely funny for some reason, even though we don’t know the answer. We’re pretty sure Nolan may delay having any of his own children for a good long time though.  If he doesn’t- they’ll probably be little cheaters. Just sayin’.

In May next year, Memorial Day weekend, Nolan and Kyra will graduate high school.  We’re planning on having a big bash here at the house that weekend. Mark your calendars.  We’ll send out more official notices as we get closer, but will be inviting all of you to come.  We’re hoping to get a bouncy house, and, maybe, a pony. They may be seniors, but we’ll always think of them as our little kids.  We’re sure many of you remember them little too. We keep hugging them and trying to keep them close.

We hope this holiday finds you all well.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.