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Sweet Christmas card made by our buddy, Caleb Jimenez.

Pictured left is a homemade Christmas card made by freedive student, Caleb Jimenez.  He even included the perfect number of weights on the bottom of the weight belt (silver squares at bottom of card).  Thanks Caleb!

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Merry Christmas Ren!

To preface this entry you must know that, until today, we have been docked in Big Pine Key at a friend’s house since December 14th.  Our longest dockage yet.  A great pair of family friends, Mr. Duncan and Mrs. Lee Dawkins gave us permission to dock at their home.  While there, for a week and a half we had access to their scooters, home, everything!  It was a wonderful reprieve from the boat, especially for Oreo who really relishes his “pee on everything” time.  Which doesn’t come often enough while traveling.  We will never be able to adequately thank the Dawkins for their hospitality.

The first Christmas ever spent away from my family was…you guessed it…this year, on Big Pine Key.  Well, I suppose the word family encompasses more than my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and brother these days.  Now that I have a husband, Oreo and in-laws there’s plenty of family to go around.  Tnis doesn’t absolve my nostalgia for missing the Futrals badly.  I’m not ashamed to admit, I cried.  Christmas in the Keys includes warm weather (no white Christmas this year) and no shopping (a plus on a fixed income).  Instead, Ren and I spent a good bit of time hunting the elusive, barely legal lobster in the bays surrounding Big Pine Key.  After exhausting all of our lobster hunting resources, we managed to surface with two lobsters the entire week and a half we were in the Keys.  Needless to say, the overflowing lobster Christmas Eve dinner I had planned was lobsterless.  This could’ve been a problem (until we realized it didn’t matter at all) since the entire menu I had planned really depended on lobster as the centerpiece.  What is it they say about eggs and one basket? 

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Christmas wouldn’t be the same without our travel friendly Charlie Brown tree.

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Good bud, Kolt Johnson and Ren during a Christmas visit.

We didn’t spend the holiday completely alone, the three of us.  The “Big Chapmans” came down for a four day excursion.  The “Big Chapmans” consist of my father-in-law and his wife.  Mr. Frank and Mrs. Paula added the family element to our tropical Christmas.  Despite the slow paced Key-sey (everything is a bit tackier in the Keys, read: Keys-ey) holiday, ours was not without a little bit of obligatory family tension.  All tension was dissolved the first night with a bit of rum, some Will Farrell re-runs and X-Factor (the popular Fox talent show).  Our buddy Kolt Johnson and his family also came down to Big Pine in search of the Christmas lobster.  Kolt has been abroad for several years now and catching up with him is becoming increasingly more difficult.  It was really great to have the opportunity to spend quality time with him.  We even got to go hunting together, which is what spurred the friendship to begin with.  Mr. Ken Johnson, Kolt’s Dad, took us all out hunting in his boat one afternoon.  We also had the chance to have a few “family” meals together.  The only thing missing was our other buddy, Bruce.  Bruce, Kolt, Ren and I have become pretty good buds over the years.  What makes better family than friends? 

It was a bit harder than usual to get into the Christmas spirit with the common Keys theme of kissing dolphins (ugh), tropical fish and pastel colored everything.  Sent with the in-laws by Mom was a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  We set the perfectly sad little tree up on the kitchen island and surrounded it with Christmas cards from family and friends.  Both of our mothers sent boxes of cookies with Mr. Frank and Mrs. Paula.  We received the cookies four days before Christmas and have managed to eat all but about five.  We have to save the last five because if we eat those, all of our worst thoughts about our lack of self-control will become reality.  We will have proved ourselves to be the gluttonous pigs we always thought we were.  Those five cookies will sit and get stale before they are ever chucked down the gullet.  We have to maintain control out here.  WE CAN’T LOSE CONTROL!  Sorry for yelling.  Also arriving with the Big Chapmans were bits and pieces of our lives left behind in our haste to get on the road…ahem…water, back in November.  Evolve Freediving t-shirts (for sale, email [email protected]), a few pieces of exercise equipment (made for me by Don Kimball, thanks Don!), two fresh blocks of parmesan cheese (my mother has Italian roots),  Italian bread, our mail, etc.  These were all welcome Christmas presents until last night when we had to load all of our new treasures into the boat.  Which we did, complaining the entire time.

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The “Big Chapmans” down for a visit!

To set the mood Christmas Eve, none other than Bing Crosby would do.  My favorite Christmas music memories are of Bing’s low voice echoing down my childhood home’s hallway as I raced to the steps near the kitchen with my brother, Corey, to peer across into the living room where our always grand Christmas tree shone bright with multi colored lights.  I was always grateful, and still am, at my Mom’s ability to avoid the themed Christmas tree.  No all white light trees or mauve bows on our tree.  It was every man for himself as we littered our trees with lights and  ornaments of every kind.  No comparison to the Charlie Brown tree of this year but the small tree proved to be enough for us and is nestled in one of our boat lockers waiting for next year.  Since there was no lobster on the menu, Mrs. Paula and I supplemented with collard greens sent by Ren’s Mom and Mudder (Grandmother), angel hair pasta with anchovie sauce (don’t worry Mr. Frank, no anchovies in your pasta) and eggplant and squash pate with crackers.  It was different from the usual hoopla of a huge Christmas Eve supper but DAMN, it would do.  It wasn’t half bad either.  We finished up the meal with chocolate roll sent by my Nannie.  I’ll go ahead and tell you, you’ve never had anything like it.  A little “It’s a Wonderful Life” and that was a wrap. 

The Big Chapmans left Christmas morning before we checked under the tree to see if Santa came to Big Pine Key.  We said our goodbyes, sent them off, then checked  the tree.  Santa came!  He left, tackily in a brown bag, a Spanish-English dictionary, a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt and a bar of Dr. Bronner’s “magical” peppermint soap.  Ren was happy since he really wanted the dictionary and loves Dr. Bronners and chocolate with sea salt.  Santa takes notes and always surprises!  The day was spent outfitting the boat for our next adventure.  We  cleaned and organized the boat for the next leg of the race, down to Key West.  Actually, this is being written en route to Key West.  We are exactly, hold on a second….”Ren!  Ren!  How far are we from Key West?  Huh?  What?   Ok, Ok!….Ren says we are 12 miles to our entrance.  Not too shabby.  We left Big Pine Key last night to catch the high tide.  We did not want  a repeat performance of our arrival into Big Pine, where we spent about 5 hours ran aground,  waiting for the tide to shift in our favor.  We safely exited the channel from the Dawkins’ into the bay at about 9:00 pm last night.  We camped in the bay and left at 7:00 am this morning (Captain’s orders) to continue on to Key West. 

First thing is first when we get there, dunk Oreo in the water…he’s hot, poor guy.  Second thing is second, or first maybe, dunk Ashley in the water…she’s hot, poor girl.