Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Slacking at the Grove Park Inn

A funny thing happened last December. After Thanksgiving we began some renovations on the main living area of our home which were supposed to be completed in 2 weeks, but ended up taking 9. (Guess how many people were surprised when I told them this? Approximately zero people. It would probably be smart for contractors to start factoring Murphy's Law into their timetable estimates.)

You would think that we would be angry or at least disappointed that our home was in such disarray at Christmas. In fact, it was the most relaxing, stress-free Christmas of my adult life. It turns out, not having a functional living space is the perfect excuse for being the ultimate Christmas slackers.

Sorry, kids, we can't have a tree this year, there's no where to put it!

No, we can't host any parties, we've got nowhere for people to hang!

Elf on the Shelf? All the exposed nails just make it too dangerous for him this year.

Send out Christmas cards? Nope. Can't. We have no mailbox.

AHEM. I may have gotten slightly carried away with all the Christmas slacking.

Consequently, our house was in sad shape. The stockings were anti-climatic.

Our tree left something to be desired.

The holiday aesthetic was lacking to say the least.

However, come January 1st, all I had to put away was some felt and 3 large socks. It was glorious.

Unfortunately, this year our house is in pristine condition. With the absence of precarious stepladders and menacing nails poking through the floors, I panicked at the thought of carrying out our usual holiday tradition: cramming in so much holiday bustle and sparkle and cheer that I end up a hysterical Christmas zombie who cries at cracked cheesecakes and yells things like "I swear, if you kids do not stop shaking those jingle bells YOU WILL BE GETTING NO PRESENTS!!"

So in an attempt to ride the wave of holiday slacking as long as acceptably possible, we we decided to delegate Thanksgiving. For years my mom has talked about spending Thanksgiving with the whole family in the mountains of Asheville, NC, particularly at the lovely, historical Grove Park Inn. This year we took her up on it.

Built in 1913, the resort sits nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The impressive stone structure was constructed in the popular Arts and Crafts style of the time, giving the inn a rustic mountain-lodge feel complemented by touches of artistic charm found in ornate carvings, stained-glass light fixtures and literary quotes impressed upon large stones throughout the resort. Or, as Cormac McCarthy described it in a novel "a cool room high in an old rough pile of rocks." Same same.

The Grove Park Inn was conceptualized by Edwin Riley Grove and was built with the fortune he amassed by selling a treatment for malaria called "Grove's Tastless Chill Tonic." The tonic was so popular it became a household name and sold more bottles than Coca-Cola in the 1890s.

We had a lovely, relaxing Thanksgiving this year and if anyone asks what I am thankful for I am going to say malaria.

Best marketing campaign ever. #fataspigs

We spent our three-day stay exploring the grounds, snacking at the Gingerbread Bar, keeping Elise out of mischief, frequenting the buffets, viewing the dozens of gingerbread houses on display and sipping hot chocolate on the terrace. And eating. Did I mention eating?

Since I was not performing the usual Thanksgiving tasks of basting a turkey or washing dishes or consoling the child who got the short end of the wishbone, I had time for other things. Like taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. As in, your finger may need a rest after all the scrolling you are about to do. 

Every November GPI hosts the National Gingerbread House Competition and the top ten entries in each division (adult, teen and child) are displayed around the hotel until the new year. Ironically, of all the displays, there were only a handful that were actually houses. This year the entries included a gingerbread peacock, a gingerbread choir and a gingerbread ice queen whom Elise insisted was Elsa from Frozen. Luckily, Elsa was located right by the elevator so we got to spend 10 minutes looking at her every time we left the room.

Gingerbread "Elsa"

The grand prize winner of the gingerbread house competition.
Probably got bonus points because it was an actual gingerbread house.

It was no surprise that of the dozens and dozens of themed trees throughout the resort, Henry's favorite was the "farm tree". Like Elsa, we also spent quite a bit of time around the farm tree, and Henry, in an attempt to recreate the magic of the Grove Park Inn, stuck all his animal toys in our Christmas tree when we got home. Elise has not yet attempted a gingerbread Elsa.

Along with the edible houses (and non-houses) the GPI put their own little spin on gingerbread by creating a magnificent hot chocolate bar constructed entirely of gingerbread and other confections. Naturally, cocoa and gingerbread people were available to purchase at the Gingerbread Bar which helped reinforce for my kids an important childhood truth: when Mommy says no, Grandpa says yes. 

It took an entire 30 seconds after arriving at the resort for me to exclaim "this is great! why doesn't everyone do this for Thanksgiving??" It turns out, everyone does do this for Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving day the inn was teeming with people of every age, from near and far, dressed in their holiday best. It was crowded, but the atmosphere was festive and jovial, like the scene in White Christmas, when all the soldiers arrive for the big show and there is dancing and singing and Bing and Rosemary Clooney smooch behind the tree. If we had only brought our feathered fans, my siblings and I could have done an inspiring rendition of "Sisters."

My mother and sisters are missing from this group photo. I think they got distracted by the gift shop.

Of course, it wasn't all magical cocoa moments and endless buffets and majestic mountain views. Actually, it was mostly those things. There was the occasional tantrum and every night Elise did crawl into my bed and lie across my face, but I realized that by removing myself from the role of holiday coordinator-of-all-things, I was actually able to relax and enjoy our time together.

Nonetheless, as soon as we got home there was baking to be done and presents to be wrapped and parties to attend. I'm sure you will be shocked to hear that I have a hard time taking things off my plate (both literally and figuratively). There's always a new recipe I want to try and just one more string of lights I want to hang and a color-coded gift spreadsheet I can't wait to type up. 

But I always overestimate the number of days in December, so by the time Christmas Eve rolls around I'm kicking myself for all the stupid, fun plans I've made because now I'm exhausted and if anyone is mean to me I am going to cry so hard at them. 

It seems the only way I can take things off my plate is if the plate is pried out of my type A, overachieving fingers. 

Still, there are some tasks that can't be negotiated and if mama doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. All the same, I need to find moments in this busy season to channel my inner slacker. I may not have a Gingerbread Bar, but by golly I can make some darn good hot chocolate and force the kids to watch White Christmas with me. 

And I suppose if that doesn't work I can always call my contractor. 

Merry Christmas, friends. The weary world rejoices on this day and I wish you peace, rest and a big mug of cocoa with the ones you love.