The Stately Whalen Banner 2017!

On the rare occasions when I have written one of these Family Letters I have included some tongue-in-cheek embellishments or out right lies for the sake of entertainment.

However, so much has happened this year within our family that I am compelled to put it on paper succinctly without any fantasy-riddled suspensions of reality.

We knew this year would be full, fun and marked by once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Armed with some time-share points that were set to expire this year if we did not use them, LaDonna and I spent the first week of April in South Florida visiting Fort Lauderdale, Miami (I love me some Little Havana) and the Florida Keys. I went snorkeling in Key Largo and swam with a stingray and a sea turtle at the same time. We also enjoyed a scenic “day trip” from Fort Lauderdale to Key West in our rented Camaro convertible.

May found us in Las Vegas for a long weekend with LaDonna’s parents, her sister, Lori and our brother-in-law, Hank. We enjoyed the Cirque du Soleil show, “O” at the Bellagio. Amazing! Hank and I began to practice relaxation by sharing a glass of wine and a cigar on some of our family trips. Limited to designated smoking areas we have met some very interesting people. In Las Vegas some of the topics of discussion in which we engaged with new acquaintances cannot be shared in a family letter but suffice to say we learned some things that we really did not want to know regarding a strip club in Atlanta.

The highlight of the year was the June 3rd wedding of our daughter Lisette to Tom Frankton. The wedding was held on the MV Skansonia, a decommissioned 1930’s era ferryboat on Lake Union in Seattle. The Seattle skyline, including the iconic Space Needle, provided the backdrop for the ceremony. It was perfect! 13 members of Tom’s family traveled from England for the festivities as well as 18 friends and family members who traveled from California and Michigan.

Of course turnabout is fair play so the Frankton / Eeckelaers (Pronounced Éclairs) family hosted an October reception for the newlyweds in The United Kingdom. The reception provided an opportunity for friends and family members who were unable to travel to the U.S. in June to celebrate the nuptials. Tom’s mom, (Or is it ‘mum’?) Theresa is one of 12 siblings and so with aunts, uncles and cousins the party was an opportunity to actually experience “My Big Fat Greek British Wedding”. There were over 80 people in attendance, only three of whom were not related in some way. The marriage of Lisette and Tom is proving to be one of the great blessings of our lives. Not only are they a beautiful couple but also our new family has grown very close very quickly and we have developed a deep love and respect for our new family members “across the pond”.

In conjunction with our England trip LaDonna and I fulfilled a life-long dream by traveling to Italy before the celebration. The trip included a Mediterranean cruise with stops in Italy, Sicily, Malta, the Greek Isles and Athens. After that we spent a week visiting Rome, Florence and Venice. The fun was even greater because LaDonna’s parents as well as Lori and Hank also came. We were in Rome for my birthday and I enjoyed one of the best birthday celebrations ever including a mouth-watering pasta dinner at an al fresco restaurant called, “Dolce Vita” and being serenaded by a couple of street musicians singing an operatic rendition of “Happy Birthday” in English. (Thanks Hank) You can’t make this stuff up. While we were in Italy my sister, Gayle and brother-in-law, Larry visited Paris before joining us in England. One of LaDonna’s dear friends… well she is a dear friend of our entire family, Marlene also joined us in England traveling with our son, Will who was unable to join us for the Italian portion of our European adventure.

Speaking of Will, he is experiencing his own adventures. He has returned to school to prepare for a career in teaching. He is racing through the curriculum at, what seems to me, a neck-breaking pace. At this rate he may complete four years of school and student teaching in about two-and-a-half years. (This is our son who once managed to find an error in a math textbook. His answer on a test was marked incorrect because it differed from the one provided in the answer key. He was so certain that his work was correct that he revisited the problem and it was discovered that the publishers of the textbook had the incorrect solution in the answer key. It can be intimidating when one realizes that one’s children are smarter than the parents.)

Back to England where we enjoyed a few days in London before going to Rugby in the English midlands for the big wedding reception. That party was definitely the cherry on top of the sundae. We all laughed a lot, cried a little (tears of joy) and created lots of very special memories.

After all of the history, art and culture we experienced and the amazingly gracious warmth of the people of Italy and England; when asked what the highlight of the trip was for me I can honestly say that spending time meeting and getting reacquainted with our new friends and family members in England was arguably at the top.

Oh yeah, we have four animals living with us. Our two Shelties, Max and Roxy; Tom and Lisette’s Aussie-doodle, Pippa who considers every mammal to be her best friend and Will’s cat, Gizmo, the reigning Queen of the Casa who has no best friends, only subjects.

Here’s wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a blessed, joy-filled and happy 2018!

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