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Today we are wishing you all a very Happy Holidays from everyone at GISi! To celebrate this special time, we’d like to share with you some of our team's favorite holiday memories…

Paula - About 10 years ago, we went to Costa Rica for Christmas. For a couple of months we were collecting soccer shoes, jerseys, soccer balls and some of the clothes that my daughter outgrew. We had two duffle bags and a box to go with us on our trip. Once we explained to the airlines what we had, they were nice enough to waive some of the luggage fees. The plane arrived late so we landed in San Juan airport after everything was closed, including car rental. So instead of paying for a hotel to sleep for a few hours, we decided to wait with everyone else for things to open. Our daughter, who was six at the time, fell asleep on the surfbag, until morning. We picked up our car and was off to Playa Granda which was about a 5-hour drive. We arrived on the 23rd at our small hotel just a block away from the ocean. It was great to get to our destination and at the hotel we were staying, everyone was so nice and there was no bad karma at all. We started talking to some of the workers at the hotel and told them that what we brought. We gave the clothes that Maleia outgrew to the cooks in the kitchen. One lady just started crying. On Christmas one of the men brought a truck load of kids to our hotel. We were swarmed by I would say 20-25 kids, we handed out all the gear than started out handed out soccer balls. As we left we saw some of the kids in soccer jerseys from one of the local soccer clubs where I live. It reminds me now that this is a season of giving, and spending it with ones you love. Merry Christmas.

“Christmas, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas.” ~ Dale Evans Rogers

Judy - Ok so here’s my story…

We annually drove from Virginia to Jacksonville, Florida for Christmas when I was growing up (my mom grew up there and the whole family was still in northern Florida). We had a 1986 Ford pickup that my sister and I rode in the back of (with a topper of course) for the 10-11 hour trip, bundled in coats and blankets, but we had fun. The authorities today would lock my folks up if they saw that, but that is another story.

At any rate, this particular year must have been 1987 or 88 (so I was home from college on break) and we started the trek down south. It was cold threatening snow when we left. By the time we got to North Carolina, the snow was coming down hard. No biggie, Dad was a great snow driver. About the time we get to Florence SC, the accelerator cable breaks and we are using a pair of pliers to pull the cable to get fuel to the truck to keep moving us down the road. Still snowing. We get to a truck stop and the mechanic lets Dad use a bay to do some magic and patch the cable. Back on the road. Still snowing. It is 15 or so hours into the trip and we are in Georgia. We start pulling off at every viable exit to try and get a motel room, but as they say…no room at the inn. Somewhere around Brunswick, Georgia they closed I95 and we had to make our way into Jacksonville on old Highway 17. About 20 hours after starting out, we pull into my grandmother’s driveway. My sister and I have a name for that Christmas trip, but we don’t like to use hell and Christmas in the same sentence unless we are pressed to do so. We call it the “no room at the inn Christmas” in polite company.

Amy - One year Santa brought me a puppy that I had wanted for so long. He actually showed up on Christmas Eve-Eve and I cried because I was so happy! Penny was the best dog and Iived a long spoiled life. I was never able to get Santa’s true identity out of my parents, even though I asked well into my adult years my mom would never give it up. She passed away eight years ago, and her memorial service was on Christmas Eve-Eve. A big man with a rather round belly and long white beard came up to me at the service and asked if I remembered him…getting to hug and thank him was a truly special Christmas gift that year.

Merry Christmas!

Mike - Each year my parents buy us “kids” several Christmas ornaments as gifts from Santa. One year when I was in college and couldn’t make it home, my family sent a box of Christmas gifts. Included was a recordable Hallmark ornament of a mouse sitting on a Walkman (remember those?!) where my family gathered to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas!”. I delayed changing the batteries until a couple years ago for fear of losing the recording. Now nearly 20 years later, I had the joy of seeing my 2-year old daughter light up and exclaim “Grandma! Granddad!” when I played it for her as we decorated our tree a few weeks ago. That is my most cherished Christmas decoration. Each time I see it I get to remember past years with family and anticipate many more to come. I’m so thankful for my parents starting a tradition with us and look forward to continuing with my own children.

Denise - More and more frequently, the holidays (Christmas in particular) have become vastly about the experience versus the gifts. In 2011 my partner and I drove to a senior care center in the area, and volunteered a few hours on Christmas morning to pass along small gifts for folks who suffered from Alzheimer’s. We asked for no gifts for ourselves, but rather that our friends and family make donations to someone in need. Melanie and I (pre-Christmas) stopped at a general store and bought things like puzzles, word-finds and colorful pens for the clients of Chester Senior Center. That morning we sat and talked, listened, and gave a tiny bit of what we often cherish these days, time. Not all of the senior folks were alone, but many of them were just so overwhelmingly receptive of our presence, and that is just as beautiful to me as watching any child opening shiny toys on Christmas morning.

There is absolutely nothing I need for myself, but I don’t think I could ever live without wishing peace and love for those in my world. Cheers everyone.

Brian - My son Brian Jr. was born about a month premature, on Dec 19. So his first week was spent in a box in ICU. If you've never seen it before it is gut-wrenching. He was healthy and doing very well and so they allowed us to bring him home on Christmas eve. They warned us though, that due to his size, he was just barely able to maintain his own temperature and that his temp needs to be watched very carefully. He would get the shivers immediately after bathing and fastest way to warm him was to tuck him inside my shirt. I have a picture of him, poking his head out of my bathrobe with his big eyes looking all around, age maybe 10 days. He just turned 8.

Zac - My favorite Christmas memory probably is the time my brother and I (I was about 10) got go carts for Christmas. It was about 65 degrees that year on Christmas and we drove them in a circle around our yard, making a giant mud circular track around our hours. Mom was none too happy.

Tim - My favorite memory will take me back to when I was a child in Livonia Michigan. We got hit by a huge snow storm two days before Christmas that left us blanketed under about 3 feet of snow. The night before Christmas my dad took the hose and flooded the backyard and it froze that night. Worked all night to get the snow and water to mix just right and made an oval rink. He went out first thing in the morning with an iron and smoothed out any bumps in the ice. We had an ice rink in our back yard! Our Family and kids all over came to skate in our backyard. Coolest thing!

Jenn - I just have an amusing story. Like many little girls, I'd been asking my parents for a horse since I was old enough to talk. It's always been on the top of my list. So, the first year of college, I started working in my college's stable and I again started pleading that 'I want a horse for Christmas'. Well, that year, my parents withheld a few gifts for the end of the morning and told me they were really special. I opened them one at a time. The first was a new set of riding boots. The next was a practice helmet and the next was riding pants. I saw my parents smiling larger than normal and I asked 'Is there a theme to this? Did you actually get me a horse?' and they said 'Go look in the driveway'. I shrieked and went running...I could hear them laughing in the living room. And where I expected to see a trailer with a horse, there was nothing in the driveway. They had a good time making fun of me for the next several days. I wasn't mad, it was pretty funny, but I like to try to guilt them about it every now and then.

Dan - I grew up in New Jersey, in the 60’s and 70’s. My neighbor had carved out a field in his back yard that he flooded each winter to create an ice skating rink for the neighborhood kids.

I remember one Christmas Eve it must have snowed 18 inches and all of the neighborhood families came out to keep the ice shoveled off. We had a fire and hot chocolate going, the works. It felt like we were living in a Normal Rockwell painting. We ended up with 4 foot snow banks all around the rink which froze solid and lasted nearly the entire winter. It was just like a hockey rink.

Rachel - I grew up in a rather large family, with four wild and unruly younger brothers to be exact. I don't know how it was possible, but some years "Santa" would go a little nuts with the Christmas gifts. My brothers and I would wake up at the crack of dawn and divide our presents up into piles and try our best to make just enough noise to wake mom and dad up. One year we had a very full house with my grandfather, my aunt, and my uncle in town. As usual we waited for everyone to wake up so that the gift unwrapping frenzy could begin. After we settled down and had our fill of breakfast and candy, dad ordered us all to go outside. There before us stood a playhouse with real windows, flower boxes, the works. If you've ever seen Extreme Home Makeover, I can say that that moment felt kind of like the "big reveal" at the end of the show. We were so incredibly happy…and I'm pretty sure there is home video somewhere of us all in tears. Best Christmas ever for sure!

playhouse

Lea - My favorite Christmas morning surprise was waking up to find one of these bad boys under the tree for me! The glorious Yamaha Y-Zinger! I was so excited to finally be able to race around with my neighbors who had Mini bikes.

motorcycle

Gary - As Catholics in the deep south in the 50’s, most of our close friends were Italian. My favorite memories were of several families gathering at someone’s house after midnight Mass and having an early morning breakfast of fresh-cooked Italian sausage and bread.

Amanda - One of my favorite memories is baking at Christmas-time. My grandmother, my mom and aunts used to make lots of different kinds of “secret family recipe” Christmas cookies and chocolate chip buns that are ONLY ever made on Christmas morning for the ~35 family members that gathered at our family farm in Harrisburg, PA. My grandmother has since passed away and I’ve assumed that role of making her special cookies and chocolate chip buns. Yum!

TammyThis year I’ve had quite a bit of fun with these two goofy elves that arrive every year on Thanksgiving Day. Our two elves, Farrell and Jolie are “scouts” sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. We adopted Farrell in 2010 and he introduced us to his girlfriend (now wife…) Jolie in 2011. Each night the elves fly to the North Pole to ‘report in’ and then in the morning the elf returns to us – usually in a different location of the house. Our elves are quite mischievous and have taken it to a new level this year. So far our elves have:

Stayed up late to watch the live version of Sound of Music...

late

Built a marshmallow snowman, left us with magic seeds that we had to water for 3 days…turned into candy canes, measured themselves on our doorway growth chart...

marshmallow

Put on their own production of Yes, Virginia, made breakfast with my daughter’s Easy Bake oven...

breakfast

Mailed themselves to us from the North Pole with postage due, placed hundreds of Easter eggs in our front yard…

mailed

Nearly got eaten by family dog, painted a “We Love Elves” sign...

elves

Looking forward to seeing what else these guys have in store for us this year and the years to come…

doggie

Merry Christmas! See you next year!