12/26/2014 01:53 pm ET Updated Feb 25, 2015

Christmas in an Empty Nest

Christmas felt a little lonelier this year. It was the second holiday season without our daughters and although we had just spent Thanksgiving week with them in Hilton Head, we missed them terribly.

My Tuesday client invited us to his annual Christmas Eve open house. It was a lovely evening out by his beautiful pool with a full bar, tropical foliage and Christmas lights strung through the palm trees. If it weren't for the lights and the Christmas carols playing at the bar we never would have known it was Christmas. The air was thick and humid. Scattered showers occasionally sent everyone back into the air-conditioned house only to return to the pool minutes later when the rain stopped.

We slept late on Christmas morning, missing the days when the kids would come into our room before daylight shouting, "I think Santa Claus came. Can we go downstairs and check?"

My husband lit the fire. It was simple. He aimed the remote at the TV and there it was, a cozy fire on a breezy, cloudy Florida day. We made coffee, ham omelets and bacon. We weren't exchanging gifts this year because we're saving money for some trips we are planning. Time and experiences are more valuable than things at this stage of the game.

The girls called from Colorado where the snow is dumping and they've been skiing for days. After hanging up, we added Christmas in Colorado to our piggybank list of vacation plans.

By mid-afternoon, I felt restless. "Let's do something," I said, needing to get out of the lonely apartment. We decided to walk Delray Beach.

Families were everywhere, sunning and building Christmas trees from sand and seashells. Talking on cell phones making dinner reservations. Lounging by the Marriott pool.

"Hey, we've never been in that Marriott, let's check out the lobby," I said after our two mile walk along the shore with a brisk headwind slowing the return trip.

The lobby was jammed with well dressed generations of families. Santa Claus was working the bar.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" I asked.

"Bloody?" my husband asked.

"Yes, I could go for a Bloody Mary," I replied, making him think it was his idea.

Santa told us the bar wouldn't be open for another hour but the pool bar was serving. He must have thought we were guests at the hotel because when we reached the door to the pool area we were stopped by a sign warning, "Only registered guests allowed past this door."

Well, you knew that wasn't going to deter us. It made no sense, we were planning to spend money. We were just looking for a drink at the bar. We are platinum Marriott rewards members. We own a Marriott time share. We're part of the family and it's Christmas Day. Our nest is empty. Besides, this didn't even technically qualify as a pool crash. We didn't have swimsuits, we weren't planning to use the pool. So we ignored the sign, opened the door, and walked straight to the bar where we ordered pool drinks instead of Bloodys, white Sangria for me and a beer for my husband.

We talked about hotels we've stayed in, pools we've crashed, national parks we've visited, trips we are planning to take. We sent sunny pool photos to the girls, they sent snowy mountain photos in return. We ordered another round.

Back at home, we cooked a small standing rib roast. My husband made another one of his outstanding gravies. A friend of ours believes he was a French saucier in a former life, possibly at Versailles during the time of Marie Antoinette. I remind him of this and we return to our travel plans which currently include a backpacking trip through Europe. We add Versailles to the list.

As the roast rests and he finishes the sauce with a dash of sherry, I text my younger daughter the recipe for her grandmother's He Man chocolate chop cookies. She is making them for her friends in Vail.

It was exactly a year ago on our first Christmas without the girls that the first words of my third novel came to me. I had a vague idea what I wanted to write about but as Stephen King says in his essential book, On Writing, "The scariest moment is always just before you start."

It was another warm day. I was lying on the deck reading and drifting off towards a nap when the words formed in my mind. I saw the scene. I reached for my notebook and the scary part disappeared.

Christmas Eve the temperature reached eighty five degrees. The weatherman said it was due to the fact South Florida was dealing with a lot of sunshine. As if sunshine was something one had to deal with. Dozing on a lounge chair, a well-thumbed paperback, Stephen King's On Writing, rested on his chest and a glass of ginger ale sat on a small table by his side, beads of condensation making a ring on the already nicked and scarred teak. Melting ice cubes clinked against the glass, waking him from his hour long nap. Squinting from beneath his baseball cap, he stared down at the courtyard below, red and green Christmas lights curling and twinkling along deck railings, twisting up the trunks of palm trees, their fronds swaying in the warm breeze. Gazing down at them from his fourth floor deck they looked like longhaired boys tossing their floppy bangs off their foreheads. ~ from Sheila Blanchette's upcoming third novel

I had a vague idea where I was going from there. A year and ninety thousand five hundred twenty seven words later the book is finished and I have decided to stick with self-publishing. A recent Sam Jones interview with Jackson Browne convinced me it is better for the artist to own their own work. Publishing is going the way of music. Getting an agent and a publisher could delay publication for over a year. The book is ready. I think it's the best thing I've ever written. I'll be fifty eight in March. Over the past two years I've been building readership, Twitter followers, Facebook friends. My blog has a lot more readers than when I started this journey. I am staying the course.

We sold everything we owned and moved to Florida so I would have more time to write. I already have a fourth book in mind. The future looks bright. My family may not be together at Christmas but my daughters are independent young women chasing their own dreams and adventures.

I am looking forward to the year ahead and wondering where Christmas will find us next year. I hope your New Year is full of surprises and happy travels too.

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