As I mentioned last November, Thanksgiving has always been the big family holiday at our house in Los Angeles. Dr McWaine’s relatives join us from around the country, and many of our closest friends drop by. Several days of fellowship and seemingly non-stop cooking culminate in a feast for between 25 and 30 guests.

Later today we’ll sit down to Thanksgiving dinner at the Residence with double that number of folks around the table. In addition to family who have made the trip from the United States, we’ve invited our Marines, Fulbright scholars, friends from the Fulbright office, and Embassy colleagues who are living solo here.

Bowls caption.

Visiting family Lena, Dora, Faye, and Gwen with Dr McWaine and our bocce tutor.

My in-laws started parachuting in about a week ago from California, Indiana, and Wisconsin. After a couple days of relaxing and exploring Lower Hutt, the family joined me for an outing into Wellington last Saturday to support my good friends at Special Olympics New Zealand (SONZ).

We drove to the Berhampore Bowling Club on Stanley Street for SONZ’s lower North Island regional bocce tournament. Six teams from Wellington, Manawatu, and Horowhenua competed vigorously, guided by several volunteer referees from ASB Bank.

Bowls.

An excellent bowl in progress.

We learned the rules, mingled with the players and coaches, chatted with my friends from the SONZ office, and tried to stay out of the way, particularly during the sausage sizzle hosted by ASB Bank. I learned long ago never to get between a hungry athlete and a sizzling sausage.

Bowls.

Watching a match up close.

As on prior visits, it was wonderful to see the athletes’ enthusiasm, skill, and camaraderie. I also very much enjoyed chatting again with my friend Mike Holdsworth, a Special Olympian who serves as one of the program’s ambassadors.

Bowls caption.

Visiting family Jason, Lena, Dora, and Faye cheer on the athletes.

A team from Manawatu won the tournament, with a Wellington team placing second. From what we observed and heard over the course of the morning, though, everyone was a winner.

Bowls caption.

Athletes discuss an artful bowl.

Among the many things for which I give thanks on Thanksgiving Day 2011 are the vision and humanity of those who decades ago founded the Special Olympics movement, as well as the dedication of the 800,000 volunteers around the world who so greatly enrich the lives of the almost 3.5 million children and adults who currently train and compete as Special Olympians.