Honolulu, HI - President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spent Christmas Eve day during their tropical vacation much as they have in years past: On Tuesday, the President hit the links for golf, while Mrs. Obama fielded telephone calls from children dialing into the NORAD Tracks Santa program.
The evening was devoted to holiday activities with the First Family and friends, a White House official said, including Christmas Eve dinner.
After arriving on Oahu on Dec. 20, golf has been the centerpiece of the President's R&R time during his sixth Christmas visit in a row to his boyhood home. His Christmas Eve game, the third of the vacation, was at Marine Corps Base Hawaii with six friends and aides, including Let's Move! Executive Director Sam Kass.
A frequent golf companion, Kass joined the President for his first game on Saturday on the same links, the championship Kaneohe Klipper course, which offers dramatic views of the sea. The President, whose handicap has been estimated at 16, arrived with his entourage for his tournament at 12:11 PM.
Other partners for the eighteen holes under perfectly sunny skies included childhood friends Bobby Titcomb and Mike Ramos, aide Marvin Nicholson and former aide Reggie Love, and Chicago friend Eric Whitaker.
The party has played together many times before, and they did battle for five hours, departing shortly before 5:00 PM. As is standard White House practice, no scores were released. The press pool was held far from the action.
It was the President's second visit of the day to the Base, which is located close to his beachside rental compound in nearby Kailua: He arose early for a morning workout, spending more than an hour at the gym.
Other gym users told pool that the President stretched, lifted weights, shot some hoops, and greeted fellow gym patrons.
Kyrstin Lavelle, 10, of Toronto, was at the gym with her older brother and uncle, and got an autograph from the President, she afterwards told reporters.
"To Kyrstin Dream Big Deams," President Obama wrote in her autograph book.
The excited little girl also said she gave President Obama a flower, and he told her that he would give it to Mrs. Obama.
"I'm going to text my friends back home," Kyrstin said.
The President's second golf game of the vacation was on Dec. 23 at Mid Pacific Country Club in Lanikai. With an ongoing controversy about White House press corps photographers being denied access to fairly routine Presidential events filling the mediasphere before President Obama departed for his vacation, journalists were allowed to observe the action on one hole, where the photo at top was taken.
The President's two other games at the Base, including the game on Christmas Eve, were closed to press.
|A White House photo of Mrs. Obama fielding NORAD calls|
Meanwhile, back at the vacation home in the upscale town of Kailua, Mrs. Obama on Tuesday morning spent half an hour as a special field operator for the NORAD Tracks Santa line, making her fourth annual outing answering phone calls.
Wearing a bright blue tank top and a black sparkling headband, Mrs. Obama chatted with nine families with kids ranging from age three to age nine, from Kansas City to Ontario, Canada.
She briefed the kids on Santa's location and urged them to go to sleep so Father Christmas could finish his job. The special reindeer-and-sleigh satellite radar run by the North American Aerospace Defense Command showed that Santa was flying from Egypt to South Sudan, and then on to South Africa, Mrs. Obama said.
"I’m looking at the computer, and right now, as we speak, Santa and his sleigh are flying over Egypt. Can you imagine that? That’s all the way in another part of the world," Mrs. Obama told a little girl identified as Kileen.
"I see Santa, and his sleigh, and I see eight tiny reindeer, and I think I see one with a little red nose--that might be Rudolph."
Santa was "traveling at the speed of light," Mrs. Obama told the excited kids, and he'd already "delivered over 3 million presents."
Asked when Santa would visit Boston, Massachusetts, Mrs. Obama repeated advice she'd given to other kids.
"He darts all over the world, and he doesn’t come to your house until you guys are fast asleep, okay?" Mrs. Obama said. "So as soon as you close your eyes and go fast asleep, he’s going to come and deliver gifts to your house."
"Mrs. Obama started the calls at around 11:00am local time, and spoke to children for about 30 minutes," the White House said.
Mrs. Obama worked in concert with NORAD's live Operations Center, which "is occupied for 25 hours with more than 1,200 volunteers each year who receive hundreds of thousands of phone calls and emails from families around the world," the White House said. The tradition of the call center began in the late 1950's.
After President Obama returned home from his golf game shortly after 5:00 PM, the First Family spent Christmas Eve celebrating, according to a White House official, enjoying dinner with friends, followed by caroling and skits, an annual family tradition.
Before dinner, "the President made holiday telephone calls to US service members from each branch of the military stationed around the globe, including personnel who were wounded in an operation in South Sudan last weekend," a White House official said.
Four US service members were injured when their CV-22 Osprey was fired on as it attempted to land in Bor during a mission to evacuate Americans working in South Sudan as fighting in the area has intensified in the last month. The mission was aborted and the Pentagon reported the service members in stable condition after treatment, the statement said.
A laid-back vacation...
The vacation, scheduled for 17 days, has so far been laid back, with the President and Mrs. Obama venturing out for public events just once. On Sunday, they attended the Diamond Head Classic, a basketball tournament featuring the men's college hoops team coached by Mrs. Obama's brother Craig Robinson.
That was followed by dinner at Morimoto Waikiki, a Japanese restaurant owned by Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef fame.
There was White House news over weekend: The President's aides signed him up for a "bronze" level plan on Healthcare.gov, a spokesman said. It was a largely symbolic gesture to encourage Americans to sign up for coverage, since the President is covered by a military plan. Aides did the sign up because the President is a "special case."
The White House also extended the deadline for regular citizens to sign up on the troubled website in order to begin coverage by Jan. 1, 2014. The site is still throwing potential customers off after weeks of staff changes and supposed "glitch" fixes.
On Christmas Day, the President and Mrs. Obama are expected to visit the troops at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, as they have each year since he took office.
The President has no public events scheduled during the vacation, and is scheduled to return to Washington, DC, on Jan. 5, 2014.
CLICK HERE for the full transcript of Mrs. Obama's Santa tracker calls.
CLICK HERE for links to holiday posts and CLICK HERE for links to Hawaii posts.
*Photo by Getty/pool; photo of Mrs. Obama by Pete Souza/White House