Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Charleston Retreat--for ladies only!

Is anyone else experiencing a state of mild melancholy that comes from reentry into Real Life after a 3-day holiday weekend? If so, I'm with ya. This one is particularly hard to take, since I spent the time in Charleston with a fabulous group of girlfriends that I don't get to see very often, reconnecting, catching up, and having an absolute blast. These are women that I was matched up with by the local Moms' Club in my old hometown, to form a playgroup when Derek was 5 months old. We bonded over the trials, learning opportunities, and joys of new parenthood--sharing, commiserating, supporting, celebrating...and So. Much. Laughing. Even though our kids grew apart as they entered school, and several of us have moved away, we keep in touch as best we can and get together whenever possible.

So, about a year ago one of our tribe contacted the rest of us and proposed a radical idea: since our oldest "babies" are turning 18 and graduating from High School this year, we should plan a trip to commemorate these important milestones (and help each other through the potential emotional trauma). Amazingly, 6 of the original 8 members were able to commit to the endeavor, and with a whole bunch of logistical hocus-pocus, a destination was selected, lodgings were secured, meals and provisions were detailed, activities were discussed, travel arrangements were made...and the hypothetical "Hey, we should do this" turned into "Yay, we're going!"

Thus on Friday I found myself all packed and ready to hit the road, with showtunes queued up to make the 4 1/2-ish hour drive hopefully pass smoothly and quickly. It must have worked, because the only obstacle I encountered was some rain, which didn't slow me down much. And then suddenly came the big reunion...our Atlanta lady having already met up with our Wisconsin traveler, and the 2 of them joining forces to retrieve the Maryland crowd at the airport, then returning to our rented house, where I, the North Carolina contingent of one, was waiting to greet them all. As you can imagine, it was one EPIC group hug!

And from there, the fun, festivities, and frivolity commenced with a vengeance. We'd decided to have our first dinner at a place I'd recommended from when Team WestEnders visited Charleston last year for a soccer tournament. The menu at the Brown Dog Deli once again came through--managing to satisfy the wildly varying dietary needs and palates amongst our gang. Later that evening as we hung out at our lodgings, someone had the brilliant idea to FaceTime one of the amigas who hadn't been able to come with us, which resulted in 90 minutes of hilarious video chatting as we passed the phone around, or switched spots in front of the screen to alternate telling stories, to get her all up-to-date on current events, so at least she wouldn't miss out on that aspect of our getaway.

The next morning we virtuously ventured out into the neighborhood for a walk, to converse and explore and stretch our legs...oh, and FREEZE. It turned out that South Carolina was undergoing the same frigid weather that gripped much of the rest of the East Coast, unfortunately. Add to that a stiff wind off the water, and you end up with downright uncomfortable be endured by admittedly somewhat under-dressed adventurers. (Suffice it to say that we had chosen our apparel...optimistically...which didn't work out so great. Oh well, the fingers eventually thawed, I'm happy to report...) After surviving our early constitutional, we figured we'd earned ourselves a delicious we navigated across the Intracoastal Waterway to nearby Sullivan's Island, where we dined at an eatery that--to be honest--we chose for its title: The Obstinate Daughter (named for the area's refusal to back down from an attack by British troops attempting to gain control of Charleston during the Revolutionary War).

After a delightful nosh (fried polenta--I was unaware of such yumminess!), we strolled away some of the calories on the beach--it might have been chilly, but we couldn't resist the siren call of the sand and surf, you know? Once our communing with Mother Ocean was complete, we headed back to home base for a little bit of downtime....before our next eating engagement. For the evening chow, we opted for a small restaurant in our neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant, amusingly called Graze. Once again, we were treated to mouthwatering dishes--we were beginning to understand why Charleston has earned the reputation of a "foodie destination" in recent years! (Salad with fried bits of sweet potato, cashews, cranberries, and a curry vinaigrette...seriously? Sooooo awesome..) With full bellies, we chose what seemed like a perfect way to finish the night: crash on the sofas next to a roaring fire, and watch a chick flick. (Crazy, Stupid Love...because "Ryan Gosling"...need I say more? I thought not...)

We'd saved our foray into the city itself for Sunday, so we meandered to a little joint known as Hominy Grill, for their highly regarded brunch offerings. and approximately a million other folks with the same idea, resulting in an estimated hour-plus wait for a table (since it's not a large dining room by any means, either). We huddled in the fresh air courtyard with the other mobs of shivering people, until one of our party noticed that there was a window one could walk up to and order a drink. Alrighty, then! The menu mentioned Mexican coffee, which I'm familiar with as java with added cinnamon, cocoa, and chili powder. Sounded perfect for warming my hands and my insides, so I promptly requested one. The barista handed it over and brightly said, "That'll be 9 dollars!"

I'm sorry, WHAT? How is that possible? Is this concocted from an exceptionally rare and special vintage of...bean? While all of this was running through my head, I paid her, then turned to my squad and shared the outrage. One of them--clearly so much savvier than I am--immediately and logically asked, "Is their alcohol in it?" Ohhhhhh...I stopped ranting long enough to bring the cup closer to my nose...where the fumes almost bowled me over. Yep, that explained it...and as strong as it smelled, I'd be sipping that beverage for quite a long time, thankyouverymuch!

Fortunately, the hiatus proved to be well worth it, as we all agreed that this might have been the best meal we had during our mini-vacation I mean, the quintessential southern grits, made with butter and milk and cheese--which is heavenly enough--and then topped with roasted mushrooms and a leek cream sauce? It was almost ridiculously stupendous. Oh, and our waiter was precious--charming and funny and full of cute anecdotes and quips. Definitely a highlight...

Aaaannnd then we kept to our traditional post-feast agenda, and hit the pavement for some exercise, and people-watching, and window-shopping (or in some cases, actual purchasing...which also counts toward your activity for the day, right?). In one of the adorable boutiques on King Street, a clerk made small talk with us while we browsed, inquiring as to where we were from (hold on--you mean we don't sound like we're natives? Let me work on my drawl....) and what brought us to town. We explained our girls' getaway, and as she nodded in agreement, she commented, "Oh, I understand! Sometimes you need a little...y'all time!" Oh. My. Goodness. That might be my new most favorite phrase in the universe...which I will now use as often as humanly possible--consider yourself warned!

Finally, having tourist-ed the heck out of downtown Charleston, we took our frosty selves back to HQ, to relax and enjoy our one big homemade dinner of the weekend. (We even ate at the dining room table, using real plates and silverware, and everything! So fancy...) After the cooking and consuming and cleaning up, we had time for one last film-by-the-fireplace, before we had to begin facing the reality that our time together was almost at an end.

In fact, Monday morning arrived much too quickly, leaving us to tidy up, re-stuff our suitcases, do the obligatory search into every nook and cranny to make sure no one forgot anything, and most of all, continue talking..about everything and stall for as long as possible before bidding each other farewell. There was sadness, to be sure, since there's no telling when we'll be able to repeat this kind of extravaganza. But we made 3 days' worth of new, amazing memories to add to our collective history: more giggles, more sagas, more to be nostalgic about, until our next excursion. When we're ready for another Mom playdate, I'll just have to teach the Male Posse the concept of Y'ALL TIME, and we'll be good to go, right? Ha! Counting down...

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Little Snow Business

One week of 2018 has come and gone, and I've gotta say, it was...kind of a weird one around here. I mean, it started out exactly as expected, with everyone chilling on New Year's both the literal AND metaphorical sense of the word. You see, the Arctic Blast that we'd experienced during our time in Maryland--and that we desperately hoped had moved Canada, perhaps (no offense to our friendly Northern's just that you guys are used to dealing with this sort of nonsense, right?)--was, in fact, just getting started, and blanketing the entire region in frigid, arid, windy conditions. Um....yaaaayyy? (NOT!) Of course, this didn't bother the Male Posse, who simply used it as an excuse to sink deeper into the sofas and watch televised sporting events.

Okay, I guess I can get behind that...but then things took another strange turn, when we received an email from the school system announcing that the return to classes the following morning would be delayed by 2 hours. While the students in our household couldn't have been more thrilled (or amused), my own reaction ran more along the lines of...indignation. "Why is this happening? You can't go to school on time....because it's CHILLY? This is not...Buffalo...people!" 

Now, I've been chastised by locals about this--they point out that the real issue is that the administrators are concerned about the buses not being able to start up, after a long, cold hiatus. Well, guess what? It's a heck of a lot frostier in many other parts of the country, yet somehow THEY manage to throw on some extra layers of clothing, crank the vehicles to life, and keep things rolling along on schedule. I'm just sayin'... (On the other hand, if people needed a couple more snooze cycles on the first day back, that's a different story...and entirely understandable!)

Right...where was I? Oh yeah: January 3rd...a completely ordinary day! Whoo hoo! Except...while I was at work, our building's management company sent a message that they were closing at allow their employees to get home light of the forecast. I'm sorry, the WHAT, now? So I checked, and the 4-letter "Winter s-word" was indeed mentioned, which is enough to cause the immediate commencement of emergency preparedness-type activities...commonly known as the "Bread/Milk/Toilet Paper Phenomenon". (If you've ever lived in the Mid-Atlantic, you know what I'm talking about, yeah?)

While I did make plans to hit the grocery store for a couple of things we were running low on (not the aforementioned items, but fresh fruit and salad ingredients), we otherwise adopted our usual "wait and see" attitude with regards to potential weather drama. Riley and I (separately) even went for a run; although it was only around 30 degrees, this was projected to be the warmest temperature for the entire week. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision, since later that evening, when I ventured out to the supermarket, the first tiny flakes had begun to flutter from the sky. And when I carried my bags out to the Subaru after no more than 20 minutes inside...the parking lot already boasted a thin white covering on the asphalt, as well as all of the cars.

For several hours it precipitated fairly fast and furiously, resulting in maybe 1/2 inch of accumulation--before abruptly ceasing. Aaaannnnd schools were promptly closed for the following day. (Siiiighhhh...) When Riley came in to say goodnight, I told him to enjoy his free Thursday. He thanked me automatically before his face registered confusion and he said, " get to stay home too, right?" Um, that would be a "no", buddy--as long as the roads are decent, I'll be heading out. Because this happened to be actual snow, for once, rather than the ice we usually have to try to manage, both our steep driveway and the streets were navigable, as long as one chose a prudent speed, and exercised all due caution (made even easier by the fact that I was the ONLY person even attempting to drive to the office...everyone else having opted to remain home and connect it didn't matter what time I arrived!).

The kids made the most of their unexpected leisure time by playing outside--apparently, neither football nor soccer were hampered by the light dusting of frozen stuff on the ground. Then the notification came in that school was canceled again on Friday. Ay yi yi. When informed of the news, Riley shook his head ruefully and commented, "I was hoping that wouldn't happen. I reeeeallly need to get back into a routine." (Yep, "my child" all the way...) However, Derek had a different take, "I'm looking forward to using the time to get ahead on my assignments--not just catch up and be current, but actually go past where I need to be." (That's so awesome, I might cry! But hold on just a minute...who are you, and what have you done with my son? You know what, never can stay!)

Besides that, after a couple of bonus days off, the teenagers were kind of over it...mostly because of the continued sub-zero temperatures and uncharacteristic gales that made being outside for extended periods of time unpleasant, to say the least. Not to mention the fact that, in order to make up the lost instruction time, they'll be at their desks, plugging away on President's Day (sorry, George and Abe), which is surely going to make February a b...ear of a month.

Well, it's still only early January, so there's may be plenty more opportunities for...meteorological disruption...before Spring is blessedly upon us. For now, though, it seems we may be coming out of our deep freeze, with the thermometer predicted to climb into the 40s...or even 50s....every day for the next week. MUCH better than the 4 I saw this morning when I got up! So whattya say we top off our anti-freeze, crank the heat in those buses, bundle up, and get 2018 back on track, y'all!

Friday, January 5, 2018

So long, 2017!

We bid hasta luego to Maryland on New Year’s Eve, and began to make our way homeward--knowing from experience that the southbound trek always tends to be fraught with (traffic) peril. Husband took the first driving shift, and as the Captain, if you will, he made the Executive Decision to…sneak up on Virginia. This meant that we took a roundabout route into our nemesis-state, completely bypassing the hell that is known as “Fredericksburg”, and coming out on the other side of the inevitable, 24-7 backup on Interstate 95. Whoo hoo!

It did take a bit longer, but the time was spent moving, rather than sitting in gridlock, so it was a good trade-off. It also afforded me a captive audience, to address a burning issue that was on my mind. Imagine the reactions from unsuspecting 3 males when I—without warning, mind you--led off with the following: “Okay, since we’re all here, there’s something I want to talk to everyone about.”

This was greeted with deafening silence, augmented by a palpable sense of “Uh oh,  THIS can’t be good!” and classic “deer in the headlights” expressions on each of their faces. Absolutely priceless, I tell ya. (But then I took pity and let them off the hook by admitting I needed them to help me choose a vacation destination for the upcoming Summer. I’d estimate that the tension level in the vehicle plummeted about 80 notches…but the smart-aleck factor increased by at least that much, as they began throwing out ridiculous options. On second thought, maybe I’ll just leave them in Chapel Hill, and run away somewhere by myself…)

Anyway, we arrived back at Casa WestEnders without incident, to spend NYE in various ways. Husband and I intended to relax, maybe watch on TV as the iconic ball dropped in Times Square (from the much-preferable warmth and comfort of our cozy Living Room, of course), and generally keep it low-key. When I queried Derek about his plans, he reported that he didn’t have any, and wasn’t sure what his friends were doing. (Because, you know, he hadn’t bothered to check, or anything goofy like that. Typical teenage boy…) Riley, on the other hand, was the only one who actually had an agenda. You see, he’d been invited to a party in a nearby neighborhood, thrown by some people he knew from school. There was one, teensy, tiny glitch, however: the hosts were all of the…ahem…”female persuasion”.

It turns out that he and 3 of his other buddies were the only guys on the guest list, which caused QUITE a…Freshman Frenzy…as they weren’t sure what to do. Riley mentioned that one of the group gave an immediate “hard no” to the shindig. Another (the diplomat of the gang—I swear this kid is gonna grow up to be an ambassador, or a mediator, or something where his job is to try and make people happy) agonized that “it would be rude and disrespectful NOT to go”. The third stated that he’d be willing…IF there were 3 of them to hang out together. Now, if you’ve been counting along, you realize that the upshot is…it came down to Riley to cast the deciding vote.

So he came to me, in a quandary over the situation--I mean, it was unfamiliar and borderline-scary territory, the thought of fraternizing with GIRLS and all--not to mention he felt bad for the one boy who was being left out! Fortunately, to the Mom Voice of Reason, the solution seemed perfectly clear: attend the fiesta for a couple of hours, then Husband or I would come pick all of them up (including the one who was staying home) and bring them back to our house, where they could finish the evening doing…adolescent-dude-stuff. (Which involved, among other things, lots of indoor soccer, and a fairly heated Nerf battle, in case you’re wondering…)

In the meantime, Derek received some kind of 911 alert from some of his neighborhood pals—something about there “not being anyone our age at the house right now, so can you come over RIGHT AWAY?” He obliged, and was gone for a while…but then he returned with the Senior Squad in tow, and they settled themselves into the Family Room to play Cards Against Humanity with the traditional New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast playing in the background.

And that’s how we ended up with 9 High Schoolers livening up our “quiet evening”, and participating in the midnight toast. (Bonus: we finally got to share that sparkling apple cider we impulsively purchased at Ikea last month!) Then, at about 12:15, all of the youngsters magically disappeared, and we were able to go to bed….for the first time since last year—ha!

It might not have been exactly the way we'd envisioned kicking off 2018, but it was definitely amusing! So I’ll leave you with this: here’s to lots more laughter, joy, family togetherness, fun times with friends, and travels in the coming year! (Oh, and lest I forget, “world peace”! I know it kinda goes without saying, but let's have some of that too, yeah? Cheers!)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Extended-Family Fun Day

Our last full day on this Maryland visit was reserved for spending at the house where I grew up, with my dad, my siblings, and my brother's kids, (aka "the cousins" to Derek and Riley). First, though, we had to take a moment to...appreciate?...the light dusting of snow that had fallen overnight, as well as the swirling flakes still dancing around in the air when we awoke. I swear that this happens each and every time we travel north in December--although I wouldn't be able to prove it without looking back at previous years' posts, so you'll just have to take my word for it, okay? However, I can tell you with great certainty that I enjoy the icy vista so much more when I know that I'm only going to be seeing it temporarily!

Fortunately, they know how to deal with such minor meteorological inconveniences in the greater DC metro area, so that--even though the temperatures remained sub-freezing--the roads had been pre-treated, and were safe for driving by the time we embarked on our morning journey. Thus we were able to navigate our way to my childhood home, for a day of cousin bonding and family catching up.

Speaking of the kids, they pooh-poohed the temperatures in the teens, not to mention the wind chill, and engaged in some spirited "snow football" in a neighbor's yard. (And if they couldn't exactly, you know, feel their fingers, faces, or feet when they came back inside, they shrugged it off as "just part of the game"...or some such nonsense...crazy youngsters...) I speak from experience, because when I ventured out for a stroll around the block...well, let's just say the sharp, dry, biting cold, combined with the stiff breeze, made for an extremely uncomfortable jaunt.

Anyway, it was toasty and pleasant INDOORS, especially when my brother put his Winter Survival Skills to good creating cozy, crackling flames in the family room fireplace, to warm everyone up while they cheered on Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. (Or in my case, I made a half-hearted attempt to at least pretend to pay attention....while soaking up the ambient heat). Then, when the Nittany Lions had secured their victory over the Washington Huskies, another form of entertainment was introduced--one that would prove addictive...ultra-competitive...and polarizing for everyone within earshot (and, given that it inspired an alarmingly-elevated decibel level, this probably even included anyone within about a quarter-mile radius...)

You see, one member of the tribe introduced an app called Trivia Crack to the rest of us. If you're not familiar with the game, it's kind of like Jeopardy...but without the supervision of Alex Trebek, to temper the contestants' impulses to yell, taunt, cheat, and engage in some truly creative trash-talking. (Right...that's probably just MY clan...) Basically, you challenge other players, and can have multiple games going at once. The only ones actually participating in the online version were my sister, niece, and nephews; however, when one of the adolescents didn't know an answer, they'd read the question to the group, and accept the most reasonable, enthusiastic...or loudest....responses. In a nutshell, it was equal parts deadly serious battle of wits...and freakin' hilarious.

Finally, the moment arrived for the yearly Cousin Photo. This has gone through various stages, from posing them when they were babies and toddlers, to wrangling the elementary-agers, to...brow-beating the tweens and teens, who should fully well know by now how to quickly, cooperatively--maybe even attractively--arrange themselves for a picture, for the love of Pete! (Seriously, is that too much to ask? Apparently so...) Both my sister and I attempted to achieve an acceptable shot, in between giving the beloved crew constant directions that increased steadily in volume...and level of exasperation: "Closer together. You moved off center--get back in front of the tree. Look over here. Stand still. Stop poking him. Okay, SHHHHHH!"

Mostly, these helpful instructions only served to reduce them to hysterics. (Can you imagine that? Hooligans...) At no time were ALL of them facing the right way, smiling, and/or motionless. And inevitably, after each flash, at least one of the bunch would call out brightly, "I blinked!" and then ask, "Are we done yet?" Oh. Good. Heavens. I almost long for byegone days when we could bribe them with treats, snap a few frames before they had a chance to get all silly and whatnot, and call it a success (or at least "over with"). Siiighhhh....

But ya know, I wouldn't trade any of these...special memories...or big old goofballs...for anything. Now it's time to bid a fond farewell to the northern Mid-Atlantic, and head back to the slightly-more-temperate Carolinas to ring in the new year. We had a heartwarming--if frigid in other ways--mini-vacation with friends and loved ones, and we look forward to our next the Summertime!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 2017 Maryland-palooza: the Frost Awakens

Team WestEnders kicked off our Winter expedition to the motherland on Wednesday evening, with Derek behind the wheel for his customary first shift of the journey. We left behind a rather balmy...ish...December day, with the mercury having climbed to a peak of 46 in Chapel Hill during the afternoon. By the time we stopped for our first driver switch and refreshment/facilities break in Virginia, however, we definitely noticed a downward trend on ye olde thermometer. In fact, I believe my quote was a startled and somewhat disgruntled, "It's' degrees out here, guys!"

And when we arrived at our second and final pause, it had bottomed 16. So let's try to rationalize this: we drive 300 miles north...and lose THIRTY DEGREES? Now, I don't know what kind of crazy newfangled math this is supposed to be, but I can tell you unequivocally that I. Don't Like It. (Meanwhile, the polar bear half of my family--you know, we call them "sons"--was unsympathetic to my shivering. Derek's response was a scoffing, "It's not even that bad!" And Riley shrugged and commented philosophically, "Eh, it's the North!" Thanks,'re both grounded, by the way...)

Anyway, we reached our destination safely, and settled in to enjoy our stay. Thursday's entire agenda can be summed up as "Hangin' with the H-clan",  since we designated the time to spend with our hosts. The morning began with the earlier risers of the bunch--their teenage son...and me--in the living room watching a Netflix show called Ultimate Beastmaster, which he'd turned on when he woke up. The best way I can describe it is that it's kind of like a pumped-up version of American Ninja Warrior, with a competition involving a super-risky and nearly impossible obstacle course that the participants try to complete, for points (and the cash prize, naturally).

Why am I even mentioning this, you might be wondering? Because one-by-one, as each member of the household emerged from slumber and congregated in the kitchen, we all got totally sucked into this program. Eventually we noticed that the one who'd started us down this path had actually LEFT, and yet the rest of us were still mesmerized by the televised stunts...that is, until Mrs. H suddenly exclaimed, "So, what are we DOING today? and reminded us that we should come up with other activities in lieu of binge-watching a marathon of this silly stuff for hours on end.

So, the adolescent male gang made their bi-annual pilgrimage to...the local Safeway supermarket. On this outing, their purchases consisted of: a bag of donuts, a box of chocolate croissants, and a ginormous deli sub that the 3 of them planned to share for lunch. This isn't counting the package of mini-donuts, tube of Mentos, and OTHER sandwiches they consumed after paying for them, but before leaving the store. Hey, at least it...keeps them off the street? Yeeeaaah, we'll go with that...

Afterwards, despite the icy wind and sub-zero temps, they played outside on and off all afternoon--with my children even going so far as to commit to long pants, hats, and gloves, so you KNOW it was "chilly". But really, I have no room to talk, since I bundled up, myself, to take a walk in spite of the uncomfortable conditions. I might not have been able to feel my toes...face...or legs...when I was finished, but I got my steps for the day, doggone it! (And hot tea...LOTS of that...) Finally, we rewarded ourselves for our--I don't know...hardiness?--with a delectable meal at a local joint called BJ's Roadhouse, where we packed on the calories in preparation for hibernation. (Wait, whattya mean HUMANS don't do that? Are you sure? 'Cuz it feels like the best thing to do right about now...)

Next up, we had our Friday sojourn to the former hometown...with a bit of logistical finagling to arrange first. You see, I had coffee and lunch dates scheduled with friends, and Derek was meeting a couple of buddies for an afternoon of shenanigans...none of which involved either Husband or Riley. So in consultation with Mr. and Mrs. H, it was decided that I (as the only one who is capable of handling a manual transmission--Yay, me!) would borrow their Jeep to transport the first shift, while the latecomers would travel in Husband's vehicle, and join us for dinner.

Thus Derek and I set off, with me piloting a 6-speed (for the first time) tank-type-thing (much bigger than my Subaru)--such that Derek looked down and remarked, "Jeez, the cars look so little next to us!" It was, in short, an adventure in all kinds of ways. But we prevailed through the challenge (of sorts), and eventually pulled into Olney, ready to proceed with the packed social calendar: java (with a neighborhood pal), noon nosh (with college besties), and finally, the traditional gathering at CalTort, our favorite in-town eatery, with soccer fams. Since I actually had a bit of time to kill in-between engagements, I also drove to a nearby lake for what had to be one of the fastest hikes I've ever taken--if you need any explanation why, just picture the fact that both the water, and I, were partially frozen from our exposure to the surrounding air, and that should clear it up.

It was an extremely busy, somewhat exhausting, but utterly delightful kickoff to our Maryland Madness Tour, the Holiday Edition. More celebration to come...keeping my fingers crossed it gets a teensy bit warmer? (Or stocking up on cocoa, one or the other!) Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Yule time, 2017

Christmas in the WestEnders household got underway at the crack of "10 a.m."...with everyone gathered around the tree, ready to reveal their surprises.

For Derek, this meant the long-awaited FIFA 18 video game (you know, the one I forbade him from buying until he finished all of his college which point it was too close to the holiday to allow him to purchase it anyway? Yeah, that one...) His grin lit up the room as he declared, "Well, you know where I'll be for the next...12 hours!" He was exaggerating, of course, but later in the day, he seemed to be having a blast exploring some of the updated features of his game--and reporting them to us. For example, in the course of his first virtual season he "fired his manager", "received a bogus offer to play for Real Madrid, which was actually a scam", "found out he had a half-sister who plays for the U.S. Women's National Team", and "left his club to go to the MLS". He summed it up thusly: "It was an emotional afternoon for me!" with a wry shake of his head.

Tangential bit of hilarity: at one point Husband wandered through the room to watch for a few minutes, and when he emerged, he made a comment that I heard as: "Derek's very excited about the nude celebrations in this edition!" I'm sorry, WHAT was that? Derek clarified, "No, no, there are totally clothed, NEW celebrations." (Whew, that makes much more sense...)

Riley, on the other hand, received items related to ACTUAL soccer, such as a new ball. (So that he has an old one for the back yard, where there are rocks and sticks that sometimes cause damage, and a slightly better one to take to the Middle School field--but not TOO nice, because it's often wet and muddy there-- and finally, one that's in perfect condition, for official practices. Got all that? Pfft...boys...) One thing he didn't ask for, but I had a brilliant brainstorm and got him anyway, was a small indoor goal for our Bonus Room, where he and Derek--and whoever else happens to be visiting at any given moment--frequently kick a foam ball around. Now at least they have something to AIM for, besides the wall. I must have been on the right track, because after trying it out for a while, Riley declared that it contributed to this being "one of the Best. Christmases. EVER." (Yaaayy!)

Meanwhile, Husband, besides the aforementioned grill lighting device, was given stainless steel, insulated coffee mugs...because apparently, his morning java cools off too quickly when he takes it into his office to sip while working...and it was just wrecking his routine to have to stop what he's doing, get up, walk into the kitchen, and re-microwave it repeatedly. (Hey, whatever...steams your cuppa joe, dude....) Also, the requisite jumbo bag o'snacks that the boys and I always hand-pick from a local specialty shop--Old Bay spiced peanuts, onion flavored potato chips, sourdough pretzel bites, Doc Brown's Cherry soda...a plethora of quality junk food, in other words.

Then in the afternoon, we'd scheduled a family outing to see the latest Star Wars flick. We had a slew of logistical difficulties when trying to figure out when the heck we were going to squeeze this in, with the limited time available to us, Derek already having seen it, and Riley firmly announcing that he didn't want to go without his brother. But then we realized we hadn't considered Christmas day, causing Derek to note, "Well, Jewish people go to the movies on Christmas, right?" (Yep--and a whole lotta others as well, if the crowds were any indication--it turned out to be a popular choice for December 25th!)

On the way there, Husband, who had missed the previous installment, asked for a plot synopsis. Derek gamely attempted to summarize both the storyline and the major characters, but given the complexity of the material, he warned, "Just listen; don't ask any questions." And Husband managed to contain himself for approximately 2 sentences, before interrupting and demanding clarification or more details on this point or the other. Eventually Derek gave up in exasperation and said,  "You know what? Lots of explosions, lightsabers, good guy vs. bad guys, that's all you need to know!" (Seriously, he should have taken the high-tech route, and IMDBd it before we left, yeah? Amateur...)

To round out our excursion, since we'd left the theater just as the sun was setting, we did end up taking a circuitous route home, so we could get our fill of ogling other people's outdoor decorations. From the classy and understated, to the over-the-top electrical extravaganzas, we enjoyed viewing...and critiquing...the whole gamut. And with that, Christmas 2017 came to an end. It was a day chock-full of family and fun--so the best kind, really. And now, to all a good night!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Pre-Navidad, 2017

Whether we were ready or not, Christmas Eve arrived--and with it, one tradition that the boys and I keep: attending church together. This year, since the 24th actually fell on a Sunday, I gave them a choice of which service they'd prefer...and they surprised me by selecting our regular 11:15 slot, rather than the evening option. I didn't ask why, but I inferred that they liked the idea of having the rest of the day free for...I don't know, "boy shenanigans"....and whatnot. It also amused me that Derek asked, "Should we dress a little more formally for Christmas Eve?" I hadn't even considered that, but I agreed it seemed like a solid plan.

However, I totally forgot to follow up on it, which is why we set out for the whole "celebrating the birth of Jesus" event with Derek clad in one of his trademark clashing ensembles, consisting of green/grey athletic shorts, paired with a screaming crimson USCB Sand Sharks tee, all covered by a University of South Carolina hoodie. least the other one took the initiative to don his nice charcoal semi-fancy shorts...and Penn State shirt. But hey, I'm firmly of the opinion that God doesn't care how we look...just that we're present, and participating!

Although...I should probably add "and also paying attention", because when it came time for the closing song, which is always a candlelit Silent Night, the pastor gave specific instructions, "The candles that are already burning stay upright, while the next person in the row touches their unlit wick to the flame, and so on." Sounds extraordinarily efficient, safe, and simple, yeah? So what does Derek do? Immediately tilts his fiery, dripping candle over towards Riley, completely contrary to directions. (I swear, you really can't take them ANYWHERE...)

Anyway, it's fortunate that we get to hear some quality Christmas music sung and played by the very talented praise band at our church, because we've reached that point in the season when I've officially turned the corner on the radio's rotation of holiday tunes, and now turn them off as frequently as I actually listen to and enjoy them. Case in point: I've been heard lately to yell, "Aaarrrgh! Feliz Navi-DON'T!" as I punch the button to change the station. Or to I argue with my empty car, "Seriously, who decided that just because of the title, Last Christmas should be played at this time of year. Over. And. Over? And to the artists who keep remaking it? STOP, okay? (For the love of all things holy...)

So in my defiance, I'd been playing a Tchaikovsky CD while driving, instead...and when I turned it on after church, Riley facetiously commented, "Ooh, I love this song!" I scoffed in reply, "Do you even know what it IS?" This was mostly rhetorical, but he answered anyway, in an extremely uncertain tone "Um...the 1812 Overture!" I was about to concede that it was, in fact, a nice try, when Derek decided to take a stab in the dark and exclaimed, "'s The Nutcracker!"

Wow...well done! However, I decided to press my luck by asking, "Okay...which part?" With mock outrage, Derek sputtered, "Whattya mean? It's all just...The Nutcracker!" Unwilling go let him off the hook so easily, I prompted, "The most famous part of the whole composition....?" After a looooong pause, Derek responded, questioningly, "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies?" Ding ding ding! Before I could be proud of his...minuscule knowledge of classical composers, Derek continued, "Yeah, about that...can someone explain to me why there are fairies in this thing?"

So I gamely began attempting to describe the plot...but quickly realized that--even having seen the stage version in person--somehow I don't really seem to have a grasp of the story. "Well, there's this girl, and...lots of dancing...and...I think the whole thing's a dream...maybe?" Derek interrupted, "Hold on--is the villain...a mouse?" I was relieved that he remembered that salient point, "YES! That's right, there are overgrown rodents...with swords, and they battle the Nutcracker, and...oh, I don't really know. But there's glorious music, and majestic ballet dancing."  'Nuff said, right? (In retrospect, it wasn't a terribly productive conversation, but it wasn't a lengthy trip, either, so it got us home...without having to suffer through any choral travesties sung by Chipmunks...)

Later in the evening, for a heartwarming family bonding experience, I proposed taking a jaunt around the Chapel Hill/Carrboro neighborhoods to admire all of the houses adorned for the merry December festivals 'o everything. This was vetoed by the oldest teenager, however, who for some reason protested leaving the house. Instead, he backed the alternative agenda: lounging on the couch and watching a classic DVD from our collection (on second thought, it's pretty clear why he'd vote for this no-energy-required activity). Derek even picked the show: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Alrighty, then, let's fire up the electronic device that we turn on exactly once a year! But first....let's try to remember which "input" we need to set for the TV. And change the batteries in the remote, since they're apparently no longer functioning. Okay! We're ready! Bring on the beloved childhood entertainment! Aaaannnnd the program did SPANISH. What. The. WHAT?

Try as we might, we were utterly unable to make it switch back to our mother tongue...and while we found it somewhat funny-yet-exasperating to listen to the Burl Ives snowman narrate in rapid-fire Espanol, we agreed that the limited appeal was going to wear off for us in about 5 minutes. Therefore we eventually gave up, and moved on to the Backup Plan: A Muppet Family Christmas (which is secretly MY all-time fave, so...WIN! But I promise I didn't intentionally hijack the ridiculous DVD player! We're just keeping our fingers crossed that the rebellious reindeer behaves, the next time we try...)

Afterwards, chock full of the holiday spirit, or what have you, we attempted to convince Riley that there was still time to fit in the illuminated tour of the surrounding towns, but his instant, emphatic response was "Dude, I'm knackered!" Yep, too much British soccer--sorry, "football"--viewing, wouldn't you agree? (I suppose he's good for now, but if he starts referring to us as "blokes", I'll have to think about shutting it down...)

Finally, there was only one more thing to do before our "long Winter's nap"...of course, I'm talking about the charming process of "negotiating a wake-up-and-open-gifts" time. Now, when the boys were little, this involved stern warnings to NOT bother Mom and Dad before, say, 7 a.m. But these days it's more along the lines of "Derek, we WILL be dragging you out of your warm, cozy bed, the only question is "how early"?

Just to see what his reaction would be--and to crack myself up, I'm not gonna lie--I informed him that 8:00 sounded about right. He gaped at me, horrified and praying he'd heard me wrong. "What? WHY?" He couldn't imagine what was so important that we had to disturb his precious adolescent slumber: "C'mon, Dad asked for grill matches! And what did Riley even want, again?" His brother brightly interjected, "Well, I did tell Mom I needed a new foot-scrubber-thingie, since she threw mine out. I really hope there's one under the tree!" Not to be left out of the super-fun "torture Derek" moment, Husband tacked on, "Just think, Riley, maybe she got you a really special one, that hangs up in the shower, and everything!" Derek's threw up his hands in truly melodramatic fashion and barked, "Let me get this straight, you people are really gonna get me up early...for a loofah on a hook?"

Whew, that was a delightful interlude, I tell ya. Nothing quite says Christmas like giving the kids a hard time, amiright? This went on for a few more minutes, but after I'd gotten him to agree to a firm 9:15, I relented and assured him he could take his time and emerge from his hibernation at the customarily accepted 10:00. After all, this would afford me plenty of quiet time in the morning to sip my coffee while kicking back in front of ye olde tannenbaum with some carols...or maybe even give one more shot at sorting out our little scarlet-schnoz latino friend...Rudolpho. Peace out, and ho ho ho, y'all!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

'Twas the week before Christmas (Already? Aaaarrrrghhhh!)

Hey, here's a question for you: does anyone else feel like they're careening through December like a...runaway Polar Express? I mean, it seems like I JUST gussied up the old homestead, like YESTERDAY, and suddenly it's less than a week 'til Christmas. Holy calendar crunch, Batman, how did that happen?

Well, at least there's lots of fun and festivities you can count on at this time of year to keep your spirit bright and your mood jolly. Like...finding the perfect present for your loved ones? Oh, was like pulling teeth to get ANY of the Male Trio to commit to asking for anything this never mind about that. (Don't get me wrong, there are definite pluses to this, of course, the most obvious being 1) money saved and 2) shopping mall chaos avoided. So let's hear it for " in my pjs" All. Day. Long.) Also, I suppose I shouldn't reeeaaally give the guys a hard time, since it was difficult for ME to figure out a Wish List as well.

You see, I used to be completely off the hook, until the children reached an age when they have some of their own money to spend, and started wanting to be part of the gifting...which is lovely and heartwarming and all of that, no doubt...but does cause something of a dilemma. You know, because it's not reasonable to suggest what I truly desire....for instance, a trip to Europe. And it's impossible to provide what would be most helpful...such as a winning lottery ticket. Clearly, this is a problem...

Anyway, after wracking my brains, I finally did come up with an idea. However, when I attempted to describe the very simple object--a belt one wears while running, which securely holds keys and other necessary items--I only managed to get about 5 words in before Husband loudly interrupted, with an innocent expression and far too much enthusiasm, "OH! You mean a FANNY PACK!" shall I put this delicately...."NOOOOOO, that's not even close...since the last time I checked, it wasn't the 1990s anymore." I've gotta tell ya, I was not overcome with confidence in the abilities of my own personal Elf Squad, especially when--while I was still in the room, mind you, Husband lowered his voice ever-so-slightly and commented in a pseudo-aside to the kids, "Ha! What're the odds that we don't totally screw this up?" (Yeah...I'm thinking that the morning of the 25th could be...interesting...)

While we're on the subject, Husband wasn't any better, himself: the only item he initially mentioned was...extra-long matches, to light the grill. You see what I'm working with? It's not easy being the resident Mrs. Clause, my friends. (In case you're wondering, yes, the boys and I did fulfill his request...but we opted for a refillable lighter with an extended, skinny handle, made specifically for just such...meat-charring activities. I'm absolutely certain that he'll love it...his $4 treasure...)

And then there's our annual Holiday Open House. That's always a good one--gathering friends and family to chat, catch up on the latest haps, and congregate around a table filled with party snacks. However, this year I went a little overboard on the sweets end of the spectrum and ended up with LOTS of leftover treats. Therefore I sternly instructed the boys on Sunday night to "pack cookies to carry to school with you, and pass them out to your friends at lunchtime!" Riley took me so seriously that he even asked, "How many can I bring?" (My answer was something along the lines of "as many as you can carry...every day....until they're gone." And thank you, my Sugarplum Fairy...)

Unfortunately, Derek hasn't been able to participate in Operation...Dessert Distribution...because he evidently has been infected with some sort of...I don't know, plague-type deal. (And to his pal who kicked off this whole thing, and thus shall be called Patient know who you are...thanks a bunch for sharing, buddy! No, no, I'm kidding--you all walk around in a veritable High School petri dish every day, and you're lucky to escape relatively unscathed most of the time. Oh, and...get well soon!) Anyway, Derek's hacking cough began over the weekend, prompting me by Sunday night to decree that he would not, in fact, be attending school the next day. (How sick did he feel? He wasn't even able to muster the tiniest spark of excitement about missing classes--he simply looked up blearily from where he was curled into a ball on the couch, half-watching SportsCenter, groaned, and mumbled in agreement. Now that's a pathetic picture yeah?)

When the coughing continued unabated on Monday, he was awarded a second day off...complete with a bonus doctor visit to check if it was anything that required a prescription. NOT a traditional part of the season--thank goodness--but these things happen. Now the rest of Team WestEnders is doing everything in our power to remain virus-free...fingers and toes crossed that the illness starts and ends with (poor) Derek!

Finally, to end on a much more positive note, my office had our annual outing--an opportunity to step away from our desks, go somewhere non-work-related, and celebrate...everything! This year we patronized the Carolina Inn (a Chapel Hill institution, located on UNC's campus) for their Royal Tea, which includes an impressive assortment of luscious finger foods and, of course, a selection of flavored brews to sip. In the ornate dining room decorated with a Twelve Days of Christmas theme, we were able to unwind, nosh, and enjoy conversations that had NOTHING to do with our jobs. (And it was late afternoon, when most of my colleagues would still have been plugging away at their computers, so it felt extra-decadent--Win!)

So that about wraps up the entertainment...and such...for this week. What? It's only TUESDAY? Jeez Louise, are you sure? Well then, I'd better get some rest, because who knows what the remainder of the pre-Noel period will bring. Hopefully fewer germs...less gooberheadedness (unlikely, but one can wistfully dream, right?)...some healthy meals to offset the inevitable candy canes...and lots more tea!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Yo, Planet Dude--Settle Down, Will Ya?

I wouldn't consider myself a terribly superstitious person. Although I HAVE been known to "knock on wood" for luck...and if I'm describing the potential undesirable outcomes of an event, I frequently try to prevent them from happening by prefacing my comments with the disclaimer, "Now, I don't want to jinx it..." On the other hand, if a black cat crosses my path, I'm inclined to stop and pet it, rather than run in the opposite direction. Friday the 13th is just another day on the calendar. And let's face it--I've broken my share of mirrors over the years, with no noticeable ill effects. Heck, I don't even read my horoscope, or any other astrological...stuff (even though a part of me finds it absolutely fascinating--shhhh! That can just be our little secret, 'kay?).

You might be wondering where I'm going with this (which if you're being totally honest, you probably frequently well you should...). Let me explain (although I'll warn you right here that it's gonna get...weird): when a character on NCIS: LA was experiencing various snafus in his personal life, he dramatically blamed it all on "Mercury being in retrograde". It was kind of hilarious at the time, BUT...shortly thereafter, it just so happened that my co-workers and I were standing around chatting, and the conversation morphed into a veritable litany of things that had been going wrong around the office in recent days. A lightbulb went off, and I shared the whole "Mercury in retrograde" theory with them. Then because I'm, you know,"me", I immediately went to my computer and looked it up. Whattya know, we were right smack in the middle of one of those phases.

Yeah, yeah--so what does this MEAN, exactly? Well, according to The Old Farmer's Almanac,

"Due to the way our own orbit interacts with those of the other planets, they might sometimes appear to be traveling backward through the night sky with respect to the zodiac. This is, in fact, an illusion, which we call apparent retrograde motion.
Several times a year, it appears as if Mercury is going backwards. These times in particular were traditionally associated with confusions, delay, and frustration.
The planet Mercury rules communication, travel, contracts, automobiles, and such. So, when Mercury is retrograde, remain flexible, allow time for extra travel, and avoid signing contracts. Review projects and plans at these times, but wait until Mercury is direct again to make any final decisions."

Whoa...if you were inclined to accept such a....celestial wouldn't be much of a stretch to fit all of our misadventures neatly into this excuse--er "framework". Somewhat surprisingly, all of my super-scientific colleagues were ready to jump on the bandwagon right along with me. Perhaps it just felt reassuring to have some kind of reason--however flimsy--for the ever-growing pile of "things that didn't go as planned". 

Therefore I cheerfully printed out the dates that good old Mercury would be spinning out of control, as it were, so we could have a good chuckle together...and also be prepared to pin misfortune on our fiery planetary neighbor, if need be. Aaaaannnnd, you guessed it: the Big M is up to its tricks again, from December 3rd to 23rd. Just how much did we (jokingly...mostly) buy into this spiel? I'll tell of my office mates was experiencing a slew of mishaps in the week leading up to turned-around-Mercury, so together we decided it was an anticipatory period (Ha! Pun definitely intended) that shall hereafter be known as...PMR...for Pre Mercury in Retrograde. (Get it? Like PMS, but for huge, interstellar hunks of rock! Yeah, sorry about that...)

So how's it going, in this current 3-week spell of imaginary atmospheric upheaval? Ahem...let's just say that for me, personally, the manifestations seem to be centered in the realm of "technology"...which has become distinctly...uncooperative (also see "obnoxious" and "belligerent"). For example, Microsoft Office programs suddenly chose to cease operating on the household laptop. (Okay, it's coming up on 6 years old, but still, the timing was distinctly suspicious, don't you think? Just go with it...) "Fine!" I huffed, after struggling unsuccessfully for a while to resolve the issue, "I'll just use Word on MY laptop!" (With the implied, "So there, stupid machine!") And that would have been a brilliant and effective work-around...except that my computer had also evidently come to the conclusion that it wasn't interested in communicating with the wireless printer anymore, thankyouverymuch. 

Ay yi yi...I did get these two problem sorted out--by removing and reinstalling the offending software in both cases, if you're interested. (And keeping my fingers firmly crossed--ooh, there's another good one!--that they continue to grace me with least until the new laptop I went ahead and ordered arrives...) Then I figured I'd more than earned a quiet, restful interlude. Ooh, you know what would be really nice? Curling up with a novel! Hey, I think I'll download something on my Kindle! Suuurre...if only the *&%$# thing would actually STAY ON when I press the power button. This was beginning to cross the line into "ridiculous", am I right? (Connecting the e-reader to its cord and an electrical socket seemed to reboot its brain and convince it to behave...although I confess I have no earthly idea why....)

Let's see, what's next...oh, yes: on Tuesday my cell phone refused to dial, until I finally turned it off and back on after the 4th attempt to place a call. And finally, bringing us up to date is my work-PC, which informed me with a full-screen yellow and red error message that it would NOT, in fact, be helping me to access the company's Intranet all(An overly emphatic notification that frankly, just felt like the pain-in-the-butt gadget was unnecessarily rubbing it in...)

Oh. Good. Grief. At this point, I'd had E-N-O-U-G-H, and I was no longer messing around--so I went above its head immediately, and tattled to our IT department. A technician handled it in, oh, about 30 seconds...which was super-helpful, to be sure...but also completely worrisome. Because I now am forced to admit that--besides the hot-tempered heavenly body in question...or some perfectly rational explanation which we won't even deign to consider--the only thing all of these minor calamities have in ME. 

Nah, we're gonna go ahead and keep maligning the stratospheric disruption of our pal Mercury...which also gives us one more excellent motivation to wait with bated breath for Christmas Eve to arrive! Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll step away from the screen (thanks for functioning flawlessly tonight, BTW), go pick up a paper-and-ink book, and commence non-automated relaxation...wish me luck (Salt over the left shoulder--go!)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Holiday Hijinks

With the halls having been decked during Thanksgiving weekend, only one thing remained, to complete the festive atmosphere in Casa WestEnders: the heartwarming family bonding activity known as "assembling, illuminating, and adorning the Christmas tree". We have an artificial version (which may not fill the house with a pine-fresh aroma....but also doesn't cause me a sinus infection, so if I feel deprived, I'll just light a fir-scented candle, and enjoy it without sneezing...or antibiotics...) and I leave the unpacking and constructing phase to the Male Trio. (Not to be sexist or anything...simply because frankly...I don't waaaaaanna!)

Then Husband adds the twinkly lights--and here we hit a small snag this year. You see, I thought I remembered that one of our strands had failed to work properly last year, meaning that Husband had to st-r-e-t-ch the remaining ones to cover all of the boughs without leaving any sad, unlit spaces. So I bought another string a few days before we planned to decorate--and congratulated myself on my memory, foresight, and proactive handling of the situation, to avert a potential holiday crisis (or what have you).

However...apparently I'm not we say "observant"...since I failed to notice that all of the other LEDs currently gracing our faux evergreen are white...yet I purchased the multicolored variety. Oops! Too late to do anything about it, so I shushed the little voice in my head going, "But...but...they don't MATCH! It looks weird! Do. It. Over!!" and decided that--for 2017, anyway--we were just going to embrace a little bit our yuletide decor.

Yep, it works!
Next all of the ornaments are lovingly placed on the branches by my cooperative band of seasonal assistants...hahahahaha! Let's see...Husband skedaddled after finishing his electrical contribution, since he was coming down with a migraine and needed to go close himself up in a dark, quiet room (i.e.: NOT where the elf-ish shenanigans would be continuing). Derek draped himself across a couch and lay there half-comatose, semi-watching the proceedings, yawning frequently, and occasionally mumbling something about "getting up in a second to help". Soooo, that left Riley and me to tackle the bulk of the fa la la-ing...which we managed to thoroughly enjoy, nonetheless.

And then, once all of the special baubles had been arranged to my satisfaction, we arrived at the last very important task: rounding up the resident goofballs for the annual December Photo Shoot. One never knows what to expect from this endeavor...except that it inevitably will take twice as long as I think it should...and that there will be multiple moments of unbridled silliness. But first, due to the fact that I only use the self-timer function on my camera once a year, for this moment, I always need to skim the instructions and take a test shot or two, to make sure I know what I'm doing BEFORE calling in all of the guys. (Practice pic: check...)

Moving on...because I'm evidently a total glutton for punishment, I decided I wanted the boys to pose together in front of the tree, like I used to have them do when they were wee tots. You know, when they were young and wriggly and had the attention span of a flea, but I could strike a bargain with them by allowing candy canes during the proceedings, and thus get an angelic depiction of my sweet children. See? Absolutely precious, right? they're beyond the "bribing with treats" phase...and therefore much more difficult to coerce into behaving (which I realize sounds ridiculous, given that they're both in HIGH SCHOOL, for crying out loud, but there you have it...). So it went more along the lines of, "Okay, stand in front of the tree. Closer together. In the center. THE CENTER! Now look at me. Stop grimacing. Look at the camera. AT THE CAMERA! Quit laughing--this isn't supposed to be funny. Stop talking. Stay where you are--your eyes were closed, we're taking it again. Now hold still. You blinked AGAIN. One more time. Dude, seriously, could you possibly Keep. Your. Eyes. OPEN?" It was freakin' magical, I tell ya. Derek finally figured out that if he doesn't stare directly at the flash, he has an outside chance of succeeding at the open-eyed look. So mostly we have captured Riley, trying his darndest not to collapse on the floor in helpless giggles, and Derek, gazing off into the distance mysteriously. Siiiighhhhh....bless their pea pickin' hearts....

All of this nonsense was before we even attempted to do the portrait of the whole clan--the one that might, with any luck, be worthy of using on a greeting card to be sent out to extended family and dear friends. (I know, I know, I'm a hopeless optimist...) And how did this carefully orchestrated session of photographic creation go? Well...first there was the usual "Rats--not quite ready" mistake (1). And the "slightly misaligned" version (2). Oh, and let's not forget the "Riley made some wise-ass comment that cracked his brother up, causing Derek to SNORT into my HAIR iteratioin (3).

But none of these even came close to the one that happened after the following conversation. (Disclaimer: I'm not even sure what prompted it, so don't ask me!)

Derek: "I'm wearing Nike, how about you, Riley?"
Riley: "Mmm...(checks his shirt to make sure) Adidas!"
There's a slight pause as they're lining up and preparing for the shot, at which point Husband breaks into the silence with the enthusiastic exclamation, "I've got...Dickies!" (while waving one foot vigorously in the air, to demonstrate that his socks are, in fact, made by that unfortunately named company). The response was...well, there's no group picture to illustrate it, because the beloved offspring pretty much fell onto the nearest piece of furniture, holding their stomachs, overcome with hysterical laughter (4).

It should come as no surprise that this was immediately followed by me yelling "That's it! Next year, I'm RENTING A NEW FAMILY for the holiday photo!" I was, at least partially. Finally, at looooong last, we achieved a decent representation of Team WestEnders, 2017 (5). I tell ya, it was like...a Christmas miracle. Aaaannnnd, not wanting to press my luck any further, I promptly dismissed them. (I believe my exact words were, "We're done here! Now go away!") done, cards ordered--someone get me a hot chocolate...and don't skimp on the whipped cream, 'cuz I earned it this year, y'all!