Thursday, December 30, 1999

30 December 1999

My feet hurt surprisingly little considering the amount of walking K.T. and I did yesterday. Which is good, because there are still a couple of things I'd meant to get that I either forgot or decided not to bother with yesterday, which I'm planning on trying to find today.

(Yes, I know I said I'd have to stay home today so I'd be here when Jeff showed up, but the very earliest that Jeff could get here is around noon, and Jeff isn't exactly what we'd call a morning person, so the chances of him showing up even that early are practically nil. So I feel pretty confidant about going out to do a little shopping, as long as I'm home by noon or so.)

Tell me this - when did Swiss Army knives get so damned expensive? I've had mine for over ten years, and the sides have fallen off, and the knife is so dull it's practically worthless, the tweezers and toothpick are long gone, and the springsteel that makes the scissors work is shot; the only part of the knife that's still any good is the screwdriver, and that's the wrong size to do any actual good. So I thought I'd buy a new one. I only saw two places that sold them, though, and at one, they were $20, and at the second they were $25. For the teeny-tiny little knife! I couldn't believe it! I got K.T. one a few years ago, and it was only about $10!

On the other hand, the slightly bigger knives that might be more useful aren't much more expensive, so I'm thinking about getting one of those. Today's shopping trip is going to take me to the Target here in town, and there's an A&N next door to the Target - I'm pretty sure they carry a good selection of Swiss Army knives.

I've got to stop watching movies about virulent diseases. Not that I watch a lot of them, but I'm definitely starting to detect a pattern. I read Stephen King's The Stand a couple of years ago, and thought it was pretty good. I spent most of the beginning of the book being hyper-aware of every tiny sensation of my body, especially the allergy-induced sniffles and coughs, which made the horror element of the book especially impressive. But when Matt showed me the movie, I spent three days with a sore throat. (It took us two days to watch it - it's a very long movie.) A couple of weeks ago, K.T. showed me the first half of Outbreak, and by the time I went home, I had a sore throat. Yesterday, we finished it, and - yep! - had a sore throat for the rest of the night. Luckily, it's gone today. But I've got to stop watching these movies!

Wednesday, December 29, 1999

29 December 1999

Wow, I completely forgot about doing a journal entry. I got up early so I'd be dressed when the plumber arrived, so I suppose I could plead tiredness or something... But of course the first thing I did after I got dressed was fire up the computer.

I'll blame it on Matt. He gave me this lovely software for Christmas, and yesterday I started converting my maps of my home-grown campaign world into Campaign Cartographer's system, and I've been all wrapped up in it. So when I got on the computer this morning, I fired it right back up - just before I went to bed last night I'd figured out how to fix this problem...

So it's all Matt's fault. I'm sure he'll tell you that nothing's new there.

The plumber took me by surprise - he can't possibly have been any older than me, and was probably rather younger. Am I getting old, that I notice these things?

Anyway, he showed me how to turn up the temperature on our hot water heater so we can take showers longer than ten minutes. Then I showed him where the pipe into the toilet was leaking, except of course, it had stopped. He tightened the bolts and such just to be sure and said we should call back if it started up again, but that he couldn't fix something if he couldn't see the problem. Since debugging a computer program is exactly the same, I agreed and showed him out the door.

And then went back to working on my map.

Matt and I met up with my parents and grandparents last night and went out to dinner at a hibachi place in Newport News. The food was great, but my family drove me a bit crazy. There was a bit of a draft which my grandparents complained about - so my dad talked to every restaurant employee that walked by except the chef to try to get it fixed. Unfortunately, the draft was caused by the vents over the hibachi tables, and there's nothing that could be done to fix it. My dad felt it necessary to show off the six phrases of Japanese he remembers at every possible opportunity, but locked eyes with the chef while doing this absurd little half-bow... I'm not sure whether he gets points for trying, or loses points for being so crass about it. (He's been to Japan; he should know better than to make eye contact!)

Oh, well. I'm sure my grandparents were embarrassed by the fact that I wasn't wearing anything dressier than a sweatshirt to a moderately nice restaurant, so maybe we're all even.

After dinner, Matt and I went to the Barnes and Noble across the street so Matt could finally spend the gift certificate my folks had given him for his birthday. That was nice - I like bookstores. Especially bookstores with cafes that serve hot chocolate!

Today I'm going to head over to KT's, and we'll have lunch together and do some shopping - I have Christmas money to spend! Of course, we want to go to different malls, but I'm sure we can manage both. And if not, there's always another day!

Though not quite as many other days as I'm used to. Tomorrow I need to stay relatively close to home so I'm here when Jeff shows up. (I forgot to ask him when he'd show up, so I'm more or less stuck at home until he arrives - it's too cold to leave him sitting in his car waiting for more than a few minutes.) Friday Matt and I will be running around getting ready for Friday night's party, and I'm sure the malls will be packed this weekend. And then Monday I start back to work!

I'm trying to decide whether I'm nervous about that. Ask me again on Sunday.

Anyway, if I'm going to get to KT's in time for us to have lunch, I'd better get a move on!

Tuesday, December 28, 1999

28 December 1999

So yesterday I went down to my parents' to pick up the slats for the guest bed that my dad had forgotten to bring when he brought the rest of the bed. I'd intended to pick them up, and then hit Target for a sheet set, and then get back home.


Mom mentioned that she'd like to go with me to Target and to the Bed, Bath, & Beyond that's right next to the Target. I was fine with this plan, but it meant we had to ditch my grandparents - specifically, my grandmother - first.

I've hated shopping with my grandmother since I was a little kid. My grandmother loves to shop. I hate it. I don't like being on my feet for long periods of time, and I never have. When I was little and I was forced to go shopping with Grandmom, I'd wind up with these little stumps at the end of my knees instead of calves and feet. I'm sure Grandmom's extensive shopping trips explain why, when my father is six feet tall, and my mom 5'7" I'm only 5'4". She can't just go to the store and buy something - she's got to go to every store that could possibly carry the item she's looking for to compare price and quality. She'd make me buy the sort of expensive sheets we got as wedding presents instead of the cheap sheet sets that they sell at Target. (Don't look at me like that. Matt and I have two sheet sets that we rotate on our bed, and one of them is a cheap set from Target. Just because they're inexpensive doesn't mean they're not good enough for our guests to sleep on.) To make matters worse, she's pretty old now, and moves with the care and precision of an old person being very careful. So I'd be on my feet even longer as she dragged us all over town.

Obviously, we couldn't take her with us.

As luck would have it, my grandparents had promised my dad for Christmas to buy him a new tent. (This falls under the category of creative wrapping - a box with a handful of candies to make it rattle, a picture of a tent clipped from the newspaper and a note promising to buy one. It also falls under the category of convenience - a tent would have been hard for my grandparents to lug all the way from Texas, and they're hard to wrap.) So all Mom and I had to do was wait until they'd left on a tent-finding mission.

This wasn't necessarily cruelty to my father - Grandmom knows practically nothing about tents, so Dad could have told her that he'd already researched the possibilities pretty carefully and settled on the one he wanted.

So we waited. And made small talk. And waited. And made small talk more loudly so we wouldn't have to keep repeating ourselves.

Finally, driven to impatience, Mom asked Grandmom if she'd still wanted to stop in this knick-knack store in the area. (My grandparents used to live only a few blocks from my parents.) Grandmom agreed, and they began the long, slow process of getting ready to go out. In the meantime, we casually slipped in some things, and it was settled that after we'd all gone to Chelsea's (a combination Hallmark and new age crystal twinkie store) we'd split up, and Mom and I would go to Target while Dad took the grandparents on an errand to the drugstore and then tent shopping.

Mom and I puttered around in Chelsea's, and I actually picked up a few things - some neat candles to burn at our New Year's party, and a very pretty crystal twinkie suncatcher that cost more than it should have.

Grandmom didn't look very happy that she wasn't going with us to Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, but we escaped anyway.

First we stopped in a party supplies store, where I picked up some more things for the New Year's party - napkins and plastic champagne flutes and such. Then we went to Bed Bath & Beyond, where I looked but didn't find anything I liked, and Mom picked up about five rolls of wrapping paper on sale. It was nice paper - if I hadn't just bought four brand new rolls before Christmas, I'd have grabbed some myself.

Then we went down to Target, where I finally found a decent sheet set, and an addition for our CD rack, and a couple of videos to replace the duplicate Bug's Life my folks had gotten me for Christmas.

And that was just about all the shopping I could stand for one afternoon. Luckily, my mom and I are pretty similar when it comes to shopping, and so having accomplished our missions, she smoked a cigarette while I brought the car around, and then we went home.

Dad and the grandparents were still out. Poor Dad.

Mom invited Matt and I to join them tonight for dinner out. Since they're going to Samurai, which is a pretty good hibachi place that Matt and I can't afford very often, we're definitely going. (Oh, we'd probably go even if we were going to my grandfather's favorite place, which is Western Sizzlin'. I love my grandparents. They just drive me crazy.)

But thank goodness, I have the day at home - no shopping.

I'll spend a fair amount of tomorrow morning home, too - I discovered a slow leak from one of the pipes under our toilet yesterday (the incoming pipe, thank goodness, not the outgoing) and called the plumber this morning, and they're sending someone up tomorrow. "Between 8 and noon, but probably closer to 8." Which means I have to be up and dressed by eight, but I might not see the guy until noon. Joy. Oh, well. It's a very slow leak - I put a cup under it yesterday morning when I found it and the whole day it only collected about a third of a cup of water. So I'm not in a major rush to have it fixed this instant. But it'll be nice to get the plumber out here - while he's here, he's going to try to figure out why our hot water runs out after only ten minutes.

Monday, December 27, 1999

27 December 1999

Well, I had a simply fantastic Christmas! After I wrote my early-morning entry here (see previous entry if you missed it) I puttered around a bit and wound up back downstairs on the couch, reading a book with A Christmas Story on the television as background. My plan was to wait until about eight and then go wake up Matt, but he came downstairs of his own accord a little past 7:30.

The angry bluebird suncatcherWe opened the presents that had been given to us by friends and sent from Matt's family. Karen sent a suncatcher based on the "angry bluebird" photo. Jeremy had given us a package with instructions on the front explaining that there were three gifts inside, and that one of them should be shared in a "mathematically appropriate" way, and that the other two were to be either joint property, or divided according to our own wishes, but that neither could be used by both of us at the same time. This made much more sense when we opened it. The gift to be shared turned out to be a small roll of bubble wrap ("Ooh! Bubble wrap!" pop!) and the other two were t-shirts - one of the User Friendly dust-puppy, and the other with the HTML tags <BODY> (on the front) and </BODY> (on the back). Matt's family sent us each a book (I think we both want to read both books), an adorable ceramic bowl with snowmen painted on the inside, a set of drinking glasses with snowmen on them, and two sets of dessert-sized plates with Christmas-themed humorours pictures. (Famous places, even - a picture of the Sphinx wearing a Santa hat which read "Sandy Claws" and another with Santa flying his sleigh smack into the Washington Monument reading "Santa Klutz" They were all like that. Very cute!) Matt's dad had sent us each a check. (Matt's putting his into savings because he's saving up for a very expensive present - a new computer - and I'm going to use mine to get a couple of things I'd asked for and didn't get. Never let it be said that I was disappointed by money or gift certificates for Christmas!)

After we'd opened the presents, we showered and got dressed and headed over to my parents' house. When we got there around ten, they were getting brunch on the table - grapefruit and sausage and biscuits and bagels. Matt's family tradition is to eat cookies for breakfast, but Christmas is the only time of year with my family that we actually get "real" breakfast! Of course, with the grandparents along, breakfast took a good hour. I was helping my mom put the dishes in the dishwasher when my grandparents went upstairs to brush their teeth. I thought my mom would cry. While they were doing that, Matt and my dad started preparing the standing oven for the turkey.

We finally sat down to open presents around 11:30. My family has a tradition for opening presents, too. We go around the room, taking turns, and each person over the age of about six has to try to guess what's in the package. This leads to some creative wrapping - my mom once received a pair of earrings taped to the lid of a refrigerator box, and there are always several packages with weights and distracting noisemakers. Additionally, because it drives my mom crazy, most of us use our pocketknives to cut carefully through the tape and wrapping paper with surgical precision - as if we have to re-wrap the package when we're done. This almost always makes the present opening take two or three hours. This year, we had to stop every half hour or so while Dad went to set up and then check on the turkey, and so we didn't actually finish until almost 4:30!

My gumdrop fairy dollI won't list everything, but some of the highlights were: Campaign Cartographer 2 (from Matt), a flag/banner pole, mount, and flags (from my grandparents), an adorable "gumdrop fairy" doll (from my parents - he looks like an old man with wings, draped with candy; all his limbs are strung with wire so you can pose him), a bunch of movies and CDs, and from my folks, a boxspring and mattress set for our guest bed! (We've been planning to take my old double bed frame from my folks' attic and put it in our guest bedroom, but we didn't have a mattress set to put on it.)

The presents I'd picked out for people were well-received, too. Dad was duly impressed with his Klein bottle, and Mom was happy with her lucky bamboo. (Though the fun there was in the opening - because the bamboo was settled in water, I'd told her she couldn't tip the box at all, which made it sortof hard for her to guess and heightened the anticipation.) Matt liked all the silly presents I got for him, too.

After we'd finished opening presents, it was only a couple of hours until dinner, which was just wonderful. Turkey and stuffing and broccoli and carrots and mashed potatoes and everything a holiday dinner should have, in my opinion. I'd made a peppermint cheesecake for dessert, which was loudly applauded - I think I'll have to keep that recipe.

After dinner, Matt and I drove over to K.T.'s to exchange presents with her and Kevin. K.T. showed off her main present from Kevin - the water dragon lizard she'd had her eye on for months. A few days ago, she'd stopped in the pet store to get crickets for Kevin's lizard and it had been gone, and she'd put on this brave "maybe it's for the best" face, but you could tell she was upset. It occurred to me at the time to wonder if maybe Kevin hadn't been the one to have bought it, but I didn't want to suggest it to her - if she'd gotten that hope and then it hadn't been, she'd have been even more upset. But I'm glad it was; she's been raving about how cute this lizard is for months.

At any rate, she and Kevin seemed quite pleased with the Russian tea cups we gave them, and K.T. liked her minor side-presents (she's one of those people who's so easy to shop for that every time I left the house, practically, I kept seeing things I wanted to get her). They gave Matt a t-shirt he'd pointed out a couple of months ago that reads, "God was my co-pilot, but we crashed in the mountains and I had to eat him." I got a t-shirt with this absolutely gorgeous picture of a blue dragon on the back. K.T. was wearing a similar shirt in the same style with a green dragon on it, but between the two, I like the one she gave me better. (Which is just fine, because she likes the one she kept better!)

We sat and chatted with them for a while, and then headed home around 10 - it had been a long day for me!

Yesterday, the plan was the we'd clean up the house, and clear a space for the guest bed in the guest bedroom, and then Matt would drive down to my folks' and help load the mattresses and bed frame into Dad's truck while I stayed home and fixed dinner for the family.

But while I was at the drugstore picking up my prescription refills, Dad called and told Matt that he'd already loaded the truck. (Long-time readers will note that this is the second time he's done this - Matt was going to help him bring our washer/dryer set over to the house when we moved in, and he called first thing in the morning to tell us they were already loaded.) Mom worries that Dad's going to injure himself one of these times, so I fussed at him a little for her. "No sense him driving all the way down here when we're coming to your house for dinner anyway," he said. I think Dad just likes playing with his hand-truck. But when they arrived, at least, Dad let Matt help him unload the truck. Of course, Dad had been so busy fretting over the large and heavy pieces that he'd sortof forgotten to load the support slats... So the bed is here, but you can't sit on it yet. I'll drive over to my folks' today and pick up the slats, and stop at Target and buy some sheets, and Matt and I will finish putting the bed together this evening, and then we'll finally be able to offer overnight guests a room of their own!

I was worried for a while that I didn't have a casserole dish big enough for eight chicken breasts, but then decided to serve the rice on the side. I got to use the new serving dishes my grandparents had given me for Christmas, and at one point during the meal I realized that almost everything we were using - including the dining table and chairs - were gifts less than two years old! Anyway, I tried an experiment for dinner, but it turned out very well, and everyone said they enjoyed it immensely. And there are still two pieces of chicken left over to have for dinner tonight!

So I had a wonderful, fantastic weekend, and I hope yours was great, too!

Now I have to start preparing for the New Year's party!

Saturday, December 25, 1999

25 December 1999

Yes, it's Christmas! A very merry happy holidays to all my readers!

I woke up at 4:00 as expected this morning, but it wasn't the usual excitement. I wasn't completely asleep - dozing on and off and snuggling warm and cozy in my bed, wondering when the cat was going to come demand breakfast. Suddenly, there was this loud clattering noise. In the dark, it was hard to place the direction, and Matt and I both sat straight up.

I'd been more awake than Matt when the noise happened, so I figured it out first, and got out of bed to check. Aye-yup! The bottle of shampoo had fallen over in the shower and clattered on the tub floor. I left it there and went back to bed. Time check: 3:57am. It's just not fated that I sleep until a reasonable hour on Christmas.

I tried for a while to go back to sleep, but as expected, I couldn't. I kept wishing the cat would come in and give me an excuse to get up, but I finally just gave up and got out of bed and went downstairs. TNT's latest showing of A Christmas Story had just started, so I wrapped myself in a blanket and watched it, dozing during the commercials.

Now it's 6:30, and I only have to keep myself amused for another hour or so until I can wake up Matt. (His first present to me, last night in the car on the way home, was that I could wake him up whenever I wanted. My first present to him, in return, was a promise that I'd wait until at least 7:30.)

We had a nice day yesterday with my family. It even snowed! Not enough to get me a white Christmas, but I got some pretty pictures of the snow clinging to ivy leaves.

We spent a lot of time repeating ourselves in loud voices for my grandparents, who have to know what everyone said even if they weren't being spoken to at the time. I love my grandparents dearly, but if I had to spend more time with them, I think I'd go bananas. At least Grandmom didn't insist on going to church.

My parents' neighborhood has a tradition for Christmas Eve, that everyone lines their yard with luminaries - the homemaker's club sells kits of bags and candles and donates the profits to charity. If everyone along a stretch of road participates, the results are simply gorgeous in an ethereal sort of way. The cul-de-sac my parents live on is pretty enthusiastic about it, so almost every year the whole street is lined. (Neighbors usually chip in to help cover yards for people who are out of town, just to avoid spoiling the effect.) I'd have taken pictures if my camera was better in dim light.

We piled into two cars and drove around the neighborhood, looking at the luminaries and decorations. Not long after we got back from that, Matt and I decided to go home.

Hey, it's getting lighter out there!

I need to go get out a few cookies for Matt - his family tradition demands cookies for breakfast on Christmas morning.

I hope you all have a wonderful day!

Friday, December 24, 1999

24 December 1999


The festivities begin today. Very shortly, in fact - I have to write this quick. Matt and I are supposed to be at my parents' house by nine so we can open John's presents and have brunch before he has to leave for the airport.

I don't envy John for that. He's flying to Montana today, to spend Christmas with his fiancee. He'll be travelling for something like ten hours - assuming none of his flights are delayed or cancelled, and the sheer volume of travel this time of year almost guaruntees something happens to his luggage on the way. Assuming he arrives on time, he's expected to go to midnight Christmas Eve service with his in-laws-to-be. And to top everything off, he'll be sleeping in the children's playroom - and his fiancee's older sister and her two young children are going to be spending Christmas Eve with them as well. This practically signs the death warrant on him being able to get any sleep Christmas Eve. (John is almost as bad as me about waking up early Christmas morning, but after a day that long, he might actually be able to manage!)

Oh, well. I'm sure his excitement at being able to see Sam outweighs the sheer inconvenience of travelling at this time of year. (He's flying back on New Year's Eve. Who came up with this itenerary?!?)

For the last few weeks, the post office has been making two rounds a day to get packages delivered - a "package only" delivery in the morning, and then the regular mail (also with packages) which gets to us around 4:30 in the afternoon. I thought this was a splendid thing, and I applaud the post office for doing it. (I did a lot of catalog and internet orders this year, so I was waiting on a number of packages.)

Yesterday, however, took the prize.

It started around 10:30, when UPS came by and gave us a package which contained a card from Matt's dad. (We haven't opened it yet; we suspect there might be more than just a card in it. Dad Brooks is a great believer in cash as a gift.)

Somewhat later, the post office came by with another package - it turned out to be the "free gift" from a catalog company that had been backordered when they sent the actual items I'd ordered.

In the early afternoon, I was talking to my mom on the phone and noticed the mail truck just sitting in the street outside our house. It looked like the mailman was reading a book or something. Out of curiosity, I opened the front door and saw yet another package - this time from Matt's mom. Matt opened it and put several packages under the tree. The mailman continued to sit in his truck for another few minutes until he'd finished his cigarrette break, or whatever, and then drove off.

Finally, around 4:30 with the regular mail, our doorbell rang, and Matt opened the door on another package from his mother. (Which was good, because she'd said to expect to boxes.) This box was much larger, and with much glee we threw wadded newspaper over our shoulders until we found the two presents inside and put them under the tree.

Four deliveries in one day! Maybe the mailman should start wearing Santa hats or something.

All right, well, Matt's been out of the shower for a bit, so the water's probably hot again, and we have to leave for my parents' in about twenty minutes, so I'd better get on with it.

I'll write more later!

Thursday, December 23, 1999

23 December 1999


We met K.T. and Kevin and MattWhoWorksWithKevin last night for dinner and a movie. We stopped at their apartment and watched about ten minutes worth of Dune, which is Kevin's all-time favorite movie. I'd seen bits and pieces of it before, and wondered in the fact of Kevin's enthusiasm whether I'd just been in a bad mood the first time around. Nope. I like the book all right, but I think the movie is awful. The special effects are grotesque, in particular - the blue-on-blue eyes representative of Dune's spice addicts are supposed to be a bit eerie and unreal, but in the movie you can tell they colored them in after filming, because they glow, and borders shift. It's completely unbelievable. Also, the whispered voiceovers make my spine curve. There's no reason to have thoughts whispered. As long as we can see that their lips aren't moving, then a slight echo is all that's necessary to separate thoughts from dialog. Sheesh. I was vastly relieved when we left to go get our Chinese food.

Matt and I parked in front of the movie theater on the assumption that we'd end up there, and despite the fact that the Chinese take-out place is at the far end of the shopping center from the theater, it seems ridiculous to drive from one end of a shopping center to another unless you've got large or heavy packages to carry. We decided to go ahead and buy our tickets. K.T. and Kevin and MattWhoWorksWithKevin were going to see End of Days, which Matt and I decided we didn't trust enough to want to pay full price for it. So we'd decided on Bicentennial Man, which we'd wanted to see when we saw the previews for it, and which the theater's internet site had said was starting at the same time as End of Days.

We went up and got in line, then looked at the board. The internet had lied to us. Bicentennial Man started over half an hour earlier, and we almost certainly weren't going to be able to finish dinner in time to see it. We decided to go have dinner, and decide what to do when we got back, based on the time then.

We had a nice dinner (I think this Chinese take-out place has the best Chinese take-out in the area, actually) and enjoyed chatting and joking with K.T. and Kevin and MattWhoWorksWithKevin. Then we headed back to the theater.

I confess. I'm really anal and particular and just a wimp about movies. I have to psych myself up for going to the movies. I have to know what it is I'll be seeing and be mentally prepared for it. So changing movies in midstream isn't something I'm very good at. After looking at the list of movies and identifying three or so other movies that I'm interested in seeing eventually, I wasn't really in the mood to see any of them right then.

So we bid K.T. and Kevin and MattWhoWorksWithKevin farewell, and went to visit my parents instead.

(Sympathy notes to Matt can be sent here.)

We found my mom in full swing of her usual holiday cheer. She brought out a platter of cookies for us to munch on (mind you, these were cookies that my brother and I had made) and every five minutes or so tried to find an excuse to open a present.

"I think, in celebration of you not having to go back to D.C. any more this year, Matt, I should open a present!"

"Well, if the cookies are all gone, there's only one thing to do: Open a present!"

Like that. She does this every year - as soon as wrapped packages appear under the tree, she starts looking for excuses to open one. It's a family game, to block her. Matt suggested that we wrap something she already owns and let her open that, but that's not in the spirit of the game. (Mom said, "Matt! That's mean! In consolation, I think I should get to open a present!")

Yesterday, I had nothing to do. In contrast, today's going to be a bear. Matt's staying home - his various trips to D.C. got him enough extra hours to take the day off. But we've got a heck of a To-Do list in front of us.

Matt needs to call the DMV because he never got the registration stickers for his car. He also needs to call the mechanic and make an appointment to take his car in and have the weird noise it's making looked at. (If he gets an appointment for today, of course, we need to take his car to the shop.) We need to do the laundry, and clean up the guest bedroom so that when we get the bed, we have some place to put it.

And of course we slept in this morning. That was nice. I like to snuggle with my husband on cold mornings.

But now: to work!

Wednesday, December 22, 1999

22 December 1999


I have no plans for today. None at all. Well, aside from writing this journal entry, I mean. No baking I want to do. No shopping. No gifts to wrap. No decorations to put up. If Jen calls today (since she didn't yesterday) I might get together with her, but we'll just have to see.

Since I have no plans, I was actually sleeping in late. I've been getting up around 8 or so, but this morning it was moving in on 9, and I was still drifting in and out of luxurious sleep.

Then the doorbell rang.

The thought that went through my head was, Damn! Did I forget about another present to be delivered? Matt didn't say he was having anything else sent here! And since I got a package just two days ago that had to be signed for, I threw on my sweatpants and hobbled downstairs, threw open the door.

The attractive young man on the other side of the door smiled at me. Aw, hell, I thought. Another fucking salesman. For this I got out of bed? "You weren't asleep, were you?" he asked.

I'm not very polite to salemen. "Yes," I croaked (my voice is pretty scratchy when I first get up). "What can I do for you?"

He turned out to be from Gabriel Homes - the company that built our house. They'd sent him to fix things. I felt much more kindly disposed towards him and had him come in.

The poor boy. They hadn't told him there was a list. I rattled off a few things that have been particularly annoying, and he decided he would start with the living room light. He left to get the lamp, and I promised that by the time he got back, I'd be dressed and have a written list of all the current problems for him to take back.

So now I'm up. Skipped my shower because I didn't know how long it would take him to get the light fixture for the living room, so I'm feeling slightly scummy. I found the list I'd typed up months ago, made a couple of changes, crossed off the very few items they've actually taken care off, did a walkthrough to make other notes, and printed it off.

Now I'm sitting in front of my computer, feeling sleepy, even though I got a good ten hours of sleep. Waiting for the guy to come back with a light for my living room. I'm not sure what I'll do when I'm done with this...

I don't have any plans.

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

21 December 1999

Four days.

So, what's on today's agenda? Make a grocery list, and if the list isn't too long, do the shopping. Voluntarily suspend my constitutional rights and go into a clinic for a drug test. My friend Jen might be in town today, in which case I'll probably meet her for lunch. Start straightening up the downstairs half of the house in anticipation of my grandparents coming for a visit. (Lucky for me, they're too old to climb stairs, so I can toss all the junk in the bedroom and close the door.) If I get really inspired, I should start re-arranging the junk in the guest bedroom so we can put a bed in it. (I know, I know - a bed in a bedroom. What crazy thing will we think of next?)

Aside from that, I think it'll be a pretty slow day.

I want a hard-boiled egg. Isn't that weird? Actually, I don't really want a hard-boiled egg; I want some devilled eggs. Maybe I'll get a half-dozen eggs when I'm at the store and make some. Matt hates eggs, so we don't usually keep them in the house unless I need them for a recipe. And really, the only recipes I have that demand real eggs instead of the fake eggs are meringue kisses - which require separate egg whites - and hard-boiled egg variants. So we don't get them very often. I don't miss them much, but once in a while, I crave them.

One semester when I was in college, my morning routine was to walk to the Marketplace for breakfast, and I always got the same thing: Two hard-boiled eggs and two bottles of Elliott's Amazing Fruit Juice. (You got up to $2.75 for breakfast on the meal plan, and eggs were 30 cents each, and the juice about a dollar a bottle. It was the best use of as much of the money as possible without getting something gross like Marketplace pancakes.) One bottle of juice went into my backpack and back to the fridge in my dorm room. The other bottle I drank with my eggs. I always ate the eggs the same way, too - I'd get a packet of Miracle Whip and a packet of relish from the condiments bar, peel the eggs and dump the yolks in the bowl they served the eggs in, mush in the Miracle Whip and relish, then scoop it back on the whites to eat it. Poor man's devilled eggs. Or student's, I guess.

But I can't remember what the classes were that got me up and out early enough for breakfast. Strange, the things we remember.

I think perhaps after Christmas I'm going to do some shopping. I usually avoid after-Christmas sales like the plague, but there are some things I want that it would be nice to get on sale. A new artificial tree, for one. The ones that are pre-wired with lights run from $150 - $200, so if I could find one on sale, I could probably get it for almost the same price as a plain tree before the sales. And I have declared that we are definitely buying a new tree for next year.

And I'd like an advent calendar for next year. I gave one to my mom some years ago that's a wooden jigsaw puzzle of a tree. It's adorable, and I wish I'd bought one for myself, but that was during the lean grad student days, and I simply didn't have an extra $20 to spend on myself.

About a week after I got laid off, I was shopping with Braz, and we stumbled across an advent calendar that was a series of ball-candles on a string, with a clever stand that held up the top candle. I almost bought it, but I was still smarting from the layoff, not sure when I'd be back to work, and it was $50. After it became clear that I'd have a job with the new year, I went back, but they'd already sold it.

When I was a kid, my mom used to buy those chocolate calendars from some group of fund-raisers at the school she works for. The German club, I think. I'm sure you've seen them - wall-hanging calendars, and every door you open reveals a picture and a chocolate shaped like the picture. The chocolate was nasty and waxy, but my brother and I didn't know any better. We looked forward to them every year.

Why yes, this time of year is one big nostalgia trip for me, why do you ask?

Monday, December 20, 1999

20 December 1999

Five days to Christmas! Whoo-hoo!

Matt and I went with my parents last night on a light tour. We drove around a few neighborhoods looking at the decorations, and then Matt and I directed them to the Christmas House that we'd found with KT and Kevin a week or so ago. Yes, I took pictures, finally. You can see them in the December photo album, which I've finally gotten around to putting up.

Actually, it's less than five days until the celebrations begin. My grandparents will arrive the evening of the 23rd, and we're having a family brunch on the morning of the 24th, before we open John's presents. (John is leaving the afternoon of the 24th to go spend Christmas week with his fiancee's family, so the presents to and from him are getting opened early.)

There will be a spare bed in the house if Matt and I want to spend Christmas Eve at my parents', but I think we'll stay home. I never sleep well on Christmas Eve (yes, that's an understatement, and no, you can't remove the word "well" altogether, because I usually get at least a nap) and my grandparents being there will make things worse.

My grandparents are constitutionally unable to alter their morning routine. Which means that they wake up when they wake up, and then take showers and spend approximately forty-five minutes brushing their teeth. (This is not an exxageration. When I lived with my parents, I used to have to share a bathroom with them when they visited.) Then they get dressed, which for old bones takes about half an hour or so, and Grandmom has to draw on her eyebrows, and then they're ready to emerge.

If I'm there through all this, I'll go bananas with the anticipation. So what I'm going to do is stay home. From my own bed, which is easier to sleep in anyway, I can see a clock and force myself to stay in bed until at least four. (Yes, I'm really like this.) Then, since I'll be in my own house, I can sneak out of bed and quietly keep myself amused until Matt gets up. In my own house, I can get on the computer and write an early-morning journal entry, or surf the Web, or play games. I can go downstairs and watch A Christmas Story three or four times on TNT, or even watch all my own Christmas videos one at a time. I couldn't do any of this at my parents' house - not even watch TV, because the TV is just on the other side of my parents' bedroom, and even at very low volumes is likely to wake up my mom.

So we'll stay home, and my folks can call us when the grandparents emerge, which gives them all time to have their morning coffee before Matt and I show up. Or we'll head over to their place around 10, which is plenty late for anyone to sleep on any morning, much less Christmas.

Five days. I hope I can make it.

Saturday, December 18, 1999

18 December 1999

When I was, oh, somewhere between ten and thirteen, my parents gave me a series of presents for a couple of holidays in a row. Each present was a sort of puzzle, called Antika. It came in a thick box, and inside the box were two plastic bags.

One bag held a pot of glue, some plaster of paris mix, a balloon, and a couple of cheap paintbrushes - the sort you can pick up at the hobby store for about twenty-five cents. The other bag held, mostly, shredded styrofoam that was supposed to simulate sand. And shards of pottery.

The idea was that you were playing at being an archaeologist. You had these shards of pottery, and you figured out how they went together, and you glued them together. Then, because the kit strived for authenticity, and there were always a couple of huge holes left when you'd run out of shards, you blew up the balloon inside the pot, and used the plaster of paris to fill in the holes. When you were done, you'd have a reasonable facsimile of a pot from some specific archaeological period, which was explained on the directions that I never read after the first time. There was a silhouette of the pot on the outside of the box, in case you had trouble getting started, but that was all the help it gave you - I always wondered whether they made the actual pots and then carefully broke them and threw away a couple of shards, or if the shards were manufactured that way. The pieces fit together as if they'd really been broken, but I never got the same kit twice, so I couldn't check.

Once, because I thought it was too easy when all the pieces went into the same pot, I broke down a couple of pots I'd already made in previous years (the glue dissolved easily in water) and put them all together in the pile of styrofoam sand that came with a new kit and spent a happy couple of days re-sorting them. (Hey, look, I found a link! According to those pictures and my memories, I did the Jericho, Megiddo, and Samaria pots.)

The reason this is in my mind is that yesterday, Matt got a package from his mother. In it were his Christmas present, wrapped (and now waiting patiently under the tree) and his ornaments. Most of his ornaments have his name on them, and are the sort of ornaments that a young boy would pick out, or perhaps the sort of thing people give to young boys. There are a couple of Superman ornaments, and a rocking horse, and a little blackboard that a teacher made... Two ornaments broke in transit. One of them just had a piece pop off its backing, and would obviously be easy to fix.

The other is a scarecrow (a la Wizard of Oz) made out of children's colored dough - not even Play-Doh, but the homemade stuff. I didn't ask Matt whether he made it himself. It was obviously the work of an amateur, though very good for an amateur. The cheap dough had crumbled in the rigors of shipping, though. The legs had broken off fairly cleanly, and a few brushes of superglue were enough to right them. There were other bits and crumbles in the tissue paper, though, that were never going to be replaced. There was one other piece big enough to be re-attached, and as I hunted for its precise location, I remembered the Antika kits. (The piece wound up to be from the center of the crumbles, and would've looked kindof dumb, reattached, so I left it off. Luckily, it was from the back of the ornament.)

I don't have a childhood collection of ornaments like Matt's. My mother keeps a single clothespin person I made when she was going through an arts-and-crafts phase. She made about two dozen of these little clothespin people, in Christmas theme, from a kit, and let me make one. I made a fourth wise man (I was obsessed with the wise men at the time) which actually turned out pretty well considering I was six, and then guaranteed myself a world of embarrassment for the next twenty years or so by writing "By Carol" on his gown with magic marker, big enough to be seen from across the room. And there are a couple of ornaments I made in school out of cardboard and embroidery floss that are actually very neat-looking, but falling apart from age. That's about it.

I have a collection of ornaments that my parents bought for me. The year I was born, a store (I think it was J.C. Penny's, but I'm not sure) began an annual release of sterling silver ornaments along the "Twelve Days of Christmas" theme. I am my parents' first child, and I was born toward the beginning of November, so when that first Christmas rolled around, they were still very excited. They wanted to start a tradition, I guess. For that year and eleven years after, one of my presents was always that year's ornament. I remember recognizing the box and looking forward to it - the ornaments are beautiful - but I also remember the last couple of years my mother commenting how she was glad it was almost over.

My brother got a collection of silver bells that started being released the same year he was born, because my parents are nothing if not fair. But I think they stopped his around ten or so because he admitted he didn't really care. Or maybe they pushed on until he had twelve. It's hard to remember.

I've still got my ornaments. Right now, as I type, they're sitting in their protective boxes, all together in a bigger box, in my living room. I'd thought of putting them on the tree, but the tree kept falling over, and I didn't want to chance damaging any of them. And now that the tree is stable again, we're pretty happy with the number of ornaments on it anyway. Another dozen - even beautiful collector's edition silver ornaments - would just make it look cluttered.

So they're in a box.

Hmm. I've still got a garland I haven't put up yet. Maybe I'll run it up the bannister and hang the ornaments from it.

Do you have an ornament collection? Join my extremely low-volume mailing list and answer the survey!

Anyway, all that was on my mind, so I thought I'd share. It's exactly one week from Christmas today, and I have got to get out the invitations for the New Year's party. We're going to a party tonight - I need to dig out something festive to wear. I found the last present I wanted to get for Matt, and then a couple more besides. I feel much happier with his presents, now that the dorky and goofy ones can be relegated to supporting roles. I am finally done Christmas shopping!

And I only have one more baking thing to do - a peppermint cheesecake for Christmas dinner dessert. I've never made it before, so I'm contemplating making something else as well in case it turns out to be gross. Any suggestions? Maybe I'll just bring some extra cookies and fudge.

Friday, December 17, 1999

17 December 1999

I had a lovely day yesterday with my brother. He had to drop off his truck at the shop to have some routine maintenance done, so I picked him up there and dragged him shopping with me. We went to Sam's Club, Barnes and Noble, and a card and party good store, and then I took him out to lunch at Applebee's.

After lunch, I dropped him off at the mechanic's to pick up his truck, and we went back to my parents' house and made moon cookies. It's a pretty tedious process, and with only the two of us working, it took something like four hours. Mom was home from work shortly before we finished.

We talked with Mom for a while until Dad got home, and then Mom and Dad went out to Dad's office Christmas party. Oops. We'd sortof been hoping they'd volunteer to feed us. Oh, well, Matt had called to say he was working late, so I took John out to Cheddar's for dinner. After dinner, he remembered something that his finacee had hinted strongly that she'd like for Christmas, and Cheddar's is just across the parking lot from the mall where he could get said item, so we walked over and I helped him pick it out.

All in all, we spent about twelve hours together. And we didn't have one argument! It's an amazing record for my brother and I, really. (Which is not to say we didn't disagree. But we did it civilly and calmly. It was really quite astonishing.) We talked so constantly that my throat is a little raspy this morning.

Today's plans are much less glorious. Laundry. A grocery run for a few things that we can't wait until Monday to get. I'm going to call around to see if I can find this present I want to get for Matt, or maybe search for it online, though it's a little late to be ordering things online and expecting them in time for Christmas. Printing and mailing New Year's party invitations. Depending on how Matt feels by the time he gets back from D.C., we may go pick up my brother and maybe my parents and go see the Christmas House.

It'll be good to have a day to relax.

I need to post a correction. I misquoted Matt yesterday when I said that Santa stopped loving you if you opened Christmas presents early. What he actually said was that Santa smites you if you open your presents early. When I asked him exactly how Santa smites naughty children, I was told that a giant candy-cane - the size of a telephone pole - comes rocketing in from orbit (at at least Mach 4, he assured me) and obliterates the person in question. I asked him how he knew, and he said he knew a kid who'd tried to peek... They'd found his nose clear across the state line.

So be warned, kids, sniffing around the Christmas tree! And beware of falling candy canes.

Thursday, December 16, 1999

16 December 1999

I saw George C. Scott's version of A Christmas Carol last night. I'd forgotten how good it is. It would've been better if it hadn't been interspersed with commercials, and if each commercial break didn't have at least two repeated commercials. Through a two-hour show, I think I saw the commercial for Pillsbury crescent rolls about twelve times. And the number's only that low because during the second half, they started alternating it with the holiday sugar cookie commercial. Long breaks, not enough sponsors, not enough planning.

Nine days until Christmas! (I'm counting today, but not Christmas day.) Of course, Christmas Eve night will seem like about nine days, I'm sure.

I talked to my brother yesterday, and he told me that the current plan is that on Christmas Eve morning, we'll open his presents to us, and he'll open our presents to him - but the rest of the presents are waiting until Christmas morning. If our grandparents were staying through the New Year, then we might have made him wait, but they're not getting to town until late on the 23rd, John's leaving for Montana on the afternoon of the 24th (and won't that be a trip from hell, boys and girls?) and the grandparents are leaving the day before John gets back. So the only time we'll all be together is the morning of the 24th.

Oh, well. At least they didn't decide to move our Christmas celebration to Christmas Eve morning. As Matt says, Santa stops loving you if you open presents before Christmas.

I roasted a turkey yesterday - it turned out pretty well, though I think I should have basted it a little more often. I finally got my broiled turkey skin that I've been wanting since before Thanksgiving. And we had turkey and mashed potatoes and peas for dinner last night, and it was good.

We all have our foods that we simply can't get too much of. I could eat peanut butter or Chinese food every day for a month and not get tired of it. My father's the same way. There was a while a few years ago when I thought K.T. might drown in tomato soup, and the only thing keeping her afloat were bagels.

I think turkey is one of Matt's special foods. I made him a turkey sandwich for lunch today, at his request. Which is remarkable for two reasons: For one, we had turkey for dinner just last night, and two, Matt never bothers to request anything for lunch. The conversation is usually something like, "Do you want anything specific for lunch?" "Food."

So today I'm going to take my brother out to lunch, and then we're going to go back to my folks' house and make a batch of moon cookies so he can have some to take to Sam, and I can have a few to round out the goodie baskets I'm giving people. Somewhere in there, I want to do a little shopping - some gift certificates for a couple of people, a few things we need in the house, and something else I want to get for Matt if I can find it anywhere.

I thought I'd have the whole day to get all this done, because Matt was supposed to be on a trip to D.C. today and wouldn't get home until late. But they changed it on him, and he's not going to D.C. until tomorrow. So maybe I'll put off the shopping until then, I don't know.

Ah, well, I have a lot to do today, one way or another, so I'd better get going.

Wednesday, December 15, 1999

15 December 1999

I've been in a mood for re-reading comics lately. It started with a book I bought a couple of weeks ago when we were picking up the usual comics - a guide to Sandman. It runs through the basic plot of each thread, explains a few of the obscure references, and has some interviews with Neil Gaiman and several of the artists. The book is organized to match the trade paperbacks (collections, for those of you not familiar with the comics world), and as I read it, I was overcome with the desire to re-read the collections. I mentioned it to Matt, who looked at me as if I'd grown a spare nose and reminded me that I have all the trades, and that this wouldn't be a terribly difficult task. Oh, yeah.

So I re-read Sandman. There are ten collections, comprising seventy-five issues and (I think) a couple of specials. It took me a while to go through them all, especially since I had other things to do. When I finished, the desire hadn't actually been slaked.

I re-read a Kabuki trade I'd picked up. Matt picked up the middle Transmetropolitan collection (there are currently three) and I devoured it - it contains my very favorite Transmet issue. (If you happen to be a curious fan, write me and I'll tell you which one it was, and why.) A couple of Strangers in Paradise collections. I read The Watchmen, which was one of the first comic collections I'd ever read, and the very first I'd ever bought. Reading that put me in the mood for something a little grimmer, and last night I read the first and third Transmet trades. I'd been meaning to re-read the third anyway - the political plot was pretty confusing one month at a time - not helped by the fact that the main character changes sides at least three times - and made much more sense as a collection.

The hunger still isn't slaked, and I'm trying to decide what to read now. Open Matt's comic boxes and dig out the rest of the Transmet political issues while I'm still understanding everything? I haven't re-read any of my Books of Magic trades in a while. V for Vendetta is powerful. I haven't read Maus yet, either. Re-reading Matt's Cerebus collection could keep me busy for over a week. Between the two of us, Matt and I have one entire bookshelf filled with nothing but comic book collections. Over-filled - there are other bookshelves in the house that are home to a collection or two, but this one is completely full. And we're still collecting. We've both read most of them. (There are a few of Matt's that I'm not interested in reading, and vice versa.)

It's funny - there are still comics that are "Matt's" or "mine" but we both read most of each others' comics. I pay for Strangers in Paradise, but Matt snatches it up as soon as I'm done. I sometimes don't wait for him to get to Transmet or Thieves and Kings - he's usually got a bigger pile of comics to read, and I get impatient. I've offered to make the weekly comics run one of "our" expenses - put everything on the joint account, but Matt refuses on the grounds that he buys a lot of comics that I don't read, and he doesn't want to spend money that's half mine on something I don't want. And it would be ridiculous to write three checks every week: Liz's comics, Matt's comics, and our comics. So we keep buying them separately, and I keep feeling a little guilty that Matt buys three times as many comics as I do while I read two-thirds of his.

It's weird; I would never have guessed that I was the sort of person who got "into" comics. They're boy things, you know? Superheroes in their leotards and capes and utility belts and women with breasts the size of basketballs and zero-gravity bras. I read Watchmen, by Alan Moore, when I was a freshman in college. I loved it because the superheroes weren't perfect. They had sexual hangups and squabbles amongst themselves and unrealistic opinions of what the world owed them and and they fought with their parents and their romantic liasons crumbled and they aged and even the women turned ugly. And it had this ending that just blew me away. I won't tell you, in case you're interested in reading it sometime, but it was just amazing. Very antithetical to the standard superhero story. I loved it - I read it in two days, without stopping for anything, and then gave it back to the friend who'd lent it to me.

When I was in grad school, I was went to the Waldenbooks to try and order a book that turned out to be out of print. While I was there, I wandered around a little, and my eye was caught by a stack of Watchmen, and I was overcome with a sudden urge to read it again. It was $17 - very reasonable for twelve issues of comics, but still a little steep on my graduate student budget. I couldn't resist, though. I bought it anyway, and spent two days reading it all over again.

About a year later, I was hanging out with K.T., and I picked up a comic from her table and started leafing through it. It was actually Matt's comic (this was while they were dating) and I didn't understand most of what was going on, but I was fascinated. Instead of superheroes in tights, this comic was populated with fairies and creatures of imagination and a boy who was less of a hero and more of a victim, even if he was the center of the plot. Later, I read Neil Gaiman's Books of Magic mini-series that began John Ney Reiber's longer series, and the first issues of the longer series, and the issue I'd picked up from K.T.'s coffee table made more sense. It's the first comic I ever bought in serial form.

When I started dating Matt, I read a lot of his comics, and a whole new world opened up. I still don't care for most superhero comics, though I'll put up with tights and capes and breasts larger than heads to get to a good story. I like a lot of Batman series, for instance, and J. Michael Strazinsky (I know I spelled that wrong) is currently doing a superhero story in which I'm enduring moderately crappy artwork to enjoy the plot.

I came to the conclusion that comics are just as valid a medium as books and movies and painting. If words are a valid art form, and pictures are a valid art form, then why can't words put together with pictures be a valid art form? It's because comics have a reputation for being children's stories. Specifically, the stories enjoyed by barely pubescent males who lock themselves in the bathroom and jack off to the image of the damsel in distress. Was that too harsh for you? It's what most people think of, in the secret backs of their minds, when they think of comic books. I used to be one of them.

But there's schlock in books and movies, too. Go into any bookstore and compare the space reserved for romance and adventure novels with the space reserved for the great classics of literature. Go into a video store and see how many copies of Citizen Kane they have, and then how many copies of Austin Powers. How many houses have Dogs Playing Poker on their rec room walls, compared to the houses with prints of Mona Lisa? Schlock can be fun, as long as you understand that it is schlock. But the good stuff is there, and it should be recognized as being good.

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

14 December 1999

I gave up on the tree.

No, of course I didn't take it down; are you nuts? But I did finally employ an engineering solution to the problem instead of continuing to fight with the recalcitrant base: I tied the top of the tree to the ceiling vent.

The string isn't especially attractive, and the tree now leans ever so slightly toward the vent (which wasn't centered with the tree) but it's much straighter than before, and I now have no fear that I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a collapsing tree, and the presents are back under the tree where they belong.

Today promises to be busy. I have three packages to take to the post office and mail; a batch of peanut butter fudge to make; Christmas cards to write; New Year's invitations to print and (in some cases) mail; and a turkey to roast, though if the turkey isn't defrosted yet, it might get put off for another day.

But thanks to the grey, rainy weather this morning and the fact that I was up quite late last night, I slept in for the first time in a week. Oh, that felt good! Still plenty of time to do everything - busy is relative, of course - and despite the weather, I'm feeling quite contented and happy.

Eleven days until Christmas, and everything progresses apace. Let's see... There are two presents on the stairs waiting to be wrapped, one package that was delivered while I was writing this entry with presents for Matt and another friend, and one package from a catalog that I'm not expecting for another week with a present for my mom. I love getting packages, even if they're not really for me. I need to stop at the bookstore and pick up a couple of gift certificates for some hard-to-shop-for friends, and that will be pretty much it for presents that we're giving. Though of course I reserve the right to buy things if I see something and my brain makes an immediate connection.

Later this week I'm getting together with my brother to make cookies. Parties are scheduled for Saturday and next Wednesday. My grandparents are getting to town next Thursday. Somewhere in there I'm going to go back down to Hampton to look at the tacky lights and visit the Christmas House again. Whee!

And now, dear friends, I'm going to go get started.

Monday, December 13, 1999

13 December 1999

Twelve days until Christmas. I need to hurry up and get certain packages in the mail. We may be "doing" Christmas a little early, because my brother is going to spend Christmas with his fiancee in Montana, and the only days that he and my grandparents will be here at the same time are the 23rd and the morning of the 24th. So my dad told me last night that we might celebrate - at least in part - the morning of the 24th, before John has to go to the airport.

I hope it's just a partial celebration - only opening presents that John is either giving or receiving. Christmas is Christmas, after all, no matter what name you put on it, and it wouldn't feel right not to have a Christmas celebration on Christmas. But that's up to my parents and grandparents, really.

The 3GI party went very well. I wasn't the only ex-employee to come, and it was nice to see everyone again. I got a lot of compliments on my dress, which was nice, and I danced until I got a blister under my big toe. Whee! I did take my camera, but it was so dark that most of the pictures look like crap. Oh, well.

Before 3GI's party, Matt and I were just sitting in the living room reading. Suddenly, the tree did this slow, stately topple to the floor, dripping ornaments and candy canes, barely preceded by a racing blur of a cat... We assumed that the cat had attacked some ornament and triggered the collapse. We got the tree back up and put back the ornaments and candy canes - luckily, no ornaments had broken, and only a few of the candy canes. It was lopsided, but since it was time to go change for the party, we figured it would last until Saturday.

Saturday morning, the tree's angle was even more precarious. I had Matt hold it upright while I tightened the screws in the base. Correctly upright, we went on about our business.

This morning, the tree was beginning to look a little unstable again. I am coming to the conclusion that the base I bought isn't quite big enough for our tree. After Matt left for work, I crawled under the tree and righted it with one hand while tightening screws with the other. It's still a touch lopsided, but more or less upright.

I think I may see if I can't repair the tree's original base...

I keep thinking that this is going to be a busy week; that I have a lot to do. But when I try to list those things, it doesn't sound very busy.
  • I want to make a batch or two of peanut butter fudge using a recipe KT gave me.
  • I need to mail packages to various people near Chicago and New York.
  • I need to prod Matt into getting something for the one person left on our list.
  • We need to do Christmas cards.
  • One day later this week will be devoted to taking my brother out to lunch and making another batch of moon cookies, but I don't know which day yet.
  • We need to decide on the guest list for our New Year's party and get the invitations out.
  • I need to pick up a few gift certificates for people who are hard to shop for.
Not exactly back-breaking work, there. Oh, yeah, and today I plan to go to Roses to pick up a new pair of cheap loafers (mine are developing holes in the sole) and some cheap tins to put cookies and fudge in. Hold me back!

Friday, December 10, 1999

10 December 1999

Well. Today's the day. When Syscon called last week to offer me a job, I promised I'd let them know my answer by the end of today. And I promptly wrote e-mail to the other places I'd interviewed, letting them know that I needed an answer before today so I could consider all my options.

Metro decided that they couldn't make an offer before my deadline, so they bowed out. I was relieved, more than anything else - I didn't really want to work for Metro in the first place.

STC said they were going to make me an offer after they did a secondary interview. A little judicious fibbing turned it into a phone interview, during which I found out that the job they were actually considering me for is an implementation and testing position. I hate testing, so despite the fact that they offered me about $7000 more than Syscon, I won't be taking it. (I thought about it long and hard. $7000 is nothing to sneeze at. But I decided, to hell with the money - if I hate my job, the money won't make it any better.)

I called INRI yesterday to get the scoop from them. I was told that they were trying to get approval to hire me, but that the application was stuck up in corporate. They promised to call me back if they heard anything today, but somehow, I don't see it happening. Damn. I liked the INRI office, the people seemed nice, their work seemed interesting, and I've heard that they pay very well... But I'm not going to turn Syscon down for a job that hasn't been offered yet, so unless they call before 3:00 today, I'll be working at Syscon when January rolls around.

Oh, well. No matter what happens, I'll be able to tell the people at 3GI's Christmas party tonight that I've found a job.

A while back, Karen gave me a recipe for "Black Gold" cookies. They sounded wonderful, and I decided to make them for Christmas. I made them yesterday.

Oh.    My.    God.

The cookies are, in essense, melted chocolate chips with a little flour and egg to hold them together. Decadence in cookie shape. And easy to make, though since you have to let them cool on the baking sheets (because they're still gooey when they come out of the oven) I had to buy a couple of extra baking sheets. No matter; it was worth it.


So the 3GI Christmas party is tonight. I'm looking forward to it - I really am. There are people I miss from the office, and who - if Matt and Jeremy can be believed - miss me, too.

I'm debating whether to take my camera. I don't know when I'll see most of these people again. (And because the company supplies the alcohol - at least, they did last year - the pictures are worth a lot in the humor department, as well.) But it's kindof clunky... We'll see, I guess.

I realized this morning that I don't have a purse that's suitable for my outfit. So I'm going to pop out after I finish writing and posting this - go up to the outlet mall and see if I can find something suitable without paying an arm and a leg. I'm not the Fashion Thing; I don't need a purse that costs more than my dress. But the miniature suitcase I lug around most of the time is definitely not what I want. I need something fairly small - just big enough for my keys, driver's license, and lipstick. And a spare floppy disk or two, if I take my camera. Since I'm wearing a shawl over my shoulders, it needs to be a clutch or wrist bag... Damn. If I'd thought of this a week ago, I could have tried to make something out of the scraps leftover from making the shawl - that would have been perfect, because it would have matched. Heck, if I don't see anything at the mall, I may still attempt it.

Ah, well. Maybe I'll be lucky, and when I get back from shopping, I'll have a message on the phone from INRI.

Thursday, December 9, 1999

9 December 1999

We weren't really in the Christmas spirit when we started out.

Wait, I'll begin at the beginning, I suppose. K.T. called last night to invite Matt and I over to have dinner and watch a movie. They'd rented Clerks, which Matt has been suggesting that I see for some time, and so we went. Dinner was chicken with some sort of Mexican-style sauce, over white rice, with what I think was Spanish rice on the side, and it was good - almost but not quite too spicy for me, which means it was bland as hell for everyone else, I guess. The movie was fun; anyone who's ever worked a shitty job that involved dealing with the public will find something familiar in it.

After the movie, while we were sitting around chatting, K.T. came up with the idea - and a very bright idea it was - to pile into their car and ride around looking at tacky Christmas decorations.

We rode through a few neighborhoods, pointing and laughing and sniggering at people's bad taste. One place would have looked very nice, except they'd used all red lights, making it look more like a set for Hellowe'en than full for joy. Another went the same route, except they used all green lights, giving the house and yard a gangrenous glow. Frequently we'd encounter houses where no individual decoration was awful, but they hadn't known when to stop, and the result was a garish explosion of light and color. As I said at the beginning, we weren't really in the Christmas spirit, here.

Then I got a yen to ride through the neighborhood I grew up in, since we were nearby. We were driving around in circles, merrily getting ourselves lost, when we encountered the Queen Mother of all Tacky Christmas Houses.

A couple of times before, we'd made Kevin pull over so we could stare in awe at displays of great Tack. This time, we made him park the car, and we all got out to take a closer look. I don't think there was a square yard of their front yard that wasn't host to some sort of display - electric train tracks, semi-animated light displays, cardboard carollers, "Santa Stop Here" signs, snowmen, nutcrackers... Every straight line of the house was outlined with lights of some sort. There were three different light displays on the roof, depicting Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, and Pluto, all wearing - of course - Santa hats. But the coup de grace of the place was the animatronics. As you walked up the driveway, you found yourself facing a pair of sliding glass doors that opened into what was obviously once a garage that had been converted into some sort of playroom or den. One of the doors was open to the night air, though a thigh-high picket fence (decorated, of course) gently prevented entry. Inside, every inch of this room (the size of a one-car garage) - I mean every inch - was part of an animatronic display of some sort. Most of them were Santas. Santa in bed and snoring (the blanket over his belly rose and fell with the sound of the snores); Santa sitting in a rocking chair, gently easing red and swollen toes into a foot-bath; Santa checking his list; Santa lifting a candle... There were other animations as well, and a few non-moving dolls. (A Chik-fil-A cow wearing a Santa hat and carrying a sign exhorting us to "Eat more chikin" was one of the first things I noticed.) The floor was coated with at least three inches of thick, fluffy white cotton, I presume to hide all the wiring necessary for the display.

This house did more than glow. It shined, it glimmered, flashed, sparkled, twinkled, and glared. It sang, it blinked, it whistled, it laughed, it whirred, and it popped. It was supremely, astonishingly tacky.

And yet, looking at it, we couldn't feel superior in our good taste. All we could feel was awe - that someone could spend that much time putting together such a display; that someone could possibly have this much stuff; that anyone could possibly love the holiday this much. With shock and hysteria, we laughed and pointed out things that caught our eyes. We talked about calling the newspaper. We thought about taking pictures, or borrowing a video camera to capture the scene. We almost left a note for the owners, but no one had any paper. When we left, all the other tacky houses paled in comparison, and we soon headed home.

When we got back to their place, K.T. admitted to me that she was still stunned - but that she wasn't sure which overwhelming emotion had stunned her. The word she used to describe the house was "exuberence" I thought about it myself, driving home.

This house seemed to me to be a manifestation in the real world of the spirit of Christmas.

Okay, I know that sounds hokey. Stop laughing at me. I mean it.

It was bright and gaudy, and it didn't care. It wasn't trying to be in good taste; it seemed to transcend taste altogether. We love Christmas! this house shouted, And we don't care who knows it! And, Please! Share this magic with us! It sang - no, it carolled - with joy. It was overwhelming and busy and there was too much of it, and it laughed and said that a little bit of too much was a good thing once a year. Every time I looked, I saw something new that I'd missed before. I was impressed, thinking of all the work that had gone into putting this display together, and yet I knew, beyond any shadow of doubt, that every drop of sweat shed was pure love. It was the sheer excitement and ecstasy of the season distilled into one small yard.

When I go back (was there ever any doubt?) I will take with me a note of thanks to leave.

Because when we left that house, we were all of us in the Spirit of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 1999

8 December 1999

So yesterday was a pretty damn good day. Made up for Monday by a long shot.

I finally got the tree up!I got a new stand for the tree and got it up. I even managed to get it up before Matt got home from work, so the surprise I'd been hoping to give him Monday, he got yesterday instead. The lost package with my dad's present in it arrived suddenly, even though UPS's tracker still says it's in California. Another package arrived with presents for my brother and Matt. I got some productive shopping done, and some frivolous shopping, too.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, some gratuitous pictures. But first, a story! Last week when I was out shopping, I picked up something that looks like old fashioned 3-D specs - cheap cardboard glasses with plastic over the eyeholes. The glasses themselves are hideously ugly - decorated with an image of glowing colored lights. Only instead of red and blue plastic, the lenses were a sort of spotty-looking grey. Holiday Specs, they bill themselves. "See the Magic in the Lights of Christmas!" What the hell, I thought, and looked through the lenses at a nearby Christmas tree.

I was bowled over. Every single miniature light on the tree was the center of a rainbow snowflake. I was hooked. I had to have them. I bought three pairs of the specs - they came in blue, gold, and red. I think I had vague ideas of making them stocking stuffers or something. When I got home, I found out that each color revealed a different image around the lights: Blue was the snowflake; red a star and candycane; and gold the phrase "Happy Holidays" They work best with dimmer lights - anything much brighter than your standard window-candle is too bright for the image to show up clearly. Luckily for you, though, these aren't the sort of glasses that require looking through both lenses at once, so I managed to capture the images with my digital camera by the simple expedient of holding one plastic lens over my camera's lens while taking a picture of some lights. Pretty, ain't they?

I must say, I appreciate the sense of humor of the company - let's call them Acme - from which I ordered my dad's Christmas present. Their website almost seems to be a joke, except it's too detailed in ordering information. The flyers which came with the item were equally amusing: (slightly edited on the thousand-to-one-chance my dad reads this before Christmas)


Dear Person-Who-Now-Owns-An-Acme-[product],

As you unpack your new [product], please note that our shipping manager has packed your [product] with Eco-Fill peanuts. These are derived from genuine corn, which was planted, grown, and harvested in either the American Midwest or someplace else.

You can get rid of these pesky packing peanuts by just tossing them on the grass and squirting them with a hose. Or wash them down the drain. Our assistant bottle-washer tells us that they dissolve in water. Our supplier assures us that they are biodegradable. Our 4-year-old reports that they are edible.

Also, please notice that we have enclose a waterslide decal which will properly calibrate and identify your Acme [product]. [Directions for putting the decal on the product omitted.]

Applied properly, we certify that these calibrations cannot be traced to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Physics Laboratory, and the Bureau of Metrology in Paris.

Best wishes,

[signature reads "Meanie"]
Ms. Median Mode Middlemean
Assistant Administrative Averager
Department of Statistical Flukes
Their other inserts were just as tongue-in-cheek funny, but I can't include them because they require knowing what the product is. If you're really curious, write me and I'll pass them on.

Tuesday, December 7, 1999

7 December 1999

Well, yesterday was moderately hellish. Nothing especially disastrous happened, but lots of little crap got under my skin.

My car, as I mentioned, was in the shop, and took $650 to fix. This wasn't a surprise, but it did add to my general air of hum-bugginess.

I started putting up the Christmas tree. This tree is built in layers - each branch is a separate piece that you put into an appropriate slot on the center pole. I got the bright idea of putting on the lights as I added each layer of tree, so that I wouldn't have to reach between branches. This was working pretty well, and I was all the way up to the very last level - a cone of plastic pine bits about a foot and a half tall that make up the top of the tree. I climbed up on a chair to put it on, leaned into the tree, slightly, and... The tree fell over. Some examination revealed that the plastic supports at the base had finally, after thirty years of faithfully holding up the tree, snapped.

My package from Signals came, and I was overjoyed, since this represented about two-thirds of the presents we'd ordered. But in going through the package to make sure nothing was damaged, I discovered that in place of my brother-in-law's gift, they had sent a framed pewter ornament. It's a very lovely ornament, and the framing job is nice, and it's signed by the artist - but somehow I don't see it sending Evan into fits of glee.

There were other, more minor things: I reached for my cell phone while I was at the car shop to call and ask my dad to pick me up, and it was dead. A package coming from California for my dad turns out to have been held up at the UPS office, and their tracking system is down. I tripped on the stairs. There were several burnt-out bulbs in the lights. The store was out of the cookie dough I need to make Christmas cookies. Like that.

Matt had a crappy day, too, and when he got home, we wound up having an argument about the tree (that had less to do with the tree and more to do with two sets of nerves strung entirely too tight.) We went out to dinner to cool off and relax. Of course, it started raining as soon as we got in the car. Just one of those days, I guess.

Today promises to be better. The weather is clear and beautiful. The customer service rep at Signals is sending Evan's present today and it should be here by early next week, and she told me not to bother sending back the framed ornament (another present for someone!) The person who sent the package in California for my dad has promised to either get UPS's butt in gear on his end, or send the package again via 2nd-day air. I think the tree can be re-stood if I get the sort of collar used for live trees, because its centerpole is in fine condition. The cleaning service is coming.

Here's to hoping!

Monday, December 6, 1999

6 December 1999

Yesterday, Matt and I went over to my parents' to make moon cookies.

The original moon cookiesThese need some explanation. My father is a big - and I mean, huge - fan of gingerbread cookies. His fondness for ginger-flavored sweets once led my mother to produce a pie that had more ginger than pumpkin to it, but that's another story for another day. I grew up eating molasses-and-ginger cookies the size of my hand that my mom called "Joe Froggers." (They were actually precisely the size of the opening to a jar of peanut butter, because my mom used a peanut butter jar lid to cut the cookies. This was back when peanut butter jars had metal lids.)

And, of course, Christmas was not Christmas without at least one batch of moon cookies. Moon cookies are gingerbread cookies - a specially crafted recipe, adapted from the Joe Frogger recipe and one for Scandinavian gingerbread. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time when my mother cooked.) There's enough ginger in the recipe to make these cookies almost spicy-hot, which makes them just perfect for dunking in milk.

We called them "moon cookies" because they were formed in molds, and when my brother and I were small, my mother had only one set of molds: A celestial set, including Saturn (or some other ringed planet), the sun, a full moon, and a crescent moon. Each mold is slightly larger than the palm of my hand. Although only half the cookies had moons on them, they were dubbed the "moon cookies" and the name stuck, even after my mother collected a dozen other molds. My personal favorites are a set of smaller molds which form cookies about an inch and a half in diameter (because with the smaller mold it's easier to get the cookies thin and crisp, and the smaller cookies are easier to fit in one's dunking glass) - but I still call them moon cookies.

They're a holiday tradition for our family. One batch makes several dozen cookies (depending on which molds see the most use that year) and we frequently give them away as gifts or take them to our offices. Several of my parents' office friends start bothering my parents about them immediately after Thanksgiving: "When are you going to make the moon cookies?"

So Matt and I went yesterday to my parents' house, and Matt helped stir in the flour, and the four of us sat around the dining table, pressing dough into molds and carefully laying the cookies on sheets, popping up every ten minutes to swap out a cookie sheet. It's tedious work, the more so because the dough is sticky and unforgiving, and because most of us prefer thin, crisp cookies, which makes for thin, easily-torn dough. But the smell of ginger and cinnamon and a half-dozen other spices was in the air, and we were a family, together.

After we made the cookies, we watched a couple of Christmas videos I'd gotten Matt for his birthday. The first one was a little lame - too much for very young children, I think - but the second was sweet and nice, with simply beautiful singing.

Some other chores were taken care of as well - Dad and Matt oiled the hinges on my car's doors, which were squeaking badly. And Dad hunted the old tree out of the attic for Matt and I to borrow. Its branches are somewhat bare, but with enough lights and ornaments, it won't be too noticeable, I hope. (Yes, I know - you'd think a Christmas freak like me would insist on a real tree, but I grew up with an artificial tree, so the real ones don't have any especial sentimental value attached. I never promised to be consistent, or make sense.)

Carlin in concertAfter all that, Matt and I left, heading for Portsmouth, where Greg was taking us to see the George Carlin concert as our Christmas-Hanukkah-Midwinter present.

We left in plenty of time, because for one thing, neither Matt nor I had eaten more than a broken cookie all day and so needed to stop for dinner, and second, because this was going to be my first attempt at driving to Greg's without written directions, and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to miss a turn or exit and have to turn around.

But we wolfed down our McDonald's dinner, and I remembered all the exits and turns from previous visits, and despite going slowly down a few roads to admire the decorations, we arrived a little early at Greg's parents' house, chatted a bit with him and his father and watched a bit of the football television that was on the TV. Then we were off to Willet Hall.

The concert (performance? show?) was great. The opening act was pretty good - great jokes, but needed a little work on his timing and to know when he'd leaned on a punchline far enough. Carlin was wonderful, as he is, though I think the very best part of his show was when he insulted a couple of extremely drunk hecklers until they left. We all cheered.

I had intended today to run a stack of errands - take some checks to the bank to be deposited, take a doormat I bought that turned out to be damaged back for exchange, do some shopping in the colonial district for some gifts. But my car has been acting a little weird, and the brakes were squealing a bit, so I took it in to the shop this morning, which is why I'm posting my entry so late.

After sitting in the shop for two and a half hours (good thing I brought a book with me) they gave me the list, and the long and short of it was that my front brakes needed new pads, and the back ones needed replacing entirely, and the one wheel that was thumping was thumping because it was loose on the axle. I can have my car back this evening and the whole job is going to cost between $650 and $700. Ouch. But it's got to be done, so it's got to be done.

So today I'm sitting at home, and I suppose after I post this entry and have some lunch, I'll put up the Christmas tree, and my errands will have to wait until later this week.

Sunday, December 5, 1999

5 December 1999

I was Santa Claus.

Well, I was a girl named Mary, a star of the telly in a world or future where Christmas was no more important a holiday than any other obscure saint's day.

One day when I was in the Box (Telly was like television, only instead of acting, the performers went into what they called the Box and imagined the show telepathically. It wasn't remarkable to us - it was hot, intense work. In fact, I didn't remember that "telly" stood for "telepathic" until after I'd woken up.) Anyway, something weird happened during a show during which the script called for me to mention Christmas. I'm not sure what happened, but when I came out of the Box, it was covered with small, flashing lights.

The next morning, I felt compelled tot ake a handful of jelly beans with me when I left my apartment. Four were yellow, and two green. Almost as soon as I'd stepped into the hallway, two fans accosted me - I was used to this - and for some reason I gave each of them two jelly beans. One girl got one of each color, and the other got two yellows. For some reason, it was important that I keep one of each color in my hand.

Two more fans spotted me as I was heading for the elevator and started chasing me. They managed to slip into the elevator with me. I wanted to be annoyed, but one said, "Is it true, Mary, that you're Santa Claus?" I gave them the last two jelly beans.

As I did so, the elevator tipped, and suddenly we three were flying over the city in this glass-and-brass elevator. I wondered if the people on the ground could see us, and imagined reindeer pulling the elevator along, which made me laugh. I told the girls that we'd be lucky if we didn't land there, and pointed.

My sketch of Mary become Santa Claus sitting on her elevatorSuddenly, I was standing alone on a street, and I knew it was because I had pointed to it. A completely nasty man appeared in a doorwar and said some very nasty things - imagine, if you would, a sheltered rich girl being dropped into the middle of a slum. I'm sure you can fill in most of what he said. I was beginning to feel afraid when another man appeared. This man was very old, and wearing a grey knit cap. I knew without knowing how that he never took that cap off - that it was a treasure. Both of them were harranguing me now, and I was suddenly angry. I glared at the first man and said, "INSIDE!" and he disappeared. I advanced on the second, and he backed away from me into his home. As I stood on his doorstep, I demanded, "Name?"

Sullendly, he answered, "Junior. Clarence Wittingsworth Junior."

"Do you remember Christmas, Junior? Do you remember Santa Claus?"

"I... I heard about it as a kid."

I left, and Junior was wearing a new red and green sweater. (The other guy I left wearing a pink, yellow, and pale green jacket - a girlchild's jacket sized for an adult.)

About then, I'd figured it out, and started to have fun. One girl was waiting for me, greedy - she had some plan to get everything she wanted from me. I put her to sleep, and left all the things she wanted, but sized for the doll I also left.

When the dream ended, I was looking for the little boy whose true belief had brought Santa Claus back into the world.