Okay - time to break up the chronology a bit. We're heading backwards now.
Mid-way through Christmas, my wife and I took a trip on the Polar Express (as done by the Heber Creeper railroad) It was quite the ride, with cheerful elves, cookies from Mrs. Claus, singalongs and, of course, a visit from the big man in the red suit himself, Santa Claus.
Other highlights of the Polar Express:
The elves telling their jokes - made particularly memorable as the first elf forgot his joke and got it out of order: "Where does a snowman keep his snowbank? In his money!"
Jingle bells handed out by Santa and his elves. They were targeting the little kids to give the bells to, but a bunch of us "adults" pulled an elf by the elbow and got bells, too. We paid good money for this train ride, darn it, we want a bell, too!
The "Ho-Ho-Ho" contest. Our conductor told us that, when Santa boarded the train, we should greet him in his own language. So, to show every how it was done, they invited us to come to the front and give our best "ho ho ho." After a string of kids, I approached the microphone and gave a hearty belly laugh. Emilee tells me that people sitting near her asked if I worked as a mall Santa. I don't, of course, but that doesn't mean I don't have some experience behind the red suit and whiskers . . .
As my father can tell you, our family has a long history with Santa Claus. I'm not sure how it began - perhaps it was that night when I caught Santa filling my stocking - but Santa recruited my father as one of his helpers. You see, many people operate under the misapprehension that Santa can be everywhere at once all the time. In actual fact, as Santa explained, while Santa's magic can keep his workshop running and make reindeer fly, the space/time bending magic is beyond what even he can do alone. Christmas, though, has its own special magic, and when Santa combines his power with the natural magic of Christmas, anything is possible.
In any event, Santa needs helpers to fill in for him during the rest of the year - to be his "eyes-and-ears" as it were. So, men who fit the basic physical profile and have the right kind of heart are chosen by the man himself to fill the role. Men like my father serve as Santa for parties, malls and parades, anywhere that Santa would like to be but can't come to himself.
A couple of years ago, Santa came to me and asked for my help. He told me that I'm a bit young, but that my heart is one in tune with the Christmas spirit, and that's more important than a minor thing like age. I was also recruited as one of Santa's helpers, and have been practicing my Ho-ho-ho for several years. It's an honor and a privilege to wear the red suit and a delight to see the happy faces of children visited by Santa Claus.
New Year's Eve was interesting for us this year. Instead of the traditional "go outside and make tons of noise" thing, we decided to be a little more sedate. We got a bottle of Martinelli's and turned on our Wii. Animal Crossing for the Wii has a great feature in which you can visit other people's towns, including for special events. This was how, all the way from Arizona, we were visited by my brother-in-law Brian and his clan for New Year's. Animal Crossing's celebration includes party poppers, fireworks and special music - it's a lot of fun, especially when shared with friends. On a related note, the Wii Speak makes interacting over Wii-fii . . .err . . . wi-fi much cooler and easier.
I just realized something - I left everyone in suspense a month and a half ago when I went to take my GRE exam! I scored 710 on both the verbal and the quantitative portions, for a total score of 1420. Considering that I'm in a verbal field (literature/linguistics), being in the top 98% of GRE test-takers for the verbal portion is pretty darn cool. I am so thankful, to my parents for helping to give me good academic preparation, my wife for her support and God for the many gifts which went into that score.
This leads me to the topic of graduate school applications - the very thought of which makes me feel depressed and queasy, so I think I'll pass on that for the moment, giving a thank you to my wife for her emotional support as I've been filling these darn things out. Also, a big thank you to my recommendation senders - I doubt any of you will ever read this blog, but thanks anyway.
There's more to share, but this entry is plenty long as is. See you next time!
Where to begin? I suppose chronological order would make the most sense.
Finals week: I'll keep this one brief. Tests were taken. Good grades were received. Several "A"s were posted to my transcript. The passive voice was used. :~)
The first day of Christmas for my wife and me occurred the weekend before Christmas with our trip to California to visit the Watson clan. Our plan was to get to California in the early evening, have mini-Christmas Dinner with Grammy and the clan, meet Grammy's new, adorable cat, open presents at Grammy's house and then head down to Santa Barbara and bed. You know what they say about plans of mice and men . . .
The weekend before Christmas marked the first GINORMOUS snowfall of the season. Through heavy snow and worse traffic, we didn't get to the airport until our plane was supposed to have left, but that was okay - the plane didn't leave until almost midnight anyway. When we reached the airport, the Departures display said that our 4:00 flight had been delayed until 9:15. We camped out near our gate, Nintendo DS and book in our respective hands, and waited. The time displayed fluctuated between 8:30 and 9:30 for a while, then they sort of gave up on updating it. At about 9:15 or so, they announced that our plane was landing and would be disembarking shortly, eliciting great enthusiasm from the assembled passengers. In the overcrowded terminal, they announced that we should make some room, because we were about to make about 100 new friends as they got off the plane. The plane disembarked, the 100 people got off and they made another announcement. "Well, your plane's here, but we can't board you yet because there your flight attendants aren't here yet. They're in a holding pattern right now and should be landing in about half an hour." They left the door to the plane tunnel open during all this, letting cold air in (which didn't make my cold any better).
Half an hour passed. No word. After about another 15 minutes, they announced that a private jet had flipped on the runway, blocking it until they could get everything cleaned up. They told us that there were 5 planes in a holding pattern above the airport . . . make that 4, one of them just diverted to another airport and they couldn't tell us which one it was.
Long story SLIGHTLY shorter, we got to California a little after midnight. We said a quick Merry Christmas to Grammy, met her cat, headed home and got to bed at approximately 3:00 AM.
As has become a family tradition, we woke up for an early-morning choir rehearsal the next day so Emilee and I could join the ward choir at the last minute for their Christmas program. When your father's a choir director and sometimes addresses you as "My son, my friend, my tenor," how can you say no? Not that I'd want to say no - it's always a great experience to sing with Dad's choir, even if it is on 5 hours of sleep.
Christmas with the family was great - it's always nice to sit back and enjoy time with family, especially when it involves games, music and good food. On the subject of games and music, of special note is a fun game Mom got for us based on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I set up a model of Mt. Crumpet atop which the Grinch and his sleigh sat. The basic objective of the game is to make sure that the Whos down in Whoville get their Christmas gifts. The Grinch, meanwhile, is trying to steal them all. Your secret weapon in this battle - music. Just as the Grinch's heart was touched by the song of the Whos in the village below, you can sing when the cards allow it and a special sensor below the sleigh picks up the music, sending the sleigh filled with presents down to spill out its contents, which can then be distributed to the Whos. While it's a little silly, it's a lot of fun and I'm glad we had the chance to play it together as a family. In a world of cutthroat competitive games, it's nice to play cooperatively as a family and have an excuse to sing Christmas Carols, even if the game is geared to a somewhat younger crowd. On the subject of gifts, my wife and I are always grateful for the generosity of our respective clans. Wii games, board games, new clothes and a good pair of snow boots, books, movies and that remote control helicopter I've had on my list for years were among the wonderful things which graced the floor beneath our assorted trees.
Let me take a moment to go on a tangent here. Presents go beneath trees. Under trees. When was the last time you had your "presents on the tree?" I have issues with the lyricist who put together "I'll be Home for Christmas." It wouldn't have been that hard to put in an extra quick syllable for Under the tree, or (s)he could have done a classic Christmasy shortening and said 'Neath the tree, but the only present I've ever had On the tree is the Christmas Pickle, and even then what's "on" the tree is the thing you find in order to get the present, not the present itself.
And now I return to the circle. We returned from our extended Pre-Christmas weekend to more heavy snowfall, to the point that Emilee's mother (hereafter referred to as Mom Roach)convinced us to spend the night of Christmas Eve at their house rather than risk driving through the predicted heavy snow of Christmas Day. They had plenty of air mattresses for everyone. We arrived and watched Kung Fu Panda with Emilee's brother, Brian and Dad Roach while Emmy chatted with Mom Roach in the other room. Watching the film while lying on the air mattress assigned to us, I made an unfortunate discovery - the mattress leaked. Badly. Making use of my overly sensitive ears, we located a pair of holes on the underside of the mattress and quickly applied some duct tape. When we could locate no more holes, we refilled the mattress and got ready to sleep.
Predictably, we didn't find all of the holes. I realized that the mattress would retain air better if only one person were on it, so I moved to a comfy rocking chair and got what sleep I could. I got up a couple of times during the night to put some more air into the mattress for Emilee, but managed to get a couple of hours before our 3-year-old nephew, Isaac, woke everyone up at 6:00 to open presents. After presents were opened, Dad Roach allowed me to sack out on his bed for a few more hours. Again, thank you!
The following weekend, we were joined by Emilee's sister, Stacy, and her husband Jared. We enjoyed some games together, including Harry Potter Clue, an enjoyable variant on the timeless classic. For the first time in a very long time, I won, though it was admittedly by an unusual means. My wife went into Dumbledore's office to make her accusation and was wrong - it was revealed that Jared had forgotten that he had a particular room card in his hand which he should have shown Emilee earlier in the game. Thus, the guilty party and their weapon (Lucius Malfoy and the Sleeping Draught, if I recall correctly) were revealed - all that was left was the room. This is when I decided to get sneaky. Since the moment anyone asked about a room which no one had in their hand would see a mad dash to Dumbledore's office to make the accusation, I passed into the Great Hall, whose card I held in my own hand. Emilee, of course, was out of the game, but had seen the real room in the secret envelope and a questioning look filled her eyes, met by a sly wink from me. Jared and Stacy both rushed to the office, Jared missing his chance by 1 step. A triumphant Stacy made her accusation and became quite upset when my trick was revealed. Jared, presumably deciding to make use of his rush to the office, made his best guess and was also wrong, leaving only me to claim the ultimate prize.
At that point, I realized that I had to make up to Stacy, so I made up a batch of ice cream with hot chocolate mix as the flavoring added to Ben and Jerry's sweet cream base. Stephen's hot cocoa mix in its many flavors makes some good mixes, so I put in a little Italian Amaretto and some Mint Marshmallow chocolate mix. It really turned out quite well, if I do say so myself.
My time grows short, so I'll have to bring you part 2 later on. In the meantime, Happy New Year!
My mild-mannered alter ego is a Doctorate student at UCSB, focusing on medieval Spanish literature. I've been married to a lovely lady named Emilee since 5/6/6 (I'm glad we didn't wait until June, 6/6/6 isn't exactly an auspicious date).