Friday 5: Gone Finishin’

  1. As the year comes to a close, what are you looking back upon most fondly? The two major life events–I bought a house and my brother and his wife announced they’re expecting the first baby in our family.
  2. What do you do with the end slices on a loaf of sandwich bread? They’re good for dipping in egg yolks.
  3. What in your residence is approaching its last days? Possibly the water heater. We had to have a part replaced on our furnace and while the guy was looking at it, he mentioned we may want to think about a new water heater soon, as there’s obvious corrosion on parts of it. And then I started to run out of hot water in a bubble bath recently. Besides, I want to switch to tankless.
  4. What would be an appropriate cherry on top of your 2018 in these final days? Being that I just entered Pittsburgh’s Hamilton ticket lottery…Hamilton tickets.
  5. What (or who) has a fantastic tail? Sometimes, when I look at our cat’s tail, I’m surprised by how long it is, especially for such a relatively small kitty.

As always, from Friday 5.

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December is always a busy month for us. I think it’s busy for almost everyone as it is, but as a couple, that means double the family and friends having parties, not to mention other stuff like work parties and just what we want to do on our own.

I’d be super bummed if we missed The Nutcracker, and we just managed to fit it in. We had a free Sunday–following a Saturday of my hair getting a fresh dose of purple dye–so we bought our tickets the night before and headed into the city. We squeezed in Christmas shopping where we could in the South Hills both before and after, plus a little bit at the theater. When your sister-in-law likes both ballet and tea, you do not pass that up, even if she might want to wait until she’s not pregnant to drink it.

The show was great, as always, and I will never not love it unless it’s really, spectacularly terrible, and I think a ballet company would have to really try to do that.

We grabbed dinner in the South Hills afterwards and ended up being out a tiny bit past my bedtime.

Saturday 9: Happy Holidays

Saturday 9: Happy Holidays! (from the archives)

1. As you can see, Sam loved giving her annual wish list to Santa. Yet some children are reluctant to climb into Jolly Old St. Nick’s lap. Did you enjoy the tradition or were you shy? Or did you by pass it altogether — either because you wrote him a letter or because your family didn’t celebrate Christmas? I liked it, which is weird because I was a shy kid. My brother hated it for a couple years, though. We have some great photos of me smiling while he’s screaming.

2. Are you currently on the Naughty or Nice list? How did you get there? Nice because I’m just a decent person.

3. Did you ship any gifts to friends and family this year? If so, which one traveled the farthest? I didn’t ship any gifts, but I did send/am still sending cards.

4. Did you buy yourself a gift this year? Man, I have a reputation for finding myself things when I’m supposed to be Christmas shopping, although this year, I did pretty good and just grabbed some clothes–a couple dresses and a couple other things. At least, until today, when Lush had their big annual BOGO sale and I bought two boxes of bath bombs and a few little things.

5. What’s your favorite holiday-themed movie? Have you seen it yet this year? It’s A Muppet Christmas Carol and I have not. I need to do that this weekend.

6. Thinking of movies, Christmas is lucrative for Hollywood. Have you ever gone to a movie theater on Christmas Day? I don’t think I’ve ever gone on Christmas Day, no. I have cousins who always did, though.

7. Have you ever suffered an embarrassing moment at the company Christmas party? Nope. We only started having proper parties last year and I behaved, and this year, I already had plans to travel out of town the weekend of the party.

8. What’s your favorite beverage in cold weather? Any kind of latte. My favorite lately has been a blackberry-lavender one at a coffee shop at the outlets.

9. Share a memory from last Christmas. I got the flu. Ha. Slowly, over the course of Christmas Day, I started to feel worse and worse. I went from waking up with a mild sore throat to going home from my in-laws’ later in the evening with full body aches.

I kind of forgot to talk about the rest of our DC weekend trip.

Saturday was kind of the big touristy day. We stopped at the White House visitor center, then walked over to see the national Christmas tree and from there got a good view of the White House itself.

Personally, my favorite memory of visiting the White House was when we went once when I was a kid and my grandfather said, “Look, I see Bill Clinton in his gutchies!”

From there, we took a drive down Embassy Row and past the national cathedral, then stopped in front of the Capitol and had a little bit of time to check out the botanic gardens.

That evening was probably my favorite part of the whole trip–we had a nice dinner at Mount Vernon, then got a neat Christmas-themed candlelit tour of the grounds and building, where everything focused on what the Washingtons and others at the time did for Christmas.

But it was about then that I was starting to feel like some of our fellow travels were…uppity?

When we were first on the bus getting ready to leave Friday morning, my mom was texting one of her co-workers, who was joking about creepers being on the trip, and I believe it was she who made the comment that bus trips can be weird because of who goes. I was by far the youngest, and my mom and Lisa probably fell somewhere in the middle, with the bulk of the other travelers being older. I started overhearing snippets of complaints, and while I’ll grant that I kind of thought we’d get more of certain places like the cathedral and capitol, I also get that logistically, this might not be doable with a big bus group and when people are still, you know, working or otherwise going about their typical business in these buildings. I think when you travel anywhere, it’s easy to forget that people actually live there and while you’re on a leisure trip, everyone there is trying to go to work or school or run errands.

People also seemed to think that the trip organizers had a lot more control over things than they really did. They can plan all of this, sure, but dinner being served is the responsibility of the staff, or the time of a tour is determined by the staff. I heard one woman sound absolutely mortified that we’d been waiting 10 minutes after dinner for our Mount Vernon tour, but like…it wasn’t hard to figure out that the place was packed with other tourists and that the individual groups people were going in was running really behind.

But hey, I had a good time.

Our hotel was pretty close to a casino and we kicked around the idea of going, but we were kind of worn out at the end of both Friday and Saturday. I was hoping to squeeze in a massage at the spa, but their hours and our weekend itinerary didn’t mesh.

After breakfast Sunday, we had one last stop at the Museum of the Bible, which was the one part of the trip I was really not into–and not just because they were found recently to have fake artifacts. I’ve had a rocky relationship with organized religion since my teens, and I kind of figured this was not gonna be a museum I was gonna like. I think I expected, like, a sort of creationist, revisionist look at things.

To be honest, I was wrong. The museum was more interesting and informative than I thought it would be, but it’s not perfect, and even my mom, who was more interested than I, had some complaints. The focus was a little odd–I said it was like they managed to have too much and not enough at the same time. Some exhibits feature old Bible after old Bible, and while it was cool, admittedly, to see these super old, intricate, and beautifully designed Bibles, they were a lot of them, and it got to the point where we were kind of tired of looking at…Bibles. And then there were total missed opportunities–or we didn’t see them somehow–to explain things like how these old Bibles were made.

But I did get my in-laws a Christmas-tree ornament in the gift shop, and their café had great lattes and super cute, delicious cupcakes.

The more religious people in the group seemed to have enjoyed it far more than I, which is fair. I’m kind of glad I didn’t hate it, honestly, because no one really wants to have a few hours in a museum they’re dying to get out of.

And from there, we went home.

Friday 5: A Real Head-Scratcher

  1. What are some pencil-and-paper puzzles you enjoy? I haven’t done any in a long time, but I’ve always liked–shocker–anything with words, like crosswords or word searches. I was also really into sudoku for a little while.
  2. What are some video (or computer or mobile app) puzzle games you’ve enjoyed? Does mahjong count?
  3. When did you last work on a jigsaw puzzle? A few months ago, one of my sisters-in-law was in the hospital, and the visiting area had a puzzle out. She worked on it a lot outside of visiting hours, but we spent one of our visits talking and putting it together with her.
  4. What’s puzzling you right now? People, but that’s almost a constant these days.
  5. Who is the most enigmatic person you know? My mother-in-law. It’s almost impossible to predict her, and she’s good for having intense reactions to weird things so that it’s tough to figure out exactly what the problem is and why. And on top of that, it’s hard to tell if something she says is, say, just kind of an oversight or if she’s intentionally being mean, and then if she denies something if it’s because she doesn’t remember it or because she’s trying to gaslight.

As always, from Friday 5.

I’ve undoubtedly told this story before, but it’s a good time to repeat it.

For a few years, one of my family’s Christmas traditions was going to see local singer B.E. Taylor’s annual Christmas concert. It started with my mom’s friend Fran, who she met through work, inviting her one year, and even after just that first year, both of my parents were adamant that I would really enjoy it. But I resisted. It really didn’t seem like my thing, even though I love Christmas music, so year after year, they’d go and they’d say, “Janelle, you really ought to go next year.” I think I finally caved after my brother went one year and said the same thing.

This is probably a whole separate thing worth exploring, but I think sometimes we resist things our families thing we’d like even though they’re totally right. Like, especially between my parents and brother, I don’t think they’ve ever really been wrong about something like that.

So finally, I relented and went, and sure enough, my family was right. I’m not sure what I expected–and regardless I have such eclectic taste in music that you’d think I’d at least have been more open-minded, but no–but it definitely wasn’t what I got.

And so our new tradition became meeting up with Fran and her husband, often for dinner nearby beforehand, and going to the concert. And the thing is–possibly a crucial thing–this is nowhere near unique. They often played two shows at Heinz Hall in town, often packed with families and friends going together, often for another consecutive year.

I myself did this for a couple years, maybe two or three, before B.E. Taylor died in 2016. I remember sitting across from my best friend out at lunch when I saw the news, and she was home in the middle of marital issues that ended in a divorce, so great year all around, that was.

This year, B.E. Taylor’s son and drummer, B.C., decided to continue the tradition of a Christmas concert, reuniting all the members of the band that had become so familiar to so many people over the years–I may have enjoyed only a few, but the concert itself was a tradition going back something like 20 years. So once again, we all got together. While we didn’t go to dinner, my brother and I met up in the South Hills and took the T and we met my parents and Fran like we had plenty of times before.

The concert was as much as Christmas celebration as it was a tribute to B.E. Pictures and videos flashed in the background, and for a couple of songs, the band played to a track of B.E. singing from a recording of one of the annual concerts. And it included a lot of the elements that made the concert memorable and won me over that very first time, like a local high school drum line coming onstage for a few songs and a local steel-drum band playing along with “Mary’s Boy Child,” which has been one of my favorite Christmas songs since I first heard it and naturally became one of the highlights of the concert for me.

A church choir was also one of the staples, and in the final years of the original concerts, their director had a stroke, and his son now fills his role.

And so it was hard not to be struck by two things.

One, how despite so much familiarity and all the same band and all the songs everyone loves, the concert is really different now, with two big parts of it gone. In a way, it probably reflects the lives of the audience, too. From the start of going to the concerts to now, my brother and I have gotten married, we’ve lost our grandfather, I bought a house and he got an apartment, and now he’s expecting his first child in the spring, and then there’s everyone else in the audience, too, and how their lives look different now than they did even a year ago.

But two, these two men were now onstage following in their fathers’ footsteps, and that the concert is as much a tradition for everyone on that stage as it is for everyone in the audience and they were continuing it. And the concert always was a family affair, but perhaps even more so given that fact.

It was nice to be back after a couple of years without it, and I hope to see it continue.

And so, enjoy my favorite, and one that wormed its way into my head for a few days but stars Jeff Jimerson, perhaps best known as the Pens’ anthem singer.

Saturday 9: We Need a Little Christmas

Saturday 9: We Need a Little Christmas (2006)

Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) At the beginning of this recording, Daffy says he hopes all his friends remember his size, style and favorite color. What piece of clothing would you like to add to your wardrobe? There’s not really much I need, except maybe a couple pairs of jeans.

2) His friends are late for Daffy’s holiday soiree. Think about the last get together you attended. Were you early, late or right on time? We went to a friend’s house this evening and got there about when we said we would.

3) It hasn’t a snowed a single flurry where Daffy is. Have you had to shovel yet? We had one day when we probably should’ve done something to the driveway, but my winter gear like gloves and boots is all still kind of scattered randomly around the house from moving in.

4) Daffy sings that he’s looking forward to fruitcake. How about you? Are you a fruitcake fan? Never tried it.

5) Daffy is an American Black Duck. Their usual diet doesn’t generally include fruitcake. These ducks more commonly dine on seeds, foliage and bugs. What was your most recent meal?  Homemade sushi and pad thai, followed by milkshakes, at a friend’s house.

6) The only Christmas card Sam has received so far this year is from her insurance agent. She never sees her agent socially. In fact, she doesn’t think she’s seen him at all in 2018. Have you received many cards this year? If so, were they from people you feel close to? I’ve gotten three, I think, all from relatives.

7) When do you start holiday shopping: Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving/Black Friday, Halloween? After Thanksgiving. Black Friday would technically count, but I don’t bother with it.

8) Sam was recently driven crazy by kids running through store aisles wearing elf hats with bells. Do you have any apparel that makes noise? I don’t think so.

9) This time of year is big for charitable fundraising. Here’s your chance to plug a cause or organization that’s near and dear to you. We adopted a cat from our local Humane Society in the fall, and one of the things I’d like to do is either give them a nice monetary donation or put together a big basket of things they need like towels, food, and toys and deliver it to them. In the meantime, though, donate to your local animal shelter–Humane Society or otherwise–whether it’s money or checking in to see when items they could use. Or even better, adopt a pet to give them a loving home and free up space in the shelter for other animals needing homes. And if you can’t, some shelters offer programs where you can sponsor an animal, which is what I planned to do last year and never got around to it. But I guess actually adopting an animal is a fair trade.

Friday 5: I Spy

  1. How do you feel about candy sprinkles (on ice cream, doughnuts, cupcakes, or whatever)? I’m a big fan of sprinkles. I almost always get them when I have the chance.
  2. Where’s a good place to look at Christmas lights? Any upper-middle-class neighborhood or better.
  3. What’s a good idea for a drive-through service or product that doesn’t yet exist? I don’t know that this is a good idea, but it’s certainly one I’d appreciate–a drive-through pasta place. Now, a place did try this in my hometown, but it went out of business before I got to try it. I imagine it’s super impractical.
  4. How confident a parallel parker are you? I haven’t done it since I took my driver’s test. I live in an area where it’s easily avoidable. When I was tested on it, I was able to do it perfectly and I’m confident that with a little practice, I could do it again, but if you made me do it right this second? Probably a mess.
  5. How much plaid do you own? Not a lot. I’d actually like to add a little more plaid to my wardrobe. All I really have is a couple shirts, a dress, and I think the leggings I have on now.

As always, from Friday 5.

I didn’t realize this until I really thought about it, but other than Gettysburg, Washington, D.C., might the place I’ve visited the most. We took a few trips as kids–and I recently learned this was solely to give my mom an empty house for the weekend while she was studying for the CPA exam–I went a few times in my teens, went again once or twice in college, and then went yet again over the weekend with my mom and her best friend, Lisa. It’s funny that that interesting trio also took a weekend trip to New York once.

Honestly, the main reason we went was because my mom heard about Snoopy ice sculptures at a resort in Maryland, and it just so happens that AAA was taking a bus trip to that very resort for a weekend. Paul kind of teases her about this but also sees it as a “Oh, that’s why my wife is the way she is,” moment, because she showed up to our annual zoo trip and lunch afterwards with printed itineraries of this trip so we could all decide if we were interested. In the end, clearly, I was the only one who went for it.

I’m scrambling to use the last few of my vacation days–and it’s looking like I’m gonna lose two because we’re so busy at work–so just for the sake of it, I took off the day before the trip. I spent that day running errands and doing stuff around the house before I left, and then since I was gonna be gone all weekend, Paul and I went to our favorite Italian place in town for dinner before I took off to spend the night at my parents’.

We got up early Friday morning, Lisa came over, and we piled in the car for my dad to drive us to the Bob Evans where the bus was stopping. We got there early to have breakfast, then boarded the bus for the four-hour-ish drive down to the resort. The drive went surprisingly quick and I slept a little, but in retrospect, I really should’ve caught up on my podcasts and I’m so annoyed with myself for forgetting all about them.

The resort, the Gaylord, was impressive. We didn’t have time to take advantage of everything it had to offer–and by that, I mean I didn’t get to squeeze in a massage at the spa–but it was a big, beautiful waterfront resort with plenty to do, with a lot included in our package for the weekend, like most meals and…the Snoopy ice sculptures. We made that our first stop after our luggage made it to our room and we got ourselves organized.

To keep the ice sculptures frozen, the entire exhibit is kept at a delightful 9 degrees. They give you these blue parkas to wear through it, and frankly, I’d love to have brought mine home. And the sculptures are pretty big, so the whole thing is pretty impressive. And of course, my mother loved it. I mean, we all enjoyed it, but it was very much her thing. And she and Lisa went down this big slide made of ice, which I enjoyed watching. And my mom left the gift shop with a healthy armful of stuff, and that was with controlling herself. My plan was to try to go down before we left and pick up the things she’d put back down, but I ever had the time or opportunity.

We didn’t have much time left before dinner, which was a buffet in the hotel’s main restaurant, and we grabbed a few drinks, ate plenty, and debated going to the nearby casino until we decided we were too tired.

Saturday 9: I’m Gonna Put Some Glue ‘Round the Christmas Tree (So Santa Will Stick Around All Year)

Saturday 9: I’m Gonna Put Some Glue ‘Round the Christmas Tree (So Santa Will Stick Around All Year) (1954)

Unfamiliar with this week’s tune? Hear it here.

1) This week’s featured songstress, Peggy King, sings that she’d like to extend the Christmas season all year. How about you? Do you wish the season was longer? Shorter? Or do you think things are fine as they are? I love Christmas, but I hate the commercialization and materialism. This whole thing of getting ready for Christmas after Halloween–and for some stores, in the middle of summer–is ridiculous. The month of December is plenty.

2) She specifically mentions toys. Have you purchased/will you purchase any toys as holiday gifts this year? I haven’t and I don’t think I will, unless I pick up a few things for my niece or nephew on the way. But I’m trying to control myself on that front.

3) Search for “glue” on The Home Depot’s website and you’ll get more than 3,000 results. There’s heavy-duty adhesives, all-purpose glue, clear epoxy, wood glue, and more. Do you currently have glue in your home? If yes, how many kinds? I do, but maybe just two or three–your typical all-purpose and a fabric glue for sure.

4) What’s the last thing you used glue for? That fabric glue is amazing on just about anything that needs a strong glue. I don’t remember when I used it last, but most likely, something broke and I knew what would fix it.

5) This week’s featured artist, Peggy King, was a TV staple in the 1950s. With her perpetually upbeat persona, she was known as “Pretty, Perky Peggy King.” Do you consider yourself upbeat, aka “perky?” Nah. I’m pretty calm.

6) Ms. King got her start singing radio jingles for Hunt’s tomato sauce. Prepared tomato sauce, properly stored, can safely be kept in the refrigerator for days. Do you have any leftovers in your refrigerator right now? Some pheasant soup from my mom and mu husband has some leftover pork, but I’m pretty sure that’s getting sketchy.

7) Her biggest movie role was in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). Do you watch scary movies and shows all year around? Only at Halloween? Or not at all? All year!

8) In 1954, the year this record was released, President Eisenhower dedicated the Marine Corps. Iwo Jima Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside of Washington DC. If you were to play tourist in our nation’s capital, what site would you be certain to visit? I just got back from there! I went a few times as a kid, a few times as a teenager, once (or twice?) in college, and again over the weekend, so I’ve pretty much tackled every monument, memorial, and museum. Weirdly, it might actually be the place I’ve visited the most. I would like to go down to see the cherry blossoms, though, and the only place I’ve wanted to go to and never made it to in the Newseum, the museum for journalism and the press. I also think everyone should visit the Holocaust museum at least once in their life. I’ve been twice.

9) Random question: Which of these common household items would you miss most if it suddenly went on the fritz — your bedside lamp or your hair dryer? Neither? Our bedroom still needs some organizational help and because it’s a small room and I crammed a queen-sized bed in there, there’s no room for a nightstand, at least not with the way it’s arranged right now. The bed’s almost against the wall on one side, and on the other is a heat vent. So I don’t have a bedside lamp right now. And I use my hair dryer pretty infrequently, so…