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.

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We had another thrilling, fun-filled weekend.

First, we went out Friday night for dinner and to see Craig Ferguson. I think I’ve seen him three times now, and he’s always hilarious and a great time. He swore us to secrecy, though, and we’re not to repeat any of his jokes. He was talking about how people get in trouble for what they say these days, but honestly, he didn’t say anything troubling. I’m a firm believer that “everyone is too sensitive these days!” is way overblown and the vast majority of people are fine. But I digress.

Saturday, my mom was making soup, so we all headed over (minus Paul, who was doing an escape room with coworkers) and had lunch and hung out for the afternoon before Brandon and I drove back to his apartment to go see The Struts.

We made the fateful decision to not take the T from the South Hills like usual but instead take it from the slightly closer station in nearby Library.

So we go to the concert, have a great time as I mentioned in my previous post, the band’s kicking ass and playing a good bit longer than we expect, and the show runs after 11, finally wrapped up around 11:30, and the audience slowly makes its way out of the venue and we head to our T station.

This was, like, the perfect storm of mishaps and bad timing. It turned out that the final train for Library left at 11:40, and we’d missed it by minutes–like, maybe five. If anything was a tad different, if the band maybe spent less time between songs or people walked faster, we probably would’ve made it. Sometimes, though, especially for events, the schedule isn’t completely accurate, so I figured we’d wait it out until we saw a train arrive twice, because then we’d be pretty certain that there wouldn’t be one for us.

In the meantime, both of our phones had died. And again, if we figure this out a little sooner or Brandon’s battery doesn’t die down on the platform, we could’ve called Katie and Gage, who were with us, to come get us and drive us to our car. My first plan was to just take it the T somewhere we could use a phone, but Brandon was worried that the time that would take would mean we’d potentially miss the other final trains, especially since at this point it was midnight. The thing that made the most sense in the time we had to figure something out was to ride to South Hills, especially since we’re familiar with it, and borrow a phone on the T to call Paul to pick us up there and drive us back to Brandon’s car.

The first woman we asked said the phone wouldn’t work underground, which…true, but we were gonna wait until after that and were asking people early so we’d, you know, have enough time to make the call and get picked up. So after she got off and we were out of the underground section, we went for two middle-aged ladies, I called Paul, who was like, “Great job, guys,” and we rode on to the South Hills.

You have to pay to park in the garage right above the T, and I didn’t want Paul to end up paying just to pick us up, so I was hoping we’d beat him there. And we did. We stood at the best stop, well-lit and right along the road right in front of the garage, and…he didn’t see us and drove right by. I sent Brandon running and yelling for him, who probably looked fucking nuts, and fortunately, Brandon caught him before he made it to the ticketed entrance. Turns out he’d initially missed the turn to where we were and had to turn around and was so focused that he just blew right passed us. He said he even thought maybe we’d be doing, well, exactly what we did in waiting on the sidewalk.

So he drove us to Brandon’s car, and since my car was still at Brandon’s, I went with him. I mean, we could’ve gone home and gone back for it the next day, but that seemed like a bigger hassle than it was worth, especially since at that point, we weren’t far.

So finally, around 2:30 in the morning–a solid three hours after the show ended–I was home. And Paul says to me, “Before I knew you needed picked up and were gonna be this late, I told Terra we’d help her and Jon move him out of his apartment tomorrow.” Well…fuck it, okay, I’m getting a much-needed snack, going to bed, and getting up to move someone out, I guess.

Pretty much my whole body hurt when I got up, but a hot shower pretty much fixed it and we were out the door. Jon had surgery on his Achilles’ tendon a few months ago and during his recovery basically was living with Terra, so with his lease up, we were just moving what was left. We filled our cars twice, had some lunch, and ended up being gone basically all day. Moving is such a bitch–it never goes as fast and as easily as it seems like it should.

And that’s how I managed to not be home pretty much all weekend.

For a music lover, I have a hard time getting excited about new stuff these days. I don’t know if it’s my eclectic taste or what, but it seems like it’s really difficult. It’s not that I don’t like a lot of what I hear, it’s just that I don’t love it. I’m rarely impressed or engaged enough to buy an album or song–or even put it on a playlist. Most of the big names right now? Don’t care for ’em. I just don’t find them interesting.

So when something does catch my attention, I get excited. It’s a nice change.

Enter The Struts.

So, after a long stretch of exclusively listening to my own music collection in the car, I was like, “Man, I’m so out of touch with the rest of the music world,” so I decided to prioritize radio for my driving–if nothing good is on, then I switch to a CD or my phone, and honestly, that rarely happens, which is kind of awesome. I almost certainly was listening to local alternative station The X when The Struts caught my ear. I don’t even know what song. But it was the kind of rock I’m drawn to, with electric guitars and a hook.

Said local alternative radio station announced their annual Kick Ass Christmas Show with The Struts as their headliner, and although I’d only really kind of dabbled in their music, I liked it enough that I wanted to go. And although my brother is often busy, when I mentioned it, he was in. And then when I shared the flyer on Facebook, his wife’s sister and her boyfriend were interested, too, and the great thing about general-admission tickets is that even though I already bought our tickets, they could get theirs and we could meet up no problem.

I kind of joked about this being a throwback show, because for starters, my brother and I haven’t hit a small-to-mid-size local show in a few years, easily, and it was something we did a lot in high school and college. And second, what that means is four bands on a bill, general admission, standing for a good few hours. Neither of us has done that in a while. A lot of what I’ve been going to lately has been in seated theaters or big stadium shows, so this really was like old times. Especially with four bands, because that’s starting to take up a chunk of time. Two is pretty common, three happens often enough, and then when you hit four, it’s starting to become a different beast. In the end, we were on our feet for about 5 1/2 hours, and the next day, Brandon sent a, “How does everyone feel? I’m exhausted,” message. But…worth it.

Because, see, The Struts put on a show.

The opening bands were all great, for starters, and I’m also a firm believer that way too many people are dismissive of opening acts, thinking of that time as a buffer for getting stuck in traffic or not having to wait in line to get in or to just keep tailgating. Some of the best new bands I’ve heard have been openers, and if you go to concerts even just on occasion, it’s one of the easiest ways to discover something new. I believe so strongly in this that I’d love to pitch a column to a music publication that solely reviews bands I’ve seen as openers. I could give you full lists.

I figured everyone would be good. It was just that kind of all-around vibe, where I could just tell it was gonna be high energy. But like…I didn’t expect the showmanship I got, I guess. From the second The Struts started, it was a fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll party, with the glam look and attitude that I’ve probably been wanting but didn’t know it. I haven’t seen a rock band with a male lead singer come out in glitter and makeup–and multiple wardrobe changes–in a long time, looking kind of like Freddie Mercury, and they won me over so hard like halfway into their first song. I was sold. I loved it. They were one of those acts that’s great recorded but even better live, where all the songs are enhanced and more fun, and that’s my favorite kind of show. (Related to that, the very first time I saw Fleetwood Mac, they played “Second Hand News” so wonderfully that the recorded version isn’t the same anymore.)

And they played a solid, long show. With a big-ish bill, Brandon and I kinda figured their set would be an hour, hour-and-a-half tops, but fuck no! Two hours. And it was great the whole time.

My favorite part, though? They did this stellar cover of “Dancing in the Dark” that had even security bobbing their heads, and about halfway through, the frontman announced he’d be bringing his very own Courteney Cox onstage. And I was a little concerned, to be honest, because rock music still has a sexism issue and stuff like that can delve into weird objectification territory. Now, I don’t know how this goes on a nightly basis, but for this show, his pick was this little girl in a homemade Struts shirt that was maybe 10 years old tops who was, so, so excited to be pulled onstage. She was adorable and her excitement was infectious. It was cool to watch this kid–who said she’d seen them six times!–get brought up to sing and dance with the band. The gimmick was that they’d get the crowd amped then have a dance-off center stage, and in the middle of that, she did this backflip and the crowd went fucking nuts. We all started chanting her name. It was impossible to watch her without a shit-eating grin on her behalf the whole time. She’s gonna remember that for the rest of her life.

I found out at the end that of our group, I was the only one who was seeing them for the first time. A couple years ago, Brandon and his sister-in-law Katie saw them at the same Christmas show except as one of the openers, and while he hadn’t seen them since, she was going for the third time and introduced them to her boyfriend, Gage, who was seeing them a second time. Brandon ended up sending us all a Snapchat of a list of tour dates with an Ohio tour stop this weekend, and honestly, if I wasn’t going out of town with my mom already, I’d be seriously considering it.

Needless to say, a great time was had by all, and we anxiously await their next Pittsburgh show.

Thanksgiving split over two days is so much better and so much easier.

Brandon had to work Thanksgiving day, so my family opted to eat dinner Wednesday night instead. The two of us and our spouses headed over after work–late because of weird traffic on the interstate–and had a nice, calm dinner. Rather than drive home only to come back out Thursday, Paul and I just stayed overnight and spent the day catching up on shows I’d asked my mom to record for us, like American Gods, which is taking forever for us to finish. The good news, for us, anyway, is it’s also taking them forever to do the next season.

We did it all again Thursday afternoon at Paul’s parents’ house, and honestly, this is probably the ideal way to do Thanksgiving. It’s kind of how we do Christmas, and it’s less hectic and you’re not cramming in two meals. And we got sent home with a ton of leftovers.

I had to work Black Friday, as usual, but Paul was off, so he spent the day at home while I was holed up in my office and then headed out with a friend.

We’d decided to have people over Saturday night, and first of all, never doing Facebook invites again. Too many people ignore them now, and I absolutely don’t blame anyone for that, but what should be a super easy way to invite everyone you want over is just kind of a waste of time. Direct texts to everyone next time it is.

It was pretty small, a lot like Emily’s birthday party, only this time, Marissa came over. I knew she was back in the area, and for some reason, something in my brain just kinda went, “Text Marissa,” and so…I did. And I’m so, so glad I did, so much so that the next day, I said that out loud a couple of times and Paul was like, “Yep, I get it.” She didn’t stay super long–really, we’re all so used to going to bed by like 10 that everyone decides to go home pretty early–but we talked pretty much the whole time and I think it was really good for both of us.

And now we enter the hectic holiday season. We’re pretty much booked from here on out, with something going on every weekend in December. I’m debating hosting for New Year’s, but I can’t decide. Normally, we hang out at Terra’s, which might be good to stick with since her migraines mean driving to our place can be dicey, and I’d hate for her to be missing out if that were to happen. But I’ve always wanted to do something for New Year’s, and yet I also know if we’re gonna be busy for much of the month, I might not feel like putting the effort in, and so on and so on…

But the start of the fun is this weekend. We’re going to see Craig Ferguson Friday night, and then on Saturday, my brother and I are going to a local radio station’s Christmas concert featuring The Struts. My mom wants to make my grandma’s pheasant soup and asked us to pick a day to go over, so I suggested Sunday. And if that works for Brandon, there’s my whole weekend.

The only thing we really did over the weekend was go to Emily’s play at school this semester. A restaurant we like in town had a LivingSocial deal, so we got dinner plus some beers, ended up not spending enough money to cover the deal, and watched Emily do her best creepy vampire in Dracula.

I had the day off Friday and Paul called in sick, and the only thing we really did was some much-needed sleeping in. We ran errands on Sunday, and that was that.

Of course, the holidays are about to start, so that’s the last weekend we’ll have like that for a while. My family is doing Thanksgiving Wednesday night because Brandon has to work Thursday, so we’ll probably spend a good 24 hours back in our home county before I have to be home for work on Friday. I didn’t get tomorrow off, too, which I knew was a longshot anyway.

And now, a brief interlude to revisit mid-September, back when the whole family went for a very late Father’s Day brunch and I said there was a little more to the story.

Now that it’s Facebook official, I can reveal that my brother and his wife are expecting a baby in the spring, and they announced the news over that brunch.

Now, the original plan for that weekend was an annual trip to Gettysburg, but the event we always go to was canceled because we’d had a lot of rain and the event is on a farm, which was basically a swamp. We never went out for Father’s Day, so I said, “Hey, Dad wanted to go to Grand Concourse some weekend and we’re all free, why not this weekend?” In the meantime, when the trip was still on, Brandon had already called my mom and told her the news since she doesn’t with us, and they were gonna tell the rest of us in Gettysburg. The plan they came up with would’ve been so great–we were gonna go screw around in the allegedly haunted battlefield, Brandon was gonna snap some pictures on his phone, do a, “Hey, guys, look at this!” and show us a picture of a positive pregnancy test. My dad’s reaction would’ve been priceless and I would’ve died laughing.

My mom knew about a week before the rest of us, and keeping her mouth shut was a struggle, by all accounts. She and Brandon used an inside joke of theirs to communicate via text that she wasn’t around us or my dad and that it was safe to talk about the pregnancy, and reading those exchanges afterwards was super entertaining. As for not saying anything to me, the toughest part of that was going to see Morris Day Saturday night and not being able to say a word.

And so Sunday, as everyone was sitting with their first plate from the brunch buffet, Brandon handed my dad a small gift bag and said, “I know we already got you something, but we picked up a little something else.” And it was a mug that said, “Grandfather,” and my dad stared at it and said, “Are you trying to tell me something?”

And then my father, a known foodie and former chef, the man who (like me) gets genuinely excited over trips to good restaurants, was so surprised that he lost his appetite. The ice cream with his bananas foster melted, and while the rest of us piled up more plates, he sat there drinking coffee, almost speechless.

I was certainly surprised, but his reaction, especially in our family, trumps them all. And Paul and I got little gifts, too–he got a mug similar to my dad’s and I got a bracelet.

My little brother having a baby is super, super weird, for sure, but it’s also super, super exciting. I’ve done a good job resisting buying a bunch of stuff for the baby, but I did grab a few things last month when we were in Virginia. My plan for the baby shower is a bunch of baby band tees and little baby Converse shoes, and you know that kid’s first concert with the family is not far away.

 

I started my week with a fuckton of overtime. I worked a 12-hour day on Monday alone, so by then, I was already totally done with the week. Throw in a Fleetwood Mac concert Thursday night and waiting the whole week to find out if I’d be able to get Friday off, and the whole damn thing was a drag.

Fleetwood Mac was fucking fantastic. I’ve been lucky enough to see them three times now–and of course a different lineup each time–and they’ve solidified themselves as one  of my favorite bands. I went from being a casual fan of my mom’s favorite songs to falling in love with the songs my mom never played. I anxiously await the day they worked things out with Lindsey Buckingham, because unless this lawsuit really fucks things up, which it very well might, we all know this is just how the band works.

But I did not get Friday off. I functioned just fine, but man, I was really hoping to sleep in and chill out. On the plus side, if I’d gotten the day off, I wouldn’t have actually gotten overtime pay if I’d had the day off, and I believe that for the rest of the year, I’m only working two full weeks. I have two floating holidays left to use, too, so if I plan it right, I can probably get that down to short weeks for the rest of the year. Sure, we still haven’t taken a real vacation, but short weeks for two months isn’t a bad tradeoff.

On Friday, we ended up out on a quest for a card for Nolan and Brett’s wedding because I didn’t like any of the cards here in Washington, and as much as I really didn’t feel like driving into the South Hills, I’m glad we did because I’m pretty happy with what we found. And when my mother found out we were out, I had to look for a Snoopy Christmas blanket and pillow set for her, and throw in a few other stops I wanted to make plus dinner, it ended up being a whole trip out. We’d intended to go to the gym and had the time to make it, but that’s a terrible idea right after eating at Mad Mex.

The goal was to hit the gym Friday night then again Saturday morning before we left for the wedding because I wasn’t feeling great with how my dress I wanted to wear was fitting, and even though two gym sessions is definitely not going to make a noticeable difference, it at least made me feel like I was doing something. Sometimes that’s all that counts. Honestly, I probably should’ve scrapped the Saturday trip because we slept really, really late and the timing wasn’t great, but I thought I could squeeze it in. I ended up getting back home super close to when I wanted to leave, but us being us, we hadn’t actually packed yet, so by the time we did that, we were an hour behind with a pit stop or two we needed to make. But we made it just in time for me to get ready.

The wedding was nice and we had a good time, particularly with super drunk friends and some time hanging out in Meri and Erio’s room. The time change was a nice perk, too, since we didn’t wander back to the room we shared with my parents until 2 a.m. And true to form, I slept like trash. You’d think being up so late would’ve worn me out enough, but it didn’t. And I never sleep well when I travel on top of that, so although I felt fine in the morning–or rather, like five hours later–I’m exhausted now. But almost all of us made it to breakfast, and from there, Paul and I headed back to my parents’ house to kill a few hours before going out to dinner with his family for his mom’s birthday. I’d originally wanted to try and host some friends since people were home for the wedding, but clearly, we had no time for that.

Dinner was a nice end to a fun, busy weekend, but we’re definitely glad to be back home. The cat’s glad to have us back, too, and has been very dramatic and restless since we got in. I expect to spend my workday tomorrow having my feet bitten and toys dropped under my chair.

So what’s next? Nothin’. This marks the end of a string of busy weekends. Emily has a play at school in two weeks and we’re thinking of hosting a small shindig Thanksgiving weekend, but next weekend, we’re free to take it easy. We probably owe the cat a weekend of playtime and scritches.