Within a few months, my extended family will have three new babies. Two of my cousins are expecting, as are my brother and his wife. The first is due in February, and the last in May, and with everyone home for the holidays, the one in the middle, my cousin Casey, had her baby shower the Saturday right after Christmas.

I shit on bridal showers all the time, but I actually kind of like baby showers, mostly because having a get-together to help prepare for a new baby makes a hell of a lot more sense than a bridal shower, at least for some of us. Like, I may not have needed dishes and an iron, but when my time comes, I’m sure as shit gonna need basically everything for a baby. But I digress. It was a nice lunch in town, and afterwards, Kimmie and Aunt Barbara came over to my parents’ house to exchange Christmas gifts. Everything Kimmie gave me was cat-related, so it was perfect.

I hung around for a little bit longer, then in the evening met up with Marissa and Marion for dinner, which was nice. I’ve seen them both semi-frequently the last two months, between the holidays and weddings and things at our house, and especially now that Marissa’s living close-ish to us, I’d like to try to get together with her more. I texted her about hitting a movie this past weekend, in fact, but she had plans with her cousin.

All week long, Paul had been wanting to go see the new Spider-Man movie, Into the Spider-Verse–his job shuts down from Christmas until after New Year’s, so although he did hang out with friends and family while I worked that whole week, he was also looking for stuff to do and asked me a couple days in a row if we could go see it, but the scheduling between when I finished work, when the movie started, and when he had tai chi or other plans wasn’t working out. On weekends where one of us is off on their own for a day, I try to find us something to do together the other day, even if it’s just a movie, so that Sunday, we finally made it to his Spider-Man movie.

I’ve never been much of a Spider-Man fan–my superhero leanings go Batman and X-Men. But Paul had heard good things and seemed pretty interested, so that’s what we ended up seeing. And it was actually really good and we really enjoyed it. Frankly, the series from several years ago just isn’t that memorable to me, so I think Into the Spider-Verse is probably my favorite of the movies.

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Ah, siblings. You can always count on them to be a pain in your ass.

Paul opted out of the annual Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert this year–in fact, he hasn’t gone since bass player David Z died tragically. So that left me to meet up with Brandon and Kelly in the South Hills to take the T, plus I wanted to hit Lush’s annual after-Christmas sale, where all seasonal items are BOGO. And that’s in addition to what I snagged online the minute the sale started. Like, I got myself two gift boxes worth $100 for the price of one, plus a few other small things.

For starters, Brandon and Kelly both had the day off and I did not, so while I wanted to join them to shop for the new baby, I really couldn’t. I told my brother I had to work and would get showered and head out as soon as I was done, and while I admittedly didn’t tell him what time I thought I’d get there, I figured it wouldn’t be until close to 5.

And the thing is, while friends have joked they’d become the ultimate lazy slobs if they worked from home and they’re not off-base there, when I do go out, I actually kind of enjoy the process of getting ready. Like, since I’m only putting on actual clothes and make-up on weekends, for the most part, I look forward to doing my make-up. So I’m not exactly taking my time with it. I don’t know what my brother expected, but that means I need a little over an hour to get ready, depending on things like whether or not I’m shampooing my hair. Or shaving.

I think Kelly was more realistic about how long I’d be. But alas, every so often, I could count on a text from Brandon asking what’s up or what I was doing or where I was or when I thought I was gonna get there.

Now, admittedly, we when we’re together, we probably get to be annoying just because we act like typical dumbass siblings, and on this night, we were being particularly childish–I intentionally pushed my chair out and smacked into him when he was walking behind me, he made fun of me, that kind of thing. And he managed to get cookies-and-cream ice cream on my white jacket. Just like old times!

But probably the biggest thing, and the one my mother finds hilarious, is that ever since they announced the pregnancy, he’s been asking me about our plans to have kids. I think he’s just anxious for us to have kids, too, which I get, but now when we hang out, I get lots of questions about if we’re actively trying to get pregnant or if I’ve taken a pregnancy test lately. I told my mom, and she laughed and laughed.

But otherwise, it was a fun night out–great concert, unusually warm weather, and we didn’t fuck up and miss the T this time.

We had a nice Christmas.

Paul had to work a short day Christmas Eve and I had to work a full one, but when we finished up, we got our stuff together and headed over to my parents’ for my mom’s family’s annual Christmas dinner. We all went over a little early to help out, which basically just means we all wanted to play with the dog.

And it wouldn’t be a holiday without my mom coming back while I’m getting dressed to say, “Your dad’s driving me nuts.” Ah, the true Christmas spirit.

It was a nice evening, and it included the gender reveal for Brandon and Kelly’s baby, as their appointment was that morning–they’re having a girl, and her name is real cute and pretty but is not to be announced until she arrives.

The original plan for the reveal, by the way, was my hair–I was gonna dye it accordingly. My hair appointment was a few days before they found out and our original plan was to lighten it and lift out the purple, but then I remembered that, you know, having to work Christmas Eve meant I wasn’t really gonna have time to do that, dye my hair, and get ready for the rest of the holiday. But my mom’s probably relieved it didn’t work out. She’d still be rolling her eyes at us if it had worked out.

All four of us–both kids and our spouses–spent the night, which my mom was adorably excited about. I kind of thought she’d think it was a pain in the ass having all of us over, but she was happy and I think we all had fun. Brandon and I kept saying we were gonna wait up for Santa, but naturally, everyone went to bed at a pretty reasonable hour.

In the past several years, maybe from my teens on, two things have always happened on Christmas–everyone gets up before me and has to bug me to get up and I insist on opening presents Christmas Day. We also usually start by watching the dog open his presents first.

My mom’s been adamant for the last few years that we don’t need more “stuff,” which is true, so she’s been sticking to a few small things to open and money–a lot of money, to be honest, and she’s very seriously thinking of not renewing her contract at work this summer and keeps saying she wants to do that kind of thing while she knows she still can. We appreciate it. Ours went to help pay off furniture before we got hit with interest on it this month. But I also got some makeup I’d asked for and Paul got a Henry Rollins book I knew he’d had his eye on.

Brandon and Kelly didn’t stick around too long in the morning before they headed to her family’s festivities, but Paul and I had a few hours to kill and hung out for a little bit. Then we made our way to his parents’ house for dinner, which was a smaller, more relaxed deal since we’d done all the gifts and such on Sunday while Julie and Michael were in.

We came home sometime in the evening to a cat who was not pleased with us for leaving her alone. It’s kind of sweet, honestly.

In the week or so leading up to Christmas, we crammed in as much of our usual Christmas stuff as possible–The Nutcracker, B.C. Taylor, an evening trip to Phipps to see their annual Christmas flower show, and plenty of get-togethers.

At this point, we’ll cram a ton of stuff into a day if it means seeing people we don’t get to see often. And that’s exactly how the day before Christmas Eve was. We started at my mom’s Aunt Elaine’s annual Christmas party and had a nice time eating and hanging out with everyone for a couple hours.

From there, we went to Paul’s parents’ house. Julie and Michael were in town but weren’t gonna stick around through the holiday, so we did our family gift exchange then. In the fall, we used the Internet to do a Secret Santa between the siblings and spouses/significant others–I got Josh and totally nailed it with a video game he wanted, but also a bonus of a chocolate game controller. Julie had me, and she got me a bunch of candles, vegan lip balms, and soap from a craft show up in Erie, which was pretty much perfect. Paul gave Katie a Cards Against Humanity expansion pack and fuzzy socks, and from Jacob, he got a dinosaur wine-bottle holder. On top of that, we got one of our late wedding presents, a signed, framed print from Paul’s favorite childhood book, Dinotopia. We knew it was coming, but there were issues with the original frame and it took them this long to get it fixed. Now we just need to figure out where to display it. But the big moment of the night was presenting Paul’s parents with their gift, a summer trip to Canada. Well all pitched in for it, and Julie was hilariously excited for them to open everything and figure out we were sending them on vacation.

After a couple hours there, we went to our last stop, my friend Leah’s annual Christmas party. She took a break from hosting it for a couple years but brought it back this year, and it’s one of those events that we love going to because of who we get to see there–she gets together a lot of our classmates who have moved away but come home for the holidays. Since we both had to work the next morning and had an hour’s drive home, we’d said we were gonna leave at 10:30. It would give us time to enjoy ourselves and would get us home late, but not so late that we’d be worn out the ext day. And besides, the next day was Christmas Eve, and at least there’s the promise of the following day off. If you’re gonna go into work tired from a night out, one day before a day off isn’t a bad way to do it. But then we got caught up playing games, and we ended up not getting in until after 1 a.m. Oops.

But I regret nothing. It was a busy day, we drove all over one county and back home to another, and we were exhausted, but we got to see a lot of people over the course of the day and we had fun. I don’t think we’d have it any other way.

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.

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.

It seems like it’s been a few years since we’ve made it to the Buckeye Pancake breakfast up at Ohiopyle, an annual tradition for Paul’s family. One year it was because of Katie and Jacob’s wedding, and if I’m right and we didn’t go last year, either, I’m gonna guess it was because of a wedding then, too.

The breakfast was nice, and so was the brief walk we took by the river. The weather here kind of went from the 80s down to the 50s in, like, days, so it was a pretty chilly and kind of dark, rainy morning up there, but still nice to go.

My mom had heard about a talk at a local church about human trafficking and wanted me to go with her that evening, so Paul took a case of beer over to his parents’ house and Mother and I went to the church. Paul and I kept joking that it was gonna be the self-defense class from King of the Hill, but in reality, it was more of an informative session about what to look out for. I actually kind of feel like I learned something.

We were pretty hungry when it was over, so we decided to have dinner at Meloni’s, the best Italian in the area, and then Paul met up with us and we went back to his parents’ house to enjoy a beer with his dad for his birthday.

Normally, I’d want Sunday to just hang out at home, but Row House was in the middle of a witch-themed week of movies with a solid like three or four I was interested in seeing. We settled on Suspiria, partly because of the remake, and it was the only one I hadn’t already seen. We both really like it. It’s a very colorful, visually stunning movie, and while I didn’t find it to be super scary or, like, an outstanding movie, we still enjoyed it.

The area has a bunch of interesting restaurants and we’ve only ever eaten there once, so we picked a random place for dinner. We went with a Middle Eastern place, and I’m glad that at this point, there’s not much we haven’t tried, so we were familiar with a lot on the menu. Paul tried a couple appetizers and a dessert he’d never had before, and I went for a simple wrap, but all of it was really good and we were glad we tried the place.

This weekend, we celebrate Emily’s 21st birthday a couple weeks late with a casual night of drinking and playing with the cat at our house.