Deja Vu

My husband, Crow, had a seizure on Thanksgiving.

He’d never had a seizure before, ever.

A few hours before the grand mal seizure, Crow had an episode of aphasia. We were sitting together at the dinner table, well after our Thanksgiving meal, reading the Black Friday ads. We were at his mom’s house, visiting, and we’d planned to go Black Friday shopping, as we do every year, the next day.

Crow’s step-father, Bob, was making out his Christmas list and asked Crow if he knew what a certain type of wrenches were.

Crow responded, “What about your username?”

Since he’d been reading an ad at the time, I thought that he, like me, was only half-paying attention to the conversation. But I looked up.

Bob asked the question again.

Crow’s response was equally as confusing as it had been. He looked at us like he couldn’t understand why we didn’t understand him. “What?” he asked.

We explained to him that his response had nothing to do with what Bob had asked. I wasn’t sure whether he was goofing around, but I started to get a little scared. I’d heard of aphasia (from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I since had learned it was a real thing because I look everything up) and I knew it was a sign of a stroke or something equally as serious.

Crow told us he needed to drink some water. We’d split a 24oz beer, he’d had about 3/4th of his, and he was convinced he was just reacting weird to the alcohol. It was the only beer we’d had all day. I’d opened it to relieve the tension of a day spent with the in-laws, which is always nerve-wrecking to me because I feel like I have to be on my best behavior, carefully choosing my words and being on guard. I’d wanted to cut a little of the edge off that I was feeling.

Privately, I told Crow that I’ve been drunk and I’ve been around a lot of drunk people, but I’d never known anyone drunk to not understand what was going on. The episode had subsided and he started feeling more normal so he was shrugging the whole thing off.

I told him that what had happened was a sign of something serious and that we would see a doctor when we got back to Akron (since we were in Toledo for the weekend). He seemed okay, but I did not want to take any chances; I’d learned from never forcing Mike to see a cardiologist after his cardiac incident in Detroit that I should take all medical issues seriously. Crow still didn’t seem convinced.

(I learned in the days that followed that Crow had actually experienced a sudden bought of dizziness and an inability to understand the words he was looking at in the ad.)

He was acting weird as we got into bed, however. He had a headache and he kept getting up to go to the bathroom. He even took out his cell phone and started to try to tell me the password to an app he uses to track all his account passwords.

I was just starting to get to sleep when he nudged me awake. He sat up in bed and looked at me, but said nothing. His stomach was making really weird noises and I thought that maybe he had to throw up. I asked him what he wanted — did he need me to get him a garbage can to throw up in, or did he want me to help him get to the bathroom? He did not respond.

And then his whole body started to shake. He slumped on his side and his head and arms and legs jerked around. He was making very loud breathing noises–each exhale was a loud burst of air. I recognized immediately that he was having a seizure, even though I’d never seen one before (except on TV).

I ran downstairs to where Bob was still up doing dishes.

“Craig is having a seizure or something!” I said frantically.

Bob asked if he should call 911 and I said yes.

I ran back upstairs to find Crow still having the seizure. Now he was foaming at the mouth. I didn’t really know what to do at that point, so I just kind of stood there. Bob eventually came upstairs with a cordless phone because the 911 operator wanted to talk to me since I was witnessing the seizure. She told me to make sure he stayed on his side.

The seizure stopped and Crow seemed dazed. He sat up on the bed with his legs over the side. I called his name but got no response. He looked up at me with lost, dazed eyes. I wondered fearfully if the seizure had made Crow permanently unable to speak. Was he lost forever now? Like a stroke victim?

Crow’s mom arrived in the room and he slumped against us. We rubbed his back and called his name but he said nothing. Meanwhile, I was keeping he 911 operator appraised of his status while listening for the arrival of the paramedics. She stayed on the phone with me until I heard the sirens outside the house.

When the paramedics arrived in the bedroom, Crow immediately stood up. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he announced, his first words since before the seizure.

I blocked his path and put my hands on his chest. “You have to stay here,” I said. “The paramedics are coming.”

He pushed forward, stronger, and again insisted that he had to go to the bathroom.

The paramedics had reached the room by this time and they were a bunch of big guys. Crow insisted again that he needed to use the restroom so they helped him walk downstairs to the bathroom.

When Crow came out of the bathroom, the paramedics had a bit of a time convincing him to sit on the stretcher. He was kind of belligerent with everyone, which is completely against his nature.

“I know, I know,” he grumbled when one of the paramedics asked him if he could sit down on the stretcher. “I heard you,” he barked, but then he remained standing. They finally managed to convince him to sit down and then lay down on the stretcher. When they started strapping him in, he started to try to sit up and grumbled that he didn’t want to go.

Even though he appeared to be conscious, Crow remembers none of these details of that night. The last thing he remembered was nudging me awake because he felt weird. The next thing he knew, he was being wheeled into an ambulance. I know what this is like, somewhat, as I once got into a bike accident in Colorado where I actually woke up in an ambulance having no immediate recollection of how or why I’d gotten there. Even today, all I remember is hitting a dog that ran across the road, and then waking up in the ambulance. It’s scary as hell to realize something happened to you that you don’t recall at all.

Once again, I found myself in the front seat of an ambulance while my husband — of whose condition I was uncertain — was in the back as a patient. I did feel comforted that he had been conscious when they were wheeling him into the ambulance, but I was frightened because I did not know what was going on in the back. Did he lose consciousness again? Had he had a stroke? Why had he had a seizure?

Unfortunately, the answers to that question were a lot more scary than I could have ever anticipated.

***

Crow spent 5 days in three different Toledo area hospitals. The first was merely an emergency room in Bowling Green where they took a CT scan and made sure he was stabilized. He was then transferred to St. Luke’s for further tests. And then transferred again to Toledo Hospital for additional tests and possible triage if necessary. They ran batteries of tests from infectious disease (a spinal tap) to neurological. We left Toledo with very few answers and some way-t00-far-in-the-future follow up appointments with Akron doctors.

Fortunately, Crow’s PCP was on the ball and got better referrals faster. The primary concern throughout the entire time was the fact CT scans and MRIs presented a 1.3cm – 1.6cm lesion on Crow’s left temperal lobe. It wasn’t necessarily presenting like a big, scary tumor so its pathology mystified most of the doctors. We eventually ended up seeing a neurosurgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, however, who was convinced it was a tumor.

On Christmas Eve, Crow had a biopsy and a procedure called laser ablation in which they “cooked” the visible tumor with a laser to kill it. A little over a week later, the results of the biopsy came back and we found that the tumor was stage iv glioblastoma — a very aggressive form of brain cancer that a mere 200,000 people a year in the US are “lucky” enough to get. Unlike a lot of other cancers, there really is no explanation as to the cause of glioblastoma.

Tomorrow Crow begin 6 weeks / 5 days per week of radiation therapy. He also begins taking a chemotherapy pill (Temodar) daily 7 days a week. The hope is to destroy an unseen microscopic cancer cells that were missed by laser ablation.

It’s not going to be an easy road. Glioblastoma is notorious for recurrence. It’s almost guaranteed. Our lives will now be lived between 3-month MRIs to monitor for tumors. He may still have to take Temodar for five days a month for several months after the radiation regiment as well.

Because he is on seizure watch, Crow cannot drive a car for 6 months to a year (which is tracked from Thanksgiving when he had the seizure). Fortunately, they will allow him to ride a bicycle once he’s fully recovered from surgery (6 weeks out) but he must always do so with other people around in case he has a seizure.

Our lives are altered forever. We’re hopeful right now. I want to believe that maybe he’s just one of those random people who get a cancer and that it never comes back. I try to be realistic too. Either way, I wake up every morning in a panic. I spend the whole day trying to make myself feel more positive. We both feel a little stuck and unable to plan for our future. At the moment, I am also out of work because I have been trying to start my own business since August. Things are tight and the world is less secure than it was in the beginning of November.

So far, I’m not happy with 2016.

Advertisements

Welcome to Woodbury

My grandma E used to decorate the interior of her house for Christmas. Among her many decorations were Christmas villages and dolls that ice skated on mirrors. She had the foamy white padding to simulate snow. Every available surface of her living room contained some sort of scene.

When I was a kid, I just enjoyed staring at the little tiny lit houses, imagining what it would be like to walk amidst that village and go into the little houses and shops. I used to play with the ice skaters, moving them around the mirror, until my grandma caught me. (How could a child resist?)

A Christmas village is a bit too much fun for someone with an imagination. Even as an adult, I could make up the whole story of a miniature little Christmas village as I spend time staring at it. So I was really thrilled when Crow decided to start building a little Christmas village of our own. Of course, I said. That’s exactly what I’d like!

Last year, Crow’s mom paint us two little ceramic buildings for our village: a church and a house. On our second annual trip to Frankenmuth on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we bought a set of lamp posts, a set of trees with blinky blue and white lights, a figurine of carolers, and a figurine of a lady feeding two cats from a large bucket. (The town must have cats, after all!)

We could have bought more, but our wedding, honeymoon, and the tandem bicycle we ordered put us on a tight budget this year. We decided we would slowly build our village. Afterall, Crow had already hinted to his mom that she should help us expand our village by painting us another set of buildings as a Christmas present.

We did pick up some “snow” and some sparky stuff to add to the “snow” to make it look more like real snow.

The picture below shows our small little village at the start of Christmas 2013.

Woodbury's humble beginnings.

Woodbury’s humble beginnings.

On Christmas Day when we opened gifts, I was delighted that Crow’s mom did paint us three more buildings: a bakery, a diner, and barn! We were so thrilled! The level of detail she did on the painting was magnificent (the roof of one of the buildings had alternating colors for shingles).

But that wasn’t the end! Oh, no, his mother had yet another surprise for us. She gave us her Christmas village! We were both so surprised and happy for this generous gift. So yesterday we went through the box of Christmas village she gave us to see what she had… and we got 9 more buildings (a school, another church, a mill, two more houses, a toy store, a train station, and two barns) plus more people, cats, dogs, and farm animals for our little village.

It’s still the Christmas season until New Year’s. We don’t take down any of our decorations until after New Year’s. So we decided to set everything out, arranging the buildings into a logical order and positioning the people. And that’s when I decided that we should all the town Woodbury (Woodville was already taken–it’s a city in Northeast Ohio) after our last name.

Downtown Woodbury, now complete with commerce, carolers, shoppers, and Santa.

Downtown Woodbury, now complete with commerce, carolers, shoppers, and Santa.

Downtown Woodbury now features a diner, a bakery, a toy store, and the Westbury Lutheran Church. I decided it was a Lutheran church since Crow was raised mostly in the Lutheran church and he needed to be represented. Besides, what Midwestern town doesn’t include a Lutheran church? Even Lake Wobagon has one and Garrison Keillor is always going on about those Lutherans. I guess in a way it’s an ode to grandma E since she too was Lutheran.

Instead of feeding the poor, however, the lady out in front of the church is feeding the cats. (You might note that she was also in the same position originally from the earlier picture.) I added a black cat from Crow’s mom’s village set next to the church, looking on, unsure about whether or not he wants to approach the woman to also get some food. I figured he’s a shy cat like the many barn kitties at Crow’s mom’s house.

Woodbury Northside: home to the mayor and wealthier residents.

Woodbury Northside: home to the mayor and wealthier residents.

The Woodbury Northside is the home of the elite residents of the town. We decided that the white fancy house is home to the mayor. Crow said that the other house with the side porch is our home in Woodbury, but that house seems maybe a bit too fancy for my tastes, although it does have a very cool front porch along the side of the door. The barn would be ours as well. The mayor doesn’t have time to take care of farm animals. The train station is probably a little out of place in this section of town but we stuck it there for now. I guess the sound of train traffic doesn’t bother us any since there are no tracks. A lady is sitting outside, however, waiting for the train that will never come. I see an opportunity for improvement in Woodbury’s future.

Woodbury Midtown: The school, the mill, and the UU Church of Woodbury.

Woodbury Midtown: The school, the mill, and the UU Church of Woodbury.

I decided the second church–which contains no visible symbols of a faith–was the UU Church of Woodbury. Crow pointed out that this building could be a town hall, but I decided that it needed to be a UU church. I want Woodbury to be somewhat progressive. The school, I decided, is also a Montessori school. I’m a huge fan of Montessori education and really wish I’d had a chance to experience it myself.

The mill, yeah, needs some water. It seems kind of useless without a nearby source so perhaps in the future we will have to find a mirror to represent water.

I love the children building the snowman.

Woodbury Southside: A work in progress.

Woodbury Southside: A work in progress.

Woodbury Southside contains the house from our original set of structures and the new barn we received this year. Farm animals from Crow’s mom’s set makes the scene complete. I especially love the figurine of the dog and dog house.

Crow and I plan to buy some bridges and some walkways and such on our annual visit to Frankenmuth next year. It’s exciting to design a build this village. Each year, we can add more things to it and build it up. We plan to put lights underneath each building as well so that the buildings look more lively. I can stare at this little town and dream away, as I already have, imagining the lives of these people like I did when I was younger. I will definitely have to find a pair of ice skaters and make a mirror-pond for them to skate on as well.

It’s exciting that both Crow and I find enjoyment out of creating a little miniature town like this. Also, we have a general love of decorating for the holidays, especially Christmas. Like last year, we have a tree in every room of the house (though I never did get around to setting up the one in the bedroom, shame on me). We have our live tree in our living room–a Douglas fir this year–and our pop culture tree in the library.

2013 Wood Christmas Tree. (Note the plane flying just below the star.)

2013 Wood Christmas Tree. (Note the plane flying just below the star.)

2013 Wood Christmas Tree at another angle.

2013 Wood Christmas Tree at another angle.

And our pop culture tree with all the fun ornaments.

And our pop culture tree with all the fun ornaments.

It was a nice Christmas in Woodbury, our first year celebrating the holiday as a married couple. Right before Christmas, we gave ourselves the best Christmas present a couple like us could get: we ordered our tandem bicycle! We look forward to many future adventures riding it, especially on some self-contained bike tours. It was a big investment but one we will appreciate for years to come.

New ornaments we purchased in Frankenmuth. The Like to Bike ornament was a gift from Crow's mom.

New ornaments we purchased in Frankenmuth. The Like to Bike ornament was a gift from Crow’s mom.

I got some incredibly cute gifts from Crow including a teddy bear (I named him Allen) and a Marvin The Martian winter hat. Who says you can’t have fun at 38? (One of my favorite gifts from Crow last year was a cat blanket that has a cat face on the hood and two places for you to put your hands to move the paws. Yeah, it’s made for kids but it’s warm and cuddly and I use it around the house all the time. Plus, it is black and white–the colors of my cat Nicki.)

Gifts no Martian can do without.

Gifts no Martian can do without.

The hat is already a hit. I wore it yesterday when we hiked with our bike club in the morning and I got a ton of compliments on it. I wore it while we ran errands and people commented on it as much the Santa purse I carry around during this time of year (which I got on our 2012 visit to Frankenmuth). We signed up at a new gym and the lady at the front desk even insisted I keep it on for my ID photo. I’m so glad that people appreciate my out-of-the-box style… It often reminds me how fun it is to be an adult–where people appreciate individuality–as opposed to high school where everyone is forced to fit in. I love that I can be myself these days and receive complements rather than insults.

Anyway, this Christmas season seemed to fly by. I think it had to do with Thanksgiving being so late in the month. But I had fun and we accomplished everything we set out to do. We 10 different kinds of cookies this year and I’m proud to say that I finally got press cookies to work. I also used the rolling pin I got last year to make springerle cookies–they came out great and both tasted and looked good! We had a week of 6 parties in a row and I attended all but one because I had a 24-hour flu (or something) that made me feel miserable for a bit.

We’ve had a great year and I’m looking forward to what 2014 brings…

Resolutions

I’m not one to make resolutions because I’m really not good at following through. At the start of each new year, I feel like I have plenty of time to get a lot of things done. But then time has a way of slipping away from me. When I spend 40 hours a week at work and I’ve got a lot of other distractions and things to do, it takes a lot of effort to make headway on goals.

I guess that’s a cop-out. If I felt really motivated, I suppose I would manage my time better–fit my goals within those small spaces of time between the things I have to do in a day. I know if I spent a lot less time goofing off on, say, Facebook, I might actually squeeze some writing in. Or finish that book I started reading.

Well, I think the problem is that I’m motivated, but I have no idea where to harness that motivation. Story of my life. But at this moment, I’m going to harness that energy on some promises to myself for the coming year. Nothing grandiose. I’m starting off small.

1. Get back up to speed on my cycling. In 2012, I had an average mileage total of just over 2,000 miles. Though still a substantial amount of miles to cycle by most people’s standards, 2012 was not a particularly aggressive year for me. I only did about 3 rides between 60-100 miles. I did not climb very many hills; I even completely avoided Oak Hill all year (when I did it multiple times on Tuesday nights in 2011). I totally lacked confidence. I know I have a wedding coming up with three weeks of a honeymoon out west, so I can’t promise a higher quantity of miles, but I can promise higher quality of miles. Which means challenging myself on hills again, doing longer rides, and continuing my effort to commute to work more often. I will start by working to beat my previous record of 154 miles on Calvin’s Challenge, which I signed up for this year.

2. Writing. I make the promise to write more every year. With my first successful attempt at NaNoWriMo in 2012, I feel I’ve had a little kick in the ass. It made writing a novel seem like more of a reachable goal, even though I still have to spend a lot of time editing or doing more writing after the event. I met some fellow writers who helped motivate me and keep me on task.

I pledge to do NaNoWriMo again next year, possibly finally knocking out that memoir about my personal experience as a widow that I’ve always wanted to write. I think that the fast-paced environment of NaNo would force me to write the things I’ve been afraid to write to get that story out and it will help me to linger less on writing everything perfectly, which has always been one of my problems with that piece. Also, I think my perspective has changed a bit more positively as I enter into a new marriage and the clock starts again as a married woman. I always thought I couldn’t write that piece once I fell in love again, but I am starting to realize that I was probably completely wrong about that. Being in love again brings up a lot of emotions and memories from the first time that I didn’t know were there and it also reminds me more of the realities of a relationship which brings out more details about Mike and me that I forgot. It could be really interesting to see what thoughts time and new love bring to the surface. I’m not even sure yet what I have to say about these topics but I know the words are starting to form beneath my skin.

Besides NaNo, I just purchased a book about writing flash fiction which is a form of short story I’ve recently become interested in through listening religiously to a science-fiction podcast. I’d never heard of flash fiction before, but I’m now fascinated with the form. I liken it to be what haiku is to poetry–trying to express grand ideas in a few concise words. I’ve always loved how haiku forces me to condense my ideas into 17 syllables. So flash fiction will force me to condense an idea into much less words. (And as you can see from my blog entries, brevity is not my forte!)

I just purchased Scrivener–a software specifically designed for writers. Some of my fellow NaNos used it and recommended it. It’s really great for organizing your story because you write everything in “scenes” rather than making documents by chapter which is what I was going in my normal word processing software. You can easily move scenes around and organize them into folders. I can’t tell you how often I’ve struggled with organizing the chapters I write. Sometimes one chapter is too long and I want to split it out into a separate one. This is extremely annoying in a normal word processing software in which everything is contained in separate files. In Scrivener, it’s a snap to move a scene around or put it in a new folder and you can constantly see the ultimate arrangement in an outline bar on the side of the screen. There’s a section for writing character bios and an area for posting links to research items or jotting notes. When you are ready to create a manuscript, the text outputs to a number of file types from PDFs to MS Word documents.

I’m so enthused! I already set up my 2012 NaNo story in Scrivener to begin the process of rewriting and editing! Having the right tools definitely makes the work a lot more pleasurable. I still have to write the story myself, but at least I can access all my information easily and quickly rather than poking through multiple files trying to find stuff. Having used one tool that didn’t work for me for so long, it’s really refreshing to find a tool that was designed specifically with a writer’s needs in mind!

So. I think I’m moving slowly towards my writing goal. I’m certainly a lot less dormant than I’ve been. Things are looking up! And Crow has been so supportive about my writing that I just feel so overwhelmed with gratitude for having him in my life.

3. Bass Lessons. Over the last year, I’ve become convinced that I want to learn to play the bass guitar. Knowing this, my sweetie bought me a bass guitar for Christmas! I’m so excited to take on the challenge of learning a new instrument. I used to play viola in elementary school and I admit that I regret giving it up in middle school. Viola, like bass, is the unsung hero of a musical piece because it’s tune is not often noticed–never getting to take the solo or the main part–but without it the piece would just not sound the same. I like the idea of being the touch to a music piece that makes it perfect. I also like the throbbing sound of the bass. I can always identify it in a song, hone in on its singular beat, and I want so badly to play along with that music.

I pledge to give it my all in lessons with the bass and to not quit early. I had a stint learning guitar in college and I don’t think I gave it my all (though I did learn to play some of my favorite songs, like “Sunday Bloody Sunday”). I have my very own bass now and I need to give it the chance I should have given instruments before. I know my life is busy, but hopefully by the end of 2013 I’ll at least know how to play one song on my new bass.

4. Relax. I’m getting married this year. Eek! It’s going to be stressful. Very stressful. But I need to just let things roll off of me and remember that this wedding is not about all of the things in the periphery that might go wrong or cause stress. It’s about me and Crow and our commitment to each other. I need to just breathe, relax, and have fun when the day arrives. These are the moments to hang on to in the years ahead no matter what happens. The specific details of the day don’t matter. I will barely remember the mishaps; it’s the great moments in between that will eclipse all other memories.

I need to stop telling myself that we should have eloped or had a destination wedding. The moment for that decision has passed and we are now full-throttle into the planning of a full scale wedding. Let those thoughts of doubt go. They only cause conflict, confusion, and frustration between myself and the people who hear me utter them. The theme of my life is that I need to go forward bravely and confidently with decisions I makee and not second-guess myself every step of the way. It’s time to grow up. There is no time in life for second guesses or regrets.

A little yoga might help as well. Meditation. Lots of meditation.

I look forward to the year ahead. I think this will be a magical one for me (and Crow). Fiscal cliffs or no, I’m not letting anything stop me from having the time of my life while learning something new every day. It’s the year to work on becoming the person I want to be and growing with the person I love. I will win no matter what happens.

And if I make mistakes along the way, or life doesn’t work out the way I plan, that’s okay too. I’ve learned I can roll with the punches. As I’ve learned, forward is the only direction a person can go. So, onward, ho!

Happy New Year 2013

I rang in the New Year with a cold. It started Friday night and pretty much increased with intensity as the weekend went on.

Even still, I was determined to enjoy my favorite holiday out and about, like I always do, and, of course, I wanted to spend it with Crow. We decided not to go anywhere this year because we needed to save some money with all of our house and wedding expenses both ahead and in the rearview mirror. Fortunately, Akron has a First Night event that is a mere $10/person for an entire night of entertainment around the town. It seemed just the perfect thing to do.

So we looked at the schedule and picked out some events we’d like to attend. Then, Crow skillfully laid out a plan for where we needed to be and when. (I always seem to latch on to people who are better planners than me.) I took three Tylonel and some cough suppressant, stocked my coat pockets with kleenex and cough drops, and off we went! The event started at 6pm and we arrived at the first item on our schedule–a trivia contest–just a few minutes late. We watched six people play a round of trivia set up like Jeopardy (except that no one had to phrase their answers with “What is…” or “Who is?”) which had all local-themed categories like Akron Sports, Akron People, and Summit County. I would not have done very well in this game because, being relatively new to Akron, I’m not really up on the scene. It was fun to watch, though. And there were no real points taken so at the end of the game, everyone got a prize.

After the first round, the host called up another six players and Crow pulled me up to play. Totally against my own normal inclination to just sit back and quietly watch other people participate in something I secretly want to participate in but am too afraid of looking stupid and drawing attention to myself. The host gave us a choice of themes and Crow spoke up to vote for “toys” so we played a board with topics related to toys but also contained pop music and movies as categories. Once I got over the unfounded fear of looking stupid (we were all in the same boat), I answered a few questions and had some fun playing. In the end, Crow and I each chose for our prize the Akron passport which will get us into various events at local venues for free.

Next, we headed off to the Summit Artspace building where we got caricatures of us done. We also watched a little bit of Hal Walker‘s set. Hal is an amazingly talented local folk artist who also happens to be the music director at my church. I always enjoy watching his performances.

We then watched the University of Akron’s Steel Drum Band. Totally fun. Crow loves steel drums (even wants to own one himself) and I’ve loved steel drum music since I first experienced it on a trip to Trinidad & Tobago in college. I was there over Christmas time and to this day whenever I hear a Christmas carol, I can’t help but remember walking around the streets of Port of Spain and Scarborough hearing the same carol played on steel drums, reminding me that it was indeed winter and the Christmas season, which is something you tend to forget when you’re walking around in shorts in very tropical weather. We’re definitely going to have to check out more of this University of Akron Steel Drum Band in the future. Apparently they play concerts locally. I forgot how much fun it was. I seriously wanted to dance to that calypso beat but the crowd was generally kind of passive so I just took to bobbling my head in time with the music.

We really had a full night. After the steel drums, we got a ride on a horse drawn carriage downtown. It wasn’t a long ride–just down the street–and the wait was longer than the actual ride, but it was fun. We watched the last half of the Western Reserve Brass Band’s show. Trombones also jog a childhood memory…. My dad had one which he used to play as a kid. My dad taught us how to blow on it to make noise, which was probably his biggest mistake because my brother and I used to take great joy in “playing it.” By playing it, I mean, we made it sound like a dying elephant. Hours of noisy entertainment for youngsters while driving the adults crazy. Whenever I see actual musicians playing trombones, I wonder how they are able to make actual music from such a cantankerous instrument. More than any other brass instrument, I’m intrigued by the sounds of this instrument.

I was really amazed that by the time we left the brass band, it was already 11pm! Based on my previous experience at First Night, I thought there might be a lot of standing around with nothing to do. I guess I can attribute the flow of the evening to Crow’s planning. It was really a lot of fun. We watched a 25-minute ice sculpting competition outside Lock 3, and then waited the remaining 20 minutes out listening to the stuff going on at the main stage where they got a choir to lead us in a song. Then we had the magic countdown to midnight followed by fireworks. Crow and I danced with the music blared over the speakers to the fireworks show. It was magical and I felt just as content as I did in my single days when watching the fireworks display from the lodge at Holiday Valley. Well, actually, I was just as content but a lot less lonely!

Who knew I could have so much fun just staying at home for New Years? I have gone away for so many years I forgot that about the fun things my own locality has to offer. Anyway, I have this feeling that part of the fun always comes from who I’m with. Crow and I seem to have fun everywhere we go. I hope it’s always this way–that we have a sense of adventure and a willingness to try new things.

We stopped into the Lockview–my favorite restaurant–after the fireworks to have our first beer of the new year. In addition to great gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, the Lockview has a vast beer selection in bottles and on draft. I ordered a Stone Arrogant Bastard; Crow, Bell’s Winter Ale. Unfortunately, my cold decided to get worse; my nose stuffed up badly and I could only taste the beer for about halfway through drinking it. But at least I could taste it for a little bit. I’d been eating wasabi peanuts all night in an attempt to clear my sinuses but not even that worked anymore. Bummer.

I spent my first day of the new year doing laundry and trying to fix the formatting of this blog. Apparently one of my pictures in either the last entry or my gravitar caused the sidebar to stop displaying correctly. I figured it out, I guess, by correctly some messy tags in the last entry and deleting my gravitar. In the process, I’ve also updated my template to a newer version that wordpress apparently released recently. Anyway, enjoy the new look.

I’ve been sneezing and blowing my nose all day. I’d like to hope that this last cold of 2012 becomes the last cold of 2013… but I’m not holding my breath. I have been having a rough time this past fall with colds. I think this is my fourth one since October. Ack.

Merry Christmas from the Cabin in the Woods

Well, we finished the replacing the flooring in our house (wood) and we finally cleaned things up a bit so that we feel like we’re living like normal people, not out of boxes and all, and so we also spent some time decorating for Christmas. There is a tree in almost every room of the house! (I think the only rooms lacking a tree are in the basement and the master bedroom bath.)

So I thought I’d share some pictures of our (mostly Crow’s) handiwork…

Tree in the main bathroom.

Tree in the main bathroom.

Please pardon the mess in our office. We have ordered some nice hardwood desks and still await their arrival. At least we still have a nice blue tree to match the nice blue (Behr “Windjammer”– Crow’s pick) room.

The tree in the office.

The tree in the office.

Our first live tree together… And the most important as it is the one under which we place our presents.

A live tree in our living room.

A live tree in our living room.

Some ornaments we purchased in Frankenmuth…

"Merry Christmas" auf deutsch.

“Merry Christmas” auf deutsch.

A little southwest to warm the season.

A little southwest to warm the season.

"The Bebe's" first home (Our nickname for each other is "bebe"--like baby only faster.)

“The Bebe’s” first home (Our nickname for each other is “bebe”–like baby only faster.)

Let’s have a look at those presents!

Presents under the tree!

Presents under the tree!

Our main tree from further back and on the other side.

Our main tree from further back and on the other side.

No Christmas is complete without Dr. McCoy decked out in his best festive attire!

Dr. McCoy still lives here.

Dr. McCoy still lives here.

And, of course, our “pop culture” tree appropriately in the library. This tree contains all of our goofy pop culture ornaments, many of which make sounds and/or perform an action. This is the fun tree where you get to go press buttons on all of the ornaments.

The pop culture tree in the library.

The pop culture tree in the library.

The pop culture tree in all its glory.

The pop culture tree in all its glory.

Something to make me think of "home" over the holidays.

Something to make me think of “home” over the holidays.

And let’s not forget the kitchen.

A Charlie Brown tree in the kitchen.

A Charlie Brown tree in the kitchen.

No post on the internet is complete without a cute picture of a cat… So my Nicki will do the honors…

Nicki believes herself to be the best present I could receive.

Nicki believes herself to be the best present I could receive.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!! With lots of love from me and Crow!

Black Friday & Frankenmuth

Crow and I spent Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend in Bowling Green visiting his mom and step-dad. We had dinner on Thursday night at my parents’ house, then drove up to his family’s place for the remainder of the extended weekend.

It’s tradition with Crow and his mom to go shopping on Black Friday. I can hear the hisses from my liberal friends, and the curmudgeons who hate the mass consumerism of Christmas, but I have to admit that it was FUN. Traditionally, Black Friday–being a day off of work–was my day to reflect on a year by writing my annual Christmas letter and creating my holiday photo-card. And then I just spent the rest of the weekend basking in the freedom of not having to go to work.

This year, however, I’m engaged and learning to start new traditions with my husband-to-be. Not to mention the fact that I have also been participating in NaNoWriMo, which has consumed more of my time than I ever imagined, and required my continued attention the entire weekend. This whole writing-life balance has been quite a challenge all month, to say the least. Exciting. But tiring.

Anyway, after visiting with my parents, we left for Bowling Green. With Crow driving, I spent the trip up typing furiously into my MacBook to get my required daily word count to where it needed to be to stay on time with completing 50K words by the end of the month. I’d started the day a little behind because I chose to go out Wednesday night with coworkers and then Crow and some friends instead of write.

Fortunately I hit my total and was able to get to bed when we arrived at his family’s place around 11pm. The next day, it was getting up reasonably early (for me, about 8am) and then setting off into the wilds of shopping on Black Friday. I ended up using some of those really great deals to buy more stuff for myself (needed new headphones, got a 3 TB backup external hard drive for $100 at Costco, some other odds and ends). Believe it or not, we were actually out from about 10am until 9pm! What a day! I enjoyed it, though. It was really fun to hang out with Crow and his mom. I like the way they shop — just go wherever you feel like at the moment, not so much a coordinated attack, and definitely not trying to get those crazy early bird deals. Though I’ve been told there’s generally more organization to their shopping but both were slightly unprepared this year.

After we got home, I, of course, became anti-social as I spent the next few hours furiously typing again on my MacBook for NaNoWriMo. I got a decent number of words down and tiredly called it a night.

The next day, we had to really get up early to leave the house by 7am (!!!!!) because we wanted to go to Frankenmuth, Michigan to shop at the Bronner’s Christmas Store. It was about a 2.5 hour drive to Frankenmuth in which I, again, spent my time writing my novel in the back seat while Crow and his mom played word games with each other in the front seat and chatted. I wanted to take part–especially on the way home when the game was to name a famous person and then name another famous person using the first letter of the previous person’s last name (ie, Fred Astair and Ashton Kucher)–but, alas, I was on a NaNoWriMo mission.

When we arrived at the Christmas store–which is just outside of Frankenmuth itself–the parking lot was full. Of course. I could tell it was a big building but clearly I was completely unprepared for the Christmas overload I was about to experience. While Crow was finding a parking space, I went into the store to use the bathroom. Between the crowded mass of milling people and the vast maze of the huge store, I nearly got lost finding my way back to the front door where Crow and his mom were waiting. Wow!!

Some of the decorations to admire (not buy) at the Christmas store!

Some of the decorations to admire (not buy) at the Christmas store!

We started shopping in a circular pattern from the “west” entrance. I think it took us like four hours to go through the entire store (with a stop for a snack at the snack bar in the middle). We let ourselves go off our budget for the day because we wanted to buy some special Christmas decorations for our first Christmas in our new home together. The bulk of the store is ornaments. And not just any ornaments, but ornaments of every theme or type that you could ever imagine! Crow pointed out some adorable ornaments with alien faces. I, naturally, had to buy one of those!

Cool alien ornaments: A must have for extraterrestrials. Or people who think they are extraterrestrials.

Cool alien ornaments: A must have for extraterrestrials. Or people who think they are extraterrestrials.

They offered free personalization for the ornaments so I got “Mars Girl” written on the back of the alien one. We also got a “Our First Home” ornament that we had personalized (using our nickname for each other “The Bebes”). Needless to say, we got quite a few interesting ornaments for our tree. In the Germany section, I picked up one that reads “Frohliche Weinachten” which is “Merry Christmas” in German. Lots of ornaments, some of which will surprise me anew when we finally go through the bags to put up our tree.

I splurged a little on myself. But these were items I could not resist, such as Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer socks (they are so soft and warm!) and a Santa purse. Yes.

The irresistible Santa purse!

The irresistible Santa purse!

I didn’t get the hat, though it was adorable as well; I had to draw the line somewhere. This past weekend, I took the purse out with me to two parties we attended and it was quite the object of admiration. So much so, in fact, that Santa Claus–who made an appearance at one of the parties–gave me one of the stuffed animal dogs he’d been giving the children. You know, some people just never grow up!

Crow, Santa, and Mars Girl.

Crow, Santa, and Mars Girl at a neighborhood Christmas party on December 1st. (I had the Santa hat before Frankenmuth.)

By the time we left the store, I was utterly exhausted. Not only were there products to examine, but the store itself was elaborately decorated. It was overwhelming trying to take it all in while also dodging the mobs of people. Even though we tried to look at everything, I am sure we missed twice as much as we saw. I had a great time, though, looking at all the decorations and imaging the potential Christmas wonderland we could someday make of our house because despite all the decorations we already have, and the decorations we acquired this year, Crow and I have even grander visions. Oh yes.

We decided to go into town after shopping with the main objective of finding food. And then, of course, more shopping. I was tipped off by some cycling friends about the Frankenmuth Brewery so I kind of pushed for us to eat there. I enjoyed some brats and sauerkraut which were actually surprising good for pub-style dining. For beer, I tried a dunkel and a harvest ale. Both were pretty good, though I think I liked the harvest ale a little more. Having had real dunkels in Germany, my expectations were much higher. Dunkels are generally very spicy and this dunkel was a little weak. Hey, but that’s okay, I’m not complaining about a cold beer after four hours in a Christmas store.

The town of Frankenmuth is very European in architecture, clearly drawing from their Bavarian roots. We walked around to various shops admiring the many items available for sale. We stopped for some fudge and I found a vendor selling my absolute favorite snack: candied almonds! The best find, however, was when we walked into one of the shops below the Bavarian Inn & Restaurant. From the door to the shop, right before our eyes, was an entire wall full of ROSETTE IRONS!!

Last year, we went to every cooking and craft store in northern Ohio (both east and west) in a desperate search for rosette irons. It was a frustrating hunt and the harder those damned things were to find, the more I wanted to make rosette cookies. We eventually were saved by a friend who, hearing my cries of desperation on Facebook, sold me her set for $20. Our first attempt at rosette cookies was not entirely successful. But we decided this year when considering the cookies we were going to make for our cookie extravaganza that we were going to attempt them again. While we were no longer in a desperate need for rosette irons, we were drawn to this entire wall full of them because we had sought them for so long. Among the many shapes and sizes of irons, we found a book called The Art of Rosette Cooking! So we decided to buy that as well as an iron of Santa Claus (which we did not have in our kit) and a mold for a cup so that you can make a rosette cup in which to put little goodies like fruit and whipped cream!

The good news is that after perusing the book yesterday morning, I found where we had gone wrong in our efforts at making rosettes and I’m excited already to give it another try. The recipe book also includes tons of other recipes not only for rosette cookie flavors, but other food that can be cooked using rosette irons. So I might have a future in fancy fried appetizers… Stay tuned!

We couldn’t help but feel proud of our discovery. If only we’d thought to visit Frankenmuth last year! Naturally, the town known for having everything Christmas would be the rosette irons we sought. I guess from now on we’ll know where to look for usual Christmas-themed items when all else fails!

We left town around 7pm and I was exhausted. However, I pushed on to write more for NaNoWriMo, eventually ending the day with 2,500 words! That’s impressive for someone writing in a car before and after a long day like that. That night caught me up on my word count (I’d been desperately behind for days) and so I was able to relax the rest of the evening and into the following day where I spent the ride back to Akron just talking to Crow and being in the moment. I did not get behind on my words for the rest of the event which I feel was a major accomplishment.

We really did have a lot of fun. We might make it a tradition to visit Frankenmuth. There are still a lot of surfaces in our house that have space for Christmas decorations. I want to eventually get a Christmas village because it reminds me of the little villages my grandma E put out each year for Christmas. I was always fascinated by those little miniature versions of real life. Especially the little people she had set up on mirrors that served as ice rinks…. I wouldn’t mind having little worlds of my own, though I fear I would play with them like I used to play with my grandma’s little people (which I am sure drove her nuts). What did I say about some people never growing up?

We’re well on our way to be the crazy people who decorate their house like crazy. Crow has put miniature Christmas trees in our bedroom, the office, and our guest bathroom. We have a full-sized tree in our library for just our pop-culture ornaments. We still plan to buy a live tree–our “real” tree–for our presents which we will put in our living room. Crow bought a little nightlight for our bedroom that projects the image of a snowman on our ceiling. And the outside of our house is decorated with blue and white LED icicle lights with lighted candy canes lining the beginning of our driveway (my idea–I’ve always wanted them), a strand of blue lights and lighted snow flake ornaments in our Japanese maple. Yesterday I added a bow with bells and a wreath to the double-doors of our front entrance. We envision buying a huge wreath for next year to place on the bricks in front of our house and a spot light to shine on it.

Who’s got the Christmas spirit? We do!!

Groundhog Day 2012

When Crow first mentioned the idea of attending the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, PA, I immediately answered that I was on board. It was one of those things I’d never really put any thought into attending, but, once mentioned, seemed like an exciting adventure. Falling on a Thursday this year, I requested Wednesday through Friday off from work to make for a nice long weekend. We figured that since it would still be winter (ha) we might also have the opportunity to do some cross-country skiing in the area. (Of course, this was our idea back in October when we also thought we were actually going to have snow for New Year’s.)

So we arrived in Punxsutawney in the afternoon on Wednesday to check out the scene. The town was pretty quiet. There were some tents set up in the town circle where vendors were selling food and crafts–a woodworker carved animals from logs and stumps. By the library (where we later learned Punxsutawney Phil lives throughout the year in a windowed cage), a group of people were gathered roasting marshmallows for s’mores over a little fire in a metal drum. It seemed rather relaxed.

According to the program of events (which had actually started on Saturday), there was a hayride tour of the town departing from the house that served as a historical museum. I love hayrides, so we decided to do that first after a quick lunch at a local cafe/coffee shop. It was orated by a local historian who was also a high school art teacher in Punxsutawney (or “Punxsy” as the locals call it). He was bursting with more information than frankly the hayride had time for, so it was really educational because you got the sense that he wanted to tell you everything. We learned that Punxsutawney means “town of the flies” (or something similar to this) in the tongue of the Native Americans who used to inhabit the area. Apparently the river flowing beside the town was a wet home for mosquitoes.

Punxsutawny attributes its name to the Native Americans.

The guide explained that the Groundhog Days festivities are rooted in the tradition of many of the town’s German settlers. In Germany, the legend took the form of some other hibernating creature, but because groundhogs were so plentiful in the area–and even hunted for sport and food–it became the groundhog for the town. Lots of other towns celebrated this tradition, but it was the founders of Punxsy who came up with a marketing plan that made the celebration in their town one of the biggest in the US. With the celebration, of course, comes tourism. And as we toured the town, seeing the various groundhog statues and paintings, it was very clear that Punxsutawny comes alive for one week out of every year for one purpose.

Crow on the Punsxy hay ride.

After the tour, we continued to investigate the town, taking a look at the house converted to a historical museum and, across the street in another house-turned-museum, we enjoyed some hot chocolate and cookies while checking out an art show that was currently taking place as part of the festivities. We stopped in at the Chamber of Commerce to look at the bountiful groundhog souvenirs. I ended up selecting one of the tacky–yet adorable, in my humble opinion–headbands with groundhog ears and a top hat (seen below). Crow elected to avoid indulgence for the time being; however, at a really cool craft fair we discovered at the Pantall Hotel, he found himself clad in an equally adorable groundhog hat (also seen below). I ended up buying groundhog earrings at said craft fair. Hey, next year I’ll be the most festive person at work on Groundhog Day.

Mars Girl and Crow dressed in our geeky groundhog glory posing before the wizard groundhog found in front of the Weather Discovery Center.

Another event we decided to check out was a chili and wings cook-off taking place at one of the buildings of the Indiana University Culinary Art School. This was a lot of fun. We shared a tray of all twelve samples (although two were already out by the time we got there so we never got to try it) and got to take part in the People’s Choice portion of the competition by voting for our favorites. They also had a jalapeno-eating competition in which one of the girls at our table decided to take part. She actually made it to the final round, but was beaten by another male competitor. She ate those jalapenos like a trooper, though, winning my admiration. I love jalapenos; however, I don’t think I could just eat them plain, one after the other, especially after having sampled ten different chilis.

Hmmm... Chili! We liked 2, 7, and 8 best.

A group of people from Oregon sitting near us happened to win tickets to a comedy show later in the evening, to which they already had tickets, so they asked us if we wanted the tickets they’d won. Despite realizing that we were going to need to hit the sack early to be at Gobbler’s Knob at 5am the next morning, we decided to take the tickets. We went for a couple drinks at the pub attached to the Pantall Hotel.

I must stop here to gripe about the abysmal beer selection at any given bar in Pennsylvania. I think the “case law”–which dictates that people cannot buy beer in quantities less than a case and only at state run liquor stores–severely thwarts the maturity of would-be beer enthusiasts in the state. As a result, every single bar you go to has only dull American lagers (read: Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Lite, and–god forbid–Yuengling). This bar was no exception. The best choice was Blue Moon. I have to admit since I’ve become a bona fide beer snob, I’ve left Blue Moon (a previous favorite) far, far behind. So this was the first time in literally months that I’d had a Blue Moon. Sad to say, it’s not quite as good as I remember it. But still better than yellow beer.

They did have a special beer for the occasion–Groundhog Brew by a Pennsylvania brewery called Straub. Representatives from Straub were at the bar, in fact, and handing out all sorts of chotskys–lip balm (smelling and tasting like a cheap beer), beer cozies, polo shirts, bottle openers–all of which ended up in our hands in duplicate. Sadly, Straub is not going to become a favorite brewery of mine (not even close). We did each drink at least one of the Groundhog Brews just for the spirit of the occasion. Crow kept one of the bottles as a souvenir.

The comedy show was fun and campy with a really small audience. However our Oregon friends got offended and left towards of the headliner’s act. I guess they couldn’t take the heckling since the comedian chose them to pick on at one point. We ran into them the next day and they went on about how offensive they found the comedian’s jokes and some of his heckling of them early on. I guess I could see that but when one listens to shock jocks like Howard Stern (which I do), it was pretty tame in my books. I guess I’ve become desensitized. We got back to the hotel at midnight. Ack. Not a good start to an early morning wake-up call!

The gates to Gobbler’s Knob opened at 3am. We decided we didn’t need to be there that early so we woke up at 3am. As we were staying in a hotel in DuBois (pronounced, not surprisingly, “Do-boyz”), it was about a twenty minute drive to Punxsy. We parked in town and took one of the shuttle buses to the Knob (it’s closed to cars on Groundhog Day).

Gobbler’s Knob is a few miles out of town on the top of a hill in what looks like a little park. I was actually surprised by its remoteness from town. I guess my expectations were shaped by the movie Groundhog Day in which Gobbler’s Knob appeared to be located right in town. We probably arrived on the hill around 5-530am. The crowd was already pretty heavy and there was an air of excitement about (whether alcohol-induced, tired slap-happiness, I cannot say). Still, we seemed to get a good spot and we could see the stage pretty well. Music was blaring loudly from the loudspeakers at the stage and a team of young girls dressed in like–but different colored–shirts danced to the music. An MC occasionally incite the crowd to cheer and brought people on stage to play some games.

Dancing girls and MC at Gobbler's Knob.

We weren’t there long when a helicopter passed slowly overhead, its search light breaking through the darkness. It landed somewhere on the field behind us, causing a kid next to us to excitedly vacate his spot to go check it out. Turns out, it was the governor of Pennsylvania making a historic appearance at Gobbler’s Knob, which apparently had not been done but one other time by a sitting governor of Pennsylvania. He was introduced on stage with his wife and he said a few words. Even though I’m not a resident of Pennsylvania (and have no idea of his political affiliation), I thought that was pretty cool.

Governor of Pennsylvania and his wife at Gobbler's Knob.

At about 6:30am, there was a fireworks display. It was still completely dark out. I forget how long it stays dark winter, even this late in the winter, and the darkness, mixed with the little sleep I got the night before, left me in kind of a haze that made the whole scene feel kind of surrealistic. It mine as well have been midnight. I was cold, but thankful our mild winter made standing at the Knob for two hours bearable (I hear that 2011 was bitterly cold).

Mars Girl at Gobbler's Knob. 5am. Newly acquired Groundhog Day t-shirt across her shoulder.

The fireworks were pretty nice and made up for the fact that I actually missed Fourth of July fireworks last year because I was busy trying to find U2 in Chicago. However, during the display, a group of drunken young people (early 20s?) threaded their way into our area and proceeded to make sarcastic comments throughout the rest of the show. They must have been townies, for most of the remarks consisted of the comment, “Just like every year!” So I have to wonder. Why bother showing up to an event you find so dull and ordinary? Oh, yeah, you like to get drunk. And smoke cigarettes in large crowds. Right.

Crow at Gobbler's Knob. 5am.

So the fireworks ended about 6:45am. The wait was nearing its end. The sun was starting to come up, indicated only by the lightening of the clouds, the appearance of light, for it was a typical cloudy northeast day. I was sure that Phil would not see his shadow.

Our perspective of events (without zoom lens view).

Amidst MC-led cheers of “We love Phil!,” the Inner Circle–men in top hats, suits, and black trench coats–appeared on stage, all smiles. We’d seen a few of the guys around town the day before, but hadn’t realized their celebrity status. It’s a little strange, really. But I think the Inner Circle are to Phil as the elves are to Santa Claus. That is, in the grand scheme of this imaginary play that Phil is indeed the ultimate weatherman, as his acclaim around town suggests. While watching the ceremony, part of me was engaged in the illusion, while the other part of me chuckled inwardly at how silly the whole thing was. A third part of me was wishing the drunken idiots would shut up and let the other two parts of me enjoy the festivities.

A guy had this sign... I think this is a good initiative. I'm sure Phil could beat Santorum, Romney, or Newt no matter what his platform!

One of the guys started the ceremony by introducing each member of the Inner Circle. Like fraternity boys, they had funny nicknames for each other of which only they knew the source. Dawn was fully upon us but it was still not very bright, the only significant light coming from the flood light pointed at the stage. Then, somewhere around 7:20, the president of the Inner Circle rapped on the manufactured stump, summoning Punxsy Phil from his “slumber” (it’s doubtful he was really sleeping with all that racket going on for four hours). Phil was pulled from his little home and presented to his handlers. There was some conferring among the Inner Circle and Phil, and then the president proceeded to read the proclamation…

Punxsy Phil's Inner Circle.

…Phil saw his shadow (I beg to differ that it was caused by the artificial lights flooding the stage). Six more weeks of winter. What? We hadn’t had a winter yet as far as I am concerned. Oh well, I guess it would be six more weeks of what we were currently getting…?

Anyway, the show was over as quickly as it had begun. Most of the record 18,000 observers began to exit the hill. Crow and I decided to stick around to wait in line for a picture with Phil, which the master of ceremonies announced we could do. Punxsy Phil was put into a transparent plastic tube; Crow and I amused ourselves while waiting in line by watching Phil’s frantic scurrying to get out of said tube.

Punxsutawney Phil in his little plastic tube. He's so cute!

We didn’t have to wait too incredibly long… maybe 45 minutes or so. Fortunately, my summer going to U2 concerts and waiting in line fortified me with a steel-like patience. Unlike my U2 experience, I actually got my picture with the celebrity of the hour. And it didn’t even require a stay in an upscale hotel!

Mars Girl & Crow with Punxsy Phil.

With the festivities concluded, we boarded another shuttle back to Punxsutawney. But not before we got another obligatory picture at the entrance to the park.

Mars Girl & Crow at Gobbler's Knob.

By this time, believe it or not, I was actually starving. I’d only eaten a granola bar and an apple at 3am because, well, nothing was really open that early, certainly not the continental breakfast offered by the hotel. So we scanned the street for one of the many pancake breakfasts and such going on and ultimately ended up going to the Pantell Hotel’s buffet instead. I thought it would be neat since the restaurant was at the top of the building, offering a nice view of the town below.

Eh. The food was totally mediocre and the buffet was constantly understocked (scrambled eggs disappeared as soon as they were dropped). I would have thought a food service would be better prepared for the masses that descend upon the town on Groundhog Day but apparently not. If I had to do it over again (or I go to Groundhog Day in the future), I would definitely invest more time in finding one of the breakfasts offered by the churches and organizations around town… I’ve found, at least as far as cycling events go, these are usually above par for meals.

I was starting to feel a little bit tired, but at the same time, I didn’t want to miss out on the excitement around town. It was definitely more busy than it had been the day before and there seemed to be a lot more going on, if you could find it. We decided to go visit the Weather Discovery Center, made especially attractive by the wizard groundhog statue that stood out front.

I wasn’t expecting much at all–probably something on the order of complete and utter cheesiness. I was surprised to learn that the museum was legitimately educational and fun. As you walked into the part, you end up going through a fake home in a tree that is meant, obviously, to be a “replica” of Phil’s imaginary burrow. It was cute and completely what I expected. However, as we walked beyond, the displays provided information about all sorts of weather predicting wives’ tales.  My favorite–the size of the stripes on the wooly bear caterpillar–turns out to be false (boo!). The one about tree leaves turning upward as a sign of a coming storm apparently has some scientific validity. There were a bunch of others I’d never even heard of (ie, something about leeches floating in water).

We got to play with a green screen that they had set up to be like a weather room on the news. You could then see yourself with a weather map in the background as if you were announcing the weather.

Mars Girl gives the weather prediction... and it's probably a thunderstorm given her expression!

We watched a little bit of a movie about weather. And there were various hands-on displays that explained all aspects of weather such as how lightning and thunder are related and how tornadoes are formed. I think we must have stayed there about an hour and it’s a pretty small museum. Fortunately, while we were there, a ceremony took place in the front room to crown the new Mr. and Mrs. Groundhog Day, or some such title as that, which was given to these two darling little kids. Punsxy Phil was brought in by his handlers to oversee the ceremony… and Crow managed to wheedle me in for a picture.

Mars Girl with Punxsy Phil and his handler. Phil is even cuter close up!

We went back to the town circle to see if anything was going on over there. We caught the end of a metal works competition that had been going on since the day before and saw some members of the Inner Circle–who all seemed at once omnipresent throughout the town–decide on the winner.

The winning metal sculpture.

I think they were both sculptures were pretty cool. I wish I’d seen them putting them together. We did get a glimpse of the team working on the runner-up one the night before. Both teams seemed to be young teenagers.

The runner-up sculpture in the metal arts competition.

Since it was colder than the day before (finally around 30 degrees whereas the day before was springlike), an ice carver was now set up. He was really animated and interesting, explaining that he’d coached and competed for the US Olympic ice sculpting team; I didn’t even know this was such an event! As he talked, he would make these candy canes and lollypops out of ice and pass them out the kids in the crowd. We also watched him make a mug….

A mug of ice--refreshing! And perfect for beer! I was foaming at the mouth watching.

…fill it with Gatorade…

Filling the ice mug with refreshment!

..and proceed to drink from it!

A refreshing drink from the ice mug!

He explained that he enjoyed making functional ice sculptures the most. Some of the pictures on his display showed interesting contraptions he was commissioned (I think) to make for some upscale events. For example, I saw a twisted carafe used for pouring wine. Other pictures showed some of his more extravagant ventures working with fire and ice. It was completely interesting. We stuck around to watch him begin creating a sculpture of a groundhog on skis. I kept dreaming of having a beer in one of his ice mugs.

Ultimately, though, the lack of sleep caught up with us. We decided to head back to our hotel to catch a nap. I think I slid back into bed around 3pm… and woke up around 6 feeling a bit like I’d been in a coma but rested. We chilled the rest of the day at the hotel and made plans for how we would spend the rest of our weekend considering the lack, once again, of hoped for snow for outdoor activities.

What did we do? Well, that’s for another entry, my friends. Mwuuhahahahaa!

Overall, the experience was really fun and I’m glad we did it. I’d definitely go again sometime; however, Crow and I both agree that a trip out to Punxsy will not be in our itinerary every year. (I personally would only like to pick only warm winters like this one since standing outside for three hours in the early morning in dead cold is never fun.)

Lemons To Lemonade

First off, I have to say that I don’t particularly like the phrase, “If life throws you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s a little overly sappy sweet for my disposition. However, in the case of New Year’s weekend 2011-12, I have to admit that it applies. I’m also reminded of the phrase, “The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.”

As my avid readers know, I spent New Year’s weekend at Holiday Valley ski resort the last several years. This year, I decided to do something different since Crow is not the downhill skier that I am and I wanted to be sure we went somewhere where there were activities both of us could do. So we booked a room with my fellow bike club members at the Wilderness Lodge in Wattsburg, Pennsylvania where there are many cross-country skiing trails. I’ve never cross-country skied before, but I’m fairly confident that I wouldn’t have much trouble learning this activity and since the Wilderness Lodge offered rental cross-country skis, I was ready and willing to try it.

This winter, however, has been slow at starting. We had no snow (except an occasional dusting) all December. No white Christmas. Nothing.

I’ve been depressed because last year I started skiing at Boston Mills the first weekend in December. Each day that Boston Mills is not open is money wasted on my season pass. I was forced to get a gym membership so that I could regularly work out somewhere since not only was it not snowing, it was raining almost daily which does not exactly invite me to partake in outdoor activity of any kind.

So, of course, when we arrived at the Wilderness Lodge on Friday (in the rain), we were a bit glum because it didn’t seem it was going to be possible to ski at all. Or do other snow activity. It was simply not cold enough for snow to occur, but we kept checking the weather in hopes that a big blizzard was on its way. Of course, we woke to more gray skis and dreariness on Saturday (New Year’s Eve).

Crow and I decided to act like tourists instead. We knew we had wanted to visit our favorite brewery–Southern Tier–since we were in the area. We originally planned it hit it on Sunday (New Year’s Day), which would mean just sitting in the little pub attached to the factory to have a few drinks. Tours of the brewery are only offered on Saturday, however, so we didn’t think we’d be able to get to do the tour this trip. However, since the weather wasn’t cooperating, we decided to hit the 3:00 tour on Saturday. To kill time, we decided to check out the Chautauqua Institute.

A wintery Lake Chautauqua.

I thought that the Chautauqua Institute was just a building where a lot of lectures took place. I did not realize that the “Institute” was the whole town itself. And the town was inside gates with a few entry points. It was a bit weird. Crow said it reminded him of Stepford from the movie The Stepford Wives. I think he had a point.

The mansion at Chautauqua. (Sorry that I can't remember who owns it!)

Fortunately, in the off-season, entry into Chautauqua is free. So we drove in, parked, and walked around admiring the architecture of the buildings and houses. We walked to the lakefront and through a park. The whole town was empty, which seemed a bit creepy, but given the dreary weather even the people who stayed over the winter probably preferred to stay indoors. It actually kind of reminded me of a college town between semesters–a perfect, clean little community absent of the usual hustle and bustle of people that define it.

A winding road in Chautauqua.

We were heading back to the main square when saw two horse-drawn carriages and some people loading onto them. Crow asked the guys who looked like they were in charge if the rides were for a special event, but it turns out that anyone could go! Crow asked if I wanted to, and I most certainly did, so we bought tickets and climbed aboard! What grand luck!

A sleigh ride at Chautauqua!

The ride took us on a tour of the northern part of town. The driver pointed out various buildings and mansions owned by famous people in Chautauqua that I guess I should have known had I known much about the Chautauqua Institution. Aside from the mansions and beautiful lakefront homes, Chautauqua really did remind me of a college town with its dorms, theatres, and various subject-focused buildings (music, art, etc). To be honest, I just enjoyed being on a vehicle pulled by horses. Even if it wasn’t through snow.

Mars Girl on sleigh ride at Chautauqua.

Crow on sleigh ride at Chautauqua.

After the tour, we decided to head out to Southern Tier as the website advised arriving early for the tour because there were only 25 spots available and it fills up fast. It’s a good thing we happened to arrive about ten minutes before the brewery opened at 2:00 because when we got there, people were already lining up to get in. We were about six and seven in line; by the time the Southern Tier employees opened the doors, there were at least 20 people behind us with more filing out of cars. We were able to secure our places on the tour and, about five minutes later, the tour–still an hour from start–was full!

The many Southern Tier brews on tap in The Empty Pint.

The Empty Pint–which is the small pub attached to the brewery–was packed with people. We were really impressed by the popularity of the place. We settled down with a pulled pork sandwich and a glass of the chocolate stout–a brew we discovered only recently on tap at a pub in Perrysburg just this past November. Southern Tier’s chocolate stout is undeniably the Best. Beer. Ever. I thought I loved their Pumking (the pumpkin ale available from August through October), but this chocolate (Choklat) blows every beer I’ve ever tasted out of the water. It’s that good.

The Empty Pint at Southern Tier--a nice place to enjoy a pulled pork sandwich and a good beer.

At 11% alcohol content, it was a rather heavy beer to start with knowing that we would likely be sampling beer on the tour, but I just couldn’t resist. It’s impossible to find Choklat in bottles in Ohio, let alone having the rare access to a tap. We joyfully noted, too, that there were bottles of Choklat in the gift area of the pub. Oh, we were so grabbing a few bottles on the way out! Among other things. And some swag.

The tour was exactly what we expected: lots of sampling followed by some explanation of the brewing process. We were taken immediately to a small stand that contained taps for Southern Tier’s IPA, 2x IPA (a favorite of mine!), the new 2x Stout, the experimental barrel aged Pumking, and–of course–the chocolate stout. The tour guide started us in order of the alcohol content. He filled a pitcher with 2X IPA, and then handed to one side of the group to pour and pass around. Of course, I had a glass, but was probably one of the few to obey the rule of the fill line on my glass. I knew I loved the 2x IPA. I skipped the regular IPA when it went around–how could anything compete with the 2x IPA? It would just be less hoppy, less flavorful. And, to be honest, I didn’t want to get too toasted. Plus, there were some beers in the pub I still wanted to try that weren’t on the tour.

Our taps on the tour of Southern Tier. Mmm. Beer.

The oak aged Pumking was good, but not as creamy and sugary as the regular Pumking. I prefer my oak aged beers to be heavy like a porter or a stout. The 2x Stout (a milk stout) was outstanding. Not as good as the chocolate stout, mind you, but that’s like comparing apples to grapefruit, really.

We gawked longingly at some kegs in the storage room. We giggled at a person on the tour who asked if Southern Tier put any of their beers in cans. (Cans? Really? Hello! This is not Yuengling or Budweiser you’re touring here! Bleck!) It was a pretty good time!

Afterwards, despite being a little toasty, Crow and I headed to the bar to try the new Eurotrash Pilsner and the Inequity Imperial Black Ale. I liked the Pilsner a lot–it tasted like summer with hints of citris. The Inequity was interesting–somewhat like an IPA yet deceptively dark. I’m not sure it’s something I would active seek out in the future, but it was worth trying. I kind of felt this way about Southern Tier’s winter brew–Old Man Winter. It was “eh” and kind of disappointing. Hey, you can’t win them all with me!

Drinks at Southern Tier

Drinks at Southern Tier!

At home I have bottles of Southern Tier’s Oatmeal Stout and their Mokah Stout (which is a combination of chocolate and coffee flavors) that I yet to try. They also have a Jav*ah (coffee) Stout that I see everywhere but have not yet bought. I’m pretty confident I will like those. Their Creme Brulee Stout is out of this world good, but has to be shared with others when the 22oz bottle is opened or else you will pass out before finishing the bottle due to sugar and alcohol overload. Anyway, given all the beers I have tried by Southern Tier, I’d say they have a pretty good track record with me. Which is why, I think, Crow and I love Southern Tier so much.

So, yeah, we bought the swag–a blue hoodie for each of us. I got a girlie Pumpkin t-shirt to wear when I’ve lost my winter weight. We absconded six bottles of Choklat, nearly emptying the shelf of that flavor. At $6.59/per bottle (22oz), you can’t really complain; 22oz bottles of any high quality beer such as this is typically 8.99 or more back home. We also built our own six pack of 12oz bottles, getting two each of 2x IPA, 2x Stout; one each of the Porterand the 422 Pale Wheat Ale (both of which we’d previously had and liked). It was an expensive trip out but well worth it.

Mars Girl poses in front of the exulted Southern Tier sign. Four hours after entering the brewery. In daylight.

Crow poses in front of the Southern Tier sign. A dream fulfilled!

Our adventure at Southern Tier (where we figured out that we had spent 4 hours!) left us really in such a state of inebriation that we pretty much were done drinking for the rest of the evening except to take the champagne toast at midnight with our friends outside of the Wilderness Lodge.

It was a pretty relaxed way to bring in the New Year as compared to my past several years watching fireworks and screaming the countdown with fellow skiers at the main lodge at Holiday Valley. But it was probably one of the best New Year’s celebrations in a long time because I brought in the new year with a new(ish) relationship. At midnight, Crow placed my first kiss of the year on lips. 2012 is already looking quite bright!

Sunday morning we had a glimmer of hope as we awoke to see sunlight streaming out of the bedroom window. However, by the time we were dressed and sitting at the lodge’s main room ordering breakfast, the clouds had returned with a heavy downpour. Our friends started packing up and leaving to return home. We were still waffling over whether or not we should attempt to go skiing at Peek N Peak and continue with our original plan to stay a night in Jamestown (which I originally set up so that we could visit Southern Tier at the end of a weekend of skiing). We ultimately decided that there wasn’t a lot to do in Jamestown (there really isn’t unless you really like Dezi Arnez and Lucille Ball) so we canceled the hotel room I had booked and headed out.

We went to Peek N Peak, since it was so close to the Wilderness Lodge, just to check out the conditions. As suspected, it was pretty horrible–sloshy mud and green grass at the bottom of every run, patches of brown spotting most of the slopes. I could tell that the snow was very wet by listening to the noise made by the few intrepid skiers who were making their way down. We decided wisely to not ski and then stopped to have lunch at the Italian place I like in one of the lodges.

It was on our way out, however, that we spotted an ad on the wall for Splash Lagoon (which seems to be owned by the same company that owns Peek N Peak). Crow and I had been wanting to visit an indoor water park this winter. We had nothing else to do. Why not?!

Splash Lagoon is in Erie, PA, about a half hour’s drive from where we were. We decided we’d just go up to one of the three hotels attached to the indoor water park and see if they had an vacancies. We were in luck; they all did! So we booked a room at the Residence Inn and excitedly planned that we would spend Monday at the resort.

Fortunately, I always bring my swimsuit whenever I go somewhere on the off-chance that where ever I’m staying will have a hot tub or pool. Crow, who is usually prepared for everything, actually did not bring swim trunks! But there was a Target up the road and he was able to get pair. We spent some time availing ourselves of the hotel’s pool and hot tub on Sunday night.

We entered Splash Lagoon around 11am on Monday and we did not leave until 6pm. It was the most fun I’ve had in the water in a long time! There were tons of water activities–hot tubs, a wave pool, fountains–but the water slides were the most fun. To be honest, I’ve never actually been on any water slides minus maybe a few simple ones occasionally in the rare instances as a child that I went to a public pool. We had a pool in our backyard, so we never really had to go anywhere else except on vacation which was usually a campground. So this was an entirely new experience for me. And I went for it fearlessly. Pretty much!

The first slides we tried were the ones for which you had to use an innertube. In a way, those were the most fun because Crow and I could use one of the “two-seaters” and ride together. Bravery in numbers! One by one, we picked off slides called Big Kahuna, Cyclone (most fun!), and Python Plunge (second best). The Cyclone was unique in that after swooshing quickly down a twisting tube, you landed unceremoniously into what basically amounted to a big bowl (I kept thinking of it as a “toilet bowl”) where you swirled around the sides, then the middle, until you were sucked down a hole into the last shoot that thrust you to the finish in a shallow pool. Several times, we ended up in the last shoot backwards–an extra thrill!

We tried the body slides next. These were extra scary because you went by yourself and you had nothing to hang onto except your own body. Which helped not one bit. Because I had no idea what any of these slides entailed, I was basically dropping myself into a tube and hoping for the best. The best–and scariest–of the body slides was Hurricane Hole. Signs at the top of the slide warn that riders will be dropped into 6.5 feet of water and must know how to swim. “No problem!” I thought. I couldn’t possibly have imagined what was in store for me.

Like Cyclone, Hurricane Hole starts with a series of twisted tubes that shoots you into a big bowl. I will note, though, that the beginning of Hurricane Hole is a longer, faster drop into that bowl. And, secondly, it’s in the dark. Having no idea where you’re going, you become completely disoriented before you are thrown into the bowl. I can’t tell you how many times I actually had my eyes closed during the first part of the slide, only to open them and realize I was in the bowl headed for…

…a great big HOLE at the bottom. No last slide. No casually spinning around like the swishing water of a vortex slowly around the hole. Nope. You slide maybe once or twice around the side of the bowl. And then, suddenly, your whole body is headed straight for a big hole at the bottom. There’s no stopping yourself because before you know what’s happening to you, you are dumped out and into a small six foot pool. You end up submerged, of course, and when you peek your head up, you have no clue which direction is OUT of the pool until the nice little lifeguard blows his whistle.

What a freaking blast!! I must have rode Hurricane Hole at least ten times and it still scared the piss out of me every time. And no matter how I feel into the hole (back first, head first, stomach), it never hurt to hit the water. The distance between the hole you fall through and water beneath is really short so I think that softens the blow.

Black Hole was another great body slide. It was much shorter than the other slides, but it was also completely dark inside so that you had no idea where you were going and it had a many twists and turns that thrust you a long at a pretty fast speed. I was a little annoyed by Shark Attack because for some reason, I slowed down significantly in the final part of it and I would always end up stopping just short of the end of the tube so that I had to crawl out to the pool. I don’t understand why that kept happening; when Crow came through it, he was thrust out easily. (And before you even mention it, I weigh more than Crow does so it has nothing to do with weight!)

We really had an awesome time. It was hard to get ourselves to leave the park. Our last several runs down the slide were prefaced by the promise that we were only going to ride one more. Ha! Crow is just like me in this regard; on the ski slope, I’m always claiming I’m on my last run for at least five runs. I never want to stop. Only two things were prompting us to leave: 1) We had a two hour drive home in snow (it was finally snowing out!), and 2) The chlorine was seriously starting to bother both our lungs (mine especially being that I have asthma).

Crow and I both agreed we need to do another water park in the future. It’s a great winter escape from the cold and usual activities. I like that we so readily adopted new plans when our original ones failed. We still had a great weekend. And that’s all that matters.

(PS, I apologize for the severe lack of photographic evidence of our trip to Splash Lagoon. Had I realized my camera–borrowed from Crow–was waterproof, I’d have taken it into the water park. We really were there. We have the detailed schematics of each slide etched into our brains to prove it. And the chronic smell of chlorine still in our nostrils.)

Santa Claus

I was crushed when I was told, in 3rd grade, that Santa Claus was not real. I wasn’t ready for that information. Some older boys down the street from me cruelly planted the idea in my head on a walk home from school.

“Do you believe in Santa Claus?”

“Do you believe in the Easter Bunny?”

“Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy?” they demanded amidst knowing, malicious snickers.

I shook my head confidently after each question. I was no fool.

“It’s your mom!” the boys exclaimed after each question in a voice that mocked my confidence.

Still, I refused to believe it. I’d thought I’d seen the light of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’s nose in the night. I’d sworn I’d awoken to the bells of Santa’s sleigh in the dark of the early hours of Christmas morning. I used to panic on the way home from my Grandma H’s on Christmas Eve night, afraid that Santa would come to our house and, since we weren’t sleeping, would pass us by. I think my parents used to threaten us with that very scenario to get us to go to bed immediately when we got home. It worked. I would pull the covers over my head and make myself fall asleep no matter how excited I was.

It never once occurred to me that Santa Claus–or any of the other magical entities of holidays and lost teeth–were not real. It seemed absurd that my mom and dad would fool us by telling us about Santa Claus, and then placing the gifts under the tree themselves posing as Santa. I had never even hypothesized such a scenario.

Still, I asked my mom. And she told me the truth. All of it.

I cried. Hard. The tears burned my face and my heart throbbed in utter disappointment. I did not want this knowledge. I was not ready for this knowledge. I liked to believe in magic. And now the magic was gone. I’m pretty sure that that’s about the time that my faith in all magic started to disintegrate… The downward spiral away from God, religion, an afterlife that permeated my adolescent and early adult years. It was a little death in my heart.

My brother walked into the room after my mom regretfully told me the truth about Santa. She had told me that I had to keep pretending about Santa because my brother was still younger and believed. I didn’t want to ruin it for him too, now did I? She tried to put a positive spin on this “coming of age moment” by telling me that it was now my responsibility to help her keep up the fun for my brother until he was ready to learn the truth.

My brother wondered why I was crying. I suddenly felt very sympathetic towards him–he still believed in the magic that I now knew was not real–and I wished I could be in his place. I put my arms around him, hugged him tight. My mom grimaced, afraid I might let out the secret like those idiot boys down the street had done. But no. I was not about to ruin anyone else’s fun. I hugged my brother right and asked him what he wanted Santa to bring him this year. Even though I think it was early spring at the time, not Christmas time at all. I wanted to believe the words myself. Maybe if I pretended, it could still be real.

I don’t know when my brother learned the truth about Santa. But I kept up the spirit for years until “Santa Claus” stopped appearing in the From spot on the present tags. And when my brother stopped hurrying to bed on Christmas Eve night, I knew he knew. But we never discussed it. I’m pretty sure he probably took it better than I did. I’ve always been the one with the wild imagination, the one who liked to pretend, the one unable to accept reality even in the face of it.

I was reminded of this story a few nights ago when I watched the movie The Polar Express for the first time. In the scene where the little boy finds the bell that falls from Santa’s sleigh, and he hears it ringing as he picks it up, I started crying. I was really surprised by my reaction. I’ve cried in movies before–most recently, during any movie involving the death of a character as my widow senses always tingle with all-too-real memory to augment any fiction–but never before have I cried the kind of tears that pushed themselves from my eyes when I watched that movie.

I felt my heart swell with a sort of melancholic relief because the little boy in the movie finds proof that Santa is real. Because I want to believe that Santa is real. I could feel the words forming in my head even as the boy said them, “I believe! I believe in Santa Claus.” And at the same time, the adult me who knows that Santa isn’t real felt a sort of sympathy with the character, similar to the way I felt when I knew my brother still believed in Santa and I’d been told the truth.

The tears just kept coming. My face was wet and I was embarrassed. I hurriedly tried to wipe them away before Crow could see them, but he caught them anyway. “It’s okay,” he said. But I still felt a little stupid.

It’s a beautiful movie, really. We rewatched it again last night and the same thing happened. I just couldn’t control the tears. Some little girl inside me relates to this movie. She still wants to believe. She wants to completely accept the premise of the movie. She is found in the spirit of those characters.

My eyes remained wet through the remaining scenes of the movie, as these incredibly cute and realistic-looking children emoted about their experiences, said their goodbyes, and returned to normal life after their visit to the North Pole. I felt sorry for the little boy’s parents on Christmas morning because they could not hear the bell and thought it was broken. I knew I was like the parents. But I wanted to be like the little boy and his sister who could hear the bell and knew it was not broken.

In the end, the boy narrates that each of his friends stopped hearing the bell as they grew up… but that he always heard the bell for the rest of his life because of his experience at the North Pole. He never stopped believing. The tears flooded from my eyes again. I couldn’t stop them. I believe! I believe! a little voice in my head kept shouting. A little piece of my heart that was broken suddenly felt fixed. If you believe in anything enough, could it then come true?

Oh, how I wish… Oh, how I hope…

Merry X (terminate)-Mas!

20111227-144325.jpg

"Exterminate!" shouts George.

It’s a cute little Dalek and I’m calling him George. He rolls around my desk and says, “Exterminate!” when he bumps into objects. Crow gave him to me for Christmas. My coworkers are less thrilled with him than I am.

Can’t anyone appreciate at genocide-wreaking genetically engineered mutant cyborg that slightly resembles a garbage can?

I hope your holiday was nice… Mine was a little different for a change. I guess it’s time to start some new traditions. This trial run was a little rocky, but it turned out all right. I think I drank too much on Christmas day–had two and a half Christmas ales with my dad (Great Lakes and 12 Dogs) and a stout. I spent all day yesterday battling a little bit of vertigo and nausea. I’m certainly getting old; can’t hold my liquor anymore!

I got a lot of great gifts and now I’m feeling a bit guilty, like I spent less on everyone else than they did on me. I don’t know what I did to deserve such lavish gifts from everyone, but thanks a million, all (and there was more than one of you). I guess I’ll have to be extra kind in 2012 and also remember the kindness next Christmas. I always thought myself pretty generous when it comes to gift-giving, but some of my friends and family have proven themselves even more generous than me! I love all my gifts, though–not a single returnable item among them!

So now the brief interlude/return to normal life for three days until my New Year’s mini-vacation. I had spectacular 2011. I can’t imagine 2012 being better. (It’s an election year, so it won’t be.)