Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Wrap-up

Ho ho ho!

Christmas of 2009 was a splendid thing. We kicked it off with my wife’s family joining us for Christmas Eve. My wife made not one but TWO delicious lasagnes – one with ricotta cheese and the other with ground beef and sausage for those among her family who are not on good terms with lactose. I mixed mine together for a whopping big monster lasagna with both cheese and meat. She then topped everything off with a selection of her fine Christmas cookies and a very tasty cheesecake. And as always, the company was warm and fun.

My daughter graced us with a selection of Christmas songs on the piano and the trumpet, while I played the one and only song I know on the guitar (No Place Like Home for the Holidays). I’d have liked to have my son join me on that, but he just wasn’t up for a public performance. We’ll be even more ready for next year, as I used a coupon from the Music & Arts Center to get myself a really nice little book of Christmas music – Hal Leonard’s 17 Super Christmas Hits Easy Guitar Book. It was a heck of a deal – a $10 coupon used on a $9.95 book, plus free shipping. I ordered it last Monday and had it by Saturday. I even discovered that I could play more than half the songs right out of the gate, which is pretty cool.

After our guests had left, my wife took the kids outside to spread the little packets of “reindeer food” that my parents send them every year. They’re little bags of oatmeal and glitter, but the kids get a big kick out of feeding Santa’s reindeer and it’s become an annual tradition. At last we got the kids tucked into bed and set out all of the presents. I was profoundly full, but I did my part to put a dent in the cookies left out for Santa.

It’s funny, I just can’t sleep late on Christmas. I was the first one up, by a solid hour or more. I came downstairs and messed around on my computer, basking in the glow of the Christmas tree and trying hard not to trip over the mountain of presents spread around the living room. And this was deliberately a light year – the bounty was actually much smaller than it has been in the past. Every year we find we drown our kids in toys, many of which they never really play with. This time we tried to focus more on stuff they both really wanted and were likely to actually use. Likewise, my wife and I had a strict “no presents” policy, which we cheerfully violated, but only a little.

One of the stocking-stuffers my wife bought for the kids was a set of little wooden instruments called “ocarinas.” These ancient wind instruments, which according to Wikipedia date back some 12,000 years, make a nice little sound, but to my sons they were little more than large whistles or kazoos – something to toot on, but not something which with they could make actual music. My daughter, on the other hand, is some kind of musical genius. Ok, that’s surely an exaggeration, but there’s no question that she’s got more musical talent in her little finger than I’ve got in my whole body. She picked up this strange instrument and immediately began to play it. My wife would suggest that she “might be able to learn” to play some of the songs she plays on her trumpet in the school’s band, to which my daughter would respond by immediately playing several of those songs. There’s very little similarity in form or appearance between her little wooden ocarina with its six finger holes and two thumb holes as compared to her trumpet with its large mouthpiece and three piston valves. Yet she instantly understood the instrument and how to give it voice. I find this amazing and inspiring. It makes me really happy to know that whatever she does with her life, she’ll have the ability to make music and share it with family or friends or she can just use it to entertain and soothe herself.

My favorite present was actually a gold Star Trek “Captain Kirk” shirt that my wife ordered for me off a cereal box back in June. It’s not technically as practical as the Snuggie my wife got me, which should allow me to work in my chilly basement without losing feeling in my fingertips, but I’m a big Trek fan and I like the shirt a lot.

Christmas dinner was embarrassingly simple – a ham, some of my whipped potatoes, frozen corn, dinner rolls and broccoflower drizzled with a delicious cheese sauce my wife cooked up. Compared to Thanksgiving dinner, it just didn’t seem very complicated, but it was certainly delicious.

On Saturday, we took the kids to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. I probably won’t write a full review for it, but the short version is that it was neither very good nor very bad – just mediocre. It was nice to see Zachary Levi doing something other than Chuck, but while he’s shown himself to be a decent actor on that excellent show, there was nothing special about his performance in this movie, nor anything special about the movie in general. It was cute in parts and occasionally elicited a chuckle, but it there were no belly-laughs to be found.

To finish off the holiday, we visited my wife’s brother Bob and his wife Diane, who are hosting my sister-in-law’s family who have come up from their home in the South to spend the holiday with those of us here in Syracuse. The birthdays in that household are clustered largely around Christmas and the New Year, so technically Sunday’s festivities were a big birthday party, but it was festive enough to feel like part of Christmas. Diane stuffed us full of a delicious baked ravioli. To top everything off, my wife had prepared one of her artistic cakes – a two-layer winter sculpture lavished with giant snowflakes, white-chocolate Christmas trees, and even a ski-slope populated by mini-marshmallow snowmen. Beyond the food, it was really nice to spend time again with the whole family (or nearly all of it – there’s one more brother-in-law who live even further off) and it was great to see my kids and their cousins pick up their relationship right where they’d left off a year ago. It’s sad that they get to spend so little time together, but it makes the time they do have that much more precious and wonderful.

Precious and wonderful – that’s a fitting description for this Christmas.

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