Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Christmas in the Petri Dish

Man, you know how sometimes, no matter how you try, things just don't work out? Well, that's my Chrisma-Hannu-Kwanza-Kah-New-Year's holiday in a nutshell. I mean, all in all it's been pleasant enough, but… well. Not great.

I mean, Christmas was certainly nice enough, although we worked ourselves to death. As my in-laws are staying with us for the holidays, we decided to host a Christmas Day Brunch. The idea was that by hosting a brunch, we could get the whole hazardous and stressful mingling of familial branches wrapped up by mid-to-late afternoon and not have hours of dinner prep staring us in the face. It mostly worked out that way, although the stress of pulling the whole thing together led to Christine and her mom getting into a screaming freakout hysterical meltdown about an hour before the other guests were to arrive.

It was caused by a box of donuts. It’s complicated.

Ahh, the holidays.

Gifts were quite nice this year. The kids got FAR too much crap. I mean, Christmas is four days gone, and we STILL have toys that haven’t been opened yet. It's absurd. For my part, I got a some nice items – couple of gorgeous shirts, new cologne, an Xbox and Halo 2 (yippee!!), "Shaun of the Dead" on DVD (which I’ve yet to see, but I am looking forward to it immensely), a denim jacket (to replace my rapidly deteriorating one). Christine and I received a new stove and gym memberships as well. Very nice gifts all around.

However, the run up to Christmas was completely fucking exhausting. All I could think of once we got to the 26th was "Well, at least we can finally relax, maybe go to a few movies in the evenings this week." Made all sorts of plans.

And then, blammo, every plan has been shot down. Illness abounds. First, our friends with whom we were to go to the movies on Sunday night had a very ill child and had basically missed Christmas altogether (spent the day waiting to see a doctor in an after-hours pediatric clinic with a child who was feeling so shitty that he didn't even open his presents on Christmas day). Monday night we just couldn't pull a plan together, plus my mother in law began feeling really crappy, and then on Tuesday was told by a doctor that she had the flu AND pneumonia.

That evening, my father in law also fell ill, and he is now running a 102.5 fever. Miranda started coughing last night, and although that's not too unusual (she has a lot of allergies to pollen, and typically it manifests in late-night coughing) given the fact that she is currently living in The House of Sick it is worrisome. Needless to say, the rest of us (me, Christine, my sis-in-law Kelly) are all convinced that, seeing as we are sharing space with two virally infectious adults, at any moment we will be stricken with illness and disease, just in time for our big New Year's night out.

Plus, tomorrow I get to bring my mom to the hospital for minor surgery on her wrist. Should be a fun day.

So, we’ve gone from "Isn’t it great to have in-laws visiting! Built-in babysitting!" to "I wonder if we’ll even be able to leave the house on New Year’s Eve."

Worst holiday vacation ever. Think I'll go buy some Xbox accessories or games or something.

Mood: Growly
Now Playing: Kate Bush, “Hounds of Love”

Friday, December 17, 2004

SuperChristian Powers: Activate!

Form of ... absurdly demonstrative prayer! Shape of ... self-absorbed, holier than thou posturing!

In this particular Wonder Twin moment, I suppose I'd be that weird monkey thing that hung around with them. What the fuck was his name again, Gleek or something like that? But yeah, tonight was the night that I saw the face of those Red State People. You know, those personnae we've all (well, all of us depressed Blue State Wannabe's, that is...) been talking about and trying to figure out? Well, I've met them.

They're really, really scary. And So. Fucking. Boring.

This was -- and I am not exaggerating here, I swear it -- one of the worst social evenings I have even experienced. So uncomfortable. So many sideways glances and halting conversational gaffes. The social equivalent of a prolonged prostate exam, or for you ladies out there, that annual pap smear thingie: intimate in an unwelcome way, invasive, uncomfortable. Time defined by the awkward attempts at conversation shoehorned in between awkward silences. An event to be gotten through as quickly as possible that felt as though it lasted days.

Now, I've talked about this group before. It was largely my wife's idea, as most things involving the church are. We approached it as an opportunity to connect with a larger community, to meet people with similar backgrounds and world views, and to try to open ourselves up to participating in our church and our community a bit more. Putting down some roots, if you will.

And you know, to be fair, it was a good idea. Last year it was, at least. We met great folks through this little artificial and forced social exercise. Folks like us, who value spirituality in our lives, but who also struggle with faith on a regular basis. Yeah, of the five couples last year only three of us "worked." But we really work. I love these folks, and the only reason I agreed to put myself through the stress and pressure of this absurdly stressful and awkward effort again was to roll the dice, to see whether we'd get lucky and meet more folks that are as like us an unlike us, folks that really challenge you to stretch out a bit socially. and find that common ground that isn't necessarily immediately apparent. I mean, last time we got 3 out of 5. So, why not try again? What could possibly be the harm?

Well. Tonight was why. Neither of the couples we actually LIKE were there. We were outnumbered. Outgunned. In enemy territory. Surrounded by boring, self-righteous, blase mediocrity.


It's pointless to do a play-by-play on the evening. Basically, it started off uncomfortable, got utterly awkward during the I-kid-you-not 4 minute long Grace before dinner prayer sermon-ette (included a reading from the prophet Isaiah), started warming up a bit as we finally had something to talk about ("food good... mmm... food good"), and then plumetted into hellish discomfort as soon as the "new" couple appeared and we began to do the Q&A/discussion thing as an attmept to get conversation rolling.

Unfortunately, our previous no show people were also friends with the hosts, and so instead of settling into generally uncomfortable forced conversation along with the rest of usthey chose to be smug, and self-satisfied.

Oh jeez, I could rant about this for thousands of words. I could relate at least a dozen awful, awkward moments. It's astonishing just how much NOTHING can happen in 90 minutes. But it's just not worth it. It's even more boring in print than it was in reality.

At least we had the foresight to set up a rescue call with our dear friends Bill and Lacey. We entered with the "sick kid throwing up at home" story and 90 minutes later my cell phone rang (to my dear, dear friend and co-Twin Peaks fan Bill saying, in his best Jewish Mother Voice, "This is your mutha, your child is bleeding from the ankles and vomiting"), and we fled, lying through our teeth to our Very Special Church Friends that we were So Very Sorry to have to leave so early but you know, sick kid, screaming and crying for mommy, must go go go, actively resisting the urge to skip and dance and click our heels all the way to the car.

And then we stopped at our friends house and hugged them and said Thank You about 5 million times.

God, what a night.

Mood: Beaten and battered
Now Playing: South Park, "A Woodland Critter Christmas"

Holiday Fun, Holiday Festivities, Holiday Tension

OK, so the whole Holiday Thing seems to shifting into high gear. Holiday gatherings are comin' fast and furious. so far this week, I've...

... hit pre-Holiday wings and beers with Orkut buddy Glen and a pal from work (Josh) Wednesday night. Sadly, none of our other Orkut-eers could make it. Ray was far too swamped at work to tear himself away, while Marie begged off as she is is apparently recovering from the flu (something tells me she might actually be sort of withdrawing from our little Orkut-based gatherings, but I could be wrong...).

... done appetizers and cocktails with a bunch of former co-workers last night at Eddie V.'s.

.... shopped and spent an obnoxious amount of cash on gifts.

And now, tonight, we have to attend another of our monthly Young Families dinners. This one is being hosted by the incredibly dull Christian Pod People, and we are positively dreading it. These are the folks who don't drink at all, and make a point of mentioning this fact as often as possible. Other than that, the only personal information we've been able to wrestle from them is that they listen to nothing but Contemporary Christian music (eek), almost never watch any television or movies at all due to all the negative imagery and influences (double eeeek), really enjoy reading quietly in the evenings, apparently have children that make no noise or demands of them whatsoever, and met during college while studying to be better Catholics or something. Otherwise, they're like talking to glass coffee tables. Vapid, bland, smiling Christian zombie people.

To make matters worse, they are really into making a big point of how they work hard to keep their lives "simple," and the "theme" for tonight's after-dinner discussion is "Simplicity," so they're ALL about it. Now, I'm still kind of missing what this "simple" lifestyle approach means, exactly. I mean, they're not Amish. But I have figured out, quite quickly, that when it comes to hosting dinner parties "simple" translates directly to "cheap." They're making minestrone for dinner. Dinner is going to be vegetable fucking soup.

I suppose they're making it from scratch, as opposed to opening 5 or 6 cans of Progresso and nuking it in the microwave, but come on now.

We're bringing appetizers. Maybe a bucket of fried chicken as well. And we're trying to determine whether bringing a bottle of wine or 7 to a non-drinking household is a rude gesture, or if in this case it would simply be self-defense. If we don't bring wine, I swear I'm knocking back 2 cocktails before I leave the house. Ugh.

And worst of all, our very dear friends Ginny and Dave are not able to make the dinner this evening, which means it's just us, one other cool couple, and the three new couples. Of the 6 other folks, 1 is really really nice but pregnant and not drinking. 1 is nice in a bland, self-absorbed way, but at least drinks a glass or two of wine and can talk technology. 2 are the aforementioned SuperChristians. And 2 we've never met before, but they are very good friends with the SuperChristians, and the wife is apparently a complete fucking retard.

Quick story: When a very good friend of ours had to have an emergency hysterectomy about 2 months back, this moron stopped by to see how she was doing and then asked her "But Beth, what are you going to do about having children now?" 2 days after our friend has her reproductive system surgically removed, very much against her wishes but very much in order to maintain her health, she has to field a question like that from this moron.

So yeah, should be tons of fun.

Mood: Edgy.
Now Playing: Patty Griffin, "1000 Kisses"

Monday, December 13, 2004

Aches and Pains

Man, my ankles hurt.

Ran the annual Trail of Lights 5K Saturday night for the second year in a row and did quite well. Last year I managed to finish the 5K -- without breaking pace -- in just over 37 minutes. Not so bad for my first 5K, I think. But this year I set the bar higher and was shooting for less than 30 minutes.

I managed to finish at exactly 31 minutes, but I'm sure I would have come in under 30 minutes if only my MP3 player hadn't decided to pop loose from my waistband about half a mile before the finish line. The damn thing hit the pavement and popped open, the battery flew one way, the cover another way, the player in yet a third direction. It took at least 30-45 seconds to get all the pieces back and put together again, and it really messed up my pacing and breathing to just stop short like that. Ah well. I probably would have come in somewhere around 29:30 if it weren't for that screw-up.

That said, I think I won't be looking to decrease my time all that much in future 5Ks. I'm a big guy -- comfortably above 210 pounds. And aside from about 15 or so pounds, most of my weight is just basic big guy mass. Lots of muscle mass, got the big barrel chest thing going. Thick legs (running, squats), thick arms, broad shoulders, the works. Not a bodybuilder by any means, but big nonetheless. If I could get about 15 pounds or so off I'd be damn near my ideal weight, and I'd still be a pretty fuckin' big guy.

And the simple fact is I'm just not built for outdoors, high-speed, long-distance running. Endurance isn't the problem: I can run at a solid 6-7MPH for 5, 6, 7 miles on a good shock-absorbing treadmill. But man, put me on pavement and all that weight makes a big difference. Little to no muscle soreness or fatigue, but my knees are damn stiff and my ankles are KILLING me, especially the one I broke a few years back. So, I think my personal expectations for future 5Ks will stay at or around the 30-minutes-or-a-little-less mark: that's probably the most strain I should be putting on these aging joints. Plus I gotta get better shoes. And one of those MP3 players that you strap to your bicep.

Mood: So. Freakin'. Tired.
Now Playing: Ella Fitzgerald, "Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas"

Monday, December 06, 2004

Santa Baby

OK, so I didn't get around to updating my Santa post this weekend. Shoot me. Busy, busy weekend.

My debut as Mr. Claus went swimmingly. The costume left quite a bit to be desired (itchy, hot, and the beard was a nightmare), but I was a smashing success with the kids, if I do say so myself. Here's a couple of pics to give you an idea of how things looked. First, the "Before" pic -- that's me, at about 8:15AM, prior to getting suited up. Nice, ultrashort new haircut, as well:

And here I am, with my family, a few hours later:

What a friggin' hoot.

Now, granted, when it came to being in character I wasn't what most folks would consider a "traditional" Santa: I just can't do "Grandfatherly." Instead, I opted for Cool Santa, in that I knew all the toys the kids were talking about, knew the bands that they were asking for new CDs from, chatted about the coolest characters in The Incredibles, etc. They ate it up, even the ones who were clearly not convinced of my Holiday Deity status and who were, instead, putting up with the fuss to placate parents and get some free candy.

But a few of the kids, the younger ones obviously, really seemed to believe. There ws one little girl who came back at the end and gave me a snowman she had made out of styrofoam balls (then she asked if she could have my hat and I had to send her packin'), and one little boy must have come over for at least 5 hugs. It was a huge kick.

The only kind of not fun part was that my kids were both in on the "big secret." They're still in the whole "believing in Santa" phase, and rather than risking them figuring out while at the party that Daddy was in the suit we instead opted to play it safe and we let them know that Santa needed a hand and that I was pitching in and to not tell the other kids. So instead we had this big secret, which was kinda cool. But it would have been amazing to see their faces up close if they had thought I was the Real Deal.

On a related note, I now have tremendous respect for Department Store Santas. I only did the Santa gig for about one and a half hours but it was EXHAUSTING. I'm a pretty friendly and congenial guy, but smiling and waving and chatting up kid after kid after kid, without pause, left me feeling incredibly drained the rest of the day. I can't imagine doing the same thing for as much as 12 hours straight, daily, for nearly 6 weeks.

No wonder they're all drunks.

Mood: Mellow
Now Playing: Various Artists, "Ultra-Lounge: Christmas Cocktails Vol. 1"

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The Man with the Bag?

No, this is not a piece of holiday erotica (a la Karl and several others). Not that I don't enjoy reading a nice piece of stroke fiction now and again, but, when it comes to writing it, well, that's just not my bag, baby.

In short, today, I am gonna be the man with the bag. Yikes!

Here's the story. Somehow, over the past 24 hours, I have managed to volunteer myself to appear as Santa Claus at my daughter's elementary school Holiday Breakfast. I love kids, and for whatever reason I'm really getting into the whole holiday thing this year -- last year I was quite the melancholy grouch and I just never got into it. Couldn't wait for it to be over. This year I'm like the last 15 minutes of A Christmas Carol. So this should be a hoot.

Plus, there's the costume. Borrowed this whole Santa get-up last night. I've got the boot covers and the beard and the wig and the pants and the coat. Yes, somehow I've finally managed to channel my Halloween impulses into Christmas. I get to dress up! Woohooo!

Plus, I get to keep the costume overnight. Hmmmmmmmm....

More later, along with pictures!

Mood: Nervous excitement
Now Playing: The Chieftains, "The Bells of Dublin"