Stuffed full of gratitude

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Longtime readers of this blog may have noticed that over the time I lived in Seattle, I carved out a set of traditions on Thanksgiving. The Ballard Turkey Trot followed by bagels with M & J and later on dinner with M, J and any other folks we happened to rope into the festivities. So, I was really nervous about what we were going to do this year and was already trying to figure out my exit strategy so it wasn’t a huge bummer weekend. (Ironically, I was planning to visit Erik & Nerissa in the Bay Area before the universe stepped in and helped me out with that arrangement.)

Even with the new surroundings, I still found myself thinking a lot about M and that whole situation. As I prepped the sweet potatoes she’s always requested, I allowed myself to enjoy the memories of our past holidays and, without getting too woo-woo about it, said good-bye to that part of my life and wished her well. I joked to T that it was culinary equivalent of pouring out a forty for your fallen homie. (We’re so gangsta now… )

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So, it is time to forge some new traditions. This year, we were hosting Erik & Nerissa in a house that one month ago movers were loading boxes into. (Talk about something to be grateful for!) We opted to trade the Turkey Trot for a nice hike, but we decided to keep the bagels portion of the program. So, Erik & Nerissa joined us for some carbo-loading and we all headed over to the beautiful parks near our house.

They brought Kali with them, who was very happy to be here:TD15_ErikNerissaHikeWe had a nice long hike. Austin got to be off leash for a lot of it and had a great time running through the woods. The rest of enjoyed a more leisurely pace:

TD15_GroupHikeI can’t believe these views are only a few miles from my house:

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We ended up hiking for almost two hours, which was a little more than Wally had in mind. He was pretty wiped. Even Kali and Austin were pretty chill when we got home…

TD15_KaliAustinWe had some time before dinner, so we ate snacks and played some Mexican Dominoes. (There may have also been some champagne… )

TD15_MexicanDominosWe finished the game and made a huge and delicious dinner. We ate and drank good wine and had a lovely meal. Then there was Cards Against Humanity and more wine and laughing so hard my clavicle hurt. Followed by pie.

TD15_CAH(Photo courtesy of Nerissa… )

It is ridiculous how much I have to be thankful for this year. With all of the terrible things happening in the world, it seems so important to appreciate good fortune while you have it. I hope you and yours are enjoying similarly awesome holidays right now.

Fireworks

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It’s been quite the summer so far, (more on that in another blog post), so I’ve been excited to have a 4th of July visit from Erik & Nerissa on the calendar. Erik’s birthday is at the very end of June, a few days earlier than their arrival, so we prepared a little mini-birthday celebration – cupcakes and Goldschläger (long story). We opted to divide the cupcakes into quarters, so we had Erik hold his candle while we sang Happy Birthday…

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It may have been Erik’s birthday, but Nerissa brought us a present from her recent business trip to Japan – exotic KitKat bars. (Green tea and red bean flavors, in case you can’t tell.) I actually wish they sold these in the states, they were delicious.

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I’d originally worried that we were going to have our typical gray and rainy 4th of July weather, but we actually had the opposite extreme – temps in the 90’s. Here the dogs demonstrate our primary coping mechanisms… Option one, hang out in front of the fan:

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Or Option Two, hang out under the shady tree in the backyard:

FrogDogVoila, Option Two!

LawnGroupWe finally got to take them to Essex/Delancey:

CocktailEssexWhat a nice-looking group:

EssexGroupErik showing off his fruity cocktail:

ErikCocktailOn the night of the fourth, we opted to stay home. It was lovely. We grilled, drank wine, watched the fireworks from our back porch and stayed up late playing Mexican Dominos. #murica

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We stayed up way too late, but it was lots of fun!

MexicanDominos1We wrapped up the visit with a delicious dim sum brunch at Din Tai Fung. (Pro tip, if you go mid-morning on a holiday Sunday, there’s no wait!) We stuffed ourselves with dumplings and then wandered around Capitol Hill. It was the perfect end to a lovely visit.

A wintery new year

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New Year’s is usually a pretty quiet holiday for us. (Especially the last two years, where it usually heralds the start of a Whole 30…  ) So, when Jenn & Bryan invited us to their awesome cabin, we couldn’t resist. (Actual plans? How glamourous!) 😉

However, in the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m not really a winter person. I’m terrified of sliding on ice and snow, so our vacation started with me taking deep breaths in the passenger seat while T navigated what is usually a windy, dirt road up to the cabin. I did pretty well until we got to the icy driveway and then it was time to flee.

But soon the car was safely unloaded and stowed at the base of the driveway. Jenn snuck out for a quick ski and we took the boys out for a little walk. Austin thinks this whole snow thing is pretty awesome:

NYE14-AustinSnow

He ran and ran with that big puppy smile on his face the entire time. And, of course, the scenery was even more hideous than usual:

NYE14-WinterScenery

When we returned, Wally made himself right at home on Tyr’s bed:

NYE14-FiresideWallyAnd Austin met Ms. Amalie. It was love at first sight:

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I’m sure it’s going to be a different story when she becomes mobile, but it’s pretty adorable right now.

The next morning it was 8 degrees. (No, that’s not a typo: EIGHT degrees!) So, we bundled little Austin up in Greta’s old coat and some snow booties and took the pups (and baby) out for a nice long walk. Austin was a very good sport:

NYE14-AustinFashion(Those booties lasted about five minutes before they ended up in a snow bank and we gave up on them.) Afterward, everyone was pretty pooped:

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We decided to give skate skiing a try and went into town for lunch and for T and I to rent some equipment. I should mention that to date my skiing experience consists of two disastrous attempts at downhill skiing. (The second one involved me taking my skis off, marching across the bottom of a ski hill at Whistler and being rescued by ski patrol, but I digress… )

This is relevant because when it came time to actually put the skis on my feet, I was TERRIFIED. Like, bursting-into-tears-terrified. Or, too scared to leave the little flat area in front of the warming hut. Whichever. T was so sweet and hung out with me while I wobbled to and fro, eventually feeling a little better about it, but still too scared to try any of the trails. Eventually, I convinced him to go out for a little trail time with Jenn.

The next morning, we went out again – this time with me on Jenn’s classic cross-country skis. We went to a flat trail out in Mazama and it was a whole different ball game. Not only was I more comfortable on the classic skis, but T was able to keep working on his skate skiing. It was really fun. Plus the trails had these little tracks that I could shush along in and actually get a little glide going:

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The cross-country trails in this area are truly amazing. They go on for miles and miles and are impeccably maintained. It’s not really surprising that a fair number of Olympians have come from here:

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I can’t believe I’m skiing!

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I’ll definitely give cross-country another shot and eventually even get back out on those skate skis, once I have a more successful skiing foundation. Who knows, maybe we’ll become those “winter sport people!”

In between all of this outdoorsy activity, there was delicious food, good wine and games of Cards Against Humanity and Mexican Dominos. We re-gifted a bottle of Hot Monkey (a chili-infused vodka) that has become the penalty shot for three wins in a row. Let’s just say that after watching T and Bryan take shots of it, I’m not inspired to improve my Mexican dominos game…

Due to a scary storm moving in, we ended up heading home on Saturday. We did get a nice morning snowshoe in, followed by a delicious lunch in Twisp. It was sad to leave such a fun vacation, but we definitely needed a day to get to get ready to go back to work. As always, so many thanks to our awesome hosts for the wonderful time.

Christmas traditions

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This year, Susan came up to Seattle for Christmas. For many years, she would do a pre-Christmas party that we would come down for, but it’s been a long time since we spent actual Christmas together. (I want to say we were living in Oakland, so maybe 2000?) Back then, I was so busy trying to create this perfect Christmas experience, that I wouldn’t actually enjoy any of it. So much has changed since then!

Now, I’m less worried about having some Martha Stewart-style fancy holiday. I want to hang out with the people I love, eat great food and drink some delicious adult beverages. Over the years, we’ve developed our own traditions, like the traditional Christmas eve starchfest… uh, I mean… pittaha:

xmas2014-PittahaWhich we served on T’s and my Christmas present to each other: a new table for the dining room:

xmas2014-TableSettingAnd of course there are lots of dogs to love:

xmas2014-SusanDogpileChristmas morning started at dawn (both Blue and Susan are early risers!) Susan had said that she hadn’t bought much, but the big pile of presents told a different story. My brother also outdid himself:

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They also gave us a gift card that T turned into this:

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Susan gave T a bit of his childhood:xmas2014-TandBobsSauceI think the real winners of the day were the dogs. Even with the fancy new decorations, they had an awesome time:

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Someone had so much fun, he fell asleep half way through the present opening.

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He still managed to rally for a little Christmas day run, still in his ribbons. We finished up the day watching movies and making a nice pork loin for dinner. Very pleasant.

The next day, we resurrected an old family tradition of mine: the returning gifts/going shopping the day after Christmas. I’d managed to ruin Susan’s big gift to us by buying a pressure cooker over the black Friday/cyber Monday weekend. (Bless her heart, she was very nice about it.) So, we were off to Macy’s to return it and get some new cookware. We scored an awesome deal on some shiny new Caphalon which will replace the set we got when we got married:

xmas2014-NewPansWe finished up the day with a trip to Roux, for some deliciousness:

xmas2014-RouxDessertsFor the final day of our visit, we decided to make some sugar cookies. Susan typically makes a batch every year, so we decided to observe that tradition as well:

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It turns out that moose can be tricky:

xmas2014-Cookies2We may not be professional cookie decorators:

xmas2014-Cookies3And things got a little punchy toward the end…

xmas2014-CookieFight1xmas2014-CookieFight2The next morning we sent Susan off with a nice little brunch at Skillet, and then she hit the road for home. We ran errands and prepared for our upcoming new years adventure. Stay tuned for another exciting blog post!

Lighting up the holidays

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Now that the big race is over, it suddenly feels like Christmas is coming way too soon. We had a LOT of work to do, so we got up on the early side and headed out. (Going to bed at 9:30 has it’s benefits!) After a nice breakfast at Portage Bay, we did some holiday shopping and crossed a few names off of the gift list.

Then it was home to clean and put up some holiday decorations. And prepare for an impromptu 5k sponsored by The Oatmeal – The Blerch Green Lake Fun Run. I’d picked up some battery powered Christmas lights and some fun Santa hats, so we were looking pretty festive:

BHE-PreRaceGetup

We didn’t really see anyone else when we walked over, but there were a ton of people at the meeting place:

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Given that this race was announced on Monday, it was pretty impressive how many people showed up. The mood at the start was fun, even though it was VERY chilly out:

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I tried to get a picture of the action, but this was the best I could do:

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Luckily, they posted a video (shot with a little helicopter drone) that is WAY better. (In fact, at 1:40 you can see yours truly veer off the path to take the above picture. I’m on the far right side of the frame. Look for the red light necklace and white lights around my hips.)

Oatmeal Greenlake Fun Run from Mel Gray on Vimeo.

It was such a fun event and put me fully in the Christmas spirit. Afterward, we went to a local Italian place for dinner. (I love Seattle where you can go to a decent restaurant in silly running clothes and no one looks twice.) Then it was a super brisk walk home because it was FREEZING!

Once there we finished decorating the tree and relaxed. It was very festive and enjoyable. A great end to a fabulous weekend.

Weekend wrap up

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Sadly, Heidi and family had to hit the road on Friday morning. We sent them off with a nice breakfast at Skillet. It was pouring rain, which was a huge bummer. But we enjoyed the last of our visit with snuggles from Kenley and entertainment from Kamryn:

KamrynSpoonThe waiter was kind enough to take a group photo before we parted ways:

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Our house was so quiet when we got back. T had to work, so I spent the day puttering around, doing laundry, etc. Neither of us had any desire to go out and shop, so we spent a nice relaxing evening at home.

The next morning, I was supposed to meet the group for a trail run but I woke up with a scratchy throat and about an inch of SNOW on the ground. It was in the forecast, but we’ve been burned so many times that I just didn’t believe it. So, I called my trail run and let the boys do the running for me:

BoysinSnow SnowDogsMontage

Austin gets so excited when it snows. We’ve only had it twice now, but it gets him all jazzed up. I can’t wait to take him up to Jenn & Bryan’s cabin this year. He’s going to lose his puppy mind!

So many thanks

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This year, I have a ton to be thankful for. It’s been a crazy roller coaster at times but, on the whole, 2014 has been very good to us. Having my house filled with people I love is a fantastic reminder of that.

This year, as has become our custom, we got up early to join nearly 4,000 other crazy people to do the Turkey Trot. It was just T and I running this year, with M and a friend of hers walking it with their respective kids in strollers, and the rest of the gang chilling at M & J’s place while J prepped the traditional Thanksgiving morning bagels. As usual, there was a wide variety of awesome headgear and costumes. But this one was my favorite:

TurkeyTrotBestHatWe’d told Heidi where they could watch us run by, but the timing on this stuff is always tricky. Apparently, they arrived at the appointed corner TEN seconds before we ran by. So crazy! The rest of the run was fairly uneventful. My goal was to take it easy and not get too crazy as I had a long trail run on Saturday. T ran with me for most of the race but eventually couldn’t not run faster. We finished and took the traditional post-race selfie:

TurkeyTrotSelfieAnd then took the many, many stairs back up to M & J’s house to join the festivities. Despite J’s traditional protestation of how the bagels were going to be ruined, they were delicious. The girls deeply enjoyed playing with Rowan and a lovely time was had by all.

We returned home to do some prep work and relax before the evening’s festivities. Heidi made her traditional dish, with the unfortunate name of “carrot mold.” As you can see, names can be deceiving:

CarrotMoldI made a pumpkin cheesecake pie from this year’s Martha Stewart Living. (Mine wasn’t nearly as pretty as hers, but it tasted great.)

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Because we have so much Thanksgiving dinner experience, it was a pretty relaxed day. The adults had some quality Lego time:

AdultLegos2AdultLegos But eventually, the table got set:

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The girls made everyone place cards:

PlacesettingAnd, per usual, there was a ridiculous amount of delicious food:

2014foodDinner was delicious and filled with good wine and lively conversation. Afterward, we chilled on the couch while the girls entertained us and played with their new favorite toy, aka Rowan:

RowanGirls2RowanGirlsI think Kamryn sums up the fun and excitement factor quite nicely here:

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Yet another fantastic Turkey Day is in the books. It’s funny to me that the holiday that was just T and I for so many years has morphed into this big awesome celebration, but I’m so grateful for it. Let’s hope it continues for many years to come.

Double the fun

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This year, I think I’m most thankful for the madness of my friend Heidi. When she was visiting a few months ago, she floated the idea that she, Tom, and the girls were contemplating a road trip up here for the holidays. I was super excited about the idea, but I was certainly preparing myself for her to say “Wait, what? That’s nuts!” So, I was super-duper psyched when they announced that they were still on board for this wacky adventure.

They arrived on Monday afternoon filled with stories from the road. The girls were happy to not be in the car any more and filled the house with cuteness:

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The next morning, T and I had to work so we sent Heidi and the family off on a Bainbridge Island adventure. Apparently, there’s a great kids museum over there and they had an awesome time. In addition, T and I both got to work at home, so it was a nice, low-key day with a few Turkey Day cooking tasks thrown in for good measure. When they returned, we all went to one of T’s favorite burger places for dinner. (Farewell, Whole 30!)

On Wednesday, T and I took the day off so we could go sightseeing. First stop was the Chihuly Museum. Everyone loved it, especially the girls:

ChihulyGirls2ChihulyGirls1Afterward, we grabbed some lunch together and then T and I took the girls to the Pacific Science Center and gave their parents a little break. We had a blast. The girls clearly don’t enjoy spending time with their Uncle T, as you can see:

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We went to the Butterfly Garden:

GirlsButterflyGarden(Kamryn got a little freaked out when they fluttered too closely, but she regrouped nicely.)

KamrynButterflyGardenI think Kenley enjoyed the koi pond more than the butterflies:

ScienceCenterKenleyWe played with the water cannons in the courtyard:

WaterCannonKamrynWaterCannonKenleyEven Uncle T got in on the action:

WaterTandGirlsThere were dinosaurs…

DinosaurGirlsDinosaurKenleyAnd a trip into space…

T_KamrynSpaceMy hat is off to you parents. After a few hours, I was pooped! (And this is coming in fresh with the girls being on perfect behavior. Yikes!) We took a trip over to Theo’s Chocolate Factory for Heidi to pick up some Christmas gifts (and for the rest of us to enjoy the free samples!) Then it was home to enjoy some quality time with the couch. The girls caught T up on the intricacies of Jake and the Pirates:

CouchSnugglesWe ended the evening with wine, appetizers and a visit from my friend Jenn. It was fun to have two of my good friends get to meet in real life. The girls were sad that they didn’t have a chance to meet Amalie, but someday they’ll understand than when you have a chance to get out of the house sans baby, you take it! 😉

‘Murica!

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We spent our Fourth of July weekend at Jenn & Bryan’s cabin. In addition to all of the other awesome things about going out to the cabin, they also don’t allow any fireworks out there, so poor Wally wouldn’t be traumatized. (And not teach Austin that fireworks are SO SCARY THAT YOU MUST FREAK OUT WHEN YOU HEAR THEM!!!!)

We had a fantastic weekend, filled with all kinds of adventures. We took the boys for nice long walks in the woods. Austin was up every morning at dawn, jonesing to chase all of the woodland creatures. (He got a few epic off-leash jaunts when we felt it was safe, but by and large had to enjoy the woodland creatures from behind windows or on a leash. Poor abused puppy… )

Wally enjoyed a quieter form of adventure, but was still very happy to be in the woods.

AdventureWally

Bryan had a big chainsaw project, cutting up a big old tree. It turned out to contain a woodpecker nest, which was really cool. It’s amazing what a little bird can do:WoodpeckerNest

T was a training machine. He went out for a solo ride, but his phone was out of batteries, so he had to borrow mine. I later found a series of hilarious selfies:

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He and I also went out for a ride together. I dropped him off in Twisp and then drove to Winthrop to an agreed upon starting point. Since he’s significantly faster than me, I then just started riding with the plan that he’d catch up. Of course, there was no way to know when that would actually be, which can be stressful. I really needed to pee, so after carefully scanning the road behind me, I stopped to use the porta-potty, hurrying as fast as I could. But naturally, when I looked out at the road afterward I saw Todd pedaling up the road, well out of shouting range. Crap!

There is very limited cell service, so I sent a hail mary text, but just had to ride the best I could and hope that he might be at our usual water stop. I somehow missed that campground and was getting pretty grumpy since I was riding longer than I wanted to, but couldn’t stop lest T be frantically worried. FINALLY, I saw him coming down the hill as I was coming up. Thankfully, it was all downhill and smooth sailing after that.

Following our melodramatic bike ride, I got to go for a horseback ride with Jenn. I haven’t been on a horse since the summer after T and I got married, seventeen years ago. (I’m pretty sure the girl from the stables that was helping us hadn’t been born yet… ) It was so much fun and I’m going to look into riding lessons. Stay tuned for a blog post on that adventure…

Jenn, of course, had an insane holiday-themed dessert planned:

CakeAssemblyMontageI liked the mid-way camera adjustment:

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The end result was… formidable:

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But when you cut the cake, voila! Flag magic!

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This was a common sight in the evenings:

RecoveryTAs was this:

ArtsyWallySleeping

But we managed to stay awake late enough to play an epic Mexican Dominos game. We had to invoke the “T rule” when Bryan won three games in a row. We probably need to invoke a “spouses shouldn’t pour the penalty shot” rule:

MexicanDominosPenaltyShot BryanDominosPenalty BryanShotApparently, we were having so much fun that Austin decided to join the party:

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We checked out the Twisp farmers market:

FarmersMarketJenn and Bryan scored an awesome owl nesting house from this guy:

BirdhousesAnd Austin learned to swim. He was not really pleased with T and I swimming far out into the lake, but otherwise, I think he enjoyed it. The next time, we’ll take both dogs so Austin can watch Wally chase sticks and things. 

LakeAustinOn our way home, we stopped in Lake Chelan, where T’s boss has a vacation house. We hung out with her, her partner and her partner’s nephew/girlfriend in a gorgeous park next to the lake.

Chelan3 Chelan1We even did a little kayaking. Here’s T’s boss Tee, showing how it’s done:

Chelan2There was also some gorgeous porch time, which made it very hard to leave. But eventually, we had to hit the road. Tee had recommended a burger place in town, but we weren’t quite hungry enough to stand in the long line, so we hit our normal drive-in burger place… which had a 30 minute wait on TO GO orders. So, we soldiered on to Leavenworth. T had looked up a decent sounding burger place, which was somehow closed at 7:40 on a very busy holiday weekend. Grrrr… We settled for the Ye Olde McDonalds. Which screwed up T’s order. Twice. Way to make a bad situation worse, Ye Olde McDonalds. Then to add insult to injury, we passed a very respectable looking drive-in burger place on the way out of town. With a huge sign that said “LEAVENWORTH’S BEST BURGERS.” Have I mentioned how much I hate Leavenworth?

But this was a tiny blip on what was an insanely fantastic weekend. As always, thanks so much to Jenn & Bryan for being such amazing hosts and inviting us to enjoy their wonderful cabin. And best of all, this was young Austin when we got home:

PoopedAustinPriceless.

 

 

 

Best Christmas ever

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As tiring as the mega-family Christmas weekends can be, they are great because not only does it feel like Christmas is a week long, but we get the big family celebration and the nice quiet one at home. We had fun social engagements, including having friends over for pittaha on Christmas eve. The boy threw down his usual amount of ridiculousness:

PittahaMontage  Plus, I got some great loot. New slippers from Susan:

NewSlippersWally scored a new mini replacement for his favorite stuffed pig that he finally managed to put a hole in, after four years of trusty service:

WallyMiniPigBut Erik and Nerissa definitely won Christmas this year. First, they had a pair of presents with a note for T to open one of them first, then me the other. T’s turned out to be an ice cream scoop and coupons for a couple of free pints. Mine was a lock for a pint of ice cream. So very rad.

IceCreamMedleyPlus these fantastic dishtowels:

DishtowelsBut the coup de grace was this t-shirt, which I think is pretty much the most hilarious thing ever (apologies to those offended by the c-word):

BestTshirtEverThey also got us a bunch of other thoughtful things, but these were the highlights.

T is pretty much having his best Christmas ever. Not only did he get that fantastic new bike <pats self on back> but our friends Bryan and Jenn asked him to babysit their Tesla. Pretty much T’s dream car. It’s very fancy:

Tesla2It’s got a huge screen that I’m pretty sure can do anything you want:

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Even the door handles are fancy FFS:Tesla3