Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Four Christmases?! Amateurs...

Merry Christmas, my loyal followers (all 5 of you)!

So, I heard about this movie "Four Christmases", starring Reese Witherspoon & Vince Vaughn. All I could think was, "JUST four!?"

This year is an oddity for us, as we're cutting out our annual trip down Monroe ways to Ida for my cousin's Christmas Eve bash. It's usually the biggest family gathering of the year for my side of the family, with anywhere from 20 to 30 people in attendance. The only problem is, it's in Ida (a good hour's drive). After totaling my car, nearly killing myself and family, and spending the wee hours of Christmas morning in the ER, we figured maybe this was the year we decide to forgo that piece of the holidays and spend Christmas Eve at home.

Usually, this is how Christmas plays out for my family...

Christmas #1)
Christmas Eve, I'll innevitably be working for at least the first few hours of the day. I'll head home about 3ish and we'll spend an hour or so packing up gifts, fudge, cookies, and kids to head to Ida. We usually get there later than most of the family who had the entire day off, but we have an absolutely WONDERFUL time catching up, eating fabulous food, singing carols, opening gifts from extended family, and enjoying the festive atmosphere my cousin manages to muster up every year.

From there, we'll head home, and (when the weather and mode of transporation cooperate, anyway), shuffle the sleepy younglings into the house to lay cookies, fudge and milk out for Santa (along with a few carrots for Rudolph). Then we'll spend the next couple hours filling stockings, wrapping presents, having a drink, and hit the hay.

Christmas #2)
Christmas morning is at home. The kids wake us up at some sort of reasonable hour, having worn themselves out playing with extended cousins the night before. We'll open gifts, have breakfast, maybe watch a Christmas special, and play with our gifts a bit. Afterwards, we'll start gathering more gifts, kids, and a contribution to the next piece of the Christmas Mele...

Christmas #3)
We'll drive to the in-laws' for The Wife's family Christmas. We'll pile though the door and unload the gifts to the already huge pile under the tree. Before we start tearing into wraping paper, we'll spend an hour or so eating the Ferris Traditional Candy Cane-Shaped Coffee Cake as Mom-In-Law & The Wife do some can't-wait-till-later prep for the dinner with her cousins later in the afternoon.

Finally, we'll start the gift-giving. We do this one gift at a time (which drives me nuts, but the kids seem to be fine with). When all is said and done, the kids spend the afternoon with ther toys and we finish prep for dinner. The Wife's cousins come over about 4 and we socialize before dinner. We'll often play some board game or something, have the Ferris Traditional Christmas Pudding and head home about 10ish.

Christmas #4)
Sometime the next afternoon, we'll head to my grandfather's to have Christmas with my more immediate side of the family: mom, uncle, grandfather, & sister. We usually order pizza, open gifts, and just enjoy each others company.

Christmas #5)
Usually in the evening the day after Christmas (sometimes a day or two later) we'll head to my great uncle's place for ANOTHER gathering with my extended-extended family. We'll see cousins we only bump into here, munch on more great food, and catch up a bit. This one I'm not always so fond of, because the inevitable questions arises, "So how's that degree coming?" I'll cite the usual excuses for being a gnat's hair away from my degree, which is usually met with the typical pitiful look of dismay. Ugh. Regardless, we usually have fun and the kids will get some nice little gift from my great aunt and uncle that they'll enjoy much more than anticipated (or at least show polite enthusiasm toward), and we'll head home about 8 or 9.

We've followed this pattern to some degree of reliability for the past decade or so, with the occasional kink in the plan that we'll usually roll with. Every year we say that next year we'll scale it back and forgo some piece of it. This is the first year we're actually following through with it. I'll miss the gathering in Ida, as it's the one piece of Christmas left from my childhood (and several generations back) that has remained fairly consistent throughout the years. Still it'lll be nice not to have the mad dash out the door and frantic scurrying on Christmas Eve.

This year will be different, but families change, traditions form and evolve, and life goes on. I fully expect a wonderful and relaxing Holiday season.

...especially with 5 days off in a row. Haven't had that in a LOOOOOOONG time!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Final Countdown...

BIIIIIG weekend...

Friday...well...sucked. We got blasted with about 8 inches of snow early Friday morning. While the kids got the day off, I didn't. Driving sucked. No witty analogy, no clever euphemism - just sucked. Getting to work wasn't that bad. The roads were snow covered, but passable. On my lunch break, I decided to get some gas so I wouldn't have to delay myself anymore than I inevitably would anyway on the way to Blockbuster for my shift there. After trudging through calf-deep drifts to my car and gunning the engine to get the momentum to get out, I managed to crawl to the gas station 2 blocks away. I knew it would be bad when I saw a tow truck pull in, skid, nearly hitting my car, and get stuck a mere 2 inches from my bumper. I threw in 5 bucks and crept out to the streets. Due to f*cked up traffic patterns, I ended up having to try turning around in the parking lot of a strip mall - an unplowed parking lot.

I pull into what I presumed was a parking space and immediately got stuck in a snow drift. For the next 15 minutes, I tried rocking the car, turning the wheel, and shouting expletives at my tires (ya know, for traction). I finally gave up and went inside to the Coney Island for lunch. I had a nice chat with my dad on the phone, and then called work to tell them I was stuck 2 blocks away and would be late coming back. I then spent ANTHER 15 minutes trying to free the Blue Bomber II until I manage dot move enough snow to get out. My tires are now smooth as a baby's bottom, necessitating REDICULOUSLY careful driving until I replace them. Chalk up another item to the Christmas Wish List...

Saturday was spent clearing stuff out of the house and cleaning. I made a HUGE drop off to the Salvation Army of old clothes, unplayed with toys, and other odds and ends, finally packed away my summer clothed, did some dishes, and ran some items to the shed. With the plan to have Christmas Eve in our own house for the first time...well, EVER...we want to have place as uncluttered and functional as possibly by Wednesday.

That night I had a gig with the quartet to do a private Christmas party at a home in Rochester. In order to get weekend nights off of work at Blockbuster, I often barter the quartet's services to my manager by offering to sing there before the gigs. We met there and were greeted not only to the usual mele of customers, but my sister, uncle, and an old friend, Chris, from my drum corps days who saw my posting on Facebook! We tried out a few of our songs and sounded great. MEGA thatnks to ur "groupies" who came to cheer us on! (And I hope I didn't traumatize Chris's son, who burst into screaming terror at my enthusiastic greeting.)

From there, we headed out to Rochester with the help of Lou's GPS system. We decided to take Rochester Road straight up, which was a fine and logical idea - until we hit about Auburn Road or so. I had never heard of the Downtown Rochester Light Fest. Apparently, all the stores in Downtown Rochester cover themselves in sheets of lights. Quite a spectacle, to be sure, but not nearly as bright as the fury on my face as we got caught in the 3 mile backup with no way out. We got there about 45 minutes later than planned, but thankfully, the hostess was more than understanding. We proceeded to do a GREAT set (about 15 minutes more than we had planned) for the enthusistic and responsive crowd of about 15 people. She offered for us to saty a bit and enjoy some of the great food, wine, and conversation. We had a great time, finding plenty in common with the other party patrons and even sang a few extra songs. It was an absolute blast and we likely made another few future customers. From there we headed back to Blockbuster to get our own cars and I met Sonya, her brother, and his friend at the Coney Island. Sonya spent much of the time I was singing, cleaning the carpets, and wanted to blow off some steam with fun people. Thus rounded out a VERY good night.

Sunday started out with very little motivation, but we got moving eventually, as the kids were now with their grandparents in Flint. We tidied up the living room, and did a HUGE blitz of the kids' room. The house is starting to feel MUCH better.

Happy Hanukkah to all of my Jewish friends! More on the uncoming Christmas Mele to come!

Monday, December 15, 2008

In A One-Horse Runaway Sleigh!

The gifts are half-bought, the bills are mostly paid, and the financial well has run dry. This last paycheck was nice and hefty (relatively), but all of it went to the wolves at the door. It's not going to be a skimpy Christmas at the ol' Keiser house, but it's not going to be bountiful by any stretch. The kids are pretty well taken care of with only one or two (rather important) odds and ends to get, but I usually get Sonya something huge on her list every year. I've usually sold one of my instruments or used quartet gig money to get it, but I've been so busy, I haven't had time to hustle up a buyer or eBay any of the remaining, dwindling orchestra in my shed. As for quartet gigs, most of what we've done latley have been freebies. We have a paying gig this weekend, but that money's slated to fix the heat in my car, as is the unexpected money for the use of my picture of my French Fry costume from Flicker (see previous post).

This means tightening my financial belt and putting a padlock on my wallet until the next big paycheck comes in...Christmas Eve. Let me make this very plain - I HATE BUDGETS!!!! I don't go hog wild or make any big purchases. I do, however, nickle-and-dime myself to death. Between fast-food meals going from job-to-job, morning coffee, and the evil cigarettes, I can easily go through $50 a week in pretty damned unnecessary expenses without even thinking about it. This week, I have put my bank card in the dark recesses of my wallet (necessitating thoughtful, rather than reflexive use of it). This usually makes a BIG difference, as the additional 2 seconds it would take me to dig it out usually slay the "gotta have it" demons.

I don't spend recklessly. I buy clothes at Steve & Barry's and other purveyors of cheaply made, foreign crap, I compare price-per-ounce prices at the grocery store, I drool over impulse buys and walk on buy, I dig through clearance racks, and I usually only buy clothes of the barest function when absolutely necessary.

I do have a weakness for bottles of Diet Coke and comics, though. I usually "treat"myself to about $20 in comics a month and a Diet Coke in the car. I don't "treat myself" to things like iPhones, techno gadgets, new shoes or even a fance ice-scraper for the car. Still, these days, I have to watch every penny. Sonya is big on that and I often resent her when she suggests I reighn in my discretionary spending, as I don't think I do much. Thinking about it, though, the nickle-and-dime stuff has been addin up a lot.

So, my pre-New Year's resolution is to watch myself more (mostly out of sheer necessity). The bank card stays in the dark corner on my wallet, work on cash only whenever possible, and pause before adding wnything to my shopping cart.

God, I hate budgets...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mem'ries, in the Corner Of My Mind...

This was a fantastic weekend. True, it wasn't one of the nice, extended ones many of you got to enjoy (lucky bastards), as I had to go to work at the office on Friday and Blockbuster Friday & Saturday. There were, however, enough "moments" that will stick in my mind forever to make it rank right up there in the "holiday memories" subfolder in the hard drive of my mind.

Thanksgiving went great. Aside from my mom skipping out on the family holiday (again) at my in-laws' house, it went as smooth as any holiday I can remember. We woke up a bit later than an average day, watched the parade in TV, got the food made, car packed, and hit the road in plenty of time. We spent the afternoon playing board games and chatting with family, had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat (Officer Obie not included), I managed to sneak in a turkey-induced nap, and we lazed around the house until finally packing the car up and heading home. Nothing remarkable, nothing crazy, no mad dashes. Absolutely perfect.

Black Friday was all about the paycheck. After making a quick stop by the comic shop to check out Chris's specials, I spent the day at work in the office. It...was...dulllllll. No point in calling up clients, as they would all (theoretically) be to insane with customers to bother with sales calls. Not many clients calling in for the same reason. I did get a couple orders that made it worth my while to go in, though, and had a few nice chats with my coworkers.

From there, I headed to work at Blockbuster. Crazy insane busy, The District Manager popped in for a vistit, necessitating much straightening up and flying right, and I didn't get home till about 10:30.

Saturday morning, my wife and son had a parade to do with the unicycle troop. That left my daughter and me to ourselves for the day. After the initial flurry of activity to get the wife and boy out the door (they woke up late), my baby girl crawled into bed with me and snuggled with me, giggling and poking my nose until I woke up. After I got showered and dressed, we spent the next hour or so making my great-grandmother's recipe for chocolate-peanut butter fudge. I measured, she poured. We stirred, laughed, tasted, snatched chocolate chips, and had a wonderful time.

After pouring the fudge into a pan to set, we sat and watched a movie on the couch, all the while she snuggled under my arm. As the time ticked by and the other half of my family was still MIA, we finally figured it was time for lunch. We were missing one ingredient from anything I could think of, so we got in the car and headed to Taco Bell. We sat in the dining room, eating, goofing around, and truly enjoying each others' company. About this point, my precious 5-year-old baby girl said, "Daddy, I'll always hug you - even when I'm a teenager."

Fudge makings - $6
Lunch at Taco Bell - $7
A day with my daughter I'll never forget - Priceless.