Thursday, January 19, 2017


Today would have been my dad’s 78th birthday.  

Normally I would call him, and we’d talk for a while – sometimes up to an hour, less as his health declined last year.  We did that a lot, actually – not just on his birthday.  It was one of the things I looked forward to, week in and week out.  

We’d been trading phone calls since I went away to college.  I didn’t go all that far as an undergrad, really – maybe six miles as the crow flies – but there is a world of distance between home and college, as anyone who’s been in that situation knows, and a phone call is as good a bridge as any.  We would pick a night for calling and stick to that for a while, and gradually it would drift to another night and we’d stick to that for a while.  The nights drifted across the week, and my mailing address drifted across the country, from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to Iowa and then finally to Wisconsin, but the calls never stopped.  Once a week, usually – enough time to build up a store of things to talk about without so many you’d forget some of them.  Less often if things were hectic.  More if they weren’t.

With my academic schedule, which demanded 10-12 hour days but was remarkably flexible about when, exactly, I put that work in, our calls moved toward the day rather than the evening, especially after the girls were born.  Over the years more of the calls started coming from me rather than the other way around, but not all, especially if it had been a while.

There wasn’t any particular set of things we’d talk about.  During football season we’d compare notes on the Eagles and their latest collapse or, more rarely, success.  Sometimes the Phillies.  We’d talk about the various family members and what they were doing, especially his granddaughters.  He enjoyed hearing about them, so far away.  We’d talk about politics sometimes – he was a Goldwater Republican who came to despise that party in the last couple of decades of his life, though I don’t know if he ever became a Democrat.  “Those bastards stole my party,” he’d complain.  I couldn’t disagree.  We'd just talk about whatever came to mind, and that was enough.

Usually when I called him on his birthday I would tell him to watch his mail, since I never remembered to get his card and gift sent off in time.  We have a Movable Feast tradition in our family, though – holidays happen when you have time for them – and he enjoyed them when they arrived.

We told jokes to each other too.  He had a great sense of humor, and when one of us came across a new one we’d share it.

They were good conversations.

I will always be glad for them.

Happy birthday, dad.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

News and Updates

1. You never think about how nice it is to breathe until it you can’t do it anymore.  I may be coming down with my first winter crud of the season, which if precedent holds will last until April or so in varying degrees. 

2. If you want to know what Donald Trump and his GOP are like, all you have to do is look at what they accuse others of doing and being.  It’s a pretty infallible guide.

3. Kim and I went to a bookstore that was having an “Everything In The Store For $1” sale yesterday and cleaned the place out.  Seriously – I came home with more than two dozen books for less than the price of a new hardback.  My to-read pile is now verging on “Excessive” and I have no problem with that.  In dark times one must find what light is available.

4. I’ve been at my new job for about a year now.  I may be getting the hang of it, finally.  Academic advising in a transfer institution is a continual exercise in figuring out how to get the specific case in front of you to fit into the general rules you’re supposed to use, and if you can make that happen on a consistent basis without frying your neurons, delaying someone’s graduation, or earning a well-deserved reputation for email snark, you’re doing okay.  So far I’m managing, though I will admit to going through multiple drafts of certain emails.

5. When we were driving home from NYC on New Year’s Day we naturally had to tune into the Green Bay Packers game on the radio.  Because we live in Wisconsin, and there’s a law about that.  So we traveled down the highway, switching from one AM station to another as they faded in and out and occasionally landing on an FM station carrying the game – which is nicer sound but shorter range, usually.  And then it was halftime and they threw the broadcast back to the central studio somewhere, and I thought to myself, “I know that voice!”  Sure enough, it was a guy I used to hang out with back in college.  He was part of the Late Night Lobby Club, an informal group in my dorm that met from midnight to 4am nightly because that’s when the fun happened.  Apparently he has done well for himself in his chosen field, and good for him – but it was strange to listen to him being all Adult and Authoritative while memories of the kinds of things we did in college played across my brain.

6. Santana died this week.  She was one of our hens – the Sultan, which is quite possibly the single dimmest breed of chicken on earth.  She wasn’t much of a layer either, but she was the most sociable of the hens and the one who would let Lauren carry her around like a football.  She was a sweetly dim bird, and we’ll miss her.

7. The four of us went over to visit friends on Friday and had a good time eating dinner and playing Cards Against Humanity.  One of the signal victories of parenting is when your children can sit in a room full of adults and participate as equals in the conversation.  I am very proud of my daughters.

8. I still haven’t cleared my desk from last semester’s debris, and this semester is rapidly bearing down.  This needs to change.

9. Word to the wise: if you see a machine screw on the road, try not to run it over.  We ignored this advice on Friday, and ended up with a flat tire.  I really did not want to spend the morning digging around in the undercarriage for the spare and then figuring out when to get over to a place that would resolve the whole issue for real.  Fortunately AAA covers this sort of thing, even in your own garage.  The guy came out, identified the problem, and fixed it right there – no further appointments necessary. 

10. You can get into some fascinating conversations by bringing up the phase “reverse Polish notation” even when it is warranted and factually accurate.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

What Comes Next

So now we are mere days away from the failed Trump Administration coming to power in the United States.

It’s rare for a presidential administration to be considered a failure before the lead guy actually takes the oath of office, but with that “never say never” attitude that the modern GOP has taken toward sinking to new lows of corruption and authoritarianism, this one has achieved it.  You almost want to congratulate them for such an unusual accomplishment, until you realize that this is going to be the only president we’ve got and he’s a clown – a petulant, vindictive, aggressively ignorant and grotesquely unqualified vulgarian propped up by foreign influence and bad debt and supported by a Congress so utterly contemptuous of the American people and the Constitution that the Founding Fathers should rise up from their graves and declare the whole experiment in self-government a failure.

They always knew it wouldn’t last.  They just didn’t know how long it would take to fall apart.  Now we know.

Given this rather dire situation, the thinking American may wonder what is in store for them in the coming months.  Wonder no more, good citizen!  The answer is already there, waiting for you to see it.  All you need to look at is the suit-wearing empty hole that is the incoming Chief Executive and the sad fate of three once-proud states now owned by the GOP: North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Kansas.

The first thing you have to understand is perhaps the most obvious to anybody who has been paying attention to the drain-spiraling moral bankruptcy that is Donald Trump: he’s not the one who is going to be in charge.

Oh, he’s going to be the president.  Barring some unforeseen opportunity to make money by doing something else that day, he’ll be inaugurated at the appointed time and then he’ll live at least part time in the White House while spending the rest of his time somewhere with more gold plating than the American taxpayers have so far been willing to provide their leaders.  It will be his name on the business cards, and I’m sure he’ll have a great deal of fun yelling at the servants the way insecure bullies with money tend to do in order to reassure themselves that they are somehow important. 

But the man has no grasp of policy, no understanding of administration, no clue about the Constitution, no conception of global realities, and no desire or ability to remedy any these shortcomings.  He’ll continue to make outrageous statements (is there no grown-up in the Republican Party who can take away his Twitter account?  No?  Anyone?  Hello?  Is this thing on?) and juke and jive past the growing hailstorm of evidence surrounding his impeachable offenses, and once in a while he may accidentally accomplish something, though whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends entirely on your capacity for morbid humor.

He simply has no aptitude for or interest in the job, and if he manages to stay in office through the first twelve months without getting impeached or removed under the 25th Amendment (or simply exploding in a stress-induced fit of coronary fireworks – the man is overweight and nearly 70, after all) it will be as a figurehead, there for the trappings of power but not the hard work of actually exercising it.

That means the ball is in Congress’ court, which effectively means Mitch McConnell – the single most malignant person in Washington, up to and including actual serial killers – or Paul Ryan, who is in way over his head but who has managed not to be stabbed in the back by any of the warring factions in his party yet so credit where due.  Assuming they remember how to do their jobs – a big if, given the taxpayer-funded 8-year vacation the GOP members of Congress took under Obama – it is these people who will actually be wielding the power.

And if that doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

The first lesson you should draw comes from North Carolina, and Wisconsin.  Neither of these states is a functioning democracy or well-run republic anymore thanks to the modern Republican commitment to absolute power at any cost.

Based on their actions over the last few years, it is clear that the Republican Party believes that rules are for other people and that there are no means so vile or anti-American that they do not justify the end of continued power for the right wing and cannot be sold as patriotism to the gawping mass of their base.

They’re not wrong on that last point, anyway.

It’s not an accident that the very first thing the new Republican Congress did this year – the VERY FIRST THING – was to gut the ethics oversight committee that was put in place to keep them from pillaging the place and installing themselves as tyrants and overlords.  Is it even possible for an action to be more emblematic of the larger whole than that?  If you saw that in a movie you’d laugh at the amateurish heavy-handed symbolism of it, but this is what these highly paid professional politicians actually did.  They retreated a bit from that briefly, thanks to public pressure, but under cover of night they have since gone back on that retreat and continued their descent into immorality and absolutism.

Those of us in Wisconsin are familiar with this pattern.  This is a state that was taken over by the GOP years ago.  It’s a state where the legislature, when confronted with photographic proof of their illegal actions, puts paper over the windows so they can’t be photographed again.  Where the Attorney General put up a poll question to see if he should act on obvious criminal violations rather than do his job when that job involves prosecuting members of his own party.  Where legislative votes are held with no public notice, in violation of state law, without bothering to inform anyone (and certainly not the citizens of this state) of what is being voted upon until afterward.  Where elections are decided by partisan officials “discovering” votes on their unsecured and unsanctioned personal computers and adding them to the official count.  Where nonpartisan watchdog agencies get destroyed if they try to do their job.  Where any impediment to the unfettered power of the GOP is targeted for obliteration.

In North Carolina, which has largely followed the same pattern of absolutism with an added layer of naked bigotry thrown in for good measure, the legislature even went so far as to try to strip the governor of power once it became clear that the GOP had lost that office, because they certainly can’t be bothered to abide by the will of the American people.  This is a state whose gerrymandering is quite possibly worse than Wisconsin’s (currently the subject of a Supreme Court case for making such an explicit mockery of the electoral process) and whose voter suppression act targeted those not fully drinking the GOP Kool-Aid with “surgical precision” in the words of the federal judge who ruled on it.

North Korea thinks Wisconsin and North Carolina need to ease up on the whole “one party dictatorship” thing.

And it’s coming to the federal government.  Look for fairly straightforward – arrogantly brazen, really, since they know nobody can stop them and their base will obediently fall in line rather than try to think for themselves – attempts to deny the vote to anyone who won’t vote for the GOP, to strip all enforcement powers from any oversight bodies that exist to tell the GOP that it has to obey the law and the Constitution (up to and including the Supreme Court), and to entrench the extreme right wing in power for generations after they have lost any shred of legitimacy.

They may succeed in these attempts. 

The second lesson comes mostly from Wisconsin, and this one is tactical.  When Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) came to power in 2011, he immediately unleashed an avalanche of regressive, punitive, and radically extremist right-wing ideological legislation on an unsuspecting state, one that had nothing whatsoever to do with anything he had campaigned on (and in some cases was explicitly opposed to his campaign promises) and this will be the pattern the GOP will follow in the days after Trump’s inauguration.  Hell, they’re already trying to do this with the confirmation hearings for the compromised and incompetent sycophants Trump wants in his Cabinet. 

Consider that an omen of things to come.

There will be a rush to pass legislation such as this nation has never seen, the purpose of which will be to overwhelm any opposition and destroy it.  Bill will follow bill, without hearings, without public notice, without time for debate, without any of the civilized marks of governance demanded by American democracy.  They will work to ram it down the throats of the American people before any response can be made and while they are at the flood tide of their power.  The irony of this, after eight years of radical GOP obstructionism and Congressional inaction on the taxpayer’s dime, is considerable, but then these are not people susceptible to irony.

They will not stop until anyone not conforming to the official party line is brought to heel.  It will be a torrent of law designed to bewilder and bury.

They will call this “freedom.”  Their base will buy it, hook, line, and sinker.  That base will get angry when the actual nature of things is pointed out to them. 

There will be trollage.

And if you want to see where all this leads, you have only to look at Kansas.

Kansas has been in the thrall of the radical right wing ever since Sam Brownback – one of only two governors in the US more extremist than our own Governor Teabagger (hi there, Governor LePage! sorry Governor Christie – try harder next time) – came to power.  It has become a laboratory of far right wing policies.  And it has been a dismal and shockingly obvious failure.

The economy has tanked, to the point where even Republicans are starting to notice.  The state has a budget deficit that is new, enormous, and growing, and Brownback is running out of accounting tricks to make people forget this, which is why he has resorted to simply not reporting it at all. 

The school system is in such disarray that it may have to shut down, which may have been the point all along.  Education just makes the peasants uppity, after all, and from a statistical perspective educated people tend not to vote Republican anyway.  Rather than adjust their policies to appeal to people with critical thinking skills and actual knowledge the GOP has been working to get rid of education for more than a decade now, and they are succeeding.  Brownback and his minions have also explicitly threatened to destroy the state judiciary if they disagree with his diktats, particularly those regarding the dismantling of the education system, which is a clear violation of the Constitution that so far has not resulted in the appropriate jail time because “freedom.” 

Standard & Poor’s has put Kansas bonds on watch as untrustworthy so Brownback isn't even making money for the 1% that owns the GOP, which strikes me as being a rather unfit little lackey.  Their roads are crumbling and there is no money to fix them.  It is losing jobs even as states around them grow. 

It is, in other words, a dumpster fire of a state – a condition entirely attributable to the policies enacted by the radical GOP junta running the place.

Guess what policies Brownback is now urging Trump and the GOP Congress to replicate?  Go on – I’ll give you three guesses.

First two don’t count.

Given the hermetically sealed ideological bubble in which the GOP operates these days, where hard evidence is considered disposable if it conflicts with deeply held fantasies, we all may well enjoy the Kansas Miracle in our own states fairly soon.

So there you have it – the crystal ball of suck, there for those who are willing to see it.

Of course I could be wrong.  Perhaps doing the same thing repeatedly will, finally, this time of all times, produce different results, and the much-touted magic of supply-side economics and austerity imposed on a demand-side economy will make everything better, the GOP will develop a moral conscience and a new commitment to democracy, and there will be hosannas throughout the land.

I’ll let you know if that happens.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Happy Holidays, Part 3: Christmas in Wisconsin

Our final run-through for Christmas came after we got back to Wisconsin.  It’s a lovely thing to have family that celebrates on both the Gregorian and the Julian calendars, as it means you can get to everyone on the holiday and nobody gets left out.

So on Saturday we once again packed up the minivan and headed off to see family, this time Kim’s side.

We got there despite the best efforts of the interstate highway system to slow us down – the joys of knowing the state highways, really – and immediately settled in for a day of food and conversation.  And the cat.  They have a beanbag of a cat who is perfectly happy to sit on your lap for as long as you’ll let her, and we’re just suckers for that sort of thing.  Of course it makes our own cats jealous once we get home, but you have to rattle their world sometimes because otherwise they fall asleep.  It’s not like cats need more sleep.

Eventually everyone who was planning to be there arrived and we sat down for a grand meal of many different kinds of Ukrainian food, all of which are tasty and filling and were present in quantity.  Don’t mess with Slavs when it comes to sausage if you know what’s good for you.  They’ll just laugh at your poor imitations and go back to their meal.

The thing about Christmas dinner is that it has a time limit.  There is only so long you can sit at a table, talking and feasting, while there are both young kids and wrapped presents sitting mere yards away.  You can feel the air tense up over time, and eventually you just have to let them have at it.

The grown-ups, though, we can wait.  We can sit there through the various desserts and cookies, we can talk some more, and we can put off further gifting, because we’re old and boring.  At least that’s what the kids tell us.  There’s also the fact that at some point in your life you realize that the real gift of Christmas is the opportunity to sit and eat and talk with people you care about, and the rest of it is just extra.

Not that extra is bad, mind you.  It’s just extra.

The adults don’t really do standard gifts anymore, as we’ve all more or less reached the point where if we genuinely want something we can get it, and if not we don’t.  So we play the dice game, where you get two things – one nice, one kind of goofy, with a limited total budget – and put them in six piles, and then roll to see who gets what.  Eventually you end up with two things in front of you, and then comes the trading round, where if you roll doubles you can swap for things.  This year, by request, Tabitha and Lauren were old enough to be included in this game, as was their cousin Kegan.  We’re all getting on, I suppose.

I ended up with a card game based on the Oregon Trail video game and a box of bandaids with Shakespearean insults printed on them.  I actually had the opportunity to trade them away a couple of times and you know what?  I decided I liked them.  Apparently the bandaids were purchased specifically with the hope that I’d end up with them, and how could I change that?  Now all I need is a minor injury or two and I can rock the 16th century!

Then we packed up and headed home, one more holiday season in the books.

And to all a good night!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Happy Holidays, Part 2: New Year's in New York

I think everyone should live in New York City for at least a month, at some point in their lives.

For one thing, it’s a great place.  It never shuts down – you can walk around at 11:30pm on a Thursday night and the streets, sidewalks, and shops are all full.  And it really does sound exactly like it does in the movies.  For another thing, it has everything, from the ordinary to the extreme, all within easy travel times if you’re willing to use the subways, which you should because it is easy and reasonably convenient and also because driving in New York is the stupidest thing you could do in that city short of taping your credit cards to your back pocket and walking through a crowd.  

The other thing that would happen if everyone were to spend some time in New York City would be that I would no longer have to put up with so many people who live in places where everyone in a three-county radius looks, thinks, worships, votes, speaks, and dresses pretty much exactly the same way they do telling me that *I* am the one living in the bubble.  You can’t go half a block in New York without hearing multiple languages, walking past people who are utterly unlike you in most superficial respects, being immersed in the proud diversity that makes the United States such a great country, and yet still be surrounded by people who are every bit as American as you are (oh, yes they are, thank you).  I think it would improve our politics immensely if this lesson were reinforced.  It would certainly improve my mood, anyway, and that’s reason enough for me to advocate this policy in these parlous times.

Seriously.  My mood is in great need of improvement these days.  I vote we make this relocation policy happen.

So we went up to New York, there to visit family and friends and have a grand time while we were at it.  And if it was grey, rainy, and essentially mist-bound on the drive up, well so it went.  There were also no traffic delays, for perhaps the only time I have ever made that trip, and we made it from suburban Philadelphia to mid-town Manhattan in two hours flat.  If I could bottle that, I’d be rich.

Our first stop, after dropping off our stuff at my brother’s apartment, where we were staying, was to visit our friends Josh, Abby, and Zach.  We went through a number of plans for the evening before eventually settling in and hanging out, which is a good thing to do with friends.  We took the subway up to their apartment, wandered around for a bit getting our bearings, and eventually arrived to be welcomed in style.

They declared that we would be feasted, and feasted we were!  On incredibly tasty barbecue, no less.  And then we played D&D, which I had not done since high school.  Zach is a budding D&D player, and the rest of us were happy to go along.  We pressed Tabitha into service as the DM since she’d actually played the game in the current millennium, and with essentially no prep time for this particular quest she did a pretty good job of working a novice and rather sarcastic band of adventurers through to a reasonable stopping point.  

The next day we decided to go exploring ourselves, so we got back on the subway and headed down to Times Square.  This was mostly Lauren’s idea – for someone who loves animals and whose current plans involve living on a farm in her future, she’s pretty up for city exploring.

We came up out of the subway station to find ourselves in the middle of it all, as Times Square is over the New Year’s holiday.  We don’t go there on New Year’s Eve itself, as the math simply does not work (2,000,000 people, 7 public toilets, you figure it out), but it’s fun to be there the day before when they’re setting everything up.

We walked over to the stage – one of them, I’m not sure which network eventually ended up using it, as there were several – and suddenly several dozen people were pointing cameras at us.  Knowing full well that four more tourists in New York City are not particularly camera-worthy, we figured there must be something behind us and sure enough there was.

They practice the day before, which you think about and say, “Oh, right, of course they do,” but which comes as a bit of a surprise when you first see it happening.  They have to get the timing right and cue up the various special effects and all that.  So we watched them drop the ball and haul it back up and drop it again.  This went on for a while.  Eventually we moved on.

We wandered over to Fifth Avenue, because why not?  It’s a sight, that place.  Many of the storefronts are decorated for the holidays, which can be a festive thing or, in the case of Saks, kind of creepy.  Saks had an entire block of windows decked out with impressive and no doubt highly sophisticated animatronic displays of scenes from The Nutcracker that fell squarely into the uncanny valley, and I was glad to be on my way from that even if the crowd around it suggested that I was in a distinct minority in that opinion.  

We also stumbled across St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was just gorgeous and made up for it all.

Our eventual target was the Museum of Modern Art.  Kim loves modern art and Tabitha is an artist, so this was a place they wanted to see.  I’m not much of a modern art person, to be honest – a high school friend of mine used to say with some derision that “recognizability is an artistic quality that most people find profoundly thrilling” but I never saw the problem with this sentiment – but I figured it would make Kim and Tabitha happy and there are a few corners of modern art that I do like, so why not?

Lauren, it must be said, was not impressed.  “They call it modern art because they can’t call it art,” she said.  Oh well.

We split up almost immediately – the crowds were far too heavy to try to stay together, and we’d established a meeting point almost as soon as we walked in.  Kim and Tabitha went off on their own, while Lauren and I stuck together.  I did like the photography exhibit – they had some neat old photographs from the mid-19th century that appealed to this historian’s sense of time and place – and once you got toward the upper floors there were some paintings by Mondrian and Matisse and one rather highlighted Van Gogh that were all interesting to see.  Even Lauren thought those were cool.  We also liked the exhibit of psychedelic ‘60s concert posters.  But there were far too many things in there that were just pure concept.

Concept, like heroin, is addictive and deadly.

I’m not sure what I am supposed to make of a monofilament line stretched from ceiling to floor except to feel sorry for the poor guard who has to stand there and keep people from running into it.  Nor did the paintings consisting of one shade of off-white over the entire canvas conjure up anything other than thoughts about needing to paint my garage again next summer.  Lauren’s position is that museums should be for things that you can’t do – they should make you aspire – and those did not qualify.  Then there was the extremely avant-garde film that they were showing on the second floor which was, um, extremely arty in an avant-garde sort of way.  What does one make of a disembodied Frankenstein head superimposed over what appears to be Go-Pro footage of cross-country skiing and singing slam poetry about scientific epistemology in a rather tuneless sort of way, the whole thing in Conceptual Black And White so you know it’s art rather than a movie?

You make short work of it, is what you make of it.

So Lauren and I maxed out pretty quickly, and went to the gift shop for a while.  Eventually we went across the street to the auxiliary gift shop, and when that got too crowded we found a street vendor, bought something to drink, and sat down on a bench.  Lauren then tried out her gift shop purchase. 

I suppose it could be art, by some folks’ standards.

From there we took the subway all the way out to Yonkers to visit our friends Ellen, Jonah, and Quinn (and Rob, but he had to work late that night so we never did get to see him – hi Rob!).  Apparently Yonkers has its own weather, as it was snowing fiercely there when we arrived despite being bright and sunny everywhere else in New York that day.

We had a lovely dinner and spent most of the evening in full hang-out mode, sharing stories and conversation, which as noted earlier is a good thing to do with friends.  Ellen has dining room chairs with quotes painted on them.  My personal favorite is “Nobody knows what Mary did when Lazarus died again.”  It’s an interesting question, really.  Somehow we never did get around to taking any pictures.  We’ll just have to go back.

The next day Kim, Keith, and I went to Fairway.  Fairway is one of those grocery stores that stocks pretty much every odd little thing and not too much of the normal stuff, which is one of the things I love about the place.  They have an entire alcove just for olive oil, and more fascinating cheeses and sausages than are probably legal.  We stocked up for New Year’s Eve, because we could.

Eventually all of us got onto the subway and headed to the 30s, where Lori had booked us into an Escape Room.

I’d never been in an escape room.  Tabitha and Lauren had tried some of the ones near Our Little Town and enjoyed them, so I was looking forward to it.  My cousin and his husband – the Uncles Chris, as we refer to them – joined us for the event, and it was a lot of fun.

You go into a little room about ten feet square that is filled with puzzles.  You solve the first layer of puzzles, and those answers help you solve the second layer of puzzles.  And then you use those to solve the third layer of puzzles, which you use to get out.  It helped that there were ten of us and that all of our children are now old enough to be helpful in this sort of thing.  You get an hour to figure out how to undo the lock code on the door leading out.

We had a grand time, and we solved the room with about two and a half minutes to spare.  Go us!

We celebrated by heading down to Little Italy for dinner – a different place than last year, but no less lovely.  There was good food, better company, and great conversation, and really what more can you ask of a holiday than that?

Eventually the Uncles Chris headed off to their own New Year’s Eve plans and the rest of us went back to my brother’s apartment, where we had a simple birthday celebration for Tabitha and then settled in for the New Year’s festivities.

We had a wide array of snacks (courtesy of the Fairway) and we set the television onto whatever channel had Panic! At the Disco because that’s who we wanted to hear.  Somehow this also ended up being the same channel that had the Great Mariah Carey Fiasco of 2016, which Keith and Lori – television professionals that they are – found excruciatingly transfixing.  Even I, whose television habits are anemic at best, had to agree with them on this.

It was a lovely way to ring in the New Year and, perhaps more importantly, to stay up late enough to make sure that 2016 died.  That’s the thing about villains – you have to make sure they’re dead, otherwise they rise up, cackle maniacally, and reappear in the sequel with new ambitions and a sharper wardrobe.  We were not going to have that with 2016, no we were not.  We stayed up.

We left New York the next morning, because New Year’s morning is the only time you can drive in New York City without fighting traffic.  Everyone else in the city was hungover, dead, or asleep as we cruised over the bridge and onto the highway headed west.  Our plan was to stop in Ohio again, as we did on the way out, but when we got to Maumee we realized that we weren’t tired, the weather was clear, and we could just continue on until we got tired and stopped somewhere else.

And suddenly – BOOM! – Our Little Town.  It was nice to sleep in our own beds.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Happy Holidays, Part 1: Christmas in Philadelphia

We normally go east to see my side of the family for the holidays during odd years, and my the jokes just write themselves, don’t they?

On even years we are usually here in Our Little Town, or visiting Kim’s side of the family in their various locales (once even as far afield as San Francisco, which was a treat).  But last year was a hard one in many ways, not all of them political, and it was generally felt that heading east would be a good idea.  Sometimes you have to be in the same place with the same people just to be in the same place with those people, and that’s enough.

Although whether this is the beginning of a new cycle, where we are in Wisconsin on odd years, or just a blip and we go back to Philadelphia again next year, or the beginning of something else entirely is just one of those things we’ll have to work out later – probably on December 19th, given how well I plan things.  Life: it’s an adventure!

We picked the girls up from school on the 20th, piled an immense amount of stuff into the minivan (because that’s what minivans are for, after all), and turned our back on the sunset, or we would have had the sun not set sometime around noon or so that day.  Winter in the northern hemisphere is a dark place.  We made it to our usual stopping spot at the Hampton Inn in Maumee, Ohio, where the next day we ate breakfast alongside a young lady in a full unicorn onesie before continuing on to Philadelphia.

“You rock, girl,” I told her.

The first thing we did once we got to my mom’s, of course, was have cheesesteaks.  Because that’s what you do in Philadelphia.  There’s a law or something, or maybe it’s just that if you don’t do that three random mooks from South Philly knock on your door and suggest rather strongly that you do.  Not that they would have had to make the trip for us.  We were looking forward to our cheesesteaks starting around Johnstown.

We spent the next few days hanging out with my mom and generally getting things ready for Christmas.  My brother had been down a few days earlier and had gotten the tree up, for example, so the girls decorated it.  We got a few poinsettias to give some color.  We hit the grocery store for supplies for holiday dinners and a ravioli festival that we had just because we could.  Everyone needs ravioli.  Yes, you do too.

We also went to see Rogue One at the same local movie house where we saw the previous Star Wars franchise movie last year, which wasn’t particularly Christmassy but was a fun film – I’m so glad that Disney has liberated this franchise from the dead hand of George Lucas’ mythmaking.  Disney exists to separate you from your cash in exchange for a decent bit of entertainment, and we were happy to make that bargain.  I personally would have been even happier had the curb outside the theater been maybe a quarter inch lower, though that’s hardly Disney’s fault.  I ended up with a scrape the size of a business card on my knee, which then spent the next week or so protesting angrily whenever I tried to bend it.  And since bending is one of those things that knees are tasked with doing, it was a never-ending chorus of snit from down there.

Merry Christmas.

Aside from that minor annoyance, we had a low-key but enjoyable holiday.  Instead of the normal swirl of visitors, we limited things pretty much to just family.  We did go visit my friend Jenny at her parents’ house for a bit on Christmas Eve morning – where we had a wonderful time catching up and generally being sociable – and the neighbors across the street came over for a bit later in the week, which was nice (they’re lovely people) – but once my brother and his crew came down from NYC it was pretty much just us.  Rolane and Steve came for Christmas Day, and that was lovely as well.

The girls and their cousins slotted back into their accustomed places as if they saw each other all the time and not just once or twice a year, and many a Pokemon was captured.  There were all sorts of new ones there that are less common in the midwest and in New York City, and some of them even invaded my mom’s house, much to her amusement.  I’m not sure that we ever convinced my nephew Josh that going outside in the suburbs was a non-creepy thing to do – he lives in Manhattan, and deserted streets are not anything he’s used to dealing with at any hour of the day – but there you go.  Lauren and Sara spent some time baking Ninja-bread cookies, and Tabitha and Josh even explored the wonders of higher math for a while, because that’s the kind of thing we encourage in our family.  

Hey, you have your things, we have ours.

It was a lovely holiday.

And then you’ve got a few days where you can just hang out with people without having the holiday looming over you.  We made the most of it, really – we enjoy each other’s company, for one thing, and for another there’s plenty to do in that part of the world.

We took the kids to the trampoline park, for one thing.  If you’ve never been to one of these places, they’re giant warehouse-sized buildings stuffed to the gills with trampolines and other bouncy surfaces, and you drop the kids off at the entrance and let them have at it.  Brilliance!  

After the NYC crew left, we headed down to Center City to wander around a bit.  We went into City Hall, a first for me – I’ve been under, through, and around the place any number of times, but I’ve never had any particular call to go inside until we were there as a group and noticed a sign advertising bathrooms available to the general public.  Philadelphia’s City Hall is a great granite pile of a building plopped squarely in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in the city – which probably made sense in the 1880s, when they were building the thing – and they’ve done a reasonable job of keeping the place up.  That’s nice to see.

We also went to Reading Terminal Market, which you need to do if you’re ever in Philadelphia.  It’s a 19th-century street market in a building, filled with more places selling more food to more people than you can conceive of without chemical help.  I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that my children love that place as much as I do, crowds and all.  Life is good, really.

Before we left, we made sure we got a Stair Photo.  Because you have to have traditions.

And then we headed north for the next leg of our holidays.