Merry Christmas, everyone (a couple of days late, but still..)

31 December 2008

The powers that be saw fit to give everyone at work an opportunity to go home four hours early on 24 December 2008, the better to go home and get ready for Christmas Eve. To that end, I sniffled and honked a bit and set course for home where Lyssa was still hard at work. I sat down to fill out my paperwork for the week (such is the life of a professional contractor), packed a duffel bag for the weekend, and slowly came to the conclusion that I'd somehow caught the beginnings of a cold earlier in the day. When Lyssa finally clocked out for the day, we loaded our stuff into the TARDIS, stopped off for dinner at the Sweetwater Tavern just down the street, and then set course for southwestern Pennsylvania, where her family (my in-laws) can be found. The trip wasn't a bad one, just a long one: when you factor in traffic it took us a little over four hours to make the journey.

It seems that opening gifts non-traditionally is becoming something of a tradition for Lyssa and I. A few hours after we arrived, we exchanged gifts in the living room of Lyssa's parents' place. Due to lack of time and getting sick, Lyssa and I had gotten gift cards for not a few people in the family. That said, I was very appreciative of recieving a gift card for Micro Center, the better to buy new parts for a media machine to add to the home entertainment center. The core of our gifts this year was the home theatre system that Lyssa's mother had found for us - surround sound speakers, Blueray player, HDMI out the yin-yang, the whole nine yards. Grant's offered to help us set everything up, which I'm profoundly grateful for because I'm almost out of my league when it comes to home theatre, and I'd like to learn a few things in the process.

The next morning was spent with Lyssa's family, eating breakfast, chatting, and generally catching up. I got a late start to things because I was worn out from the drive up to Pennsylvania and fighting off the cold that ravaged my sinus cavities. Some time that afternoon (I don't exactly recalll when; certainly after breakfast, a few cups of coffee, and two caplets of Dayquil) we loaded another set of gifts into the TARDIS and made the two hour trek to northern Pittsburgh to visit my family. We arrived early in the afternoon and spent the afternoon with my folks, exchanged gifts with everyone (I really like the new waistcoat and sweater), and spent the afternoon watching The Dark Knight, which my folks hadn't seen yet. I also spent the afternoon fighting with a stack of bad CD-R disks trying to copy the next batch of wedding photos for my family (as well as make backup copies for ourselves). I guess the crate of disks I left in my old lab when I moved out have finally given up the ghost. By the time we left I had finally finished making backup copies of the pictures, a struggle lasting multiple hours (and, upon reflection, may have had something to do with sitting with Windbringer in my lap and thus at a slght angle than it did with the state of the disks). As my family is wont to do, my mother made pierogies for the holidays so we had to get our fill while we were in town. Around 2000 EST5EDT, Lyssa and I piled back into the TARDIS to head for her parents' place because, to be frank, I was half asleep at the kitchen table while the last of the disks were recording.

Friday was a quiet day at Lyssa's parents' place. Her mother, Grant, Katie (Grant's girlfriend), and father left shortly after breakfast to cruise the malls for after-Christmas deals while Lyssa and I opted to stay home and relax. I was still worn out from the day before and spent the afternoon catching up on my reading, editing images (mostly for size), and posting them to my website. After dinner that evening (Lyssa made spaghetti) we sat in the living room and watched Casino Royale, the first James Bond movie I've seen in a long while which, to be frank, didn't suck.

Feeling much better after a day of rest and another good night of sleep, I packed my gear shortly after getting out of bed and got ready to head back to Pittsburgh to spend the afternoon with my family. Lyssa was going to spend the day with some old friends from her hometown, and opted to not accompany me. I started the trip by driving down a few country roads to tank up and get a breakfast that I could eat on the road at Sheetz and promptly discovered why I don't eat there anymore. My bagel sandwich was tasty and cooked properly, but I really would have appreciated not having a piece of waxed paper with the slice of cheese. Sad to say, this is par for the course at that particular Sheetz.

We're still trying to figure out what the hell was going on with the weather in Pittsburgh this weekend. It's late December. Parts of the United States were paralyzed by heavy snowfalls. Consequently, we packed for late December. So why the hell was it 70 degrees Fahrenheit in southwestern Pennsylvania? People were out and about in shorts and t-shirts until the next morning.

After arriving at the old homestead I spent some time showing my mom how to use the MP3 player I got her for Christmas and how to buy MP3 downloads from Amazon. My mom was nice enough to have gone to Giant Eagle an hour or two before I arrived to pick up lunch for me in the form of Chinese takeout. Sure, it's not top-shelf and not from a restaurant, but I'm still leery of my old haunts from the last time I went for Chinese in Pittsburgh (nevermind the fact that the food probably had nothing to do with what happened). Part of the afternoon went to running down the street to Radio Shack ("You've got questions, we've got blank stares") to buy a horribly overpriced USB cable (there, $23us; Micro Center: $6us) so that she could comfortably plug it in to recharge and copy files back and forth (the USB adapter it came with was a repurposed USB converter that broke the first time she tried to use it) without having to reach behind her PC to plug it in, unplug it, and generally fight the tangle of cables that the Geek Squad created while installing it.

I left the homestead early in the evening and set course for Irwin, which is about an hour away to spend some time with Onivel and Tracey, old friends of mine who were at the wedding in October. I've known Onivel for years; in fact, I apprenticed under him (well, de facto apprenticed) in the early years of the millennium in IT when I was still working at Eldervision and cutting my teeth as a sysadmin. He and Tracey periodically have game nights at their place and Lyssa and I had been invited. My GPS lead me in the direction of the Pennsylvania turnpike, so I got there shortly after sundown. After arriving I hung out with Onivel in the kitchen and talked shop for an hour or so, nibbled at the buffet, and joined in a rousing game of Red Dragon Inn, a card game set during the night after the player characters have raided the dungeon, killed the dragon, and looted the whole complex. The object of the game is simple: get the other characters so drunk that they pass out and you can loot their stuff. It's a silly game that can go on for a while, and I'm thinking of picking it up to add to my collection.

The game was interrupted partway through when the pot roast in the oven was done, so we carefully cleared the table and set out places for everyone, most of whose names I don't remember. The pot roast was tasty and amazingly tender, both of which I found odd because I'm not much of a fan of pot roast to begin with. Maybe I'm just not used to it, which is why I found it novel. After clearing everything off we finished the round of Red Dragon Inn and took a break to play Acme Arsenal in the living room on their Wii. Don't get me wrong, it's a fun game and the user interface is very easy to learn, but somehow a four way head-to-head battle between Looney Tunes characters armed with Acme's finest products that doesn't include Wile E. Coyote as a character choice somehow seems wrong to me. We finished off the night playing Killer Bunnies (if I recall correctly), another card game involving bunny rabbits with varying degrees of homocidal psychosis, various and sundry nasty things that can happen to them (or be done to the bunnies of other players), and the hunt for a magical carrot divined through the process of elimination.

It's warped. It's horribly warped. I love it.

I think I left their place shortly before 0100 EST5EDT on Sunday morning and set course for southwestern Pennsylvania and Lyssa's parents' place to catch a few hours of sleep before the drive home. I noticed, while trying to convince my GPS that I could not, in fact, make a left-hand turn across the highway where it advised me to, that the Irwin police like to set speed traps while hiding in parking lots, in particular the customer parking lots of car dealerships. I didn't think that was legal for them to do in the state of Pennsylvania.

By the time I arrived and collapsed into bed it was nearly 0300 EST5EDT on Sunday morning. I tossed and turned a bit (too tired to sleep, perhaps) and finally dozed off to catch a couple of hours of sleep. By 1100 EST5EDT Lyssa had gotten me out of bed to get showered, get ready, and get packed. With her father's help we loaded our stuff into the TARDIS (relocating quite a few things due to the sudden influx of stuff), packed ourselves into the passenger compartment, and hit the highway in the general direction of home. Unfortunately, by the time we left (around 1200 EST5EDT) we didn't beat the traffic headed in the same direction. Per usual it was smooth sailing until we hit Maryland, when the highway backed up for unknown reasons. I maintain that everyone's afraid of a speed trap in exactly the same spot, and everyone else is of the belief that everyone knows something that they don't, so why take the risk? We stopped off for gas just over the Maryland border and used one of the Cracker Barrel gift cards my mother had given us to buy a new cast iron skillet to add to the arsenal of kitchen tools (Lyssa and I have an agreement: I handle the computers and telecom stuff, she handles the kitchen, and so long as I don't try to plug the microwave, fridge, or convection oven into the data network I'm allowed in the pantry). I also stopped off to stretch my back a little because long drives tend to get painful due to the lack of mobility.

We got back to our usual stomping grounds shortly after 1630 EST5EDT. While the rest of the neighborhood hurridly dragged their children back indoors, erected earthworks around their homes, barricaded the doors and windows, and checked to see if their insurance policies covered alien invasions we stopped off at Trader Joe's to buy groceries and stock up for a couple of days this week, including the ingredients for Lyssa's amazing ravioli, grilled chicken, and roast vegetables in balsamic vinegrette dressing (just don't tell my cardiologist). Tired and hungry, we made our stop a quick one. Lyssa put the groceries away while I unloaded everything from the car and tried to clear some walking space in the living room. I tried to stay awake after dinner but somehow didn't manage it; I passed out shortly before 2100 EST5EDT, and after waking up on the couch at 2115 decided that I'd best get to bed.