Friday, January 11, 2013

Home for the holidays.

Should I welcome you back to the blog, or should I be welcoming myself back? I can't decide.

Either way, we're in London. Both Kenz and I are still trying to recover from jet lag. I didn't sleep a wink as we flew over the Atlantic. I guess the upside was being able to get my money's worth out of the in-flight entertainment.

Before we left, Kenz and I made it out to the Winter Wonderland for the second year in a row. Those of you who missed last year's post, the Winter Wonderland is similar to a state fair. The only difference is that it's Christmas themed. We love a good roller coaster, carnival food, and holiday decorations; the Winter Wonderland is a great way for us to kick off the holiday season.

Whereas we wound up having a good time, we did have a false start:

Saturdays are 'date night' for us. We (I) decided that going to the Winter Wonderland for date night would be a great idea. We'd head out there around 6pm, get some festival food, walk around, ride rides, do some Xmas shopping, etc. Honestly, it seemed like a great idea.

I forgot, however, that we live in a city of millions.

We arrived hungry. The lines for each of the food stalls was about fifteen deep, but it didn't matter because the mass of foot traffic didn't allow us to stop along the sides. We just had to walk with the flow. Kenz and I were both miserable, yet too scared to call it off. This was date night. This was the Winter Wonderland. We'd had such a good time last year. We were so excited for this year.

After twenty minutes of getting bumped around, seeing no end in sight to the crowds, and being quite hungry, we bailed.

"Let's just get some food," Kenz said in a tone that I've come to know as 'I sound polite, but this isn't a suggestion...'

We exited Hyde park.

"There's a cool restaurant up the road a bit. Let's just walk to it," I said, trying to quickly give hope to Kenz. We'd have food in just a few minutes...we could still salvage the night.

Two hours and a cab ride later, we were finally resentment-eating at a restaurant on the other side of town. Date night had not gone as planned. In fact, date night had not gone at all.

However, three days later we returned to find a nearly unpopulated Winter Wonderland. We didn't wait in line for a damn thing:

There were several stages for bands. This one was a 70's cover band.

I forced Kenz to pose with statues.

Creepy, no?

Rockabilly band



Kenz ordered fries just so she could use the mayo udder.

The coaster had its own camera. We knew it was coming, so we tried to pose.

We bought a few keychains for stocking stuffers...
I also participated in the first round of a match play disc golf competition before we left. The two most populated clubs, Croydon and Quarry Park, have been doing this for years. First leg is at our home course, second is up in Quarry Park. I'm not sure that it was, but it felt like the coldest day I'd ever played disc golf.

T-shirt, long sleeve t, fleece hoodie, rain jacket, and a fleece hat. And a beard. Still cold. 

8am player's meeting.

Lastly, just before we left, we got a new mattress thanks to my sister and brother-in-law, Kelly and Chris. Belated wedding gifts are pretty awesome. Thanks, y'all!

It arrived rolled up. Who knew?

Having finished in London for the season, we prepped for a return to Knoxville, TN. As usual, we had to get up at the butt crack of dawn for our flight.

Yet another 4:30am wake-up
We arrived without incident to the many creature comforts we'd been pining for: Food, Friends, and Family.
Patti, Pauline, and Charlie met us on arrival.

Patti had Petro's waiting for us at the house! Tastes better than it looks.

Cap'n Crunch, Bagel Bites, and Pawley's Island pimento cheese! Look at the JOY in Kenz's face.

Whitney was babysitting a pup. That brought the total to SEVEN dogs in the house for a night.

Nala and the pup

Apollo and Willow

Dinner with The Ashburns

They didn't realize how big a 'large' was...
My friend, Brian, had undergone shoulder surgery the day before our arrival. He was out of commission for about two weeks. In the meantime, he loaned me his car to scoot around town.

Poor guy was struggling

Gracie kept watch and dispensed meds. 

Brandon, Robert, and Steven

A thrilled Knoxville crew.

They swore they were excited to see me

Before the final holiday shopping/visiting spree began in earnest, a few of us travelled down to Chattanooga for a birthday party. Lots of friends converged on the town from Knoxville and Alabama.

Matthew in the back; Robert driving like a maniac.


Dustin, Brian, and Kimberly

JSoules, Hyram, and Dustin

Me, Emily, Adam, Allen, and Jessica (the birthday girl!)

Naturally, Kenz couldn't resist getting sick while on vacation. Asthma + Allergies + Smoking + Bronchitis = Two trips to the walk-in clinic and One trip to the ER.

Round One at the walk-in clinic
 (I snapped a photo at the ER, but I'm not going to push my luck by including it. It wasn't flattering.)

How do you know you're in the Bible Belt? Just check the books in the waiting room of the walk-in clinic!
Once most of her illness had cleared, we made our way out into town to see the sights, shop for gifts, and visit more folks.

We happened upon a type of critical mass downtown one evening. Knoxvillians were out in the hundreds, all riding bicycles and wearing Christmas lights. People were in holiday costume and there were several riding unique cycles. After meeting in Market Square, they had a parade down Gay street that lasted over ten minutes. I know this because we saw them in Market Square, kept our distance, and then arrived to cross Gay street at the very same moment they approached. At first, we smiled, waited patiently, and took a few photographs. Then, after the first five minutes, the crowd began to blend together and we lost a bit of interest. After another five minutes, we were relieved it was over. I felt bad for being annoyed.

Market Square (this is about 1/3 of the people)

For the first time in my life, I thought, "these people just want attention." A little part of me died; I must be getting old.

We reveled in the - if not Knoxvillian - at least American sights while bouncing around town.

Food on rollers: a delicacy in many regions.

I'm not even sure what ideology this magnet represents

West Town Mall Segway Cops

Mall kiosk advertising

The kiosk employee threatened to make me delete this photo, but acquiesced when she saw that it was only capturing the irony, not the merchandise...

Who knew there were so many pet names for grandparents?

Creepy or the Creepiest?

Kenz and I both giggled at this like schoolchildren. 

There were countless cars with antlers and a Rudolf nose on them. Too many to photograph.
On our way over to Dad and Mel's house for dinner, we stopped by to check out the progress of Kara and Jerry's home. As luck would have it, Jerry was there, checking it out himself! He gave us the grand tour.

Surprise photo!

Above the door, Jerry had written, "Roger, I need a taller door here."

Jerry keeps leftover beer from the wedding in the house's fridge. Slick move.
We got to spend time at Dad's, recommending movies and TV boxed sets to watch. Dad had recently undergone cataract surgery and wasn't allowed to read. In an effort to prevent himself from going crazy, he'd begun watching more television. I took the initiative to purchase a miniseries for them, but, alas, they had already seen it! Ah well...

Obligatory selfie
I wound up spending too much time in the mall during the visit. Steven, Robert, and I decided to get our annual holiday photo booth picture and play some Dance Dance Revolution in the arcade. We're not too old for that, are we?

Steven put Rob and I to shame

We went back to play video games with Steven's brother, Phillip, at the end of the night.
After Brian had recovered enough to get out of the house, Craig, Derrick, and I met him for lunch. Regular Friday lunch at Lenny's.

Derrick sporting his new cap

Buncha dudes

Poor Brian is going to be in that sling for what will surely feel like twenty years
Craig got to show off his new t-shirt.
The Eve of Christmas Eve had me sitting with the sun that brings light to all Christmas Joy: my sister, Kara, who happened to be wearing this headband. Alone. Inside her own house. As she was wrapping presents. Because that's what you do when you're awesome.

Luckily for us, McKenzie's family has always done their traditional holiday festivities on Christmas Eve. Mom and Tom have always done festivities on Christmas day. Aside from the six hour drive on Christmas day, it works out quite well.

In fact, the drive isn't so bad. I'm sure you can imagine how a nice long drive, filled with peace and quiet, is a welcome respite during the holiday.

The Gibson's tree
At the risk of not getting the tone (and, possibly, some of the 'facts') of this story right:

From what I can understand, Patti had decided she wanted a rotisserie turkey for Christmas dinner. She and Michael had gone out and purchased a rotisserie add-on for their grill in preparation for the dinner.

Let me back up: Michael and Patti are, as I have said before, both fabulous cooks. They are constantly making food for us to eat. It's an absolute joy to be in their home. However, a hybrid of respect and I-haven't-been-in-the-family-long-enough-fear usually leaves me taking a back seat in the kitchen. I don't know where all the utensils are, I've still got a mild case of "stay out of the father-in-law's way"(especially in his kitchen), and, frankly, I'm not that good a cook in the first place. So, I usually just try and keep them company while they're cooking. From a distance.

Well, there we were, on Christmas Eve, at 12:35pm, and Michael says he wants to get the Turkey on the rotisserie by 1pm. Sounds good to me, I think. Then he says, "I'm just going to take a shower first."

I take a look at Patti. Then Kenz. Feeling boisterous, I reply, "I've never seen you get ready in less than half an hour!"

He smirks, gives me a look that could've been either good one or shut your mouth and walks off.

At 12:55, he returns to the kitchen and employs my help. Patti, knowing better, exits the room. Kenz has long since returned to her puzzle.

"I can't seem to find any instructions for how to truss the turkey in the instruction manual," he muttered, flipping through the newly-opened document. "Let's just get this thing ready; we gotta get it on there by 1. I don't wanna be waiting till 8 o'clock to eat."

Michael never follows a recipe. Even if someone else has, he'll add a little extra to it. He went through his entire spice cabinet for the turkey. It was awesome to watch (and eat).

Kenz had brined the turkey the night before. She woke up to find that orange peels had been added during the night...
So, Michael and I alternate between holding the turkey and tying the turkey. Both of us wanting to save  the other's face, we nonverbally communicated as we struggled to wrap the bird. We repeated the same behavior while trying to shove the metal rod through the carcass. We uttered half-finished sentences and grunts as we positioned the turkey, unbalanced, on the rod.

I wish I had a photograph of the result. It wasn't pretty.

After trying (and failing) to get it to spin on the grill, we realized we'd have to bring it back inside and re-'stick' it. Patti had returned. She and Michael bickered and pushed each others' buttons with the type of efficacy that only comes with decades of marriage. I stood there, not knowing what to do.

We tried (and failed) again.

More bickering; more buttons pushed. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas began playing in my head.

Then, out of nowhere, as Michael returned to the instruction manual, I remembered the Internet has all the answers (and had the courage to try and take the driver's seat in Michael's kitchen). I googled 'truss and rotisserie a turkey' and, within thirty seconds, Michael and I were watching a how-to video. Five minutes after that, we had the most perfectly trussed turkey spinning on the grill!

Kenz now claims that they bought this entirely new grill for the rotisserie. Either way, Michael has FOUR grills out back.
Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bob showed up. Whitney even dressed Nala up for the occasion. Dinner was ready; it was time to get down to business. 

Note the Thanksgiving stuffing that I made for the night

My first (of two) plates. 

Bob, Kathy, and Patti

The dogs were hoping for droppings

Nala in her Christmas coat
Post-dinner gifts!

Bailey, the smaller of the two Westies, is Michael's dog. She goes everywhere with him. She helped him open gifts.

Uncle Bob and Aunt Kathy got Kenz a beard to match mine for Xmas. Whitney tried it on as well.

Happy Christmas!
The next morning, Kenz and I both woke, on accident, at 4:45am. Too excited to go back to sleep, we decided to get on the road to South Carolina. Of course, not before waking up everyone to say goodbye. Patti crawled out of bed, exclaiming, "Wait, wait! Stockings!" She sent us on our way, at 5:15, with hugs and stocking stuffers.

As usual, Kenz helped with the driving:

We stopped at Waffle House for lunch:

We arrived in record time to Mom & Tom's house and immediately checked movie times for Les Miserables.

MOMA and Tom had taken Kara and I to see the play when we were super young, and it has been our favorite ever since. So, instead of doing Christmas brunch...or gifts...we left the house, got our movie tickets... and ate lunch at Shoney's while we waited on the movie to start. Quite a nontraditional holiday.

Despite our lunch break, we still arrived an hour before the film started. The theatre had just let out. MOMA was determined to get the best seats in the house; she insisted that we go in before the employees began cleaning it. Folks, the credits were still rolling when she and Tom walked in. She told me later that they had lifted their legs for the employees to sweep underneath their seats. What gall!

The velvet rope to the left is where the line for the next showing was supposed to start. And there's MOMA, opening the door while the previous showing is still ending.
Kenz and I stopped to get popcorn. They went in. By the time we had our snack, a line had formed. We weren't going to break decorum, so we just joined the line and said things like, "can you believe she did that" do each other for twenty minutes.

The irony is that MOMA and Tom did get the best seats in the house - if it's not Les Miserables on Christmas Day in Summerville, South Carolina. We had the seats on the front row of the aisle where people can enter and exit the theatre. By the second hour, after the fortieth person had gotten up to go to the bathroom, I nudged MOMA and asked her if she still thought they were the best seats in the house.

The critics haven't been too thrilled with the movie. All I'll say is that, when we left, Tom said that, surprisingly, he didn't fall asleep. He had twenty-two years ago while watching the stage performance. That's gotta count for something.

 That evening, we ate dinner and finally got to presents.

Effective improvisation. No one'll notice.

The parents watching Gangnam Style for the first time

Twice baked!

Probably 17K lights. Just a guess.

What's a girl gotta do to prove she's sticking around long enough to get her name embroidered?

We ate the traditional Christmas brunch the next day...

Frittata instead of juevos 'raunchies'

 Then, for the next three days, we played games.

Kenz played Lego's

I failed miserably (almost impossibly) at Rummikub

MOMA earned money off me in Scrabble
During the few days we were there, MOMA insisted that I teach them how to 'do a blog'. You see, they're about to take a little trip, and they want to document it:

In one week, the two of them will drive to Florida.
The next day, they'll board a cruise ship.
That ship will be at sea for four weeks, finally arriving in New Zealand.
They'll spend five weeks touring NZ.
They'll board different cruise ship.
That ship will be at sea for another four weeks, finally arriving in Seattle.
They'll spend several days in Bend, visiting Kikster, Jamie, and Lucy.
They'll then rent a car and drive from Oregon to South Carolina.

(MOMA can't fly)

I don't have the energy to write, with sufficient detail, the gnashing of teeth, yelling, sighing, double-sighing, venting, tantruming, walking away, stomping, and pouting that went into teaching them (MOMA) how to blog. A picture is worth a thousand words.

I will say this:

I've been told for years, by all four of my parents, that I'll 'understand' when I have kids - that me having kids will be their best revenge. I got a taste of it during these (several) lessons. To preface:

When I was in fourth or so grade, MOMA would be sitting on the front porch of the house, waiting on me to get home from the bus. She'd be holding a ball. I would be filled with dread.

We'd stand in the front yard, she would throw me the ball, and then recite a multiplication problem. I was supposed to give her the answer by the time I caught it. We wouldn't go in the house until I'd done 1-12 out of order. That's right - we'd warm up in order (1x1, 1x2, 1x3...2x1, 2x2, 2x3...8x1, 8x2, 8x3...12x1, 12x2, 12x3...), and then she'd switch it on me (6x4, 12x5, 9x7...)

It. was. torture.

She did it with Kara, too. I'd seen it before. Kara would be in tears. MOMA would be there, stern, holding the ball, saying, "you're going to learn these." To this day, Kara's ace at multiplication.

Me...not so much. Call it perseverance.

That was what it was like teaching MOMA how to 'do a blog'. Only this time, the shoe was on the other foot. I was the one sitting there, patient, stern, saying, "you're going to learn how to do this," and forcing her to review the next day.

Tom picked it up pretty quick.

They called me yesterday morning; MOMA 'did a blog' all on her own. I'll be sure to post the link here once they've begun their trip.


Owen calling from London!

The Ruckers in NC

The Sanders/Mitchells in Hong Kong! (Sans Sam)

Kikster in Oregon!
The last bits of time in South Carolina were spent going to another movie (The Guilt Trip, which was relevant to us - it's about a son driving cross country with his mom) and taking down decorations.

A scene in the movie has the mother being obnoxious about her coupon for a car rental - a very funny scene. After we left, MOMA suggested dinner at a specific restaurant because she had a coupon. It was one of those moments of synchronicity where everyone what she was saying as she was saying it. We lost it.

I can't tell if she's angry at me for taking the picture or at having to break down her Lego's set.
And, of course, we spent the last night playing more games.

The four of us then loaded into cars and drove to Lake Lure, NC to stay in a cabin with Kara, Jerry, Lisa, Sandy, Tony, Sam, Quin, and Zora. Of course, I can't drive through North Carolina without making a pit stop in Hendersonville.

Obligatory lunch at the old hangout

Camp Pinnacle: the most beautiful patch of Earth that ever existed.

This is the spot I was going to propose to Kenz, but the day I got the ring, I said, "This is silly! Why should I wait? I want to get engaged now! We might be dead tomorrow!" I drove straight to her house from the jeweler. 

Council Ring is still standing

Some new additions

I'll be going to a wedding in Guatemala in February. The man getting married made this sign. We go way back.

Then it was more gifts, more food, and more games!

The approach to our rental

Pretty sweet digs!

The view. Too bad it wasn't warmer or we would've taken the boat out.


MOMA, dental hobbyist





Sam, Quin, and Zora - much more interested in gifts than dinner.

Sandy's birthday cake! 


Several years ago, MOMA went shopping for Kara. Instead of purchasing the jewelry in the display case, she talked the store owner into selling her the porcelain display hand. MOMA gave that hand to Kara. Of all the years of all the bad gifts, the hand was, by far, the most outrageous. It is the stuff of legend.

When it comes to gifts, MOMA is Babe Ruth. Ruth had the most home runs during his time...but he had the most strike outs as well.

This year, Kara, Jerry, Kenz, and I gifted her two antique rubber glove molds. Two hands. One from each of us.

They were wrapped separately

She thought the first was a good joke.

I think she got confused when she opened the second. 

Ironically, MOMA and Kara got the same t-shirt for me this year. That's right - I have two shirts like the one you see in the picture. Kara got this 'matching' one for Kenz. 
 The rest of the two days went as you'd expect:

Apparently the gifts the Aunts and Uncles got the kids worked out well.


Get a room!

Under the table was, apparently, the place to be


Copious amounts of laughter

More games! Note Tom's 'FML'.

The last morning. Car's packed. Kenz and I stay for two more hours of games before we drive away. (everyone else had several more days in NC)
We spend New Year's Eve in traditional KenzDave fashion: doing absolutely nothing.



Michael and Patti had friends over on New Year's Day for tamales and football. It was equal parts awesome and delicious:

Whitney was puppy sitting again

So good
Charlie is scared of my face and beard. The entire trip, he'd cry if I got too close to him. No one else. Just me. 

Then, at the end of the trip, we made our final rounds:

Fondue with the Bushmans

Football with the Gibsons

Lunch with the boys

And another dinner with The Ashburns (only this time with 'medium' margaritas)

Goodbyes are never easy.

Kenz spending her last hour with Apollo... I carry down the bags and load the car.

Whitney took her lunch break to ride with us to the airport. 

I trapped Kenz in the line with all the bags

This face was for no reason other than to make a funny face. NO ONE ON EARTH makes better faces.

Her doing what I couldn't. And I was jealous. 

That's all, folks. 

In the future, I'm going to try and not go away for an entire month, because this update took too damn long! I hope you had a wonderful time with your families and friends. We did with ours. It was great to see everyone. By the way, Aunt Camille and Uncle Ronnie - next time I'm getting a picture! You're too elusive for the blog! 

Have a great weekend. Thanks for making it to the end.