Friday, January 24, 2014

December in the States

I'll be honest: it's hard to write this particular update. I make no excuses for my homesickness. Most of you who are regular readers know that I've experienced bouts of it ever since we moved here. Returning from the land of milk and honey is usually a challenge, but the winter return is always the hardest. Not only do we arrive to the cold, wet, gray bitterness that is London in January, but we leave a whirlwind of friends, family, holiday cheer, and - at least - heartwarmth behind. If I'm not careful, I can mope around, morose, jetlagged, and earning a gold medal in "duvet-diving."

Reviewing these month-old pictures doesn't help. Alas, the show must go on...


The return trip started with an all too early flight, as usual. We woke at 4:15, arrived at Heathrow at 6am, got through security, and were on the plane by 7am. Kenz immediately started watching a movie. By 7:45, we were asked to "deplane" because Heathrow's air traffic control computer system had, apparently, been hacked. By 9am, we took off, equipped with the knowledge that we had already missed our connecting flight to Knoxville; at least Kenz's movie stayed on pause in the meantime. Good thing we woke up so early. What would've been a 2pm touchdown in Knoxville was now in peril of becoming an overnight stay in Washington DC.

Not impressed.

We didn't let it get our spirits down too much. After all, we were headed back for Christmas - and, for us, that's a good thing! Luckily, we enjoy spending prolonged amounts of time with our family(ies).

Kenz ran into a problem as we were landing in DC. We were sitting in a row of three seats; Kenz had the window, I was in the middle, and a perfect stranger had the aisle seat. Each person's television monitor would pause when the pilot or flight attendant made an announcement. Well, the final announcements - the ones that take forever to complete - happened to pause McKenzie's move at a relatively inappropriate time.

She tried her best to cover the screen, laughing uncontrollably.

After the announcements were finished, Kenz dropped what she was using to cover the screen only to find out that the screens had been paused for the remainder of the flight. We taxied to the gate with a bare ass on Kenz's screen.

Turns out few people travel during the first weekend of December. We nearly had Dulles to ourselves.

We missed our connecting flight, but lucked out and got on a later one. A four hour layover in this airport means one thing: Five Guys. We were welcomed with plenty of fries & grease.

We landed at 7pm. And, after twenty hours of travel, we did what anyone would want to do: we went to a birthday party! That's right - Kenz's dad, Michael, picked us up from the airport and drove us straight to Whitney's where friends and family were gathering to celebrate.

Happy Birthday, Whit! 

Despite the exhaustion, it was nice to be reunited with friendly faces, eat some snacks, and watch some college football. We only stayed about an hour - our early departure was widely understood, thankfully.


We usually don't travel on a Saturday; dealing with the amount of people traveling to or from vacation is what some would call "leading with the chin." However, the hidden plus side of traveling in on Saturday is that people don't have a valid excuse to say "no" to me popping by on Sunday. Thus, the December in the States Tour de Force began. After running to the store to get my pre-paid phone for the month, I stopped by to see Kara (Jerry was out of town) and Brian.

The flip-flop-slippers make another appearance on the blog. 

Kara went big on the holiday decorating this year. Combining one part new house and two parts holiday party equals a house with decorations everywhere - including two trees. The upstairs tree was the "classy" [read: BORING] one, while the downstairs tree (my fav, pictured) had all the family ornaments on it. We grew up with several Christmas rituals - one of which was decorating the tree together, so she took pride in pulling various ornaments off the tree to show me that she was taking good care of the ones MOMA had handed down to her. It was legit.

Me watching Brian watch football. 

Brian's wife, Jessica, was out of the house, at rehearsal for the high school musical (Guys 'n' Dolls) she was directing, so it was just Brian, his cat, his computer, and the NFL Red Zone channel. Granted, I've never played fantasy football (nor taken an overwhelming interest in the NFL itself), but the NFL Red Zone channel is amazingly addictive. The channel switches to whatever game has a team that's about to score, so it's constant action. Before I knew it, we'd spent nearly three hours staring at this screen. Well - Brian was staring at two screens: the television and his computer, which had the ongoing results of his four fantasy football match-ups. We found time to catch up between snaps.

That evening, the Gibsons had an impromptu "welcome home/happy birthday" steak dinner. Whitney brought her new boyfriend, Michael, over and the six of us shared an evening of food, stories, and laughter.

"I need a picture of this for Owen." - Me

Whit's got fantastic table manners.

Patti is in the picture - hiding behind Whitney - you can see her head behind Whit's shoulder.
The following evening, we headed over to the Bushman's for an early Christmas fondue dinner. I say early Christmas - it wasn't scheduled as an early Christmas dinner - but Kenz and I weren't about to make Charlie and Mark keep their gifts wrapped any longer than they had to. Pauline and Nathan acquiesced, thankfully.

However, first, Mark wanted to show off his new piano skills!

Apparently Kenz won the day by getting Charlie his own cookware set. Who knew a two year-old would love to bang pots and pans together?

Mark got a Spiderman web-slinging glove and proceeded to promise that he would never shoot it in the house...

That lasted about ten minutes...

...until he snuck in a quick shot on Dad.

"But it was an accident." 
It was like watching myself at that age. I bet I said it was "an accident" three thousand times as a kid, and I bet my parents believed me about twice. Once the toys had been exhausted, it was time for dinner.

Good times

Every face in this picture tells its own story. 

"The water's too hot." ... "I'll get you some gloves."
We finished the night having so much fun playing board games that I forgot to photograph the event. However, just before leaving, I found what might be my favorite thing hanging on the Bushman's walls:


We got out for a delightful brunch with Aunt Camille and Uncle Ronnie on Wednesday. It was one of those meals wherein you sit down, order, start chatting, and then the next thing you know, an hour and a half has passed. The four of us are never at a loss for words when spending time together - evidence of what good company they are. 

Aunt Camille, perennial awesome gift giver, gave us a tiny spatula, "for that first brownie out of the pan." (she reads the blog!) 

I'd volunteered to take care of Kara & Jerry's dog, Pepper, for a night while the two of them were out of town. The night before, Kenz and I dropped by to learn all of Pepper's habits and to show Kara how to cook a steak.

The face of intense focus.

Kenz and I debated the finer points of chicken, fish, and steak preparation. Sure, she's been in the cooking game much longer than I have, but I'm the one that eats it! I think Kara learned more about how Kenz and I bicker than she did how to cook a ribeye.

Dinner is served!

Brian came by on Friday afternoon to help me walk the dog.

Kara claimed that Pepper was usually good for a half-hour walk, but why the time we got to the last hill, Pepper simply stopped. She didn't budge for about five minutes. Brian looked at his watch, "Well, it has been forty minutes..."

Pepper got some good rest that night.

And, lucky for me, I didn't have to sleep in their home alone. My buddy, PCAIN, stopped by on his way from Newport to Nashville. Perfect timing. We spent the evening eating leftovers and catching up.

I headed down to Chattanooga on Saturday in order to visit friends Kimberly and Jason. The three of us trade off visits - they came up to Knoxville to hang in September. We did what we do best: ate some food and spent some good old fashioned QT together. 

They'd just upgraded their phones - lots of screen time and discussions about new features.

"So you're going to do what you do to Kenz and get a picture of me eating?" - Kimberly

You may think Leo's being a sweet pup...

...but he's really keeping an eye on Callie.

The next morning, Jason and I took Leo for a walk around Stringer's Ridge. I'm always a bit jealous of folks who can unleash their dogs when hiking around trails like this one. It's not that I doubt I'll ever be able to walk with one of our dogs sans leash (although, that may be a stretch)... it's that, for someone living in a megametropolis, the idea of driving ten minutes, opening the car door to the side of a mountain, and going for an hour long stroll in the woods - with an unleashed dog bounding around full of joy - is an enviable thought.

It was Sunday, so we took a right.


The top of the ridge offers a sweet view of Chattanooga.

It may not be the most inspiring skyline, but it'll do.

Trying to get Leo to hop from one stump to the next, unsuccessfully.

I don't know how many of you suffer from what I call the "grass is greener" syndrome. It often afflicts those who know they're going to be moving sometime in the next 1-5 years and the symptoms include, but aren't limited to:
  • Constantly evaluating new cities
  • Asking those one visits about the day-to-day life in said city
  • Asking those one visits how long they plan to live in said city 
  • Regularly comparing this "new" city to the current one, often out loud
  • Thinking, "I could do this. I could live in [insert city name]."
  • Spending anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 days lobbying one's partner to consider a move "when the time is right," citing the three best things of the new city and how they parallel what the two of you are looking for in the next move (Each city's features are, invariably, about the same, yet each "new" city trumps the last for at least a day).
  • Using stock phrases like, "[Insert city name] has a lot going for it," or "You know, I really think you'd love [city]."
  • A hefty amount of daydreaming & whimsy.

I've been living with "grass is greener" syndrome for the past decade. It's not that I don't, or haven't, enjoyed where I've/we've lived - it's that I've always known we'll eventually be leaving. Impermanence can be exhausting sometimes. Granted, nothing beats London, but "grass is greener" cares not how happy you are - only that you'll eventually be moving. It attacks ever time I visit Chattanooga. I even sent Kenz a text twenty minutes after arriving that read, "Can we move to Chattanooga, like, yesterday?"


Random Photo Break:

Our tix to Guys 'n' Dolls. We were the resident West End theatre critics (and gave it two thumbs up; congrats, Jessica!).

They're so over my camera.

Brian kept me company while I shopped for Kenz.

Sundown in the Old City

Monday Night Football at Roosters.

Screen time!

I got to help Kara with a work project...

...Melissa tried to help.

Evening catch up with the Gibsons!


Kara and Jerry have been co-hosting a tacky Christmas sweater party with their friends, Whitney and Jake Heins, for several years - as in, since before it was all the rage. Partly a testament to how long they've been hosting it is the fact that it's not simply about the sweaters any more; these days, people treat it like a Christmas costume party. We've had the pleasure of attending one of these parties, about two or three years ago, wherein we found out just how serious folks take this party. 

Why do they take it seriously? Because awards. 

Kenz wasn't going to be outdone this year. We headed out one afternoon for a marathon of last minute gift shopping couched between various stops to get assorted accessories for Kenz's costume.

She wasn't going to forget.

No matter where she is, Kenz will find sushi.

And, no matter how busy she is, Kenz will stop to pet a dog. 

What was Kenz's costume idea? Elf on the Shelf.

Patti had kept her mother's Elf on the Shelf from way back in the day and tradition mandated that the Elf made an appearance each year while Kenz and Whit were growing up. The thing is that these days, the Elf looks kinda cute - but it's a reboot - the original Elf looks creeeepy. Kenz said it did more to scare her than bring holiday cheer when she was young. It continues to make an appearance to this day.

The resemblance is uncanny.

Standard Elf position

I, on the other hand, did not invest too much time in my 'costume'. I played it off by saying I wanted the more subtle, nuanced approach to the tacky Christmas sweater, opting for the homemade dickie underneath a white sweater a la Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation. I figured it'd be a nice nod to an all-time holiday movie; little did I know my cousin Drew was going to way outdo me later on in the evening. We'll get there.

Whitney and Michael decided to go the "twinsies" route, wearing matching full-body-fleeces (with booties built in!).

We got to the party early and caught Kara putting the finishing touches on her "outfit" - wrapping a tree skirt around her waist.

So cousin Drew makes a much better cousin Eddie:

Jerry tended bar like a pro. He organizes everything, including impromptu bottles at a makeshift bar. 

Erik's shoes, hand-decorated by Alicia...

The entire outfit - more hand-decorated elements. (Alicia & Erik)

The time came to give out awards. The prizes were handled in a "white elephant" fashion, wherein the winner gets to choose a gift/prize or steal someone else's.

The awards committee, sans Jerry.

Too dark, but there were about fifty people there.

Best homemade, female.

Best homemade, male.

Most outrageous - double winners.

Drew's "prize"


She sat, perched, all night - in character. She won a chia pet: "I've always wanted one of these!"

Going to house parties isn't really a "thing" of mine, especially when I'm sure I'll only know about seven people there. Add in a holiday element and you're even less likely to find me. Nevertheless, the annual tacky Christmas sweater party hosted by the Ashburn/Heins team is boss enough to pull me out of my hermit hole. Twas a successful evening of great finger foods, company, laughter, and costumes. Kudos to the hosts for having such great friends - makes for a much less awkward/much more enjoyable holiday themed house party!


One afternoon, Michael was driving along the highway with one of his coworkers, CJ. The two of them saw a bird swoop right in front of the car; the "hit" was unavoidable, but neither of them knew what kind of bird it was. They continued to drive.

CJ guessed it was a chicken.

About an hour later, the two stopped at their destination and found a hawk lodged in the grill. Like, a bird of prey. The next day, CJ had tied a rubber chicken to the grill of the car. Michael drove the car like this for the remainder of our visit.


Whenever I'm in town during wrestling season, I have an open invitation to attend Bearden High School's wrestling practices. Donnie and I met each other before adolescence because our sisters used to clog together. Then, in high school, we'd catch up as we ran into each other at various wrestling tournaments, each representing different schools. We later wrestled together at Maryville College while, at the same time, becoming qualified TSSAA referees for extra cash. Eventually, Donnie was named head coach at Bearden and asked me to come along and be his assistant. We made a great team his first two years on the job, but I abandoned him to move to Raleigh in 2009. Strangely, the team improved dramatically upon my departure (in this case, correlation may well explain causation). They're positioned to have several individuals place high in the state tournament this year and just won their district. I struggled to keep up with the young 'uns, not being as spry as I once was, and wound up throwing my back out on the third day of practice. My attendance was spotty after that, but it didn't stop me from dropping by to see his new house and two daughters (sadly his wife, Jessica, was at work). 

Olivia, Anna, and Donnie

Bailey and Bo

These two are in the running for "most adorable."

See what I mean?

We're around a lot of friends with kids these days, but it's still a trip to see any of them in action. Donnie and I ruminated on parenthood, family, mortgages, and wrestling for about an hour or so as he gave me the tour of the house and tended to his daughters' needs. 


Dad & Mel came in town for a night in order to have a Christmas dinner with Kara, Jerry, Kenz, and I. Kara & Jerry have a line on a specialty delivery service that will get food from any restaurant in town, so they opted to introduce us to The Cheesecake Factory. The restaurant is relatively new to Knoxville, so none of the rest of us were familiar with the breadth of the menu or portion size. We spent as much time talking about the Factory as we did anything else. It don't know, exactly, what it says about our family, but it sure doesn't take much to entertain us. I'm pretty sure that's a good thing.

Making use of the kitchen.

Kenz is engaged in an ongoing battle with the Ashburns about recycling. Whenever we visit, she goes behind them and picks through their trash to examine whether or not anything can go into the recycling bin instead. 

She's often disappointed with what she finds, scolding her hosts and getting into arguments about "recycling," "the environment," and "our childrens' future." 

Jerry, loving brother-in-law that he is, took a picture of the trash can after we'd left the house. You can guess what was in there. 

Examining the fare

We spent five minutes just standing there, discussing what we ordered and how much food there was.

Seriously. I put my salad in a serving bowl so it didn't fall off my plate. 

It got quiet once we sat...

The gift exchange begins.

Apparently Jerry's a good listener when it comes to his in-laws. On a previous visit to their house, Melinda mentioned that she wanted this rubber mat-thing that Kara and Jerry use to keep their dirty shoes in; it sits by the garage door. 

Well, she got it.

Laughter ensued.

Admiring it, planning on where she's going to put it.

Furthermore, Jerry noted that Dad has an affinity for Steak 'n' Shake. One can only imagine the trouble he went through to acquire that hat. 

All in all, a fantastic night.


Kenz and I have really lucked out in the "holidays with the family" department. We both like our in-laws, coasting through without any awkward moments, and essentially feel fully integrated into each family. We recognize that's like hitting the lottery. 

But, on top of that, the scheduling works out quite well: The Gibsons do their Christmas activities on the Eve and Mom & Tom do Christmas on the Day. 

We may be the last to arrive on Christmas day, considering the fact that we have to get up and drive seven hours on Christmas morning, but it's hardly a sacrifice. In fact, Kenz and I have come to enjoy the mini road trip, listening to year-end podcasts, eating at the same Waffle House, and having just a few hours to ... exhale. No matter how much you love your family, a bit of alone time never hurt anyone. 


The Eve

Michael and I began the day with our second annual "watch the YouTube video to re-learn how to truss and spit this turkey," which includes the two of us struggling, with intertwined arms not unlike a pretzel, until the turkey is set well enough for Michael to go to town on it. By "go to town," I mean, "open up the spice pantry and shake every single container onto the turkey."

This process can last upward of an hour - just the application of spices. It's fantastic.


"I think next year, we need to set a limit on gifts. This is absurd." - Michael Gibson (seconded by everyone)

Whitney, Michael, and the two dogs (Nala and Jack) arrived in enough time for the four of us "kids" to relax downstairs as the final meal preparations were being made. 


Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bobby arrived from Kingsport

Giving Michael the 20 Questions treatment

Apollo & Willow, hoping to catch a shred of beef, lamb, or turkey.

Sunset means mealtime!

Stuffing, scalloped potatoes, meats, collared greens, cranberries, and gravy!

Somebody has to fix a plate first!

I love a good in-house buffet line.

Submitted for approval.

I don't mess around.

The face of holiday cheer (note Apollo just behind his right hand).

Willow helped open gifts.

Kenz made a scrapbook of Whitney's visit; it took her nearly two weeks and weighs 30lbs.

Jack sat there all night.

All night. Jack's a momma's boy.

Kara got Kenz this purse last year. Kenz used it every day and wore it out. Whit got her the exact same one as a replacement. Nailed it.

Picture time!

Ruining pictures since 1983 (prom pose!)

The eight of us spent the remainder of the evening as I assume many of you did: returning for nibbles of pie, turkey, and stuffing, before finally slipping into a food coma for the evening. 


The Day

Up and at 'em by 6am, Kenz and I were off in our rental car, packed to the brim with luggage and gifts. After her annual nap from Knoxville to western North Carolina, Kenz woke to open a gift I'd been saving from our friends, Brian & Jessica: homemade salted caramel!

She didn't waste any time.

Christmas Day at the Waffle House

She orders an egg & cheese sandwich, but slathers on absurd amounts of mayo & pickles.

MOMA and Tom often opt to rent a house for Christmas now that the family has expanded to its current size. Despite protestations from her kids that we'd be happy to stay in a neighboring hotel, MOMA insists that we all sleep "under the same roof, by God!" Between Mom & Tom, there are 7 kids and 9 grandkids. There's hardly ever a year where we're all together at the same time - scheduling that is nearly impossible, especially with a blended family - but there are a few days when we have the majority of folks together. The time is usually spent in "friendly" competition for each others' money and a healthy blend of laughing at and with each other. 

The house was on Kiawah Island this year.

We arrived in time for lunch.

But, before long, it was time for the Sanders gift rotation. MOMA insists that we each open one gift at a time. Not that we all open one gift concurrently - no, one gift. at. a. time. It makes for a marathon of unwrapping - especially when there's 13 people in the same room. And the Gibsons wonder why I have a phobia about opening gifts in front of people. 

Quin got an indoor helicopter earlier that morning and couldn't wait to show me (I was jealous).


Zora, MOMA, and Sandy



Kenz got gendered gifts for everyone in attendance. The girls got socks. The boys got hats and "shorts" for the sailing trip we were all about to embark on in the new year (more about that later). 

Sailing hats

Tom, the captain, got a more appropriate hat.

Galileo's first Christmas!

MOMA's wrapping style.

Kenz wore pajamas all day. Maybe even all week.

Lisa & Galileo

A gift for me that wound up working better on Kenz

MOMA always strikes out on at least one gift. That's nothing unusual; we all strike out at least once per year, I'd say. However, when MOMA strikes out, she strikes out hard, while swinging for the fences - like Babe Ruth hard. I won't go into a litany of previous misses (I'd be here all day). Kenz and Kara have been the regular recipients of these gifts, and this year Kenz decided to lean into it by preemptively buying a MOMA gift for MOMA. Below is a picture of the dress MOMA got Kenz (which was returned; strikeout) along with the leg warmers "we" got her. 

Part of the problem with one person opening one gift at a time is that there are 12 other people watching you open it; if you're a horrible liar (like Kara or Kenz), then there's little you can do to mask the fact that what you've just unwrapped will immediately be returned the first chance you get.

Several people nodded out. To their credit, this dragged on...and on...and on.

Once the gifts were finished, we retired to our usual holiday activity. I can't add too much commentary to the following pictures, because - like usual - the three or four days after Christmas with Mom, Tom, & Co. is always about the same: a nonstop montage packed with laughter, competition, jokes, gambling, food, and more laughter. It's nonstop. I mean tearful, bellyaching laughter. The kind that makes you sore the next day.

Triple solitaire

Tom and Galileo

The dice game!

Quin, the first victor!

Lisa won the dice game as I cared for Galileo; I told her tipping the babysitter was good manners.

Quick side note about the above picture: I now have 9 nieces and nephews. All but two, however, are between the ages of 5 - 20, which means when they were babies, I wasn't all that cognizant of ... "baby stuff." I wasn't thinking about having kids, I wasn't around infants, I had no idea what that life was all about, etc. Furthermore, I was scared to hold babies; I figured I'd do something wrong, like drop them on their heads, for starters. Don't get me wrong - I've always loved kids. I was a camp counselor for over ten years ... but babies were an altogether different issue. But, in the past year, I've had the joy of becoming an uncle twice over. Living in London has prevented me from getting to meet them, so I was pretty stoked to return this season, knowing I'd get to hang with both. Galileo was the first and I'll be damned if he isn't the most pleasant little baby I've ever met. And, now that I'm not as scared of babies as I used to be (don't jump to any conclusions - we're not there yet), I was really looking forward to holding him. 

But, I'm sure you know how it goes: put a baby in a room full of family and that baby becomes the hottest ticket in town. You gotta be aggressive if you think you're gonna get to hold that thing. So - that's why I cared for Galileo during the dice game. I knew it was my chance - everyone wants to be in on the dice game - so I seized it and walked him around the house, trying (in vain) to remember lullabies. 

I didn't drop him. But he was heavy. 

Risk! (MOMA won for the first time ever).

(Another game of) Risk!  (Jerry & Kenz's first game - they wound up being the final two; Jerry won; it took 90 hours).

Uneasy alliance.
Our nights are usually spent around the main event: Texas Hold 'em or Tripoli. On the third night, however, we opted for a different game altogether. Lisa called the game "Attiturk," but mentioned there are several names for the game. I'll call it "Frustrate the Fam." Rules of the game:

  • Split participants into teams via random selection (names out of a hat).
  • Each player writes three names down on separate sheets of paper, folds them, and puts them into Bowl A. These can be any name - movie star, old friend from school, politico, musician, neighbor, etc. [So, for example, if you have 9 people, then there will be 27 names in Bowl A - 3 per participant.]
  • Once all the names are in Bowl A, Round 1 begins. 
  • Round 1: Descriptions [Easy]
    • Each team has a designated Speaker; the rest of the team guesses. Opposing teams stay quiet. 
    • Each team is allotted an amount of time (our first game was two minutes; second game was one minute).
    • The speaker draws a name from Bowl A and proceeds to describe the person whose name is on the card using any words except the name on the card. 
    • Once that name has been guessed, the card goes into Bowl B. 
    • Speaker repeats process until time has expired. 
    • Points are earned for correct guesses. You cannot "pass" on a name, no matter whether or not your Speaker knows the name on the card.
    • When the Speaker's time has expired, the next team continues to draw from Bowl A.
    • Round 1 finishes once all names have been transferred from Bowl A to Bowl B. This may happen before all the teams have had a chance to compete. This may happen in the middle of a Speaker's turn. Either way, once Bowl A has been exhausted, Round 2 begins immediately - sometimes causing the rules to change mid-turn (so the Speaker immediately stops talking and begins acting a la Round 2).
  • Round 2: Charades [Medium]
    • Teams may rotate between Speaker/Actor if they so choose. 
    • Actor draws a name from Bowl B and proceeds to give silent clues about the name on the card. 
    • Once that name has been guessed, the card goes into Bowl A.
    • Actor repeats process until time has expired. 
    • Points are earned for correct guesses. You cannot "pass" on a name.
    • When the Actor's time has expired, the next team continues to draw from Bowl B. 
    • Round 2 finishes once all names have been transferred from Bowl B back to Bowl A. Again, this may happen before all teams have had a chance to compete in the round. This may happen during the middle of an Actor's turn. No matter what, once Bowl B has been exhausted, Round 3 begins. 
  • Round 3: Single word [Hard]
    • Teams choose a Speaker. 
    • Speaker draws a name from Bowl A and is allowed to speak one word and only one word
    • Once that name has been guessed, feel free to throw the card away. This is the last round, and you're likely tired of the names by this point. 
    • Speaker repeats process until time expires. 
    • Points are earned for correct guesses. You cannot "pass" on a name
    • Once time expires, the next team continues to draw from Bowl A. 
Once Round 3 finishes, tally the points and declare a winner. The beauty (& peril) of the game is that you're using the same set of names throughout three rounds. Ideally, by the time you've reached the third round, you'll "know" the names since you've heard them twice already. Ideally. It helps to have teammates with a good memory, whose knowledge spans the breadth of all cross-sections of human history, and who are good at giving clues. [Translated: no one]

"Are we really going to play this? Seems like poker would be a lot easier." - essentially everyone

Tony, Kenz, and Sandy

Jerry, Kara, and Tom

I should've kept my camera handy for the duration of this evening. I mean, looking at pictures of other people acting out charades can only be so funny ... but, c'mon, this is a picture of Tom acting like a frog in order to get his team to guess the name Frodo Baggins:




"MOMA's critiquing my scooping technique!" - Kara

As with anything good, Christmas came to an end. On a positive note, however, I'd returned the rental car and we got to ride back to Knoxville with Kara and Jerry. 

This occurred within 10 minutes and lasted until lunch.

Obligatory WaHo stop; Kara hadn't been in over a decade. 


Random photo break:

Presented without commentary

Where my 90's kids at?


Maybe I'm forgetting things, but I thought a Silverback was a gorilla?

Apollo's happy to remind me of whose couch this is.

Murphy and I have a contentious relationship.

Double dogs.

The wrap-around line, waiting to see Santa on Dec 22nd.


There's lots of little things I appreciate about the relationship McKenzie and I have - the kind of stuff I don't think about on a daily basis but get reminded of every now and again. Our mutual indifference to New Year's Eve is one of those things. Our first New Year's together was spent on the couch, just the two of us, playing video games. We repeated that the next year. We've never been to a party. I think Kenz has fallen asleep before the ball dropped at least once. Stuff like that. 

It's not that we don't like it. We just don't get hype for it. Call us boring, but at least we're boring together. What a headache it would be if one of us was pulling the other "out" on the most obnoxious of nights. 

This year, Michael and Patti decided to cook good food. I may be indifferent to NYE, but I have strong feelings about surf 'n' turf. 


Get some MEAT in your life! 


Obviously it's absurd to have so many pictures of food on this blog, but ... well, I'm the editor, so I'll do what I want.

I'm not sure I've ever mentioned this before, but this always happens: The entire Gibson family finishes dinner and cleaning before I'm done with my meal. It always happens. Now, that wouldn't be so strange if I was a particularly slow eater - but I'm not. I don't talk incessantly during the meal. I don't count how many times I chew my bites. I just eat. Normally. Some would even say fast. 

But every time, the whole fam damily is cleaning the kitchen before I even realize what's happening. I often feel guilty that I'm not helping clean, but, by God, I'm still eating! It's good food! And then I'm reminded that this is a regular phenomenon. It's strange; it's not even really a thing (I doubt they've ever noticed it), but it happens. I think I like it. I'm not sure. I'm conflicted. Whatever. 

Michael and Whitney came over after their dinner. Big Michael (now that Whitney's dating a "Michael," I'm going to have to find a good way of delineating between Michael the boyfriend and Michael the father. I'm not sure "Big Michael" is going to stick, but it'll serve its purpose for now; bear with me) retired to his cave as per usual and the rest of us descended into the basement to watch the Times Square festivities, work the puzzle, play the dice game, and Cranium. 

Patti loves the dice game more than anyone I know. It's awesome. She's such a hype engine. 

One guess who won.

Whitney's charades clues look eerily similar to her "I just won the dice game" pose. 

Computer/phone break


Before we knew it, the ball was dropping. 

This is what greeted me in the brand new year.


As I mentioned earlier, I was about to go on a trip. There's going to be an entirely different update about that trip (maybe next week, maybe the week after), so I'll keep it short for now. My stepdad, stepbrother, and four brothers-in-law - along with me - planned a sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands. The trip was for a week, from January 4th - 11th. But, before we began sailing, we had to fly down there. 

Most of us booked tickets out of Charleston, which meant an overwhelmingly large group of family descended, once again, upon Mom & Tom. And, again, they rented a separate house. The biggest disappointment was that Kenz couldn't come back down to SC. Her school started back on the 5th, so she stayed back in Knoxville for a few extra days before returning to London on her own. 

It's damn hard to leave that face and she knows it.

Kara wasn't having any of it, though: "It's time to go!" That's right, three days after driving 7 hours with K&J, I hopped back in the car with them for the same trip back down to SC. Or, rather, they let me hop in the car with them...

We arrived in time for dinner. We started with eleven; by the end of the next day, we'd be sixteen strong. 


Jerry next to MOMA is a recipe for relentless teasing - both ways. (Leanne on the left, Kara on the right)

Kara & Tom

Maggie, MacKenzie, Emmett, and Morgan (Tommy, apparently, isn't pictured).

It's not hard to guess what happened next. 

Tom explains the rules to the dice game to the newbies.


The pot doubled in size on the first game; it was over $100 before the game finished. 

Kenz FaceTime'd me when the action got heated.



After two rounds of the dice game, once everyone was out of money, people realized it was "late." Most went to bed, but a few of us stayed up to wait on the last arrivals of the evening. 

Most went to an actual bed; some fell asleep on the couch.

Just after midnight, Kristin, Jamie, and Lucy arrived! This was the first time Lucy got to meet her "uncle in the box" - the strange, bearded man that's been FaceTiming her for 14 months. 


Kristin & Lucy

Jamie & Lucy

We hung out with Lucy for a few minutes as her mom & dad unpacked their things. Lucy entertained herself (and us) by pushing, shoving, and stacking various Christmas gifts. 

The next day was yet another montage of laughter, games, playing with Lucy, more laughter, and nonsensical debates. 

And we had a gift exchange. And, yes, we opened gifts one at a time. Thanks, MOMA. Tradition!

More sailing "shorts" and hats were gifted to those going on the trip.

"Snug" fit

Morgan and I went out with Kristin and Lucy for a grocery store "outing." It was about this time that I realized why so many of my friends exclusively post pictures of their kids to Facebook. It's really hard not to take pictures of kids. I took twice as many pictures of Lucy than you're seeing, minimum.

She's so small!

And then, just before dinner, Kelly & Chris arrived! 

Chris is on the far left.

It didn't take long for him to get his "gift."

Tommy's face says it all. 

Family time!

There's Kelly!

Dinner is served.

Going old school with the kids' table.

The second night included four new players for the dice game - more money! 

We started upstairs...

...which turned out to be a bad idea because Lucy was sleeping in the next room... we retired to the basement for games 2 - 5. That's right; five rounds of the dice game. (That's Tom, pumping his fist, realizing he's got the last dollar and a chance to win)

He did.

Kara won round the first game (upstairs) and the third game. Her excitement could've registered on the Richter Scale. 

It was the first time in a long time that MOMA had her four kids under the same roof. 

This is a rowdy bunch.


In sum:
  • 1 party
  • 2 states
  • 2 cats
  • 4 zip codes
  • 8 nieces & nephews (+ 4 friends' kids)
  • 12 dogs
  • 14 friends
  • 30 family members (+ 2 boyfriends)
I'd say that was a successful December in the States Tour de Force. If you made it this far, you deserve a medal. Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend! 

Happy weekend from a reunited duo!