Monday, December 29, 2008

Post Holiday Busies...

Yesterday my sister-in-law asked me why I haven't added any new blogs lately and I replied that I only wanted to write if there was something interesting to write about. "What about Christmas?" she asked?

She's right. It has been eventful, but I have been putting off writing about it because I've been battling this cold for 9 days now. But, here goes:

This was a momentous Christmas in many ways, mainly because it is the family's first Christmas without our grandparents, the last Christmas Eve at their house, and the first Christmas with baby Alexander. What a bittersweet, full year this has been.

My mom gets the credit for most of the work at the grandparents' house, which was quite an undertaking. She and Carmen, (the family cleaning lady who has worked for 5 different relatives, including me,) set up a tree, outdoor lights, set the tables, indoor Christmas decorations, spent 5 hours making bunuelos, and my mom did the turkey and stuffing.

We had a very nice time, especially because everyone was there, including cousins Robby, Monica, and her husband, Mike--all in the military. The importance of the evening wasn't lost on anyone, as we tried to absorb the atmosphere as much as possible. The idea that it would be our last Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house is unfathomable. It is what all of us have known our entire lives and a tradition that I've looked forward to as long as I can remember.

The dinner was potluck, the seating was pretty much the way it has always been, with the kids and inlaws in the dining room and the grandkids and their spouses in the living room. We ate and ate and laughed. You could tell everyone was taking a mental picture of the house, because this is it. Today my mom and her 3 siblings are sitting down to discuss the process of dismantling the house. And, although certain things have been promised to everyone (and we don't foresee problems,) no one wants to be the first person to take something off of a wall or remove it from a room. This is a new reality that we, as a family, have to deal with.

After dinner we did the gift exchange, then dessert, then clean up, which is hard in a house without a host. I felt like I was helping, but I probably didn't help as much as I could have. My cold was at its full intensity and I felt lousy by the end of the night.

I dragged myself home around 11pm and went straight to bed. Christmas morning my mom and I were supposed to go and see the Benjamin Button movie and then my brother and family were going to be over around 3pm, but it didn't work out that way. My mom and I both slept in much later than expected, I spent a lot of time getting the table ready, and it was just a day to move very slowly. When Jonathan, Quyen, and Alexander did come over, we had a really nice time and it was just us, some holiday music, and a fire (at my house) for the next 4 hours.

This is certainly not the age where one is into the gifts at Christmas, but I did receive some great stuff, thanks to our wish lists. A year's supply of car washes and a wax, several gift certificates for mani/pedis, and a Roku player from my mom. (I'll explain that one in a sec) The Unsolved Mysteries collection from Jonathan and Quyen, and some great stuff from Monica, my "Secret Santa" for the family gift exchange the night before.

My mom's big gift was an 8gb red Zune player from Jonathan and me, which I helped her learn about yesterday. We downloaded several of her CDs, bought a case online, and found some other essential accessories at Best Buy. She's getting the hang of it!

So, what's a Roku player? I'll show you. A Roku player is for people who have Netflix, the service where you rent movies online. There is an "instant viewing" feature on the site where you can watch certain things right on your computer. The Roku player transfers your "instant viewing" queue and puts it on the TV, so that you can watch the things on the TV instead of on the computer. IT IS AWESOME, especially for some like me who doesn't have or want cable.

Here's how it works:

1. At the Netflix site, the movies with the blue buttons are the ones available for instant viewing. Usually they are older movies, but there are still 1000's of choices and, if you dig, you can find some great things.
2. You have 2 queues. One for the movies that will be sent to your house and one for instant viewing. I went through several lists, and I put anything that looked remotely interesting into my instant viewing queue just to increase my choices:
3. Then you've got the Roku player, which hooks into the TV and the ethernet cord OR, if you have a wireless network like me, it hooks up just to the TV (and plugs into an outlet.) Setup is super easy. I hooked up the cords with no problems and followed the instructions that appeared on the TV screen. It gave me an activation code to input on the Netflix site and that was it. I also like that the Roku is nice and small.
The handy little remote that comes with it makes all the magic happen:
4. After the easy setup, your Netflix instant viewing queue appears on the screen. You navigate with the arrows to select the movie you want to see.
5. You select it, and it shows you a little synopsis, the length, and gives you the play option. If it is a TV show, it gives you the option to select a certain episode:
6. When you select "play," it retrieves it from the Netflix site, which takes a few seconds:
7. Then the movie begins! You can pause, rewind, and fast-forward at will. Sometimes when you move around within the movie it will have to retrieve again from the site, but it only takes a few seconds.
I LOVE IT! I even put some movies into the queue that I own, because it is nice to have them so accessible if I'm drifting off to sleep and don't want to dig out the DVD.

So that was my nicest and biggest surprise this Christmas.

The day after Christmas turned out to be busy. We mustered up our courage and went to the mall, only to discover that my local Eddie Bauer store is closing sometime in January. We're still holding onto the hopes that it is just going to relocate to the new section that is being built at our local mall, but only time will tell.

Our new favorite store, though, is the Macy's on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. That is where I found my dress for my cousin's wedding, and my mom and I have been building up our collection of Lenox Christmas dishes. We also got some beautiful winter coats there on Friday night: $240 coats for $95! Wool, warm and really lovely. Black for me, gray for my mom. Robby's wedding on Saturday was going to be far and outdoors.

So that is what we did Saturday. My mom and I dressed up and picked up my brother and the baby. My sister-in-law had to work. We dropped off Alexander at his other grandparents' house and drove 85 miles out to Hemet. It was a small wedding, family only, but really nice considering the size. Robby's my first cousin who recently graduated from the Air Force Academy in May. He's currently in pilot's training in Mississippi and his fiancee (now wife) is in the Air Force in Arizona. It stinks, but they are going to be separated for months after just a few days of marriage. Such is life in the military.

Like I said, it was really lovely. It took place at Robby's now-sister-in-law's home in the back yard under a trellis. The decorations were perfect and we had a little lunch afterwards. The 2 main obstacles were the very long drive (180 miles round trip) and the cold. Boy, was it cold!

I'll post pictures later when I get them off my mom's camera.

Yesterday we got to spend a few minutes with Jonathan and Alexander in the morning and then I helped my mom with her new Zune player for a few hours. We also made plans for tomorrow to meet with my dad's mom and wife, who is spending her first Christmas since my stepsister passed away in October. Seriously, what a year. So we're having a little gift exchange at my house and a little brunch. I want to set the table very pretty. That's been my new thing lately--setting a lovely table.

Today is all about prep for tomorrow--setting the table and buying a few little gifts. I think my cold is finally, finally on its way out. Thank goodness.

There! Now no one can say I haven't brought this blog up to date. I hope everyone's Christmas was very merry! Let's face it, we all have so much.

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