Sunday, January 21, 2018

a snowday with kids

Some of you may not live in the South.  We have a bit of a reputation when it comes to the way we deal with winter weather and with our recent winter event I thought it might be a good time to tell you how it really is down here.

Usually when there's any mention of the word "snow" by a meteorologist, it generates a buzz among snowbirds.  This is what I call the people who still believe the forecasters when they call for snow.  These folks anticipate the snow.  They look forward to it.  They talk about it in every other sentence for a good week before it's supposed to happen.  I've learned to ignore these people.  Last week when the little snowflake icon showed up on the daily forecast several days out, I mentioned it to G, laughed and then moved on.  The next day the snowflake disappeared.  It appeared and disappeared several more times until it started to be talked about as a very real threat.  Two days out the forecast seemed a little more certain.  One day out they told us to expect accumulating snow.  They get very specific with these things now and they're wrong 99% of the time.  

Back in my day, calling off school was silly.  If there was an ice storm you might get a two hour delay.  If there was snow falling they'd tell us to come to school and if the roads got terrible before noon, they'd send us home on the bus.  I remember riding the bus home from school in a full-on snow storm.  Now that my kids are in school, if someone smells snow a day in advance they cancel school.  Many times since Blue and Violet have been in school they've called off school because of a sketchy forecast and the actual weather turned out to be sunny and nice.  True story.  

Last Tuesday afternoon the schools began to call off students for Wednesday.  I would imagine that at that time the local grocery stores sold out of milk and bread.  I'm not sure if y'all know about this phenomenon wherever you live, but down here when they tell us it's going to snow, we rush out and buy milk and bread.  In reality, we buy a lot more than that, but the midweek rush on the grocery store really puts a dent on the milk and bread supply.  There's honestly a good explanation for this.  Here in the upstate of South Carolina, we have a mostly normal climate.  Hot, humid summers, long springs and really great autumns, but what most people may not realize is that we have pretty decent winters too.  It get's cold here and once or twice each year we'll get a noticeable winter weather event.  Historically we've been unprepared for these in terms of road care and while we're stuck at home it really sucks to also lose power.  The snow we get is generally heavy, wet snow and when we get ice, it's usually a really heavy icing and both of these events bring down trees and power lines.  These storms often catch us by surprise in terms of their severity.  We may be told to expect a "dusting" of snow and get 10 inches.  That happened on a spring break back when I was in college.  After you go without power in a snow storm for half a week, you learn to hit the grocery store and stock up.  You're going to use the milk and bread anyway so it's not like it's wasted.  

We don't pay a lot of attention to the news in our house so it wasn't until the school cancelation that we started thinking about weather.  We had groceries and coffee, so we were good.  No milk and bread run for us.

The excitement in the house was something you could feel.  The kids were so hopeful.  A few weeks ago they got a snow day from school but only saw flurries.  Their school is a good bit north of us and we were just below the area of accumulation.  They had to listen to their friends talk about how much snow they received while they quietly brooded and blamed me for where we live.  The last forecast we heard this week indicated that the heaviest accumulation would be right over our house and that we would get more than their friends this time.  Of course that turned out to be incorrect, but it fueled their excitement.  I received word that my school was operating on a two hour delay which meant my only class was canceled.  Regardless of the actual precipitation, we were going to get a snow day.  Violet kissed me goodnight and voluntarily went to bed 15 minutes before bedtime.  She heard the weather dude say the snow would start at 5am so her plan was to get up super early to watch.  

Everyone was up when I woke up.  I heard the door open and close a couple of times and saw the glow coming in the blinds so I figured it was snowing.  The phone weather confirmed when I checked the temperature so I got up and put on the warm running clothes.  

 When Violet got up at 5:15, she looked out her window and it was not snowing.  She waited until she heard G get up after 6:00 and it still was not snowing.  It started just a few minutes before I got up which mixed more hope in with the excitement.

 The dogs were less excited.  They ran a little but as soon as business was taken care of, they hoofed it back inside to warm their paws.  

 Blue wasted no time.  He had his snowman built before the waffles were even started.  It was a little below freezing and that's him in a steady snow with no hat, only a sweatshirt, running shoes and thin gloves.  He had also laid completely down in the snow several times by this point and was pretty wet.

 He and Violet worked together on their snowperson and made the spitting image of some annoying character on Netflix called Miranda Sings.

 We are typically unprepared with our roads and also with our winter clothing.  While normal winter days here may start out in the 20s (F) the afternoon temperatures will climb to the 50s or 60s.  A light coat or jacket is usually good enough.  Gloves can be tough to find when it snows.  We may have to dig through closets and when we do find gloves they're not even close to being water resistant.  And with the fluctuation in temperatures, snow accumulations can be short lived.  We've learned that you don't wait until the snow stops falling if you want to play in it.  As soon as the waffles were gone, Blue, Violet and I headed outside.  G was home with us, which really never happens on a snow day.  Nurses have to go to work regardless.  But this time G had been growing some sort of sickness for a few days and she finally felt terrible enough Wednesday that she couldn't work.  So while she was home, she probably wished she wasn't.  She couldn't go out and enjoy it with us and she couldn't rest or sleep because we were making noise and running in and out all day.  

 I think we went out around 8am.  The kids were in and out looking for dry gloves and socks and thawing out their fingers.  I worked on the snow sculpture and stayed outside.  I rolled snowballs as large as I could and tried to stack them into a mass that I could carve.  

 The stack of snow started to remind me of the Woman of Villendorf, one of the oldest known sculptures.  It's a tiny little carving of a curvy lady or goddess.  I turned my snow lady into a modern icy version with a comical approach.  Blue wasn't a fan and he spent a lot of time trying to convince me to put a "bathing suit" on her.  

 Because we try to be prepared for anything around here, we actually had plastic sleds and didn't have to resort to using cardboard boxes.  Our small hills forced us to run full speed and then try to jump on the sleds without toppling over.  I won the distance contest, but mostly just because I was the heaviest.  Moments later Blue jumped on his sled and it shattered into pieces.  

 We made videos for Blue to use, made snow angels and against my better judgement the kids ate a lot of snow.  The Kool Aid juice they used for the red lips on their snowperson made them think of snowcones so they started scooping up snow and pouring juice or drinks over it.  Violet's lips are intensely red because of that.

 We stayed out until about 1:30pm before realizing that we needed to dry our clothes and thaw our bodies.  We let G rest for an hour or so before we headed back out to go exploring. 

 When you only see snow once or twice each year, it never looses it's magical appeal.  The quiet that falls over the snow always catches me off guard.  The white coating transforms every mundane object into something new.  We walked through the woods marveling at it all.

 Even the front yard took on a new appeal.  The final sled battle took place in our cold, wet clothes just before dark.  G had some warm chili and cornbread ready when we went inside.

 The kids' school announced they'd be closed Thursday as well.  My morning studio class was cancelled but I still had to go for the afternoon class.  That was good enough for me because I got to sleep until sunrise and run in the daylight.  The kids and the dogs played in the snow before I left for school and the kids apparently played outside all day while I was gone.  When I got back home both sleds were in pieces.  There were random pairs of wet gloves scattered across the yard.  The roads were clear around us but the schools quickly began canceling for Friday.  Every announcement built confidence with Blue and Violet that they'd get another day off.  Then came the devastating news:  the two hour delay.  They would get to sleep in a little, but they'd have to go to school.  

And just like that, the snow vacation was over.  We're still watching the snow creatures melt.  The last patch of shaded snow in the back yard melted today.  Looking back, the weather folks did ok.  They were at least close with their predictions.  The local power company has taken precautionary measures against trees falling on lines for the last several years, with a serious tree trimming operation each summer along the power lines.  Even the road crews were on the ball, pre-treating the roads with brine for days in advance of the storm.  That's not to say some people didn't lose power or that there weren't goofballs out driving like idiots on icy roads, but at least we're not the dumb hillbillies the rest of the country makes us out to be in the snow.  

If you're wondering what we do with all that milk and bread, I used my milk to make cappuccinos and my bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  

It's not likely we'll get another snow this year but that won't stop the kids from hoping.  As for me, I'm over winter.  I'm ready for the beach.

Friday, January 19, 2018

binge watching

Remember when TV was memorable?

I’m talking about a TV series that would offer season after season of half hour or hour-long entertainment.  There used to be shows that told stories and had jokes and maybe they weren’t the best quality stories or jokes, but you could remember them. 

I guess some of you are of an age that you know what I mean.  There may be a few of you here who have this new modern relationship with TV and you’ve forgotten how TV used to be.

Back in the day, TV networks would take a pilot show, a show introducing the characters and major idea of a potential series, and they’d decide it was worth a significant financial investment.  They’d contract with the writers and actors and make the changes they wanted.  All in the quest of making a weekly show that people would want to watch.  The shows aired once each week during the season, which more or less came down to fall through spring on the calendar.  You’d watch a show and you’d wait until the next week to watch it again.  A whopping seven days later!

I remember cartoons from childhood.  These were the good cartoons with Buggs Bunny, Tom and Jerry and maybe even the original Scooby Doo.  But I’m not even talking about those as a TV series because they were not really following the weekly TV show plan.  From my childhood there was Magnum PI, Dallas, Dynasty and Simon and Simon.  Again, I’m not arguing they were great shows, but I remember them.  More specifically, not only do I remember them in bits and pieces now, but I remembered them back then from episode to episode and season to season.  These were the days of the big cliffhanger episode as a season finale in the spring and you’d have to wait all summer to find out who shot JR or if your favorite character’s car was going to topple over that cliff.

Then they screwed up TV.  By “they” I mean Netflix.  And by “screwed up” I mean, they started breaking the rules and messing with the calendar.  Since Netflix wasn’t network TV and they had the ability to stream their own content directly into your home, they could release an entire season of a show all at once.  Perhaps at midnight.  Some dude would click a mouse and the entire season of writing and acting would just appear on your screen.  The whole season was there ready to be watched.  You’d turn on your Netflix the following day and boom, there it was.

I do suppose “they” could be us, though.  Or maybe you, not me.  Because what you and a lot of your friends did that following day is watch the entire season of a show.  All at once.  Sometimes without getting up.  Binge watching.

I am mostly innocent of this because I’m old.  And a bit hyper.  And my wife who happens to be my main TV watching partner is prone to falling asleep after one episode.  We’ve tried to binge watch and we can’t.  It just doesn’t work for us.  We have kids and jobs and hobbies.  After work there’s dinner to cook, dishes to clean, kids to force under a shower or into a tub, clothes and lunches to prepare, more work to do from home and then there’s that wonderful thing we like to call sleep.  All of those things conspire to give us very little time to watch TV.

Honestly, this doesn’t bother me very much.  Back in college I gave up TV watching completely for a year and a half.  I realized just how much more time I had because of not watching TV.  After college we mostly watched movies on our TV but we would watch an occasional series like Friends or Dawson’s Creek.  Then I went back to school and the rare movie was all I saw.  After that we moved out into the middle of nowhere and decided to stop throwing money away to have a million channels with nothing interesting to watch.  We ditched the dish and cable and got Netflix instead. 

I liked Netflix because it encouraged only intentional TV watching.  You have to sit down with something in mind or be lucky enough to scroll through and find something fast.  The best thing was getting the DVDs in the mail.  I could go through the library and set up a list of movies I wanted to see or classic movies I wanted to show the kids to help culture them properly.  But when the Netflix original shows started, I didn’t know how to react.  It seemed logical to me and most practical for our lives to watch the shows periodically when we had time.

But no one else did that.  Our friends would talk about watching an entire season of Stranger Things in a weekend.  I would hear someone say they stayed up all night to watch House of Cards in one sitting.  Some of our more normal friends will take a whole week to watch the new season of Orange is the New Black.  And you know how it is with shows like that.  Part of the fun is talking about it.  You have to talk through the story and the twists with your friends.  But when they come to us after two weeks, two months or even a couple of years…sometimes we’re still not finished with the 13 episodes. 

The real problem though is that when we hurry and try to watch the season as fast as we can, it goes faster than we can process fully.  A couple of weeks pass and we sit down with an extra hour and spend the first 15 minutes of the next episode trying to figure out what happened in the last one.  I know I’m old, but I don’t think this is just a problem with my memory.  Keep in mind, I can still remember those TV shows from childhood.

When you get through your season of the show, whether you binge watch it or just try to get it in during a couple of months, then you come to the realization that you don’t get another episode for almost an entire year.  Ten months for us slow people.  There’s no way you can remember what happened last year on that show that you rushed and watched in a few sittings.  I know people who re-watch the season just before the new season is released.  I will never have that kind of time to waste. 

This way of doing TV shows is no good.  When you binge watch a show, you forget it fast.  There’s no seven day waiting period between episodes for your to fully digest what has happened.  During that week you talk about the story line with your friends.  You consider how the story got to this point and where you think it may be going.  This allows for you to participate in some way with the show.  When you watch back-to-back episodes, you don’t need to think.  Your questions are answered in the next few minutes and you never have to really engage with the story.  It’s the fast food of the TV industry.  Instant gratification followed by regret and indigestion.

A month after watching the final episode, the story has faded.  You’ve moved on to the next series and you don’t think about that one again for another year. 

Just this morning I noticed something that indicates Netflix may be realizing this mistake.  David Letterman had a new show and Netflix will be releasing it one episode per week.  The article I read said something like “a show like this must be savored”.  Savored instead of devoured.  There are probably a lot of other, more important areas of our lives where this phrase could be helpful.  We do a lot of devouring.  I’d like to do more savoring.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

coffee talk

For a few years, comedian Jerry Seinfeld quietly went about making an interesting series of videos.  After ending his sitcom he had lived his life laying low and doing comedy when he wanted.  Then he had the idea to record himself going to coffee with several of his comedian friends.  The show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” was very straightforward.  Seinfeld would pick a car that had something in common with his guest and he’d pick them up and drive them to get coffee.  They’d talk in the car, while walking to the restaurant and during coffee or breakfast.  The whole premise is sitting down and having two people engage in conversation across a table.

I’m completely addicted to this show now.  It doesn’t matter who the guest is or if I even like them, I love watching the two people have coffee and laugh together for 15 minutes.  There's something so genuinely wonderful about a good conversation. 

I love coffee.  I’ll drink a simple, black coffee with sugar and enjoy it.  I’ll take a flavored coffee.  I love a good cappuccino or mocha.  But how do I feel about people?

I’m fond of saying “I hate people”.  There must be some truth to that.  I suppose if you’re reading this you may know something about me and you may have your own opinion about the truth of that phrase.  I hate social situations, or at least when I have to be involved in them and I hate being forced to interact with people when I don’t get to choose the people.  Maybe that’s the thing.  Maybe I like “my people” but not the others?  But then you may also conclude that the way I observe people when I come out of my hermitage indicates that I actually love people.  They can certainly be entertaining.  Whatever the truth may be, watching this show makes me really miss having coffee with some of my friends. 

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of bonding over caffeine with some interesting people.  The coffee shop seems to be the place where it’s socially acceptable to buy something cheap and then take up space there for hours on end.  Restaurants work too, but there’s some thought and effort that goes into eating.  Somehow that takes something away from a good conversation.  Also, they want your table so they can keep making money.  Starbucks doesn’t care. 

I’ve had talks with artists, musicians, professors and long-term friends with a hot cup of coffee in front of me.  Sometimes it’s a former student I get to catch up with.  Sometimes it’s G.  You don’t always think of having a coffee and catching up with your wife, but there’s the occasional Saturday morning when breakfast turns into coffee talk and before you know it, you’ve been sitting there a good portion of the morning.  That’s the kind of coffee talk I mean.  The kind where you spend hours talking, laughing and waxing philosophical and really getting to know the person across from you.  I don’t mind watching you from a distance and observing your every move.  I may draw you or sneak a photo to draw later but while I’m doing that, I’m also thinking about what you’re thinking about…wondering what’s going through your head or what difficult things you’re dealing with in life.  That’s all part of the intrigue.  But getting to ask you over a steaming cup of coffee is so much more satisfying. 

My friend Donovan usually checks in when he breezes through town on what I call one of his “tours”.  If I’m lucky I’ll get penciled in for a stop at Barnes & Noble in the fake Starbucks.  We’ll spend hours there cackling like old hens in those seats that make your butt sweat so when you stand up you wonder if you sat in something.  I generally get to have coffee with Logan on one of our beach trips.  We load the kids up on cookies, hot chocolate and books so they’ll be willing to sit still and quiet long enough to let us chat.  Ginger used to be a coffee talk regular.  The kids would ask her to get coffee with us after a meal because they liked hanging out with her too.  Ali was a coffee and restaurant chatter for a while too.  But now as I think about every single one of these coffee pals, I see that we’re all getting older, having kids, traveling more, getting jobs and generally getting busier with life and thus, having coffee together less.

We text, sure.  A well thought out dose of sarcasm or cynicism in one of those rectangular text boxes is nice once in a while.  A note to let you know that they still remember you.  But that smile stings a little as you realize the text conversation that ensues is a lame substitute for a face-to-face coffee.  I prefer to hear the sarcasm and see the twinkle in the eye.

A couple of months ago I had coffee with a newish friend.  Justin is the husband of a lady I’ve known for a long time and while I was in their town I checked in.  Justin was free for breakfast so we met at his favorite place and had the absolute best conversation.  You would have thought we were old friends.  I learned so much and developed so much respect for him that morning over black coffee and crispy bacon. 

If I had Seinfeld’s schedule, checkbook and lifestyle, I’d spend one day a week traveling around and having coffee with my friends.  Maybe we could all spend some time talking and figure out if I really hate people.  We may even stumble upon the meaning of life.

If we’ve had coffee in the past or if we ever have coffee in the future, you can be certain that I do not hate you.  And if we haven’t had coffee in a while, let’s fix that, shall we? 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

an actual break

So the crazy-busy semester ended and Christmas break began.  The break started out weird by having a whole week between the last exam and graduation.  So we were kind of out of school and kind of not out of school.  I had several end of semester sorts of things to attend to on the computer but I managed to stay off campus most of the week.  Still it was an awkward start to break.

When you can see the Christmas break coming in the distance, like when it's just a few more weeks away on the calendar, it's like an oasis.  Everything around the house that needs doing, every hobby you've neglected, every movie you wanted to watch, it all gets pushed into the upcoming break.  You can see this beautiful break in your mind.  Maybe you're wearing a smoking jacket, sitting in a wing back chair by a cracking fire reading the three books you started but didn't finish during the semester.  Then the break comes and you're racing through all the holiday events and struggling to get everything done on your list before cooking dinner and then falling in bed exhausted at 8pm.  

Well there was no smoking jacket or wing back chair and the only fire we had was the fake one on Netflix while we opened presents.  But I did manage to read a book.  Here's what else I did...

 If I were the kind of person that felt emotion, I would love these people.  This is our Christmas portrait from our Christmas party during the awkward week of school not really being out.  We were gifted fancy berets from Paris and had to sport them for our photo.  One of us also decided to ride the rocking horse decoration.

 Esnipes was my secret Santa person.  Among other cool things, she gave me socks with the quote "I hate everyone too".  She gets me.  I love them.

 We always eat lunch together after graduation and this time we invited KJ to eat with us before he shipped himself off to Oklahoma.  KJ is the new motion designer for the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team and he's kind of a big deal.  We are so proud of him.

 Ice skating is the thing during Christmas holidays.  Every town has the "ice on main" thing with a tiny, temporary ice rink.  They always have sketchy, uncomfortable skates and the kids always get blisters after 15 minutes.  This year we opted to skate on the big ice where the Swamp Rabbits play hockey.  It was cool to have a lot more ice to skate on, but the skates were still terrible rental skates, all in various states of disrepair.  Blue tried three pair before getting a functional set.  Then we discovered that even those were crap.  He skated a few minutes and gave up, frustrated as heck.  Later he tried G's skates and did better but still got a blister.  Maybe we're just not ice skaters.

 We did the local Reindeer Run 5K and the kids got to run in the fun run.  We all got medals and I won my age group.  I stole the photo above from the YMCA.  It's me and the 2nd place guy with our state representative. 

 In between sneaking around doing Christmas gift stuff, I got to pretend to be a farmer for a few hours.  I bush hog mom's garden twice a year with my dad's old John Deer tractor.  I have no idea what I'm doing, but I look official as heck on it.  -Except when I take out my smart phone and take photos.

 I think I ate my body weight in waffles.  Smores waffles, peanut butter and banana waffles, Reese's Cup waffles, chocolate chip waffles, Moon Pie waffles, and even this Krispy Kreme waffle.  Man, I ate some waffles.  I have no regrets.

 Christmas morning was excellent.  The dogs got treats from Santa, Violet got a crazy pattern chair to go with her crazy pajamas and unicorn slippers.

 Blue got a Walmart bag full of candy from me.  Stockings are overrated, right?  

 My nephew Nathaniel ran his mouth one too many times about his beloved Patriots and got a customized set of tighty whities from the Tom Brady Intimate Collection.  Probably the funniest thing I did over break.

 Breakfast at Mom's with the family was delicious and fun.  A McSelfie with LJ.

 And my mom, the founder of the feast.  She cooked an enormous breakfast for us all on Christmas morning.  My excitement for that rivals the excitement any child feels about presents on Christmas morning.

 The Waffle House traditional dinner was also delicious.  Breakfast all day for us.  

 A couple of days after Christmas we took off for the beach.  My family wouldn't let me go on our traditional Thanksgiving trip and apparently I complained enough that G booked a trip to make up for it.  

 It was cold.

 Very cold.

 Very very cold and absolutely wonderful.

 We were one of just a few families staying our our condo complex.  Almost no one was out on the beach and we ate nonstop.  It was so much fun.  As with most of the country, we were in a deep freeze with below average temperatures.  Two days after we left the coast got a historic snowstorm and there's still snow on the ground there.  But we just had cold and wind.  But on the warmest day we put on our trunks and sweatshirts and went out to play in the sand.  When we could no longer feel our fingers, Blue and I sprinted into the cold Atlantic Ocean for a Polar Plunge and then raced back to the room for a hot shower.

On our last day we stopped by the Georgetown Waterfront to explore until our hands were numb.

 As our trip ended, we slowly made our way home, stopping in Columbia to see the Matisse exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art.

 And taking photos with the art before watching the Columbia ice skaters fall down while G and Blue did some secret birthday shopping.

 The kids insisted on staying up for the New Year.  This is such a weird thing to me now.  When you're young it's just this thing you do because it's fun.  When you're older, you're tired and sleeping is fun.  Then you have kids and they stay up one year because there's all this excitement and then at 12:01 they look around all disappointed because nothing changed.  There's probably a lesson in there somewhere.  Anyway, this year they were all about staying up.  G ditched me so I came up with a plan of James Bond movies and snacks to keep us occupied until midnight.  Violet was all into it until 10:30pm when she abruptly announced she was out and told us all goodnight.  I gave Blue the chance to join her but he wouldn't have any of it.  So we stayed up.  We watched the countdown and I'm pretty sure he was upstairs asleep before the first minute was expired.  

 The cold continued.  This is ridiculous cold for us.  We get cold, sure, but this extended streak of continuous low temperatures is more than we want.  The kids and I ventured over to the local waterfall on a cold morning to check it out and they were absolutely amazed to see it iced over.  I realized they've not had a big ice storm during their lifetimes yet.  They were mesmerized by playing in the ice.

 But when you run outside every morning, the ice is not so mesmerizing.  Sure, it was kind of exciting the first morning it was 9 degrees F, but now I'm over it.  Yesterday one of the outside faucets froze and burst open, causing me to miss a well deserved nap and spend my afternoon tracing outdoor waterlines and repairing them.  I love winter and this streak of cold has me dreaming of sweating in summer.

 I had a birthday.  My 46th one.  The only really productive thing I did all day was eat a chunk of this butternut cake made by my mom.  A day well spent.

 After a couple more frigid days and nights, we dragged G back to the waterfall along with the dogos.  There was even more ice.  The dogs were not impressed.  

But here's the thing:  I did almost nothing art related during my break.  I had planned to do a big drawing and use my time wisely to get a jump on the new year.  I drew a couple of butt drawings and a couple of Christmas cards but nothing else.  I didn't even get close to drawing an actual drawing.  I did clean off my drawing table, but that's it.  The art books I set out to read didn't get finished.  I put work into a couple of chapters but then G bought me this goofy book about Bill Murray and I read that one instead.  I've been working on this one book for 3 months and haven't made it halfway through it yet.  The Bill Murray book was much longer and I read it in 3 days.  

I have no regrets though.  It feels like this was a natural thing.  It was time to rest all the art parts of my brain.  I didn't even think about drawing or sculpture until about 3 days ago.  That's when I started getting ideas and getting excited about new things.  It's about time to start those new things.  I'm rested and I'm ready now.  

I hope y'all had a great Christmas and New Year.  And any other holidays you may hold dear.