Category Archives: christmas

Scenes from Christmas Eve

On a happier note, here are some pics I took this evening. That’s Basilique Norte Dame de Montréal, and a Christmas-themed bar that was cute but ridiculously overpriced. For the rest, Vieux Montréal is a bit of a tourist trap, but they sure can create an amazing atmosphere. My favorite part of the night: the skating rink at the Old Port in Montréal. The music was just perfect, too.

Christmas in Montréal

I was navigating the slushy sidewalks of Vieux Montréal and saw a couple walk past holding hands. I thought of how doing that with Dan would have been lovely, how we would have supported each other as we slipped and slid through the snow.

And then I was sobbing.

I don’t regret coming here. My goal was to get away for a few days to a neutral location: one without the baggage of Christmas with family or someplace that Dan and I had traveled where I wouldn’t be re-living the time that we spent there. For the most part it has worked. I’ve kept myself distracted and generally had an OK time. Tonight, though, I was reminded that you can only distract yourself for so long. The memories and the grief will catch up with you. I’ll survive, but it really took the wind out of my sails for the night.

I like the idea of traveling somewhere new at Christmas each year. Perhaps next time it will be someplace warmer, or where I have friends, or where the whole freakin’ city doesn’t shut down starting on Christmas Eve.

Hi! Remember me?

Wow. This may be the longest I’ve gone without a substantive public post to LiveJournal since I started this journal. What has happened since I last updated? Here’s the short version:

  • Midwest FurFest happened. It was a great convention, though it was the usual blur for me. It was my second and final year as convention chairman (MFF has a tradition of two-year terms for its chairmen). I didn’t accomplish everything I would have liked, but I feel that I was able to keep the convention on its upward trend and overall people seem to be very happy. How do I know? Well, we’ve got this nifty survey up, and if you take it you can win a free room night at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare! My biggest personal regret from the convention is that it sounds like there was one hell of a party in our suite on Sunday night but I was just so exhausted and done with socializing that I wound up taking a nice relaxing bath and going to bed early. Oh, and rest assured that I will not be disappearing from Midwest Furfest staff! I will be taking over the position of Hotel Liaison for MFF 2010, just as we’re going into a new hotel. Whee!
  • Thanksgiving happened. We were pleased to welcome Roho, Genet, Bander, Shawn, Shadowstalker, and Tarin over for Thanksgiving dinner, with a delicious turkey made by takaza‘s mom. The food was delicious, and the company was fantastic! Incidentally, if you were at Midwest FurFest, you might have met Dan’s mom – she was Staff Liaison, and her job was to go around the convention and make sure that folks who were stuck in one location got an occasional snack and drink and had everything they needed. She was a tremendous help during the convention and I’m so glad she was able to make it!
  • Dan’s birthday happened. We rounded up a bunch of folks and went out for dinner at Wildfire Restaurant, which was really excellent. Dan ordered the martini flight (!) and even drank a few of them. Great steaks, and really tasty desserts.
  • A doctor’s visit happened. I found out that what I thought was carpal tunnel is in fact tendonitis. This led to a nice cortisone shot (ow) and orders to wear an arm brace for two weeks. I’ll be living on Advil for a while, I think.
  • And finally, a brief visit down to Urbana happened. mirkowuff‘s neighborhood revived the “Candlestick Lane” tradition on short notice, so he threw a small short-notice party to celebrate. We had a lovely time and got to see some great old friends and meet some new folks as well. It was a very pleasant weekend.

So now we’re pretty much caught up. What’s coming up? Well, we’re going to dog-sit this weekend, and hopefully visit either Evanston or Milwaukee to go to The Spice House and do some restocking. We’re flying down to South Carolina for Christmas. And of course there’s Wuffmeet coming up, for which we really need to start making specific plans for food. December is a trainwreck, as always, and it doesn’t look like January will be much better! But we’re having fun and all is right with the world, regardless.

Better Living Through Chemistry

So after adventures in muscle spasms on Friday, I curled up with a nice combination of Valium and Vicodin. takaza stayed home as well because the weather was pretty lousy, with around 10″ of snow falling. I napped a good portion of the day and was quite grateful for the pharmaceutical assistance.

By Saturday the spasms had pretty much abated, though my neck was still stiff. I came in to work (which was mandatory, in exchange for getting Christmas Eve off) and puttered around a bit, then Dan and I went over to his mother’s to exchange Christmas gifts and enjoy a lovely dinner.

Sunday was much more relaxed, though we finally ventured into the high winds and blowing snow to do some Wuffmeet shopping. We did some price comparisons at GFS (and got some good ideas for food), picked up all of the bubbly we need for New Year’s at Trader Joes, and took advantage of a fantastic sale on sodas at Meijer to get $160 or so worth of soda for $90. Unfortunately, while moving all that soda, Dan torqued his back, which has left him somewhat the worse for wear today. As for me, my neck still is a little stiff and I still get occasional pain, but I’ve regained about 80% mobility, which is a huge improvement.

We’re supposed to drive down to St. Louis on Wednesday to spend Christmas with my parents and my sister’s family, but the weather is looking most unpleasant. The snow I could deal with, but the mention of freezing rain between here and there gives me pause. I’m hoping that, at worst, we’ll have to delay our departure until midday Wednesday, but if it’s bad enough we may have to drive down on Christmas morning. We’ll see how the weather works out. Alas, our visit down there will be brief, since Dan has to be back at work on Monday the 29th and I need to tend to all kinds of New Year’s preparations. The one spot of good news is that it looks like I won’t be called in during plant shutdown, which will leave me free to concentrate on party planning.

I hope everyone’s holiday planning is going well. Stay warm and safe!

Playing Catch-Up

I see I’m in my usual post-convention blogging quiet period. This month is pretty crazy, and as usual, when I’m busy I don’t have much time to document it.

Last week included a delicious dinner with perro, darkwolph, and linnaeus at Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood, which sadly is due to close its doors very soon (along with RT’s Lounge and Osteria di Tramonto) due to Rick Tramonto departing the joint venture. We’ve heard some promising possibilities about what will be happening with those restaurants in the new year, but nothing for certain. We’ll see what happens!

The next day I joined justincheetah and calapurr for a tasty dinner (with some tasty wine) at Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant. The short ribs there were delicious! I’m thinking that during Wuffmeet we may need to swing by there and sample their latest wines.

On Saturday, takaza‘s family came over for an evening of dinner and games. I made a killer Lasagna Bolognese that was simply outstanding. I substituted ground bison for the ground beef and, not having ground veal readily available, did 50/50 ground bison and ground pork. Instead of Parmesan cheese, I used an aged Mahon cheese which was quite tasty (and half the price of Parmesana Reggiano). This was good enough that I think it may be one of our entrees for Wuffmeet. I just need to figure out the logistics of making the sauces, assembly, baking, and reheating.

Sunday? We did nothing. And it was good. (Oh, and the person I was rooting for won Survivor. That was nice too.)

Yesterday I finished my Christmas shopping. Yay! Hooray for 🙂 I’m impressed that some of that stuff will be arriving today. I {heart} Amazon Prime – we really do get our money’s worth on that.

And then there’s today. I’m keeping a close eye on the weather radar as we’re supposed to get hit with 2-6 inches of snow in the next 24 hours. I’m not wild about this since tonight we’re having dinner with the folks we’ve worked with at the Westin North Shore down in Lincolnshire. Still, travel difficulties aside, it should be a good meal and I’m looking forward to it.

For the rest of the week: I’m hoping that we can help genet celebrate completing her last final for the semester tomorrow. Then on Saturday (after I have to work all day in exchange for getting Christmas Eve off), Dan and I will be going over to his mom’s house to exchange gifts with her, since we’ll be out of town on Christmas. Oh, in case I haven’t mentioned it, Dan and I will be in St. Louis visiting my parents and my sister’s family from December 24th through 28th. We hope to do a bit of touring around the city (though I just found out yesterday that a main highway is closed – man, that’s got to suck!). If nothing else, hope to hit one of the fine eateries the Good Mister Brown visited during his road trip through the city.

Well, time to take care of a bit of work before today’s free “Holiday Lunch” – the usual uninspiring beef/chicken/pasta buffet. Hey, at least it’s free…

Edit @ 5 PM – No steak dinner for me – the Westin folks cancelled due to weather, and I can’t blame them. Dan is on his way home, and he’s thinking that his normal 50-minute commute is going to be closer to 2 to 2.5 hours.

Family Visit 2007: The Recap

So, when last we left our intrepid heroes they had arrived in Nashville, en route to South Carolina.

Our intention had been to grab a quick breakfast at the Pancake Pantry before heading out of town. Before we left I noted comments about long lines, and found an alternative – Fido, just a half-block away. Sure enough, the line for the Pancake Pantry was out the door, so we opted instead for Fido. I have to admit I was attracted to Fido not just by the name, but by the vibe of the place; it reminded me very much of Gillies in Blacksburg, VA, home of many fond memories for me. I had the “Bayou Benedict”, which was a poached egg with Hollandaise sauce over cheese grits with an andouille sausage on the side. Excellent! The French press of coffee helped too 🙂 We finished off our Nashville mini-tour with a quick stop by the cookware shop across from the Pancake Pantry; Dan picked up a few small things, but the best part of the visit was talking with the proprietors, who were real characters. We were glad we stopped in.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We got down to Anderson, SC, and checked into the La Quinta Inn there (verdict: cheap and clean. What, you wanted more for $50 a night?). Over the course of the weekend I discovered that my laptop power supply connector was over-flexed enough at the laptop end that moving it while plugged in made interesting clicking noises and smelled of ozone, so I elected to stay off the net (but for my cell phone) and quick-order a replacement power supply.

Takaza, my sister, and I did the majority of the cooking for the weekend. I made a penne pasta with Italian sausage on Sunday night, then on Monday night Ruth (my sister) made fettuccine with scallops and shrimp in a cream sauce while Dan made his famous Macaroni and Cheese (with bacon!). For Christmas Day, I made the turkey, the stuffing, and the gravy, Dan made mashed potatoes, and Ruth made green beans with pancetta, as well as pecan and pumpkin pies. We weren’t hurting for food 🙂

There was the usual last-minute shopping, and gift giving and receiving. Everyone was happy, especially my nephews. Mom stood out in the cold on a Sunday morning a few weeks back to score a Wii for them. Once they received that, they were pretty much dead to the world for the rest of the day.

We got on the road at 6 AM on Wednesday morning and, as noted before, drove 15 hours straight to get home at exactly 8 PM Central Time. It was a fun trip and I’m glad we went, but man am I exhausted.

So, today. I have today and tomorrow off from work as well as Monday; Dan has to work today and tomorrow, but has Monday off as well. He had some interesting stuff happen with work this morning, but that’s his story to tell. Suffice to say that things are looking very good for him in the coming year. I’ve been doing load after load of laundry all morning, and mainly bumming around on the net. Around noon I’ll take a shower and see about doing some shopping in preparation for the coming weekend – Sam’s Club and the grocery store, here I come! I need to get pretty much all of my errands done today since it appears that the weather is going to be horrid tomorrow, with 5-7 inches of snow falling between 9 AM and 6 PM. What fun!

We did snag a few pictures from the weekend, including the 2007 Christmas Family Photo:

From left to right, that’s Me, Dan (aka takaza), Bella (in Dan’s arms), Dad, my nephew Tim, my brother-in-law Marvin, my nephew Chris, my sister Ruth, Holly (in Ruth’s arms), and Mom.

Click for more pictures!

Hittin’ the Road

And here we are at launch day, so to speak. In a few hours, takaza and I will be getting into his car and heading southwards. Our tentative itinerary will take us through Chambana and Effingham, then down to Nashville, TN for the night. Then tomorrow morning, we’ll continue through Chattanooga, Atlanta, then up to Anderson, South Carolina. (Apparently many Chicago furries migrate to South Carolina at Christmastime. Who knew?) I do hope that we’ll be able to hit some back roads along the way, and I grabbed a subscription to Roadfood in hopes of discovering some nifty little out-of-the-way restaurants along the way.

Dan and I did our gift-giving last night. As I had mentioned before, since we bought ourselves a freezer we were just going to get each other small gifts for Christmas. Anyway, I did succeed in getting two of Dan’s presents to him: a book on digital photography, and the collected Firefly miniseries “Serenity: Those Left Behind”. Dan surprised me with something that has been in the back of my head but I had been holding off on: a whole new set of brewing equipment! This was an awesome surprise and I’m looking forward to getting back into brewing after the holidays. Unfortunately, one of Dan’s packages is still en route, and at this point it appears that it’s going to be delivered after we leave. Awesome! As I was writing this the package was delivered. He has to wait until I get home to open it, though 🙂

Looking ahead, it sounds like this is going to be a busy holiday for us. Dan, my sister, and I will be in charge of cooking while we’re in South Carolina, and coming up with a selection of foods that pleases everyone. Tuesday night will of course be the traditional Christmas Turkey (a la Alton Brown, natch). Then Wednesday the 26th we’ll be driving all the way back to Chicago in one shot – won’t that be fun? Dan has to work the 27th and 28th, but I have those days off for a change. I suspect I’ll be quite busy those days, cooking and shopping for the weekend. We’ll deal with that later, though.

The Great Holiday Summary

So, it’s been quiet here lately, and I hope to post a bit more than I have over the last few months.

Things are going OK at work, though the project I’m on is the kind of thing that seems easy at first but then grows in complexity and volume. I swear, someone at $employer must have a military background, because in order to get anything done you must first fill out form DR-CQ-271, followed by DR-CQ-272, but in order to that you need to fill our form DR-CQ-877, 878, 879, and 890 (all of which require the signatures of at least three separate people). I find it truly astonishing that anything gets done here – it’s like work gets done in spite of the paperwork. That having been said, though, it’s not a bad gig overall. Still no idea when (or if) I’ll be hired on full time, but in the meantime, the pay is good.

When I get paid, that is. There was a bit of a screwaround a few weeks back when we found out that my contracting service sent my paycheck to the wrong address. That was followed by them having to FedEx my next two paychecks to me, plus my direct deposit was delayed by someone in their office mis-transcribing my checking account number. Theoretically, my next paycheck will be deposited tomorrow, if it isn’t delayed by the fact that I had to bug my manager this morning to approve my timesheet from two weeks ago. And this will be only half a paycheck, since I didn’t work last week due to the annual winter shutdown. Even with all that, though, our cash flow is good and bills will be paid on time.

Before I go any further I wanted to mention Christmas. Normally we would have been with my parents and my sister’s family down in South Carolina for the holiday. Unfortunately, since I was uncertain of my time off until right before Christmas (they may have called me in over shutdown) and Dan didn’t have any vacation to spare, we had to pass on the trip south this year. Instead, we spent Christmas Eve with

‘s mom, and Christmas Day with 



The Christmas Eve dinner is especially worthy of note. We took Dan’s mom to Le Vichyssoise, a noted French restaurant just outside of McHenry. She had worked at Le Vichysoisse for twenty years as a bartender before quitting six years ago to focus on nursing full-time. Fortunately, the parting was amicable, which afforded us the opportunity for an outstanding meal. Dan’s mom and I each had a couple of glasses of wine, an appetizer (my roasted-tomato-and-onion tart was excellent), and soup (my vichyssoise was also quite tasty). Following a tasty Poire William sorbet, compliments of the chef, they brought our entrees: steak au poivre for Dan, beef tourenados for me, and a scallops dish for Dan’s mom. We capped the meal with a collection of sumptuous desserts, including the “Floating Island”, a meringue floating in a vanilla crème Anglais drizzled with caramel, and I had a cappuccino.

I knew going in that this was not going to be a cheap meal; this is a highly-rated restaurant, the prices reflect that. Then they brought the bill: $365.00. I probably blanched a bit, but to my credit Dan said he didn’t notice anything was wrong. I just calmly put my debit card back into my wallet and pulled out the credit card. When the receipt was brought, I swallowed hard and added a 15% tip (alas, the service waned a bit towards the end of the meal), bringing the total to $415. I was somewhat shell-shocked as we drove to Dan’s brother’s house to visit, and I’m sure the quiet hand signals between Dan and I as Dan found out how much the meal cost were probably quite amusing to see.

As we chatted with Dan’s brother’s family, Dan got a phone call (he was the one who had made the reservation). Apparently, they had double-charged us for the meal, and the final bill was only $183. Whew. That was more like I was expecting. I was chided by Dan’s mom for not speaking up, but hey – that’s not how I am. (“Oh my GOD! Look how expensive this meal is! This can’t be right!” Yeah, that’s real smooth). And yeah, pride probably played into it a bit too. Either way, though, I’m just glad that that things worked out. We left Dan’s brother’s late and headed up to Antioch, where we found Roho and Genet, remarkably, still awake. We chatted a bit then all headed off to bed.

Christmas Day was wonderfully lazy. We had a tasty breakfast, then watched some TV, chatted, and poked at our computers a bit. Genet and Roho had started a turkey brining the night before (yay for Alton Brown!) and I was able to help provide a few tips on cooking it. Genet did most of the cooking, but all of us helped out a little bit. The finished dinner was absolutely delicious, and it was really nice to spend the time with friends.

The following week was spent putting together the New Year’s Eve party, which I already mentioned. That pretty much brings me up to date, except to mention what’s going on right now. Dan and I are hot on the trail of a new place to live, with the goal of moving by the end of the month. We have a couple of places lined up to look at on Saturday, in Wauconda, Hainesville (Grayslake), and Antioch, and will probably be looking at more places on Sunday. The idea is that Dan could take the train in to work from Hainesville or Antioch, or have about a 40-minute drive from Wauconda. I feel kind of bad, because all of these put me at most 20 minutes from my work (and about 5 minutes in the case of Hainesville). That’s the reality of what we can afford, though – things in our price range further south are either apartments (not what we want) or…unacceptable. Our hope is that we can find a place to live for a year and then, once we have a little more savings and better financial security, buy a place next year.

Oh, and a note to locals: yeah, expect that call for help moving something in the next few weeks 🙂 We’ll give as much notice as we possibly can. And now, back to work!

On the Road to Anderson (without Hope and Crosby)

And so, five days and approximately 1,800 miles later, we’re home again. A quick recap:

On Thursday, we left for my parents’ place in Anderson, South Carolina. We only drove about two-thirds of the way there, stopping for the night in Knoxville, Tennessee (sorry we didn’t call, partran, but we got in pretty late). We got up early the next morning and drove the last five hours down to my parents’. We tried to stop in Canton, North Carolina, to return the NC license plates for the Alero and Dan’s old plates for his Element, but first we found that the DMV office had moved, and then that it was closed for the day. We shrugged and continued on, getting in at around 12:30 PM. My sister, her husband, and my two nephews were already there, having driven in from St. Louis the day before.

It was a great weekend, and it was really good to spend time with my family. takaza seemed to have a good time as well, and got along well with Chris (age 10) and Tim (age 8). Ruth and I did most of the cooking during the weekend, which I’m sure was a welcome break for my mom, and Dan and Marvin (my brother-in-law) did yeoman work with cleanup detail. Dad was looking fantastic for someone who had had back surgery just a few weeks prior. I was glad to see him up and standing for hours at a time, when before the surgery he was able to remain upright for less than a minute.

We did the traditional gift-giving on Christmas morning. Chris and Tim, of course, got a pile of loot; they seemed to enjoy the Legos and video games they received, and judging from the background noise from last night’s phone call, Dan’s choice for Apples to Apples Junior for the family was a huge hit. Ruth and Marvin will get a lot of use out of the accessories we got for their new digital camera, and Mom and Dad seemed to like our gift to them: a Tivo. I think they’re still figuring out how to work it and why it’s such a wonderful thing, but I suspect they’ll come around with time. We had some fun trying to set it up since they had no telephone jack in the room we put it and even if they did, all they have is Vonage, which does not play well with Tivo. We wound up having to take the Tivo back to our hotel room for it to dial in and get all of the program updates. Fortunately, we had prepared for the possibility and we had picked up a wireless router and adapter for the Tivo; once we had all the program updates it was a breeze to get it hooked into the network. They should be good to go!

For Dan, I got a gift that I know he will enjoy: A night out on the town, with gift certificates for dinner at Heaven on Seven and two tickets for Blue Man Group (I’ll point out those are to be used for him and anyone of his choosing – it’s tacky to buy someone gifts that you’ll use yourself 🙂 I won’t list all the gifts I received except to say that they were all wonderful, and all very much appreciated. (OK, I will mention that I’m going to really enjoy the Thermapen that Dan got me, though!)

Christmas was over all too soon and yesterday we hit the road at 5:45 AM Central Time. We made great time; the only bad weather we ran into was some light rain/snow flurries and high winds through the NC mountains. Surprisingly, the traffic into Chicago wasn’t horrible and we pulled into the garage right around 6:00 PM – darned good time!

Today, Dan is off from work, but I’m here like a good worker drone. Naturally, about half of the office is out until next week, but that makes things a bit more bearable. Linnaeus, who is already babysitting a surprisingly well-behaved large, white bird (I thought it was a cockatiel, but looking at pictures of them now I’m not so sure), surprised me this morning with another friend that he’s keeping an eye on: Nita (she’s in the center of that pic). She’s a real cutie, but alas, only visiting for one day. But hey, any dog time is always good.

I slept poorly, so I suspect today is going to drag. Nevertheless, it should be pretty mellow – I’ve got some projects I’m working on, and it’s nice to have some peace and quiet in which to do it. Looking ahead, Dan and I are going to see the Blackhawks tomorrow night, and then there’s the LAFF New Year’s Party this weekend. I’ll be in touch with those of you who have volunteered to help out at the door – with luck, we can keep it down to 30 minutes apiece, leaving folks time to go and have fun with other stuff. But now, back to work!