So overall a positive result. :) Very long details (and pictures, when I get them) behind the cut.
Actually, despite a few Grinchlike obstacles like heavy rains and my own body forcibly requiring me to rest, we enjoyed a series of low-key holiday events with friends and family. Sidenote: my family has lovely festive traditions that are largely secular. Not being Christian myself, I usually refer to my chosen holiday as Xmas (pronounced //).
Dec 23rd: It RAINED. Puddles from the leaf-clogged gutters overtook the sidewalks in our neighborhood. I had dim sum with my BFF and heard all about her Xmas plans. She gave me (well, really gave my sweetie) a cutting from her very handsome houseplant (a Creeping Charlie). If it survives, ours will be Carlito.
Attended my last church service for a while. Heading into my final semester of grad school, I know I will need whatever extra time I can glean to get all my work done and stay sane. So I'll be taking a break from church, and from choir, until after graduation. I may visit now and then, but the 6+ hour commitment in my Sundays has been taking its toll and I'm glad to have that time back. The service before the big Christmas Eve service was for the fourth Sunday of Advent, "Magnificat Sunday". We sang a version of the Canticle of Mary that I can't seem to find online, and I took the verses as a solo ("I sing with all my heart, my spirit leaps for joy; who am I that you should honor me?"). Before the service, our music director handed each of us a single flower and gave a compliment, which was a lovely way to mark the season.
Dec 24th: I rose early and took the train to San Jose, where my mother picked me up. My sister had planned to do so after she dropped off a friend at the nearby airport, but ended up being so far behind schedule that it was easier this way. Having a bad hair day, I'd tied on a bandanna... and since I had a shawl with me, I pulled it over my head to warm my ears. This resulted in some guy in a security guard's uniform trying to chat me up, because he said I looked Jordanian. (Irish, Dutch, Filipina... nothing from the Near or Middle Eastern countries in my ancestry. My sweetie is darker than I am, and more likely to cover her hair in public, so she gets this a lot.)
Once there, I wrestled with the Rottweiler puppy (who is huge! and unruly! and apparently going through a difficult stage), re-dyed my hair (at last! the bleachy spots are now properly purple), and caught up with my little sister. We dropped off gifts at our neighbors' place, and accidentally crashed their cookie-decorating party. I made a snowman and a Christmas tree. I was thinking about making molasses cookies at my folks' (and in fact left the ingredients that I brought with me on their counter... darn), but the oven was already occupied with a prime rib roast. When we piled in the car to head over to my aunt's, the par-cooked meat in the back made the whole car smell delicious. As is our way, we sang the entire way.
At my aunt and uncle's house, where we spend the major holidays, there is always an abundance of Christmas cheer. Lights, greenery, snowmen and Santas galore -- the walls and shelves and seats are all decorated to the gills.
By my count, we had 21 adults (from 22 to 92) and 5 kids (ranging from 4 to 13). Dinner was roast beef sandwiches, salad, and veggies: simple and filling. Meatless Monday met its end after just over a year -- I was not going to say no to Xmas prime rib. I set aside a plate for my sweetie, who had to work Xmas Eve (but got out early at 5:30!) and drove down in time for presents. We usually have the kids open all their presents by age, and then those over 18 have one present each from a Secret Santa. Mine was my aunt, who got me CityCarShare credits so that we can visit more often. :) I gave tech toys and some upscale chocolate to my cousin, whose name I drew. And I gave my littlest cousins a book each and a handmade magnetic bookmark with each name and a note that a donation had been made in their honor to FirstBook.org. Also, Santa visited! He knocked on the door just after dinner, and handed out packages to all -- happily, everyone present was on the Nice list this year. (Some of us were a little worried.) I got patterned tights, which I'd been more-or-less silently coveting for a while... Santa's pretty smart. Each of us had our photo taken with him.
Midway through the gift exchange, I started feeling ill, so I retired to a couch in the other room and made occasional appearances when someone opened a present from me. My sweetie drove us (and my sister) back to my parents', and we set up a slumber party in the living room with their tree and presents. After stuffing stockings with the goodies she'd brought in the car, we settled in to watch Enchanted. As predicted, I got maybe 30 minutes into the movie before falling asleep.
Dec 25th: Xmas morning! We (that is, me, sweetie, sister, parents, and visiting uncle) gathered in the living room to empty our stockings and unwrap MORE PRESENTS. (Yeah, sometimes it seems like there's way too many of them to fit under the tree. Even the uncle, who maintains that "Christmas is for kids", had a few to open.)
-cupcake paraphernalia (I was ignorant until yesterday that there was such a tool as a cupcake corer!)
-filtered water bottles (ironic because we gave one of a different brand to my mother)
-my preferred purple hair dye (enough to probably last me the year)
-chemical hand- and foot-warmers (good because my circulatory system does not work hard enough)
-a LABEL MAKER (technically given to my sweetie, but we know that I will label ALL THE THINGS)
This year, we agreed not to buy any gift wrap. So I used a lot of brown paper wrapping and recycled tissue paper, and found out that toilet paper rolls make for quite functional gift card cases and "Christmas cracker"-type wrapping for stocking stuffers.
We'd also agreed to refrain from spending money on each other (apart from a secondhand pair of work shoes for her, given early, and repair of my good black Skechers), so there was a small argument when she presented me with a face scrubby brush that had been on my list for a while. She passed it off as a Solstice present, so there's the loophole. I gave her a gift certificate/promised date to the $5 movie theater (purchased with Swag Bucks), regifted the Ped-egg from a white elephant swap ("It's a cheese grater for your feet!"), and donated to First Book on her behalf (True Blue points). I also sent her a series of tasteless holiday e-cards. And I made cookies, which got shared around at choir practice and at Xmas Eve.
After having brunch (cream cheese and lox crepes, eggs, roasted fingerling potatoes, and bacon), the small family went out to see Les Miserables. The December 25th new release tradition is one that my sister especially enjoys, and as we are all a musical bunch, we were excited to see how the classic musical translated on the screen. Without spoiling it for anyone, I give a thumbs-up (especially to Anne Hathaway's overall interpretation of Fantine and Russell Crowe's acting as Javert). We managed not to sing along -- either real or parodied lyrics -- while the movie was playing, but there was a fair amount before and after (helped out by Sirius XM's special feature for the On Broadway channel on the day of the release).
Then we bid adieu to my family and headed homeward to eat some Chinese food and sing Christmas karaoke with a bunch of Jews and atheists. I headed the lineup with "The Christmas Song", and joined in on a few others. Eventually it slid over to "If I Were a Rich Man" and "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?", and after that I fell asleep in the sewing room. Too many people. A little later, we drove home and braved the rain to carry all the presents and all the saved gift wrap upstairs. Fed the cats, changed the cat box, curled up in warm blankets, and slept.
Dec 26th: It is Boxing Day, and I am working from home in a nest of blankets and cats. For lunch I had a hardboiled egg, a leftover steamed pork bun, and two small oatmeal cookies (eaten one-handed while typing this up).