Thursday, February 16, 2017

All My Valentines

The Yummies of Valentine's Day 2017!

I meant to post this a little closer to, you know, Valentine's Day. Unfortunately, the card reader on my computer decided to stop working when I tried to download these pictures from my memory card. Dylan and Jake came over and spent a couple of hours trying to figure out the problem, but no luck. According to my computer, no card reader even exists in my desktop's little world!

So Dylan and Jake joined us for dinner after they declared my "ancient" computer hopeless (I think I bought it almost eight years ago, which is about eighty in computer years), and today I reverted to downloading my photos using a cable direct from the camera to the hard drive, like in the olden days. 

Anyway, Valentine's Day was, thankfully, a low-tech and low-stress event around our house. All the kids came for Sunday dinner and exchanged goodies. Mark bought cute sucker "bouquets" for each of the kids, and even sent one to Jacob when he was in the Phoenix area last week to see his friend Sean, who'd recently had his first baby. Or, rather, Sean's wife did. Dylan and Jake got to take time off to spend three days with Jacob at our Phoenix resort, but I couldn't get away from my responsibilities. It was so sad to have Jacob just three hours away and not get to see him!

As for me, I got each of the kids a small box of candies, as I do every year, and each of the kids got a small box of candies for Mark and me. The two smaller boxes in the top photo were the ones Sarah and Dylan gave me. I thought it was sweet that they both chose roses. I gave Mark the big heart box of Hershey's "Pot of Gold" candies, and he gave me the cute little teddy bear.

There's something about that greasy Chinese food...

The actual Valentine's Day fell on a Tuesday this year, of course, so I went off to work while Mark spent the day at home, what with Tuesday and Wednesday being his days off and all. He sent me a very sweet text at school to wish me a happy Valentine's Day. After I got home, we went to dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, China Wok, and left an hour later feeling uncomfortably stuffed, as always. It is so yummy!

No, there were no fireworks and there's no great romance, but my life is nonetheless richly blessed. I feel so privileged to spend my life with people who love me and treat me like I matter to them. My sweet children are the light of my world, always there for me when I need them, and even Mark blesses us with his patience, kindness, quirky sense of humor, and upbeat attitude. And those are the things that speak love to our hearts.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The House

The House, a "burger joint" located in Show Low.
January 31, 2017

Last night Mark and I decided to check out a restaurant we'd never tried before, based on recommendations from friends and family. The House is located next to the KFC in Show Low and features a small menu of "burger joint" foods which center mostly around, not surprisingly, burgers and sandwiches. 

Most of the burgers offered were quite creative, featuring interesting ingredients and combinations (such as the Margarita Burger). Mark, however, wanted a plain old-fashioned burger, so he ordered the Burger Barn with pepper-jack cheese. As for me, I got the Chicken of Clubs sandwich which was, interestingly enough, served on a burger bun. It was quite good, rather spicy, with a large chicken fillet, pepper jack, avocado, spinach, tomato, and red pepper aioli. 

All burgers and sandwiches at The House come with a large side of their home-cut and home-fried potato chips. I loved them. They reminded me of my beloved original Lays chips, which I crave often. Mark liked them, too, but he's more of a french fry kind of guy, so he would have like to have the option to order fries instead.

I apologize that I forgot to get pictures of our meals, which were served in cute little folded brown boxes with a long pickle spear. By the time I remembered, we were down to not much more than crumbs.

Next-door is the Red Barn Creamery, owned by the same family.

Right next-door to the restaurant is a little ice cream shop called Red Barn Creamery, and we headed there for dessert. Owned by the same family, this shop also offered an unusual array of flavors, such as a bacon and pinon nut ice cream, which they mix and freeze by hand themselves. Mark tried a sample and said it was pretty good, yet he still chose the more traditional flavors for his bowl. I wasn't brave enough to try the bacon but I did try a couple of others. I've never liked my sweet and savory flavors mixed. French fries dipped in a chocolate shake make me shudder! Fruit mixed with cottage cheese makes me gag (but I like tomatoes with cottage cheese). Even barbecue sauce is too sweet to go on meats, in my opinion.

I did remember to take this shot of our ice cream,
although Mark was pretty well into his bowl by this time.

We both ended up with the same two flavors: strawberry cheesecake and cookies-and-cream. Except Mark wanted his cookies-and-cream on the bottom and I wanted my strawberry cheesecake on the bottom. The last few bites absolutely must be your favorite!

We felt the ice cream prices weren't too bad. The large bowl was $5, the medium was $4, and the small was only $2.50. We chose the medium because we were pretty full right after eating dinner, even though the large size was clearly the better deal.

Cute displays in Red Barn Creamery.

We both felt that the food was quite tasty, so we would recommend checking out The House, if you haven't already. Just don't expect a huge menu with tons of selections, and don't expect it to come cheaply because it's "just a burger joint." Our meal of burger-with-chips and sandwich-with-chips and one very small soda in a plastic cup (I usually just have water when we eat out) came to $24, not including a tip. Even so, I'm already thinking there are a few more sandwiches on their menu that I'd like to try out someday! 

And a display of old ice cream scoops.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Winter White

The pond near our house is nearly frozen over.
January 21, 2017

Three storms passed through California and into Arizona this weekend. The first left us with only a few inches of snow during the night on Thursday, although our district cancelled school for Friday. I'm not sure it was enough to be worth wasting a snow day for, although they were concerned about icy roads.

The second hit us here in the White Mountains on Friday night and lasted until Saturday evening. In the end, it dropped more than eighteen inches of snow, and even more for those at higher elevations. During the storm, visibility was often severely limited due to heavy, blowing snow, and the roads were slick with slush. Everywhere I drove, there were vehicles stuck in snow banks, having either slid into them or foolishly attempted to drive into the parking lots of businesses that hadn't been plowed yet.

Not too far south of us, just past where my son-in-law Jake works at WorldMark Pinetop Resort (probably close to 1,000 feet higher elevation than my house), the highway was closed due to the heavy, slick snow, preventing skiers and snowboarders from making the drive to Sunrise Ski Resort on Fort Apache Reservation. One of Jake's guests who attempted the drive told him how she saw nearly a dozen rolled-over vehicles on the side of the road.

Icicles hang from my side view mirror at Jake's place of employment.

Obviously, yesterday was the kind of day to stay inside, warm and toasty, to enjoy some hot cocoa, a good book, and watching the snow fall on the other side of the window. My day was not quite so picturesque, though. As always, I had to drive Mark to work before 6:00 a.m. At that time, the snow plows had just started on the shopping center's parking lot, so I was able to pull in, but Mark had to hike about half a block across the parking lot to Denny's.

Two hours later, I left the house again to pick up Dylan and Jake, who couldn't get either of their cars out of the deep snow. Two hours after dropping them off at their jobs--Dylan's three miles north to Walmart and Jake's uphill about eight miles south to the resort--Mark called to tell me he was already done for the day. Apparently not very many people wanted a Grand Slam breakfast badly enough to risk the roads. 

Then, a little more than three hours after bringing Mark home, we headed back to the resort to pick up Jake, and then the three of us drove back down the mountainside to Walmart and spent an hour shopping while we waited for Dylan to get off work. After we dropped the guys off at their apartment, finally, we were able to kick off our boots and spend the rest of the day at home.

Driving back into our neighborhood.

I don't really mind driving in this weather when it's necessary, although it can be nerve-wracking and stressful. You never know what other drivers may do; there's always someone driving far too fast or following too closely for the circumstances. Thankfully, my new Traverse has proven itself more than able to handle the deep snow and ice. It gets great traction and I never had a single moment in which I was nervous about getting stuck or sliding off the road, not even on our own unplowed dirt road. The car pushed right through, without a hint of futilely spinning tires.

Looking south down our road. The green trash can on the right is ours.

No, my most harrowing moment came when I walked into my own house. After dropping the guys off at their jobs, I drove back home, kicked the snow off my boots before mounting the steps to the porch, and then scraped the packed ice off the soles before walking in the front door. My efforts proved to be fruitless. The instant my left boot hit the smooth kitchen floor, it slid out from under me, and when I tried to balance on my right boot, it slid in the opposite direction. I went down hard on my left knee and landed with my right knee twisted away from me.

I sat there and cried for a few minutes, afraid to move. It had been a year and six days since the surgery on my right knee. And my left knee has something floating around in it that was causing clicking, pain, and swelling a few months ago. It finally started to improve just a month ago, so it looked like maybe surgery wouldn't be necessary. Now I was terrified of the damage I might have done to either or both knees.

So I scooted into the living room where I could pull myself up using the couch. I was relieved to find that the pain wasn't too bad and I could walk okay. As the day wore on and I had to keep wading out to my car through the deep snow, I began to feel the effects more. The area of my pelvis ached from having been jerked in two directions, and both knees were sore. The right knee recovered quickly, which was awesome. The left began clicking again, accompanied by a sharp pain right below where I'd landed, but it was bearable. 

The good news is that neither knee ever swelled and today the pain is better. Just a light-blue bruise and a slight pain when I bend the left knee to remind me to be more careful, but hardly even a limp. So it's all good!

Looking toward my backyard and outbuildings from the driveway.

Looking toward my house from the road.

Today, it's chilly out (in the 20s) but the sun is shining.
January 22, 2017

Now there is just one more storm coming our way. It is supposed to hit us either tonight or tomorrow morning, mostly rain to start with. Rain can help melt down some of the snow, but it also turns to ice when the sun goes down, so not really a good thing. Then throughout Monday they're saying another six to ten inches of snow. Hmmm... I wonder if we'll be in school any time before Wednesday!

The sun makes the snow glitter like a greeting card.
I wish I could capture it on film somehow!

Meanwhile, the sunshine is welcome. I love the snow, but I also love the fact that we get sunshine and warmth between storms, unlike many other states who live with deep snow, slick ice, and bitter cold throughout most of the winter. We have the best of both worlds.

The critters start coming back out, like this little squirrel in our yard.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016 Revisited

Minutes of the School Board meeting addressing my retirement!

I'm never really sad to see the end of one year and the start of a new, because there's always so much promise in a fresh beginning. Yet it can also be fun to look back and revisit the joys and accomplishments of a year well spent.

My first act of 2016 actually set the stage for one of the greatly anticipated promises of 2017. Early in January, I submitted all the required paperwork to retire at the end of the 2016-17 school year. And now, here I stand just 22 weeks away from retirement! And that includes two weeks off for Spring Break!

January 15: Laparoscopic photos from my knee surgery.

Not long after applying for retirement, I went in for knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my right knee. It had been causing me pain and some serious hobbling since the first week of September 2015, so I was anxious to have it taken care of. The surgery went well and my doctor gave me the good news that my joints are actually in great shape, with no signs of arthritis or serious wear. However, the recovery was much slower than I'd hoped for. It took most of 2016 to reach a point where I could walk without much of a limp. Heading into 2017, though, it really is much better.

February 4: Mary buys a "new" 2009 Chevy Traverse.

Three weeks after the surgery, I decided it was time to buy a new car. With retirement and so much traveling in my future, I wanted something with more room and more power. My dream SUV was a Chevy Traverse and, as luck would have it, someone had traded in a 2009 model (exactly in my price range) the day before I went car shopping. I went in tough, talked the price down a couple thousand dollars, and got an amazing interest rate, so I was pretty pleased at how it all turned out. 

Of course, there was that little episode where the power steering reservoir cracked and left me stranded in Mesa on the weekend of my sister's wedding less than two weeks after I purchased the car, which was mega-stressful, but the dealership handled it and paid for everything, so it had a happy ending. And the Traverse truly has been great for traveling so far.

March 25: David Archuleta in concert.

Other than driving to Mesa for Karla and Steve's wedding, our second trip in the new car came at the end of March when we headed to the Valley again. This time it was to enjoy a concert by David Archuleta in Queen Creek on Friday night, and then spend the next day at the annual Renaissance Festival in the desert outside Apache Junction. Jake, who is not an Archuleta fan, did not join us for the concert, but we were all there for the Festival fun. Except for Jacob and Danielle, of course, who live too far away, but I'm glad to say they were able to join us for Karla's wedding in February.

March 26: Mary at the Renaissance Festival, holding her new wand,
wearing her new circlet, with her favorite Drabbit on her shoulder.

May 27: Dylan graduated from high school.

After a little lull in April, May was a very busy month. Dylan finished up four years of high school, traveled to Southern California on the senior trip, and then walked across the stage to receive his diploma from the hands of his waiting mother. It was the last of my three opportunities to enjoy that privilege.

Jacob at top, Dylan in the center, and Sarah at bottom.
Yes, Jacob and Dylan wore the same shirt for their pictures.

And now, thanks to the events of 2016, all my kids' photo walls are complete: the wall of senior photos next to my bed (above) and the wall in the living room featuring each of my children on their 4th birthdays and at their graduations (below).

Sarah, Dylan, and Jacob at age four and age eighteen.

May 29: Dylan, Mary, and Jake on the guys' wedding day.

Just two days following graduation, Dylan got married and moved out (not too far away, thankfully). I'm not sure any mother is ready to have her nest emptied quite so suddenly, but it all worked out. Dylan and Jake had a simple but lovely wedding in my front yard, filled with their closest friends. Even Jacob and Danielle were able to come join us all the way from Utah for the graduation and the wedding. In fact, they made the huge wedding cake that became a striking centerpiece for the "To the Moon and Back/Star Wars"-themed celebration.

Danielle and Jacob with the wedding cake they created for
Dylan and Jake's wedding.

June 21: Cars lined up to leave town during the Cedar Fire.

Mere weeks after all the fuss of graduation and wedding, our area was struck by the Cedar Fire, located just a few miles due west from our home. And the wind was blowing it our direction. We spent weeks under evacuation warning while ash poured down on us like a light snowfall. Many people packed up and left due to breathing issues or just to beat the crowd. The hospital three miles from my house was evacuated. Our usual summer vacationers were warned to stay away. As for myself, I was already fighting a respiratory infection when the fire started, so it made for a stressful episode during a summer I'd so much looked forward to enjoying.

July 12: Mark is ready to check out of Banner Medical Center.

In the midst of the evacuation threat, Mark and I made a two-day trip to Phoenix, where on July 11th he finally had a badly needed ablation to correct his atrial fibrillation, a dangerously irregular heartbeat caused by areas on the heart wall discharging incorrect electrical cues for the heart to contract. The operation appeared to be successful, but less than two weeks later he was back in the emergency room with a pulse of 184 beats per minute! In danger of imminent stroke, the doctors administered an electrical shock to his heart, which they allowed me to witness. Not sure I ever want to do that again, but it worked. So far, his heart is beating correctly and steadily.

July 15: Sarah, Mark, Jacob, Danielle, Jake, and Dylan in front of
Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah.

Just three days after Mark's ablation procedure, we all (except Chris, who stayed behind to work) piled into the Traverse and headed for northern Utah to spend five days with Jacob and Danielle. They came to see us in Midway, where our resort was located, and we had a belated Fathers Day and belated birthdays for Mark and Dylan, since Jacob and Danielle had missed those events with us. Then we explored the rustic little resort town of Midway in Heber Valley. On another day, we all drove over the Wasatch Mountain range (beautiful!) to explore Jacob and Danielle's turf in and around their hometown of Midvale. We saw where they live and work, met their new pets, and enjoyed the places they go to dine out and to have fun. We also spent a day together on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

September 9: Jacob surprised us with a weekend visit.
Jacob, Mark, Mary, Jake, Dylan, Chris, and Sarah.

One very wonderful thing about 2016 was how often we got to see Jacob and Danielle. When they moved to Midvale, Utah, in late September 2015, I figured it would be like they dropped off the face of the earth. But then they were able to join us for my sister's wedding in February, and they came back in May for Dylan's graduation and wedding. Then we went to see them in Utah for five days in July, and of course we were all together again in October for our family vacation in Southern California. We even got a surprise visit from Jacob in September, when he came to attend a friend's wedding. We were so thrilled to see him, but so mad that he didn't bring Danielle with him! I know every year won't bring us together so often, but for our first year living in different states, it was awesome to see them on five different occasions.

Sarah, Chris, Mark, Danielle, Jacob, Dylan, and Jake on Seal Beach Pier.
October 3, 2016

Other than the big holiday season that winds up each year with Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December, our last big event of 2016 was our annual family trip in October. We had such a great time visiting several beaches along the Pacific Coast, doing two days at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Hollywood, spending almost three hours on a whale watching cruise, dining out at various fun restaurants, and just plain relaxing together at the Anaheim resort between the good times.

2016 was a full year, a good year, and the thing that made it most wonderful was being able to spend so much of it with the people I love most in the whole far-flung galaxy. May 2017 be just as amazing, for both my family and yours!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Changing Calendars

New Years Eve 2016: Our annual tradition.

Our family's observance of the flip from 2016 to 2017 turned out to be a two-day event. It was literally, "See you next year!"

As usual, work schedules made it difficult. Mark worked until about 2:00 on the afternoon of New Years Eve, so that wasn't a problem. And Chris was off that day, being a Saturday. However, both Sarah and Dylan worked until 6:00, and poor Jake didn't get off work until 11:00. This convinced me that a family dinner on New Years Eve wouldn't be the wisest course. Instead, we put it off until New years Day.

A big pan of lasagna for New Years Day 2017.

Originally, Dylan had planned to go home from work and take a nap until Jake got off work. Then they were going to hang out with some of Dylan's cousins in Show Low to see in the new year. In fact, Dylan sent me a text asking if I'd "be salty" if they spent New Years Eve with "the cousins" instead of here with me. I assured him I was fine with that.

As it turned out, though, when Sarah drove Dylan home from work, she convinced him (bribed him, that is, with strawberries and pineapple) to come to my house with her and Chris, at least until Jake got home. He grumbled good-naturedly about what a huge nag his sister was, in her efforts to change his mind, but we all enjoyed a pleasant evening together.

In the end, it was after 11:30 before Jake arrived at my house, so they decided not to go out after all. As the ball dropped over Times Square (replayed two hours later for us, of course) we cheered and cried "Happy New Year" and toasted the new year with sparkling cider. Mark, who had to get up for work at 5:00 the next morning, missed out on the festivities. He was in bed by 10:00, which is actually rather late for him. He's usually in bed by 9:00.

The rest of us swiftly followed suit. We all laughed as we parted with the words, "See you next year," as if we were terribly clever, and then everyone headed to their homes and their beds.

And, of course, the obligatory garlic bread. Layin' on the carbs one last time!

Schedules for New Years Day weren't a huge improvement over the previous day, although they allowed a little more latitude. Sarah, Chris, and I all had the day off; Mark got off work at 10:20 because business was slow; and Dylan got off at 4:00. Sarah picked him up from work on their way to my place. When they arrived, they had a surprise guest in tow: my lovely niece Savannah (Darryl's daughter) drove up from the Valley to celebrate with us! The only sad glitch was that, again, Jake didn't get off work at the resort until 11:00. We never even saw him on New Years Day.

I woke up on Sunday with the same yucky stomach issues I'd had on Christmas Day, including a low-grade temperature that lasted a couple of hours. No doubt it's been the result of eating so badly since before Thanksgiving. Still, I managed to make a pan of lasagna while the "kids" played Uno and Phase 10, and then Dylan made us a beautifully crispy, buttery loaf of garlic bread while the lasagna cooled. After dinner, he and Savannah packed up a big square of lasagna and some garlic bread and then drove up to the resort to deliver dinner to Jake. While they were gone, Sarah made us a pan of brownies with cream cheese frosting.

After visiting with Jake for more than an hour, Dylan and Savannah returned and joined us in watching my new DVD, Saturday's Warrior. (Loved it!) Then it was dessert time. Not only brownies, but there were still leftover cheesecake and chocolate orange slices. I insisted that everyone eat as much as possible, because I didn't want any more high-carb foods in my home. I intended to start of my annual "I-will-get-healthy" resolution the next day (and so far I have)!

Sarah, Savannah, and Dylan sit down to dinner.

The night ended after 11:00, when Jake was on his way home. (For Mark, the night ended by 9:15, when he gave up and went to bed.) Savannah headed out with Dylan, since she was staying in the guys' guest room. Sarah headed home next, and then silence fell over the house once again. But it's a good silence, as the happy echoes of laughter and teasing and sharing of stories fade away, leaving behind warmth and joy.

Any year that holds more of these times with the people I love is a good year. A very good year.

Welcome, 2017! And to all, a truly Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2016

White Christmas

A Christmas morning snowfall.

The snow started on Christmas Eve, just before darkness fell. It wasn't very heavy, only about four inches by morning, but it fell throughout the night and continued until early afternoon on Christmas Day. When I stepped out on the porch around 11:00 that morning to take these pictures, the flakes were huge and gently floating down, down, down. That's my favorite kind of snow.

As it turned out, I didn't spend my entire Christmas morning alone. I went back to bed after driving Mark to work and didn't get up again until about 10:30. Dylan came over around 11:00 to do some laundry while Jake was at work. Then Mark got off work unusually early, just after 11:30, so Dylan went to pick him up and bring him home for me. Sarah and Chris came on over a little after 1:00, and then Jake got here from work about 4:00. By that time, dinner was almost ready!

Thankfully, my family provided plenty of help. After I'd woken up and started getting ready for our Christmas day activities, I noticed my stomach was feeling a little cantankerous. I was slightly nauseous, but not badly enough to worry that I might throw up. It was more like I was bloated and had about two days' worth of undigested meals sitting on top of my stomach. I had eaten a light breakfast, but after it made me more uncomfortable, I was afraid to eat anything else.

Jake, Dylan, and Sarah prepare to enjoy their Christmas dinner.
It was basically a repeat of Thanksgiving, only without the green bean casserole.

I soon discovered that my energy had been drained, as well, but everyone stepped up to make our Christmas dinner happen. I'm OCD enough to require that my dishes all be washed and put away before I start cooking a big meal. There weren't many dishes on the counter, and I'd intended to wash them up before the turkey went into the oven, but I just couldn't find the strength to do it. So Sarah emptied the dish drainer, and then Chris washed up what dishes there were to be washed.

Meanwhile, Dylan had helped me wrestle the 14-lb turkey into its roasting bag and basted it with butter before putting it in the oven for me. Later, Sarah scrubbed the potatoes, which Dylan then cut up to be boiled for mashed potatoes. Mark prepared the stuffing while Sarah heated the buttered corn and got the dinner rolls in the oven. Chris and Dylan pulled out the table, brought in extra chairs, and set out the soda. And Jake arrived just in time to set the table while Mark carved the turkey.

Sarah, Chris and Mark wait patiently to dig in.

While my family slaved away in the kitchen, I spent some time in the recliner with my feet up, hoping I'd start feeling better. And, miraculously, I did. Although I still didn't feel great, I was at least able to get up to mash the potatoes and make the turkey gravy...which came out in completely delicious perfection, if I do say so myself! (I can't always say that about my gravy adventures, unfortunately...) I was even able to enjoy a little dinner without nasty consequences, although I ate far less than I normally would have. It was a wonderful feast, and I am so grateful to my family for bringing it all together.

Sarah and Chris and Dylan and Jake added their family gifts 
to the stacks beneath the tree when they arrived.

And then it was time for opening presents! Jacob had insisted that we must Skype on Christmas day so we could all watch each other open the gifts we'd given to each other. So right after dinner, Dylan brought out my laptop and set it up so we could see each other live, although we actually ended up doing it via Facebook rather than Skype. That worked pretty well.

Dylan set up my laptop to live-stream Jacob and Danielle via Facebook.

Ironically, the first thing Jacob told us was that he and Danielle had already opened the gifts we had sent them, saying, "We just couldn't wait!" So I said, "You go get those presents right now and hold each one up and tell us exactly how much you loved them when you opened them!" And that's what they did.

Chris and Sarah open their gift from Jacob and Danielle while
Jacob and Danielle watch them from their home in Utah.

For Danielle, I sent the little bears you see in the two photos below. I thought they were so adorable that I just had to capture them on film before boxing them up and mailing them. Danielle is a serious reader and has even written a book (although she won't let us read it), and I knew she would adore the bride and groom bears, still being practically a newlywed herself.

For Jacob, I sent a big flash for his new camera and a purple Blue Ridge tee-shirt with our mascot, a yellow jacket, over an American flag on the front, and "Hear the Buzz, Fear the Sting" written across the back.

Bearfoots bears for Danielle's Christmas.

Sarah and Chris sent Jacob a box of sausages and cheeses with a cutting board and knife. They sent Danielle a nail kit, including little gems and things you can add to your manicures.

Dylan and Jake sent Jacob a tripod for his new camera, and they sent Danielle the screenplay of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Mark sent Jacob a collection of Axe fragrances, and he sent Danielle a book called Fantastic Beasts Magical Movie Handbook and a box of milk chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

After we had opened all our gifts from Jacob and Danielle (noted below with the rest of the gifts), we chatted a little more before we said our good-byes and Merry Christmases and I love yous. After about half an hour together via the Internet, we signed off, and those of us in Arizona began the opening of the remainder of our presents to each other.

Chris and Sarah with their stacks of gifts.

Jake and Dylan with their piles of presents.

Mark with his gaggle of goodies.

Mary with her surplus of surprises.

And, finally, Sarah and Chris with their new gifts.

Jacob and Danielle gave Sarah and Chris the Disney Frozen version of the game Trouble, called "Olaf's in Trouble."

Dylan and Jake gave Sarah a beautiful wolf blanket and a Christmas album by the a cappella group Pentatonix. They gave Chris two games for his Nintendo 3DS: "Olaf's Quest" and "Big Hero 6."

Mark gave Sarah the novel Hollow City (the sequel to Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children, which Sarah read and enjoyed recently). He gave Chris some Bluetooth headphones.

I gave Sarah  a Simply Straight hairbrush hair straightener; a "Tree of Life" pendant set with real amethyst; the book Fantastic Beasts Magical Movie Handbook; and earbuds for her cell phone. I gave Chris a 6-CD set called "100 Country Hits"; a set of Stetson fragrances; a hover ball; and two packages of his favorite candy, Reese's Fast Break. And I gave them each a purple Blue Ridge tee-shirt, just like the one I sent to Jacob.

Jake and Dylan strike a pose with their Christmas haul.

Jacob and Danielle gave Dylan and Jake a Halo Interactive Strategy board game.

Sarah and Chris gave Dylan a DVD of one of his favorite movies, Deadpool. They gave Jake a box of sausages and cheeses with a marble cutting board and knife.

Mark gave Dylan a Rocket Science rocket, capable of flying 50 feet using baking soda and vinegar. He gave Jake a Star Wars Trivia Box game. Jake is very much into Star Wars, like me.

I gave Dylan a Simon Air game; the latest book in his favorite series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid; and a giant bag of peanut M&Ms for his M&Ms dispenser. I gave Jake a Darth Vader perpetual block calendar; and a pair of Star Wars wall prints (one features Han Solo's ship, the Millennium Falcon, and the other Kylo Ren). I gave them each a purple Blue Ridge tee-shirt, just like the one I sent to Jacob. To both of them, I gave a crock pot; a recipe file with about a dozen family recipes already on cards; and two Star Wars bath towels. Prior to Christmas, I also gave them an Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2) waste basket and a stormtrooper toothbrush holder to match their Star Wars shower curtain, so their bathroom is pretty much Star Wars-ready!

On the morning after Christmas, I cleaned up the living room and
arranged all of Mark's and my opened presents back under the tree.

Mark's gifts.

Jacob and Danielle gave Mark a model kit to build a replica of the General Lee, the car driven by the Duke cousins in the old TV show, The Dukes of Hazard (one of Mark's old favorites).

Sarah and Chris gave Mark a box of sausages and cheeses with a cutting board and knife.

Dylan and Jake gave Mark a kit to build a birdhouse with wind chimes.

I gave Mark a VR (virtual reality) headset; a Nerf-type rifle that fires discs and darts at plastic cans; a 3D crystal puzzle of a lion; a box of chocolate-covered cherries (his favorite); and a purple Blue Ridge tee-shirt, just like the one I sent to Jacob. 

My gifts, although the Wet Head game is actually a family gift from Santa.

As for me, I was spoiled this year. Jacob and Danielle sent me a plate featuring a picture of our family from our trip to Southern California in October. I'll treasure it forever.

Sarah and Chris gave me the DVD of the new film version of my beloved stage play Saturday's Warrior, which I've been wanting ever since it came out.

Dylan and Jake gave me a $25 gift card to the local theater (they know how much I love going to the cinema!) and a huge glossy book, Inside the Magic: the Making of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Can you tell we all loved that film?

As for Mark, he went all out. He gave me a small replica of the famous statue of Jesus Christ found in so many LDS Visitor Centers, called the Christus; a beautiful pair of snowflake earrings that I look forward to wearing; and the Willow Tree figurine called "Je T'aime," meaning "I Love You" in French. It's beautiful.

Oh, and the little handmade soap with the red ribbon was a gift from Gwen Green, our English department chair. It smells of cloves...mmmm.

A closeup of the plate from Jacob and Danielle: mi familia.
And the great blessings of family make Christmas so delightful!

We ended the evening by watching a movie together. By the time we were done, it was getting late and everyone had to work the next morning (except me). So we resolved to try out our new games next Sunday at family dinner and then I stood at the door and watched my kids drive away in the snow. It was truly a merry Christmas.