Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Jedi Challenge

December 26, 2018: Dylan is suited up and ready to defend the galaxy!
The only way to see what he's seeing is to look in his visor like this.

On the day after Christmas, our family (except Jacob in Mesa) all met up for dinner at China Wok Buffet, and then we drove to Dylan and Jake's place. I wanted to get closeup photos of some gifts for my blog, which I'd missed on the day we opened them, so the guys suggested that we also play Jake's new Jedi Challenge AR experience while we were there. They knew I was excited to give it a try. 

I hadn't been to their apartment in ages. Oh, I'd pulled into their parking area many times for various reasons, but they always met me at the bottom of the stairs. I wasn't too keen to climb the flight to their second-floor apartment because of the strain it put on my knee. We were shocked when we realized that I hadn't set foot in their home in all of 2018! In fact, I'm pretty sure my last time to climb those stairs was in June of 2017, the night of David Archuleta's concert in Snowflake. Sarah and I had driven there after the concert to show Dylan his personal message from David, filmed on my camera.

We were even more stunned when Mark looked around and announced that he'd never been inside Dylan and Jake's place, not even once, in all the time since he moved back here three and a half years ago! (Has it really been that long?)

Dylan went first, to demonstrate. Then he went up against Darth Maul.

Jake set up the game in their spare bedroom, where there'd be enough room to avoid destroying furniture and whacking people with the lightsaber. Dylan began by demonstrating how it worked. His style was almost elegant, evoking the memory of Obi-Wan Kenobi saying, "An elegant weapon for a more civilized age."

It's fun to watch others play, as they swing at unseen enemies. When you're the one wearing the helmet, you can see the real people and the actual room around you, but you can also see the characters you're battling, superimposed over your surroundings. As an observer, you can only see what the players see if you look into the visor of their helmet, as in the top photo.

Chris took a turn after I had my first try.

I think I went next, hacking my way against a slew of stormtroopers. I held on for quite awhile, but my style was far from elegant. I think "enthusiastic" would be more accurate, as I shouted taunts at my enemies and swung that lightsaber wildly to thwart their attacks. The lightsaber itself was awesome,  a perfect fit in my hands and amazingly realistic, even as the blade extends from the grip in your visor's view.

Jake took a turn, almost as elegant as Dylan, and then Chris gave it a shot. His enthusiasm might even have outdone mine by a small degree. We practically had to twist Sarah's arm to get her to try it out, but she finally did. Then we finished up with one final skirmish, my battle against Darth Maul. It ended in a bloodbath. My blood.

On my second try, I was up against Darth Maul.
It didn't end well.

I really enjoyed the Jedi Challenge. It was reminiscent of the Star Wars VR experience we'd had such fun doing while we were in Las Vegas two months ago. I'm starting to hope it won't be long before we have holodecks in our homes, an idea I've embraced since the old Star Wars: Voyager series! (I live for fantasy, obviously...)

Surprisingly, Jedi Challenge is a pretty good workout. By the time I was finished, my arms ached and I was a little out of breath. I'd like to get one for myself sometime. The only downside Dylan could report was the wear and tear on your cell phone, which powers the game and is plugged into the helmet. The phone is hot to the touch by the time you're done, and it takes a lot out of the battery. I also felt the helmet needed an extra strap, lower on the back of the head, to keep it from sliding up in back and feeling like it's going to fall off. You can see what it did to my hair in the picture above. Other than that, it was comfortable and effective.

Jake and Dylan and their new couch, which I hadn't seen since they bought it.

Eventually, we said our good-nights and made our way back down the stairs to our cars. Mark and I followed Sarah and Chris over to their house next, less than a mile from the guys' place. I needed to get some closeups of a few of Sarah's gifts, too. We enjoyed a short visit before we called it a night. Such a great way to spend an evening, having fun with two of my greatest treasures and their spouses!

Sarah and her baby girl, Rosie Cotton.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Christmas with Jacob

Jacob finally gets his stack of family Christmas presents to open.
January 9, 2019

With pretty much back-to-back snow storms coming through our region for the past two weeks (and predicted to continue throughout the coming week), we had to postpone our trip to see Jacob twice. We first intended to drive down the day after Christmas, and then again the day after New Year's Day, but the roads were treacherous. This week, we finally got a short break between storms and drove down to Mesa on Wednesday afternoon. We left the house just after 2:30, stopped to fill the tank, encountered just a bit of light rain here and there en route, and arrived at Jacob's house right after 5:30.

Jacob poses with his Christmas gifts from his parents and siblings.

Of course, Jacob felt he'd waited long enough to open his Christmas presents, so that's the first thing we did. He seemed pleased with his booty. Sarah gave him a large Hershey bar and a gift card. Dylan and Jake gave him a game called Dirty Words: Party Edition (we can't wait to get together and try it out). Apparently there are no actual "dirty" words in the game, but you put together sentences that sound like they could have risque meanings. It's probably all in the delivery!

Dylan also asked a co-worker to create a handmade gift for Jacob, using her incredible creative skills. The co-worker, Tina, also used to work with Jacob years ago, so she was happy to help, and produced a great picture of a wolf and dream catcher. Mark gave him a box of candies and a gift card, as well as some storage containers. I gave him a wolf family sculpture; a wolf print tee-shirt; a pair of wolf socks (turned out he already had some exactly like them, a gift from his friend Cody last year); a laundry basket; and a coffee maker.

Mark opens his gift from Jacob: a mug shaped like a fishing bobber!

Mark and I were finally able to open our presents from Jacob, as well. Knowing that his dad loves fishing and his morning cup of coffee, Jacob bought him a mug that's shaped like a fishing bobber. For me, Jacob found a Funko POP! figure of my favorite Elf, Legolas (from The Lord of the Rings). I love it! The little guy even has Legolas's braids.

Mark's new mug and my POP! Legolas figure, gifts from our son.

Our stay was short, less than twenty-four hours, but we had a great visit. After we unloaded the car and opened our Christmas presents, we went to dinner at Boston Market. Then we went back to the house to watch a movie together on the big-screen TV Jacob won for his sales skills last year, when he worked for Progrexion. It was after 11:00 when we called it a night.

Boston Market: We all ordered the garlic rotisserie half-chicken:
mine with creamed spinach and green beans, Jacob with creamed spinach 
and loaded potato wedges, and Mark with potato wedges and mac-and-cheese.
I was so stuffed, I ended up taking the chicken breast home with me.

The next morning, Jacob made us a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage, which the guys used to make breakfast burritos. I ate mine "straight," since I restarted a strict low carb/ketogenic diet on December 27. Having survived the holidays, I decided it was finally time to get serious about my blood glucose levels (still pre-diabetic, but inching closer to the real thing), my blood pressure (already improving with the change in diet), and my weight (down 6 lbs in the first sixteen days...slow but steady).

Jacob and Mark load a new bathroom vanity into the back of my car.

After breakfast, we dropped Jacob's roommate Antonio off at work, then drove on to Home Depot. Just when I think the worst of the nightmare home repairs is over...it's not. When Jacob fist moved into the house, there was a terrible leak in the wall between the two bathrooms. We thought we'd taken care of it when Jacob installed a new toilet in the master bathroom, where the leak had appeared to originate.

Fast forward six months. After mold started seeping through the walls in his bathroom, Jacob called a plumber out a few weeks ago. Turns out there was a leak in the hot water line to the shower on the other side of the wall, in the front bathroom. It's been there a very long time. The plumber said the water mark inside the wall between the two bathrooms, which he had to break through to find the leak, was about eighteen inches high. 

Because of the difficulty in getting to the leak to repair it, the plumber alone cost me $781.65. On top of that, much of the lower part of two walls will have to be cut out and re-drywalled to get rid of the mold, and the back and bottom of the vanity are saturated and rotten. So we spent some time at Home Depot selecting a new vanity with a new basin (the old one was too nasty to get clean) and a new faucet . That, along with some additional hardware, cost me $364.57. Poof! Just like that, almost $1,150 gone! And we have no idea how to install a bathroom vanity, so it's anybody's guess what that may lead to.

Jacob's delicious buffalo-ranch wings and garlic-butter wings with
my homemade coleslaw was our late lunch before heading home.

Our next stop was Walmart, where we bought the necessary ingredients for Jacob to make his wonderful flavored wings. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of hot wings. Often, they're too hot to enjoy, and there really isn't enough meat on those tiny little bones to make it worth the effort. Nonetheless, I'm a big fan of Jacob's wings. I can't explain why they're so much tastier, but they are. In fact, a few days before we left, I called to tell him I was craving his wings and asked him to make them for us while we were there. He has four really good recipes, but I requested my two favorites: buffalo ranch and garlic butter.

We enjoyed a late lunch together around 2:30, and then Mark and I were on our way back up the mountain before 5:00. It was just after 7:00 when we reached the little mountain burg of Heber-Overgaard. I was ready for dinner by then, so we stopped at a well-known, locally-owned restaurant called the Red Onion. I'd eaten there once or twice before, so I knew I could get a good burger without the bun, to stay low-carb. 

Their daily special was Mark's total favorite meal: chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. No question what he was having! I had Al's monster burger: two beef patties with two slices of cheese, topped with strips of green chile and bacon piled high on top. And lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle on the side. I brought home about a third of my bun-less burger and had it for lunch the next day.

January 12, 2019: Diego takes up his post to guard the remnants of ham.

It was about 8:45 when we got home on Thursday night, and everyone was busy as usual on Friday. It was Saturday evening when we were all able to get together for a family dinner and another gift- opening.

He can't resist a peek at the ham, with a small bark to remind us he's watching.
And available to help clean up the leftovers, if we'd like. Please.

We gathered to enjoy ham, corn, and garden salad around 7:00, after everyone was off work for the day. While we ate and chatted, we got a kick out of our family dog's antics. It's hard to believe Diego will be twelve years old in May, but he's still got a puppy's spirit! (Diego lives with Sarah and Chris, but he started out as mine and we all claim him as part of our family. I sent him to live with Sarah when she got married seven years ago, after he was abused by my second husband.) 

At both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, Diego took it upon himself to guard the turkey carcasses. He stayed steadfastly positioned nearby, hardly taking his eyes off them. Hoping they'd jump off the counter and into his mouth, I suppose. Apparently he likes ham even more than he likes turkey, because his devotion to guarding the ham bone was even more devout, to the point that we could barely tear him away, even when it was time to go home!


After dinner, it was time to see what Jacob had sent for Sarah and Chris and Dylan and Jake. Sarah and Chris received a fun set of pillowcases, three of them, labeled "His," "Hers," and "the Cat." They said it was a perfect choice, since their new kitten Rosie actually does sleep between them every night. Now she has her own pillow!

Dylan and Jake display their new 3-D Star Wars lamp.

Dylan and Jake got a Star Wars lamp with changing colors and three choices of subject: the Death Star, R2-D2, and BB-8. It's very cool, and I placed photos of all three options below.

While my first choice would have been to enjoy Christmas with all three of my children together, this isn't a bad second choice. It simply stretched out our holiday giving for an extra few weeks. It's definitely preferable to sharing Christmas through mailed packages and a short visit via FaceTime, as we've had to do for the past three Christmases, when Jacob was living in Utah.

We ended the evening by calling Jacob and putting him on speaker so we could all thank him for our gifts and talk for a while, which inevitably led to the usual sibling silliness. What a blessing to have a family who enjoy each other, support each other, forgive each other, and love each other throughout the year. That makes life a little bit like Christmas every day!




Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Starting the Year with a Bang

I love goofy pics like this, with a foot of snow perched on our mailboxes!
January 1, 2019

What a difference a year makes! On New Years Eve 2018 we had a few inches of snow still on the ground from previous storms. By the time we were up at 5:30 a.m. on New Years Day 2019, there was more than a foot of snow blanketing our world.

New Years Eve is a great time to get together with family, and my kids usually come over to see in the new year together, with our traditional sparkling cider toast and a slice of homemade cheesecake. Once the storm warning was posted several days ago, though, I didn't even suggest getting together for this year. The last thing I wanted was my children traveling in heavy snow after midnight.

We did have three power outages during the night. The first two only lasted five to ten minutes. The final outage lasted about an hour, just long enough for the house to start getting chilly. Thank goodness it didn't last longer. The heater kicked back on and the house quickly warmed back up.

In all honesty, I wouldn't even have known the power was out if it weren't for Mark's BiPAP machine (for his severe sleep apnea). Even with a hall and two closed doors between us, I still heard clearly the long, loud, high-pitched BEEEEP the machine gave when the power came back on each time. The first time it made me about jump out of my skin, trying to figure out what horrible calamity would produce such an obnoxious warning alert!

My front yard at the start of the storm, around 3:30 in the afternoon
on New Years Eve 2018.

These two pictures illustrate the difference a few hours can make. I shot the top one soon after the snow started yesterday, announcing the windy but gentle arrival of the storm. The one below was taken after I got home this morning from ferrying people around town in my trusty Traverse.

My front yard at 8:30 on the morning of New Years Day 2019!

Both Sarah and Dylan worked last night. Dylan got off at 7:00 and was happy to make it home safely despite the slippery roads and driving snow, which affects visibility badly when lit up by headlights. It very much resembles the hyperspace lines that light up the cockpit windows when Han and Chewie activate the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive. I'm not even kidding.

Sarah didn't get off work until 11:00. She says it was touch and go, even with her Jeep's four-wheel drive. The storm was in full force by then, and the snow was already deep enough to reach the bottom of her car door. She managed to get home without getting stuck in a snowdrift, but she knew her luck wouldn't hold out once the snow deepened. She was supposed to work this morning, but she opted to call in and take a snow day instead.

One of Jake's co-workers, August, got stuck in the middle of the highway on her way into work late last night. Dylan called to ask me if I could pick up him and Dylan to go to her aid. They'd tried to move their car but got stuck in their own apartment building's parking lot. Much as I'd have liked to rush to the rescue, I knew the roads in my neighborhood hadn't been plowed and I was too nervous to risk it alone. Dylan thought maybe I could wake his dad and ask Mark to go with me. Well...Mark is the most easy-going person I've ever met, but interrupting his sleep at midnight, just five hours before he had to get up for work, to ask him to shovel out the car and go on a rescue mission, was a sure way to see Mark's rare cranky side. I could have gotten him to do it, but I didn't want to do that to him.

I recommended they call the police (not 911) to ask an officer to check on Jake's co-worker. They have the equipment to help and were already out in the storm. In the end, the police did find her, getting her safely off the highway and into a parking space at work for the night.

Meanwhile, Dylan and Jake's cars were both being held hostage by the deep snow outside their apartment building, so I offered to take Jake to work after I delivered Mark to his job. 

Waiting outside Dylan and Jake's apartment at 6:20 this morning.
Dylan and Jake's cars were trapped behind the snowplow berm on the right.

When I got up at 5:30, I asked Mark how deep the snow was. He said it was only about a foot deep and didn't look too bad. Then he went out to start my car and clean off the snow. When he came back in, he wasn't happy. He reported that the snow was more like a foot and a half deep (to his knees--and he's 6'2"!) and, to add insult to injury, a snow plow had just now gone by and left a three-foot berm in front of my car.

Me: "Better get the snow shovel." Mark: "I'm not shoveling it out!" Me: "Yes, you are." Mark: "No, I'm calling in." Me: "Even if you call in, you have to shovel it out." Mark: "I'm not doing it!" Me: "Yes, you are. I need to drive Jake to work after I drop you off. His car is stuck and he can't call in. Besides, there's not that much to shovel. That's why I park so close to the road before a storm." Mark: Grumbles all the way out the door, but goes out to shovel a space in the berm just barely wide enough to squeeze my car through. It takes about ten minutes. When he comes back in, he says, "Now I'm too tired to go to work!" I laugh, and so does he. 

One thing I figured out after our first winters in the White Mountains is the importance of limiting how much snow you have to move. I have a large driveway, but no one wants to shovel snow all the way from the house to the road. So, when a snowstorm is predicted, I park as close to the road as safely possible, with my car facing the road. Less shoveling required to reach the road (there's always the dreaded snowplow berm), plus it's much easier to drive straight out onto slick roads than it is to back out.

Dropping Jake off at work at the resort at 6:45 this morning.

In three and a half years at Denny's, Mark hasn't missed a single day of work (except planned vacations, of course) and he hasn't been late even once. We blew his record this morning, but only by two minutes. The roads were bad, and we discovered when we arrived that the Denny's parking lot hadn't even been plowed yet. Slipping and sliding along the tracks of bigger trucks I followed in and out took a bit more time than usual. Pretty nerve-wracking.

Considering that all the other dishwashers called in, claiming to be stuck in the snow, I guess Mark's boss won't be complaining about two minutes of tardiness. At least he showed up, and he worked an extra three hours until someone finally showed up to relieve him. (Good thing he didn't call in.)

Jake carefully climbs the slick stairs to the resort office.

It was 6:20 when I got to Dylan and Jake's place after leaving Denny's. On my way, I called Dylan and told him to get ready, because he was coming with us, too. He didn't work until 11:00, but the snow was still coming down, and I'd decided I wasn't going to make two trips to their apartment. He was agreeable.

Thankfully, the apartments' parking lot had been plowed by the time I arrived. It was a narrow lane with high berms on both sides, which made it tricky to turn around (backing up a car in small spaces is not one of my strengths), but it was better than forging through deep snow, and we managed it. We even had Jake at work at his exact starting time of 6:45.

By 7:30, the sky had lightened and we were on our way back to my house.

Jake's co-worker, August, was worried about driving her car home, after her experience on the way to work the night before, so Jake asked if I could drive her home. It made for a long drive, from home in Lakeside, in the middle...then north four miles to Denny's in Show Low...then far south ten miles to the resort at the top of Pinetop...then eight miles back north, passing home on the way to Wagon Wheel between Lakeside and Show Low...and then, finally, the two miles back home from there. But I didn't blame August a bit for not wanting to risk driving home until road conditions improved.

The highway that runs through town, about a mile from home.

The only issue we had was getting back on the highway after dropping off August. That area hadn't been plowed, and there's a stop sign at the top of a fairly steep incline. Having to stop in the churned-up deep snow at the top of a hill brought us to a halt, my tires spinning in the snow. I'm actually pretty good with this type of task, but my tires simply couldn't get enough traction to push me up the hill through the wet snow and onto the highway. And the thick snow behind the car prevented the tires from getting traction to back up very far

Dylan got out and was able to push me back downhill enough to get a running start. Then, praying that no idiot would came speeding toward us as we pulled out, I was able to get the car moving with enough momentum to slide through the snow and over the hill, onto the highway. Success!

After almost two hours of driving, home at last, safe and sound, at 7:30.

We'd been driving around in this horrible snow for almost two hours when we finally got back to my place at 7:30. Dylan has mad backing skills, so he offered to back my car into its little slot in the driveway, and I happily agreed. Then he went the extra mile and shoveled a walkway to the house, making it much easier on my poor knees. I didn't even ask him to do it, not even a hint, but I was so grateful!  You don't realize what a workout it is to walk in deep snow until you've experienced it.

Dylan backed my car into the narrow cleared spot for me.

Once we were inside the warm house, we visited a bit and I made Egg McNuthin's (no muffin) for breakfast. Then Dylan fell asleep in front of the TV while I went back to my bed for a nap (it had been a crazy night and a long morning). I drove him to work at 11:00 and will probably pick him up and take him home when he gets off.

Meanwhile, Jake drove August's car home for her, and she is just now driving him back to his place, where he can finish digging out their cars. He reports that the highway is pretty clear now. Slight chance for more snow tonight and tomorrow morning, but not more than an inch in total. The real issue will be the cold. They're saying two degrees in the morning, or -8 degrees with the wind chill. 

Sigh. But for now, everyone I love is safe, and that's always a good thing.

Dylan also cleared a walkway to the house for me. What a sweet guy!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

An Early Christmas

Everyone's gifts were finally under the tree (except the ones from Jacob
in Mesa) right before we started opening them on Sunday night.
December 23, 2018

Ordinarily, we're able to enjoy our family Christmas dinner and gift exchange on the actual date of Christmas. It's the one day of the year that Walmart closes, allowing Sarah and Dylan to have the same day off. Sarah and Chris always do their traditional Christmas with Chris's family on Christmas Eve, and Chris's place of business also closes on Christmas Day. Mark works during the morning and early afternoon of pretty much all holidays (that's Denny's for you), but has the whole late afternoon and evening free. The same had always been true for Jake, as well, allowing us to celebrate together later in the day, but with Jake's recent promotion to front desk supervisor at the resort, he ended up working on the evening of Christmas Day. Between his and Mark's schedules, it would have allowed for only an hour or so of family togetherness, food, and gifts.

That just doesn't work for me.

Later on, only Jacob's gifts await. We'll take them to him after New Year's,
then open our gifts from Jacob in Mesa and bring back his siblings' gifts.

As for Jacob, we'd hoped he'd be able to drive up and join us on Christmas Day, now that he lives in Mesa. Unfortunately, his work schedule had him on the job both Saturday and Monday. He was off on Sunday and Tuesday (Christmas Day), but doing a one-day trip on either day at this time of year can be tricky at this elevation. Inevitably, with such a short trip, you end up traveling during darkness one way or the other, when there's a risk that any trickle of water onto the highway might have frozen into a deadly sheet of black ice. I worry when my kids travel far distances after dark this time of year.

We decided Mark and I would take his gifts to him the day after Christmas, making it a two-day trip so we could travel during the warmth of daylight both days. Our plans changed when a snowstorm moved into the area on the night of Christmas Day, and it hung around for three days. Unsafe road conditions were predicted, so it wasn't worth the risk. Instead, we now plan to drive down the day after New Year's. So far, the weatherman is predicting another snowstorm (up to nine inches of snow!) for tomorrow and into Tuesday, but sunny skies for the two days we plan to travel, Wednesday and Thursday. Fingers crossed!

The turkey came out perfectly. Love my roasting pan!

In the end, we decided to do our Christmas two days early, as part of our weekly Sunday family dinner. That's the one evening of the week we're most likely able to gather. Mark, Dylan, and Jake work the morning and afternoon on most Sundays but, with rare exceptions, we all have the evening free.

We were all gathered together before 5:30 that day (except Jacob,  of course), which is a small feat in itself. By the time Dylan arrived after work, the turkey was done, and Sarah, Chris, and Jake had worked together to finish the mashed potatoes. I'd baked a pan of thick, gooey brownies earlier that morning to enjoy for dessert. All we needed to do was saute the buttery corn, make the gravy (Sarah excels at gravy), prepare the stuffing (Jake took on that task), and bake the dinner rolls that had been rising all afternoon. Mark carved the turkey while the rest of us finished up and set out the food and dishes.

Mark starts carving the turkey while Sarah works on the gravy.

Christmas dinner was a smaller version of our Thanksgiving dinner, with a 14-lb turkey (provided by Dylan and Jake) instead of 24 lbs, and minus the green bean casserole and pies. That meant less mess and fewer leftovers, which was okay by me. It was a delicious meal, prepared by many loving hands, which I greatly appreciated!

It's always a disaster area after all the Christmas presents are opened!

Then, after dinner, it was time for the fun of discovering what was hidden in all the brightly colored packages, boxes and bags, over the past few weeks. As always, when we were done, we each gathered our gifts and set them out for Mom's camera. It's fun to look back and see what gifts we received, and from whom, on any given Christmas.

Sarah with her gaggle of gift packages.

Note: Sarah and Chris opted to exchange their own presents to each other on Christmas morning in their own home, so those gifts are not included here.

Sarah poses with all her new presents.

To Sarah, from Dylan and Jake: A decorative box holding Harry Potter artifacts (see photo below for details).

From Mark: A box of premium chocolates and a Walmart gift card.

From me: A small ceramic violin figure for her curio cabinet; a fully-illustrated re-release of the original Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; a "chocolate" frog (from Harry Potter) in a decorative case, including a collectible Wizards Trading Card of Albus Dumbledore; a tall five-shelf bookcase for Sarah's new doll collection (left to her by her great-grandma Helen Carter); and two boxes of Atkins protein bars (for Sarah's New Year resolution).

Closeup of Sarah's tiny, new, ceramic violin.

Closeup of contents of the Harry Potter artifact box.

Cool items in the Harry Potter artifact box include:

1) Harry's acceptance letter to Hogwarts, in the envelope addressed to "The cupboard under the stairs"

2) Scroll signed by all members of Dumbledore's Army

3) Lenticular (3-D) photo of members of Order of the Phoenix, including Harry's parents Lily and James, with mum Lily clearly pregnant with Harry

4) Lily Potter's letter to Sirius Black, written just after Harry's first birthday and about two months before Lily and James were murdered by Voldemort

5) Sirius Black's Wanted Poster

6) Ticket to the World Cup Quidditch game in Ireland

7) Luggage tag for traveling on the Hogwarts Express (made of metal, very solid!)

Closeup of the "chocolate" frog. It's actually stick-to-the-wall rubbery.

The chocolate frog and its case, plus the included wizard trading card.
Amazing 3-D. Dumbledore seems to actually turn to watch as you walk past.

Chris with his heap of presents.

Chris with this year's haul.

To Chris, from Dylan and Jake: A Pokemon Ultra-Moon role-playing video game.

From Mark: A Virtual Reality headset, plus a variety package of Reese's peanut butter cups.

From me: "The One Ring" from The Lord of the Rings; a metal display case for The One Ring; a Star Wars tee-shirt; a Hickory Farms sausage-cheese-and-cracker sampler; and three pairs of socks featuring sharks, dogs, and cats.

Closeup of "The One Ring" from Lord of the Rings.
It's a gorgeous replica of the movie prop.

"One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all 
And in the darkness bind them."

Closeup of "The One Ring" in its impressive display case.

Looking at the kinds of gifts we give each other, I guess it's pretty obvious that we're a family of fantasy and science fiction nerds. We're particularly fond of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, anything Star Wars and Star Trek, and everything Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts. For the guys, we must include Pokemon. For Dylan and me, add on the Zelda video games. Plus, I adore the beautiful film Avatar. I can't wait for the movie sequels!

Dylan with his stack of stuff.

Note: While Sarah and Chris decided to wait and open their personal gifts to each other on Christmas morning in their own home, Jake and Dylan decided to go ahead and open their presents to each other while we were all together at this family gathering. I'm pretty sure it was because they suspected they'd be getting an electronic game or two that neither could wait two more days to play!

Dylan with his Christmas presents.

To Dylan, from Jake: A box of eight Pokemon Gym Badges; a mug bearing the crest of Hyrule, the kingdom in Zelda; and a Hyrule crest tee-shirt. Jake also plans to get Dylan a Lift Ticket so he can go snowboarding at nearby Sunrise Ski Resort this season, once Dylan settles on a date to go.

From Sarah and Chris: A large Hershey's chocolate bar and a Walmart gift card.

From Mark: A box of Rice Krispy Treats and a Walmart gift card.

From me: The new Super Smash Brothers Ultimate video game; a retro Gameboy-style cell phone case, actually loaded with working games like Tetris and Frogger; a collection of Zelda pins; a Star Wars "I'll Be Home for Sithmas" tee-shirt; and five pairs of Zelda socks (which he's been rocking at Walmart, making his co-workers jealous).

The Pokemon League Badges, also known as Gym Badges, must be
earned in order to participate in certain levels of play for Pokemon Go.
Dylan earned them all long ago; these are merely physical representations.

These Zelda pins are based on items in the video games.

Jake with his load of laden boxes and bags.

Jake with his Christmas goodies.

To Jake, from Dylan: A Star Wars mug featuring Han and Chewie in the Millennium Falcon, which changes when hot liquid is added; a Funko Pop figure of Dominus Ghaul, a character from the Destiny 2 video game; Star Wars seat covers for Jake's Kia Soul; and a glass Chess set.

From Dylan, Sarah, and Chris: A Jedi Challenge AR headset and lightsaber experience set.

From Sarah and Chris: large Hershey's chocolate bar.

From Mark: A box of Russell Stover candies and a Walmart gift card.

From me: The Han Solo Card Game, based on the gambling game of Sabacc in the Star Wars films; a replica of Han Solo's chance cubes, used in a version of Sabacc called "Corellian Spike," which hang in the Millennium Falcon's cockpit; a set of Dwarven coin replicas from The Hobbit films; Star Wars "I'll Be Home for Sithmas" tee-shirt (to match Dylan's); and five pairs of Harry Potter socks.

Replicas of the Dwarven coin props from The Hobbit films.
Real struck-metal, very heavy in the hand.

When the mug is filled with hot liquid, the star field outside the cockpit of
the Millennium Falcon is replaced by the elongated streaks of hyperspace.

Jake's eyes popped when he saw the lightsaber in his Jedi Challenge AR set. 

I hadn't even heard of the Jedi Challenge AR headset and lightsaber experience until Jake opened that gift from Sarah, Chris, and Dylan (who pooled their money for it). We all got to try it out a few days later, and it was amazing fun. And quite a workout...but more on that in a later post. It was reminiscent of the Star Wars VR experience we did at the VOID in Las Vegas, which was so incredibly awesome.

I know what VR is (virtual reality), but I had to look up AR. It stands for augmented reality. In essence, VR creates an entire world around you, erasing the reality, whereas AR allows you to see the real world through the visor (such as your living room or wherever you're playing) and simply brings into your world the people or things you'll be interacting with. In this case, opponents with whom you spar as you develop your lightsaber skills.

Mark with his pile of presents.

Mark's gifts.

To Mark, from Sarah and Chris: a Walmart gift card and a large Hershey's chocolate bar.

From Dylan and Jake: a two-DVD set of Super Troopers (two films I find painfully goofy, but Mark finds totally hilarious); and a yard-long box of Mark's favorite candy, Snickers.

From me: a small television for Mark's room (he's been wanting his own TV pretty much since he moved in three and a half years ago); a Roku stick for the TV; an electric knife sharpener (he gets frustrated trying to sharpen our knives with a file); a Deadpool tee-shirt (another goofy character who makes him guffaw); and five pairs of socks featuring Call of Duty skulls and such.

The gifts I received from my very generous family.

From Sarah and Chris: a lovely new Willow Tree figurine for my collection, which I adore, this one called "Journey." And a big Hershey bar!

From Dylan and Jake: Seraphina Piquery's wand from the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; a "Family Is Life's Greatest Blessing" frame holding my new favorite photo of me with all three of my children; an artist's kit containing paints and pastels and sketch pencils; and a Harry Potter sorting hat ornament.

[Note: a few years back, Dylan was deeply struck by the realization that everyone else had a large-ish stack of presents on Christmas morning, whereas Mom rarely had more than two or three to open. I've always been fine with that, since my pleasure comes from watching my children's faces light up at each package they open. Since then, though, Dylan has always made sure to provide me with enough gifts to have a stack of my own. It's not necessary, of course, but I love his thoughtfulness. I love that all my kids have such generous hearts.]

From Mark: a gift card for our local WME theater (I love going to see movies, especially science fiction and fantasy!); a pair of cute earrings with green stones; and an M&Ms mug filled with mini-bags of M&Ms, my favorite candies.

My family definitely knows what I like!

The beautiful Willow Tree figurine called "Journey."

A closeup of Seraphina Piquery's wand. I think it's the most beautiful wand
in all of Harry Potter's wizarding world. Piquery was Madame President of
the Magical Congress, the American version of  Britain's Ministry of Magic.

The frame that Dylan and Jake gave me really says it all. In fact, Jake said they'd originally chosen a different frame, but when they saw this one they knew it was "The One." He told me, "The frame says exactly what you always say about family." It's the truth. My life is rich in blessings, but none greater than the gift of family. And Christmas is the perfect time to remember how blessed we are to have each other!

I love this frame and I love the people in the frame!