Friday, December 30, 2011

Letters to Sean: Happy Birthday

Dear Sean,

For once, I'm not able to tell you Happy Birthday. Not through a text message, a phone call, on Facebook or even by yelling it to you first thing in the morning. And I won't lie - it feels sort of strange. Though I don't see you much now that I live on my own, it's still different having you so far away. I tried to send a singing card and pictures from your party but of course Mom said no way. Though I managed to ship you a package to arrive on your birthday, I thought I would write you a letter here too.  No matter how much I pick on you for your absurd clothing choices, inappropriate love of hunting, and your inability to spell - I love you & I am so proud that you're doing so well at bootcamp. I anxiously waited to get a letter from you and while I'm happy I finally did, I could kick you for it too. Spending Christmas with my old man? Not funny. I hope you're enjoying laundry duty, military issue food and signing your letters "Rct Lake - over and out". I'm counting down the days until you graduate and have already began to plan for the trip to South Carolina. The big surprise of it all is that Trevor's coming too! I know you can't wait. Lately I've seen so many marines symbols and semper fi bumper stickers on cars in the area... maybe Semper Fi should be capitalized, huh? Always a reminder of you. And don't worry, I can't wait to order my "Proud Sister of a Marine" shirt for family day. I'm thinking hot pink would be the best, don't you? 
Love you little brother, Happy 19th Birthday.

Love always - Your big sister.

I meant to write about Sean leaving long before now but between holidays, winter classes and my work schedule, the days pass so quickly. It's hard to believe that he left almost three weeks ago.

To be honest, I think I'm still in shock that he's at boot camp at all. Even throughout his going away party and swearing in session, it didn't really seem that I wouldn't talk to my brother for three entire months. I can't say that we saw each other all that much but we'd text, I'd still pick on him for anything I could think of and we had just spent a weekend shopping together at the mall.

Unfortunately, with a December 12th departure date, Sean had to miss both his birthday and Christmas with the family. After at least fifteen years of complaints about he never got a birthday party, we decided to change things a bit. The weekend before Sean left, we threw him an early birthday and going away party.

After trying to surprise him, we gave in. It's impossible to track down high schoolers without the use of Facebook these days. And obviously, that would be hard to hide. Instead, Sean invited his favorite friends and of course the first people to show up were a pack?.. a hoard?.. a nice group of girls.

We decorated tables with photos of Sean, photographs ranging from five year old Sean dressed as Simba from the Lion King to photographs from his high school graduation. You can only imagined how surprised we were when not only was he not embarrassed but he chose to show his friends his scrapbook, too. How bizarre. 

I had considered sending these photographs of Sean to bootcamp for his birthday but decided that perhaps, just maybe, that wouldn't be the nicest of things to do. But truthfully, what eighteen year old boy dons a pink tutu when he knows his sister is only a few feet away with a camera? What can I say, he's an odd kid.

In addition to friends, family came out to send Sean off with their best wishes. This included a cousin from Missouri, an uncle from Texas and our god mom who now lives in Virginia. Of course all of the local family was there, too.

Unfortunately, Aiden is taking right after his brother. He loves attention, especially from girls and was such a ham all day. I guess Sean has trained him well - do you see that look on his face?

Perhaps the most fun part of the party was an impromptu, last minute photobooth. We thought it'd be a good idea to capture photos of Sean with friends before he left. We've been warned several times that he won't look quite the same when we pick him up in March.


Somehow, we even managed some family photos. Looking back, I'm surprised that Sean had his photograph taken at all. (He hates my camera.)

I know this is out of focus but it's priceless none the less.
More importantly though, Sean had his picture taken with me - a rare occurance. Perhaps before middle school hit, we were inseparable in photographs. Ever since? I think I've got one from homecoming, one from graduation and perhaps that is it. The first one is especially attractive. I'm not sure why my mom hasn't printed and framed it, yet.

On December 12th, Sean was officially sworn into the military in a ceremony in Mechanicsburg, PA. For some reason, I agreed to waking up entirely too early to attend. It gave me a chance to tell embarrassing stories to his new platoon mates, to take a few last minute photographs and to film the ceremony for the days when my mom misses Sean too much.

By 1:00, Sean was boarding a bus headed for Parris Island, SC with nothing but twenty dollars, a bible and a few addresses. On March 8th, we will finally see him there. Until there, all we have are letters.

If you would like to support Sean while he is away, please feel free to send letters to the following address. He would also appreciate writing paper, envelopes and stamps as he has limited access to writing supplies while he is away. Thank you.

PO BOX 16355 

Monday, December 26, 2011

& to all a good night.

I sort of missed the "Merry Christmas to All" part, oops.
None the less, even a day late, I hope that Christmas was merry for you.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I was full of cheer.
Stockings were hung (and full of treats). "Merry Christmas" banners decorated my apartment windows. You could see my tiny tree twinkle from outside. I planned to watch Elf six-hundred and fifty-two times. I counted down the days. I shopped. I wrapped gifts. I shopped more.

And then, Christmas came and my Christmas spirit was gone.

The story doesn't quite end that way though. Despite a stressful week and nothing going as planned, Christmas is Christmas and I loved it none the less.

After working a busy lunch shift on Friday, I was exhausted and ready to be done with all the plans I had made for any Christmas events. I calmly declared that I was un-decorating that night and refusing to celebrate. After a hot shower, a steak dinner with my boyfriend, and perhaps most importantly, a Texas Roadhouse Sweet Tea (it was Christmas, after all) - my mind was changed. As Trevor and I scanned the aisles of PetCo for chew toys, I started getting excited about Buddy opening his stocking. At Toys R Us, we waited in line as the cashiers struggled to find a price tag and despite the obnoxious repeating jingle over the radio, and the overly bright fluorescent lights, I realized just how excited Aiden would be to open his gifts.

Perhaps I didn't realize just how excited he would be. It became clearer when he woke me up at 3:06 a.m., jumping up in bed and yelling "WAIT. Is it time to open my gifts yet?!"

My answer was "Most definitely not."
What I meant? "UGH. Go back to sleep. And quit kicking me while you're at it, too."

(My back is still aching from two nights of sleeping very little and doing so in the most uncomfortable of beds.)

My family isn't much for traditions. We don't take family photos. We don't add special ornaments to our tree each year. We don't order Chinese for Christmas Eve.. but somehow, it's become somewhat of a tradition for Aiden to open Christmas gifts in nothing but his underwear. Appropriate? Maybe not. But this year he at least chose holiday spirited ones in Christmas colors. For the first five minutes, we managed to laugh as he wore nothing but a Santa hat & matching underwear. Unfortunately, the hat itched and the photo opportunity had come and gone before I had stopped laughing.


But quickly enough, I was laughing again because honestly, look at that face.
How can you not laugh?

(He's a funny kid.)

While the plan had been to wake up with Trevor & Buddy on Christmas morning, things didn't quite work out that way. After a day of grocery shopping and baking quiche until one o'clock in the morning, my chef-extraordinaire was exhausted and not looking forward to an early morning. (And perhaps I would have been disappointed if that turkey, bell pepper, asiago & Gouda quiche wasn't so damn good.) I can't say that I was any less tired, myself. And the drive to Wellsville? Well, I was okay with only making it once.

But after building a gingerbread house with Aiden, having a sibling sleepover, playing Apples to Apples with my parents, playing Santa, waking up early, doing absurd amounts of Human Resources Management homework and having Christmas dinner with my family, it was time for the drive home and a five minute nap before celebrating again.

I'd like to say that it was a magical relaxing evening with cookies, presents, Elf and an early bedtime.
While there were wonderful presents involved (and wrapped well, too), I forgot my gluten free cookies at home and had to take an exam before bed.

Perhaps my favorite part of Christmas was that my boyfriend didn't mind laying in bed with me as I spent hours whining about winter classes, how tired I was and how much I wanted ice cream.

(He's a keeper.)

Over all, it was a great Christmas but I'm glad it's over.
I've had my share of ribbon, wrapping paper and crowded store lines for the next twelve months.

Unfortunately, while I've had my share of winter class homework too, I've got a few more weeks to go.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

4:00 a.m.

It's 4:20 a.m. I've been awake for the past forty-five minutes. In that time, I've drank some chocolate milk, checked my bank account, ordered last minute Christmas gifts and whined about how I can't get back to sleep. After going to bed at 10:00 on a Friday night (yeah, pathetic, I know), I found myself awake at 1:30 and so incredibly thirsty. I went to my fridge, poured a glass of iced tea, drank it as quickly as possible and stumbled back to my bed. What I forgot was that this week, I accidentally bought died iced tea rather than the diet decaf iced tea that my cardiologist insists upon. After weeks of being nearly without caffeine at all, you realize that one glass of iced tea can indeed wake you up and keep you up at 4:23 in the morning. Who knew.

So I suppose you could say that this blog post is sponsored by iced tea, out of season strawberries and Florence + the Machine on Pandora.

I've spent the last few weeks complaining about how busy I've been and how I just simply haven't had time for my camera, this blog or much of anything. The real truth is that my life hasn't been that chaotic minus lots of catering parties, a thirty-five page marketing project, a rewritten management paper and two finals. Really, I've been laying on my boyfriends bed drinking Sleepytime tea, doing the little homework I've had, snuggling Buddy and watching Chelsea Lately. And on special occasions? Well, Trevor makes me midnight pancakes. With vanilla. And cinnamon. And a whole lot of butter. It's sort of my favorite new winter tradition.

But now, now it's Christmas vacation and I'm determined to do something interesting with my five weeks off. I'm going to pick up my camera, a lot. I'm going to blog regularly (I hope). I'm going to learn to crochet (really). I'm going to bake cookies with friends. I'm going to go to the Aquarium. I'm going to eat good food. And, I'm going to open gifts on Christmas morning while wearing tacky pajamas and trying to keep an eighty-pound, pushy, pit bull from tearing his stocking apart, damn it. And better yet? I'm going to enjoy it all. I'm also taking two online winter term classes... but I can't promise to enjoy either of those.

It's hard to believe I haven't bothered to blog since Thanksgiving (forgive me?). I can't even claim that I haven't had much to say. It's been a fast paced, event filled month.

I've never been a huge fan of Christmas. I would tell you that my family faces a December curse, but that's a morbid story you'd never believe so I won't bother trying to persuade you. Instead, I'll tell you that my mother despises the holiday and so it's never been an extravagant celebration at home. I suppose it's part of that "I live on my own now!" phase but this year, I found myself drawn to the holiday. I wanted to decorate. I wanted to shop for everyone. I wanted my boyfriend to bake cookies with me (he's a pastry chef, you know). And I've been accomplishing those goals slowly but surely:

Exhibit A: The Christmas Tree

The first step was to find a tree, of course. While I wanted a cute miniature live tree from Giant (with the cute price tag of $21.99), my genius of a six-year-old brother insisted that I get an artificial tree. His reasoning? No needles to clean and it's more economically friendly if you keep it for at least two years. Thank you, Aiden.

We easily spent an hour just wandering amongst the boxes of artificial trees; debating which size would be just perfect, deciding whether to buy a pre-lit tree. Aiden strongly urged for a seven-foot artificial fir which while beautiful, would simply never find a home in my three room apartment. Then he advocated for one which spins. No thanks. Eventually we settled for a little three or four foot tree. A tree that fits comfortably in my strangely designed living room window. At night you can see its lights from Route 30. (But honestly, I usually forget to plug it in).

After a second hour of arguing over ornament colors, whether I needed to hang a sparkly church on my tree and sneaking ugly ornaments out of my cart and back on to the shelves, we headed home to decorate. That is, until the lady at the check out counter told us that they were sold out of ornament hangers. Then, it was off to the Dollar Tree for 300 wire hangers and more ornaments, too. It's really quite amazing that we managed to fit them all on such a tiny tree.

But eventually, hours later, the tree was decorated, our names were carefully ironed on to our stockings and Pandora Christmas radio was played. (And for the record, I hate that star. But it was an ugly light up star or a crying six year old in the Christmas aisles of Walmart. & in that case? I'll take the star any day.)

Exhibit B: Breakfast with Santa

Somehow, I missed the annual tree lighting at Wellsville. It's still hard to believe that last year's lighting celebration was the first event I ever photographed.  It's even harder to believe the difference in my photos from less than a year of experience. To be honest though, looking back through blog posts of December 2010, the hardest thing to believe is how much my life has changed since then. But, that's a story for New Years, huh?

Back to breakfast. (Let me say at this point, it's 5:20 and I could really go for some of Trevor's pancakes. And, no wonder I don't blog more often. It's already 5:20?!)

For the past four years, we've made it a point to attend the Wellsville Fire Company's Breakfast with Santa. A five dollar donation gets you plenty of pancakes, hash browns and chocolate milk followed by a photo with Santa and the chance to make a refrigerator frame for it. Oh, and a fabulous tree ornament, too. Last year's was the best yet.


This year didn't disappoint though.
After all, Aiden has finally learned how to smile for posed pictures. Especially the kind with Santa.

Please ignore my mom's creepy hand. (Sorry mom.) I just find Aiden's expression too humorous not to share.

Breakfast served as a good reminder of just how much I love someone else cooking me breakfast, how easily it is to amuse elementary-aged little ones with foam sticker crafts and what a ham Aiden has become over the last few months.

Exhibit C: the Annual Goofy Candy Cane Photo

Out of accident, or maybe purposefully orchestrated by Aiden, each year I seem to take at least one goofy Candy Cane related photo. The first? He was two and tried to use Candy Canes as Reindeer Antlers. Instead, he looked like a goofy striped bug. This year? Something different. A posed series.

His impression of a fish on a hook. Clever.

It's hard to believe that only a week lies between us and Christmas. Over those seven days, I plan to squeeze in plenty of hot cocoa, helping my boyfriend chose and wrap his gifts for the year, walking through Rocky Ridge's Christmas lights and perhaps building a gingerbread house, too.

What are your plans and traditions?
Whatever they may be, I hope you have a great weekend.
(And that you have all the luck in the world with that last minute shopping.)