Our family has a new member.  No, we didn’t adopt a pet, thank goodness.  I’ve already made the decree, “There shall be no more pets.”  We’ll see if anyone listens.

No, we did far better than that.  We adopted ourselves a DirectTV guy!  He’s handy to have around.  Okay, okay.  Before anyone alerts the police, we did not kidnap this man.  We haven’t actually adopted him, and he is able to come and go on his own free will.  The problem is, he just won’t go.

It all started a week ago when we thought we were finally going to have TV in our room.  We’ve been living here for over a month now, and we’ve had no TV to watch in our space.  (It’s a sad story, isn’t it?)  Mr. DirectTV (we’ll call him DT for short) was coming, and his arrival was anxiously anticipated by three out of four members of my immediate family.  I didn’t really care, because I have no time to watch TV.  Besides, when I actually do sit down long enough to watch a show, I just go to sleep anyway.  The other three family members, however, were very excited to see DT arrive.

The first time DT came, he was the bearer of bad news.  Since my mother-in-law’s house is the height of a three story, although it’s a two story (confused yet?), he could not get on the roof to install the dish.  I think union rules were involved.  Either that, or he was just a chicken, I’m not sure which.  Regardless, DT said he could not install the dish without the proper equipment.  Mr. Everything, being who he is, just happened to have a friend with a bucket truck. (Doesn’t everyone have a bucket truck?)  He asked DT if a bucket truck would work, and DT said it would.  They made their plans and the date was set for Thursday, 12/27.  That was great, except for one problem.  We already had somewhere to be that day, and it didn’t involve waiting at home for the cable, excuse me satellite, guy.  (Does cable even exist anymore?  Do our children know what cable is?)

Anywho, all week, Mr. E and DT have been calling each other back and forth, making arrangements for the big day.  You would’ve thought they were pre-teen girls planning for a sleepover.  They arranged for DT to come today.  Today, we would have TV, and all would be right with the world.

We waited around all day.  DT called and said when he thought he would be here.  Then, he called again and bumped the time to later.  Finally, around 5:30, he arrived.  This was just in time for it to get dark outside.  So, here was this man, climbing the ladder of a bucket truck in the dark.  Great planning, boys.

After about an hour, dinner was ready, and I told Mr. Everything he would have to leave his new friend and come in and eat.  He obeyed, sort of, but DT interrupted us in the middle of dinner.  Just like a kid, Mr. E left his plate of unfinished food and dashed off to see what kind of trouble he could get into.  Together, Mr. E and DT went up the stairs and down the stairs and up the stairs and down the stairs.  At least they got their workout today!  The problem was, every time DT came back down the stairs, Captain, my mother-in-law’s dog, would go crazy barking.  Then, Pepe Chihuahua would join in the fun.  Then, Captain would bark at Pepe because he doesn’t like it when Pepe barks.  Then, Pepe would bark back, and quickly, it would turn into a dog fight.  Hair would be flying, teeth would be showing, and it would get ugly.  Luckily, Pepe Chihuahua did not lose any teeth this time.  He usually does, bless his heart.

So, after a few hours of up and down the stairs, my mother-in-law and I were weary.  She was ready to go to her bedroom after a long day of work.  I was ready for DT to get out of the house.  My mother-in-law asked Mr. E, “Can’t I just go to my room?” but he told her she couldn’t.  He said they were going through her room to get to the attic upstairs.

Soon, the Beetle started hanging out in my room.  I wondered what was up, because he never hangs out in my room.  I asked him what he was doing.  With wild eyes, he said, “I can’t play X-Box.” (Oh no..emergency!)  I asked him why not.  He said every time he started a game, DT would come in and need to look at something on his TV.  He said he was going to die if he didn’t get back to his game soon.  Somehow, because of the look in his eyes, I believed it was that serious for him.

The Goose soon came in and told me she couldn’t get ready for bed.  She said Mr. E and DT had furniture stacked in her room.  I was beginning to wonder what was going on up there, but I decided not to investigate.  I would have to climb those killer stairs if I wanted to find out.  (A two story house the height of a three story house equals a very long, steep set of stairs.)

Soon enough, DT and Mr. E came to my room.  They both stood in front of the TV, looking at it, switching channels and looking at it some more.  This did not seem like a fun play date to me.

Somehow, our stations were still set to Jacksonville, although we live much closer to Tampa.  After an hour of looking at the channels, and establishing over and over and over that they were, indeed, Jacksonville stations, the boys decided they didn’t know what to do about it.  By this point, the kids kept whispering and asking me when DT was going to leave.  I told them I wasn’t sure.  I began considering fixing him a pallet of blankets on the floor so he would have somewhere to sleep.

I wondered what his real name was.  “DT” was sufficient for him, so I didn’t ask.  The man was obviously a native Spanish speaker.  I was getting excited about having a live-in Spanish tutor for the kids.  He was going to be quite useful in our family.

The funny thing was, as I was considering what to name him after we adopted him, DT kept referring to Mr. Everything as, “Sir.”  “Sir, is the channel still on Jacksonville?”  “Sir, can you hand me my phone?” “Sir, can I just live here?” “Sir, sir, sir.”  I knew good and well that Mr. E had told him our life story.  I’d heard part of it, so I wasn’t sure why DT was being so distant.  I thought we were closer than that.  I told him, "DT.  If you're going to live here, you'll have to call us by name."  (Okay, I really didn't but can't you imagine the look on his face if I had?)

Finally, after another half hour or so of looking at channels and discussing it some more, DT and Mr. E established for the final time that the channels were, you guessed it, from Jacksonville.  Then, DT said, “Your box is probably out of date.”  Ya don’t say.

DT and Mr. E made plans to talk the next day.  DT said he would call him at 9:00 in the morning.  I wondered if they would brew coffee so they could drink it together while they chatted.  Finally, at 10:00 PM, DT decided it was time for him to go.  Luckily, the Beetle and the Goose were not nearby, because I’m pretty sure they would have vocalized the, “Oh, thank goodness,” I was thinking.  So, just as quickly as DT came into our lives, he left us.  He promised to call tomorrow, though, so we’ll still be in touch.  Maybe he can come to our New Years Day meal.  We’ll teach him how to eat southern.  For now, I guess I’ll hold off on making a stocking to hang for him next year.  We’ll see if he comes back to us first…. For now, we have the promise of a call.   -Al

I was pretty convinced I had completely missed Christmas this year.  All I have done for the last, well forever, is work.  I work from morning until night and then I work some more.  And then I dream about working.  I might as well be working.

Couple the working with moving, and you have the formula for a frantic December.  It amazes me that, every time Mr. E and I say our life can’t possibly get any busier, it does.  Maybe we should start saying our life can’t possibly slow down any more.  Maybe then, it would.

Anywho, I’ve been mourning Christmas.  It hadn’t even happened yet, but I was already mourning my loss.  I have not watched one Christmas movie this year.  I’ve made no crafts.  I looked at no lights.  Okay, well, I looked at them as I rushed by, but I never took the time to really look at them.  Except for the party house.  I can't help but look at the party house in our neighborhood.  It has a red and green disco light on the front porch.  Party house! Woop-woop!  (You have to say that when you drive by.  It’s a rule.)

I really had not even shopped.  I ordered almost everyone’s gift, except for my children’s, online, the day after Thanksgiving.  I haven’t stepped foot in the mall this Christmas season (and I’m actually okay with that part).

As Christmas drew closer and closer, my mourning shifted into panic.  On Monday of this week (that would be Christmas Adam, for those of you who are counting…. Christmas Adam, the day before Christmas Eve, because Adam did, indeed, come before Eve.), I went shopping.  I drove around aimlessly, wondering what in the world to buy my children.  I contemplated just going to the Hess station but figured they wanted more than beef jerky and a Coke for Christmas. (Some children are so demanding.)

At some point in the blur of the last few weeks, the Goose and I decorated my mother-in-law’s tree.  Since we are living in her house, it was the nice thing to do.  My plan was to set up our own tree in our bedroom so my various and sundry brightly colored ornaments would not mess up her nicely planned out color scheme.  However, late last week, I admitted that a tree in our room wouldn’t happen.  It think it was when I stubbed my toe on that box of housewares for the 70th time that I realized there was no room for a tree since we’ve yet to unpack a box.  (Don’t judge us.)  At that point, I convinced the Goose to just pick out a few of our favorite ornaments and put them on my mother-in-law’s tree.  The Goose asked if I was going to help pick them out, and I said, “Do you honestly want me to?”  Remembering the crying fits of Christmas past, she wisely said she would pick them herself.  I teared up as I saw her even looking in the box.  That box of ornaments is like an emotional enema for me.  It just cleans out every tear I have stored up. (Okay, that was a gross analogy.)

Back to my point, I almost missed Christmas.  On Christmas Adam, we worked until 2:30 in the morning.  Then, on Christmas Eve, I got up at 7:30 to get to Wal-mart before the rest of humanity.  I can only take so much humanity at one time, you know.  I hit Wal-mart, 2 Publix stores and 1 Winn Dixie twice (Don’t ask).  I got home and decided I’d better get the gift wrapping done.  I had promised myself I would not be up past midnight on Christmas Eve wrapping gifts.  (So, instead, I was up editing, but hey, I wasn’t wrapping.)

The Goose, bless her pea-pickin’ little heart, offered to wrap all the gifts for our relatives and friends.  She totally wrapped Christmas for me.  That left me with just the gifts for my kids.  That still took a while, but I got ‘er done, thanks to the Goose.

I worked for a little while but then had to cook dinner.  I was bound and determined to cook our traditional ham, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese Christmas Eve dinner.  Normally, I would have other items with those three key dishes.  This year, however, we just stuck to the basics.  The Goose and I joked, since we didn’t even have vegetables, that we were making our own Christmas version of Fat Tuesday.  (Fat Tuesday – nothing green is allowed.)  I managed to throw some Pillsbury cookie dough onto a baking stone and bake some cookies.  They weren’t homemade from scratch, but they were cookies.

Earlier in the day on Christmas Eve, I had begun to panic because I was afraid we would stick to no traditions, and I had no idea how I was going to get it all done.  The Goose wanted to make her berry pie that she learned how to make in Young Chef’s Academy a few years ago.  The Beetle wanted a chocolate meringue pie.  Mr. E just wanted something to eat for dinner.  I wanted the peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses, and of course, I had to make sausage and cheese balls to take to my parents’ house on Christmas.  As I thought about all the things I had to do, I had no idea how I would get it done.  However, I decided panicking would not help, so I just got busy.  I had an unexpected extra pair of hands this year as, apparently, my pre-teen girl has grown a conscience and realized her mama needs help.  Without complaint, she eagerly, willingly and cheerfully helped with whatever I needed.  The Beetle even got in the spirit of things and washed a few dishes.  It was a Christmas miracle.

After dinner, we ate cookies.  One of us ate way too many cookies. (I won’t name names, but Beetle, you know who you are…you’re the one with the stomachache.)  Then, I decided everyone could help me make sausage balls.  Gathered around the kitchen table, my kids laughed and joked with me as we made sausage balls (and some cubes…dare to be different) together.  It was a beautiful moment.  As I sat there, digesting my ham and macaroni and cheese and cookies, I realized I got to have Christmas.  It was brief, but it was beautiful.  It was a moment I will forever cherish until I lose my mind. (Then, I won’t remember it.)  I realized as I looked at my kids that they are growing up.  They are changing, and they need me less and less.  However, as we sat there, laughing, talking and teasing, I also realized it was okay.  I still got my Christmas.

And as I had these warm and wonderful thoughts about my kids, one called the other one an ugly name, and the bickering began.  As quickly as it had started, my Christmas moment had ended just as quickly.  But, at least, I got a moment.

I don’t know what Christmas Day will hold, but it doesn’t really matter.  My holiday season rushed by, and I almost missed, but it stopped just long enough for me to take a breath and enjoy. 

I hope you’ve taken a moment to breathe and enjoy.  It will be over before we know it.  Merry Christmas to you and yours!  I hope, even if you only get 5 minutes of Christmas, they are a great 5 minutes!  -Al

So I have a confession to make.  Yesterday was my birthday.  No, that wasn’t my confession.  That was the introduction to the confession.  Pay attention.  Anywho… Back to what I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…

Yesterday was my birthday, and I threw myself a party.  It was no regular party.  No sir.  It was a good ole’ fashioned pity party.  I don’t really know why, but I felt sorry for myself.

Okay.  That was a lie.  I do know why.  I know exactly why.  However, if I tell you why, then I’ll have to start over with the pity party, and it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds.  So, let’s just leave it, “I really don’t know why.”

So, since my memory fails me as to why I threw a pity party, I think I’ll do the reverse.

In honor of my 41st birthday (though it is a day late, in true Not Your Average Al fashion), here is my list of 41 things I’m thankful for (AKA Reasons Not to Attend My Pity Party):

These are in no particular order, and some may not even make sense to you.  Forgive me.  I’m 41.

1. Someone invented toilet paper.  (I'll bet his wife was not thrilled to be known as Mrs. TP, but I think he was a genius!  Actually, come to think of it, it was probably a mom who invented toilet paper.)

2. Someone invented deodorant.  (Now if someone would only introduce it to half the people I’ll be mingling with when I go to EPCOT later this week.)

3. Not all bras are underwire.  (It was a man who invented underwire bras, I can assure you.)

4. Not all shoes are high heels. (Probably the same man.)

5. CVS has Hershey’s kisses on sale this week. (Combine that with a manufacturer’s coupon, and you’ve got yourself one happy birthday girl!)

6. My parents got me a birthday cake.  (It was not just ANY birthday cake.  It was a Publix birthday cake, and I get the leftovers – unless my rotten kids get to them first.)

7. Squirrels aren’t carnivores.  (You’ve never thought of that, have you, but imagine the world if they were…)

8. God made turtles.  (Sorry.  Turtles just make me happy.)

9. Sheets are washable.  (There is nothing better than clean sheets on a bed.  Too bad mine aren’t clean tonight.  I should have done laundry today.)

10. Coffee (No explanation needed.)

11. Mr. Everything isn’t a hunter.

12. Mr. Everything is incapable of growing a Duck Dynasty beard. (Or any beard for that matter.)

13. Someone smart created air conditioning. (Pretty sure it was a woman.  Although, it might have been a man – that’s why they break so often.)

14. The Goose was sick this past week, and I could take her to the doctor. (Yay for insurance!)

15. God gives us humans in baby form.  (Can you imagine if we got them first as teenagers?)

16. Babies have feet.  (I do love little baby feet.)

17. God made us with only 2 feet and not 3.  (Can you imagine having to keep up with 3 matching shoes?  Finding a match of 2 in our house is difficult enough!)

18. Publix has a bakery.  (I love baked goods way too much.)

19. Brandon has a Publix. (Speaking as someone who just lived 45 minutes away from the nearest Publix for 7 months, this is a really, really good thing.)

20. I live in Brandon. (Oh, how I missed her – Come to think of it, why do they refer to cities as her?)

21. The Goose has started making Pepe Chihuahua sleep with her.  (For the first time in years, I’m sleeping through the night!  I’m pretty sure, though, Pepe is not as thankful for this.)

22. Christmas is only once a year.  (I’m really bad at wrapping gifts.)

23. Christmas is only once a year. (I’m really bad at buying gifts.)

24. Wal-mart is open 24 hours a day. (Come to think of it, I really need to go shopping.)

25. I’m left-handed.  Otherwise, it just wouldn’t seem right.  (See what I did there? Eh? Eh?)

26. Actually, I’m ambidextrous. (Which lets me tell people that I’m amphibious.  I love that joke.)

27. Suitcases have wheels. (I have no idea why that just popped in my head, but it’s definitely something to be thankful for.)

28. Someone invented ice cream. (Wow.  I’m on a dessert kick, aren’t I?  I wonder why I can’t lose weight…)

29. Not all socks are angry socks. (Yes, I have socks that make me angry.  If you understand that, you very well may have sensory issues.)

30. I have a job that I love. (And I should be doing right now instead of writing this list.)

31. I’m close to the end of this list. (What was I thinking committing to 41 things??  Man, that’s a lot.  Man, I’m old.)

32. I have great friends. (And some of you even know how to spell my name correctly.)

33. My husband is a patient man. (Believe me.  He needed patience last night, since he was a guest at my pity party.)

34. My kids have my sick sense of humor. (It makes life much more fun when they actually understand what I’m joking about.)

35. I have leftover Capital Grille steak in the refrigerator. (It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you eat good steak.)

36. The steak is actually Mr. E’s, but he’ll share with me. (Refer back to #33.)

37. Someone invented light bulbs. (I can’t use a cigarette lighter, so I’d be in a world of trouble.)

38. Someone invented sliced bread. (What’s better than that?)

39. I got a utility tote from Thirty One Bags.  (I resisted this company for so long because I thought they were “just” bags.  I was oh, so wrong, and I love my new bag!)

40. The bags under my eyes from crying yesterday are almost gone. (Speaking of bags.)

41. We only have one birthday a year. (I couldn’t handle more excitement than that.)

Thank you for enduring my random list.  If you find yourself in the midst of a pity party on your birthday, feel free to borrow my reasons not to be there, or create your own!  -Al

Click the Photo for Instructions
Traditions can be so much fun.  In our family, we have the tradition of baking cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.  We add the kids’ handprints to our tree skirt every year so we can see how much they’ve grown.  We put reindeer food on the lawn so the reindeer will be attracted to our house.  Those are the traditions I love.  Then, there is the tradition my extended family has.  “Love” would not be the word for how I feel about this one.

See, my parents own their own industrial safety supply business.  My father has gotten to know many of his customers, so every year, he wants to send them each a personal Christmas card.  Somewhere along the way after my sister’s twins were born, those cards started including an annual photo of all five grandchildren.  At first, it was cute.  It allowed the customers to see how much the kids had grown.  We’ve listed them as “Future Employees.”  One year, they wore hard hats.  One year, they were in boxes with stickers on them, like they were being shipped.  The list of poses just goes on and on and on.  Fast forward many years, and what we have are 2 teens, 1 tween and 2 almost tweens who really, really don’t want to take a photo together.  Just getting them in one place at the same time is difficult enough.

For the past several years, the conversation has gone like this:

One of my parents:  “We need to do the Christmas card picture.”
My sister and me and any child standing nearby:  “UUUGGGHHH!!!”
One of my parents: “You know we have to do it.  How are we going to pose them this year?”
My sister: “I don’t care.”
Me: “It doesn’t matter, because no matter what I suggest, no one will listen anyway.”
One of my parents: “Now, don’t be like that.  It will be fun.”
Us, in unison: “Sure it will.”

For the next several weeks, my sister and I go merrily about our business, pretending as though the tradition is not looming over our heads.  Finally, after several more times of our parents asking when the picture is going to happen, my sister and I pull out our family calendars (AKA our cell phones).  We have a 15 minute conversation of:
“No.  We can’t make it then.” 
“No, the kids have a party.” 
“No, that won’t work.”

“Definitely not that day.”

And we finally discover 5 minutes two weeks from Tuesday that are unaccounted for.  With that, we have a plan.  Then, we just need a pose.  Usually, we agonize over it but pull something out of thin air at the last minute.

This year was no different.  I found a pose my parents agreed on, and we were set to go.  The idea was that, in the picture, our kids would all be looking at their cell phones.  The caption was going to say something to the effect of, “We interrupt our busy schedules to wish you a Merry Christmas.”  My sister and I found a few minutes when all 5 kids were available.  It was all systems go on the photo tradition. 

On the day of the big event, I began warning the Goose and the Beetle an hour ahead of time that they had to get ready for the picture.  It wasn’t like there was a lot to get ready for.  It would be a casual pose, wearing casual clothing.  I just figured they needed time to mentally prepare and possibly brush their hair.  Thirty minutes before blast off, the Goose came into my room and said, “Why do we have to take a picture?”  I calmly told her we had to because Grandmama and Granddaddy wanted us to.  She said she didn’t want to, and I reminded her that it wasn’t about her.  She insisted that she didn’t want to, and I again reminded her that there was no “I” in “team.”  (I hate that phrase, but I used it.  Honest, I did.)  She rolled her eyes and said we were talking about a picture and not a team.  I said she knew what I meant and told her to go get ready.  We then proceeded to have a round and round conversation of, “Why?” and “Because it’s not about you,” for the next 25 minutes. 

It was time to go.  It would take 10 minutes to get to my sister’s house, and we had 5 minutes to be there.  We were on a tight schedule as we had other places to be after the blessed photo shoot.  I told the Goose to get in the car, and she continued the argument.  Then, she burst into tears.  Now, if she had cried to begin with, I might have felt sorry for her.  However, she was crying after arguing with me for 25 minutes.  I wasn’t buying it.  “Get in the car,” was as much sympathy as she got from me.

All the way to my sister’s house, the Goose cried and said she did not want to take a picture.  I’m pretty sure I broke the record for how many times a mother can say, “It’s not about you,” in a 10 minute period.  We reached my sister’s house, and I approached her door, wild eyed.  She opened the door, took one look at me and said, “Good day?” Um, yeah.  My answer, though almost incoherent, was, “You deal with her.  Take the picture.”

Once the Goose got involved with her cousins, she forgot her problems.  She actually did fairly well in the photos.  We got enough shots that we felt like we could use something.  I had to photoshop the Beetle’s nose, because he had a zit that just wouldn’t quit.  I hadn’t even noticed it at home, but he was looking a little Rudolfish in the pictures.  So, I gave him a quick paint job, and the picture looked good to me.  We cropped it, emailed to our parents and breathed a sigh of relief.  It was early December, and the blessed picture was taken.  We were awesome.  I left my sister’s house practically floating, because I was so happy to have that over with.

Then, we got the email.  My parents were not happy with the picture, because they said they wanted to see 5 happy grandkids and not 4 happy and 1 who had been crying.  I won’t write what I thought at the moment I read the email.  I try to keep this blog child-friendly, you know.  Let’s just say I had to take about a week to cool off before I could think about the blessed photo again.

Yesterday, I decided to call my sister and try for round 2 of the photos.  We found thirty minutes in the afternoon between the school bus and a party.  My sister and her husband decided to change the background for the photo, so we met at a local church with a brick wall.  I told the kids to get ready, and the Goose immediately started again with, “Why do I have to be in the picture?”  I felt like it was Groundhog Day. (And if you don’t understand that reference, you should watch the movie “Groundhog Day.”  It’s really cute.  Bill Murray is in it, but he isn’t nearly as weird as he was in “Caddy Shack.”)

The Goose began to throw a hissy fit but quickly controlled herself (thank goodness).  We made it to the church and posed the kids.  It’s quite a challenge to pose 5 kids so they look like they aren’t posed, but we managed.  Then, we endured about 20 minutes of various children taking turns ruining the photo.  I was pretty convinced my parents would only see 4 happy grandkids in their picture because my brother-in-law was going to send one of them to the moon.  Which one?   I was not sure.

Finally, with 5 minutes to spare for us to get the Goose to her party, we called the photo shoot a success.  We actually did not know whether we got a good shot or not.  My brother-in-law said he would take the camera home and look at the photos on his computer.  He said he would let me know this weekend if we need to do a re-take.  All I know is, I’m not answering my phone this weekend!

Really, as I have reminded the Goose several times, it is a small thing we can do.  If my parents want a picture of their 5 grandkids, then a picture they will get.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal to arrange a picture for the people who raised me and took care of me and loved me.  (This is much easier to write now that the picture is taken…Besides, I have to win some brownie points with my parents, who just happen to read my blog - Christmas is coming, you know!)   -Al