It started last Monday, when we left to travel up north. The first leg of our journey involves taking the local bus to the train station. We're not 100% sure of the bus schedule, so we made sure to set out an hour before our train left. It was pouring rain, so we were very glad to have our umbrellas for the ten minutes or so that we waited. And you know, ten minutes does not sound like a very long time, but when you're outside in the pouring rain, it sure feels like a long time.
Nevertheless, we safely boarded our bus and made it to the station...where we learned that our train was delayed. We killed time by playing Wizards Unite, and then we discovered that the trains were switched! I mean, we stood by the track, expecting to get on the train up north, and then the train came, only it was going south! What! But this is always the northbound track! It even said so on the new-looking sign over there. But neither of those facts changed the more important fact that the train was facing south, and you can't just flip a train around and send it the other direction.
So we hauled all our luggage up the stairs, across the bridge, and down the stairs to the other platform. To make sure we were heading the right way, we asked one of the young'uns waiting there if this side was going north or south. He informed us that he doesn't know north and south. Sigh. So we asked if he was going to Los Angeles or San Diego, and when he said Los Angeles, we knew we were in the right place. Eventually our train arrived, and we were safely on our way.
The rest of our trip was largely uneventful, but at Union Station, we did notice how upbeat, friendly, and (most of all) patient the Amtrak staff was. People were super stressed out about their holiday travels, and the staff just smiled and did everything they could to help. It was pretty amazing.
We rendezvoused with Mom and Steve at about 4:30 and went straight to John's Incredible Pizza to take part in Phase One of our brother-in-law's annual "Night Before the Night Before" tradition. Apparently his parents' plot was to keep the children up all night on the 23rd so they would have no trouble sleeping on the 24th, thus enabling Santa to arrive undisturbed. From what I understand, the usual workflow is to start at John's Incredible Pizza for dinner and fun times, then go to someone's house for a cousins sleepover--the no-sleep variety, of course. The children would stay up watching movies and/or playing video games until morning, at which point they would go out for breakfast. In my own mind, the logical next step from there is to come home and pass out, but that would defeat the purpose. I suppose children are resilient enough to stay up all night and the next day. But these children are still cranky, so...
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Our group was the first one at the restaurant, so we had the excitement of seeing everyone arrive. When Gilderoy got there, he came over to us and said, "I have to tell you something. [My baby brother] always says there's a T-rex chasing us every time we get in the car. You're lucky you don't have a kid like that." All our nieces and nephews were there, and they were all super cute. A couple of Gilderoy's cousins on his dad's side came, too, but we didn't talk to them much. It was here that we realized John's Incredible Pizza is something like Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland, which is to say it's a trap. Everybody wanders off in different directions, and when somebody's ready to go, they start looking for people, but in the process of finding everyone, inevitably people will be intrigued by something new and wander off to get lost again...well, it's a vicious cycle. But before that happens, it's pretty fun.
When we finally corralled everyone back outside, Sarah took her kids home, Celeste took her kids to look at the Christmas lights, and Mom took us to her house so we could work. Over the course of this trip, we finished (well, almost finished, in the case of UQ Holder) three simulpub chapters. But we didn't want to completely abandon the tradition, so once our deadline had been met, we returned to Celeste's house for Phase...Three, I guess. Her two youngest had already thrown in the towel and were in bed, and Gilderoy was about to go there. Apparently his mother had given him the option of staying up to watch a movie, or going to bed and getting a bedtime story. He wanted a bedtime story, so it was time to go to bed. And the grownups carried on the tradition alone.
Celeste's sister-in-law came by and we played a round of Mario Party, but then she left, and from there began our Super Smash Brothers binge. Only our brother-in-law was any good at the game, but when we realized you could unlock new characters by playing, we couldn't stop. So we probably played for three or four hours straight? We were getting fairly competent by the end of it, but all our skill was erased by the four hours of sleep we got after we finally called it quits. And we never did manage to unlock Cloud Strife.
The next day, we got up and worked on Edens Zero...and the only other thing I remember about that day was Smash Brothers. Okay, that's not entirely true. Mom took us to her favorite fortress in Wizards Unite and we did a bunch of fortress challenges. Then we went back to Celeste's house to make cookies for Santa. But whenever cookies were not being made or dinner was not being eaten, we were playing Smash Brothers. Brother-in-law realized that you could have up to eight players at a time, so we had eight-player melees for a while (Celeste refused to participate in that chaos), but since the computers were still winning most of the time, we switched to team mode--real people versus computer. You can guess which team usually won (it wasn't us). In our defense, we were outnumbered.
This was also the night that Gilderoy asked me to play Super Mario music on their piano (he is super obsessed with Super Mario). I tried figuring it out by ear, but then I gave up and ordered the sheet music for Kindle and put it on my iPad. Now I have the castle music from Super Mario World, and it is pretty awesome.
Eventually it was time to put the kids to bed, and Gilderoy was very upset, because he really wanted Santa to come, but his baby brother wouldn't go to sleep. I don't quite remember how the matter was resolved, but I know that it was.
The next day was Christmas! Yay! ...We started out by working on a first draft of Fire Force. We had actually hoped to be working a lot more than we actually did; we are terrifyingly behind right now. But on Christmas morning, it was a good way for us to stay out of the way while people were bustling about getting ready for dinner. (We offered to help, but it was one of those weird situations where when you ask if there's anything you can do to help, they're all, "No, no, I'm fine!" and then make all these weird grunting noises to suggest that they're doing all this hard work.)
Celeste and her kids were the closest, so they showed up first. And since we were still waiting for people...we broke out the Smash Brothers. This time we kept it at only four players. We were kind of hoping Sarah and her kids would bring their Switch, and then with their Switch, our Switch, Celeste's Switch, and Mom's Switch, we would have enough controllers to have eight real people playing! But Sarah's family didn't bring their Switch and Mom's controllers were dead, so it was just four this time. When Sarah showed up, her kids immediately joined in. Grawp was disappointed in the fact that we had not unlocked Mewtwo. He said in their game, they've unlocked all the characters, and the only one we were missing was Mewtwo. We still hadn't unlocked Cloud yet, so we know he was wrong on that count, but since he probably doesn't know or care who Cloud is, he may have just not noticed his absence. At any rate, he did always choose powerful Pokemon as his characters. (The two of us, Celeste, and our brother-in-law always chose Random, so we got to play a surprise character every time!)
Eventually dinner was ready, so we put the video games away and got to it! And afterward, we had a talent show! This is a new tradition, inspired by Steve's family's Thanksgiving tradition. Gilderoy did a magic trick, after which Grawp leaned over to tell me, "I saw how he did it!" It was nice of him not to announce that to the whole gathering. There was a bunch of singing, all with very nice voices. Athena and I tried to lead the children in Farley's version of the Twelve Days of Christmas (only we had to improvise sound effects with our iPads, since neither of us has Farley's skill with the violin, or a violin with a viola string for cow sounds), but they were all too cool for school...except for Gilderoy, especially after we used the Super Mario Bros. underwater level music for swans a-swimming. Oh well. They'd already had a long week, and it was only Wednesday.
Then it was time for presents! Mom got Athena and me each a new dress for church, thermal pajamas, and super warm fuzzy socks and Muk-Luks. We are now very warm and cozy, and super grateful.
After presents, the kids were more than a little restless, so they all went home, and Mom and Steve and us were left alone to decompress after the chaos. We decided to watch Captain Marvel, and Athena and I are still trying to figure out how Vers could have possibly confirmed that Fury was telling the truth about any of the stuff that supposedly proved he wasn't a Skrull. I guess Athena and I just have way more trust issues than people in the Marvel universe.
The next day...we got snowed in! We had planned to return home on Thursday, but the main highway was closed because of a snowstorm that went through the mountains. Amtrak had no alternative route, so they canceled our tickets. Fortunately, they called us as soon as they could, and we were able to get in touch with an agent and get tickets for a Friday return, but now we had a whole day of not going home. The smart thing would have been to pull out our Chromebook and spend the whole time working, but I have this weird idea that, since we don't get to see people that often, maybe we should spend more time with them now that we have the chance. So we texted our sisters, and Sarah brought her kids and we all went to Celeste's house to play...Pokemon. You thought I was going to say Smash Brothers, didn't you? ...Actually, so did I, a little. But I guess our brother-in-law had moved on, because when we showed up, he went to the other room to give us all space.
But that was okay! Because Grawp and Hagger had gotten Pokemon Sword for Christmas, and now we had a chance to be Pokemon mentors. We discovered that the boys are not so interested in filling up their Pokedexes, however. Athena was all ready to trade them a Shield-exclusive Lotad, but Grawp didn't have any Pokemon to trade for it. Watching them play, sometimes they would run into a Pokemon and be like, "I'm definitely catching that one!", and others, they would see a Pokemon and ignore it, even though they didn't have one. I guess they didn't have the phrase "gotta catch 'em all!" drilled into their heads as many times as we did. It was still pretty cute, though. Grawp asked for a Gollett, so Athena went to catch one and found a Duskull instead.
Meanwhile, Hermie was playing with Petunia and her baby brother. Hermie had gotten a Cozy Dozy for Christmas, and it was her new Very Favorite Thing (she also got a Scruff-a-Luv, which was also a Favorite Thing, but was still drying after its first bath and so didn't get to come along) and she took it with her everywhere. At some point during our visit, she came out just bawling. Baby Brother had broken her Cozy Dozy. See, Cozy Dozy is a teddy bear with a blanket. In the packaging, the blanket is sewn to her paw so it doesn't come off. Hermie's mother had left the blanket attached so it wouldn't get lost, but now Baby Brother had ripped the blanket off. Cozy Dozy was broken, and the world was ending. Sarah tried to show her that Cozy Dozy wasn't really broken, see, we can just wrap the blanket around her. No, she's broken.
Hermie departed sadly, and rejoined Petunia and Baby Brother, at which point she lit into the poor two-year-old. We heard her yelling for a good twenty minutes, if you ask Mom. The only thing that was clear enough for me to make out (I admit, I wasn't listening the whole time) was, "Don't you ever break Cozy Dozy again!"
Baby Brother, for his part, took it like a champ. When Hermie finished yelling, he came out to the living room, calm as anything, went to his mom, and said, "Fix it." This wasn't command form; this was him saying he was going to fix it. We told him no, it was okay, but he insisted he was going to fix it. I think Sarah showed him that Cozy Dozy wasn't really broken (or wasn't broken anymore; see, the blanket's wrapped around her), and he still offered to return the doll to Hermie. But since the blanket hadn't been sewn back on yet (it was seriously only like two stitches), we figured that would only upset her, so we declined. At any rate, it was super cute.
After that, we went back to Mom's house, where we all discussed what to watch. The answer should have been, "Our Chromebook; we need to get some work done," especially since we already had the files for UQ Holder by then, but for some reason I just didn't think of it at the time. Instead, we decided to go to the movie theater and see Jumanji 2. I would recommend it.
The next day, we packed up and endured an extra long journey home, because traffic was a nightmare after the holdup of the previous day plus the snow. We did manage to get a fair amount of work done on the train, but not as much as we would have liked. And we didn't get to take magical pictures of the snow, because it was dark by the time we got to it. But we did make it home safely, and instead of taking the local bus from the station, we called an Uber and chatted with a lovely Uber driver from Egypt. And now we are home, safe and sound and warm, and hoping to be fully recharged by the time we get to work tomorrow. Because we sure have a lot of it.
Today I'm thankful for getting to play a lot of Smash Brothers, not being too terrible at it, the lovely warm things Mom gave us for Christmas, the tin of chocolate cookies Steve gave us, and having eleven o'clock church next year.