Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Howling winds woke me up late on what was otherwise a lovely Christmas morning. I read short stories, poems, and sang carols from Colliers Harvest of Holidays, then went out into the living room to open my presents from Linda and James Young. The soft tubular gift was a warm knitted red and white hat with "snow" across the front. Opening the larger package revealed a new journal (I can always use more journals) and a real ink nib pen, complete with ink cartridges. My "stocking stuffer" was a set of LED bicycle lights for my bike wheels, to help with riding at night.

Ran one final holiday special while getting dressed and organizing the bags filled with gifts. The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas introduces Ted E Bear, a little fellow who is always curious about everything, but especially Christmas. Bears normally hibernate through December and don't really get to experience the holidays. Ted is determined to stay up and find out just what Christmas is, even if he has to make his way to the city to do it.

I ended up walking to Dad and Jodie's around 10. Not only was it too windy to ride the bike, but I had too much to carry. Despite the blustery blasts and the chilly air, I had a rather nice stroll. The neighborhood is bare now, the leaves gone from most of the trees, but houses are brightly decorated, and the few people out happily chatted with their neighbors or greeted relatives as they arrived.

Dad, Jodie, Jessa, Joe, and Dana were there when I got in. Rose arrived with her brood shortly after, followed by Vanessa and Mark, Jesse, TJ and his friend James, and Craig's parents. Dana made her decadent sausage bake. Jodie put out egg and bacon muffins, French toast casserole with homemade cranberry syrup, English muffins, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a raspberry coffee cake. Craig's parents brought tiny sticky buns, a chocolate-walnut loaf cake, and a massive caramel cheesecake from Desserts by Design. I had two egg and bacon muffins, the casserole and syrup, orange juice, a small slice off coffee cake, a slice of the loaf cake, and a few sticky buns. Khai put on The Nightmare Before Christmas in the den; Dad had the 24-hour Christmas Story marathon going in the living room.

We finally unwrapped our gifts around 11:30. Yes, I got a new coat, a beautiful silver quilted coat with thick silvery fur trim from Jodie. Dad's gift to me was a nice CD player. It's a bit bigger than my old Emerson, with separate speakers and Bluetooth capabilities. They also gave me a new cake pan...that was much bigger than I needed. I traded it with Jessa and Joe, who had an 8-inch metal cake pan they didn't use (Jessa said they preferred their glass pan) but needed a new larger one. Dad also gave me 150 dollars in a lovely Santa Claus card. 

Everyone loved everything they got. My cookies and candy were much-praised. Rose said her silver earrings were perfect. Craig was my Secret Santa for the second year in a row. He just got me a Target gift card. Khai's favorite gift was a gigantic Nerf gun. It was so massive, it needed Dana and Jesse to put it together and half a pack of batteries. Finley ended up napping through a lot of brunch, though she did wake up in time to open her pop-roll elephant from me. 

Most people were starting to clear out when Jessa, Joe, and I left around 12:30. They dropped me off at my place so Joe could get ready for work (Joe works at Lincoln Financial Stadium) and Jessa could put away their gifts. I got the CD player set up as soon as I walked in the door. It proved to be very easy to set up and plug in. I didn't even need to read the instructions. The main box fit where the old Emerson used to be. One speaker went next to the DVD player. The other was moved under the TV and CD player, next to the Wii. 

Spent the next few hours making the bed, listening to my Peggy Lee Christmas Carousel and one of my classic rock Christmas CDs, and texting and messaging a few folks. I thanked Linda Young for the gifts and wished Mom a "Merry Christmas." Mom was on her way to work at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, but she did wish me the best of the day.

Jessa picked me up around 3:30. We made it into the Cinemark at Sommerdale (the same one I went to see Beauty and the Beast at on my birthday) just as the previews were starting. It was the 3D showing (complete with glasses), which may be why it was busy, but not nearly as full as I figured it would be. We shared a big refill bucket of popcorn and cup of Coke (the latter in honor of Carrie Fisher, who loved Coke and was rarely seen without a bottle or can of Coke Zero by her side). 

I'm not going to give a really heavy plot description because of spoilers but...I loved The Last Jedi. I absolutely adored it. I think I may have liked it more than The Force Awakens. I like that it tried different things. I liked that it didn't go where you expected it to go. I loved the segment in the casino world Canto Bight that even many critics complained about. I loved what they did with Finn, Poe, and especially Rey. Rose Tico was a sweetheart, and a worthy addition to the roster of heroes. And while I still think he's a jerk and don't want him within five hundred thousand parsecs of Rey, I do like what Kylo Ren did to his boss. Maybe he'll be redeemed. Maybe he won't. But at least he's not bowing down to other people now. I thought the humor was hilarious in all the right places and even cried several times. 

I do have a few minor complaints. I wish we'd seen a lot more of a couple of characters, notably Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), Maz Kantana (Lupita Nyong'o), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and TJ (Benicio Del Toro). I also really, really wish the movie were a lot shorter. Some of the battle scenes could have been tightened or eliminated, and while Canto Bight was fun, yeah, some of that could have been trimmed as well. There were also a couple of plot holes, including the whole Canto Bight scheme ending up not mattering that much in the long run. And I can sort of understand Mark Hamill's complaints about his role being a little off.

I think you probably already know if this is for you. I like it when the Star Wars universe probes its more shadowy corners. The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time, period, and Revenge of the Sith is by far my favorite of the prequels. I'm also not a purist and am willing to try something different in my franchises. If you're looking for something lighter and softer or a total rehash of Empire, or you're a major purist, you likely won't get much more out of this than Hamill did. If you can handle the darker side of a galaxy far, far away and have time on your hands, hop on the Millennium Falcon and enjoy the ride. 

The concession stand at the Cinemark was selling Star Wars Funko Pop stuffed dolls. They had Last Jedi Rey and New Hope Luke on display. I thought they were so cute, I had to have them. I went up to one of the concessions with them...and happened to look over and see Jessa buying me Rey in the next register! Aww. I ended up buying Luke for a Christmas gift for myself and getting Rey from her.

The movie took so long, we almost literally flew out the door of the theater and were late getting to Mark and Vanessa's for dinner. They'd already started when we arrived. Thankfully, there was plenty of macaroni and cheese, pork tenderloin, sausage stuffing, and spinach salad with walnuts and goat cheese left. Vanessa's daughter Brittany made it all, and it was excellent. The mac and cheese in particular melted in my mouth. There was an apple tart for dessert. Brittany fussed that it was too flat; Vanessa explained she made it in too big of a pan. Flat or not, it was perfectly sweet and cinnamon-y, and very tasty with Haagen-Daaz vanilla ice cream.

I chatted with Mark in the dining room after dinner while Vanessa, Brittany, and Jessa messed around with Vanessa's new Alexa android from Amazon. They were watching the tail end of the Steelers-Texans game during dinner. After the Steelers mauled the Texans 34-6, NBC switched over to the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The live-action one was just starting as Jessa and I headed out.

We finished the night at Dad and Jodie's for the first half of the Eagles-Raiders game. They'd just gotten home from having dinner at Jodie's aunt's house and were chatting with their neighbor Sandy. Jodie washed off poor Luke, who got soda on him in Jessa's car (spilled during the dash to the car after the movie), and we told them about the movie and our own dinner. We finally got so fed up listening to Dad complain about how bad the Eagles were doing, we headed out around 9:30. (And while the Eagles didn't play great tonight, they did well enough in the second half to win 19-10 and get home-field advantage for the entire playoffs.)

And the previous two hectic days at work aside, this has been the nicest holiday season I've had in years, up to and including Christmas Day. I hope all of you had just as much fun today and on whatever holiday you celebrate!

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