Because we spent Christmas in Utah with Jeff’s family, we had a delayed Christmas / Ted’s birthday celebration at home with Kari’s family. Ted’s choice for his family birthday dinner was pizza and ice cream sundaes. The cooking was easy: pick up the pizzas and put out a make-your-own sundae bar. Kari’s sundae looked the most Christmas-like with mint chocolate chip ice cream, but I think Ted showed the most zest in his application of Reddi-Wip. (That thing over Ted’s head is a holiday ornament hanging from the ceiling light.)

After Ted lit a fire in the fireplace, we took some family pictures.

We minimized our holiday decorations because we’d be in Utah over Christmas. We set some things out and strung a few outdoor lights, but skipped the Christmas tree. I admit that I missed having the tree lights twinkling in the evenings. In the absence of a Christmas tree, we put our Christmas gifts to each other on the coffee table instead of under the tree. Note that some of the gift bags were sewn by Kari and me.

Of course, Thom and I continued our exchange of Christmas Lego. This year, Sky joined in by giving Ted and me Lego Christmas ornaments. He said we can add them to my “infinite collection of Christmas Legos.” That collection keeps growing, and I love it!

After opening our gifts, it was time to relax in the hot tub. The outdoor temperature was in the 30s, so the hot tub felt really good. We closed the evening with a good game of Michigan Rummy. No one ran out of chips, so everyone was a winner. Having the family of one of our children living nearby is the best gift of this Christmas celebration. It means we have lots of good times together throughout the year.

It wasn’t a Holiday Inn, like the Christmas movie, but Jeff and La rented an Airbnb house in Provo, UT for a Christmas get-together. All three of their children (our grandchildren) live in Provo, as does their grandson (our great-grandson), so it was a good place for the family to gather.

Ted and I had an uneventful flight to Utah, but a long travel day–up at 4:00 a.m. CST and arriving in Salt Lake City around 2:00 p.m. MST with barely time to gulp down a sandwich on our layover in Phoenix. It was exciting to see snow on the ground when we arrived. The cold weather was less thrilling. Zack offered to pick us up at the airport to take us to Provo and was at the curb right after we exited the terminal. Ted and I were very hungry, so our first stop was at an IHOP. It was a great opportunity for some one-on-one time with Zack before joining the rest of the family.

When we arrived in Provo, we went to Alex and Kaitlyn’s house and had a nice visit with them. It’s been nine months since our first great-grandchild was born, and we hadn’t seen him in person yet. Photo op, first thing. He looks like Alex did as a baby.

Ted and I wanted to see our grandchildren’s homes so we could picture them when we talk with the kids and hear about what they’re doing, so we also stopped at Zack’s apartment. Zack rooms with five other young men. He claims that cereal is a staple in his menu plan. What can I say? It’s a bachelor pad, right? Kyra spent the past week in Montana, so she arrived at dinner time with Jeff and La and Papa Murphy’s pizzas for dinner. With the entire group present, we let the good times roll!

Alex and Kaitlyn brought over a small Christmas tree to create some Christmas spirit.

Jeff and La planned the entire visit and brought lots of food, games, gifts, etc. from home. We needed some additional items though, so the four women–La, Kyra, Kaitlyn, and I–went grocery shopping in the morning. The planning committee did a great job. We ate well and had fun every day. Christmas dinner was baked ham with mashed potatoes and gravy. Ollie loves mashed potatoes (he got that Idaho gene from his Grandma La), so Grandpa Jeff helped Ollie meet his potato needs. I love the tie on Ollie’s bib! He looks like a junior executive at the head of the table.

On Christmas morning, La made a traditional family treat–cinnamon rolls. The smell and the taste were irresistible! And then there were presents for everyone. (Thanks for the photo, Jeff. Your view of the gift display was better than mine.)

We arranged ourselves on the large sectional sofa prior to distributing and opening gifts. The array of holiday socks called for a picture. Alex had “Spocks.”

Jeff got creative with his gift tags.

He also got creative with his gifts. Ted and I requested gifts that would fit in our luggage on our homeward flight, so Jeff found ways to make gift cards more interesting. One of ours was packed with Idaho potatoes; another was accompanied by an assortment of rocks from Flathead Lake.

This is Ollie’s first Christmas, so he’s still learning the ropes, but he caught on quickly and seemed to enjoy all of his gifts.

After our evening meal, we went downtown to see the holiday lights in Pioneer Park and Temple Square.

When we got back home, Jeff read How Murray Saved Christmas to all of us, and then we watched “Klaus” on Netflix. It was a perfect Christmas Day.

When I looked out the window the next morning, there was fresh snow on the ground. Again, the snow was exciting; the cold temperatures in the 20s, not so much. We bundled up, though, and walked about a mile to Kyra’s house so we could see where she lives with two other young women. On another day, we walked to the BYU campus where Alex and Kyra pointed out their classroom buildings and where Alex works in the IT department.

With all of Jeff’s family present, group photos were a must. I think we have pictures of every possible combination of our group members. Here are the photos of the entire group and of four generations of the family men: Ted, Jeff, Alex, and Ollie.

We had dinner at Outback one evening. Kaitlyn, La, and I left early to shop at Barnes & Noble before dinner. Both venues were in the same shopping center and B&N was selling all hardcover books for 50 percent off. Who can resist that?! Not Kaitlyn, who left the store with two full bags of books. I struggled to select only two books to carry home in my luggage, but I took pictures of 18 others that I would have liked to buy. I’ll use my B&N Christmas gift cards for some and I’ll get some from the library. After book browsing, it was time to meet the rest of the group for dinner.

Naturally, there was time to play with Ollie during our visit. He did really well with a house full of people for several days. He got overtired because he didn’t want to miss any of the fun, but he was never crabby. I’m sure he enjoyed all the attention–part of being the first child for Alex and Kaitlyn, the first grandchild for Jeff and La, and the first great-grandchild for Ted and me. Get used to lots of attention, Ollie.

This was a visit with Jeff’s family, so it’s a given that there were lots of games to play–Sheephead, Skull King, “Zahjong,” and Catch Phrase. They were all fun. “Zahjong” is Mahjong with adaptations and scoring developed by Zack. I was hesitant to try it at first, but after watching a few rounds, I bit the bullet and joined in. Surprise! I even won three times!

We played several games on our last evening together, and ended with Catch Phrase. We had two teams of four sitting in a circle in the living room. It was the older people (Jeff and La, Ted and me) vs. the younger people (Alex, Kaitlyn, Kyra, Zack). We sat alternately in our circle–old, young, old, young–and the game got crazy. I can’t describe what happened because it was a “be there” moment, but it was so much fun that, even when we were tired and knew we had to go to bed so we could all get up early in the morning, we decided to play “one more game” before quitting. Unfortunately, that game tied the score, so we decided to play one more to break the tie. As a result, we all went to bed very late, but it was worth every minute of lost sleep. It was a joyous ending to our time together and spending this holiday with family we haven’t seen for over two years was the best Christmas gift of all.

To celebrate his birthday, Ted and I made our usual trip to the Lake of the Ozarks to have dinner at Bentley’s, our favorite restaurant. Tonight, to continue his birthday celebration, we had dinner at Dewey’s, our favorite pizza restaurant.

Dewey’s has a great customer appreciation program. For every $150 we spend (about 5 meals for us), we receive a $10 gift certificate for our next meal. After several $10 gifts, we receive a big appreciation gift. It usually includes some Dewey’s glasses, some kind of Dewey’s apparel, and a gift certificate. Tonight was our big gift night. When the manager brought the gift bag to our table, I kidded her by asking, “How did you know it was Ted’s birthday?” “Is it?” she responded. A minute later, she delivered carrot cake for two as a free dessert.

We would eat at Dewey’s anyway, because we like the pizza, but the gifts make it an even nicer place to go. Here’s what we received tonight: two glasses, two pair of warm holiday socks, and a $50 gift certificate. Naturally, the socks say “Dewey’s” on the bottoms. The snowman figurine is one of our holiday decorations.

After learning a variety of sewing skills while making drapes for Teddy’s and Dylan’s bedrooms, Kari said she wanted to learn some additional skills by making re-usable Christmas gift bags. We worked together one afternoon and completed one bag for her. She took notes as we went along and has been working on her own, making additional bags at home. That’s a teacher’s dream: the student who transitions through learning and practicing to independence.

As long as I was going to teach Kari how to sew gift bags, I decided to make some for myself. Rectangular gifts are easy to wrap with paper; the gift bags are great for oddly-shaped items and for soft items (usually clothing) that don’t come in a box.

I made a variety of bag styles: sacks with handles, sacks with drawstrings and top ruffles, and rectangular-bottomed bags (like shopping bags). The finished products present a colorful display.

One of Willie Nelson’s fans described him as (I’m paraphrasing) “a wonderful blanket, crocheted by your favorite relative, that you’ve had for 30 years–tattered corners, mended holes, and faded colors, . . . but all soft in the right places.”

Sort like a Muppet.

In my humble opinion, I have the privilege of (temporarily) owning one of the world’s great rolling pins.

My great-grandpa took this piece of hard rock maple, shaped it on his lathe, and gave it to his daughter, my grandma, when she was newly married in 1921. When Grandma stopped making pies, she gave it to my mom, her oldest daughter. What a treat for my dad! He loved pie! If it had been awhile since Mom made a pie, Dad would casually say something like, “I remember pie. It’s round, . . . it has fruit inside, . . .” and that was Mom’s cue to get out the rolling pin.

Given my Dad’s penchant for pie, I was surprised when Mom said she was finished making pies and handed the rolling pin down to me. It’s a single piece of wood, so I can roll it smoothly and evenly with open palms. The handles have a wonderful fit under my hands. This rolling pin has been seasoned by use for 100 years by Grandma, Mom, and me, so dough never sticks to it.

I love this rolling pin and I think about Great-grandpa shaping it and Grandma and Mom using it every time I get it out. Today, I used it to make two apple pies: one for a neighbor who had minor surgery this morning and, as long as I was baking, one for Ted and me.

Many years ago, Kari asked me to pass this “heritage” rolling pin on to her. I’m still making pies, so she’s still waiting for it, but someday, Kari, you’ll be the fourth generation to use the rolling pin made by your great-great-grandpa. Which of your boys will you give it to when you’re finished making pies?

There’s a family in our subdivision that apparently admires the Clark Griswold style of outdoor Christmas lighting.

Here’s the front. That large tree overhangs most of the width of the street, so driving past the house provides a small taste of what it’s like to drive through one of those commercial “winter wonderlands.”

The back yard is also fully decorated. This is the visible portion of the back yard when viewed between the two houses behind the “Griswolds.” Not visible: the decorated above-ground pool and playset on the left, and the decorated storage shed on the right.

Can you say “jolly and bright”?

Today’s date is a rarity. The date, 12/02/2021, is an 8-digit palindrome, just like 02/02/2020, which occurs only 12 times this century. You’ll have to wait until 03/02/2030 for the next 8-digit date palindrome.

Today’s date is unique in another way. If you drop the slash marks from the date and enter it into an analog calculator, it reads the same upside down.

The year 2021 has 22 palindrome dates of at least four digits, a phenomenon that occurs only twice in each century, during the years ending in 11 and 21. It won’t happen again until 2111, 90 years from now.

Today’s rare palindrome kicks off a string of nine consecutive palindrome dates in December, beginning with 12/1/21 and ending with 12/9/21. There were ten palindrome dates in January 2021, running from 1/20/21 through 1/29/21. For the first time in history, Inauguration Day fell on a palindrome date: 1/20/21. That won’t happen again until 1/20/3021, 1,000 years from now.

It happens only twice in a century and we’re here to enjoy it. Life is good, isn’t it?