Christmas vacation: Day 7

We were up and at 'em by 7 a.m. Wednesday. Kates was awake ahead of me and already busy packing in Faye's room when I got out of bed. I packed my suitcase and took the car for an oil change.

On this day, we were heading out for our 9-day holiday excursion to Wisconsin.

We left at 11 a.m., one hour later than we planned. And, miraculously, we didn’t make our first stop until 2:30 p.m. at a Culver’s in Newton, Iowa; both of the girls slept for most of the first leg of the drive – a welcome change from our summer trip when we were stopping at least every two hours. We were back on the road in 30 minutes.

Ben Folds took over the iPod for the afternoon and we went with The Weepies for the evening hours. And even though, Phoebe asked how much longer the drive was going to least every 30 minutes, she was surprisingly content during this trip with watching the passing scenery. She only watched one of her DVDs.

We didn’t have to make another stop until we passed the Iowa-Wisconsin border around 6. Although, at this point, there were two within 15 minutes – first, when Phoebe needed a potty break and then another when Faye started crying for a bottle. So we made a stop at a McDonald’s so all of us could eat.

* * *

As we drove through the Wisconsin countryside, the moon was bright and nearly full. I always love the way it reflects off the snow and lights the land. It got better as we drove further north through the bluffs and the abundant snow coated the trees. Like a painting.

Then it got worse as we tried a shortcut. Kates’ family suggested it, and she convinced me to take it. Even though I hate taking shortcuts I'm unfamiliar with. And everything I could have predicted in my head happened.

The supposed shortcut took us on treacherous county roads. And we got lost, making it hardly a shortcut at all. And we lost cell phone surface, so we couldn't call anyone to ask for some redirection.

If we followed the logic Phoebe offered during one of her random thoughts earlier in the drive: “If we get lost, then we have to go home.”

But we pressed on and arrived at our first official destination, The Farm, around 9:30.

Grandpa and Grandma S., Orrin and Kelli, and Chloe and Kitty, too, were all there to greet us.

The house was decorated for Christmas, and the stockings were hung near the chimney with care.

* * *

Overnight, Grandpa apparently made arrangements for Santa to come back to Wisconsin because when we awoke Thursday morning the base of the tree was covered with gifts.

The excitement wasn’t nearly as dramatic as our Christmas morning, but Phoebe again didn’t waste any time getting into the spirit.

Phoebe received a copy of “The Lorax” book, accompanied by the film on DVD. She got “Brave” on DVD, and that was accompanied by a Merida doll (See: Watching “Brave” below). And her crowning moment was receiving the LeapPad2, a learning and gaming system, decorated in pinks and purples with a Disney princesses theme. Phoebe was in her glory. … She received additional books, jewelry, clothes and a small pair of binoculars – or as she says, “bernoculers” – which stemmed from her fascination with Grandpa’s binoculars whenever we are at The Farm.

For Faye, there was the Fisher-Price “Love to Play Puppy” and the Baby Einstein Octoplush. She also received clothes and teethers, along some neat baby-sized vinyl books that are perfect for her to chew on.

Kates got several gifts for the kitchen and home. We got a couple DVDs – “Rent” and “Eat Pray Love.” … And (insert angel chorus) a backyard firepit.

* * *

After the gift-unwrapping party died down, I retreated to the porch to finish a borrowed copy of Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”

Besides the fact that I’m a notoriously slow book reader, it took me awhile to get into “Bossypants.” It didn’t help that I dove in with high expectations and found the first half of the book, during which Tina describes some of her experiences growing up and theater adventures during her youth, underwhelming.

Once the book moved into her years with The Second City and “Saturday Night Live,” however, I couldn’t put down the book. My favorite section, hands-down, is her telling of her adventures impersonating then Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, while trying to convince Oprah to appear on an episode of “30 Rock,” while trying to plan her daughter’s third birthday party. It was interesting to read Tina’s reflections on “30 Rock” and its evolution, too. … Funny how I thought “30 Rock” was awful and would never survive when it debuted, and now it’s one of our favorite shows (Alec Baldwin). And I recall watching those 2008 election episodes of SNL like they happened last year. Glorious times.

Nevertheless, Tina remains on my lists of celebrities with whom I think I could be really great friends and with whom I'd like to have lunch.

Kates laid Faye on me (Baby Whisperer) as I was getting near the end of the book. And when I finished reading, we took another good nap together.

* * *

Last night, we gathered ‘round the TV to watch “The Lorax” – it’s still good. … Then, we got the girls to bed with plans to watch one of the numerous adult movies each of us received in our stockings. When no one could make a decision, I pitched “Rent.” The idea was accepted and we popped it in, but only Orrin and I remained when it was over. At least I still think it’s good.

Today was Kates’ mom’s (aka Grandma S’s) birthday. Uncle Rod and Aunt Helen came over with Kates’ grandmother (aka Great-Grandma P.) for the festivities. We feasted on lamb the usual assortment of side dishes – including garlic green beans, corn casserole and mashed potatoes. Then, Kates’ dad (aka Grandpa S.) served the cake he made with Phoebe’s help, we strapped on our party hats and a good time was had by all.

Tonight we gathered ‘round the TV again, this time to watch “Brave.” Truth be told, we knew nothing about this flick other than it was another installment in the Disney-Pixar adventures and Phoebe had fallen in love with the girl with the long, curly red hair and wielding a bow and arrow, thanks to a strong marketing campaign this past summer that featured the girl on everything from Subway bags to billboards (and no overt depictions of any grizzly bears). Every time Phoebe saw the image, she would point and say in an awed voice “Braaaaaave!” Really, that’s all we knew about the move. For all we knew, the girl’s name was Brave. Blame Kates and I for failing to do our parental research.

As it turned out, the girl’s name is Merida, and she has never been one to abide by the customs of her Scottish kingdom. So one day, she seeks help from a witch, who casts a spell on Merida’s mother that turns her into a grizzly bear. It all ends happily, but the film is quite a bit scarier than any of us had anticipated, especially for little Phoebe.

Here's a good review of the film at Slate.

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