Christmastime in Wallace 2018

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I must say I do love the above photo. And for a little while I thought I was going to be unable to love it quite as much as I wanted to, because the way it had saved to my iPhone, I was the only one not clear in it -- my face moving when the shutter clicked, so my face was blurry. Damn it! Compare that to the first shot I tried, in which it's a fantastic picture of me (still better than above, actually), but not nearly as good a picture of Shobhit, Bill, or especially Mom, who in that other photo has her mouth gaping open. I really wanted to find a way to stitch the two photos together to make one perfect shot -- except that in one Shobhit is standing and in the other he's sitting. The general pose for all of us is much better in the second photo, seen above.

So how did I fix it so that my face isn't blurry? iPhone to the rescue! Turns out I didn't need to "fix" it per se -- it's just that, when you set the self-timer on the iPhone camera app, it does this 10-shot "burst" of photos all in a row. It chooses the middle one by default as the one that shows in your photo stream, but you can click to choose a different one. The above shot is the first of the burst of 10. It made me very happy when I figured that out. Now, Christopher does have his new puppy, Astra, on his lap, and her face is blurry (making her look kind of like a lighter colored Scottish Terrier but she's really a Pit Bull), but -- what are you going to do? It was still the best version of this shot I could get.

I also made it a sort of tradition to get a shot of us in front of Mom and Bill's Christmas Tree, although after going through my photo archives, I discovered I managed that only six of the ten years I've now been going to Wallace at Christmastime. Still, that was enough that yesterday I killed some time in the car on the drive home by creating a new Flickr photo album using the app on my phone: "Wallace Christmas Family Portraits" -- this includes poses in front of Mom and Bill's Christmas Tree in 2009 (not everyone present for that photo at Mom's first "Christmas Party" that got me to start coming this time of year in the first place, but Mom and Bill with all their care givers); 2010 (with Mom, Bill, Holly and myself); 2013 and 2014 (both those years just Mom, Bill and me); 2015 (adding Shelley and her then-boyfriend Jeff); and 2018 (with Mom, Bill, Christopher, Tristen and Shobhit).

Here are the reasons the Christmas Tree portrait did not happen during the years it didn't: 2011 was basically just because after two years of either successful or attempted "Christmas Parties," there was no party, but I came to visit anyway -- and it did not occur to me to get a photo by the tree. 2012 was sort of a low point, in that Bill was in a rehabilitation center in Coeur d'Alene after being hospitalized for some time, and he was not home that entire visit; I did, however, instead get this fantastic shot of Mom and me out in the snow outside her house (now my second-favorite of the photos in this particular album, after this year's shot). In 2016 there weren't really any friends over either, and although Mom did put up her tree that year, I never got around to the tree portrait, even of just the three of us. And in 2017, the first year Shobhit came along for the December visit, Mom had decided she didn't have the energy to put the tree up at all -- so, even though Nikki and TJ came down to visit from Spokane, a portrait with the tree was not possible.

Mom even told me on the phone a few weeks ago that she would not have the tree up again this year either. "I only ever put it up for you," she said, but it was becoming too much trouble for her. So I was quite delighted and surprised when we arrived Saturday evening and I could see a Christmas Tree in their window, even with Christmas lights strung around the window frame. Apparently what changed was that this tree is new, much smaller, at least half the height of the other one (still in a box in a back room), set atop a table and thus far easier to set up. Apparently Mom's caregiver Mary -- the only one who has been with her since at least 2009; I just did not see her this time around -- decided to give it to them. Once again, though, Mom said, "I only put it up for you!" (Side note: I bet anything it was actually Christopher who put it up.)

So, anyway. In the ten years of my Wallace Christmas Family Portraits photo album, two of the four not showing the Christmas Tree are still pretty Christmasy-looking: the shot with Mom and me in 2012 is us surrounded by snow, making for a fantastic photo; the shot of Mom, Bill and me in 2016 is of us all holding up our glasses of spiked eggnog. The only two that aren't Christmasy at first sight are 2011 (a great shot of Bill and Mom at the late great Coyote Café over in Mullan, Idaho) and 2017 (just a group shot in Mom and Bill's living room during Nikki and TJ's visit). I think it makes for a great "memory lane" photo album, now that I've been coming at Christmastime for a full decade -- and right now at least, it ends with the above shot from this year, a great photo punctuating the end of the set.

Incidentally, this might have been the first-ever visit to Wallace during which we did not see any of Mom or Bill's caregivers. Shelley, who both Shobhit and I really like a lot, was around for about three years. She was Mom and Bill's PSR ("psychosocial rehabilitation") person, who replaced Holly, who had been their first. Holly was in Wallace when Shobhit and I were there last June, but that visit was not able to come around; she has since moved to Whidbey Island. And speaking of Holly, she was the whole reason I started coming in December to begin with, after six years of only visiting once a year -- Mom got it into her head that year that she wanted to host a Christmas party, and Holly, her very job having to do with getting Mom and Bill to be more sociable and become less socially isolated, was all over that. So much so that, when she called to ask me to come and I balked because I was too scared to drive over Snoqualmie Pass in the winter, she offered to drive the 80 miles back from Wallace to pick me up at the Spokane airport if I flew that far.

And thus, the tradition was born: the first three years (2009-2011), I did indeed take Holly up on her offer to come give me a ride. It was very, very generous of her, given it was a 160-mile round trip. But, after the third year of breathing the second hand smoke in her car on the freeway while alternately burning up from her cranked heater and freezing from the breeze coming in through her window she opened with the idea that it sucked the smoke out and away from me (though it actually blew it in at me), I decided I should stop being cheap and it was worth starting to rent a car to drive the rest of the way from Spokane myself. And that's what I did for six years, from 2012 to 2017.

As you can imagine, though, that makes for a rather expensive three-day, two-night trip, purchasing plane tickets and renting a car -- especially last year, the first year Shobhit actually came along for the December visit (he had a work commitment that weekend in 2009; he was in New York in 2010; he was in Los Angeles 2011-2016), when I then had to buy two plane tickets instead of one. And then we were three hours delayed! The weather was fine enough for us to have driven, and had we driven, we would have gotten there three hours earlier. Very annoying.

Thus, we took a calculated risk this year, deciding we would plan to drive over the pass in the winter for the first time. Shobhit seriously over-prepared with the precautions, purchasing new windshield wipers, and a set of tire chains, which we never needed. We really thought about a week ago that we might -- westbound Snoqualmie Pass was actually closed briefly that weekend due to snow. And for a little while it was forecast to snow there this past weekend too. And then it all changed, the highs were well above freezing even at the passes (including Fourth of July Pass in Idaho), and the roads were clear the entire way, even when we were surrounded with snow. So, as far as travel was concerned, we fared perfectly well for this trip.

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As for what details I can share about the trip, I'll have to leave most of those to the photo captions, which I have not done yet but hope to get done soon -- the photos are still all tagged, at least, and the full photo album can be found here. I actually found the time to edit and process most of the photos on Shobhit's laptop at the motel room Sunday night before going to bed, so although we had only a few hours at home after returning yesterday, I still had plenty of time to process only about 10 more shots and then upload and tag them all on Flickr. Beyond that, how about I just share a few observations, by individual?

Mom: After she wound up in the hospital halfway through our already brief visit last June, and then spent several weeks in a rehabilitation center herself, she has been much recovered for a few months now (since late July, in fact), and finally feels very much back to her former self. Mind you, when I say "former self," I mean prior to this particular set of medical battles (being over-medicated for blood pressure, leading to nausea and vomiting that put her in the hospital, that being the fourth time in 2018, the others being for bursitis in her leg; the removal of a rectal cyst; and another that I've never been able to remember). Anyway, I already mentioned this stuff back in July, how much better Mom is -- it's just this time I experienced it first-hand, in person, the fist visit back to Wallace since we were there in June and she had to be hospitalized halfway through our visit. We nearly postponed our trip from there to Yellowstone because of it, but wound up staying on schedule. In any case, Mom was totally with it enough to hold her own at both Yahtzee and Cards Against Humanity (in the latter case, always playing the most hilariously shocking cards). We actually played Cards Against Humanity both Saturday night and Sunday night.

Bill: I saw Bill least of anyone. The reasons for this contain multitudes and are, in my opinion, stupidly convoluted. First off, he has his persistent chronic pain issues, the myriad reasons for which I can never track, and so not only does he never want to go out, he barely wants to leave the bedroom anymore. In the past we were told he often stays up all night playing videogames, even when we come to visit, so he sleeps most of the day and thus does not come out much to see us. A tad rude, in my view, but whatever. Now, Christopher decided to get a Pit Bull puppy, named Astra (there's a few photos of her in this year's album), and she's not especially well trained and apparently does not get along great with the much older Sheba or the similarly attention-starved Teddy. As a result, even though both other dogs were there, we did not see either of them the whole time we visited, because they stayed locked in the bedroom with Bill. Bill himself did come out, briefly, when we were over at their house on Saturday evening -- we had brought Costco pizzas from Coeur d'Alene as usual, and Mom had also baked chocolate chip cookies that she told everyone they could not touch until I arrived (hence the photo above, with Christopher and Tristen attempting to grab at them -- Mom presented them to me literally minutes after my arrival). Truly, he was only out for a few minutes, but did gamely pose with the rest of us for the portrait with the Christmas Tree, which I very much appreciated. We also came back to the house for a while Sunday evening, though, and Bill never did come out of the bedroom that day. Their neighbor friend, Lyman, came over to show Bill his new gun (I only saw it inside its fabric case; it looked like some kind of shotgun), and he took it back to show him in the bedroom.

Christopher: So here's an interesting tidbit, something I think Dad and Sherri would probably be interested to learn about: I guess he's now on the State's payroll, working weekends and any other weekday shift that other caregivers like Mary cannot do, performing the duties as a "caregiver": cooking and cleaning, things like that. Honestly it did not even occur to me until just now, as I write this, that he would rightly be doing such things merely as payment for getting free room and board living with Mom and Bill nearly two years now. But, in addition to the disability income Mom and Bill already get (which, granted, I know is quite minimal -- it's not like they're living high on the hog with state money over there), and disability income I've heard Christopher himself also gets (for what reason, I still don't know; I still haven't asked him directly), he's getting paid to do what he honestly should be doing for Mom and Bill anyway. That said, any kind of income in that house is good for them, especially with Tristen also living with them now, since last summer.

Also, a curious additional detail about Christopher: he seems to be having some kind of gastrointestinal issues of his own, and although we provided lots of food, he actually ate very little, apparently due to it not faring very well in his system. On and one more thing: check out how bald he's gotten! (I was not trying to get his baldness in that photo, for the record; that was just a happy accident.) He's had a bald spot since his early thirties, though, something I feared for a long time would happen to me, considering both Dad and Grandpa McQuilkin. It may yet, but so far, so good -- I have a slightly receding hairline but otherwise still lots of hair. I guess being girly has its advantages. (My androgyny almost certainly has nothing actually to do with whatever genetics lottery I got, actually.)

Tristen: My nephew, who literally shares a room with his dad who himself lives with his mother (what a quaint, third-world living arrangement they all have), is now 18 years old and a high school graduate -- only as of this year on both counts. I think Shobhit is right that Tristen has virtually no opportunities or prospects there, and he loves to make suggestions that Tristen will predictably ignore. Shobhit even suggested at one point that Tristen try reading some books aloud to help with his rather slurred speech, then almost immediately apologized for "overstepping any boundaries." Both Tristen and Christopher kind of brushed that off without saying anything. In retrospect, I have mixed feelings about Shobhit even bringing it up. On the one hand, it really is none of his business. On the other hand, I actually hadn't noticed until Shobhit pointed it out -- and he's right: Tristen does have very poor enunciation when he speaks. I don't know what his alternatives are, though, really. Katina, his mom, is apparently on track to alienate every single person in her family -- Nikki (and, I believe, Becca) still aren't speaking to her; Christopher showed me a text she sent him on Saturday evening that was stupidly passive-aggressive, giving all sorts of bullshit reasons she had asked him for money (on top of child support that already gets automatically deducted from Christopher's income, mind you) and then ending with "no response necessary." We all passed the phone around to read the text (Shobhit last, saying, "I want to see, if everyone else gets to"), and they all agreed with me when I said she clearly actually wants a response, to amp up the drama, and the only way to keep the upper hand in that exchange is to take her literally and actually ignore the text. Anyway, my point is, if Tristen must live with one of his parents, as bad a choice as it seems out in the middle of fucking nowhere, it's still better than staying with Katina, who he was clearly eager to get away from last summer, and understandably so.

Nikki and TJ: Now for four visits in a row -- twice in 2017 and twice in 2018 -- Nikki and TJ have brought their toddler, Cheyanna, with them to come visit all of us together while we visited in Wallace. Their drive was just from Spokane, and at first they had a truck, and this time they finally have sensibly traded that in for a family car. Either way, they clearly have far less concern than we do about driving in snow, and as they noted this time, there was no snow at all in Spokane. There was snow on the ground in Wallace, much of it quite slick and icy due to melting and freezing overnight, but through most of the day in the daytime there was thaw happening, as the highs were into the upper thirties. They drove down Sunday morning, arriving around 11:00, and although their plan had been to drive back before dark, due to a football game they had on in our spacious room at Hercules Inn, they did not leave until probably 4:30 or so. In the meantime, that was when we played a couple of games of Yahtzee -- because lunch was pretty much done, and everyone was just staring at the football game, and Nikki cracked up and I suddenly said, "Should we play a game? I'm bored!" And then Mom, Shobhit, Nikki, Christopher and myself set about to play. Christopher had to bow out early because the manager of the Inn said he could only keep Astra in the back room where there is a staircase to all the other units, and she was scratching at the outside of that door. I was really afraid that dog was going to damage it. (Ironically, if the Inn manager had just allowed the dog inside with us, there would have been no damage at all, since Astra would have been calmed to be with Christopher. But, the guy was well within his rights to prohibit pets, for quite obvious reasons, and was actually fairly generous to offer us this compromise.)

In any case, with four visits running including a visit from Nikki and TJ coming over from Spokane, Shobhit and I have pretty well established a new routine for these visits: for the day we arrive, we stop at Coeur d'Alene, about 45 miles west of Wallace, for both supplies to make a big lunch the next day, and for Costco pizza to provide everyone with dinner at home that evening. We then invite everyone over to our room at Hercules Inn -- where the living space is more spacious and far less cluttered (not to mention a kitchen that's a hell of a lot cleaner) than at Mom and Bill's house -- for lunch the next day, the one full day we are there. This process was a bit different when even all three of the boys were brought over for out visit in May 2017, and for Christmastime last year we just all visited at Mom and Bill's the next day. But with this year's June visit, we streamlined this process and replicated it this past weekend. In fact, with this process Nikki and TJ don't even go over to Mom and Bill's house: they come straight to our room at Hercules Inn, and then go home from there at the end of their visit. Last June, however, things were complicated by Mom's sudden overnight trip to the hospital, which nearly canceled the lunch plans -- Mom was obviously unable to come, and Bill simply opted not to, although we brought food over to him at the end of the day. This time, Bill still chose not to come -- I'm not sure he goes out for anything at all anymore unless it's a doctor's appointment -- but Mom, doing much better, did come over for lunch.

So this visit, on Saturday evening and Mom's house, we had six of us together, hence the photo at the top of this entry: Mom, Bill, Christopher, Tristen, Shobhit and myself. I don't know why exactly, but I find something inherently charming about that photo -- like it's Idahoan Gothic, except with nearly everyone smiling (just not Mom, quite, because she tries to keep her mouth closed as she never has her teeth in).

And then on Sunday afternoon, there were eight of us together: no Bill, but we still had Mom, Christopher, Tristen, Nikki, TJ, Cheyanna, Shobhit and me. Come to think of it, I really should have tried using the self-timer to get a shot of that group all together -- it just couldn't have had a Christmas Tree in it, as there is no tree in the Hercules Inn rooms. Oh well. Next time, maybe.

For lunch Sunday Shobhit and I made lots of food, again: pasta with delicious pasta sauce I brought home as sample from work but with sautéed vegetables added as always; scalloped potatoes purchased frozen from Costco (which take way longer to bake all the way through than the directions say); Pillsbury baked biscuits; Asian Cashew Salad from Costco, also with fresh chopped vegetables added; and even a fruit salad for which we purchased some whipped cream at the Harvest Foods grocery store.

Come to think of it, I should do a cost comparison: we do this with the idea that it will save us money compared to trying to take everyone out to eat now that so many more people are around than just Mom and Bill, but we sure spend a lot on the supplies we buy at Costco. I guess the added benefit is the sheer volume of leftovers we sent Mom and Christopher home with, and still more leftovers Shobhit and I took back -- I had salad and fruit salad for dinner last night. That said, if we go to a cheap enough restaurant, it might actually be a wash, or maybe even cheaper, just to take everyone out to eat after all. It would certainly be easier.

Then again, Shobhit does love to cook, and there's more personal care, obviously, in a personally prepared meal. There's certainly something to be said for that. And I should also mention that Shobhit apologized again for harping on Tristen about looking for a job right before we left after going back to hang out at the house for a while (and again, play Cards Against Humanity, with Christopher's more recent pack with different cards in it, which breathed some new life into this game I have now been playing for six years, since Gabriel got it for me for Christmas in 2012). And when Shobhit said that, he added, "It's because I care about you!" -- an unusually caring and heartwarming sentiment from the likes of him. I joked, "It's really true, you know: he's annoying because he cares!"

Anyway, I'll leave any further details to the photo captions, which I hope to get to soon. For now I really should get some work done. I have my first work evaluation since 2015 with Scott this afternoon!

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[posted 12:26 pm]

My tweets

  • Mon, 11:37: Time for a trip down Christmas Memory Lane! ‪Until 2009, for several years I only visited Mom and Bill in ‬Wallace, Idaho once a year.

    But then in 2009, Mom decided she wanted to host a Christmas party. At the time, their friend Holly made it her mission to convince me to come — even offering to drive the 80 miles back to the Spokane airport and drive me from there, because back then I was too scared to drive over Snoqualmie Pass in December.

    And thus, a new tradition was born! Behold, 10 years of Wallace Christmas Party and/or Family Portraits. https://t.co/khakxqb6Wt
  • Mon, 15:33: This 50% off one cheese each “12 Days of Cheese” promotion has us coming back to @WholeFoods every day. We’ve got cheese coming out our asses! Or we will in a couple days anyway. ‬
  • Mon, 22:58: Well . . . it definitely has its delights. https://t.co/eiGwxlVXrL