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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Christmas 2016

Christmas morning 2016.

Even though I neglected the last few months, I couldn't let 2016 come to an end without the annual Christmas blog update. Our celebrations were back on track this year by spending Christmas Eve with Mark's family.

Watching Uncle Mark's potato chip.

It all started innocently, with my sweet nephew Jacob watching Uncle Mark's potato chip ride the Polar Express.

Tragedy strikes.

But then...tragedy struck!

More Pats.

Thankfully, through the divine power of Tom Brady, my brother-in-law was miraculously saved from the speeding train.

Rowdy Roddy and Judge Wapner

Which was great because otherwise he wouldn't been able to give us these fabulous gifts.

Us with our sodas.

Rowdy Roddy Piper Bubblegum soda and Judge Wapner Root Beer.

Pinky's pillow.

The gift opening continued. Here's Grandma Pinky's pillow.

Grandpa's birdseed.

Grandpa Ross got the gift that keeps on giving - a giant bag of bird seed.

Beth and Noah.

Our nephew Noah got over his shyness just in time for presents.

Jacob eating goldfish.

And after the horrific incident with the train and the potato chip, Jacob vowed to stick to goldfish crackers.

Christmas morning 2016.

Christmas morning started peaceful with presents piled high under the tree.

Mistfit Toys tree.

Unfortunately, I couldn't hang my vintage glass ornaments on the white tree this year, for fear that Jinx would destroy them. This fear was not unfounded, as we've had to pull her out of the tree several times. Thankfully, Mark had a brilliant idea to use the stuffed Rudolph and the Misfit toys ornaments that I collected back in 1997 and that have been in storage since. I also added some toy themed ornaments that I found at Target. I really love how it turned out, and might just forego the glass ornaments next year as well.

Christmas Kitties.

Lauren was unwilling to participate in photos on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, so all I have to offer are these sweet kitties laying peacefully together under the tree. That is until...

Christmas cat fight!


Pappy and Lauren.

Lauren makes an appearance.

Moving on to Christmas evening with my family. Thanks to Pappy, Lauren decides to make an appearance in Christmas 2016.

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Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Craig gave us a generous gift of a helicopter tour around the city of Pittsburgh. Right after, I opened an umbrella in the house. I'll follow up on how that turned out.

Craig and his nap kit.

This year, we gave Craig a practical gift - his own personalized Emergency Nap Kit.

He woke up that way.

He really did wake up that way.

Pappy and his bluejay.

Pappy and Grandma got a brand new Christmas tree this year, and since they enjoy bird watching, I gave them matching blue jay and cardinal ornaments for their tree.

Grandma and her Echo.

Grandma was surprised by her puffer (or pupper as she was calling it) vest and her Amazon Dot. She said it was the best Christmas ever, but mainly because the Steelers beat the Ravens as we were opening presents.

Phyllis and President Elect Trump.

Trump talking pen!

Last, but not least, Aunt Phyllis received the best gift of Christmas - the Donald Trump Talking Pen!
You can see the pen in action here:

All in all, Christmas 2016 was as rich in blessings as President Elect Trump

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Meet Miss Jinx.

Meet Jinx!

It's about time that our new kitty, Miss Jinx, was formally introduced. In September, Mr. Pancakes ailment finally caught up with him, and he quietly passed away. That left a vacancy at the Ross Family Inn, and all it took was one visit to the Animal Rescue League before we were filled up again. Now now each dog has a matching cat. 

Unfortunately when we brought her home, we quickly identified that Jinx had an upper respiratory infection that's common to shelter cats. So she had to stay quarantined in our spare bedroom for two weeks. She was so sweet and mild mannered while she was sick, we weren't sure what her true personality was going to be. 

When's dinner?

Turns out that she is still sweet and mild mannered, with lots of kitten-y spunk. 


She quickly made herself right at home.

Window watching.

She loves to look out the window, and seems to be friendly with other people, unlike our introverted Kitty Coconut.

It's my turn Kitty Coconut.

Speaking of Kitty Coconut, of course were concerned about how she would receive a younger cat. But after one or two hisses, they moved on and became friends. They eat out of the same bowl, use the same litter box and they WRESTLE. Okay, maybe Coconut doesn't initiate the wrestling, but she does participate, sometimes willingly, sometimes not.

Will someone turn this thing on?

Coconut is such a good big sister, that she's even shown Jinx the joys of drinking out of the sink faucet.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Homecoming 2016

Shaler Area Titans football team.

As Lauren's band career continues, there are more and more opportunities for her to perform. This year, she has several extra credit concerts that she can choose to participate in, and the first one was this weekend before the homecoming game.

It was a cool, overcast fall day, but luckily, the rain held off. I wish I could say that our hometown football team, the Shaler Area Titans had some luck, but they are currently 0-7 after the homecoming game.


Here are our cheerleaders practicing an impressive lift.

Drum corps.

And here comes the drum corp!


Off to the left you can see some of our homecoming court.

National Anthem.

And now, here are the Elementary band students performing the National Anthem with the Shaler Area marching band. Lauren would be off to the right somewhere with the other woodwinds, but unfortunately you can't see her.

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But if you look carefully here, you can see her running off the field after the performance (It was the best I could do).

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Happy 4th birthday, Cookie!

Happy 4th birthday, Cookie!

In honor of her fourth birthday, I have something very special to share today - a rare, never before seen photo of Cookie the day after she came home to live with us. It was taken on December 9th, so she was almost 3 months old to the day. I love how she still has her puppy wrinkles! I never posted it because it wasn't up to my aesthetic standards. I've gotten a lot better at photo processing in the last four years, so now it's passable. Seriously, the difference between this version and the original is like night and day.

Picking out a new toy for her birthday

For the most part, Cookie spent her birthday like any other day - zooming around the house, napping in her favorite spot on top of the couch pillow and eating the cat's food when no one is watching. But she did get to go to Petco and pick out a new toy. She chose a jack o'lantern!

Monday, September 5, 2016

A lack of laboring on Labor Day weekend.

Gull hanging out at Beach 7 in Presque Isle State Park.

All summer, Mark and I have talked about taking a drive up to Lake Erie, and we managed to squeeze in the trip at the last minute. And when I say last minute, I don't just mean the last weekend of summer. I mean that on the spur of the moment we quickly packed for a day trip and started the two hour drive at about noon yesterday.

Lake Erie.

Since we needed to stop for lunch, we arrived at Presque Isle State Park at around 2:30. After finding Beach 6 to be too crowded for our tastes, we settled on Beach 7.

I saved a chair for you.

Beach 7 had a fair amount of sunbathers, but there was practically no one in the water.

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The weather was perfect - not too hot, even though there wasn't a cloud to be seen!

You're not taking my picture.

Relaxing in Lake Erie.

Lauren is a veteran lake swimmer. She now has four lakes under her belt, with two being Great Lakes.

Swim away.

She was not thrilled that I kept trying to take her picture.

Waldameer Park.

After we finished swimming, we headed over to Waldameer Park. This was our first time visiting the park together, although given how often my family went to Erie, I'm sure I must have went there when I was too young to remember. It's a such nice a little park. I hope we get a chance to visit it again when we have more time.

The Ravine Flyer II

This is the park's largest coaster, The Ravine Flyer II. Yes, there was a Ravine Flyer I, but it had a short, tragic history. Anyway, if you look closely you can see Mark enjoying his ride in the third car (fifth row), although I use the term "enjoying" loosely based upon his review. Lauren really liked it though.

Playing ring toss.

Waldameer also has an old fashioned midway with games that suck you in, even though you know you have little chance of winning.

Can you find the winner?

Although we had no luck at the ring toss, the player before us did win a prize. Can you spot the winning ring?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens.

The Revolutionary City.

At the end of June, we visited Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens in Virginia. Originally, we had planned to go to Chincoteague Island, which is also in Virginia. Mark had mentioned to me that he was interested in seeing Colonial Williamsburg, so at the last minute, I checked into it and found that it was the much, much less expensive option. Lauren also preferred the idea of going to a big amusement park rather than the beach.

Colonial Williamsburg home.

Colonial Williamsburg was not what I expected at all. I thought it would be more touristy, a place where you paid admission to enter through a gate and then spent the day in a crowded confined area where costumed performers walk around and speak in the King's English. It is that, but it's also an actual neighborhood where people live. You can walk around it for free anytime of day, like you would your own neighborhood. Granted, with the exception of the colonial themed shops and restaurants, the most of the buildings are closed and the majority of costumed performers head home around dinnertime. So although we didn't go the paid admission route that gets you access to tour the buildings, we really enjoyed the town during the evening hours when we could take our time exploring and also avoid both the crowds and the heat.

The DoG.

The Duke of Gloucester Street, or the DoG, is the main street in Colonial Williamsburg. 

Walking down Duke of Gloucester Street.

At one end, is William and Mary, which is the second oldest college in America after Harvard. Across the street from the original school building is Merchant's Square, which has nice gift shops and restaurants. After you walk a couple of blocks past the modern buildings of Merchant's Square, you're in The Revolutionary City. It's pretty neat!

Of course, you can also access the historical area through the official Visitor's Center. From there, you walk across a bridge that connects you to a long pathway that eventually leads into the Revolutionary City. It's much more moving to enter this way, because there are plaques along the Footbridge to the Past that are a reverse timeline from the present to the eighteenth century. On the return journey, you're reminded of significant individuals and their contributions to the growth and development of American democracy and society. It really gives you a sense of how far our country has come.

Hanging out on the DoG.

Here's Lauren sitting on the stoop of one of the buildings on DoG Street.

Colonial market booth.

There are plenty of places to buy colonial themed souvenirs, in both open air markets like this one as well as mercantile shops.

Inside the Greenhow Store

This was taken inside the Greenhow Store. John Greenhow was a famous merchant who owned a store on DoG street. He's quoted as saying, “If I do not offer it, you do not need it.”

Counting sheep.

Adding to the authenticity, there are livestock throughout the town. In addition to these sheep, we also saw some cattle, but we didn't get see the resident chickens.

St. George Tucker House.

There are more than 500 buildings in the Revolutionary City, and admittedly, I took photos of a good bit of them. The George Tucker House was one of my favorites. It houses receptions held by the Williamsburg Foundation for the various donor societies.

Please don't climb on the tree.

Located across from the George Tucker House is a renowned Compton Oak tree. Note the sign behind Lauren says, "Please no climbing."

The Governor's Palace at Dusk.

This is the Governor's Palace, which is Colonial Williamsburg's most famous building.  It's said to be very impressive on the inside, so hopefully we will visit there again and take a tour.


While we weren't walking the streets of the past, we were walking the streets of Europe at Busch Gardens.

Flower baskets.

It's easy to see why it's been voted "The World's Most Beautiful Theme Park" every year for the last 26 years. These flower baskets were hanging on a concession stand. And if the concession stands look this pretty, the rest of the place must be amazing.



See what I mean?

Mural in New France.

Wolves are Lauren's favorite animals, so I had her pose in front of this mural in New France.

Bridge over the Rhine River.

This bridge is over the Rhine River, which connects the Scotland and Germany areas of the park.

Lochness Monster!

I fondly remember the commercials for Busch Gardens, then known as The Old Country, from when I was growing up. Back then, there was no ride more frightening than the Lochness Monster. I've always wanted to ride it, and on this trip, I finally realized my childhood dream - three times! And if Lauren had her way, there would have been a fourth.

Escape from Pompeii in Italy.

Speaking of forth, Lauren was able to successfully convince Mark to ride "Escape from Pompeii" four times. If you look closely, you can see them in the middle row.

The Cherry Blossom.

On the way back, we spent the night in Alexandria, so here are a couple bonus photos. This the Cherry Blossom, a paddleboat that's owned by the Potomac Riverboat Company.

Posing in front of Gadsby's Tavern once again.

Lastly, Mark had the brilliant idea of re-creating a photo that we had taken when we first visited Alexandria in 2008 when Lauren was just three years old. She's sitting on the steps of Gadsby's Tavern.

Gadsby's Tavern.

And here's the original.