Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks

A quick update on how my Thanksgiving was...

I went home (Letts, IA) on Wednesday afternoon. Had a steak dinner with the fam (my dad is so good at grilling steak!). That night, some friends from high school and a friend from college & law school who is from the same area came over and hung out at my dad's bar. The friends from high school are actually guys who were friends of Brian (one of those guys, Smitty, has become friends with my dad in his own right and hangs out at Rick's Bar on a semi-regular basis). It was nice to have those guys there with me and my family; it was like having Brian there in a way. We told stories and spoke with one another in a way that only people with a certain familiarity can do. My dad even stayed up with those guys after I went to bed, which he would often do with Brian when we were home for holidays. Basically, Wednesday was normal and felt right, as much as it could.

On Thursday, my family and I went to Bokas' house for Thanksgiving brunch with some family friends, including the Ramer family. The Ramers lived near the Bokas years ago and became friends, partly because the two boys were similar ages to Brian and his brother. The Bokas and Ramers have been getting together for Thanksgiving brunch for several years now, and the Coopers (my family) are usually there too. Usually, brunch is at Ramers' house, but it was at Bokas' this year, and I think this change actually helped me feel better. It went really well.

After brunch, my parents hosted Thanksgiving dinner -- the traditional feast, but on steroids -- at about 1:00 p.m. My mom's side of the family came over, about 10 people in all. It was a good time. Right when we sat down to start eating, the song that came on was "Up on Cripple Creek" by The Band. Brian loved that group, and that song. I didn't say anything to anyone, but I felt it was his way of sitting down at the table too.

After a fantastic dinner, I sat down with my aunts and my mom and started planning our Black Friday shopping outing (my sister was at her boyfriend's house; she joined in later). It is tradition -- as far back as I can remember -- that we all go out and shop together. We always have a great time together and get a good portion of our Christmas shopping done in one outing, regardless of whether any of the mega-doorbuster deals is something we're gunning for (but when they are, watch out!). So far, I didn't have any Christmas list ideas from anyone else, and I couldn't think of a thing I wanted myself. Frankly, I don't want Christmas to happen this year. I am dreading December. Also, I don't know where I'll be in the moving process or what festivities I'll be able to attend. So I'm not exactly in the Christmas spirit.

Sitting down to look through the ads, I tried to follow old patterns, looking through each ad (excluding Best Buy and Toys-R-Us, stores even we won't dare brave on Black Friday) and writing a list of the deals that would make good gifts for others. I prompted my mom and aunts to give me ideas for them or for my sister, and that helped somewhat. But my lack of enthusiasm and the less-than-stellar deals this year, coupled with the frustration that I couldn't look at TV or furniture deals without knowing my apartment layout, eventually caught up to me. I gave up on the planning before a plan was set and went into the living room to watch football with my cousin Max. My mom, then my aunt Mandy, came in to check on me, and I cried a little. I admitted to Mandy that I just didn't even want Christmas to happen this year -- something I haven't really told everyone. I'm glad I just admitted it. It felt better to have that out there.

Eventually, we had dessert and hashed out a game plan for Black Friday. Aunt Pam (who has the largest vehicle, an extended size Ford Expedition) would come to our house first, at 1:30 a.m. Then it would be to Mandy's house at 1:35 a.m. (she only lives a couple blocks away). We' pick Trish up at 2:00 a.m., then proceed to the Quad Cities to be in place before the doors opened at Kohl's at 3:00 a.m. And that is what we did.

Black Friday shopping was a blast. The only thing that wasn't normal was that my sister decided not to go. She woke up Friday and just thought it was too early, that she didn't get enough sleep, and that she'd rather sleep in a little and venture out to Muscatine with her boyfriend and our dad. I was disappointed that she opted not to go, and it wasn't the same without her. Regardless, it was a really fun time. We always have a code word or phrase we shout out across the store in case we get separated (yes, even after the advent of cell phones, we like this option). We always have a great game plan in place and get all the deals everyone is after. We are always done with the frantic shopping after about four hours, then break for lunch (around 10:00 a.m.!), then finish with a little more relaxed shopping for those good-but-not-frantic-sellout-great deals.

Despite feeling like I didn't have a game plan, the shopping went very well. I got gifts for my aunts, my sister, my parents, my nieces, and a couple friends. Doing that, and enjoying the silly fun that I always have with "the girls" of the family on this day, really brightened my outlook. After a successful trip (we got back to Letts around 1:00 p.m., so it was also a long trip at almost 12 hours!), I had dinner at Bokas' house.

Dinner at the Bokas was a smaller affair -- just Brian's parents, his brother, his brother's girlfriend and her two-year-old daughter, and me. Five adults and one child. I arrived about 1:15, just in time to help with a couple last-minute things and then to sit down to dinner. Dinner was delicious, as it always is. Afterward, I helped Brian's mom do dishes and make casseroles out of the leftovers to send home with everyone. We looked at a few photos from a trip Brian's dad and brother took to Florida to visit the Boka grandparents. Brian's brother and his party did not stay long after the meal.

After dinner, Brian's mom and I wrapped gifts together, something we frequently do on Black Friday evening. She doesn't really do the Black Friday thing, but she does start shopping early -- and often! -- so she always has a bunch to wrap too. It was nice to do that again, and also good that I had the time to visit with her. That was one thing I missed this year -- we would almost always stay at the Bokas house when we'd be home for the holidays, and that brings with it some relaxed time to visit. This year, all the Bokas were only together during mealtime; there just wasn't much downtime. I feel like I didn't even get to talk to his brother, which is too bad; I haven't seen him in a while and I was looking forward to catching up with him a bit more. Other than that, it was a really nice time at the Bokas.

Okay, I'm running out of time -- I need to get ready for my Austin trip today! -- so I can't go through the rest of the weekend in detail. But I want to share that on Saturday night, I had some friends over for dinner. Just as we were sitting down to the dining room table, the song "Up On Cripple Creek" by The Band came on.

Suffice it to say that I had a surprisingly pleasant Thanksgiving trip and weekend. It was capped off by a wonderful Sunday in which the Bears beat the Eagles to take a one-game lead atop the NFC North over the Packers, and my fantasy football team held on to eke out a 3-point victory and keep my playoff hopes alive.

I'm hoping this streak of luck continues this week in Austin....

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