After spending some time in Baltimore with Jeff's family, he and I flew out to Minnesota - due to minor delays, we technically didn't arrive until Wednesday (just a bit after midnight). None-the-less, we were up the next morning and managed to make it through about six hours of shopping with my Mom and Mamie at the Mall of America. Though I was pretty tired at the end, I actually did have a good time and finished up most of my shopping.
Mamie being in Minnesota was one of the big surprises this year. She and my Grandpa Ray live in Texas and usually don't come up to Minnesota in the winter. Mamie had some frequent flyer miles built up (partially from our trip to Japan) and decided to use them to make the trip. My parents and I knew, because we helped to book the flight, but for everyone else it was a surprise - Katie came home from class one day and Mamie was standing in the living room. It was almost discovered though, because my mom needed to give some explanation for why she was setting up an extra bedroom, and she told Katie and Tom that I was bringing a friend home for Christmas. Then Katie called me to ask who the friend was, and I was extremely vague - "Oh, a friend from college. They're from out of town." I'm not a great liar, but Katie doesn't tend to be skeptical, so it turned out ok.
The next day was Christmas Eve, which was much more relaxed. I spend the day hanging out in the house, watching the snowstorm out the window, with no reason to go out.
My family had a nice steak dinner, though Brian wasn't able to make it because of the snow, and then my Mom and Dad, Jeff and I headed to the theater to see 'Up in the Air' with George Clooney. (Which Jeff and I both really liked.) Seeing a movie after dinner is our relatively-new plan for ensuring everyone doesn't get too sleepy between dinner and midnight mass.
After the movie, we picked up Katie and Tom and headed to midnight mass. I really enjoy going to midnight mass - it's less busy that Christmas morning services, so it's more quiet and peaceful, giving you an opportunity to reflect and really take in the experience. Many other families go to midnight mass year after year, so it also has a fun familiarity - people even seem to sit in the same general area each year. My friend Krysta and her mom were singing (as they do every year), and a number of high school friends, old neighbors, and other acquaintances were there. I saw kids that I used to babysit when they were really little - like not years 0-3, who are now in elementary and middle school, and don't remember me at all. Crazy.
On Christmas morning, Brian and Emily came over early and opened gifts - even Hazel got something.
I got some nice photography books, Caribou Coffee gift cards, games, PJs and other fun stuff.
I was excited for my dad to open his gift - it was a golf club, but the box it came in was really big, so it seemed very cool.
Katie seemed to really like the book I got her - a guide to free and cheap things in New York City - should come in handy when she's a poor student in Manhattan.
Soon my Uncle David, Aunt Natalie, Drew, and MacKenzie, and Drew's girlfriend Asami, arrived and we all had brunch. I think the Christmas brunch my mom makes is one of my favorite meals of the year. Egg bake, cheesy potatoes, Belgian waffles - yum. (In fact, I was so excited to eat, that I didn't manage to take this photo until after the potatoes were entirely gone.)
This year we did a Yankee Swap gift exchange for the first time - everyone brought a wrapped, $5 gift, and then people get to choose a gift - either they can steal one that's already been chosen and opened, or they can pick a new one and unwrap it. It was fun, and I think everybody liked it - maybe it will become a tradition.
Asami was visiting from Japan, and Jeff got the gift she brought from Japan for the Yankee Swap - a mirror (which seemed to have a donut on it) and some gum. Awesome.
We also got a photo of everyone with their gifts at the end.
Jeff and Tom both bought games for the family - Blurt, where you get a description of a word and try to be the first one to yell out the right word, which Jeff was suspiciously good at, and Mad Gab, where you read non-sense sentences like "Weed Hid Dents Tart Thief Higher" and try to to figure out that it's really "We Didn't Start the Fire." Both games were really fun. (If you're looking for a way to waste a bit of time, you can play mad gab online for free here: http://www.playmadgabonline.com/)
After food, games, and just hanging out, David's family left and we relaxed around the house for a bit before heading over to my Grandma John's house. As always, the food at Grandma John's was great, and it was really fun to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my Dad's side of the family. Grandma got me a really nice sweater dress, which I've worn a bunch of times already. Jeff got tea, which he's always very happy to to get. Grandma John got a new digital photo frame, so we took pictures of each of the families.
And then (as always) a photo of everyone.