I love these lazy stretches of time before the holidays. My time feels like my own. Each day is ours for the taking, whether we want to do something adventurous or just languish on the couch and watch Christmas movies.
In between school days, long naps, and fast dinners, we've searched around town for the best Christmas lights. The most obvious place to start was Schaumburg's drive-through light show.
"It's forty bucks," sighed Marissa. "Everything is such a racket in Illinois."
In their defense, the light show was nothing short of spectacular. String lights, arches, and plastic trees glowed together in sync with the upbeat music hissing from our radio. Cartoonish polar bears, reindeer, and Christmas lights mouthed along to the lyrics. We made the final turn into the grand finale light tunnel. Feeling playful, Marissa opened our car's sunroof and climbed on top for a better view.
Hearing about our quest to find the most impressive Christmas lights, our neighbor Pam tipped us off to a house just a few blocks up the road. "It's like a full blown light show," she chuckled. "Cars pull over on their curb just to stare."
Pam wasn't kidding. We easily found the house she was talking about. Lots of houses on the street sported blinking lights, moving projections, and big inflatable snowmen. But this house was serious.
"TUNE TO 88.9" read the message on a scrolling marquee just before the show began.
We've visited the house two more times since. We pull over on the curb, turn off the lights, and enjoy a light show that honestly rivals the official Schaumburg one... for forty dollars cheaper to boot. It doesn't just play top gun either. There was an animated sequence for Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas. The screen projected over the front door played snippets from Christmas Vacation. We don't know the owner of the house, but based on the synced up radio broadcast and animated singing characters, we surmised it was probably the same person that does the Schaumburg light show.
Marissa and I scored a baby sitter and attended a Blackhawks game. We arrived early to participate in the free wine tasting held in the United Center lobby. We shuffled through the serpentine line a few steps at a time.
"Look at that," I whispered to her. "They're only serving like two people at a time. They're probably asking all the same questions too."
By weird coincidence, the couple in front of us turned around and initiated an idea. "Hey, let's just sample these together so you don't have to wait."
The guy from the visiting winery greeted us with the same long-winded pageantry that held up the line so much, but pretending to be friends with two complete strangers made it more fun. As he handed me a small glass of malbec, I leaned in and asked "Excuse me - where's the spit bucket?" The guy just frowned. For trying this tired joke for the third time of the night, Marissa gave me a disapproving head shake.
"I'm deploying my drone," said Rodney, staring into a hand-drawn computer screen on a glued piece of paper. Rodney makes computers. He draws his own widgets, graphs, and figures on the screen. His keyboard includes every letter of the alphabet. There's even a little raised indent on the space bar, just like the computer he uses at home.
"Where are you sending your drone?" I asked over the dull roar of the tavern.
"To see Santa," he said. He spun the paper laptop in my direction. "Here - ask Santa what you want."
I leaned into the paper laptop. "Hi Santa. Can I have a new knife set?"
Rodney got me a knife set for Christmas. Marissa didn't realize that my paypal was linked to our family room computer, and when she placed the order I promptly got an email. Since it was Rodney's idea, I agreed to play it cool, but in the meantime why not drop some hints to make Rodney feel like he did a good job?
I severely underestimated his intelligence. On the way home from the restaurant, Rodney piped up from the back seat. "Dada. Why did you say knife set?"
"What... what do you mean?" I replied.
"You asked Santa for a knife set," he stated. "That's... suspicious. Did you... peak at something?"
"No, I..." my voice cracked. I couldn't believe my six year old son had me on the ropes. "No, it just popped into my head. I... you've helped me in the kitchen before, you've seen how bad my knives are. I could definitely use some new ones."
Rodney didn't say anything else. He just left me to dig a deeper grave for myself.
"I think you're being suspicious," I said more assertively.