Cousin Night

This weekend we held our ninth(!) annual Cousin Night, when we have all of the Sperger and King first cousins over to our house for a sleepover. We started doing this when we first moved up from Florida in 2000, and Nick was three years old. Time flies!

This year we had a Rock Band tournament. We formed up three teams of three players each, playing a three-song main event. Teams had to rotate their players through instruments, so everybody did a different instrument on each song. Here’s Maria on the drums:

Maria on drums for the Ladybuds

And on a later song, my cousin John. Note that regardless of the player or their skill level, the drums demand intense concentration:

John plays the drums

Nick and Brendan (John’s younger brother) consult the score sheet between rounds:

Nick and Brendan consult the score sheet

Meanwhile, cousin Dan looks every bit the recording industry executive:

Dan in the house

One of the bands, the Ladybuds, decided to get dressed in costume for their set. Remarkably, this was also the band that included three pre-teen girls:

The Ladybuds

Anna was the band manager for the Ladybuds and helped out on drums here and there. She is excellent with the foot pedal. I should also note that Anna made devil’s food cupcakes for the group, and even did fancy icing on the cupcakes using her new baking set.

Cousin Night came about all those years ago through an observation from my dad that he and his cousins all grew up knowing each other well, and that he really treasured those relationships. Family unity!

John and Maddie pose together, reluctantly

Chels and Maria

Family hike along Wissahickon Creek

We finally got all five of us out for a hike this afternoon. We went over to the Flourtown side of Fort Washington State Park – only a quick drive away from our house. In nicer weather we could ride it.

I got some hiking poles for Christmas (Thanks, Kate – just I wanted!) and Anna helped me test them:

Chels and Anna on a walk

It was nice to have Maria join us – she hasn’t been able to make it out for a walk in a while because of her performance and rehearsal schedule:

Maria on the old bridge


We found an area of low ground that had ice cover on it, which the kids found just perfect for stomping:

Kids on ice

Maria makes a discovery

Chels and I even posed for a rare picture:

Mike and Chels

We also came across some neat old stone stairs:

Nick takes a moment to rest

Chels makes it down the stairs

Three amigos

We managed to get out for about an hour, which was impressive considering our schedule these days. The weather was great for a wintertime walk – about 45F and overcast. Tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer, with high temps maybe going up to 65F. If it gets that warm, we’ll have to get out for a bike ride. (Anna and I went out very briefly yesterday on our bikes, just long enough to fill up our tires and come back home.)

Photo note: As is often the case, we have more photos on Flickr than I’ve ended up using here, so make sure to have a look at our photostream.


I took only a few pictures with my camera over the course of the holiday… Chelsea took the lion’s share, and I have not yet had a chance to grab the pictures off her camera.

Also, for security reasons I can’t really show very much of our Christmas Eve setup procedure, but this is a teaser for you:

Nick's bin of presents

(Oh, okay: We have an warehouse picking system for gifts. It’s all set up in the attic. Chelsea did it two summers ago while the kids were over at my parents’ for a weekend. We bought the next ten years’ worth of gifts, wrapped them all, and organized them with barcodes. It was hard to set up – especially the part where we had to anticipate fashion trends that are still years away – but it’s making each Christmas a pretty stress-free experience.)

Right, Christmas. Maria had a Nutcracker performance at noon on Christmas Eve, so we picked her up after the show and then went for a late lunch. After that we swung by the Comcast Center for their holiday show on the big video wall – very cool! Next we went to Christmas Eve Mass at my uncle Herb’s parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in South Philly. The Spergers and Kings were well represented, and after Mass we all had dinner together in the rectory.

When we got home we finally got around to decorating our tree, since it has been standing naked in the living room for three weeks. Then we packed the kids off to bed and set up presents. Nick had the girls come and sleep in his loft bed for the night, so they were all together. It was incredibly sweet.

Setup for us was pretty easy, because my mom and dad had kept the kids overnight on the 23rd. It was a spur of the moment thing, and it worked beautifully. Chelsea and I plowed through wrapping and organizing gifts late into the night, and we had no kids underfoot. Beautiful.

Anyway, we got everything set up and crashed for the night at a decent hour – maybe midnight or so. We told the kids we would not start opening presents until 9:30 in the morning. They woke up around 7:00 and woke me around 8:00. Chelsea slept until 9:30, good as her word.

When we got started, Nick looked like somebody had left him plugged into a wall charger overnight:

Nick on Christmas morning

Meanwhile, Anna was rocking the footie pajamas – probably the last time that anybody in our house will:

Anna on Christmas morning

We got Maria a mountain bike for Christmas, so that she can more easily keep up with the rest of the tribe when we go riding. (She rode her single-speed 20″ bike all over the place with us this summer. Maria is a gamer.) Anyway, here’s girl and bike meeting for the first time:

Maria gets a bike with gears

We started with stockings. Anna was well pleased with hers:

Anna opens her stocking

Nick, on the other hand, was a little puzzled by some of our choices:

Screwdrivers?  You gave me screwdrivers?

Maria has been getting some gifts that are variations on the theme of sweets for the sweet:

Nutcracker for Maria

And finally, here’s Anna, in her shyness, showing off a teddy bear that was on her list:

ich bin ein teddybär

More later. Merry Christmas to all!

Quick visit to the city

Anna and I were kicking around yesterday afternoon while everybody else was busy, so we decided to take the train into the city and do some sightseeing. (Anna really wanted to take the train the other day when Nick and I had ridden the train into town.)

Waiting for the train

Our first stop was the Betsy Ross House, which Anna had said she really wanted to see. We took the train to Market East and then took the El to 2nd Street, which meant we got a train ride and a subway ride. This pleased Anna greatly.

Anna at Betsy Ross House

There is a nifty fountain in the courtyard with some life-size statues of cats playing with the water… we were unsure of the connection to our nation’s first flagmaker, but hey, neat picture:

Fountain outside Betsy Ross House

The house itself has a strict photography ban, which Anna made sure to enforce with me. (“Daddy, it says no pictures. Don’t take my picture.”) She did let me take a picture through a window:

Window at Betsy Ross House

From the Betsy Ross House we went to the Liberty Bell, which is much more welcoming to photographers:

Liberty Bell

Turned out to be a good day to go – we walked right into the building, through a much more perfunctory security check, and were standing in front of the bell in less than five minutes. (The security guys made each of us take a sip from our water bottles, which confused Anna greatly.)

Mike and Anna at the Liberty Bell

One more ride on the El took us back to Market East, and we capped off our city tour with another visit to Reading Terminal Market. Look closely at Anna and you’ll see conclusive evidence of chocolate ice cream eating:

Reading Terminal Market

The drink in front of our girl is fresh hand-squeezed “lemulade”, which Anna enjoyed very much. She had wanted to buy a bottle of pink lemonade from some shop, and I said, “No, no. There’s better lemonade to be had here.” And the Amish delivered.

Nutcracker pictures!

At long last… note that in the show Maria is actually a soldier first and an angel second – just like they’ll teach her in the Marines some day – but the angel pictures have some extra wow factor, so I’ve put them first:

Maria as an angel

Contemplative angel

Maria ready to go in angel costume

Soldier with flourish

In the officers' club

Christmas letter now online

We’re having a bit of a hectic Christmas this year, and so I decided that even though I wrote the Christmas letter, trying to get it out with cards was going to hold up the show. So I’ve posted the letter online – see the link in the sidebar on the right. It’s a PDF document, and not a very big file, so it should download pretty quick.

Out for a swim

This evening Maria had a performance of The Nutcracker, and Chelsea was chaperoning, so I took Nick and Anna to the pool. We haven’t gone swimming since the end of the outdoor season, and so Anna thought we were going to our summer swim club. “Is it going to be cold outside?” she kept asking me. It was 34F outside when we left the house… maybe if we were going to a hot spring that would work!

We went to the Hatboro Y for family swim and basically had the place to ourselves. They had plenty of toys for us to mess around with – kickboards, noodles, and life jackets. Anna donned a life jacket and swam all over the place with confidence, though by the end of the evening I was gently easing her out of it to swim once more on her own. (She made huge progress this summer, and we’re hoping to get her in the water enough over the winter to prevent backsliding.) I fashioned a lounge for myself out of a couple of noodles and a kickboard. I nearly fell asleep floating in the water.

Now, all they need at the Y is some steel drum music and poolside drink service, and I’ll be there every night for the rest of the winter.

Basket Ball

I just had my first game for school basketball. We played GA, the best team we will play this season. We lost, about 54-17. We did okay, I guess.

8 days till christmas

Picture with Santa

When we were out getting our tree the other weekend, the tree farm had pictures with Santa Claus. It was a great deal – they took several shots, didn’t mind us taking our own, and gave us a CD with high-resolution versions of every picture they took. The best thing about the encounter was that none of our kids could tell Santa what they wanted – he’d ask and each of them would say, “Um, I don’t know.” Santa was a little puzzled by that.

Santa pic 2008

It’s worth noting that our kids have always had an uneasy relationship with the jolly man. Last year Anna became positively terrified of the possibility that she would find this heavyset stranger somewhere in the house when she least expected – Santa as cat burglar. We had to explain to her in great detail that Santa was not real, and still we had to escort her around the house for weeks.