December 25, 2019: Christmas in Houston

Christmas 2019. Wednesday. Actually managed to get some sleep last night. More sleep than I normally get coming in to Christmas morning. Dominica and I have the air mattress in the craft room which is not ideal, but we do have the ability to open the window directly above our heads and that allows us to cool off a bit. The weather is cold enough to allow us to be a little cool, but warm enough that having the window open isn’t really a big deal.

We got up around eight and headed down stairs to start making the coffee and eating what we could before the kids marched down stairs to start off the festivities. They all slept well, but were up on the early side. They get very excited. Luciana was, as she often is, the leader of the pack coming down to investigate Christmas morning.

It was not long after eight that we got started today. One of our earliest Christmas mornings that I can remember. The living room was pretty crowded and so warm that it was uncomfortable. So Paul and I set up chairs in the kitchen and had the kitchen door open to get a cool breeze and that helped a bit. You know it is really hot in the house when even Emily was sweating and complaining about the heat.

I think that everyone really liked what they got for Christmas this year. It seems like a very successful year. For the girls this was a year full of Dungeons & Dragons stuff including books, dice bags, and the really big deal were loads of Reaper miniatures. Reaper is one of the big makers of gaming miniatures and they come from Denton, Texas. So Dominica had actually gone to the Reaper factory to get these. They got a starter set of minis. Plus they got a painting kit for them. They got more in their stockings, too. And I got some D&D dungeon map stuff to use with miniatures to make using them in our campaigns easier! A big D&D Christmas to follow Liesl’s big D&D birthday just a month ago.

Luciana was the only one getting Legos this year. She is still really into Legos and does them all of the time. At this point Liesl is all but over toys. It’s weird how quickly she went from Playmobil and other toys, to just Legos, to essentially no toys at all. It seemed like it happened over night. Their bedroom still had Playmobile and Calico Critters and similar stuff set up in it just months ago. Now all of that stuff has been getting packed up into bins and I suspect that while Liesl would never say that we can get rid of that stuff, that the reality is that it will never see the light of day again. Which is sad because it was such a huge part of her life for so long. But really, she is eleven now and pretty old for those kinds of toys. She is all about video games, board games, D&D, and things like that now. We tried to make that part of her life last as long as she wanted it to and she played with those kinds of toys so much longer than I ever did, if I ever did at all. She and Ciana had the most wild, intensive imaginative play with those things for years together. I doubt that I will ever stumble upon the two of them deep in play like that again. It was such an adorable, endearing part of their lives.

This year for Liesl was very specifically lots and lots of My Hero Academia stuff. It is her favourite anime show right now. She is totally hooked on it. She got clothes, face masks, and all kinds of stuff. She is really into hoodies, too.

My big present was a combo present from everyone that was given to me in pieces. The starter piece was Paul giving me a smoker that I’ve been wanting for a year or two. It’s a small unit meant to be used in a kitchen or bar and while it can be used for food, it is very commonly used for drinks. I have been wanting to get into bar top smoking since I first had bartend-smoked whiskey at a lounge in Rochester that Dominica, Paul, and I went to together in 2016 the night before the kick off of MangoCon 1. A year or two ago I found a YouTube show that teaches bartending skills and one of their most recommended things was a smoker like this that makes it all so much more convenient and flexible. I’m really excited to get to try this out.

To go with my new smoker, the girls got me a smoking starter kick that comes with something like eight different types of wood (mesquite, cherry, apple, pear, and so forth) and different smoking attachments including ones for plates of food or a drink top. It’s really cool. Dominica also got me a new, large, copper cocktail shaker so that I can shake up multiple drinks at one time. This was my “bartending year”.

Dominica and the girls got matching Harry Potter Yule Ball tee shirts. The annual Carrollton Harry Potter Yule Ball is coming up in less than two weeks, so they are going to all wear these to match each other. I am not sure why the Grices don’t come up for that because I think that they would really enjoy being able to all do it together. Garrett is getting a bit old for it and I could see him not being that into it at this point, but the three girls would really like it and I think that he would put up with it as he really likes reading and really likes Harry Potter. Last year was the big Harry Potter Christmas, though.

The really big gift from Dominica and I to the girls this year was a new video game desktop. Up until December, 2015 we were using a big seventeen inch, very heavy HP laptop that was not very well suited to gaming (or anything else) that we were lugging around wherever we went. That’s what we used in Nicaragua and realized just how much we liked to play video games together as a family and would need something more robust to be able to play the games, but lighter and better for traveling. That HP had been a hand me down from NTG and was already pretty beat up and long in the tooth. I have absolutely no idea where it went when we replaced it. I have zero memory of anyone else getting it, I wonder if it is hiding in the house somewhere. Prior to that laptop, for most of a year we had a huge form factor and hugely expensive MacBook Pro that I had from the office in California and it was on that that I had played games like Tropico 4 when we lived in Spain. Before that, the only gaming machine that the girls had ever known was my HP Folio 13 that I got in 2012 in preparation for our back packing trip around Europe. That little 13″ laptop that is nearly eight years old is still what Luciana uses regularly for Roblox and what Liesl does almost all of her video game design on today! Other than the “7” key sticking a bit, that laptop is still plenty fast for most non-rendering tasks and runs perfectly. Best investment, ever. It is sitting right beside me as I type this. We’ve had that little portable laptop since Luciana was one year old, it is really all that either of the girls has ever known for video gaming.

In December, 2015 we bought a video game PC for the first time ever, the Asus RoG gaming laptop that we first took with us to Greece just weeks after we bought it and from there to Romania. It is that laptop that we hooked up to our travel projector and have played essentially every “real” video game on with the girls. That laptop is Steam to them. It still runs great and was an awesome choice for us. But it lacks the power for many new games and can’t handle VR games and it is not expandable and we are in need of a machine that can handle more and faster storage than that old laptop can muster. The biggest deal is that the girls (and Dominica and I, and even Paul) are wanting to get into VR gaming and that laptop is what is holding us back at this point. That old 2015 laptop is the laptop that Paula remembers as her only real video gaming experience. She used to come over to the house and watch movies and play video games on the projector from that laptop back in 2016.

We nearly pulled the trigger on a VR system last Christmas and ended up getting the Oculus Go (Paul got it for the family) to allow us to hold off on the big investment, and give us time to figure out if VR is something that we were really interested in and would be able to use. The Go has proven over this past year that we do, indeed, really want a VR system and want to try playing more intensive games. So after just over four years with the Asus RoG as our core video gaming system we decided to buy a very nice Dell gaming computer with a high end AMD Ryzen R7 processor, 16GB RAM (expandable), 1TB drive (which we will likely replace with a 2TB or larger SSD next year), and a really nice Radeon graphics card. We got a really amazing deal on this specific unit. I could not find anything that came even remotely close to it. The graphics card in it alone was worth most of the cost of the whole thing. I would have built my own system if it made sense, but there was no way for me to buy the individual parts involved here for the price that we got. We got such a good deal that on Amazon the price of this unit literally went up by the day. My guess is that at full price it would be $1,100 to $1,200 and we got it for around $630! We had planned to spend a lot more, we got really, really lucky. I’ve had the desktop set up in my office for a couple of weeks getting it all updated, games downloaded and tested and so forth and it is quiet, fast, attractive, stable. A really great deal, I am extremely happy with it.

It took a minute to explain to the girls what the new desktop was and meant. But once they knew what it was, they are super excited about it.

The even “bigger” present for the girls from their grandparents is the Oculus Rift S VR headset to go with the new video gaming desktop. Luciana knew what this was the instant that she opened it and she nearly fell over with excitement. This is a huge “we did good” in the present planning department this year. I’ll take some credit for that as it was my idea for both parts, and found the deals on both parts.

We also got the girls loads and loads of new video games over the last few weeks that they really don’t know about and many VR games like Beat Saber are loaded up and ready on the game machine. Plus they got lots of Steam gift cards and such for Christmas. Paul got Luciana the 3D art and drawing application called Google Tile Brush for Christmas so that she can do her art inside of the VR system.

Once we were done opening presents, it was time to start cooking dinner and cleaning out the living room so that I could start setting up the Oculus Rift for everyone to try it out. I think that Dominica might have been the most anxious to see it in action. She was very insistent that we get it set up and working straight away.

It is good that I got straight to it, it easily took two hours of monkeying with the system to get the Oculus working. It was actually a big stressful as everyone was wondering when it would work and what might be wrong and there was a line forming to use it, much like there was a year ago with the Go. Basically Emily was the only person not vying for a position in the queue. I eventually got it set up and working. I got to use it for a few minutes to do the initial set up and I have to say just those few minutes was incredibly impressive. The whole thing is so slick, way beyond the Go which was pretty impressive itself.

We had dinner and I got to watch maybe an hour of people using the VR. Liesl is amazingly good at Beat Saber already. Luciana thought that it was fun. Dominica and Paul have played it before up at the Newcomb’s in Missouri on their Playstation 4 and they know that they really like it.

While people were playing on the VR, Paul and I loaded up his truck that I had just driven down two days before and around seven we got on the road and left everyone in Houston so that we could get back up to Dallas to work the rest of the week. We both have an insane amount of work that needs our attention immediately. No rest for us.

There was hardly any traffic tonight once we got north of Houston so the drive was easy. Except that before we left Houston the Ford F150’s power cut out on us as we were driving north on I45! It just died and we had to dangerously work our way off of the highway. But it started back up and we decided to take our chances and press on and we ended up making it the rest of the way without incident. Paul thinks that his alternator might be failing.

Our only stop on the drive was around I20 to hit the Carl’s Jr where we each got two burgers at the drive through. Beyond Famous Star with Cheese for me. My favourite. I ate one in the car. And once we were back home, I had one just before going to bed.

Mia had a rough drive back. She was scared and shaking most of the way and at one point a bunch of boxes fell on her which she did not like. It took two hours at least for her to calm down. But once home, she was so happy.

I went to bed at about one in the morning tonight.

I got a lot of videos taken today throughout the day. I’ve included many of them here in the thread. All of my videos get posted to my YouTube channel in more or less real time.