Babas, in the secret language of the menehune

We just got back into town from NJ and had such a wonderful holiday. Most of my family was together and we all were psyched for Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed the days surrounding. Today Husband had to endure a five hour car ride home with me: I alternately broke down into tears and snapped at him. Then I broke down into more tears because I'd snapped at him, and what kind of crappy wife does that to her husband for no reason? I just miss my family (already) so much that my heart hurts.

Thankfully we had Karen in the car with us to cut through the tension. She's our new GPS navigation system (Christmas gift). She speaks Australian English - it was a language option and we find it to be very amusing. Eventually we may switch to Emily, who speaks British English, or Madalena, who speaks Portuguese. But for now, Karen instructs us on where to turn and how far to go. The problem today is that we already knew how we wanted to go, me having driven the route from New England to NJ so many times before. But Karen had new ideas. Which we weren't about to follow. So, every time we took a turn (or didn't) that differed from her designated route, she'd say, "Recalculating." My stepfather has the same GPS system, and he swears that his voice (Jill, American English) gets snippier and snippier as he continues to mess up or disregard her navigation. I might have to agree with him now, after listening to Karen repeatedly "recalculating" today until finally she told us "There is a better route!" I didn't know she might say that so it shocked me a little bit and sort of made me feel bad. Like I was pissing her off. Which I may have been. Husband didn't hear the nuances in her voice, but like any overly sensitive person, I did. Can't get anything by me, Karen. I pick up what you're throwin' down.

Another great Christmas gift which I received from Husband was a SmartGlobe. I've had my eye on the SmartGlobe for about four years because, not that I have low self-esteem or anything, but I know I suck at geography. And this insecurity was proven as not distorted perception but fact once I got my hands on that globe. I do suck, but already I suck a little bit less! The SmartGlobe is awesome! You can play games, competing against up to three other people to see who can find and touch locations the fastest with the special magic pen. I did learn something new about Husband through all this - he is a geography wiz. Like freakishly fast with that magic pen. He is definitely smarter than a fifth grader. I am quite clearly stupider than one.

You can also learn about currency, population, leader, and interesting facts just by touching a location with the magic pen. If only I'd had this when I was eight! But not to worry, I'll make good use of it now. Look out work functions and cocktail parties - I'll dazzle with worldly knowledge in addition to my already witty repartee.

My stepfather Jack also received a very cool gift. It's a replica of the USS Constitution. (That's us looking impressed by such a great present as we struggle to unpack it.) My sis and TO gave it to him. I gave him a remote meat thermometer that tells you when your dinner's ready. I didn't know how stiff the competition was going to be.

There were many highlights of our time in NJ. I'll try to recap.

C, TO, Husband and I spent a day in NYC. (That's me and C pretending to be jack-in-the-boxes.) We ice skated in Rockefeller Center, ate at the Carnagie Deli (and ran into none other than Mr. Carnagie himself, who, as it turns out, is kind of a schmo). We swung by the Plaza and spent some time in FAO Schwartz, which is truly one amazing toy store. I wish I could get accidentally locked in there over night so I could sleep on top of their giant stuffed animal version of Iorek, the armored bear from the Philip Pullman books.

One tiny snag in the NYC trip was that we had to run to catch the train on the way there, and missed the train entirely on the way back (despite sprinting and dodging people on the crowded sidewalks all the way from 44th to 33rd Street). It was actually even more stressful than just missing the train: we got separated. Or rather, TO got separated because his ticket wouldn't work for the subway and the line to get a new one was too long given our time constraints, so he decided to run to Penn Station. The rest of us were supposed to take the subway. But then, after TO had left, we realized we were at a subway station that would take us in the wrong direction. So we had no choice but to leave the subway station and run too. But we weren't fast enough. TO, it turns out, was fast enough, and he made it to the train with time to spare (TO leads the pack when we go running in the park, so this was not entirely surprising). The rest of us did not make out so well. Which meant TO felt compelled to get back off the train, out of solidarity and in keeping with our NYC motto: leave no man behind.

At the end of the day, we caught the next train and all made it home. Husband and I even managed to get back in time to meet our friends C and D, who recently moved to NJ from Boston, for pizza. All's well that ends well.

Husband and I also got to catch up with an old high school friend of mine while we were in town. That was fun, especially because N hasn't changed a bit. Whenever I see people from high school, they always tell me that I haven't changed a bit, and now I see what they mean. Some people just always look the same. We also met her boyfriend, and he was nice. He threw back quite a few screwdrivers throughout the course of our dinner, but I'm willing to bet he'd have been nice even without the alcoholic sedation.

By far, though, most of our time in NJ was strictly family time. We ate meals together, stayed up late chatting, and Husband and I spent countless hours playing with my nieces. Who are, I have to brag here, ADORABLE. As you can see.

The oldest is four going on five in February. The youngest (who is me, exactly, when I was that age) is three. Together, they are SO MUCH FUN!!!!! And they just love Husband to pieces. He's wicked fun to play with. I've always thought this about him as well.

So, most our days were spent at the park like this:

Or the beach like this:

My nieces are very funny little girls. Husband and I call them the menehune, because when we were in Hawaii we learned about menehune. They're small dwarf-like people that live undetected in the valleys and forests of Hawaii and, as legend has it, build things in one night. I'm not sure what kind of things exactly, but I think entire cities and what not. If they can't finish a project in one night they leave it forever unfinished. That's just the way they roll.

We've also decided that when we have our own kids, we'll refer to them as mene Macs. I'm realizing you won't get this, most likely, because you don't know our last name. But it's cute, trust me.

Our relationship with the menehune is actually very serious. Husband and I are their appointed guardians should anything happen to my sis and TO. We don't take that lightly. We want them to know us, and to be excited to see us, so we try to be very interactive with them and engage them as often as possible while we're together.

One thing about the menes that cracks me up is that they have this secret word (and, who knows, maybe an entire secret language!) that they use for both good and evil. It's "babas." They say it instead of "cheese" if you're taking a picture of them, or say it randomly to be silly and giggle. They also say it to be mean sometimes. Once my youngest niece hit my oldest niece and was 'encouraged' by my sis to apologize. She wasn't in an apologizing mood, so she said, "Sorry, BABAS!" and apparently that negated the entire apology in their world, because my oldest niece started to cry and whimper, "She didn't mean it! She didn't mean it!" You never quite know about "babas," but they know. I guess that's all that's important since it's not meant for us anyway.

One sad part about our visit to NJ is that I had to leave my wedding dress behind. It's just too bulky to have laying around in our apartment for the next several months, so we loaded it into the trunk for delivery to mom's closet, the storage unit of all things never to be worn again. I tried it on one last time, and said my goodbyes. I also helped my nieces play dress up.

That pretty much sums up our Christmas holiday. Fun, quality time, bonding, playing. Oh, and good gifts. But that is clearly the least of all blessings.

Happy New Year!