Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Birthday Boys

The two men in my family both have December birthdays.  It was Carson's 1st birthday and Kevin's *ahem/cough* birthday.

Here they are!  Two handsome guys.

Board games were played while the lasagna heated in the oven.

I would like to say that this is his first bite of cake.  If he were a first born, it would be.  But since he is a fourth born, he has been eating junk for a long time.

Carson had a lot of help opening presents.


And there were a few presents for Kevin too!

I love my men!
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Tree Farm Bliss

Yes, I understand that it's twice the price as a Costco tree.  Although I try to be frugal in general, when it comes to Christmas trees, I'm not very pragmatic.   Kevin indulges this part of me.  (He's such a nice guy, I know!)  I just think that there are only so many years we will have with our kids, and going to a tree farm is a festive, joyful experience.  Going to Costco is something we do almost every week. There is nothing special or significant about going to Costco. 

Plus, the tree farm is fun!  And it smells like heaven!  Yes, I think that maybe heaven will smell like freshly cut pine trees, bonfires, and hot chocolate.  It's bliss, I tell you. 

We were at the tree farm for about three hours.  I think I smiled a really big smile the whole time I was there.  That extra money spent was worth it because it filled up my happiness bank.  Maybe sometimes you can buy happiness.  

Thanks for taking me, Kev!  We always joke that I'm your biggest kid and it's probably true ... 


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Sharing Thanksgiving

December days seem shorter than other days and I’m not just talking about the winter solstice.  As the days slip by, more slippery than the ice that covers much of the country right now, I want to hold on to them but can’t keep my grasp.  Can you believe it’s mid-December already?

Before more time passes, I wanted to write about Thanksgiving because, for us, it was such a unique holiday celebration this year.

We invited neighbors who are immigrants from China.  They have lived here 11 years, but this is the first year that they are U.S. citizens, so it was an especially important Thanksgiving for them. 

We also invited two students from a local university.  The students seek out the opportunity to come to an American home and experience this meaningful American holiday for the first time. I have had a lot of people in my home over the years but none who seemed so grateful to be invited. The young man, whose name we could never pronounce so we all finally gave up trying, did not speak much English, but he seemed to understand everything really well.  When Kevin dropped him off, the man (we will call him “Z”) gave Kevin a big hug. We enjoyed hearing about their cultures and were just as blessed--probably more so--than they were. 

Meredith had a lot of questions about these new people who showed up at our house.  I think she was impacted by our entertaining strangers/foreigners for an afternoon.  It makes me want to do it more often.  It was good for our kids to meet these really wonderful people, who have vastly different backgrounds and cultures.

This year was also different because Granny, Kevin’s great-grandmother, was the only extended family member who was able to join us.  We really enjoyed having her help us entertain everyone!  She was so friendly to the guests and I appreciated her warmth and participation.  She also brought her famous green beans, deviled eggs, and macaroni and cheese.

The kids made these little hand turkeys before our guests arrived.  Thanksgiving wasn't Pinterest-fancy this year.  But it was good, memorable, fun and tasty.  

"Z" (to whom Granny eventually said, "I will just call you John") brought along a little game/puzzle.  Even though he didn't speak fluent English, he was friendly and kind.  We enjoyed interacting with him. He is from the central coast of China. It is nice that our neighbors, the Wang family, speak fluent Mandarin so they could help translate.    

The man carves the turkey.  Always. (The woman does everything else.  Ha!  No, actually Kevin made really amazing cranberry-orange sauce this year.  He swears he cannot cook.  Now I know otherwise.  The secret is out.) 

We had a really nice spread of food.  As I mentioned above, Granny brought her contributions.  My neighbor Julia brought duck, spring rolls, and some type of mixed vegetables.  Having people from different cultural backgrounds at Thanksgiving reminded me of the Pilgrims and Indians.  Each came together, with their own special dishes, to feast and show thankfulness for their common blessings.  I tried some new Chinese dishes this year—duck and the mixed vegetable dish.  I’m sure some pilgrims probably tried new Indian dishes on that first Thanksgiving as well.  

Nothing is ever perfect, right?  Poor Clara had a fever on Thanksgiving morning so we sequestered her to her bedroom.  She had her food (and many refills of sparkling cider) brought up to her.  She cried.  But in the end she was a good sport.  

Every baby loves mashed potatoes. 

Mara is from both Brazil and Japan. She was awesome. She loves kids and spent a lot of time playing little clap games with the girls.  Then she braided all of their hair, which they absolutely loved.  She had never had pumpkin pie so here we are, before she tries homemade pumpkin pie for the first time.  After eating dessert, we became Facebook friends.   

One of the best memories I will always keep is watching Granny play the piano at the end of the day.  She said she hadn't touched a piano in 15 years.  It was amazing.  She played hymn after hymn flawlessly.  I could tell that those fingers of hers, which knew all the keys by heart, had spent many years playing those songs.  She was carefree and having fun at the piano and we all loved it. 

And, lastly, the kids.  They always do love dressing up at Thanksgiving.  This little pilgrim outfit that my mom made for my little sister probably will last us only another year and then we will have to pass it on! Children grow so quickly.  Time passes so quickly.  December days are short and the other days are not much longer.  
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Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Different Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches, I keep thinking about how different it will be this year. Usually, we are invited to Kevin's family's house and we enjoy the spread of food, mostly prepared by other people, though we always bring our favorite dishes to share. We relax with people we have known for years. It is comfortable, fun, and a known-quantity.

This year, the only family member we will celebrate with on Thanksgiving Day is Kevin's 93-year-old grandmother. We are hosting and I am making the entire meal. I have resisted the temptation to scour Food Network and Martha Stewart's website. I'm going to stick with simple, tried and true recipes. I'm very traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner and all the traditional dishes need to be present. We are inviting a Chinese family who lives in our neighborhood. They have lived in the states for more than 10 years and have never had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. (She responded to my invitation by saying, "We are so happy to come!!  We will bring roast duck!!") We are also inviting several foreign students at a local university. The university has a program that connects students with families so the students do not have to be alone on such a meaningful American holiday. Many of these students have been here for years but have never been in an American home and have never had a traditional Thanksgviging dinner.

So, basically, I can totally bomb the stuffing, and no one will ever know (except Kevin and granny) because they don't know what stuffing is supposed to taste like. Nice!

Here is my main objective--other than offering warm hospitatlity, of course: I want to be operating on such little stress, that I have time to watch the Macy's Thanskgiving Parade with my kids. We love it. I enjoy snuggling with them on the couch and participating in this annual tradition. It is important to me. So, I want to make the whole meal, and still watch the parade. I want it all! Is that too much to ask? Well, I guess I love a good challenge. So, I have been Googling lots of "make ahead" recipes for Thanksgiving and putting things in the freezer. In the picture above, Sophia is helping me roll out pie dough. I don't normally like to make pies ahead and freeze them. But this year, there are more important things going on than fresh pie.

The make ahead recipes I have found online all have really good reviews. So, I'm crossing my fingers, and looking forward to a feast with new friends, a memorable day, and watching the parade with my kids.

And you should seriously read the emails I have received from the two students we have invited. They are so excited and grateful to have somewhere to go. Their emails are filled with superlatives. The young man from China rushed out to buy a bottle of wine, after one of his exams, and told me, "I hope you will like it." The young woman, who says she is from both Brazil and Japan, has expressed sweet gratitutde and says it will be her first Thanksgiving meal. I'm as excited as they are.

Fall at the Art Museum

The only problem with autumn is that it's over too quickly. Here in the eastern half of the United States, weeks are spent anticipating when the peak of color will happen. Then a week later, it's past. The trees are now bare, but I'm so glad for the beauty of fall and the times we took to take those drives and those walks, to enjoy all the splendid color. I'm a romantic at heart and I'm a sucker for fall in Indiana.

We often visit the grounds of the art museum in the spring to see the daffodils and tulips and flowering trees. This year we went when the trees were changing color, just before the peak of the fall season, and I'm so glad we did. Tuesday afternoon is always marked off on the calendar as "play time" with my kids. Some days we stay home and do something they enjoy, but usually we go someplace fun. I love that the Indianapolis Art Museum has such beautiful grounds, but admission is also free. After exploring the grounds, we looked at some art galleries (and I told the kids all five things I know about art, wishing their dad was with us, because he knows so much more than I do), and then the kids played indoors at the "Star Gallery" which is a hands on exibit for kids. What a fun day!

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