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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Siesta Key

"Siesta Key is my favorite beach," said an older, seasoned traveler, and beach-loving friend. She described the beautiful white-powder sand and clear water. I wanted to go too.

I think the most difficult thing in this phase of life--the phase where we are parenting young children, trying to be "good" and pay off student debt early, getting the career off the ground, etc.--has been suppressing my travel dreams. When I think of far-off places, I often find myself suppressing the thought of it, knowing that it would be practically impossible to do that any time soon. "Maybe next year, or maybe next decade," is often my thought. The idea of Siesta Key stayed in my mind. I did some research, because we had talked about getting a beach house sometime next year, and I filed it away, as a possibility, trying not to get my hopes up too much.

When my friend mentioned Siesta Key, I could have never imagined that I would actually get to go there less than five weeks later. At the end of October, the managing partner at Kevin's law firm asked him if he wanted to go to a legal skills conference for litigation attorneys in Saint Petersburg, Florida, in two weeks. Kevin looked at information about the conference and said yes. Then his boss said, "If you take your wife, you can take an extra day off. But if not, you'd better get your hide back in this office the next day." Ha!

It didn't take me long to figure out that Saint Petersburg is an hour's drive north of Siesta Key. I couldn't believe how quickly the details fell into place for childcare. A friend gladly offered to take the school-aged kids and Kevin's parents took Sophia. We decided to take Carson along with us for this little adventure.

Dreams, even little dreams like getting to see Siesta Key, do come unexpectedly true sometimes.

Staying in a historic, pre-depression era hotel in Saint Petersburg, was one of the highlights.   

This is a view of the bay, out of our room's window.

Waiting for the elevator ... the hotel had some fun architectural features, like lots of arches.

Carson and I painted the town while Kevin was in his sessions. I took this pictures of a lady riding her bike with her doggie in a basket.  I took it because I thought it would humor my girls.  I found that, when I finally got a few days to go explore without my kids, all I did was think about them and think about how much they would love seeing the sights I saw.  Most all the pictures I took were for Meredith, Clara, and Sophia. 

Carson and I had breakfast at this amazing Italian bakery.  

This is truly the best, most flaky, most moist, most flavorful croissant I have ever had.  And the dark, rich coffee wasn't bad either.  Nor the view. 

Carson and I got in the rental car and went to explore some nearby beaches. 

I can't say that taking an 11-month-old to the beach is a relaxing experience but it sure was scenic and we had our own little adventure. On the way back, we drove through some historic neighborhoods and enjoyed the archtecture.  

Our hotel had a Chihuly chandelier.  We took this picture for our kids, and because we love Chihuly. The Indianapolis Children's Museum has a large Chihuly glass sculpture and also a hands on exhibit that our kids enjoy.
Here is a sign proving that Siesta Key beach is #1. Ha! I enjoy California beaches a lot and have been to 5-6 east coast beaches and the gulf of Texas, but never a Florida beach. It was fun to see the differences.
We stumbled upon a super fun sand sculpture contest. We paid our $3 admission and had so much fun. The artists are incredibly talented!

We laughed hysterically watching Carson speed crawl along the sand and chase all the sea gulls furiously. He yelled animatedly and was so funny to watch. No matter how fast he crawled, he could never catch them, but he enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. So many people stopped and said, "Look at that little guy!" He was adorable that day. (And all days, but that day is a special memory.)

This is what it is REALLY like bringing an 11-month-old to the beach. But the sand mess is always worth it. We three had a great time.
For a few hours on Saturday, probably about the time we sat on a bench at the beach and watched a volley ball competition, with absoutely no pressures, no where we "had" to be, nothing we "had" to do, a feeling of relaxation started sweeping over me. It's been years--maybe even five years--since I have felt that relaxed and refreshed. Thank you God. Thank you Kevin's law firm. Thank you Swan family and Grandma and Grandpa Koons. I'm so glad I got to experience Siesta Key. I needed that.
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