Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Weekend In Minneapolis

Andrew’s mother and father picked us up at MSP Friday night and took us home. It was after 9:00 p.m. when we arrived at the house.

The dog was delighted to see us, to put it mildly—he knew we were coming, and he was waiting for us, eagerly—and he would not leave Andrew’s side for the first two hours we were home.

Andrew’s sister-in-law was the only person at home and awake when we arrived. Andrew’s niece and nephew had already been put to bed, but we immediately went upstairs to peek at them. Even in the dark, we could see that Andrew’s niece had grown significantly since Christmas. She is already three months and two weeks old.

Andrew’s brothers were at the NCAA Tournament when we arrived home, and were not due back until 10:30 p.m. or so, at which time Andrew’s mother planned to give us our dinner.

Andrew’s brothers did not get back from the games until almost 11:00 p.m., and we ate the very minute they arrived. Andrew’s mother had prepared white-bean Tuscan soup, followed by chicken breasts cooked in a cream-white pepper sauce served with broccoli and carrots and stuffed tomatoes.

“What? No potatoes?” was the simultaneous mock cry of Andrew and his brothers, but they were only kidding their mother. They knew she would insist upon having dinner for them after the games no matter what—and even contrary to their instructions, were it to come to that.

Andrew’s brothers had had more than their fill of basketball by Friday night—two games at 11:30 a.m. and another two games at 6:20 p.m. had satisfied their quotient of basketball for the weekend—and when they got home they said they were already “basketballed out”. One problem was that four games in one day turned out to be too much. Another problem was that none of the Friday games was close. Yet another problem was that they had no particular interest in any of the eight teams playing at the Minneapolis site.

Because we had to get up very early on Saturday morning, we went to bed Friday night as early as we could manage. We turned in at 12:30 a.m., hoping to get five hours of sleep, because we planned to rise at 5:30 a.m.

Andrew and I did rise at 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning—as soon as the alarm sounded, the dog was on top of us, licking us and wagging his tail, which signified that he was going to REQUIRE us to get up—but Andrew’s brothers did not want to rise at 5:30 a.m.

Andrew went to wake them and, when he returned, he shook his head.

“What’s that mean?” I asked him.

“They don’t want to get up” was his answer.

“So what should we do?” I asked.

“Take the dog to the park” was his answer. “Let them sleep another hour. They’ll be ready to get up when we get back.”

And Andrew and I took the dog to the park and ran with him and played fetch ball and other games with him for 45 minutes, at which point he was ready to return home and have his breakfast.

We gave him his cereal when we returned, and we went upstairs and Andrew woke his brothers a second time.

The second time was a charm, because they got up and we all got cleaned up for the day.

It was after 7:00 a.m. when we all reassembled in the kitchen, where one of those spooky incidents occurred that I can never explain. All four of us stood in the kitchen, silently, looking at each other. No one said a word and no one moved a muscle.

After three or four minutes, Andrew turned to me and asked, “Ready?”

“Sure” was my answer.

And we left, and we all drove over to Andrew’s older brother’s new house, which Andrew and I had never seen. We took the dog with us, and we all traveled in one car.

This was a change in our original plan. Friday night, we had agreed to have an early breakfast on Saturday morning at Bob Evans before we started on our work. Further, we had agreed that we would not take the dog with us because he would only be in the way.

However, there was no breakfast at Bob Evans on Saturday morning, and there was no leaving the dog at home. Those plans had been changed during those three or four minutes we had stood in Andrew’s parents’ kitchen, staring at each other, with no one uttering a word.

In the ten minutes it took us to drive to Andrew’s brother’s new house, no one uttered a single word in the car. We drove and rode in total silence, and no one seemed to find this remarkable.

When we pulled up to the front drive of the house, the only word anyone uttered was “nice”, and Andrew uttered that word.

We went inside, and Andrew’s brother showed us around the house, silently, without saying a single word. He showed us every room, but he said nothing. Andrew said nothing, Andrew’s other brother said nothing (of course, he had been in the house many times before) and I said nothing.

After we walked around the entire house, we went back to the kitchen and Andrew’s brother made coffee—and, while the coffee brewed, he started to talk, for the first time all morning.

“Because we needed another hour of sleep, we had to skip Bob Evans” was directed at me.

“We had to bring him. Otherwise, he would have been unhappy” was directed at the dog, but meant as an explanation for my benefit.

“When Dad comes over, we’ll send him back home with Dad” was directed at Andrew’s middle brother, but referred to the dog.

“Will cereal be enough?” was directed at Andrew.

“Sure” was Andrew’s answer, and he looked at me. I nodded.

And we stood in the kitchen and ate a bowl of cereal, by which time the coffee was ready—and by which time Andrew’s older brother was ready to offer instructions.

“You guys start on the ceiling at this end of the kitchen” were words directed to Andrew and me, while “And we’ll get to work on the wainscoting” were words directed to Andrew’s other brother.

And we all got to work.

No one said a word, but at least Andrew’s brother turned on ESPN so we all could listen to SportsCenter while we worked. The sound of SportsCenter was the only sound I heard for the next two hours, other than someone occasionally asking the dog, “You doing OK?”

And the dog appeared to be perfectly content, chewing on dog toys and keeping his eyes on us while we worked. He’s a very smart dog, and he could tell we were occupied, and he stayed out of our way. A couple of times, we let him outside to run around for a few minutes, but he always wanted to come back inside after only a few minutes outdoors.

The kitchen looked perfectly fine—the house was new in 2004, and Andrew’s brother’s family is only the second family that has lived in the house—but Andrew’s brother and sister-in-law decided that they wanted to brighten the kitchen.

It’s a large and beautiful kitchen. It extends out into the back yard, so there are windows on three sides in one-half of the kitchen. Our project was to paint the ceiling a very bright shade of white, paint all trim a very bright shade of white, install wainscoting along one portion of one wall and paint the wainscoting a very bright shade of white, apply wallpaper above the wainscoting, paint the kitchen walls a very bright shade of white, apply border paper along the top of one wall of the kitchen, and paint the narrow spaces between the windows a very light shade of canary yellow. The colors, the wallpaper pattern and the border-paper pattern had all been selected by Andrew’s sister-on-law—who had earlier proclaimed that she would call in professionals if our work did not meet her approval.

I can understand that she wanted to add a little color to the kitchen. The cabinetry is all white ash wood—and very beautiful white ash wood it is, indeed. The countertops are all black granite, very fashionable in 2004, and they bring out the black traces in the white ash wood. However, that is not a particularly colorful design scheme, especially since the original walls were ivory, intended to match the ash wood, and since the kitchen floor is white pine, also intended to match the ash wood.

After we had been working for a couple of hours, Andrew’s father arrived. Andrew and I were still at work, painting the ceiling, and Andrew’s brothers were more than halfway completed with the wainscoting, and he wanted to know what he could do.

“Start in on the window trim” was the answer, and he went right to work.

However, he was very talkative Saturday morning. He wanted to talk while he worked—and he wanted to talk to Andrew and me.

Over the sounds of SportsCenter and over the sounds of hammering, he asked Andrew and me countless questions. He asked about law school, he asked about Andrew’s work, he asked about our apartment, he asked about our landlord, he asked about our car, he asked about Boston, he asked about summer plans, he asked about my parents.

He asked about everything.

Andrew’s brothers heard everything we said, but they let Andrew and me talk to their father in peace. They did not interrupt or participate in the conversation.

By 11:00 a.m., Andrew and I were done with the first coat of paint on the ceiling. The ceiling was by far the largest of all surfaces to be painted, and we were relieved to be done, because painting a ceiling involves all sorts of neck and back contortions, involving the use of muscles in new and unusual ways. It quickly becomes tiring.

Andrew and I immediately went to work on the walls, which was a much easier task. By this time the wainscoting had been installed, and Andrew’s brothers immediately went to work painting the wainscoting and painting trim.

By 12:30 p.m., everything that was to be painted had received its first coat of paint—and we received visitors.

Andrew’s mother arrived with our lunch, and she brought Andrew’s nephew with her.

He had been excited all morning, waiting to see Andrew and me. He knew we had come home, and he knew we were over at his own house, working, and he could not wait until after his nap to see us, so Andrew’s mother brought him with her.

He was so excited to see us that he paid no attention at all to what was happening with his kitchen. He wanted us to hold him, and talk to him, and swing him through the air, and play with him. He was extremely happy to see us, and we were just as happy to see him. His mother says that he asks about us literally every day, and that he constantly wants to know when we will come home.

We held him on our laps while we were eating our lunch—ham salad sandwiches, the same thing he had already had for his lunch—and we promised to be home when he woke from his nap, and we promised to give him horseback rides and anything else he wanted for the rest of the day.

After we had had our lunch, Andrew’s mother took him back home, and we moved outdoors. Andrew’s brother had landscaping work for us to do alongside the rear exterior of the house. Specifically, he had purchased an array of shrubbery it was our duty to set into the ground.

It took us only ninety minutes or so to get the shrubbery planted, and by this time we were ready to call it a day and return to Andrew’s parents’ house and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening with the kids.

At Andrew’s parents’ house, we cleaned ourselves up and prepared to enjoy some serious time with Andrew’s niece and nephew.

Andrew’s niece did not know Andrew and me, which we had expected. She was only three weeks old at Christmas, and we knew she would not remember us from the holidays.

She allowed us to hold her, however, and she quickly became comfortable in our company, probably because her parents and grandparents and uncle, whom she is accustomed to, were all present.

She’s a beautiful little girl. She is curious about her surroundings now. She looks at things, and she looks at people. She likes to be talked to, and she likes to be held. At Christmas, she was little more than a sleep machine. Now she is starting to pay attention to people and things in her world.

She allowed Andrew and me to feed her her bottles. She looked at us the whole time we fed her, but occasionally she would stretch or move her head to make sure that her mother was nearby. She did not do any fussing while we held her, but it was clear to us that she was not as content with Andrew and me as she was with her regular crew of admirers.

When Andrew and I were not holding her, her parents, her grandparents or her uncle were holding her. She is used to plenty of attention.

When we were not holding Andrew’s niece, we were playing with Andrew’s nephew.

He’s a little chatterbox now. He talks all the time. If he’s not talking to his parents or to his grandparents or to his uncle, he’s talking to his sister. If he’s not talking to his sister, he’s talking to the dog. If he’s not talking to the dog, he’s talking to himself.

He plays with more interesting and more complicated toys now, including puzzle toys, and he has a certain procedure in place for playing with many of his toys. For instance, there are certain puzzle toys that have to be finished before he will move on to something else—once he has started to put certain puzzle toys together, he will not stop until he has completed his project, no matter what else may tempt him and no matter what else may intervene. His Dad says that he is showing signs of becoming an engineer (like his uncle).

While he is assembling his puzzle toys, the dog sits on the floor at his side and watches his every move, as if the dog is studying the puzzle toys himself.

He eats at table now. He no longer sits in a high chair at the corner of the dining table between his mother and his grandmother—he sits at table, between his mother and his father, in a regular chair with a child booster, and he now eats dinner at the same time as everyone else and he now eats pretty much the same foods as everyone else.

He likes it. It makes him feel grown-up. It makes him feel like a full participant in the mealtime ritual. He talks at mealtime, too, and he especially likes it when his Granddad talks to him at mealtime. He understands that his Granddad is the ultimate arbiter in all things, and it makes him feel important when his Granddad talks to him at mealtime.

He does a little showing-off at mealtime, too. On Saturday evening, when he was done with most of his eating, he began making silly faces across the table at Andrew, Alex and me, and making a mountain from the remaining food on his plate. He was trying to elicit smiles from us, and he succeeded.

We had a big dinner Saturday night. We had roast chicken and stuffing, mashed potatoes, butter noodles, butternut squash, green beans, parsnips, tomato-cucumber salad and cranberry salad. He has a good appetite, and he ate everything. We had apple pie for dessert.

We did not attend church Sunday morning because the games at the Metrodome started at 12:00 Noon. Andrew and I, and only Andrew and I, rose early Sunday morning to take care of the dog. Because Andrew and I operate on East Coast time, it was not a chore for us. As a reward, we got Andrew’s niece and nephew to ourselves for an hour before anyone else rose for the day.

Sunday’s NCAA games were not particularly interesting. Kansas blew out Dayton. Michigan State’s win over U.S.C. was closer, but we had no particular interest in any of the teams at the Minneapolis venue. Attending the tournament in person was anti-climactic, all in all. There were lots of empty seats, and we were informed that the empty seats were not the result of no-shows—those seats had not been sold.

We spent the rest of Sunday playing with the kids. We were either on the floor, playing with Andrew’s nephew (and the dog), or sitting in a rocking chair, holding and rocking Andrew’s niece.

While we were at the games, Andrew’s mother had performed some serious cooking. She prepared Dutch Chowder for yesterday’s lunch, and she prepared another big meal for Sunday night dinner. For a starter course, she gave us pasta in a very light lemon sauce and fried shrimp with a stunning seasoned bread coating. The main course was pot roast, served with homemade stewed tomatoes, a very sharp version of macaroni-and-cheese, Brussels sprouts, fried okra and applesauce. For dessert, we had chocolate mousse.

When Andrew’s niece and nephew had been put to bed for the night, Andrew and I and his brothers went over to Andrew’s brother’s house to continue work on the kitchen project.

To begin, all four of us worked on the ceiling at the same time, applying a second coat of paint, to get that out of the way.

Once that was completed, Andrew and I applied a second coat of paint to the walls and trim while Andrew’s brothers did the wallpapering. The wallpaper was mostly white, with a very subtle pattern in canary yellow. When the job was done, everything looked perfect. It was after 1:00 a.m. when we finished our work.

Yesterday, after breakfast, we all went back to Andrew’s brother’s house to spend the day. As soon as we arrived, Andrew’s brothers applied border paper along the top of one kitchen wall, signaling completion of the project. The kitchen was beautiful, I thought, and the installation of wainscoting and the application of wallpaper and border paper and the introduction of a few traces of canary yellow into the color scheme added significantly to the beauty and appeal of the room.

Andrew’s sister-in-law pronounced herself pleased with the results—and she said that she would not be calling in professionals to do over the job after all.

Her seal of approval granted, we all moved the kitchen furniture back into the kitchen, and the kitchen was again ready for use. Andrew’s brothers hung two spice cabinets, an antique wall shelf and an antique cuckoo clock.

They also suspended from the ceiling a pot-and-pan holder over a cooking island, for the display of bright copper cooking utensils. The copper cooking utensils, along with flame-colored Le Creuset cookware displayed hanging in a giant antique pie cupboard with the doors ajar, provide a touch of deep color to what is otherwise a very bright room, primarily white, with traces of canary yellow.

The antique pie cupboard was a housewarming gift from Andrew’s parents, specifically selected with the Le Creuset cookware in mind. It is from Germany (probably Bavaria), circa 1870, and has intricate carvings inside and out, including on both sides of the doors, which is very atypical of American pie cupboards of the period, and is made from at least four different kinds of wood. It is also much larger, and heavier, and more solid, than American pie cupboards of the period. Andrew’s mother says the piece is of museum rarity and quality. Its woods have been beautifully refinished.

(Andrew and I have not selected a housewarming gift yet, but we will not be able to match the pie cupboard, no matter how hard we try.)

The kitchen still requires more furniture. Among other things, it still needs a sofa, perhaps two. Any delay is due to the fact that Andrew’s sister-in-law has not yet decided what type or what color of sofa(s) to get. She does not appear to be in any hurry to make furniture decisions—the entire house is barely one-third furnished—but she says she needs to make a decision about kitchen sofa(s) soon, because the kitchen very definitely needs more seating capacity. She says that her plan is to live with the new kitchen colors for a week or so, and afterward to decide how best to complete the room.

The new house is perfect for Andrew’s brother’s family. It is large and handsome, and very well-designed, with a large back yard (which will be fenced soon) and beautiful, spacious rooms. It is bright and cheery, and has plenty of space for kids to play, indoors and out.

Next to and perpendicular to the kitchen is a large rectangular family room, running along the entire back of the house, with a large fireplace at the far end. Andrew’s brother’s family will no doubt spend most its time in the kitchen and family room. The rest of the house is almost superfluous.

All day yesterday, Andrew and I played with his nephew and made a fuss over his niece. We will not see them again until July, so this was very important and very precious time for us. With a single exception, we did nothing but spend time with them until late afternoon, when it was time for us to go to the airport.

While the kids were taking their naps, we did make one brief visit—Alex and Andrew and I went over to Alex’s apartment, once our old apartment, just to see it once again and to visit with our former landlady. The apartment looks exactly as it did while we lived there. Nothing has changed, not even the furniture. Andrew and I were very happy in that apartment for two years, and we miss it now.

Alex, too, is very pleased with the apartment. The place suits him, and he keeps it neat as a pin. It’s his apartment now, and no longer ours, but we still miss it.

I wish we could have that apartment in Boston.

I didn’t even like that apartment initially—but after about two months, I fell in love with the place.

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