Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gala For The New Year

Francesco Guardi (1712-1793)
The Venetian Gala Concert
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Oil On Canvas
27 3/16 Inches By 36 3/8 Inches


I saw this legendary painting for the first time this summer.

One of Francesco Guardi’s key masterpieces, the painting portrays an actual event: a gala concert held in Venice in 1782 in honor of visiting Russian nobles.

The painting has historical importance: it is the only surviving depiction of Venice’s famed all-girl chorus and orchestra, comprised solely of orphans and once directed by Antonio Vivaldi.


An irrelevant yet timely footnote: Guardi’s death was to occur on a New Year’s Day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Doing Not Much Of Anything

On Monday morning, Andrew and I rose early—we have been waking no later than 5:30 a.m. Central Time since we arrived home—but we did not take the dog to the park. It was very cold, and we decided that he would be as happy in the back yard as in the park—and we did not want Andrew’s father to have to make another early-morning excursion to the park to make sure we were safe.

At 6:00 a.m., by pre-design, Andrew and I wakened Alex. We three got cleaned up and left the house at 6:40 a.m., taking the dog with us.

Our intended mission: to remove the snow at Alec and Lizbeth’s house.

We arrived at 7:00 a.m., just as it became light enough for us to work.

We had to park on the street, just as Alec and Lizbeth had had to park on the street the previous evening. The snow on the drive was too deep for anyone to attempt to drive through it.

We had our shovels with us, and we got right to work.

Within five minutes, Alec popped his head out the front door and said, “I can’t believe you guys. Don’t you have anything better to do at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday morning?”

“Nope” was our answer.

“I was going to do this myself later this morning” were his next words. “Why don’t you come inside and we can deal with the snow later.”

“Nope” was our answer.

“Then I am going to come out and join you.”

“Nope.” That was our party line, and we were sticking to it. “Stay inside with the kids. We’ve got this covered.”

And we continued to shovel snow until we were done with the sidewalks and the drive. It took us only an hour to do the job.

We stepped inside for two minutes after we were done, simply to say “Good Morning” to everyone, but we had no plans to stay. We declined all offers of coffee and food, and said we had to get home.

When we arrived home, Andrew’s mother and father were up. They knew where we had gone, and they were waiting for us to return in order to have breakfast.

We had a very simple breakfast: grapefruit, granola, scrambled eggs and toast. That was all we wanted.

Our task for Monday was threefold: (1) to decide whether we were to go to Greece in March; (2) to select a particular guided tour; and (3) to make all necessary bookings.

Alex wants to visit Greece, Andrew’s parents want to visit Greece, and Andrew and I want to visit Greece. We are not experts on Greece, however, and none of us has the time necessary to attempt to become experts on Greece. We decided, consequently, that a guided tour may make the most sense for us, especially since we want to see the country’s most prominent highlights without undertaking a massive research project.

We have ten days at our disposal, no more. Our ten-day limitation is imposed by the length of my Spring Break.

Numerous tour companies offer seven-to-ten-day tours of Greece in March, and we plowed through the many options.

Andrew’s parents have always been pleased with Collette Vacations—their escorted trip to Portugal this past Spring had been a Collette Vacations tour—but the guided tour of Greece we settled upon was offered by Globus Tours, not Collette Vacations. Our selection was based upon the fact that the particular Globus tour included visits to most of the key historic sites from Greece’s ancient history, including visits to ruins, excavations, temples, monasteries and museums.

In addition to traveling through a broad swath of the Greek countryside, the tour is scheduled to visit Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Olympia, Delphi, Meteora, Thermopylae and Athens. We thought this particular tour was the one that most-closely matched our interests.

We will depart on Friday, March 12, and we will return on Sunday, March 21. We very much look forward to our trip to Greece—and we very much appreciate the fact that we will have no additional planning to do.

Another benefit of the trip is that the weather in Greece in mid-March should be better than the weather in Minneapolis or Boston!

Once our trip selection was complete, we went out for a late lunch: hamburgers at Ruby Tuesday.

On our way home, we stopped at the care facility to visit Andrew’s grandmother. She recognized no one.

When we returned home, Andrew’s parents called their travel agent and asked the agent to book our trip, giving the agent all necessary information, including our departure cities. The agent informed Andrew’s parents that tour confirmations and flight confirmations, owing to the holiday period, might take two business days, perhaps three business days.

We did very little the rest of the afternoon except read travel books about Greece and take the dog outside to play.

The house was eerily quiet on Monday, what with the kids gone. It was difficult for us to adjust to their absence.

Dinner was grilled salmon and seasoned wild rice, served with fried zucchini, grilled red and yellow peppers, and tomato-cucumber salad. We had orange sherbet and lemon sherbet for dessert.

After dinner, we went downstairs and watched on DVD Fred Zinnemann’s 1973 film, “The Day Of The Jackal”, a classic all of us had seen before. A near-perfect film, “The Day Of The Jackal” is a meticulous piece of craftsmanship, the work of a master of the medium. Zinnemann, one of the most elegant of filmmakers, possessed a remarkable eye for detail and atmosphere. Zinnemann’s late work, especially, is notable for its economy and subtlety. I doubt there is a filmmaker alive today with his gifts.

Yesterday we had a couple of excursions on our agenda.

For breakfast, we ate walnut waffles, which are a pain to make but worth the effort. An hour later, we were headed downtown to view the exhibition, “The Louvre And The Masterpiece”, at The Minneapolis Institute Of Arts.

“The Louvre And The Masterpiece” was a small exhibition. Only a few dozen artworks from the Louvre had been loaned for the exhibition. Most notable were Vermeer’s famed “The Astronomer”, the star of the exhibition, and a da Vinci study drawing of folds of drapery.

Once we had visited the Louvre exhibition, we visited the period rooms, decked out for the holidays in period Christmas decorations (apparently a longstanding tradition at The Minneapolis Institute Of Arts).

After our museum visit, we ate lunch at a nearby German restaurant. We ordered lentil soup with sausage, Alsatian casserole and hazelnut torte. It was an excellent lunch.

We spent the afternoon at home, doing not much of anything.

Andrew’s mother made chile, entirely appropriate for the cold weather, and she also baked brownies. We had the chile for dinner, along with avocado salad.

After dinner, we went to Williams Arena to see Minnesota open its Big Ten season against Penn State. Andrew’s mother even accompanied us to the game (it will be the only game of the season for her). The Golden Gophers defeated the Nittany Lions, 75-70.

When we got home from the game, we ate the brownies.

Today we will go spend the day with Alec and Lizbeth and the kids.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Long Christmas Weekend

Christmas Eve saw us all safely gathered at Andrew’s parents’ house, observing the snowstorm from the safety and warmth of indoors.

It snowed all day.

Andrew and I were the earliest risers of the day, but we did not—for once—take the dog to the park in the early morning. The snow was simply too deep to make a trek to the park worthwhile. Instead of taking the dog to the park, we took the dog outside and played in the snow for half an hour. The dog did not seem to mind that we had skipped the park. In fact, he was happy as a lark, leaping around the snow in the back yard.

Once the dog had enjoyed his romp, we went back inside, gave the dog his breakfast cereal, cleaned up for the day, and returned to the kitchen and waited for everyone else to rise. While we were waiting, Andrew made kuchen.

First up was Tim, who came downstairs a few minutes past 7:00 a.m. We fed him hot oatmeal first thing, followed by bananas and cream.

Twenty minutes later, Alex came downstairs carrying Helena. We got her fixed up, and then we fed her baby cereal and mashed banana.

It was almost an hour before anyone else came downstairs, and we used that time to play with the kids.

Andrew’s father appeared at 8:15 a.m. Alec was next at 8:30 a.m. The men having gathered, we all sat down and ate hot oatmeal and bananas and cream.

Andrew’s mother and Lizbeth made it downstairs just before 9:00 a.m., at which time we got genuine breakfast preparations under way.

While the ladies ate melon, Andrew and I prepared breakfast. We made scrambled eggs, bacon and fried potatoes, which we ate with toast, orange juice and cranberry juice. We wrapped things up with kuchen.

Tim eats everything now and he plowed through his breakfast like a house afire, but Helena was fed only scrambled eggs and juices.

The dog got a bowl of cut-up bacon, a few bites of fried potato, and cut-up toast with jam. He also got a small bowl of cut-up kuchen soaked in milk.

Breakfast over, Andrew and I cleaned the kitchen while Tim and Helena went upstairs for their baths.

Once the kitchen was cleaned, Andrew and I turned the kitchen over to Andrew’s mother, who began preparations for Dutch Chowder, which was to serve as our Christmas Day lunch.

After the kids came downstairs from their baths, it was time for us to begin addressing removal of the snow.

We knew we were in for a losing battle—the snow was expected to continue for at least another 48 hours—but we wanted to remove as much snow as possible so that we could get out if there were an emergency.

Our morning goal was to clear the drive from the garage to the street, a major task, as the garage is at ground level at the back of the house (from the street, Andrew’s parents’ house appears to be two-and-a-half stories; from the back, Andrew’s parents’ house is seen to be three-and-a-half stories, with the garage occupying a portion of the bottom level).

With four of us to shovel—Alec, Alex, and Andrew and I—we hoped to be able to clear the drive by lunchtime.

We got to work, the dog bounding around in the midst of the activity the whole time.

Twice, Andrew’s father brought Tim outside to play in the snow for thirty minutes at a time. When he was not outside playing in the snow, Tim was inside watching us shovel snow from the windows. He thought the snow was marvelous.

By 12:30 p.m., we had cleared the drive, and we went indoors for a lunch of tomato-cream soup and toasted cheese sandwiches.

At lunch, we discussed attending one of the Christmas Eve services at our church. Christmas Eve services were to be held at 3:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.—and services were to proceed as scheduled despite the severe winter storm.

We contemplated attending the 3:00 p.m. service, and we decided to make a decision whether to attend at 2:00 p.m.

After lunch, we went back outside and shoveled snow from the front sidewalks.

Everyone in the neighborhood was out shoveling, and everyone was in a jolly mood.

The sidewalks were not much of a project. With four persons shoveling, it took us no time at all to clear them.

After we had cleared the sidewalks, we went around to the back of the house and cleared snow from the back deck.

The snow removed—temporarily—we returned indoors and awaited a decision whether we would attend the 3:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service.

Andrew’s parents had been monitoring the road situation. Some streets were in good condition, and others were not.

They were having a difficult time making a decision. They wanted to attend service, but they did not want to risk an accident and they did not want to risk getting stuck or stranded along the way.

At the last minute, they decided to stay home.

Everything worked out.

When the kids woke from their naps, we ate gingerbread men. At 3:30 p.m., we took Tim outside to play in the snow one last time for the day. He loved it.

Then we went back indoors and settled down for a warm Christmas Eve.

We played with the kids until dinnertime.

We had baked carp for dinner, served with boiled small potatoes, green beans, red cabbage, yellow peppers, tomato salad and pineapple chiffon salad (in honor of Helena, who loves it).

After dinner, everyone was allowed to open two Christmas presents. In the case of Tim and Helena, the presents were specifically selected for them, as no one wanted them to be disappointed.

Helena’s presents were a small stuffed panda bear, of a perfect size for a one-year-old, and a musical toy that rolls on the floor, very similar to a musical toy she already has and likes.

Tim’s presents were a new puzzle toy and an antique wooden marble run, over 100 years old, which Andrew’s parents had discovered in an antique shop.

The marble run was the hit of the night. Everyone loved it, including the dog. It was fascinating to watch as one or more colorful marbles rolled down the complicated, winding pathway from top to bottom. It was also fascinating to observe the dog watching a marble roll down the marble run, the dog’s head turning back and forth as the marble looped first in one direction, then another.

I think I want a marble run for Christmas next year!

Once everyone had opened two presents, we had dessert: an English Christmas pudding, which Andrew’s mother had ordered from a purveyor. It was very, very good.

Tim did not want to go to bed on Christmas Eve—he was too excited to go to bed, knowing that an overnight visit from Santa Claus was due—and his parents allowed him to stay up a little later than usual. His eyes grew heavy by 9:00 p.m., however, and he went to bed willingly a few minutes later.

As soon as Tim was asleep, we retrieved Christmas presents from hiding and arranged them under the tree so that Tim would catch sight of them first thing in the morning.

We did not do much of anything for the rest of the night.

There was an effort on behalf of everyone to rise as early as possible on Christmas morning so that Tim would be able to open his presents not long after coming downstairs.

Andrew and I, operating on East Coast time, were up first, but Alex was not far behind us. All three of us were downstairs, cleaned up and ready for the day, by 6:15 a.m.

Alec was next. He came down at 6:45 a.m., wanting to be downstairs and ready to see Tim’s reaction when the doors of the living room were opened and evidence of Santa’s visit to be seen.

Andrew’s father came downstairs at 7:00 a.m.

And, for the next 45 minutes, we stood and waited for Tim to come bounding down the stairs in a state of excitement.

Andrew’s mother, ready for the day, came downstairs at 7:25 a.m., carrying Helena. She told us that Tim was still sleeping.

Lizbeth, ready for the day, came downstairs at 7:35 a.m. She told us that Tim was still in a deep sleep, and she returned upstairs to be with him when he wakened.

It was almost ten minutes before 8:00 a.m. when at last we could hear Tim talking excitedly, exclaiming “Christmas! Christmas!” over and over while Lizbeth was trying to get him into his robe and slippers.

They both came downstairs a few seconds later. We were all in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, standing and waiting, ready to open the doors to the living room.

I don’t think I have ever seen anyone more excited than Tim as he came down the stairwell.

“Do you want to see if Santa Claus came?” Alec asked as soon as Tim got to the bottom of the stairs.

Tim did not say anything, but he nodded—and Alec opened the doors to the living room.

Tim peeked around the corner of a door to see if there was any evidence that Santa had visited. He saw all the presents spread out under the tree, and he RAN across the room to the tree and he started jumping up and down with glee.

And, for the next hour, we opened presents.

I would not have missed that hour for all the world.

When there were no more presents to open, Andrew asked Tim, “Are you hungry? It’s time for your breakfast.”

“No” was Tim’s answer. “I want to stay here!”

Nevertheless, we did go into the kitchen shortly thereafter because no one—except the dog—had had a morsel to eat all morning and because it was long past time to give Helena her breakfast.

We had buttermilk pancakes and sausage, preceded by grapefruit and hot cereal. Despite his protestations, Tim WAS hungry, and he ate a full breakfast. Helena ate part of a pancake, cut into tiny bites. She apparently has developed a liking for pancakes and maple syrup.

We played with the kids all morning. Tim especially was in a state of continuous excitement. He was so busy keeping track of his new toys that, when asked, he did not want to go outside and play in the snow.

Christmas lunch was Dutch Chowder, which makes for a great holiday meal.

While the kids were taking their afternoon naps, Alec, Alex, and Andrew and I went outside to clear snow from the sidewalks and drive. The snowfall from overnight had not been as heavy as projected, and the Christmas Day snowfall had not been particularly heavy, either. Consequently, our work on Christmas Day was not as burdensome as our work on Christmas Eve.

After the kids woke from their naps, we asked Tim whether he wanted to go outside and play in the snow. He told us he would rather play with his new toys, so we remained indoors, playing with the kids until time for Christmas dinner

Our Christmas dinner was very traditional. We had stuffed turkey, stuffed chicken and baked ham, accompanied by mashed potatoes, lima beans, carrots, white corn and cranberry salad. For dessert, we had Christmas cookies.

After dinner, we played with the kids and their new toys until it was their bedtime.

We woke Saturday morning to see that the snowfall had ended. The two-day snowfall, in total, had been about half the projected snowfall. We were not displeased—ten inches of snow, perhaps twelve inches at most, had been more than enough to grant us a White Christmas.

Andrew and I exercised the dog in the back yard first thing, after which we returned indoors, gave the dog his breakfast cereal, went upstairs and cleaned up, and returned to the kitchen and made coffee and cinnamon coffee cakes.

No one rushed to come downstairs Saturday morning. Alex and the kids were down first, just past 7:00 a.m., and we ate hot cereal and warm coffee cake with the kids.

It was another hour before anyone else came downstairs, but by 8:30 a.m. everyone was present and ready for breakfast.

As a general rule, Saturday morning means ham-and-cheese omelets in Andrew’s family, and that’s what Andrew and I prepared. We served the omelets with fried tomatoes and cubed potatoes and green peppers.

Tim was ready to go back outside and play in the snow on Saturday, so we took him outdoors after breakfast and played with him for thirty minutes. When he had to go back indoors, we cleaned the snow residue from Friday night’s snowfall. By the time we were done removing snow, Tim was ready to come back outdoors for thirty minutes. We built a snowman in the front yard, which Tim thought was a major accomplishment. He loved the fact that his mother and grandmother were watching from inside as we made the snowman. He could not keep from smiling the entire time.

We had hot chicken-salad sandwiches for lunch on Saturday. Hot chicken salad is one of Andrew’s mother specialties—I could eat it every day—and it was something that Helena, too, could eat.

While the kids were taking their afternoon naps, Alec, Alex, and Andrew and I went out to play basketball and swim. It was the first time anyone had left the house since Wednesday night. On our way home, we stopped at a food store because Andrew’s mother had a few items she wanted us to pick up.

As soon as we arrived home, we took Tim outdoors for his final outing of the day. He wanted to play in the front yard instead of the back yard because he wanted to be near the snowman.

Saturday night’s dinner was based upon leftovers from Christmas Day: turkey croquettes, chicken croquettes, ham croquettes and cranberry salad, served with broccoli and homemade bread. We had custard pie for dessert (and Helena enjoyed the custard part of the pie).

After dinner, we all sat at the dining table and played an animal card game with Tim, which he loved. By cheating, we allowed him always to win.

After the kids went to bed, we played scrabble—and, at least as far as I could tell, there was no cheating.

Early this morning, Andrew and I DID take the dog to the park. It was his first visit to the park since Wednesday morning.

The sidewalks all the way to the park had been cleared of snow, but the park itself was a blanket of untouched snow. Between Andrew and me and the dog, we left more than a few footprints in the park even though we did not stay long.

Just as we were preparing to leave the park and return home, Andrew’s father arrived at the park, which surprised us greatly. It was 6:20 a.m., and we did not expect Andrew’s father to be up so early on a Sunday morning, let alone out and about.

“What’s up?” Andrew asked his Dad.

“I heard you leave the house, and I had an odd, eerie notion that something bad might happen at the park and that you might need me” he said. “So I decided to follow you.”

“We didn’t break any legs” said Andrew, and he hugged his Dad very hard—and his Dad hugged him back even harder.

We started to walk home, and very soon we saw Alex walking toward us.

As soon as we were within earshot, Andrew’s father asked, “Did your mother send you?”

“Yes” was Alex’s answer. “She was concerned.”

We learned that Andrew’s mother, fearing that there might be something to the premonition of “something bad” happening at the park, had wakened Alex and sent him after his father. Alex had his cell phone with him and—despite the fact that we were only four blocks from home—he called his mother to let her know that everything was perfectly fine and that we would all be home in a couple of minutes.

Andrew’s mother was in the kitchen, making coffee and hot oatmeal and fresh orange juice, when we arrived home. She hugged each and every one of us as if she had not seen us in fifteen years.

“There’s often something to these feelings he gets about his boys, you know” she offered by way of explanation, nodding toward Andrew’s father.

And, quite safe, we all sat down for half an hour and ate oatmeal and drank coffee and orange juice.

A few minutes before 7:00 a.m., Alex and Andrew and I went upstairs with the intention of cleaning up for the day, but we noticed Helena standing in her crib when we passed the kids’ room, so we went in and swooped her up and took her downstairs and deposited her with her grandparents. We returned upstairs just as Tim was getting up, so we took him downstairs, too. On our third trip upstairs, we were able to accomplish our objective.

After we had cleaned up, we returned to the kitchen in order to get breakfast started as well as to spell Andrew’s parents and to allow them to get ready for the day.

“I know it’s Sunday, but let’s do something besides pancakes” Andrew said to Alex and me. “We had pancakes just two days ago. I’m ready for something different.”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Alex.

“I don’t know. What about eggs baked in cream?” was Andrew’s rejoinder.

“Do it” said Alex.

Andrew looked at me, and I said “I can go for baked eggs.”

So we prepared eggs baked in cream. In Andrew’s version, each egg has its own individual baking cup—two tablespoons of cream are placed in the bottom of the cup, an egg (unscrambled) is placed atop the cream, and another two tablespoons of cream are placed atop the egg. The final result is akin to a layered soufflé, and almost as light.

We ate the eggs with English muffins and orange marmalade. Everyone seemed to be content with the breakfast, and no one complained about the absence of pancakes or the absence of meat (or the absence of potatoes, for that matter).

We hung around the kitchen all morning until it was time to go to church.

Tim did not want to go to church this morning—he said he wanted to stay home and play with his toys—but his father told him that he had no choice in the matter. I would have offered to stay home with Tim, but I think that might have been viewed as interference with parental authority.

Tim squirmed all through service . . .and so did I. I had a better time last Sunday, when I nodded off during service.

When we got home from church, a lunch of tuna noodle casseroles was waiting for us, as the casseroles, because of oven timers, had started baking halfway through service.

Andrew’s mother’s tuna noodle casseroles are a delicacy. She uses highest-quality fresh albacore tuna, homemade noodles, real cream, fresh peas, chopped celery, shredded carrots, and seasoned croutons crushed with a rolling pin in her personal version of the perennial favorite, all baked in individual serving dishes. Hers are the best tuna noodle casseroles I have ever tasted. They are a real treat.

During lunch, Andrew asked his mother whether she had made “irrevocable” dinner plans. She said she had not, so he asked her whether he might be responsible for tonight’s dinner.

“Of course, if that’s what you want” was her answer.

“Then what about a Viennese dinner tonight?” Andrew asked, his question directed to everyone. “Wiener schnitzel and German potato salad. And Sacher Torte for dessert?”

Everyone seemed to be pleased with the idea, so Andrew resolved to give us a genuine Viennese dining experience for our Sunday night dinner.

Andrew made the Sacher Torte while the kids were taking their afternoon naps. The recipe Andrew uses, a common Vienna variant that attempts to duplicate the secret recipe of the Sacher Hotel, includes both chocolate AND cocoa. The inclusion of the latter, some insist, is the true secret of Sacher Torte, while others contend that the addition of a dash of ground hazelnut gives Sacher Torte its unique flavor.

Sacher Torte is very easy to make—I have seen Andrew make it a dozen times—and it turned out perfectly this afternoon. However, Andrew DID ask his mother to apply the icing, as he wanted the Sacher Torte to look as nice as possible.

Other than Sacher Torte preparation, we did nothing all afternoon—except we played with the kids once they woke from their naps. We remained indoors today, as it had turned much colder overnight. We did not attempt to take Tim outside to play this afternoon.

Tonight’s dinner was excellent. Andrew can make Wiener schnitzel and German potato salad in his sleep—he makes a Viennese dinner every two or three months in Boston—and everyone seemed pleased with the food. To end things, the Sacher Torte hit the spot.

Not long after dinner, Alec and Lizbeth and the kids went home.

With the winter storm having passed, and there being no further worry about getting stuck in a snowdrift, they decided that it was time to return to their own home.

Their departure signaled not only the end of the winter storm.

It signaled that Christmas was over, too.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter Landscape With Church

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Winter Landscape With Church
Museum Fur Kunst Und Kulturegeschichte, Dortmund

Oil On Canvas
13 3/16 Inches By 18 Inches

A virtually-identical version of the painting, also from 1811, is owned by London's National Gallery. Only the Dortmund version was on display at the 2006 Friedrich exhibition in Hamburg.


Our classic winter storm continues.

Many municipalities in the Twin Cities have declared snow emergencies. Over 225 flights at MSP have been cancelled, which may be a record. There were more than 400 traffic accidents in the Twin Cities during the twelve-hour period between 6:00 p.m. last night and 6:00 a.m. this morning, one involving a fatality.

Our church has Christmas Eve services scheduled for 3:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. None of the services has been cancelled; all will proceed as scheduled.

We may attempt to attend the 3:00 p.m. service.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Last-Minute Change Of Plan

Yesterday was another busy day for us.

In the morning, Andrew and I ran errands for Andrew’s mother. We visited the Post Office, the home improvement center, the dry cleaner, the florist, and two food stores.

As soon as we returned home, we deposited our items, picked up Andrew’s mother, and headed out again.

Our first stop was the care facility, where we had lunch and a short visit with Andrew’s grandmother. In truth, there was no visit, and no meaningful conversation, because Andrew’s grandmother recognized no one. It was very sad.

There was one moment of semi-lucidity on her part. Toward the end of lunch, Andrew’s grandmother looked at Andrew and asked, “Can you remind me what happened to my Pillsbury?” It was apparent that she had mistaken Andrew for Andrew’s father.

“Pillsbury was sold to Grand Metropolitan more than twenty years ago” was Andrew’s answer.

“But I thought I bought Pillsbury back?” was Andrew’s grandmother’s response.

“A few years ago, General Mills bought Pillsbury from Grand Metropolitan for a song, after Grand Metropolitan had made a mess of things” was Andrew’s answer.

“So Pillsbury is back in Minneapolis?”

“Yes, Pillsbury is back in Minneapolis.”

“And I still own Pillsbury?”

“Yes. Through General Mills.”

“Will I have to attend any meetings this week?”


“Are there any papers for me to sign?”


And that was the extent of Andrew’s grandmother’s semi-lucid interval.

From the care facility, we went to the Galleria in order to continue our Christmas shopping. Andrew and I bought a couple of gifts, but we did not find much of interest in the Galleria. We walked around for a couple of hours and returned home.

Last night was another quiet evening. Alex joined us for dinner—Swedish meatballs and noodles, served with lingonberries and snap peas—and we spent much of the evening discussing a trip to Greece. We are almost ready to book.

Today Andrew and I braved the Mall Of America. We arrived at 10:00 a.m., and we remained until almost 5:00 p.m.—and, when we departed, we had our Christmas shopping completed. We walked for what must have been miles, and we encountered crowds of a size I had never seen at a shopping mall, but we got the job done.

We were exhausted—and famished—when we got home, but we did not have to wait long to eat. Dinner was creamed chicken over rice, served with carrots and grilled red peppers.

Alex joined us for dinner and, from tonight through the rest of the holidays, he will stay with us at his parents’ house. Today was his last day at work until January 4, and it had always been his plan to move over to his parents’ house to spend the Christmas holidays. It should be lots of fun.

There has been a change of plan regarding Christmas Day. The original plan was to celebrate Christmas Eve at Andrew’s parents’ house, and Christmas Day at Alec and Lizbeth’s house.

The weather has thrown a monkey wrench into the plan.

It began snowing this afternoon, and the snowfall is expected to continue, nonstop, through midday Saturday and perhaps beyond. The winter storm is expected to be the most severe to hit the Twin Cities in thirty years, leaving at least two feet of snow on the ground—and perhaps considerably more—and causing miserable driving conditions.

As a result, all Christmas celebrations have been moved to Andrew’s parents’ house. Alec and Lizbeth have decided to move to Andrew’s parents’ house, too, “for the duration”. This will obviate the need for everyone to drive back and forth between the two houses in what may soon prove to be impassible streets.

In fact, around 8:00 p.m. tonight, Alec and Lizbeth decided not to wait until tomorrow morning to make the move but to make the move tonight. They and the kids arrived just in time for the kids to be put to bed. The decision had been prompted by the most recent weather forecast, predicting six-to-eight additional inches of snow overnight (to go with the four or five inches already on the ground).

The very minute the kids were put to bed, Alec, Alex, and Andrew and I drove back to Alec and Lizbeth’s house in order to collect the Christmas presents that had been hidden from the kids and to gather the turkey and ham and other food items that were part of our intended Christmas dinner.

The streets were in bad shape, but we made it there and back safely.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Preparations

Yesterday was our first full day home.

It was a beautiful day.

Andrew and I rose very early—we are still operating on East Coast time—and we took the dog to the park first thing.

When we got home, we gave the dog his cereal, cleaned up, and waited for Andrew’s parents to come downstairs. While we were waiting, Alex arrived.

Once everyone was assembled, we had a big, leisurely breakfast—grapefruit, cereal, Eggs Benedict, apple pancakes with apple sausage—and shortly after breakfast we headed for church. I nodded off during service, just like Helena, but I do not share her excuse of being merely one year old. Happily, no one but Andrew and Alex noticed that I had been dozing.

Back home from church, we had a very special lunch: Norwegian fish balls and potato pancakes. Norwegian fish balls are made from numerous kinds of fish, minced and seasoned and stored for three or four days before fried in butter and served.

The Norwegian fish balls were heavenly. They were tender and sweet and light as a feather. They are intended to be eaten with potato pancakes and nothing more, as any other foods interfere with the subtle flavor of the fish balls.

I had never had the fish balls before. When I told Andrew’s mother, she was surprised: “That means I have not made these since 2005. I didn’t realize it had been that long.” I hope she does not wait four years before making them again.

We spent all afternoon baking Christmas cookies. We made date-nut cookies (with the date-nut filling pressed between two layers of pastry), apricot cookies (with the apricot filling pressed between two layers of pastry), spritz cookies (which require a cookie press) of several different designs, anise cookies (which require a different kind of cookie press—and of a type no longer manufactured), Pfeffernusse cookies, and sugar cookies cut in the shapes of bells, Christmas trees and candy canes.

Everyone helped. Even Tim helped, because he was allowed to sprinkle colored sugar on the spritz cookies and on the sugar cookies.

By the time we were finished baking cookies, it was 6:00 p.m. There were cookies on practically every kitchen surface. There were so many cookies that it was impossible to find a free surface on which to prepare dinner.

Andrew’s mother was trying to decide what to do—I think she was planning to move as many cookies as possible into the dining room—when Andrew’s father turned to Andrew and said, “Why don’t you go out and get carry-out someplace and bring dinner home? I hear Perkins has carry-out. I’m told Perkins has improved considerably over the last several years.”

“Boston Market. Boston Market has excellent carryout food. Boston Market HAS to be better than Perkins” was Andrew’s reply.

“But Boston Market’s too far to go” was Andrew’s father’s response.

“Well, do you want Chinese?” was Andrew’s rejoinder.

“No Chinese” came from Lizbeth.

“Then how about Italian? I can go to Maggiano’s . . .or the Olive Garden” was Andrew’s next move.

“No Italian, please. Tonight’s not the right night for Italian.” This gentle plea came from Andrew’s mother.

“Well, I guess I can try Perkins” said Andrew. “But what should I order at Perkins? I have no idea what might be good there.”

Alec came to the rescue. “Let’s do Boston Market. It’s a little farther, but it’ll be worth the extra time. Decent chicken, decent potatoes, decent vegetables. No surprises, no disappointments. I’ll drive. Let’s go.”

There being no further comments, Alec’s words seemed to be the final ruling on the subject. Within two minutes, Alec, Alex, and Andrew and I were in the car, headed for Boston Market, where we bought whole chickens and tubs of mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn and green beans.

The food was still hot when we arrived home. It was a perfectly acceptable dinner, and everyone was perfectly content, including the dog.

Alec, Lizbeth and the kids went home immediately after dinner.

For the rest of the evening, Andrew’s parents, Alex, and Andrew and I packed cookies into colorful small Christmas gift boxes, one kind of cookie per box. Once the cookies were boxed, we filled colorful Christmas gift bags with boxes of cookies, six boxes per bag, each bag containing six different kinds of cookie. To complete the project, Andrew’s mother tied handwritten gift cards onto each gift bag.

It was 11:15 p.m. by the time we were done with our work, and we were all bushed. Alex soon went home, and within a few minutes of his departure we were all headed upstairs, ready for bed (but only after the gift bags of cookies had been placed in the dining room and the dining room doors closed—there being no point in tempting the dog during the night with cookies to eat and bright papers to chew on).

Today was cookie-delivery day. All morning, Andrew and I delivered cookies.

The dog wanted to come with us, but we could not allow it—not in a car jammed with cookies.

Our work was not arduous, because we simply drove around and placed bags of cookies on front doorsteps. We did not ring doorbells, or attempt to visit with anyone, because doing so would have turned our delivery project into a weeklong exercise. The most complicated part of our operation was matching the names of the recipients with the correct houses (no sense in offending Mr. and Mrs. Petersen by dropping a gift bag at their house bearing greetings for Mr. and Mrs. Christensen).

We started out at 8:30 a.m., and we were done by 12:15 p.m.

Christmas cookies delivered, we returned home, picked up Andrew’s mother, and headed to Southdale for Christmas shopping.

Andrew and I, intentionally, had delayed our Christmas shopping until this week. We knew that we had at our disposal almost a full week in Minnesota prior to Christmas Day, and we had decided to take advantage of the situation by doing our Christmas shopping at home.

We picked up a couple of things at Southdale this afternoon, but a couple of things only. Tomorrow we plan to hit the Galleria, but I fear that much of our Christmas shopping will be accomplished at the Mall Of America on Wednesday. We look forward to it and cringe at the prospect in equal measure.

We had pot roast for dinner tonight, accompanied by egg noodles, lima beans, stewed tomatoes and an apple salad. We had skipped lunch, so dinner hit the spot.

Tonight is our first quiet evening at home since we have been back for the holidays, the first such night without a houseful of people. We might have had Alex join us for dinner, but tonight was Alex’s office Christmas party.

We have been reading, and talking, and listening to music, and nuzzling the dog, and enjoying a quiet evening.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Exams Over

My exams are over!

And, early tomorrow morning, Andrew and I will escape the cold of Boston—to enjoy the cold of Minneapolis!

We must rise tomorrow at 3:00 a.m., and leave the apartment at 4:00 a.m. in order to catch the first flight of the day from Logan to MSP.

If our flight is on time, we shall be able to walk in the door of Andrew’s parents’ house a few minutes past 9:00 a.m. local time, just in time for breakfast!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Andrew And I Have Been Talking . . .

Andrew and I have been talking, and we are considering a trip to Greece over my Spring Break. We will make a decision over the holidays.

Andrew and I decided not to put up a Christmas tree this year. We don’t think we need one—early on the morning of December 19, we will head for home, where we will have sixteen days of holiday celebrations to enjoy—so we decided to get by until then with some eggnog and a large box of Christmas cookies (which arrived yesterday, courtesy of my aunt in Dallas).

However, yesterday we DID mount a string of Christmas lights around the window in our living room. We can enjoy the lights while we are at our computers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How Far We Have Strayed . . .

Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.—George Washington

A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned: this is the sum of good government.—Thomas Jefferson