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.

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