First of all, my prayers of joy and love on your Thanksgiving holiday. I'm at least three days overdue in sending my well wishes to you all, and I want you to know how incredible your readership has been in my life. This blog is about four months old, and is able to hold its own head up on its wobbly turkey neck, and can focus on bold objects across the room. It's even sat up on its own out in the real world, and gotten some praise and notice. This blog has been the new life in our house this year, and it's been so wonderful to have your support and encouragement through your comments. On the rare occasion when folks have gotten snarky, you've stood up for me and your own selves in lovely and brave ways. I am grateful. Our family has developed a narrative through this enterprise, and it's so nice to know that you're thinking and praying for us as we live out this story as its being told. Thank you. I pray that God has blessed you as you have blessed me and my family. You're good friends - and however much or little I may know you personally, this wacky internet ("a series of tubes," as I understand it) has connected us in a new way. For community, support, laughter, and connection, let us give thanks.
So, this year, for Thanksgiving, our family of four made a long overdue trip to beautiful southern California to visit the California Flemmings, who are Matt's brother John, his partner, Mark and their sons, Cody and Justin, ages 10 and 9. The flight was long, but uneventful, our day weird but not unmanageable, the time fleeting but not wasted. Wednesday was a bit of a wash with all of us adjusting and sleeping at bizarre times, but by Thursday, we'd made a full recovery. I got up early with the boys (and by "early," I mean 4:15 a.m. PST... which is early even by East Coast standards. But I digress...). By 6:30 a.m., we'd had breakfast, gotten dressed, brushed our teeth, and were in the car on the way down the hill to go to the grocery store. I felt like a superhero, and also had a boatload of time to kill before the rest of the house woke up, so we went on a quest for ingredients for pumpkin chocolate tart and pomegranates for my world-famous pomegranate salad (if you're expecting a hyperlink to a recipe, you are sorely mistaken. A girl must have her secrets, you know). We made three stops at varying grocers before finding everything, including a bounty of gorgeous pomegranates that were engorged with sweet jeweled seeds. And, as a bonus - calla lillies.
We returned, caffinated, stocked, flowered, and ready to face the day of cooking. Matt and Mark took over parenting of sons and nephews and Matt's brother John and I tucked in to begin working on the day's big meal. I love, love, love to cook - especially in my days pre-children, I cooked some lavish and wonderful dishes. When Jackson was a baby, I watched the Food Network all day long while he nursed, so that I could learn something while we passed our time on the couch. But my actual cooking techniques were all taught to me by my brother-in-law, John. It was something of an honor to be his sidekick (dare I say sous chef?) for the day. Since I had such an early start on the day, the pumpkin chocolate tart was virtually completed before anything else was begun, and I solidified my position as a fixture in the kitchen as a result.
While the boys were off at the park, or napping , or lunching John and I peeled, chopped, diced, drained, trussed, prepared and talked our way through the afternoon. At some point (at an appropriate hour), we also realized that sharing a bottle of wine was a fine treat for us to enjoy during our prep, and that made the time pass all the more delightfully. It also made us BFFs for life. I think, at some point, we spat on our hands and pledged our friendship to one another no matter what. All hyperbole and childhood fantasies aside, it was a great time for bonding, and when we all sat down to our delicious feast which fed fourteen people (including a kids' table for six!), I fully believed that we'd crossed some line between family that like each other with politeness and actual family who actually like each other. There was toasting, and laughing, celebrating and thanksgiving. And, some remarkably good food, including the greatest pomegranate salad ever (I'm not bragging here - I'm quoting, and it wasn't even someone directly related to me, so it must be true!).
We concluded our Thanksgiving evening in the way most American families do, I'm sure, by playing Guitar Hero and Wii Fit and challenging one another with semi-uncomplicated yoga poses (don't laugh... after splitting a bottle of wine and heavy doses of triptophan, this is much harder than you might imagine). The boys went to bed with ease, and only a little bit of screaming, and really, who could blame them? It had been an amazing day that was full of family, love, food and fun. I didn't want it to end, either.
Friday was pretty low-key (minor surgery would have been low-key after the day that preceeded it). In the late morning, we finally all got it together enough to pile into the car and head down the hill for Adolfo's nachos and a trip to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. I took a bajillion photos, and will manage to contain myself to posting only a few.
As you can tell, it was a festival of men this week, and, on occasion, I was able to sneak away for some quiet reading time in the midst of boy-land. We also had amazing time with our nephews, Cody and Justin, who fell into a great buddy-role with Jackson and Cooper. They all matched up quite well, and seemed to genuinely like each other's company, despite a 5 and 7 year age difference. Cooper also restrained himself from demolishing all of their Lego ("Yego") creations, so that was a plus.
The Ocean Institute was a particular hit, because Cooper could run around pant-less, as he is wont to do, and it was a non issue. This great video captures the spirit of the day, with wardrobe and schedule freedom to run and play. At one point, Jackson inquired about where all the toys were at the beach. After choking a bit on our smugness, and half-joking remarks about how we were going to enroll him immediately at the Waldorf School, we convinced Jackson that the world was his toy, and suddenly the seaweed became a projectile. The sand became... a projectile. The rocks became... projectiles. Okay, we've got to work on our creative use of found objects, but it was a step in the right direction.
That night, we got a particular treat of having a dinner out with just the four grown-ups. We had real conversation, unimpeded by the needs or wants of our tiny and mid-sized people, and enjoyed some wonderful food that we had no hand in preparing. After a nice walk through downtown Laguna Beach, admiring the artwork of Dr. Seuss, in particular, we headed up the hill to find Jackson conked out on Justin's floor, lured by the promise of a slumber party with his cousins and the other three boys awake to greet us. This was fine for the elementary aged folks, but Cooper was in no hurry to fall asleep. To say that it took us some effort to adjust to Pacific Standard Time is a supreme understatement. We woke up freakishly early in the morning, Cooper napped for unsettlingly long periods during the afternoon and refused bedtime each night. But his bouyant spirit was undaunted by this wacky schedule, and he spent the week charming everyone in sight, in particular his uncles.
Before this trip, we talked up Uncle John and Uncle Mark a lot. But, the boys know that I work at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, and frequently make reference to it. Shortly after we introduced the idea of this trip, Cooper started asking about our visit with "Uncle John and Saint Mark." It was so cute that there was little effort to correct him, and Uncle Mark was particularly fond of the new nickname, or at least the idea of it. During the trip, this name stuck. At the Ocean Institute, Cooper was filled to the brim with energy that was overflowing and infectious. He ran around the beach, kicking sand, throwing seaweed, yelling "HI OCEAN!" at the top of his little lungs, and crying out, "CAN'T GET ME, SAINT MARK!" while waiting for Uncle Mark to catch him. All of us were quite taken with his spirit, and he really did make every outing all the more fun.
This was particularly true on Saturday when we broke the news to the Atlanta and California Flemming boys that we were going to spend the day at a boring library. A really, really boring library. With no lights. Or books with pictures. And it was three hours away. On foot. They were not thrilled, and looked about as excited as wilted plants. Somehow the Mickey Mouse pancakes didn't clue them in (although I was terribly proud of my culinary creativity).
We made good on this promise by packing up everyone and driving 30 minutes away to DISNEYLAND!!!! Which, as Jackson sheepishly pointed out, "is not a boring library!" but really was the happiest, if not most thoroughly fabricated place, on earth. The boys were totally overwhelmed with joy, and were incredibly well behaved and appropriately delighted the whole day long. To my great surprise, there was a Jamba Juice in Downtown Disney, which started our day with the right amount of fruit-filled nutrition and goodness. And, after getting the stroller tires re-inflated at the ESPN Zone, this made my day completely perfect.
It was hardly surprising, but Saint Mark and Cooper spent the day side-by-side. The three of us headed first to Dumbo, (pictured at left) which Cooper rode without a peep of nervousness. Jackson, always the more cautious brother, headed to Toon Town with his cousins to brave the Rodger Rabbit ride, after which he took an hour or so to brave up for a spin on the Winnie the Pooh ride, which features a lot of honey pots and Pooh's really trippy dream sequence with Heffalumps and Woozles.The photo to the right also proves that my children have gorgeous honey-colored hair, and that my stylist is a brilliant genius at matching mine with theirs.
Perhaps the biggest thrill of the day (for me) was when Cooper bolted over to the Gadget's Go Coaster, which was the only roller coaster in the park that he could ride, due to his small-ish stature. He was about an inch taller than the height minimum, and lept onto the coaster seat without a hint of concern. His uncles and cousins offered lots of encouragement as the train took off, and it was so fast that he didn't have time to be afraid. This thing is a true roller-coaster, but it only lasts about 20 seconds, so when we got off and caught our breath, Cooper exhaled and said, "DAT SCARY! I need to go POTTY!!" He was a little more cautious with his choices after that, but I wouldn't say that his day was limited in the slightest.
We made it through Jedi Knight training, Space Mountain (sans tiny Flemmings), Splash Mountain (ditto), Buzz Lightyear, and Star Tours, even squeezing a decent-length nap for Cooper in his rockin' stroller under the watchful eye of Uncle John. We stayed from close to the Park's opening until the 3:30 Parade down Main Street. Seated on the curb with ice cream and good company, the boys were the picture of contentment. They waved at their favorite characters, and when it was all said and done, we were all ready to leave and say thanks, Disney, for a wonderful day.
This morning, we woke to attend St. Mary's Episcopal Church, where, the last time we attended in early 2006, we celebrated the adoption and baptism of Cody and Justin. That was an amazing and remarkable day, where the Holy Spirit filled the room beyond capacity and all of us were brimming over with its power. Today, on the first Sunday of Advent, we gathered to prepare for Christ's inbreaking into the world with sound, fury and amazing grace. My memories of our last visit nourished me as we tasted the bread and drank the wine of remembrance of God's love and goodness, and on our last day of our California visit, we broke bread together once more as a family of eight. The last time we gathered in full, Cooper was a bean in utero, Jackson was barely walking, and Cody and Justin were still shyly finding their place in this family in full.
This year, as we celebrated so, so much, I gave quiet and bold thanks for this family that is loud and loving, boyish and gracious. In the midst of news, such as the events in Mumbai, it was nice to set aside a little time to be with family, where the multitude of children actually made parenting easier. Where the food and company, fellowship and commonality made the time pass too quickly and the memories pile up in abundance. I can only, humbly give thanks for the abundance of blessings that have come to me.
And I continue to pray God's blessing up on all of you.
God's peace be with you all.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.