Thursday, December 25, 2008

A New Tradition & Disaster Averted!

Some of the hundreds of finches that found their way to Grammy's backyard on Christmas Eve Day

Hey, where are you goin'?

Even though it was 75 degrees, with torrential tropical rain and high humidity, we really got into the Christmas spirit this year (this only works if you crank up the air conditioning and ignore how easy it is to break into a sweat).

Land of plenty

We celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, much to Rich's chagrin, as he came from an early morning Christmas family. Unfortunately, when you present children with the option of opening presents on Christmas Eve, or on Christmas Day, they choose the earlier time every time. It also coordinates well with Brandi's family. They celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day. I'm just sayin'.

Some of James & Daniel's handmade ornaments

Christmas Eve Dinner is a tradition we inherited from the Swedes at the farm. They would nap in the afternoon, have a late dinner, and then Santa Claus would visit the children with his bag of gifts after midnight. We don't make it to the midnight hour -- Daniel and James could never have waited that long and Rich and I don't want to stay up that late-- but we maintain that Swedish celebration.

Our table with our good wedding china and Brandi's place cards

This year, we started a new tradition -- everyone was assigned a dish or more to cook. Actually, I tried to "assign" dishes to them, but the kids did a lot of trading, altering and bartering. It used to be that Grammy, Pappa and I would cook the dinner, but Pappa's gone and Grammy and I are old and tired. So, Daniel cooked my Aunt Eileen's BBQ beans, Brandi made her cheddar cheese green salad, James took over for Pappa and made the all-day-to-prepare giblet stuffing, Grammy made her favorite fresh cranberry salad, and pumpkin pie, I made the mustard sauce for the ham, and the sweet potato casserole, and Rich made a broccoli souffle with hollandaise sauce. We do the Honey Baked Ham thing.

A whole lota cookin' goin' on

James and Daniel working in tandem

Performing the intricate hip-hop-ballet of the Vlosky cooking brothers

The dashing younger brother

Older brother's commentary on younger brother's dressing

Rich'd rather be playing with Kellan than cooking... maybe that's what happened?

Mom at her house making cranberry salad

Me trying to smile at Rich after sweating in the kitchen.. or maybe I'm just sweating period

This year, the afternoon of Christmas Eve was probably the most entertaining precursor to our dinner ever! I was finished with my jobs at about 3:00 (including setting the table) and I spent the next few hours listening to the boys, mostly, run around in the kitchen chopping, blending and saute'ing and shouting questions at each other. The conversations went something like this:

Rich: "How do you turn this on? (referring to the blender).
Brandi: Presses the "on" button.

Rich: "What's a ring mold?"
No answer.
Rich: (Googles it on the internet) "Oh!"
Me: Laughing in the bedroom.
Rich: "Did you already know what one was?"
Me: (still laughing) "Yes, but you don't have to worry about finding one of those, just put it in a casserole dish."
Rich: "Do we have a casserole dish?.."
Me: More laughing.

James: "Mom, I think I made a mistake. I put red wine in the dressing instead of white wine."
Me: (thinking, ewww, doesn't sound good) "That's okay James it'll be fine."
Later -- turns out it was.

Rich: (looking at a watery, eggy, hollandaise sauce) "This doesn't look right."
Daniel: (wrinkling his nose) "I think we ought to throw it out."
Me: "Did you follow the directions?"
Rich: "I followed everything that the directions said to do, except we didn't have enough lemons."
Me: Pointing to the fruit bowl full of lemons.
Rich: "Well, what are they doing in there?"
Me: "It'll be alright once it sets."

Later... turns out it wasn't.

...After opening presents, I felt a little queasy and went to lay down on the bed....

James: "Dad, I think you killed Mom!"
Daniel: "You gave her Salmonella poisoning!"

Kellan really liked his dad's beans

I'm needling Rich, as my father would say, but Rich was so great he even cleaned the whole post-cooking-extravaganza kitchen! Wow. The kitchen stove is still soaking with cleaner -- I hope I don't have to buy a new stove top. But, if I do, it will have been worth it.

I can't believe they really got me this black (workout) powder!

Kellan finally has a real bat and ball to smack around!

There was only one slight glitch the morning after. Rich accidentally threw out all of my mustard sauce. I love my Aunt Lucy's mustard sauce. So, he volunteered to make some more for me (even though he can't stomach it). So, I went into the pantry to look for the sheet of hand scribbled family recipes that I've had for 25 years folded in the Family Farmer Cookbook, and they were gone! This triggered near hysteria, running around the kitchen, shaking of cookbooks, and rummaging through the garbage. Mom saved the day by bringing over her family recipes, that I was sure she "lost" the year before. So, I typed them all and they are posted in my * Google Documents (thank you Google).

Kellan looking for Nena's recipes?

* Again documents only appear to those with permission. If you would like to see them, write me, let me know your E-mail address and I'll put you on the list.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Family History Overload

Michael helped me decorate the tree this year

This has been an overwhelming month. This week I carefully placed our much beloved ornaments on the tree. At this point, not only do I have antique ornaments from previous generations, the ornaments from my babyhood are antiques! Somehow, the whole life-history-review-aspect of this exercise is exhausting. However, the result is a tree that is the most "beautiful tree we've ever had." On Christmas Eve, I'll recount that phrase and ask my kids where it came from. They'll tell me, "that is what you said every year when you were growing up in Portland, and we say it every year in our house." Okay. They won't say it like that, actually they probably won't say it at all, but I give them little "memory-nudges" along the way, whether they listen or not.

With Santa's sleigh on the table

Last week, after much effort, by moi, we finally received a shipment of Olson farm furniture and framed family pictures from Aunt Athalie, mom's 94 year old sister. Mom was so totally overwhelmed she called Rich and me at work, crying, about how some of it was so old "it looked like it could have come over from the Mayflower," which seemed like a reasonable response until we realized she was looking at the opaque-black-visquene-wrapped palette sitting in the driveway. You couldn't even see an outline of the contents.

She could barely restrain herself while Rich and James dismantled and unwrapped the two sitting chairs, a psychiatrist's couch and numerous family photographs in ornate gold frames. They were so fragile they had to have individual custom wood containers built for them before they could be shipped (for which Darlene paid a fortune). The chairs and the couch are already into Anthony Saia's to be rebuilt and reupholstered. We're negotiating with mom, who will keep the chairs at her place, but Rich and I are thinking all 3 pieces should be covered with blood red velveteen; however, we may have to compromise and agree to a burgundy color. I have no idea where we'll put the psychiatrist's couch, but probably in the dining room in front of the window. Rich says he'll ask our guests if they'd like to lie down before dinner.

The psychiatrist's couch, covered in gold velveteen by my cousin Joannie Ferrick

I wrote our 20th almost-annual Christmas letter, a tradition that started the year after we adopted Daniel. It's the most comprehensive and succinct recounting of our year. I send it out to family, far flung friends and colleagues, but the truth is, I write it for our nuclear family, so that we can remember the ups and downs, and small milestones of our lives. Really, most of the stories are sweet only to us. I'm concerned about preserving them, so today I figured out how to put them on a 3rd party platform (thank you Google) with a link to this blog. So, hopefully, between this blog, that platform, and our many copies, our kids won't misplace them until they are old enough to figure out that they actually mean something.

Then on December 16th I received a happy birthday email from my brother Myron, with a document attached, entitled "Sessa's Book." I opened it at work and blubbered through the rest of the morning, after realizing that Sessa (Stella was her given name) was my birthmother's sister, who had written a book of their family history going back to her parents' parents in Greece, and I was included, by name. For an adopted child who is realistic about the time and place in which she was adopted (1957, during a time of "closed adoptions") and expects never to be named in the originating family's records, it was a huge surprise and the best birthday present I could have received. Of course I called mom and she cried, and then I called Rich and he was about to cry. I am truly blessed by the kind hearts of these two families, and by Myron's thoughtfulness, and Joan's (his wife's) efforts at securing the book. "Sessa's Book" was apparently found in Stella's things after her death a month ago (I missed her!). I'm not sure who recounted the situation regarding my birth and adoption, but I am thankful to that person and to Stella for having the gumption to recount the truth.

Well that's enough for this post. I am officially "off" of work until January 5th but still have Christmas gifts to pick up and then wrap.

Ashbaugh Vlosky Christmas Letters Links (which will only work for those with *"permission"):

*If you're a friend and would like to see these, just write to me and I'll add you to the list.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow makes everything better

For some us in South Louisiana, today was like a dream. A dream that happens only once in a lifetime. A sigh in the midst of an impossibly busy season. A wonderland. An instant dose of happiness. A time to stop and be thankful.

Snow falling from tropical skies

On oaks still struggling to recover from the hurricane

Delaying berries ready to start another cycle

Making big boys little again

Blobs straight jacketing leaves

Converting our driveway to a path to an adventure

Vibrating on flame red Camelias

Creating a magical shortcut to Grammy's house

Forming sparkling crepe myrtle sculptures

Staging a postcard out our back window

Snow Day in South Louisiana!

Kellan striding like he was born to it

It is December 11th, 2008 and we woke up to a 3 inch snow cover, with big fat flakes falling.

A South Louisiana Snow Day?

James and his friends have been sliding around in the middle school field down the block. Two of them are skiers so were appropriately dressed. However, one was not and I was afeared he would freeze to death -- inappropriate coat, unzipped, over a t-shirt, regular slacks, tennis shoes, no hat.

Daniel and Kellan have been busy building a snowman. Sadly, my eldest does not seem to remember his years in Pennsylvania, and has forgotten how to construct Mr. or Mrs. Snowperson. In the picture Daniel sent, the snowman in question does not appear to have a head. But, wait?! What is that little snow critter in the near-ground? It appears to have a face. Somehow me thinks Brandi made it.

Daniel's snowman?

Okay! Smile. Daniel sent me this later version of a snowman. He wanted me to know that he wasn't "snowman building challenged." This one's got two eyes, a nose and two arms! But, uh, where's his mouth?

Later "speak no evil" version

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A few of my favorite things

My family loving each other and the beach as much as I do.......

My grandson being as fascinated by the water, waves, sand and shells as I am....

His hands

And feet

Beach grasses against the blue coast sky....

Shells, especially those that have been worn away by the sea and the salt...

Delicate shells that maintain their perfection despite impossible odds.......

When we arrive at the beach I ask my children, "and where did you get your love of the beach?" And they say, "from my mom." Then I ask, "and where did I get my love of the beach?" And they reply, "from Pappa." Soon I'll be able to ask Kellan the same questions. This trip he learned to say the word "beeeeaaaccchhh!"
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