Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Off to Stratford

Anybody who lives in this (eastern Great Lakes) neck of the woods has probably heard of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It's hard to miss the aggressive advertising (Canada wants your tourist dollars!), and the hokeyness of the fact that the town really is named Stratford, and really is on the Avon river. (Lots of places in Canada are like that, actually; named for the old country by homesick immigrants.) Although the quality of the theatre productions is excellent -- or so I've been told; I've never seen one -- Stratford in summer is a tourist trap of the highest order. Where else could a simple diner-class restaurant call itself "The Elizabethan" and serve spaghetti with meat sauce and salad (on the same plate!) as the lunch special and be loved by budget-minded theatre-goers?

Stratford in summer is definitely avoidable. The theater season lasts from late April to late October. The streets are crowded, hotel rooms cost big bucks, parking is hard to come by. And then there's January! In January, Stratford is a pretty, snow covered small town. Hotel rooms are half price, even the premium ones like in Bentley's Annex. Not every interesting little shop is open, but the ones that are are nearly deserted. You can hold a conversation with the proprietor, if you like. The posh, expensive restaurants shut down for the winter, but there are wonderful options like Bentley's proper, or Fellini's, or York Street Kitchen. Roger and I have been going there for at least a long weekend every January since the winter of 1999. And we leave tomorrow!!

Friday, January 18, 2008


I hate it! I thought I was exhausted before, but then flu hit our household, and I haven't been able to do ANYTHING for 48 hours. Just typing this is exhausting. I'll be back when we're better.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Christmas makes you feel emotional ....

...and it also makes you really tired! I've been working on this post for a week; the original opening paragraph is below..

..It may bring parties or thoughts devotional.

Whatever happens or what may be
Here is what Christmastime means to me...

This is the practically unknown opening verse to a rather well-known song. Big round of applause to anybody who figures out which one before I tell you at the end! (And please let me know in the comments if you did.)
I learned it in the eighth grade in glorious SSA harmony, and sang with a hand-picked small group at the school Christmas concert. I'm very grateful that forty years later my children's school still has Christmas concerts, not "holiday" or "winter" concerts. (Well, the "winter" concert is in February.) The choir director actually uses a great deal of religious music year-round; it's just that half or more of it is in languages other than English, and therefore has an "educational" purpose. The band director, who has an easier time because there are no words, does things like use the Mannheim Steamroller arrangement of Patapan, (what could be more secular than Mannheim Steamroller?), and only a few of us hear "Thus the men of olden days came the King of Kings to praise..."

I am always affected by music, and my first realization that this year Christmas was making me feel emotional was a tendency to tears every time I heard I'll Be Home for Christmas because all my kids were really going to be home.

As I mentioned to my kids several times during the week, no Christmas is perfect, but this one rated 99 and 44/100! (For you young'ns, that was the reputed purity of Ivory soap.) I had everything well enough under control to go out for a relaxed lunch with my daughters and SIL on Christmas Eve. This was a present I had specifically asked for, and since Rosie and Anthony had to head home on the 26th, the 24th was the best time. It was wonderful! We went to a funky local coffeehouse/cafe with a full menu and eclectic decor, which was as empty as I've ever seen it at lunchtime. I guess not everybody had it as together as we did :-)

That evening we had our traditional "pig leg" dinner. We buy a country ham from Burger's, and the first time Rosie saw one -- she was about five -- she said "That looks like a pig leg!" So grocery store ham is just ham, but the special holiday hams are "pig leg." I buy it cooked, and heat it on top of frozen green beans, and they are the most-eaten vegetable I ever serve. This year I did five pounds (of beans!; more like 15 of ham), and had a few leftovers. But the consensus was to go back to four pounds, so that the flavor would be stronger. As long as they don't fight over them!

After dinner we had a fire in the fireplace, evening prayers, and readings (all the way from the Grinch to the Gospel of Luke), and then we hung our stockings. The mantel barely can hold 14, if you put one on each end. We need a bigger fireplace (and house!). Katie and I went of to sing in the choir for 10 PM mass, the babies were put to bed, and everybody else went to work on putting the presents under the tree. It took close to two hours, and some nifty stacking by Arwen, to get them all fitted in. Then everybody turned in to get as much sleep as possible.

Christmas morning was stockings and prayers starting at 7:30, breakfast at 8 (grapefruit, sausage links, scrambled eggs, and Roger's amazing home-made sticky buns -- he got up at 6!), 9:30 mass for all, and then the presents. As Arwen mentioned on her blog, we open one present at a time. The presents are picked out in age rotation, youngest to oldest, and the only rule is that you can't pick something that's for you. (We relaxed that rule once, years ago when Katie was a toddler, because she kept picking out presents for herself. It took us a couple of rounds to realize that although she couldn't read, she could recognize her first initial! :-D )

Although one present at a time is slow -- almost three hours this year -- it gives everybody the most time to enjoy seeing others enjoy. My favorite mental picture from this year is really-cool-almost-fifteen Tommy bouncing up off the couch to hug his aunt and uncle when he realized that they'd bought him access to a much-desired online computer game. I suppose when we get up to 20 grandchildren, as Rosie's in-laws will do this year, we might have to change the system, but I'll miss it!

After Arwen and Bryan had departed to do Christmas again with Camilla's other grandparents, the rest of us lazed around, cleaned up the living room (which was a mess despite the three black trash bags of paper, tags, etc. we had filled while unwrapping), and eventually ate the tamales I made earlier in the month. In the evening we discovered that my sister-in-law, who is a bit of a movie buff, had never seen the original National Treasure, so we watched that. And then we dragged our weary selves to bed.

Most Christmas posts would end here, but since we are old-fashioned sticklers who observe the twelve days I'll give skating highlights. Day 2 -- Rosie, Anthony, and Daniel returned home. I got crabby (sorry, family) because routine chores like laundry were piling up, and nobody wanted to pitch in. Day 3 -- the female contingent went to see Enchanted. I've now been to it three times, and all I can say is GO!

Day 4 my brother and SIL departed for home in Pennsylvania. They had originally planned to stay another day, but my brother, who is a hunter, hadn't gotten his deer yet, so he wanted to be able to hunt on Saturday. On the same day Tommy's friend "Evan" arrived. Evan is also from Pennsylvania, and he and Tommy actually became friends on an online forum, but over the past year we've met up at places like state parks and confirmed that neither he nor we are whackos, so he flew out for a couple of days over break.

Evan is great, but his presence meant that for the next few days Tommy did most of his sleeping in the daytime .. they were on the computer all night. And since computer-geek George was hanging out with them AND with his local pals... much daytime snoozing!

Days 5 and 6, in addition to snoozing boys, included housecleaning, mass on Sunday, and a lot of granddaughter time. Somewhere in there most everybody but me went to see National Treasure 2. I would have enjoyed it, but stayed with Camilla so Arwen and Bryan could go together. I'll see it on video, most likely.

Day 7 was a lot of cooking. Ever since most of our kids can remember we've hosted a kid-and-teen-friendly New Year's Eve party, consisting of some games, singing the doxology on the front porch at midnight, and MOUNTAINS of food. This year I took the radical step of changing the menu, and it was a good idea. There were still lots of leftovers, but they were different leftovers. And nobody minded too much, since I left in the stick pepperoni and lots of olives! We had 29 people, only 5 of whom were over 21!

New Year's Day -- Christmas Day 8 -- is also the feast of Mary, Mother of God. So we stirred out the whole crew (some of whom had had only two or three hours of sleep) and attended 9:30 AM mass. Then almost everybody went back to bed! And in the afternoon Arwen, Bryan and Camilla headed home.

Day 9 was a hard and crazy one. Roger and Tommy headed out early in the morning to drop George and Evan at two different airports, with a stop to see Rosie and Daniel in the middle. While they were gone, we got 6 to 8 inches of snow in about 3 hours. This is one of the "benefits" of living "near a Great Lake" (within walking distance, actually) -- you sometimes get "lake effect" snow. I had to go out during the snow, and it looked and drove like a blizzard all the way, but by the time Roger returned it was sunny and clear. Ah, Michigan!

Days 10. 11, and 12 were more-or-less normal household routine, except that Maggie, Katie, and Tommy were all home instead of at school or college. I spent as much time as possible sitting and reading near the Christmas tree, since I knew it would soon be gone. And Camilla and her parents returned on Saturday, because there was a surprise 85th birthday party for Bryan's grandfather.

Sunday was the feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord. The choir sang at 11:30 mass. One of the things I love about Epiphany is that you usually get to sing ALL the verses of carols like We Three Kings, instead of just the familiar verses of many Christmas carols. (I have a garbage-can memory, and know all the verses to everything, almost, or at least my kids think so.) And so our Christmas season came to an end.

Actually, Monday should have been called the 13th day, with all the negative connotations of that number. I spent twelve hours taking down the tree and other decorations. No wonder I'm exhausted!

(The song is Silver Bells. I also know all kinds of rarely-heard little echo bits, which I will spare you!!)