My friend calls it Happy Chaos. Chaos, definitely. But not always happy. We had two big family dinners in the course of three days--Thanksgiving and Arielle's birthday. It was wild and exhausting, and wonderful too. I thought I was well-prepared. The day before Thanksgiving I got a lot of prep work done, in hopes that the next day would be relaxed and peaceful. Somehow it wasn't. In the morning I wrestled the giblets out of this big 21-pound turkey that was still partially frozen. But no complaints--our local store granted it for free! The rest of the morning I systematically checked off the dishes from my list as I completed them. It's been the same menu every year and I've done it for about 35 years.
Then the guests arrived (all 21 of them), and things got a little chaotic, mostly due to one little boy. He just has too much pent-up energy and needed to get it out before civility would be required of him at dinner. (He needed a few more hours outdoors, as it turned out.) So the kids big and small headed for the backyard. The rest of us girls did the finishing touches on dinner--that last minute rush to get everything out and keep it hot. Even after 35 years, that part is stressful.
I never want to exclude children from the holiday dinner table but this year we all couldn't fit around it. So we decided to put the youngest (not counting babies) in the kitchen, even moving the table closer to the big table in the dining room so they wouldn't feel left out. Arielle volunteered to supervise and eat with them. Good girl! But our little guy refused to sit down and instead climbed around on his father's lap at the big table and threw silverware. Or else he was under the table like a dog, periodically coming up to try to unseat someone else. The babies were peaceful, amazingly, Joey in his highchair and tiny Jordan in her infant seat--their first Thanksgiving.
Around the table we gave thanks. This year many expressed their gratitude for their spouses and that was inspiring to hear. Even the little girls joined in, shy in front of the big group of us. Mattie had a hard time speaking up, so she wrote down her thankful list and we hung it on the refrigerator: "I am thankful for my family, my food, houses, and more. I also am thankful for my cat Zombie Kitty because if he was not in our house he might die." (Her dad found a stray, injured cat who can't walk.)
After dinner Dominic jumped up and washed ALL the dishes! I don't think I had any energy left to do it, so he was a lifesaver to me. I am grateful for my son! We then had a dessert buffet that I did not have to make, including gluten-free Jewish apple cake baked by Kim! Thanks, kids, for all the yummy treats. The little girls ran off to their private games that involve little toys and Japanese erasers and notes on scraps of paper. Everyone was winding down and getting ready to leave and then we found unwanted guests! Ticks! They must have come in with the kids when they were outside. Some ticks were attached to their hosts, some still strolling about, looking for a good place for a feast. Two days later I broke out from poison ivy. Someone must have brought it in on their clothes because I was never outside. Ticks and poison ivy the end of November! Who would have thought?
At the end of Arielle's party, little Joey fell asleep on Fred's lap and then Fred fell asleep with him. Grandpa. It's a role Fred loves. I walked outside with one of my daughters-in-law, up to the parking lot across the street--our "overflow" parking. It was cold and clear and dark. She strapped the three little ones in their car seats and I kissed them all good-bye and told them I loved them. And in that moment, I realized it was all worth it. The stress and craziness and plain hard work. Thanksgiving night I said to Dominic, "No more! I can't do this." And maybe I won't do it for Christmas. But by next Thanksgiving I'll be rested up. My mother gave up making the big holiday meal years ago. I understand why. This year she called to tell me she would only have my sister with her. They would enjoy their little Cornish hens together, but my mother sounded sad that no one else was coming for dinner. So I will be grateful for my big family who still want to come and gather for the holidays. I'm thankful for new babies to add to the mix and I praise God we were all still here around the table. No chair was empty.
"Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man...Bless our God, O people; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip." Psalm 66.
As most of you know, we don't do anything to celebrate Halloween, but this year the two newest members of our family stopped over to show off their adorable costumes. So here it is almost Thanksgiving and I'm just getting around to posting Halloween pictures. Life is a little overwhelming right now. But we couldn't be more blessed.
As darkness fell, the winds gradually increased in speed. Our trees that had been gently swaying became angry and bent violently, driven one direction and then another. The bamboo shook with fury, scattering the poor birds still trying to roost. We know that hurricanes come with bands of wind
, so after a fierce dance with Sandy, the trees would stand silent and serene for several minutes. It was eerie.
Fred said to hurry with dinner and get out of the kitchen with its wall of windows. We were spooked when we heard a loud crash against the side of the house. Earlier in the day we had taken bedding and supplies downstairs and two twin mattresses into our spare room. The girls and I would sleep crosswise on them during the storm. Fred said he needed to be upstairs to watch over the house. I think he didn't relish a night on the floor. Good thing too. His phone rang all night as his work crew at church called with their questions and concerns. The men were manning the generators.
Right when we were getting ready for sleep, the electricity went out. The girls were excited with the candles and lanterns and flashlights. That stuff is fun--temporarily. I was glad it was time to go to bed anyway and hopefully we would have power in the morning. But what else would we face in the morning? I didn't want to think about that. So Fred went upstairs and we settled in on the mattresses on the floor in our windowless room against a bank of earth on one side. Safe. Dominic has always said he likes sleeping there because it is so dark and silent. It is, and we all fell quickly to sleep.
I was awakened by a beep-beep-beep-beep. What in the world was that? Arielle's ipod in its dock? A smoke detector? I got a flashlight and went to investigate. It was the box where our phone service comes in from the street, letting us know it was on battery back-up. Okay. But how to make it stop beeping? It wouldn't turn off and I couldn't sleep with that beep-beep-beep-beep every 30 seconds all night long. Awake so long, I listened to the roar of the wind. It is true when people say it sounds like a train during a storm. I peeked out the window but the rain made it impossible to see anything. Then there was a knocking on the back wall of the basement. What was that? And cracking of branches from the woods. Scary sounds. We had prayed for safety. God would see us through whatever happened.
I finally fell asleep near dawn when the beeping faded to four little chirps as the battery on the box wore down. I heard Fred up and we looked out to survey the damage. Amazingly, there was little! A few branches in the yard. Our lilac tree split in half, but it did not fall across the deck. Fred's tarps covering the cords of wood were shredded. The bamboo was battered. A big pine tree had fallen across the road. That's about it. We are very thankful to God.
We still had no power. My resourceful husband had prepared for this. He had the Coleman camping stove set up with the old percolator and he made coffee and I made oatmeal for breakfast. It was chilly so Fred made a fire in the woodstove. He got the generator going for the refrigerator and he hooked up the TV so we could see what had happened the night before. I realize that in a time of uncertainty, you really desire news from the outside world. It was bad news for many people in New York and New Jersey. The devastation was incredible. We are very fortunate.
The electricity came on later in the day. Damien sent an e-mail titled "close call." This tree would have fallen on the room where Gretchen has been sleeping with the baby if the other tree had not caught it. God is good.