Friday, December 5, 2008

Too Smart For Her Own Good

Guess who has figured out how to open her kennel door with her teeth?
When I got home at lunch the other day, she'd dissasembled the cardboard cat-scratching pad, rearranged my knitting artfully across the bedroom floor, and was gleefully exploring this whole other section of the house called "upstairs" that she'd never known existed. She's very, VERY proud of herself.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Friday in Fremont

The day after Thanksgiving, four of us got up at an hour which was wretched (Eastern Time Zone) or obscene (Central Time Zone), depending on your point of reference, and headed off to the local Wal-Mart for the show. I admit, there were some pretty good deals and I did pick up some gift items; but it was amazing to see the frantic gridlock of carts and people reaching frantically for those $4 crock pots and $99 GPS units. If I'd actually done the research ahead of time, I would have picked up one of those 8 gig thumb drives for $17 - but I didn't actually look at a flyer until I was waiting to check out (a 35 minute experience), and there was no way I was going to try to cross the store again.

Later in the day, Henry took me out to see the cattle he was raising and asked if I could take a photo for him. (Did I mention how much I love it when people ask me to take photos for them?) We sprinkled a bunch of corn behind him to lure the cattle in, and Henry did his best to make his dog - who doesn't like cows at all - look comfortable and confident. Henry looks great, and I'm very impressed with all the work and investment he's put into this venture. He's fronting the cost of the cattle, plus their feed and any meds, plus the rent for the land, plus a couple hours a day (7 days a week) doing chores there on top of his regular job. And no payout until the first group is a lot bigger. It's a big investment and a significant commitment, and I'm really proud of him for doing it.
Late in the day, Carl took me on a tour of some of the main scenes from Grandma B's childhood. There'd been some discussion after my recent blog about her education, and he wanted me to see some of the real-life locations behind the family stories.

I got to see the farm where she grew up (although the house has been remodeled considerably), and the school she attended through 8th grade. I understand now that she completed 8th grade, along with her siblings, and in that day and age 8th grade was really all that was expected of a farm kid in the Midwest. (Her brother went on to high school, which involved a daily walk of 3 miles each way and a fair amount of ribbing from relatives who thought it was a real waste of time.) I saw the stretch of "muck land" where her family grew carrots as a cash crop one season during the Depression, only to have their buyer go bankrupt when they tried to deliver the contracted crop. I saw the surprisingly modest house where she worked as a "hired girl" for room and board and a small stipend, and then the old button factory (a little cinder block building which now houses part of a metal recycling operation) where she worked before her marriage. Amazingly, you can still pick up little shards of oyster shell and round reject button blanks from the ground between the building and the train tracks. I've heard stories that this reject shell materials was a cheap substitute for gravel driveways when my mother was a child, so there must have been large piles of it sitting around 70 years ago.

By the time Carl and I finished our little tour, it was past dark; but Christy and I drove back there the next day so I could pick up a little handful of old button shards and we could bring some flowers to the cemetery. Grandma never talked much about what life was like when she was a young girl, but the day's explorations did make me feel as though I'd gotten to know her a little better.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving 08

It is the tradition at my church that we hold a joint Thanksgiving eve service with the other UCC church in town, with the confirmands of both churches holding primary roles in the service and the combined choirs performing the anthem. Then we all head into the other room for a massive distribution of pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It's a good time and a nice tradition, but it pretty much rules out any Wednesday afternoon travel plans. (One year we did go directly from church, but that put us in Chicago at the exact same time as about 40% of the other travelers in the entire Midwest - it wasn't pretty.)
So, it seemed much more reasonable to leave the house about 4:00 on Thursday morning, and glide through the trip when everyone else in the world had either (a) already left or (b) was still asleep. It worked out fine - a nice smooth trip which ended with us in the Grandville parking lot about 20 minutes before anyone else. (The alternatives seem to be either arriving too early, or too late. With the variables of Chicago traffic, there is no such thing as "on time.")

But folks started showing up before too long, and I headed into the kitchen with a few of my Dad's female cousins and other assorted relatives, and we started putting the feast together. The fruit salad worked out okay, although I stuck with just one pomegranate (after squirting juice everywhere while trying to get those seeds out) and even then some people decided to work around the seeds. My cousin Kate brought a turkey - and so did one of Dad's cousins, and I think there was even a third somewhere, so we were never in danger of running out. I don't know who brought the flan, but it was fabulous. The rest is all a happy blur, although I seem to remember a cheesy broccoli dish and a rice concoction that went down well. The group was smaller than last year, but another subset of cousins who were not regulars filled in some of the gaps and we still had a respectable gathering of 35 or so.

The fun really begins after dinner, when attendees split up to chat. There was the usual pile of people asleep in front of the football game, and another group talking about politics or tractors or something along those lines. Some of the women started talking about childbirth (can anyone tell me why we always do that?), and a couple of knitting and other craft projects came out (mine included). Some group photos were taken. The kids discovered some of the exercise equipment in the back room, and had a wonderful time with the stretchy rope thingees. I'm not sure how they got into "Guliver's Travels" mode, but a mob of the "under 5" group surrounded Rick, trying to get him down and tie him up while yelling "Get the giant! Tie up the giant!"

We broke up when the light started to get dim, and followed Carl's group back North to the farm for a game night. There's something so wonderful about a large happy group of family, gathered around the dinner table and laughing and teasing and competing gleefully with each other long into the night. It's one of my favorite parts of visits to the farm, even if I'm not actually playing in each game. It leaves you with a strong sense that no matter what challenges we all face, there is always this warm safe group of people in the background who care about you - even as they knock your piece off the game board.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thinking Happy Thoughts

Thanksgiving was wonderful, as always. I have a blog to write about the day, and a blog to write about the day after (my first time doing Black Friday at 5:00 a.m. - quite surreal), and a blog to write about Cousin Henry's new venture, and several knitting-related things to report. But I'm gutting through a low/medium level migraine which has been making me photo-sensitive and not particularly articulate since Sunday mid-day, so all that eloquence may have to wait until tomorrow. In the meantime, here's Lydia modeling her pretty Christmas dress. (We really didn't have enough light inside, so I told her we would go outside to use the sunshine but had to hurry before the shivers got her. She spent the next 5 minutes looking over my shoulder and around the corner for approaching shivers.)