For the past few days Tom and I have been touring the South Bay area of Los Angeles, seeking out the points of interest to our 2-year-old and a 4-year old grand daughters who we've been babysitting during our visit.
We spent an afternoon at the Manhattan Village Mall, a great spot for running around, fountain-watching,
...and noshing on yummy grilled cheese panninis from the snack bar.
We've also taken several trips to the girls' perennially favorite destination, Ralph's,
....where there are shopping carts of just the right size,
...and, when shooping with Grammie, always the very good possibility of acquiring a treat.
Yesterday we took an excursion to the jewel of Manhattan Beach among the younger set and their moms, a play venue called Adventureplex,
....which consists of a massive interconnected climbing structure,
....with side play areas,
...a toddler area, where I witnessed an amazing amount of friendly cooperative play, which made me wonder if the area was designed by Early Childhood experts with that purpose in mind.
There's also a nice area where parents can sit while keeping an eagle-eye on their chicks.
But alas, my chicks did not want their Grammie further than arm's length away from them, and were insistent that I follow them around inside the climbing structure.
Now I noticed that, though the climbing structure was crawling with little folks, there was not one adult in there; furthermore, the structure did not appear to be built to accommodate anyone taller than about 4 feet.
"Gram can't go into the climbing structure with you," I explained to my grand daughters, "I'm too big."
"No you're not!" cried my 4-year-old, "Daddy goes in with us!"
This I did not doubt, but then their daddy is twenty-some years younger than me and has some high-ranking color of a belt in Jui-jitsu.
But thank goodness for my yoga classes.
On December 27 my daughter, Maria, son-in-law Justin and their children flew back to Los Angeles from their Christmas visit and, as Tom and I have done for the past several years, we flew back on the same day (but on a different flight) for a week-long visit with them.
Now, there's nothing quite like flying from Columbus, Ohio, to Los Angeles, California in December. You end up flying not only from one place to another but from one season to another, boarding the plane in winter and stepping off the plane into spring, or, if you're lucky, summer.
This year, though, the seasons have done a most michievous flip.
On December 27 we left behind 61-degree weather in Columbus and arrived in Los Angeles where the thermometer read 40 degrees and the long-range forecast was looking like this:
Still, a cool sun was shining as Tom and I rode the airport bus then the elevated train to Manhattan Beach, and as we walked from the train station to Justin and Maria's house the palm trees, birds of paradise and other flora and fauna we passed along the way looked none the worse for the cold spell.
In truth, it wasn't until we reached our daughter and son-in-law's house that the cold hit us; their furnace, at the very moment it was needed, chose this moment to plotz and the interior of their house was colder than the air outside.
...though the orange and lemon trees in their yard seemed happy enough.
Needing to find warmth - and some food, for that matter - we borrowed our daughter's car and drove to the local Johnny Rocket's for lunch, where Tom had a burger and I had a mighty fine grilled cheese topped with tomatoes and carmelized onions.
By the time we finished lunch it was time to pick up Maria, Justin and the kids at the airport.
When they arrived home Maria and Justin fixed us all up with a space heater, a nice fire,
...and some blankets,
...and we were quite cozy.
As the furnace repair man couldn't arrive until early the following morning we made a plan for the rest of the night:
First, dinner at the Veggie Grille, a local restaurant with the yummiest vegan food in L.A.
Vegan "chicken" , greens, and and cauliflower "mashed potatoes" in mushroom sauce:
Veggie burger and fries:
After dinner Maria, Justin and the kids returned home and set up a "warm room" with a space heater for the family to sleep in and Tom and I headed to our favorite Manhattan Beach hotel, The Wave (see post from 3/28/2014),
...where we procured a nice warm room of our own.
By the following morning the heat was back on at Maria and Justin's, so we left The Wave,
...and returned to Maria and Justin's, where, of course, all the action was.
In our family Christmas feasting tends to be a trilogy: First episode, Christmas Eve;
Second episode: Christmas Day;
Third episode: The Day After Christmas.
The day after Christmas feast has traditionally been a big Liszkay family get-together where the Cleveland clans drive down for the day to gather with the Columbus clans, all meeting at our house for an afternoon of – what else? Chowing down and hanging out.
Last Year’s day-after-Christmas feast.
This year, however, the baton was passed to Tom’s brother Donald and his wife Mary, who hosted the post-Christmas family shindig in their beautiful Westerville home.
The menu was:
Cheese potato casserole
Green bean casserole
My special guacamole dip, without which there can be no family feast
Mary Jane's special green jello, also without which there can be no family feast
Cookies and cakes
After a prayer of thanksgiving for food and togetherness,
We dug in to the wonderful spread.
After dinner we gathered for family photos, which is Donald’s speciality.
Then the cousins and grandkids congregated in the basement for a game of Apples To Apples,
...while the aunts, uncles, and grandparents sat around and chatted.
The scene recalled to me holiday gatherings from years ago when Tom and I were among the youngsters hanging out with the cousins in the living room after dinner while our parents, aunts and uncles were the older crowd who stayed in the kitchen or dining room with each other. I remembered that sometimes we of the younger crowd would joke amongst ourselves about our parents and their old-school ways and I wondered if our youngsters were now downstairs chuckling amongst themselves about us?
Then the feast was over, and it was time for the clans to say good-bye,
...leave Mary and Donald's
...and return north to Cleveland or to our respective Columbus turfs until our next family feast, whenever or wherever it might be.
A few years ago my oldest daughter, Maria,
...came up with the best idea ever for a wonderful family Christmas.
I remember very clearly the moment Maria came up with her idea.
It was a Christmas morning, Tom, myself, and whichever of our adult children and their spouses were home that year had finished our Christmas morning brunch and were sitting around the living room, where we'd spent the last hour or so opening gifts in the traditional way we'd done since my children were young - going in a circle, each person opening a gift at a time.
After the last person had opened their last gift, Maria said, "Can we not do this anymore? Can we stop giving Christmas presents from now on?"
Rather than throwing a wet blanket on the moment, Maria's suggestion was warmly welcomed. We all agreed that the chore of trying figure out what gifts to buy for all our adult relatives, then having to run around and buy them brought more physical, mental and financial stress than joy to the season. In fact I'd made the same suggestion to my parents and adult siblings the first Christmas after Tom and I were married and I still recall my brother Joe's enthusiastic response: "Now that's the best G-D idea anybody's ever come up with around here!"
I'm not sure it was the best G-D idea anyone had ever come up with, but it was definitely liberating, as was my daughter's idea. At least for us.
I've since observed that there are two camps in the world: To the first belong those who love Christmas gifting; to the second belong those who don't. I believe my family members are the only people in the world who belong to the second camp.
Now I should clarify here that I'm talking strictly about the exchange of Christmas gifts among adults; of course I buy a few toys for my grand babies.
At least the Christmas-present end of it. Or so say we non-gifters.
But though my family members are not Christmas gifters, we are most definitely Christmas feasters, and the feasting that began on Christmas Eve (see yesterday's post),
...continued yesterday with our Christmas morning brunch, the preparation of which involved all available hands.
...as did the eating of which.
When we finished eating we stayed around the table a long time talking. With each of my children living in a different city, this was the first time in years that they'd all been home at the same time. I wondered when the next time would be that we'd all be together like this.
After breakfast there was some playing,
...and some more sitting around,
...and a visit from my good friend and Panera Posse member.
Then the youngsters settled in for an afternoon of Star Wars marathoning in preparation for seeing the newest Star Wars movie, "The Force Awakens". (I might have to see that one myself).
However, two Star Wars episodes later it was time to eat again.
So we hauled ourselves up and headed out for Christmas Dinner at the Iron Chef Japanese Steak House in Pickerington,
...where the show was fun,
...and the food was delicious.
Though one of my sons-in-law suggested that maybe the food tasted so good this time because we were all together. This could be true
After dinner the young'uns picked up where they'd left off on Star Wars,
It was a good Christmas.
Last night we invited friends and neighbors to join us for a Christmas Eve of feasting and singing.
On the menu were
Hot turkey mini-sandwiches
Hot pork mini sandwiches,
Cheese potato casserole
Macaroni and cheese
Green beans almondine
Cherry almond streusel pie
and a box of delicious sugared fruit jelly slices that my daughter found in a candy shop.
The morning started with a finalizing of my master list and battle plan of "to do's",
....then we all got down to work.
By early evening all our kids had arrived and by 7 pm the feast was ready and our guests began arriving,
...and digging in.
After the first round of feasting we all gathered in the living room where we sang Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs.
Then there was more feasting,
After the last of the guests had left,
...it was nice to sit around and relax and have this Christmas Eve last a little longer.
Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!
My daughter Maria comes from a Christian background while her husband Justin's family is Jewish. Justin and Maria were married under a canopy in a Christian-Jewish ceremony officiated by a Lutheran pastor and a rabbi.
I don't know how many times concerned acquaintances, referring to Maria and Justin's different religious backgrounds, have asked me "But how will they raise their children?" My stock answer was that if Maria and Justin manged to raise their children to be kind to everyone and be the best persons they can be then they'd probably have all the bases covered, whatever else they did religion-wise.
Often incorporated into people's concerns over the children's religious upbringing was how their parents would handle the holidays that overlap, Passover and Easter, Christmas and Hanukkah.
Here's what I've observed:
Maria and Justin's children love Hanukkah. And they love Christmas.
The love to see the Hanukkah decorations,
...the Christmas decorations,
...and they loved the holiday lights at Easton Town Center.
They love baking Christmas cookies and Hanukkah cookies,
When we gather around the piano they know all the words to "Hanukkah, Oy Hanukkah" and "The Dreydl Song" but they'll happily segue into the Christmas carols.
They know the story of how the Maccabees defeated the wicked King Antiochus while the lights miraculously burned in the temple for nine days and they know the story of how Baby Jesus was born in a stable and lay in a manger surrounded by shepherds and kings, and an angel.
...they move without a problem or pause from Hanukkah to Christmas and back again under a canopy where there's room for everyone and every possibility, where there are no walls between what I believe and what you believe, where there are no walls separating "us" from "them".
Young children can do this effortlessly.
When does it all change? And why?
Last week one of the Panera Posse members invited the Posse to her house for a little holiday party,
In the course of our discussion of the various and sundry subjects that always come up during a Posse meeting, we somehow got onto that object of Christmas folklore, mincemeat pie.
Who'd ever had it? A couple of us. Who really knew what it was?
None of us, it turned out.
A couple members had mothers or grandmothers who used to make it but weren't sure what went into mincemeat nor could they remember what it tasted like, or if they'd ever even tried it. They only recalled that their mothers and grandmothers used store-bought mincemeat from a jar.
Thus we wondered: Does "mincemeat" involve actual minced meat? Or is it a figurative term referring to the "meat" of the "minced" fruit?
One of the gals grabbed her smart phone and pulled up the Martha Stewart website to put the matter to rest.
It turns out that Martha Stewart's mincemeat pie recipe calls for store-bought mincemeat from a jar. We don't know what's in the jar of mincemeat Martha used, as she didn't didn't share. She probably doesn't know, either.
So the mincemeat mystery goes on.
But when the subject turned to fruitcake, ah there we were all of us more savvy. Amidst the laughter in response to the question of whether anybody actually likes fruitcake my hand shot up. "I like fruitcake!", I declared, "I love fruitcake!"
What I meant, though, was that I love - or rather used to love - the Christmas fruitcakes that my parents used to make. But my love of my parents' fruitcake wasn't always so.
When I was growing up the making of the fruitcakes was a grand production that my parents threw themselves into every year about six weeks or so before Christmas. And though my parents considered their whiskey-infused fruitcakes their personal pieces-de-resistance, I hated the fruitcakes and somewhat resented that my parents weren't instead throwing their energies into making Christmas cookies.
Thus I did not bounce with excitement like a young Truman Capote when fruitcake weather arrived at our house. Rather I gave my parents' labors barely a bored glance while passing through the kitchen where they happily cut up mounds of uninteresting and unappetizing ingredients - candied and dried fruits and nuts that they soaked in whiskey then thew into a great pot to be coated with flour then a thick heavy batter that they grappled to mix and stir until they had a pot full of dense, knobby whiskey-gloop that they'd pour into several dozen loaf pans then put into the oven for slow baking.
After the cakes were baked and cooled they'd "water" (my parents' word) each cake well with whiskey before they wrapped them in cloth, plastic wrap and aluminum foil then set them aside to age for several weeks. Halfway through the aging period they'd unwrap the cakes and refresh them with a second whiskey-watering, and then they'd give them a final watering before re-wrapping them for distribution.
Of the fruitcakes my father used to say, "The purpose of the batter is to hold the fruit together and the purpose of the fruit is to hold the whiskey together."
Ha, ha, very funny, I used to think back in my youth of my father's bon mot. I thought the fruitcakes were flipping inedible.
But then, of course, the fruitcakes weren't meant for children, a hard concept for a fairly pampered child like myself to wrap her head around. The fruitcakes were gifts for friends and neighbors and to send to out-of-town family, all of whom I assumed feigned delight at receiving these ugly, poisonous-tasting things.
Years later, when Tom and I were deliriously happy young newly-weds living in Louisville Kentucky,
...around Christmas time a box arrived in the mail from my parents. I guessed right away what it was .
"Wow, this smells, good," Tom said after he'd unwrapped the layers revealing the dreaded Christmas fruitcake.
"It's a whiskey-brick," I, the tea-totaler, retorted dismissively .
"It's delicious!" Tom exclaimed.
"No, it's really good! You gotta try this!"
"Oh," said I. I cut off a small chunk and took a small bite. It was a bright burst of heavenly flavors and textures, all fruits and nuts with just enough cake to hold them together, melt-in-your-mouth moist and rich and oh, so sweet, with just the slightest aromatic tinge that made the whole confection all the more wonderful.
"Oh, wow this really is good!" I cried, wondering if my parents had drastically altered their fruitcake recipe from when I was a child. "It's incredible!"
But I could tell right away that this fruitcake needed one more ingredient to make it zoom straight up into the stratosphere of deliciousness. "A scoop of vanilla ice cream!" I proclaimed. How right I was.
And how, from then on, did I, Tom, and eventually my children (who never shared my childhood anti-fruitcake bias) look forward to receiving our Christmas fruitcake, which we all agreed reached its true zenith when accompanied by vanilla ice cream, preferably Breyers Vanilla Bean.
My father died 16 years ago, still my mother continued making the fruitcakes into her early 90's.
But my mother is 95-and-a-half now,
...and though she's still doing wonderfully well - last weekend she hosted in her home her annual Christmas carol-singing party catered by a local restaurant and attended by 60 people - she gave up her Christmas fruit-cake making several years ago.
Today I'd give $1,000 for a slice of my parents' fruitcake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
But all the money and technology in the world can't bring back a thing we long for once it's crossed over into the bitter-sweet ghost-world of our memories.
At long last,
The bathrooms were clean,
the vacuuming was done,
....and the dusting,
The guest room was all set up,
...and so were the toys.
The cookies were baked,
.....the chicken soup was made,
...the house was decorated,
The waiting was over,
...and finally, Christmas was here.
Tom: So, what should I write in our Christmas letter this year?
Patti (Shrugging): I dunno.
Tom: Really, what should I write? I don't want to write the wrong thing and get people upset.
Patti: Don't worry about it, just go ahead and write what you want, the Christmas letter is really your thing, after all. But then let me see it when you've finished and then send a copy to each of the kids so they can check to make sure it's okay with them.
Tom: I've been burned before over things I wrote in the Christmas letter.
Patti: No, really, just go ahead and write whatever you want. The kids and I will X-out the parts we don't like.
Tom: So, what should I not write about?
Patti: Ummm, I don't know. Just go ahead and write it and we'll let you know what's wrong with it afterwards.
Tom: What should I write about? What's going on with us that our friends and family would be interested in?
Patti: Not a whole lot, I guess. Besides our friends and family already know what's going on with us.
Tom: I mean our Christmas card friends and family. You know, the ones who are too far away to be all up in our business. Like our old college friends. And our neighbors who moved away. And then we've got, what, twenty-five nieces and nephews?
Patti: Yeah, and the old friends, neighbors, nieces and nephews are all up in our business anyway and we're all up in theirs because of Facebook.
Tom: So what should I write about?
Patti: Oh, I know, you could write about us going to Spain this year.
Tom: Yeah, and Hawaii! And Los Angeles and Chicago, and the East Coast!
Patti: No, no, no, we can't write about all that traveling. It sounds too braggy.
Tom: But it's what we did that was interesting.
Patti: Yeah, but it sounds just too braggy.
Tom: But didn't you blog on Facebook about all our trips? Wasn't that too braggy, too?
Patti: No. What I mean is, it's too braggy to talk about all the trips together in one letter. On Facebook my braggy stuff is spaced apart and so mixed in with everybody else's braggy stuff that it doesn't sound braggy, see?
Tom: Uh, not really.
Patti: Look, everything on Facebook is braggy, so nothing is, get it?
Tom (shrugging): Uh, I guess...
Patti: I know, we could write about the political scene. None of our friends are Trump fans, are they?
Tom: I don't know! But anyway, we can't talk about politics in a Christmas letter!
Patti: Well, it's about the only interesting thing we're into on a daily basis. Hmmm. Why don't we talk about the movies we've seen this year?
Tom: Eh, that seems to be kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel. Hey, did we buy anything new this year that we could talk about?
Patti (looking around the room): Nah. (Picking up their Christmas photo) Maybe we should skip the letter and just send our Christmas photo that we had taken while we were hiking through Spain. I mean, look at all this photo tells people about us: That we're still together, that we took a backpacking trip together, that we're still in good enough shape to be hiking, that you grew a beard, that I....Oh, geez, I look awful in this photo, we can't send this!
Tom: What's wrong with the photo? You look good.
Patti: I look old!
Tom: Um, I hate to break it to you, but...
Patti: Sigh. Yeah. I should've worn some make-up for that photo.
Tom: Make-up?! We were hiking through the Pyrenees! We were carrying our stuff on our backs and sleeping on mattresses in dorms! We were sweaty and dirty and dog-tired! And besides, you haven't worn make-up in what, forty years?
Patti: Sigh. But forty years I ago looked better.
Tom: Forty years ago everybody looked better! But that doesn't stop people from sending out Christmas pictures!
Patti: Let's skip the Christmas picture from now on. Or, I know, let's send one of us from ten or twenty years ago!
Tom: Sigh. So, what should I write in our Christmas letter this year?.
Say, what do you think of this idea for a Christmas card?
My friend's daughter Abby, a graduate student living out of town, and her room mates came up with the idea of a photo of themselves,
...for what I'm christening this "friends as family" Christmas card.
Isn't that a really nice new concept for a contemporary holiday card?
Of course maybe the "friends as family" card is actually already out there being sent by friend-families everywhere during the holidays, but the above is the first one - nay, second one - I've ever seen - my daughter and her husband years ago sent a "friends as family" Christmas card with a single friend they were temporarily apartment-sharing with - but in any case, is it not an idea whose time has come?
It occurred to me that Taylor, Abby, Valerie and Clyde's card, besides expressing in more eloquent words the old truism, "friends are family without the bull****", was a in fact Christmas letter, though perhaps not of the conventional type; because instead of chronicling the past year's milestones - which I, for one, do always enjoy reading about in the holiday letters of friends and family - this letter just tells, in one picture and a few simple but beautifully-articulated words, about a family of friends who are doing well at this moment in their lives because they have each other.
And what more do any of us really need over the holidays but each other?
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon:
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon:
"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Amazon:
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of German Village,
Or check it out at the Columbus Metropolitan Library
I am a traveler just visiting this planet and reporting various and sundry observations,
hopefully of interest to my fellow travelers.