What to expect, and trying for no expectations, when joining unknown people with Bill for a family Christmas. There’s J, his son and wife C, a successful and happy young couple with their fur-baby Ranger. C’s family made up the other 14 representing three generations starting at age three.
No one was home when we arrived Tuesday afternoon. They were all out to see the Christmas lights at the zoo so wouldn’t be back until after dark. Our job was to feed Ranger then put him outside, which along with Sasha provided a race-track scene as they chased each other around the large fenced in yard. Sasha wears out first attempting to ignore the still rambunctious puppy Ranger as he jumps, nips and barks. Sometimes Sasha gives a tiny grrrr, and he usually backs off. Then she casually walks the fence perimeter just like at home. No holes or weak spots for potential escape.
The family arrived by carloads yet not all together. That made it easier for me to learn their names as I introduced myself. Can’t figure out why that happens to newcomers at family gatherings but thankfully I’m not shy. The first two children, A and B, were friendly, talkative, polite and precocious in a good way. C’s sis M and husband T have done a great job with their children also including F. After telling them my name is Gaelyn they asked if they could call me Grandma I told them either one would do.
The next wave came a little faster as C and M’s mother T, the matriarch, arrived with some of her children, V, R and J, and grandchildren in tow followed by her x-husband D—they got along great—with his teenage son W. His and T’s older son B arrived the next day with his girlfriend H.
Are you confused yet? I sure was. Dinner served, first for children followed by adults with everyone in the not too overly large kitchen/dining room talking happily while keeping an eye on the kids who subsequently went to bed, each of the four spare bedrooms assigned to part of the family. Older kids slept on the sofas. I was happy to have the camper plugged in and a heater running with an electric blanket to pre-heat the otherwise chilly bed. Of course the wind rocked us and it got so cold Sasha’s water bowl froze. Thank goodness for a warm house.
Wednesday we had more of a chance to intermingle and chat with everybody. Now I’m not a big kid person, as in everyday all day. I put in my time. But I do like to interact with children that like to interact with adults. It was fun. Especially knowing at the end of the day I could give them back. Because of all the new fallen snow (did I mention waking to a foot of winter wonderland) Most of the kids and some adults sledded in the front yard then came in with rosy cheeks to cups of steaming cocoa.
While that was going on the kitchen was filled with women making three hotnesses of salsa. Several guys at the table where busily cutting up onions, tomatoes and garlic while Bill, who likes the hottest of stuff, chopped the chili peppers. The rhythm was smooth like a choreographed kitchen dance. And there was “testing” for flavor of course.
Once that mess was cleaned up T and daughter R taught me how to make tamales for Christmas eve dinner. The huge pork roast had slow cooked all day filling the house with delightful smells. I now have a better appreciation for this labor intensive delicacy and feel better for typically paying $20/dozen. And because I had masa on my hands there are no photos.
Then Bill and I cooked dinner and let me tell you I was a little nervous about cooking for so many. But I made my favorite chilies rellenos casserole, which even the kids liked, and DIY (adults helping kids) tortilla wraps with choices of burger, salsa, cheese, sour cream, and avocado. This followed by cookie baking for Santa, and some “testing” and finally some of the guys with T supervising made a pecan and a raspberry pie from scratch. This is one cooking family. The kitchen was definitely the place to be.
During the afternoon of Christmas eve arrangements had been made with a photographer to take family photos, including puppy Ranger, at nearby Jolley’s Ranch park. The clothing color scheme was gray, black,purple and/or teal, a little more than casual yet not necessarily for a night on the town. Yet some wore ties with their button-down shirts, ladies mostly in dresses over leggings, and little girls in sparkly gowns. All wading through about 1 1/2 feet of snow when the lightweights didn’t break through the crust. The unknowing photographer put Grandpa Bill and “Grandma” me in the middle of the entire family. After shots with just me and Bill I declined from other family photos. The kids were so cold their teeth chattered as they were carried to warm cars. I didn’t bring the camera.
The tamales were a huge hit along with enchiladas. Once again I didn’t take pics. But we did get to take home some leftovers.
The children were allowed to open one specific gift that night, each wrapped in snowflake paper, their Christmas jammies. Love that idea. Plus one other present was given to the youngest child who picked an adult to open it, a story book about Christmas, and then pick another adult to read it. After modeling their pajamas they all lined up on the large couch in the family room and C read them the story. She’s a 3rd grade teacher and obviously good with kids. This followed by a “Frosty the Snowman” movie and off to bed with visions of dollies and Legos in their heads.
It was early to bed for Bill and I. The family tradition for Christmas morning is that no adults can be woken before 6am. I pre-made the coffee and set the alarm for a way too early 5:30am. Awoke to more fresh snow. And many more presents–than seen above–under the tree brought by Santa Clause.
We didn’t quite make it for the first presents’ opened but there were enough to keep everyone busy for almost two hours. Presents were handed out by Santa J and primarily unwrapped one at a time to be shared with everyone before put in a specific pile for each child, and adult. The excitement was contagious. Trash bags at each end of the room filled with wrapping paper and replaced when full.
Grandpa D and J took most of the big kids out in their 4×4 jeeps along with a couple of ORVs to play in the snowy mountains while the younger kids happily played with their many new toys. I didn’t know Legos had gotten so small as to create amazingly detailed buildings, space ships—Star Wars of course—and even a dragon.
Saturday afternoon everyone was supposed to go to the movies. Everyone but me, still out of sorts. The male adults and children went to see the new Star Wars movie. I’ll probably wait until it comes out on DVD. Unfortunately one of the guys had car keys for the vehicle blocking the needed mini van so the little kids didn’t go to the “$ movie”. I’m rather oblivious about the rest of the day because I never left the camper.
Early Sunday morning, D, W, B & H headed to their respective homes. Around noon Bill & son J went to a mall. I was invited along but don’t Do malls well and also figured it was a great time for them to get some one on one time.
I have to say this is one of the smoothest and most fun family Christmases I’ve been to in a very long time, maybe ever. The kids entertained themselves, and us, very well with no scrapping or bickering. Plus C had many plans to entertain every age group. I enjoyed them all immensely even though I was worn out. It was also a challenge for me to photograph the celebration. I definitely need more practice indoors with people.
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