Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ghost of Christmas Passed

The cousins and aunts and uncles having departed, the leftovers having been stowed, the gifts having been (largely) sorted, it looks a though another Christmas is behind us.  And us much as I enjoyed it, as grand as the company was, that's naught but a good thing from my perspective.

With Fenya entering Junior high this year, both girls doubling their rehearsals for choir and Irish dance, and me becoming chair of church council, 2010 carried the busiest fall I can ever recall.  Christmas seemed to swoop in from over my shoulder like a stooping hawk, on me before I really knew what was happening.  Work potlucks, helping to arrange cocoa for after the Christmas services and rehearsing for the pageant, getting the house ready for Audrey's sister and her family; I'm frankly stunned I remembered to get all my shopping done.

The relatives came Thursday night, and my sister and her beau and his son came over for Christmas Eve.  The Fitzpatrick side each opened one gift, as per the tradition (at least in my family; in Audrey's childhood, all the gifts were opened on Christmas Eve, since their church services were on Christmas morning).  We shared a table full of finger food before heading off to the 7:00 service together and although I had my concerns about the church pageant (with Audrey and I guest starring in addition Fenya's larger roles), but it all went fine in the end.

Audrey is in the choir and since she was singing in the 9:00 service, elected to say and serve the hot chocolate along with her sister Betty, which I thought was awfully decent of them.  By the time they returned, the younger children had been put to bed (although nowhere near asleep, obviously), and after helping us arrange Santa's cookies and milk as well the carrots in wooden shoes for his reindeer, the older kids toddled off as well.

The next morning went just the same as Christmas mornings always seemed to go in my childhood; full of anticipation and yet over before you knew it.  Everyone was grateful for what they received and gratified for what they gave.

After everything was opened and the holiday phone calls made, we were well behind schedule on starting dinner, which was to comprise of both a turkey AND a brobdignabian ham, and the things got even more complicated.  "I thought the ham was at least partially cooked," I confessed to Audrey.  "It's totally not, and at 20 min per pound, we are looking at serving him up around 8:00."  The irony of having listened to Stuart McLean read "Dave Cooks the Turkey" not 16 hours previously was not lost upon me, and I frantically scoured my brain for alternatives.  The turkey by itself would be woefully insufficient to feed 9 hungry people, and every other cut of meat in the house was frozen solid, whereas at least the ham was thawed.

"Let's switch 'em up," suggested Audrey.  "Cook the ham in the oven instead of the turkey, and we'll do the turkey in the barbecue.  If we cook them both in those Look bags, that should shave off some time, right?"  The bags she referred to have been our sole method of cooking turkey for years now, since we started cooking our own turkeys, and my mom's choice for as far back as I can remember.  It keeps steam around the bird to cook it faster and juicier, but allows enough radiant heat in to turn the skin nice and crisp, and I can't recommend it highly enough for that purpose.  However, we had never cooked a ham in one before, and Christmas day is hardly the ideal venue for experimentation on this scale.  After some quick and frankly dubious interweb research seemed to back up Audrey's position, we decided we had nothing to lose, and fired up the barbecue and got the bags ready.  I had a glaze ready for when the ham was finished, but the recipe I had read suggested that a cup of liquid was needed in the bag, such as fruit juice or wine.

"I've still got a bottle of McNally's Winter Spice Ale downstairs in the fridge," I told Audrey.  "It's got cloves, cinnamon and ginger in it as well as being 6% alcohol."  She nodded her assent and the libation was dutifully sacrificed.  Man, if this works, I thought to myself, I am gonna need to write this one down. 

Well, it did, and I am.  The ham turned out great, and the brown sugar and spiced rum glaze with black pepper capped it off nicely.  The turkey had a harder time of it, as our zeal to make up lost time had us overheat the barbecue and melt the Look bag completely, which looked horrific but was easily rectified.   It had cooked for almost an hour at that point, so removing the charred remnants of the mylar bag and replacing it with foil seemed to work just fine.

Wii games, conversation and Audrey's new 12 hour Christmas music playlist carried us late into the night, and when we dragged ourselves out of bed this morning, the Klooster family swung into high gear with their packing and van-loading.  I knew they had be in Rocky Mountain House that night since Betty was working early the next day, but I had really hoped for some more time with my nieces and nephew.  I needn't have worried; Betty had made an orderly preparation and departure a condition for going sledding prior to the trip home, so after a ham, egg and potato casserole from the crock pot (Sleeping in and having a hot breakfast? Sold!) we were off to Government House Park in the River Valley.

I've always thought of sledding as the poor man's ski trip, and it was a great day for it: very mild, with almost no wind to speak of, so everyone had a great time.

It also gave us a chance to test out the waterproof camcorder Santa had left in Audrey's stocking, with Glory operating the camera from my back as we plummeted downhill:

Clearly, the gap between Steadicam and Stevicam is fairly significant.  Far better results are obtained when operating as a witness rather than participant:

Parting was hard, but made better because we had shared some fresh air and inertia together, so everyone was all smiles when we left the hill.

But even though it was a lot of fun and I was genuinely sad to see them go, it feels good to be at a point of zero anticipation for what feels like the first time since September. Sure, we still have things to do and people to see, but at a much more reasonable pace.

I don't go back to work until January the 4th, the longest break at Christmastime I have had since Audrey and I got married.  What I am most looking forward to is doing a whole lot of nothing with my wife and daughters, and just seeing what happens.

All the best to you and yours over these holidays, and may the New Year bring you as many blessings as you are able to comfortably manage.

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