Tag Archives: family

Tradition Week (Christmas): All About Eve

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My 4-year-old drew this on my parents’ porch today with chalk she got in a present. Later in the afternoon, I was carrying a load of boxes out to our van and didn’t want my son to get out too, so I asked her to close the door behind me.

Her: I need my chalk!

Me: Close the door, please.

Her: Where’s my chalk?!

Me: The door! Close it now, please!

Her: I need my chalk!

Me: Close the door!

Her: I forgot to draw the tornado!

I’ve been blessed to have Christmas traditions that are roughly compatible with my wife’s family’s traditions, as well as to have parents and in-laws who are willing to be flexible. So my wife’s parents’ annual Christmas Eve fondue dinner was on Christmas Eve Eve this year. And we treated Christmas Eve itself as Christmas day with my family. We’ll spend Christmas Eve night with my parents and my dad’s brother’s family, and Christmas Christmas with my wife’s family.

It sounds busy—and it is—but we’ve more often than not managed to schedule out big blocks of time so we don’t feel like yo-yos spinning rapidly between a couple of houses.

Plus, we have a tradition of going away Christmas night when we can, just my wife and I, to a local bed and breakfast.

Amid it all, we get to see friends and cousins, aunts and uncles, and multiple generations enjoying conversation and fun under one roof.

When my cousins were little, we would go to my uncle’s house for Christmas Eve, and I would tell them elephant jokes on the drive across town back to my house, where we’d read the Christmas story. Now that they’re older and we get together at my parents house, we tend to show each other Youtube videos.

I love seeing my family, which is why I’m cutting off this post here and rejoining the chaos—though it is nice to have an excuse to sequester myself away for a breather. (I’ve found since starting this blog, however, that they also tend to worry that certain stories or anecdotes will find their way onto the Internet. Some will, someday.)

Also, my girls are right now shouting about seeing the Magic Shoe, which is a pink, glittery sneaker that’s been known to peek in windows or skitter across the lawn at my parents’ house from time to time.

Merry Christmas!

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Tradition Week (Christmas): The Food

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In his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, in the essay titled “Jesus Shaves,” Dave Sedaris explores the difficulty in explaining a holiday to someone for whom it has no cultural reference: “Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do,” he writes. “We talked about food instead.”

Sedaris was relating an anecdote about parsing Easter for two Moroccan students in a beginners’ French class he was taking, but the sentiment applies here, too.

Many of my Christmas memories involve food—and it’s no wonder. Smell, tied as it is into the sense of taste, is a powerful force in triggering recollections and remembrances.

I remember my mom making beef stew in the crock pot, where it would simmer throughout the day. Picking almonds out of the party mix at my paternal grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. Eating beef stroganoff later that night. A tart lemon dessert my maternal grandmother made each year (and still makes from time to time; I got to have a slice this past Thanksgiving). Containers of bacon bits, bottles of Ranch dressing (both staples of my diet when I was younger), and Pez in my stocking on Christmas morning, which often yielded to a breakfast casserole fresh from the oven. The one and only time I had alcohol before I was 21 (shh, don’t tell!) was when I got a splash of champagne in my orange juice one Dec. 25.

Food showed up everywhere: I remember the cinnamon and gingerbread smell of a paper fold-out holiday street scene we unpacked along with the other decorations. And the photo of candlelight illuminating some sparkling champagne on the album cover I carefully handled each year so I could listen to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” And the Christmas ornaments featuring small mice tucked cozily into beds made from walnut shell halves.

As my family has expanded, so have the food memories. My wife’s family tends to enjoy cheese fondue on Christmas eve, a meal for which I’ve declared myself the official cheese grater.

I love grating cheese. It’s so gratifying to watch the block get smaller while the pile grows larger. You can tell you’re really accomplishing something. Success is so measurable and obvious.

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(I included my hand for a sense of scale.)

My children have been quick to identify and generate their own traditions. They may try something once and then declare that that’s what they eat whenever they visit Grandma and Grandpa, as they have with biscuits and gravy at my parents’ house.

I realized recently that now is when their lifelong memories are starting. My earliest recollections—the ones I can reliably say are true and in context—are from when I was 4 to 6 years old, so this is the time in my kids’ lives when they’re inhaling the scents of seasonal spices or otherwise mundane meals and connecting them with sparkling colored lights, sleeping bags under the Christmas tree, and everything else catching their eyes this winter.

In other news, I fell asleep while writing this post.

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To the Rescue

To the Rescue

My son has two middle names.

One is Atticus, because we like the old-fashioned sound and Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird is an awesome guy.

The other is Michael, because it’s a family name, and my wife’s uncle was an awesome guy. More than that, he was a hero.

Mike McGroarty worked for many years for the La Habra Fire Department, ending his time there with a seven-year stint as chief. Then he moved on to become deputy chief of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. He also helped lead the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which sends animals into dangerous situations to seek out people in need of rescue.

Through his work, Uncle Mike saw things no person should ever have to see, but for him, it was just part of the job. He fought on the side of life, whether his opponent was destruction left by an earthquake or hurricane or rubble caused by an act of terror. He worked to rescue victims of the Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing, and he coordinated California’s rescue efforts in New York after Sept. 11, 2001.

After he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he continued to fight on the side of life, though this time that life was his own. Despite harboring a disease that constantly sought to break him down, he pushed for positive progress, and he maintained an attitude of success.

He died on June 7, 2010, never once backing down from his battle.

When my wife and I found out we were having a third baby, she confidently told me it was a boy (we didn’t know for sure until he arrived), and then, with realization dawning on her face, said his middle name would be Michael. (Atticus had been a contender for a first name that we ultimately didn’t choose, but the girls wouldn’t stop calling their baby brother by that one, so we tacked it on, too.)

Even though I felt in my gut that we were having a third girl, I agreed with her.

Now, I can’t wait for my son to get to an age where I can tell him about Uncle Mike, and show him photos, because here’s the other thing: Uncle Mike grew and maintained an amazing moustache. A handlebar moustache. A big moustache with waxed points that curled up at the ends.

I can’t think of a better Movember inspiration, since the month is all about growing moustaches and fighting prostate cancer. It’s like the effort was started with him in mind.

If you want to join me, Uncle Mike, my (clean-faced 1-year-old) son, and an amazing number of men and women around the country and world in raising awareness of and combating prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health issues—if you want to join us in fighting on the side of life—visit my Movember page and consider leaving a comment or making a donation.

You can also tell me about the heroes in your life, because I know you have them.

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