Over the River, and Through the Woods, and Mountains, and Desert, and Another River . . .

After several years of having family come to us for Thanksgiving, we decided it was our turn to visit them for the holiday. Our kids have grown old enough that the long drive to Utah isn’t as arduous as it once was. For them, the drive means wearing pajamas, eating junk food, and playing video games all day. What’s not to love about that?

I had forgotten, however, that even-numbered calendar years are the ones where my siblings and I are expected to eat Thanksgiving at our in-laws’ houses. But because all of my siblings were going to be in town for the holiday, my parents decided to go all Hobbit-style and celebrate Second Thanksgiving the next day.

Brian was very happy to spend Thanksgiving proper with his family — we haven’t done that in a long time!

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I was thrilled because Caitlin was helming the food preparations, excepting the turkey which was delegated to Brian. This meant layers of succulent root vegetables layered with gruyere, perfectly sauteed green beans, and out-of-this-world desserts: beet pie, carrot pie, apple-juniper pie, chevre ice cream with pumpkin swirl, chocolate-gingerbread ice cream. (I think I’ve been inspired to create an ice cream based on elisenlebkuchen, aka German gingerbread. Must experiment with that.)

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We had lots of different Izze drink flavors on hand, and Michael designated himself the “soda sommelier”

Best of all: I hardly had to do anything!! The only spoon I had to lift was the one going from my plate to my mouth. This is great, considering that I am once again tackling the Julbord insanity for Christmas Eve. Thank you, in-law family!

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Michael and Natalie were visiting as well, and my kids were happy to see Cousin Anderson again. Natalie and I took Anderson for a toddler-paced walk around the neighborhood and had a nice long talk together. It was great to spend time with her.

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Brian, Jeff, Wim, and Michael tackled a game of Caverna, which Brian received as a birthday present and has 90+ wooden pieces. It looks insane, and took hours to play. More power to ’em. Eleanor and Caitlin enjoyed their traditional games of Nerts. The kids spent time decorating the granparents’ Christmas tree. It was splendiferous all around.

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Katie has memorized “O Christmas Tree” from her primer piano book, and played it several times through the day.

Then, on Friday: Fakesgiving! Woo-hoo!

It was scads of fun seeing all the cousins together. They spent hours in my parents’ basement, putting together elaborate play scenarios: an imaginary civilization at one point, later they were all pets. “I’m a wild guinea pig,” explained William, but a tearful Katie wasn’t so happy. “They say I’m an orphan puppy dog,” she cried. “I don’t want to go to the pound!”

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But other than slight mishaps like that, the kids got along very well with no real fighting. That’s pretty amazing.

We all got to heap lots of loves on baby Cousin Megan. She still has the Baby Smell, so I could not keep my nose off of her head. My parents recorded the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade so I could watch it the morning of Second Thanksgiving, and I just sat and watched the Broadway shows and ate cinnamon rolls and smelled baby head and it was glorious.

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The kids spent a long time working together to make the place cards. Katie saved all the ones with our family’s names and brought them home. She put them on the breakfast table Monday morning!

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(My mom said she made ~300 rolls for Second Thanksgiving. Yikes. I was put in charge of roasted vegetables, which was a great job for me.)

After eating, we all dressed up and headed to a nearby nature reserve to take some family photos. Luckily for us it was a warm sunny day and we didn’t have to bother with coaxing kids out of their coats!

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This is the one we’re using for our family Christmas card. The big group shot needs to be Photoshopped, so I didn’t bother posting it.

That evening we all played a big round of “Hands Up, Squidman,” which my kids are finally old enough to play without derailing the whole game.

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On Saturday we had another treat with Grandma Kathryn, Aunt Natalie and Cousin Anderson — Christmas Tea at the Grand America Hotel!

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We attended this tea several times when we lived in SLC, but my daughters have no strong memory of doing so (and in Katie’s case, no memory at all). I haven’t been able to find a replacement for this in Seattle, so it was a real treat to be able to do it again.

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My mom had given me a bunch of free makeup samples, and we picked out some neutral colors for Eleanor’s first-makeup kit. She’s wearing some of it in this picture; you can see it in her lips. 

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Eleanor and Katie were on their best fancy behavior, which was adorable. Anderson had fun smearing cream all over the table as toddlers are wont to do.

We all took pictures of the food. I had forgotten how much food they bring, and couldn’t finish it all. Bowls of whipped berries and cream, cups of sugared tea or hot chocolate, tiers of Italian-inspired sandwiches, traditional scones, and then — a second three-tier display of desserts and cookies. Yeesh.

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I liked the mini paninis the best. That macron is savory — pumpkin with a chevre filling.

The children’s plates have changed since my previous visits. I love the cut-out sandwiches! The girls let me try a taste of the brown one — it was chocolate bread with a berry-Nutella filling. Wow.

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Katie could hardly contain herself when Santa & Mrs. Claus came in to sing carols. Eleanor was chosen to walk around the room with Santa while everyone sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and they had her wear antlers and a light-up nose. She smiled the whole time; I love that she is getting mature enough to be a good sport about being silly.

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Later the kids were able to visit Santa personally. This year Katie wants “the orange fairy” for Christmas — aka the Autumn Fairy, one of the seasonal-themed Waldorf dolls we’ve been collecting. I’m surprised that she hasn’t lost interest over the years, but that’s our tenacious Katie.

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After stuffing ourselves silly (and listening to a Christmas story read by Santa), we participated in the scavenger hunt created by the hotel. The display windows were “Christmas Around the World” themed and absolutely gorgeous.

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We also took time to see the giant gingerbread house on display. Anderson found it hilarious to duck under the velvet ropes and walk along the miniature pretend sidewalk running around the display. Aww, two-year-olds.

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And yes, we spent time shopping in Jou-Jou, the high-end boutique toy store which is also housed in the hotel. I found a little plastic watch for Eleanor that reminded me of the Swatch I loved dearly when I was thirteen. (It was reasonably priced, and she is in desperate need of a watch, so why not?)

That evening we watched Moana with my parents, and then whisked ourselves to sleep in preparation for the long drive home the next day.

All four of them cried when they woke up to go that morning, sad that they wouldn’t see their cousins again for who-knows-how long. I felt a little guilty . . . we’re planning a visit to California for midwinter break, but I want it to be a big surprise and so didn’t tell them.

A heavy snowfall hit Snoqualmie Pass that day, so we decided to drive home through Portland. This made the drive 15 hours instead of 12, but stopping for dinner at a burger joint did wonders to make it bearable. And like I said, the kids are old enough to withstand the longer travel times now. Hooray for video games, pajamas, and junk food!

 

 

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