We have just returned to Boston after spending a week in Kansas for Christmas. I took my nieces and nephews out on two trips to local bookstores for what has become my holiday tradition: we spend an afternoon browsing and talking about books, often over a hot cup of cocoa or tea. Together we whittle down their selections to one (or sometimes two!). Then I take the books home, wrap them up and pass them out on Christmas Eve when we exchange family presents. I like being the Book Aunt!
I try to follow the 90/10 rule when giving advice about their selections: 90% based on their reading pleasure and 10% of my deeply passionate beliefs about what they should be reading. It is sometimes tempting to impose my reading habits, but I know such selfishness could actually cause them to dislike my choices AND reading. So I give in a bit or a whole lot.
I arrived in KS on the Sunday before Christmas and spent the week book shopping and hanging out with family. L. arrived on Wednesday night and my parents took us out to Montana Grill, owned by Ted Turner and famous for selling the bison meat raised on a ranch miles from the restaurant. Bison is good--tasty and the product of my home state (see my food philosophy).
Friday we rose with the sun and headed off with my parents and M. for a day trip across the plains of western KS. The sun rising over the wild prairie grasses, especially in the Sand Hills, never fails to be awesome. It was a four-hour drive to Damar, KS, where my mother grew up. We stopped to see the Garden of Eden in Lucas, KS and for pie and coffee in their diner (where smoking is still allowed--not that we smoke, but it seems important to convey the essence of the place).
Damar is an unassuming place with a gorgeous church. We made a waffle brunch with eggs cooked in bacon fat before we headed out for a walking tour of the town. We even had time for cousin Brenda to cut L.’s hair. Did you know that there are feral hogs in KS? I had just read about them in the New Yorker. Turns out our cousin’s husband had killed a 350 pound one last year. The trophy dear heads mounted on their living room wall confirmed his prowess.
After another round of coffee, we headed back to the car for a return trip with a view of the setting sun. Why the long drive? I wanted L. to see my mother’s town.
Christmas Eve all the siblings—except the youngest who is wandering around Brazil—met at the church for the 4 o’clock children’s service. Our family took up about 4 or 5 rows and made a fair amount of extra-liturgical noise and activity. After mass we all returned to my parent’s house. Christmas Eve dinner for 25 is a bit much and we have some finicky eaters to account for. In years past we have all eaten at McDonald’s (the shame!) or ordered pizza. After much menu discussion I was put in charge of making chili and baked potatoes with various other toppings. It was a hit. Kids ate. Adults ate. Happily too.
Then the good stuff: We all gathered in our living room (you have to imagine lots of squirming little bodies) to listen as Grandpa read the Christmas Story. This year Anna cuddled up next to him and “helped” him read. There was a stillness as he read the story. Perhaps it was the quiet before the storm of gift giving. After the story, we all shared how we spent our $100 in remembrance of our Grandma Kelley, my dad’s mother. Then we gathered our gifts to be donated in a large Santa sack. Finally, it was time to exchange family gifts. The wrapping paper was deep very soon.
This year Matt made us all caramels, Kathleen made us candied popcorn, Sarah crocheted white delicate ornaments and angels, Margaret made us rich (with lottery tickets!), and I gave the others a set of tea mugs. Presents galore!
Sunday morning we awoke to Santa’s gifts and then started to work on the Christmas Lunch. (I mostly "worked" on lunch by staying out of the kitchen.) At one o’clock we all gathered again (this time minus a few cousins) for turkey, goat (a new tradition as of last year, locally grown by the Amish), mashed potatoes, dumplings, stuffing, meat dressing, squash, and cranberry sauce. Then. . . Matt’s pies: apple (so light, crisp and fragrant), pecan, and pumpkin.
Christmas weather was a balmy 60 degrees. After that big meal it was divine to walk around the neighborhood and see the colors of the setting sun change the prairie grass from gold to pink and back again.
Just a few highlights from our holiday in KS!
And I didn’t even mention the NuWay!