Monday, April 6, 2015

Weekly Update: Easter Family Reunion

It felt strange being back at home again, even if it was only for three days.

By the time I arrived in Victorville on Thursday night, everyone was already there. My sister-in-law Shantel had flown in from Oklahoma to visit her grandfather before he died. She'd brought her one year-old-son Tyson, whom I'd seen twice before in all my life. I wanted to spend time with him, but so did everyone else.

My sister Jaime and her wife Paola drove in from Seattle, bringing their new dog Selina in tow. The black fluffy chow mix made fast friends with toy poodle Lincoln and formed an uneasy alliance with the old pitbull Shadow. While the dogs slept in the yard, Tyson ran around the house with Jaime and Paola, having already made friends with them. My mom, of course, had fallen in love with her new grandbaby. I had to somehow squeeze myself into the mix.

Selina sleeps through all the fuss.
I wanted to spend time with the adults, too. But Shantel was caught between funeral arrangements and meeting old friends. Jaime and Paola were constantly going back and forth between their two families. Mom was running all over the place, and Dad was trying to get everyone committed to a single activity (ultimately failing). Sometimes it felt like our family was pulling apart like taffy, literally stretching to accommodate the different geography. It was hard to realize that I was now on the periphery, instead of in the center.

But, you know, right as I was at the height of feeling frustrated and miserable, I just chased around the baby and the new dogs. And that helped me feel like part of the family again. This Easter weekend had moments of stress, moments of frustration, moments nostalgia, moments of laughter, and moments of peace. In the end, it was all about family.

* * *

We knew Tyson was probably too young to dye Easter eggs, but we'd already bought the egg dye and we had nothing better to do. I went to work boiling fifteen eggs. (Or rather, sticking them in a pot of water on the stove and forgetting them until Dad yelled that the pot was boiling over.) There were six adults and one little baby, so I reasoned we'd each have about two eggs each.

Unfortunately, Tyson decided that all the eggs were his. He grabbed them and dropped them into plastic cups.

Sometimes Tyson dyed two eggs at once.
The dyes splashed on the table. Jaime had the enviable task of both holding Tyson up and trying to clean the mess with a white cloth that very quickly became multi-hued. The whole time, Tyson stared at the eggs with the intense expression of a tortured artist.

It was also Paola's first time dying eggs. Not that Tyson cared. He took her still-drying eggs from their cardboard holder and dunked them into new colors with his bare hands. I managed to protect my one egg that I'd patterned with bunny heads. But almost everyone else fell prey to Tyson's artistic vision.

Admittedly, his eggs came out looking pretty good.

* * *

For the last two weeks, Mom kept telling me we'd have to figure out what to do for our Easter meal, but the conversation never progressed beyond that point. Suddenly it was the Saturday before Easter, and we needed to go grocery shopping. Mom was harried.

"Make a brunch menu,"she told me as she ran out the door. "Ham!" she added as an afterthought. So, aside from the dead pig centerpiece, I had complete creative control over our meal, which is, honestly, just the way I like it.

That was how, at 6:30, before I'd even gotten dressed or made my morning coffee, I found my self finger-deep in sticky dough, rolling out homemade chocolate scones. They came out warm from the oven and everyone ate them as a kind of pre-brunch snack--including Baby Tyson.

I think he approved!
But I had only just begun to cook.

My Easter brunch menu included blueberry crunch coffee cake, made-to-order omelets, French toast, the obligatory ham, scalloped potatoes, and both fruit and vegetable salad. The vegetable salad was a simple mixture of spinach, cucumbers (soaked in salt water to take out the bitterness), and sliced orange and red bell peppers, with optional toppings of almonds and dried cherries and a Bordeaux cherry vinegarette. (I used the thick, syrupy vinegar I bought at Taste It!) I mixed blueberries, kiwi, mango, mandarin oranges, and pineapple to make a rainbow-hued fruit salad.

The Fruits and Flowers of my Labor
Somewhere in between sticking the potatoes in the oven and mixing up the salad dressing, I took a detour outside into the brisk morning air, maneuvered around scampering puppies, and picked the biggest roses from my dad's garden for the centerpiece. (I considered picking the irises, but only two were blooming and I didn't want to cut them.) I accessorized the table with two eggs (one stone, one hard-boiled) and crystal glasses with napkins inside made to mimic the flowers' shape. It was simple, but very spring-like.

It took 4 hours to prepare this elegant feast and all of about 20 minutes to consume it. This didn't bother me, though. I had fun playing restaurant and I think I pulled off a pretty darn good brunch. And the best thing was that Mom and Dad happily did the dishes, leaving me with all the cooking fun and none of the clean up.

* * *

My brother Tyler, who's in the army, had been in the field for the last few weeks, making communication impossible. So when his name showed up on Mom's cell phone Saturday night, it was a bit of a surprise. Mom was brushing Tyson's teeth, but as soon as she'd learned I was talking to Tyler, she yanked the phone out of my hand mid-sentence and unceremoniously left me with the baby. (Who, by the way, promptly grabbed my toothbrush and popped it in his mouth.) Tyler said he'd take a plane to Victorville. We'd see him for Easter.

He came in the middle of the afternoon, still in his fatigues and looking very brown-baked from the sun. We got about five minutes to talk to him before Shantel grabbed him to take him to her grandfather's wake. While Tyler would be home for a couple more days, I was going down the hill.

"See you in two years," my brother said.

Sadly, it wasn't a joke. Tyler's scheduled to be stationed for Korea for at least a year, possibly two. And since it was hard to visit him in his base in Oklahoma, this was it. We hugged and said goodbye and that was all. The brief family reunion had come to an end.

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