Four pounds of thick cut hardwood smoked bacon. Two pounds of ground sausage. Four pounds of ground meats. Three pounds of pasta. Five pounds of new potatoes. Thirty-two eggs. Mounds of fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses and salad greens. Milk, Juice. A big homemade double chocolate cake. Wine~~lost count on the number of bottles of red and white. I’ll get back to this—for now, just read on and you’ll understand why~
Families—the ever-changing face of holidays, birthdays, get togethers and special occasions. Used to be that families geographically lived pretty close by and could share in most all of these things—growing up back in West Virginia that’s what it was like for me. Grandma lived right around the corner, and all of her eleven youngens and their families were within a few hours driving distance—so, most made the big events throughout the year. But today it’s different for many families including mine. So, this year with everyone going every which way—I decided to pitch the idea of finding a weekend where we could all get together—yes, just 48 hours and all of us under one roof where we’d celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and two December birthdays. It was truly a miracle when I sent the email, and then one by one, each began responding saying YES that weekend was free for them and their family, significant others—I mean how often does that happen without planning at least a few years in advance!
Everyone started arriving Friday—some early, some later. They arrived by car and plane. All young thirty-somethings in the throes of careers and their lives. I’d been planning for weeks—organizing, preparing menus, getting the agenda all ironed out, preparing welcome basket gifts for each couple—yes, I was the Big Cheese in charge of the Big Squeeze. Seeing the gigantic smiles on their faces, the hugs and laughter as each came in and saw everyone was worth every ounce of tiredness and exhaustion I was already feeling. I mean I’d just finished four days of intense filming for my cookbook trailer—there was literally no rest for me. Funny how you muscle up that extra energy when you’re ultra excited and you want to be a memory maker for those you love.
We would squeeze into this weekend more love, laughter and fun that would be imaginable! There would be a Chinese gift exchange for the big ‘kids’—everyone would get a famous quote from a movie—like ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ or ‘Houston, we have a problem’ then each person would buy a gift, yes, there was a money limit, based upon their interpretation of the quote—no one could go wrong! I mean it was that person’s perception—no debates, no arguments—only purrrrrteee silliness as gift were opened, steals were made and some got exactly what they wanted while others ended up with the most laughs, like a Norseman’s bone drinking cup to be worn around one’s neck (yes, complete with a very long straw!) thereby freeing one’s hands for other things!
The kids would have Santa come and Mama Ally, Pop, uncles and aunts would toss in gifts—presents would be opened and we’d all learn more about Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and new kids’ books like the book about crayons—and the day the they decided to tell Duncan that they were tired and wanted a reprieve from duties of coloring! Two big birthdays were celebrated—one-year old grandson, Jackson, and baby big son Nicholas who turned 33. They shared the traditional chocolate birthday cake that for decades I’d made for the boys for each and every birthday when they were growing up.
Names were drawn ahead of time by the ‘name drawing fairy’ so everyone knew who got each other’s’ name—yes, there was a spending limit—and each of us did our own shopping. No one was allowed to relegate this duty to someone else, like a spouse or significant other—yes, guys can tend to do this! We big ones would have our ‘Christmas’ morning of gift opening in this 48 hours—piles of boxes, bows, wrapping paper accumulated throughout the two nights!
I’d made for each son another ‘legacy’ basket—things from their life, their history, their growing up that they could now bring into their lives with their families. This year I dug out all the Hallmark ornaments that I’d collected for decades for each of them. These keepsakes had adorned our Christmas trees over the years—carefully and lovingly I’d always return each ornament to its respective box until the next year. Each had their very ‘first’ ornament from their birth year, plus many more from the decades—Star Wars, Wizard of Oz, Superman, Batman, and, yes, even Barbie! Then each got his Santa musical carousel that had enchanted them as babies—I was so thrilled and excited to see that the girls—yes, my DIL and hopefully soon-to-be DILs loved these baskets and were opening the bags of memories of their sweethearts, my boys but now their men.
No ‘big squeeze’ weekend would be complete without a holiday Griswold family outing—yes, that meant wearing corny Christmas sweaters for some or blinking Rudolph Red Noses! Our event was ‘The Night of a Thousand Candles’ at Brookgreen Gardens—we all piled into two SUVs and caravanned to this enchanted sculpture garden, the weather perfect—a chill in the air that was adorned with thousands of glimmering candles, glittering lights on massive old South trees with hanging moss, holiday cheer, jazz bands, a tree lighting and Santa’s workshop. We strolled, laughed, took pictures—we stayed together as a family, a unit—there was playfulness, ooohhhhhs and aaaahhhhhs, and lots of snapping of pictures with cell phones!
And, no big squeeze would be complete with the food, the meals—platters of appetizers showcasing special cheeses! Award-winning Bolognese, rigatoni and linguine pastas, loaves of hot French bread, salads, smoked pork butt and ribs, roasted vegetables, pancakes, waffles, fresh fruits, Shakshuka, biscuits and sausage gravy, cinnamon apples, homemade granola, Caprese—it was mystifying how most all was consumed with second and third helpings! All was prepared in Ally’s Kitchen. The entire family pitched in—from cooking and setting the table to cleaning up the pots, pans, dishes, serving platters and more—yes, we were the ‘Waltons’ all sitting down to big meals, giving a blessing of thankfulness for what God has bestowed upon us—our good health and bringing us all together.
Change helps us thrive. For sure, change, like oxygen, will always be needed to help us survive. And, this year the ‘big squeeze weekend’ will go down as one massively delightful and fabulous change for our family and how we are adapting to the newness of holidays, birthdays and special family gatherings as our family grows. No Thanksgiving, birthday or Christmas holiday could be any better than ours that was wrapped up in 48 hours of Griswold happiness!