06 April 2016

Good Pride

As I lie in bed last night, exhausted but insomnia making it impossible to sleep, I wrote out a majority of this blog post in my head. But here we are today, Theodore is fussing in his bassinet because he woke up too early and is having trouble going back to sleep, the girls have decided after three bites of peanut butter Cheerios that they are "all done" with breakfast, and me struggling to find the words that flowed last night. This is real life - beautiful and chaotic all at the same time. My coffee is hot, I'm eating a healthy granola-topped yogurt for breakfast while I type on my new, working computer to the sounds of a now sleeping baby. Yet on my left is a child who thinks if she just says, " scuse me!" she can burp wherever whenever and on my right is a child who is trying to feed me my coffee - "Mommy? Coffee? Coffee, Mommy?" and someone (maybe both?) is poopy.

I hosted two dozen people on Sunday, all my in-laws for Easter (but on Divine Mercy Sunday). A few of them thought I could host in my apartment, but Matt and I held off, knowing the absurdity that would be so many people in such a tiny space. I've only been in my house for two months and I have a four-month-old, but the gig was up when my mother-in-law, moving boxes in hand, enthusiastically shouted, "Jacqueline! You can host Easter!" I figured it would be easy since we usually celebrate Easter on Easter Sunday and only a few people can make it. But since it was my first real hosting, we were outvoted and the date was shifted to Divine Mercy Sunday so everyone could make it.

But I switched things up hard core. You see, while we were in Florida and Chicago, Matt's family started delegating the holiday cooking. (I'm not saying anything here that I haven't already said to someone in person.) It's not uncommon for me to bring 4-6 dishes to someone else's house for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I'll be assigned an appetizer, dessert, side dish or two. I'll need to bring a chopped and washed vegetable for the veggie tray and fruit for the fruit tray. Someone is assigned chips, veggie dip, one year someone was assigned butter for the rolls. When we moved back to Michigan, I'd find myself standing with a huge belly in my tiny apartment kitchen trying to wash, boil, and mash enough potatoes for two dozen people when I don't even like mashed potatoes.

So I pulled a 180. For my party, I forbid anyone from bringing anything more than a six pack of beer. And even that was optional. You'd think everyone would relish the break, but I actually had to fend off emails, "Are you sure you can handle it? It's a lot of people..."

In true Jacqueline fashion, I selected a fresh, never-before-used notebook and embraced the planning and organizing. I drew up a menu, I make a schedule for baking and cleaning, I invented a game the whole family could play and spent evenings making it. I tracked down enough tables and chairs and I spent one afternoon tying napkins around plasticware with yellow yarn. There were hand-dipped truffles under a glass dome and a bouquet of pastel flowers on every table.

I kid you not. I'm a hard worker. I'm not very smart and my social skills are embarrassing, but at least I have "good work ethic" going for me.

The celebration opened with a family-wide, girls vs. boys game. Pick a category (animals, chores, places you go), act it out charades style, get your team to guess as many as you can. For each correct answer, you get a random piece of bunny (head, body, or tail). Assemble your bunnies (Franken-bunnies are allowed) and the team with the most bunnies wins. The prize? The winning team gets to go through the dessert line first.

Matt acted out "Things You Wear" with a pink toddler fedora on his head, slipping into invisible tights and sashaying across the room in an imaginary dress. My white Ikea couch was filled with girls laughing so hard they were nearly crying while across the warm, hardwood floors, the guys were sprawled out across our too-large coffee table, letting out cat calls. Abigail, Eleanor, and their similarly-aged girl cousins trotted back to Eleanor's room to play with stuffed animals and the sweet brown sugar glaze on the ham wafted out from the kitchen.

My home was filled with loving family and delicious food.

After the game was declared a success (the girls won - by three bunny heads), we settled around the extra-long dinner table to say prayers and dig into the meal. I spent an entire week baking, cooking, and cleaning (one or two dishes and one or two chores per day) to ensure the vast majority of food would be homemade (except the pie crusts, I hate making pie crusts). Monday and Tuesday including things that would keep - truffles and chex mix - and I made the potato salad and fruit parfaits on Friday and Saturday.

We enjoyed dinner: (precooked) ham, tasty potato salad, roasted broccoli, mac 'n cheese (in the slow cooker), and brioche bunny buns.

CP: I found a glass glue, let it set overnight, and now it's as good as new!
My family made the effort well-worth my while with their compliments: "Wow, this looks amazing!" "The potatoes in your potato salad are cooked perfectly!" "The broccoli is really good!" "I loved that ham!" My girls did wonderfully in their crowded house: gobbling up mac 'n cheese - Abigail even ate potato salad! - and laughing when their cousins laughed. As soon as the kids were done dipping their bunny buns in "syrup" (honey), they were begging to do the Easter egg hunt.

That's right, when Aunt Jacqueline hosts Easter, she throws an Easter egg hunt in the mix. 80 "Jesus Lives" eggs from the Oriental Trading Company stuffed with mini yoyos, mini beach balls, mini Robin's Eggs, and other assorted mini treats. Every egg labeled with a name and hidden in our basement - among 250 ballpit balls. Kids tore through the basement. "I can only find 5! I keep finding Ethan's eggs!" "Can you give me a hint?! I can't find any of my eggs!" A few of the little kids declared every egg they found to be their eggs, Eleanor found two or three of her eggs and then just sat down in the middle of the basement and started eating the candy, Abigail thought the eggs were super lame and just started gathering up the ballpit balls in her basket and throwing them in hopes of starting a game of catch. There was so much fun and excitement that one kid actually got overwhelmed and broke down in tears, two of the mini beach balls ended up with holes in them, and one of the bunny mugs cracked right down the side.

Then we filed back upstairs for dessert. Snickers bar pie, baked Alaska fudge pie, mini apple pies, lemon truffles, cookie dough truffles, and peanut butter cookies. I am totally on a truffle kick right now. Hand-zested and squeezed lemons hand-dipped in melted Ghirardelli chocolate. My nine-year-old niece declared loudly, "I love everything Aunt Jacqueline makes! It's so good!"

By this point in the game, my pretty Easter dress was stained, sweat had flattened my hair and caused my new mascara to flake off, and I needed another spritz of my favorite perfume to hold off the smell of sweat, but it was totally worth it. My mother-in-law sought me out, gave me a big hug, and said, "Thank you so much. This was so relaxing and the food was so good. I hope we run holidays more like this in the future," then hugged me again. My father-in-law made eye contact and said, "good job, Kid." Twice. That's the highest praise I've ever gotten from him.

I set out the snacks (chocolate M&M pretzels, parfaits, homemade chex mix, a veggie tray with (store bought) hummus, and three homemade loaves of cinnamon bread shaped into stars), grabbed Theodore, and collapsed on the couch.

Pretzel + Hershey kiss at 250 degrees for five minutes + M&M = ...

A total crowd pleaser
I made three just like this one that I made in my apartment on Christmas Eve
Now that everyone was full and the kids were content to play with their new toys, the adults settled down around the tables to play some board and card games. Sitting on the couch in an exhausted heap, nursing a hungry and tired baby, I just looked around the room and soaked up the company: the passionate discussion about getting the best deal on a truck from a dealership, an eight-year-old explaining poker face to her grandma ("You can't be all 'boo-hoo' if you get the Old Maid. You just have to pretend like you don't have it." "So, you need a good poker face." An annoyed, confused look: "What's a poker face?"), my sisters-in-law discussing how much fun a girls trip to Costco would be.

It was definitely a ton of very exhausting work to host two dozen people in my new home with a four-month-old, but the pleasure that comes from serving others and having that service appreciated makes me eager to do it all over again. To watch the stubborn brother-in-law seek me out in disbelief, "your star bread is really good!" To have my intimidating father-in-law tell me with all sincerity, "Good job, Kid." For my food-loving sister-in-law to exclaim, "You're hired for all my birthday desserts!" To have it all happen in the house we worked so hard for and searched so long for - it fills me with a good pride. A pride you get from serving. I am happy and proud and filled with a sense of belonging and purpose.

Ever since we moved in here, my life has felt picture-perfect, too-good-to-be-true. Easter was an extension of that. A beautiful chaos of stained dress and drippy mascara while someone shouts, "I love everything Aunt Jacqueline makes!"


Kindra said...

Post request: How do you make your "cinnamon bread shaped like stars"? It is beautiful and sounds wonderful! (If you want to share your secret.)

Jacqueline said...

These things taste as if they came from a bakery! http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/cinnamon-star-bread-recipe

Kindra said...

Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

This is my all-time favorite post. And it's not just because of the cinnamon star bread recipe. The pictures, content, writing, rhythm, joy, peace, and love that permeate it make for a truly winning combination. I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you! TB