Friday, January 06, 2006

On intimate terms with the Jersey Turnpike and New York Thruway

Well, I survived the holidays and am now only hip-deep rather than neck-deep in the Lower Ninth Ward of office work. It was certainly worth it, though. The highlight of the trip is that no one broke a leg, and the kids were actually very good for the ridiculous number of hours they were strapped into their car seats, though they ate a frightening amount of raisin bread and the always-popular Subaru Trail Mix (Cheerios and Craisins).

We began our odyssey in Deep Jersey (Clark, to be exact) for a surprise 30th anniversary party for Ben’s father and stepmother. A good time was had by all, since the host had laid in plenty of beer, the company was excellent, and the basement was chock-full of dolls and other amusements for the girls. Sarah bonded immediately with the nine-year-old daughter of Ben’s stepsister. Not only is she not intimidated by older kids, but she loves being around them, and when leaving school, she sometimes dashes up and hugs various bemused-looking fifth-graders.

The next two days were spent with Bubby elsewhere in New Jersey. The kids adore her and she had some swell Hanukkah gifts for them (including fleece blankets and denim skorts). Actually she had mailed them to us some weeks earlier and then called repeatedly to make sure we got them. I was a little lax in my reassurances since I didn’t want to actually open the wrapped gifts to verify the contents, which caused her to return to Mailboxes Etc. and demand a refund for items she was convinced had never arrived at our place. It seems that memory loss, while generally a major drawback, can be profitable at times.

Next stop: the Catskills, for a visit to friends we met in the South who were staying at his father’s ski lodge. There was more organic food than you could shake a stick at, as well as a brain-melting quantity of noise from the combination of six children aged three months to five years. But the best part was the skiing, even though it was raining. I took a lesson for the first time and began to learn the first few basic things I’d been doing wrong on the few occasions 30+ years ago when I got on skis. And boy has the equipment improved -- shorter and wider skis, lighter boots, etc. (though still a wee but too snug around my ample calves). The kids also took a basic lesson, learning how to do a pizza (“snowplow” for us old fogeys) with hands on knees. Sarah loved it, of course, and Ben is already an excellent skier. Great -- another expensive family hobby. Why can’t they just stick to used paperbacks and Tivo’d episodes of Spongebob Squarepants? Just kidding. I think.

Finally, we wound up in the outskirts of Albany to see Ben’s cousin and family for the cousin’s surprise 50th birthday. Yup, another surprise party -- more gleeful yelling for the under-six set. Sarah made him a beautiful booklet of drawings, complete with charming phonetic spelling and a juxtaposition that resulted in an unintentional tribute. One page ended with his name, and the following page had the words “A Jewish Star” (with a nicely colored-in six-pointed star, of course). It’s easy to assume an ellipsis between the name on one page and the characterization on the next. Yet more organic food, but also more beer, since it happened to be New Year’s Eve. While the menfolk were whipping each other’s butts downstairs at ping-pong, some of the others (including me and the kids) shook our groove things accompanied by a party CD that surly 13-year-old son of cousin had made for the occasion. And since we were in upstate New York, my contribution from the local Hannaford’s was a Saranac product: “The Twelve Beers of Christmas.” Yes, 12 different flavors in one box o’ fun. A good time was again had by all.

Then home again to cozy domesticity -- a mound of laundry and grocery shopping, as well as a few last Hanukkah gifts. I got me a bunch of cool new earrings and a painting by Ben’s talented artist cousin. From me, his haul included socks (always the perfect holiday gift, I think) and a sudoku book, which he liked a little too much -- he spent all day Sunday in a mumbling torpor on the couch solving just one of the puzzles.

So much for the travelogue. I close with a noteworthy current-events quote of the day, which really needs no comment, but I’ll offer two anyway: (1) this is exactly why intelligent people are disgusted by televangelists, and (2) the fact that these clowns have power and influence indicates that stupid, intolerant people are abundant in this country. Gee whiz, imagine if Pat had gotten to be president, or maybe secretary of State? The intestinal contents liquefy at the very thought.

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