Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Preparations

Our weekend was very, very nice.

On Friday evening, Joshua and I had my parents over for dinner. We baked a small ham. While the ham was baking, we made homemade applesauce. Then, while the applesauce was finishing up, we made potato pancakes and glazed carrots. At the very last minute, we steamed some peas. It was a very nice dinner, as it turned out. For dessert, we ate some date/nut Christmas cookies that my mother had baked on Friday afternoon. They come from an old Norwegian recipe and they are one of my mother’s specialties—and they are my personal favorite kind of cookie. I could eat them every day.

On Saturday morning, Josh and I moved over to my parents’ house so that we could help them complete their Christmas preparations. The Christmas gifts Josh and I had ordered online had been delivered to my parents’ house last week, so the first thing we did was wrap and package the gifts for Josh’s family and take the package to the Post Office.

When we returned, we wrapped the remainder of our gifts and we helped my parents wrap their gifts, getting that out of the way. After lunch, Josh and I cleaned rooms upstairs while my mother did work in the kitchen. My father went back and forth, offering assistance as needed.

On Saturday night, we went out for dinner and, after a quick meal, we helped my parents do a little Christmas shopping. We were looking, mostly, for interesting toys for my nephew.

Today, after church, Josh and I finished our work cleaning rooms upstairs. When the job was done, there really was nothing more for my parents to have to worry about before my brothers arrive on Friday night. My mother will do some food shopping this week, and do some last-minute vacuuming and dusting, but otherwise she and my father are fully prepared for Christmas, more or less.

We listened to one piece of music all weekend, a work with a Christmas theme—the first, and probably the only, composition of Christmas music this year for all of us—but what a piece we chose: Hector Berlioz’s “L’Enfance Du Christ”, a three-part telling of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Is there a more sublime composition appropriate to the Christmas season?

The recording we listened to was the Colin Davis recording on the Philips label, with Janet Baker, Eric Tappy, Thomas Allen, Jules Bastin and The John Alldis Choir and London Symphony Orchestra.

I have always loved “L’Enfance Du Christ” and I have always loved this recording. Janet Baker and Thomas Allen are in marvelous voice and make a tender Joseph and Mary. Eric Tappy, with his distinctive and slightly tangy voice, is a distinctive narrator. Jules Bastin’s recorded voice has always seemed to me to be too dry—my parents say that he was just as dry-voiced in person—but his role, Herod, disappears after the first part.

What holds this performance together is Colin Davis, as good a Berlioz conductor who has ever raised a baton. His performance is delicate and sensitive, but it is also pointed, where necessary, and it maintains its concentration beautifully. “L’Enfance Du Christ” is a very difficult work to bring off—performances are often either too pastoral to the point of blandness (John Eliot Gardiner), or they try too hard to relate the work to Berlioz’s overtly dramatic works (Charles Dutoit And Charles Munch)—but Colin Davis conducts this work better than any other conductor, past or present. His work is expressive and contemplative, focused but not in a hurry, and he maintains the momentum of the story, an almost impossible task, all in all. Davis in “L’Enfance Du Christ” makes Dutoit, Gardiner and Munch in this same work seem clueless and inept, unstylish and inelegant.

Until this weekend, Josh had never heard “L’Enfance Du Christ”, and he did not like the work the first couple of times we played the discs. By the third or fourth listen, however, Josh started to like the work very much. By this afternoon, as soon as the 100-minute work concluded, Josh was ready to press the “play” button immediately in order to start the work anew.

On Saturday, Josh and I will fly to Oklahoma. Things have been interesting recently in Oklahoma, what with the snow and ice storms, another of which hit this weekend. Josh’s family has been without electricity a couple of times over the last week, and I told Josh that he needed to find out from his family whether he and I were still welcome as Christmas guests. My worry was and is that things in Oklahoma are still in disarray, and that our imminent arrival might become nothing so much as an unwelcome burden upon Josh’s family.

Josh’s family assured us that Christmas was still on, bad weather or not, and that Josh and I were expected to come, as planned—as long as the Oklahoma City Airport was open.

We are looking forward to spending Christmas with Josh’s family. I am looking forward to meeting Josh’s aunts and uncles, and spending time getting to know Josh’s family better.

Josh and I will get our things together for the trip this week. On Friday night, we will help my parents collect my brothers and my older brother’s family at the airport, and we will go to my parents’ house and have a preliminary Christmas celebration, during which Josh and I will exchange gifts with my family. Josh and I will give everyone our gifts to them, and everyone will give Josh and me their gifts to us. They will save the rest of the gifts until Christmas morning.

My mother is still trying to decide what foods to have for dinner Friday night—she wants to have something special, but she does not want to duplicate Christmas dinner. I suggested that she stick with something very simple and very easy to prepare, but she may not heed my wishes. She will, no doubt, have a very special dinner that night, both to welcome everyone home and to send Josh and me on our way.

This will be my first Christmas away from home. I think this will be very hard on my mother. According to my father, my mother does not look forward to my absence, to put it in the mildest possible way. Happily for her, she will have everyone else to make a fuss over while Josh and I are away. Further, Josh and I will be back two days after Christmas, and we will spend the remainder of the holidays at my parents’ house.

Compared to last year, this year’s Christmas preparations have been a snap, I think. Last year, it seemed that we spent the entire month of December preparing for the holidays.

Things were much more complicated last year for three reasons. First, my mother wanted to have a very special Christmas last year: we had missed out on Thanksgiving (we had been in Germany over the Thanksgiving period); it was my nephew’s first real Christmas (the previous Christmas, he had been only two months old, and he had been nothing more than a sleeping machine); and it was Josh’s first Christmas with my family. Second, having had no Thanksgiving last year, we had made no Thanksgiving preparations that carried over to Christmas; this year, in contrast, my Mom and Josh and I did a lot of work preparing for Thanksgiving while my Dad was in Zurich, and our Thanksgiving preparations carried over to Christmas, making things much simpler this year. Third, my parents had observed Josh and me performing our Christmas shopping online last year, and this year they decided to do the same, at least insofar as possible.

The result: this year’s Christmas preparations were completed, soup to nuts, in two weekends, and two weekends alone. I think that this must be a record for my family—and, moreover, my mother hardly had to lift a finger (except to do some baking, which she loves to do anyway).

This week will be a busy one for Josh and me. We have Christmas parties on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, we have to get our things ready for Oklahoma, and we have projects to complete at work before we go (both of us will be working every day this week). It is good, therefore, that my parents are taken care of.

Everything has fallen into place.


  1. Please tell me that you didn't grow the steamed peas in a basement hydroponic garden. Homemade apple sauce, indeed!

    We barely missed the ice storm bullet here. Memories of the terrible ice storm of 2002 are still fresh. It' truly miserable being without power, particularly when the lights are on at neighbors across the street.

    Have a wonderful time in Oklahoma. I await with bated breath an Ideals Magazine story of the miraculous Christmas reconciliation between Andrew and Josh's dad.

  2. Hello, David.

    The peas we steamed came from a Green Giant box in our freezer!

    Homemade applesauce is wonderful, one of my favorite things to eat (and one of my Dad's favorite things to eat, too). It is not hard to make, and it creates the most wonderful aroma while it is cooking.

    I am glad you missed the ice storm. Josh's family was not so lucky. Things have been terrible in Oklahoma.

    I do not even remember an ice storm from 2002, probably because I was in school at the time and not in the Midwest.

    I am looking forward to Christmas in Oklahoma and I suspect we will have a splendid time.

    Merry Christmas to you! And all best wishes for a Happy New Year!


  3. I hope you have a dazzling time spending Christmas in Oklahoma with Josh and his family, Andrew.

    I love Berlioz, but nothing can surpass my love for Green Giant peas and their other garden delights!


  4. J.R.:

    Thank you so much for your kind wishes! That is very thoughtful of you. I am sure we will have a wonderful time in Oklahoma.

    I hope your own Christmas plans are well under way, and I wish you a splendid holiday with your loved ones, full of happiness and good cheer!

    Green Giant peas are pretty good, aren't they? Just about the best around, in my estimation.

    Of course, Josh and I are big eaters, and we can plow through just about anything (except for liver).

    Have a splendid pre-Christmas week, J.R.!

    And thank you again.


  5. Andrew, I read Joshua’s writings about Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and I was startled to observe how penetrating and incisive was his biting dismissal of that reprehensible figure. What Joshua wrote was of professional quality. I want you to pass on to Joshua how impressed I was by his work.

    Andrew, please allow Susan and me to extend our heartiest holiday wishes to you and Joshua, and to both of your families. It has been a pleasure reading your blogs, and getting to know you, so to speak, and we look forward to making your acquaintances someday. We were almost miffed that you did not contact us before you visited Washington recently, but we understood that your trip was a short one, designed to spend two days with your former law school classmate. If you ever visit Washington for a longer stay, please let us know in advance. We would be delighted to take you and Joshua to dinner as our guests.

    In addition to what Joshua wrote, do you have any other thoughts about the Arthur Schlesinger autobiography you read while you were in college? He indeed was very middlebrow, as Joshua quoted you as remarking, but I would like to know whether you have any other thoughts about the book.

    Enjoy your visit to Oklahoma. Merry Christmas!

    Ron Brown

  6. Mr. Brown:

    And best holiday wishes to you and your family as well. I hope your sons and daughter will be joining you and Mrs. Brown for the season. Merry Christmas!

    If you like what Joshua wrote, please feel free to tell him yourself. I doubt that he would object to hearing that you liked what he wrote.

    I read "Innocent Beginnings" in the summer of 2001. What a misleading title! Arthur Schlesinger was never innocent!

    Like all Schlesinger books, it had to be treated as pure fiction. It was very, very long, and very, very tedious. Reading the book, I found it clear that Schlesinger, from a very young age, was an inveterate namedropper and social climber. He seemed to have matured by age 15 or 16, and never developed his maturity or character beyond his teenage years. That was his tragedy.

    He writes endlessly about cocktails and movies, Harvard and its professors, and his thousands upon thousands of "dear friends", none of whom springs to life on the page. It is all rather creepy, actually. Arthur Schlesinger never had the gift of friendship.

    If you have not already read the book, I would not bother, unless you enjoy low comedy.

    Seasons Greetings.