We had - as we most often do - my husband's extended family over for Christmas dinner.  Even though the two-days' work of it beforehand sometimes feels a bit prohibitive, once they all arrive - noisy, laughing masses of them - it all feels well worth it. 

The kids have all grown up to an age where they're almost entirely independent and so we adults are freed up to selfishly pursue our own less infantile (or so we tell ourselves) interests.  Long moments of huddling over toddler -sized plates, painstakingly cutting up bits of turkey so they  no longer pose choking hazards, characterize these times together no longer.  The youngest in the group is my very own Oliver, who is a great, big, self-sufficient seven and who runs around frantically, shirt-tail sweatily untucked, with the very best of them.

There were 22 of us gathered together and to say that we were loud is a ludicrous understatement.  We aggressively clamored for conversational preeminence.  Once achieved, that heady position was almost instantly again stolen by the next extrovert.

The kids played pool, ping-pong and fooseball.  They chased one another around and basked in the delicious warm of spending long chunks of unscheduled time with not-oft-seen cousins.  It made me feel a stab of happy watching them enjoy themselves so much.  They didn't even seem to need the atrocious culinary excess to fulfill all their Christmas dreams in the way we adults most markedly did.  We ate till we felt sick and asked one another in a turkey-induced daze, "why would I do that to myself?"  And then we had dessert.

We had a white elephant gift exchange, which was the brain-child of my very clever sister-in-law.  We were allowed three steals per gift and it was a lot of fun.  I also loved that it didn't contribute to yet more excess, and in fact, allowed us to do some intentional regifting to those whom we felt would be more suitable recipients of the 'goods' we had on hand.

In a fit of Christmas generosity, I want to share a new-to-me recipe that a friend passed along this year.  Though to call this a vegetable requires a great deal of eye squinting and even some intentional misleading., we ate and loved this trashy little number this year.  It is the o-so-lofty and elegant sounding:

Sweet Potato Souffle

2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. cinnamon

Beat together.  Bake 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees Celcius until set in a shallow, buttered casserole dish.  Sprinkle with topping and return to oven for 10-15 minutes longer before serving. 

Topping (mix together in a small bowl):

1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup rice krispies

Anabel would momentarily cringe if she saw my gleeful use of the word 'teenybopper' in reference to her sweet self.   I remind myself of my Dad in the way that I find delicious the act of feigning to use the teen lingo, but doing so incorrectly on purpose.  She seems quite a bit more whole than I felt at that age, but I can tell that this newfound little guilty joy of mine still stretches her a bit.  Unfortunately, though, she's adapting quickly and the JoyBoy and I are having to be extra creative in keeping it fresh. 

Just the other day, when JoyBoy began to dance in front of Anabel and her 14-year-old friend in our kitchen, we were discouraged/encouraged to see her immediately join in.  Healthy for her, yes, but deflating for the parent who was giddily seeking the teenaged cringes.  Here are - for your viewing pleasure - some shots of some real, live dancing.  The afro features prominently, as I'm sure I don't need to point out.
Let's start off by pretending that this little series of photos is a Christmas card, shall we?  Sent specially and very considerately from our family straight to yours! 

Somehow or other, I didn't manage to summon the gumption I needed to get the non-cyber version of that project off the ground this year.   Here, instead, we have some scenes from around the JoyFam's house showing how we readied ourselves with tremendous excitement for the Christmas season.   Sometimes, before I begin with it all, I wonder if it's worth it.  The thought occasionally strikes that the decorating process might well be an exercise in assigning myself a whole new slew of unnecessary and energy-sapping jobs.   But then I see the little eyes lighting up all around me.  I see the two younger JoyKids literally dancing in place as they try to contain their joy just a bit.  I see the four of them in passionate 'team mode' running back and forth to the garage with new boxes containing treasure after treasure they'd forgotten we had stored away.

God bless you as you hang with loved ones during this season commemorating His sacred birth. 
Sometimes - I don't need to tell the parents and teachers among you - one needs to dig deep to find a consequence weighty enough to strike fear into the  heart of the receiver of it.  That proverbial sometime has come, today, to our home. 

The littlest Little can sometimes be just a smidge headstrong, as I think I've mentioned.  He's that joy-spilling-all-over-the-place type and his energy levels, while bracing and admirable, and even sometimes dizzying, sometimes find him in the way of Trouble. 

And when Trouble arrives and joins ranks with our boy Oliver, there is nothing more effective than the formal gathering up of his (pointedly, all male) seal family.  He weeps quietly as he does it and we all gather around watching, as it's the sweetest, most poignant thing we've all seen in a long time.  He kisses and hugs each of them and says long, protracted goodbyes, assuring them that he's sure he'll see them again soon.  Here you can see them at their very visible perch atop the armoire in our living room, waiting eagerly for the time to to ripe to be reunited with their very loving little Owner, errant though he sometimes may be.  You can plainly see the excitement in their eyes - loyal, loving little seals.
It's past midnight and I'm too jittery to attempt sleep.  My perch on the couch is tentative, to say the least.

Of my five immediate Loved Ones, four are currently up for intermittent bouts of huddling over the toilet - wishing for a quick death.  The toilet part is mostly wishful thinking as less than a third of the 'episodes' has actually involved one.  I'm on my third load of laundry tonight and there have been ample tears and "Why does God allow this to happen to me?"  The only one spared was not actually spared, but just the first little fellow to fall, and thankfully by now, his turn of alternating  retching and moaning has ended.  They're like dominoes.  Or flies. 

My hands are dry and chapped from exposure to toxic cleaners and from frequent dunks into newly soapy water.  My floors and the bedding in their rooms are pristine from excessive and oft repeated scrubbing.  I'm more than a little stunned that I'm still OK myself, frankly, and I'm thinking that my $12 flu shot - spontaneously purchased during a meander through Costco with my Dad - was well worth it.

JoyBoy, whilst splayed out on the couch in a sort of lethargic, vomit-induced desperation, helped me laugh in the middle of it all when he said,  this has taken some of the tinsel and sheen off of bulemia for me.  He then asked me to remind him to get the flu shot next year.
Check out Trale Lewous.  He's - really good.
When I look at photos like these, my heart swells a bit:
There's nothing like a true laughing shot for spreading around a little joy.
Groupon has finally moved to l'il old Abbotsford!  I'm a staunch fan of the Vancouver version and have already purchased three Groupons myself.  They are every bit as good as you've heard.  Click on this link if you're an Abbotsfordian who loves a bargain (you'll be earning me $10 in the process and who doesn't like to spread joy like that?):

In no particular order or quantity (just always remember to go heavy on the vinegar, feta and capers!), mix together the following and be ready to collapse from the sheer joy of it all:

cooked wheatberries (I like the unsoaked version - I love the bitey texture)
chopped purple onion
kalamata olives
chopped tomatoes
feta cheese
red wine vinegar (or white)
liberal quantities of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
a splash of olive oil
My sisters are two of the very most beautiful women I know.  Have a gander:
I'm the lucky girl who got to spend ten consecutive days with these vibrant beauties.  My goodness did we laugh.  We laughed till we felt a bit sick.  And then we laughed some more.  I'd forgotten how alive they are.  I haven't seen them on a regular basis since I moved out to go to university when I was 17, but they, on the other hand, have very literally grown up together.  They are similar to one another in most ways.   

I share most (if not all) of their food tastes.  Having married a very meat-and-potatoes kind of man, it's very exciting to me to be able to meander up and down grocery aisles with them, picking out favorites and then coming home to prepare it to find that they love it all too!  We glutted ourselves on poke, something I'd never heard of before, but what is now indisputably one of my all-time favorite foods.  It's a raw fish - most often ahi tuna.  It's cut into cubes and marinated in various concoctions.  I salivate as I type this description.  My favorite is a spicy one sprinkled with fresh roe, but let's face it, I've yet to meet a poke I didn't love, and love passionately. 

We carefully pored through cookbooks and chose exotic salads to prepare.  We ate a phenomenal wheat-berry one that nearly found me swooning.  We ate grilled eggplant stacks with goat cheese and a balsamic/red wine reduction.  We inhaled some amazing tabouleh.  We ate a miso/edamame/soba noodle salad.  And then there was the melon and prosciutto one that was all the more beautiful because we ate it on the beach while watching Jody twirl with the setting sun behind her (Despite the whimsical image this description evokes, it was really just downright hilarious and I nearly peed myself watching it all unfold.  Let's just say that there was some falling involved!).  We feasted on exotic cheeses and the girls introduced me to truffle for the first time (I'm sad to report that despite my very desperate wanting to love it, alas! I didn't.).  We found a favorite new white wine  called Cupcake that we originally bought solely for the beauty of it's label. 

We ziplined, which was a first for me and most definitively a trip highlight.  It wasn't as adrenalin-y as I'd hoped, but it was still so, so fun.  It was, in fact, my Christmas present from JoyBoy this year and it's a gift that I suspect will always rank high as an all-time fave.

We glutted ourselves on sunshine, golf-cart joyrides through places we weren't supposed to be and shopping.  We ran along the beach boardwalk and we did a new exercise class - zumba - which was also a  trip highlight.  I felt like a groovin' latina for a second there.  For the girl who can rarely make her body do what she wants it to do in the realm of The Dance, this was a novel sensation.  For one brief moment, I actually had my torso and my shoulders doing two separate things!

It was wonderful and I don't think I'll ever forget it.