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Christmas In Fresno
December 20-25, 2017Dear Diary and Friends and Family,
Written December 23+
It's that season again. We have finished shopping and sending, I think, and writing the year-summarizing Christmas letter.
The tree this year is small, but cute. Outdoor decorations are limited to a single wreath on our front door. I think we cut back because we had not quite recovered from our long Arizona trip, or at least that's my excuse. Marianne put out most of our traditional decorations in the living room and dining room and Mamo came over to inspect. She liked it all. She's a tradition sort of person.
This year we made sure Santa and his reindeer would not have trouble with footing on Mamo's house by having the old shingles torn off and replaced. Good for another twenty Christmas Seasons at least.
I thought that was such a good idea that I decided to give Marianne a new roof for her art hut too. This was a very utilitarian Christmas present, as we tend to do nowadays. At least she won't have to worry about wet paintings in case California gets rain again. (Forecasts do not look good, however.)
On Friday (21st) Gabby picked the kids up from their last 2017 day of school and joined the holiday traffic. Three hours or so later, she pulled the big white car into the driveway to the warmest greetings. Sam claimed he was so tired he needed extra help. And he was just a passenger.
Inside, Mamo greeted her great-grand-kids and we started the weekend of gift giving!
Dinner was that old-time Christmas season favorite: tacos. From this first meal, I could tell our normal dietary discipline was going to go be forgotten. Oh well, there is still 2018 to repair any damage.
After dinner, the grown ups chatted while the kids settled in with their screens - educational games only, no "social media" yet! I wonder how long mom and dad can keep it that way. We will compare notes after every Christmas!
Friday turned out to be a full day. We started at Red Apple Cafe, our favorite breakfast joint, but lots of other folks must like it too. Squeezing in our party of six took the better part of an hour, but no one seemed to mind. I think it had to do with the holiday spirit. Nice.
From breakfast, we left Mamo at home while the rest of us headed in a couple of different directions. Marianne and Gabby "needed" to do some shopping -- and chatting. Hours later we would hear that they were successful at both.
Meanwhile, Ava, Sam, and I headed out on an adventure, a photo excursion. A pair of my favorite indoor photo grounds are Chris Sorensen's Studio and Kliszewski Glass, back-to-back spaces in the industrial area on Fresno's south side. The kids are only 6 and 8, so taking them to see art as it is made was a bit of a grown-up challenge, but I thought it would work as soon as we entered Sorensen's and the kids started taking shots of the iron shop.
Just inside the door, Chris Sorensen himself was sitting there making a sheet-metal flower. As soon as we entered, he asked "What's your names?" "Sam and Ava". At that point, he set aside his flower, and started a pair of new projects. First, he cut names out of a paint can lid and then he welded together the names, coat-hanger stands, a couple of metal flowers each, and his wire signature (CMS). The kids (and Opa) watched enthralled as Chris transformed "scrap" into art, as he has been doing for many of his 90+ years.
In addition to his own space, Chris Sorensen rents out studios and galleries to a couple dozen small artists. On this Friday, the three of us had complete run of the place and, for the most part, I let Ava and Sam determine where we went and what we took pictures of. In general, I took pictures of them, taking pictures. Each of them shot what struck their eyes. Shots are posted at the end of this diary.
Kliszewski Glass is attached to the back side of the rabbit warren of Sorensen's rented studios. Bob was not making glass this day, but he welcomed us to wander around - and make a purchase or two.
Like before, I took pictures of kids and Sam took pictures of what interested him, bear puppets and a purple monsters. Ava took no pictures. I think she was more interested in looking and, carefully, touching.
In the end, Opa had the Christmas spirit and bought a pair of glass pieces for Ava and Sam, an elaborate globe for Ava and a blue-swirl heart for Sam. Plus a nice vase for Gabby, as a thank-you for loaning me the kids for a few hours. A great adventure.
By now, it was time for lunch and the kids and I stopped for that standard-with-kids: pizza.
Back at Mamo's house, we told our tales and showed off our purchases. Part of Christmas giving.
No sooner were glass gifts shared than Mamo, Gabby, Marianne, Ava, and Sam all piled into the white whale (aka: Gabby & Mamal's white Caddy SUV) and headed over to Van Ness Avenue in its Christmas Tree Lane garb. Reports were all positive, even if picture-taking remained difficult. (Always is!)
Saturday, December 23rd. Magdalena Nagy's 98th birthday!
We all gathered at Magdalena's (aka Mamo's) house to wish her happy birthday and for some of Gigi's palascintas (Hungarian crepes). They are traditional, and hence a favorite for Mamo. At least one such breakfast is a requirement for Sam and Ava too. Mid-way through, congratulatory phones calls started coming in. A nice start.
While Mamo was catching up, the rest of us headed over to the Trotter house and some keep-the-kids-busy activity. On Friday it was photography of art spaces, but Saturday brought hands-on lessons. Gigi set out the workings for an acrylic-painting session and the kids grabbed brushes and went to work.
After art studio cleanup, it was back to Mamo's for the real celebration. The little tree was almost blocked by all the presents.
Marianne's sister Katinka and husband Rubin were there and pretty soon nephew Henry showed up with Kingston and Zaiden. Everyone started with hugs, making great-grandmother Mamo especially happy.
While Henry and the boys took a break over at their church activities, the rest of us ate the ham dinner Mamo had requested. Birthday people get their wishes, of course, but I didn't hear any complaints at all! Even Ava and Sam stayed cheerful, despite having to eat before present opening could start.
Henry and the boys made it back just in time and unwrapping proceeded with kid-friendly efficiency. No matter how long is spent wrapping, unwrapping takes only moments. (When I was a kid, my father insisted on a sort of one-at-a-time process, something I considered cruel at the time. Probably still do.)
The last official birthday activity was cutting of the Dobos Tort that Marianne had struggled baking for four or five hours. The multi-layer Hungarian specialty was a labor of love and Mamo appreciated both the cake and the sentiment.
All that was left was playing with the new toys. This year, six-year-old Sam demonstrated that he could assemble Legos all on his own, thus impressing four-year-old Zaiden.
Ava and Kingston enjoyed their gifts too, but somehow I managed to not find them with my ever-present camera. I think that, by the end of the day, even I was getting tired! But it was a good tired for everyone. (My story, and I am sticking with it.) Once guests had left, the six of us staying over at Mamo's crashed pretty quickly.
Sunday morning came earlier for me than others, so my job was to go get Starbucks coffee and hot cocoa. I worked in some time catching up on this diary too, so it really did seem like a regular vacation.
Breakfast bagels and scrambled eggs disappeared quickly and, in no time at all, Gabby, Ava, Sam, and Charli were packed up in the White Whale and on their way to a Rahimi family party a few hours later.
Once they were gone, Mamo's house was quieter than it had been in days. Mamo, Marianne, and I would have all preferred the noise, but we know we have to share.
Back in our own neighborhood, things were quiet too. Hazel and Emilie, the only kids resident on our block, had set out their Santa request: "No Coal". Cute. For the first time in years, there were no Christmas Eve candles on Cambridge Avenue, so I recycled this 2016 picture! Joan Selland saw this and volunteered to ressurect the practice in 2018.
Christmas Eve dinner was birthday leftovers, as tradition normally has it here. The food may have been as good on the 24th as it had been on the 23rd, except the Dobos Tort was, if anything, a little better. We managed to phone to the family in Monterey and we all used the speaker phone as it should be, with three people chatting in Fresno with a half-dozen in the Monterey house. Good use of technology!
At the end of all the gift giving and celebrating, I selected my favorites: cards from friends and a picture with Marianne, Ava, Sam, and me. Memories, that's what it is all about.
On Christmas Monday, Marianne took Magdalena to church and then home for breakfast. I hope they got in a prayer for me too. I dropped by, mostly to say Merry Christmas, but also to summarize the calls I had had with my boys and their families. We envy grandparents who are near ALL their kids, but with coast-to-coast families, we do what we can.
The last traditional event of Christmas on Cambridge Avenue is a drink or two at Nancy and Gene Towery's house. They have their family for the weekend and invite neighbors in to share their beautifully decorated home and Christmas spirit. Thanks!
And that's it. Another Christmas under our belts (and probably a bit more belt).
John and Marianne
ps: Our 2017 Christmas letter
pps: ALL our Christmases since 1997
In post-production, I generally treated all these pictures as I do my own. A little color correction and sharpening. And cropping when needed. Maybe because I did not have a zooming lesson for him, Sam's pictures benefited from the cropping. Interestingly, Ava's as-shot composition were generally fine, a good eye.
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