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Birthday and Christmas

December 21-25
Written December 23+
Dear Friends, Family and Diary,

It's that time of year again: Magdalena's Birthday and Christmas.  Born on December 23rd, 1919, she has spent almost 100 years sharing the season and, since we started our Fresno life, so have we.  Twice the partying!


d181221_14_justinham.jpgThe first "family" event was a trip to Chase's Chop Shop in Madeira to pick up a ham for Magdalena's birthday dinner.  Sister-in-law Leisa was  a "Chase" before Chris made her a "Hidas". Her family runs the Chop Shop and I think getting meal main course meat there may be a new tradition.  (That's her nephew Justin handing Marianne our ham.)

I started off the 22nd with a Skype call back to Maryland.  These Saturday-or-Sunday calls are a weekly tradition now. It is nice to have a way to connect over the distance, especially in the Christmas season.  On this Saturday, Sean got some assistance building a Lego crane that was a Christmas present to older brother Ryan, several years ago.  Congratulations on keeping all the pieces together! (and on successfully completing the project yet again.)

Back home, we waited for Gabby, Ava, and Sam to make it through holiday traffic.   The drive was a bit more than the standard two-and-a-half hours, but everyone arrived as cheerful as ever.  A nice tradition!
With Mamo at the head of the table, we settled into our first family meal of the weekend.  THIS time it was relatively low calorie, not a practice we would maintain.

d181222_08_restaurant.jpgAfter lunch, it was playtime for Ava and Sam while Mamo, Gigi, and Gabrielle chatted in the kitchen.  Family women's tradition, I suppose.  I was part of the play group.  The game combined "doctor's office" and "car dealership".  Ava or Sam would ask me questions, while they took notes. At the doctor's office Ava helped me as I reported kidney problems, a broken leg, and a tooth cavity.  At the car dealerships, she helped me order a fuschia-colored Jeep while Sam helped me order a second Jeep, blue this time.  This was a variation on the "restaurant" game Ava first played when she could only scribble.  Now it's full written records and Sam has almost caught up.  Imagination that will serve them well.

As sundown approached, Mamo, Ava, Sam, Gigi, and Gabby headed out for a drive down Christmas Tree Lane.  This has become an annual tradition and, in accordance with that  tradition, I stayed behind. For some reason, just not my thing and, besides, the car was full. (Pictures later)
After the lights, we headed to More Than Pizza for a few calories.  Ava brought Lucas, her newest doll. Mamo entertained the little "baby" with the same Hungarian traditional hand-tickle she has used on little kids for ages. 

d181222_20_virtualmamal.jpgBack at Mamo's house, we all got comfortable for a sleep over.  Mamal had sent over a box of GREAT cookies, just to be sure we didn't starve.  (Unfortunately, he could not make the Fresno festivities because he was helping his own mom and dad.  Good luck to them all.)

Sunday, I started with my traditional before-everyone-gets-up trip to Starbucks for diary preparation.  A tradition I like, but work was cut short to make it back for 99th birthday festivities.

d181223_02_bkfstpresent.jpgBirthday gift #1 was two pounds of of bacon - because Mamo likes the bacon Gabby always has at her house.  d181223_08_serve.jpgd181223_04_samhelp.jpg
d181223_10_eat.jpgWhile Gigi and Gabby cooked up the food, Sam finished the table preparation.  Then, Ava helped with serving and we all enjoyed the good start to the day.

d181223_22_flowers.jpgThe big morning event was the arrival of Mamal and his mom.  They had been busy taking care of Mamal's dad, but at the last minute arranged other family help and made the three-hour holiday drive (both ways!). A great surprise. 

d181223_32_avamamo.jpgThe rest of the visit was spent talking and playing.  Ava practiced her piano and interviewed Mamo for a school project.  Mamal worked on Sam and Ava's throwing and catching.  Very traditional for holiday activities.

Of course, with all the family together, we HAD to take posed pictures, lots of them.
Between all the posing and talking and wishing Mamal and Mommanie a safe return journey, there was the serious job of preparing a nice birthday dinner.  Ava helped with the table this time and the setting really was special, as it should be for the start of Magdalena's 100th year.
At about six, more guests arrived.  Marianne's sister Babi and husband Ruben were joined by her son Henry, wife Scarlet, boys Zaiden and Kingston, and a new puppy, "Diamond". Charli Ann got along fine with the new little playmate.
For dinner, the crowd was big enough to warrant a "kids' table".  I suppose this is a tradition among family gatherings as well and everyone seemed to get along fine, with minimum adult supervision.  Good examples.
After dinner, we all sang happy birthday to Mamo.  The cake had two "9" candles, much safer than a one-candle-per-year arrangement.  Zaiden helped her blow out the candles at least a couple of times.

d181223_70_presents.jpg Finally, it was time for presents.  The kids really had waited patiently through all the adult eating, talking, and what not.  They even waited for a picture.d181223_72_ready.jpg
Gigi was our Santa this year, distributing gifts left and right.  Breaking tradition I suppose, I did not manage many photos this time. However, you can imagine the traditional unveiling of Legos, toys, socks, clothes, and a final round of ornaments. 
I did manage a picture of Sam and the drawing we gave him of "Jumping Giants", a classic 2012 pose of San Francisco Giants celebrating an important win.

After gifts it was a round of cleaning and more good-byes.  By now, the kids were zombies, almost falling asleep in place.  We all were asleep before long.

The next morning came early and so did the goodbyes.  Let's try to make it again next year - on completion of Magdalena's 100th year!

After all this activity, Christmas Eve approached quietly.  No kids.  No presents.  Taco salad for dinner - with champagne since it IS a holiday, after all.

However, there was one last tradition for the day: Cambridge Avenue luminaries.  I am not sure how long this has been going on, but for much longer than the five Christmases we have seen here. This apparently originated as a charity fund raiser for a young resident of the street who has since grown up and moved away.  Somehow, his family still organizes the tradition and we all thank them!

"Luminaries", for the uninitiated, are small candles placed in a sand-weighted bag.  Street tradition has us place and light them on Christmas Eve.  Kids are the preferable placement labor, but grownups can manage it as well.  This year, many of us got an early start, hoping the predicted rain would hold off for successful lighting.  It did, and as darkness arrived, the sidewalks sprouted light.  Nice.
The rain did arrive, but just a slight sprinkle to add a bit of sparkle to the scene.  Here are eight houses that seemed to dress up well.
A nice tradition, for sure.  We WILL repeat this next year, maybe passing the hard work to a new volunteer.  Anyone?  Anyone?

On Christmas morning, Marianne took her mom to church, another tradition.  No pictures, but you can imagine a church populated with occasional and regular Catholics.
 Breakfast was back at home, bacon, eggs, popovers, and freshly-squeezed orange juice.  I could get used to this sort of celebration.  (Pictures pending)

d181225_10_towerytree.jpg In the afternoon, we had one more tradition: Christmas cocktails at the Towery's.  Nancy and Gene invite neighbors to join their family for a couple of hours chatting and drinking.  Reportedly, this is a tradition of over 30 years and we are the privileged newcomers (just five years).  As dinner approached, we left them for their family table.  Nice tradition all around.
And that was Christmas.  Now we need to recover from a bit of extra eating, drinking, and non-exercising.  At least until the New Year!

John and Marianne


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