Arlington Times


It took family to raise the Christmas spirit | OPINION

By ROBERT GRAEF Arlington Times Editorial
January 16, 2013 · 9:55 AM

Christmas came and went. Somehow, I wasn’t able to get geared up for it this time around. That might have had something to do with no little ones around since so much of the joy is reflected from children. We seniors sometimes have to work at cranking up the enthusiasm to join in the general mood of the season.

We started with some mild outdoor decorating, mild because we’re now condo-dwellers with CC&Rs to observe. That stands for Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions which means our grounds are supposed to look like everyone else’s grounds and if we dare to try something unique, we’ll hear from the Conformity Police, i.e. the governing board of the homeowners’ association. So far, we haven’t caught any flak from lining our walkway with lights.

With one of our offspring’s family sunning in Hawaii and two others spending Christmas with the outlaws, we settled for pulling the family together on December 29. A son and daughter live at opposite ends of Lake Stevens and the other daughter lives in Sammamish (The apples didn’t fall far from the tree). So we’re able to get together often enough that there’s no need to be fussy about when our frequent and slightly riotous meetings take place.

The Christmas blahs also might have something to do with how the Graef clan rejects commercialized Christmas. Presents included homemade pickles and jellies. The grandkids got souvenir gifts from our last travels plus a few coins from Uruguay, Argentina and Chile to add to their collections. We adults do a wine exchange while the kids each received a gift card — everything from Sports Authority to Regal Cinema. In both groups, each person had one chance to exchange with someone else and since each person was covetous of what someone else held, this got a little wild.

We were fifteen around two tables. With a number of them leaning heavily toward vegetarianism, we offered two flavors of curry with chicken or shrimp options among fruit and veggie toppings. About toppings, I spent the morning turning onions, tomatoes, papaya, pineapple and bananas into tiny cubes. Yogurt and mint-pepper sauces and heaps of that Indian flat-bread, nan, completed the feast.

Curry and toppings took care of our end of dinner preps. According to a newish family tradition, the host provides a main entrée and guests bring the rest, which in the case of my younger daughter, Emily, can always be dangerous.

After desert, a pear upside-down cake topped with whipped cream, a call came from the kitchen: “Who’s for coffee?” On it came and it was only afterward that Emily passed the coffee package around. It was kopi luwak.

For the uninitiated, kopi luwak is also known as cat-poop coffee. It’s been found that civet cats in Indonesia have a taste for the best beans which they ingest but can’t digest so out they come, pretty much whole except for digestive juices cutting the beans’ acidity. Some adventurous Indonesian must have really been hard up for a cup of coffee when he became first to extract beans from poop found near a civet cat’s nest. The stuff is incredibly expensive which seems to add to its allure.

We have to watch Emily. She’s hoodwinked us before and she’s sure to try again. And with elephant poop coffee and panda poop tea now available — yes, it’s true, you can buy them on-line — she may not be through with us yet. At any rate, we gave our Hamilton Beach Coffee Station a thorough cleaning.

During a past Christmas exchange, she gave us each an odd-shaped piece of red plastic. After letting us puzzle over  what to do with them she stepped out of sight to demonstrate, producing a mellow flute-like rendition of Jingle Bells. It didn’t help. No one figured them out. Turns out, they were nose whistles. You breathe into one through the nose, changing pitch by changing the shape of your mouth. That was many years ago and I still pull mine out now and then to amaze friends or confuse enemies.

One year my son gave me a hand-crafted putter (with head cover). That turned out to be a piece of tree-branch with a right angle knot at the end, somewhat trimmed up to resemble a putter. The head-cover was a real head cover, a fox’s head with ears and little beady eyes he picked up at a tannery. A few stitches made it fit like a regular head cover.  It  holds the record for the most disgusting present I’ve ever received.

While the Christmas nonsense is over, the real and timeless message of Christmas will continue to guide our days. The tree is down and packed away. Decorations likewise. Furniture moved to accommodate fifteen has been horsed back into place. It’s all put away — except for recollections of another fantastic family gathering that remain fresh in our memories.

A happy New Year to all.

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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