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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ordinary Miracles like Sunday Dinner

The Farmer and I have five teenaged daughters between us. Now, that might sound like a lot. That might even be unfathomable or overwhelming to some. At our farm wedding, friends joked that we should probably just keep the rented porta-pottie, because the Farmer would likely never see the inside of his own bathroom again. But the keyword here is “teenaged”. At this phase of life, the girls don’t spend a whole lot of time hanging around the farm. They have school. And jobs. And oh yes, boys.
Sometimes three or four days will go by before we see our children. It’s a good thing we like spending time together, because it seems as though the nest is already empty, some days. On the miraculous occasion when all five girls are in the house at the same time, I can’t help myself – I run for the camera. It’s the only chance I have to grab a group photo. This phenomenon – like the aligning of the planets, only happens once in a very long while.
In today’s busy lifestyle, it can be quite a challenge to instill traditional family values. You can shout out a “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” (that usually works to at least slow them down) as your kids are running out the door to one social event or another, but it can be difficult to pin them down for quality time at this age.
Occasionally, however, life will throw you a curve that stops you in your tracks. When my father found out that his cancer was terminal on September 11, 2007, we just wanted to freeze the calendar and never turn the page. It was during that time, when we wanted to find a way to celebrate life with Dad, that we drew upon one of the last vestiges of traditional family life: the Sunday dinner.
Mom, Dad, my sister Cathy and her partner Mark, my nephew Riley and as many of our five daughters as we could summon would gather at the farm for a casual-yet-celebratory meal each Sunday. After a few weeks, the Farmer’s wing of the family joined us, making the trip out from Ottawa. Soon we were feeding 15 to 20 people every week.
Some of the guests bring casseroles, salads, or fresh bread. Nearly everyone brings beer or wine, and the Farmer’s mother always brings dessert. This dessert is never store-bought; it is a homemade pie, squares, or cake that she made from scratch earlier that day. Her chocolate cake with cream cheese icing is so good; we had her make three for our wedding day.
I am not a big dessert eater, but I always have a sliver of whatever she brings, out of awe for her talent. I baked a cake once. Once. It was a sour cream chocolate cake with a layer of strawberry jam. My father’s favourite. I made it for my daughter Milena’s sixth birthday. It was so hard, it resembled a brick. Since that failure, I have decided to leave the dessert baking to the experts. And for that, I believe, my guests are truly grateful. I stick to what I’m good at: tossing a salad.
The Farmer, of course, is in charge of the meat. We have some farm-raised chickens and turkeys in the freezer – I am still waiting to see what he plans to do with the beast marked 39.8 lbs. He loves to make dried fruit stuffing for poultry – but he has also stuffed pork. His prime rib is first class, and if he can cook the meat on the bbq, he will. He particularly likes to use his specially adapted rotisserie.
We normally send an email on Thursday, and do follow-up calls on the Saturday if necessary, to determine how many people we will be feeding. We sit by the woodstove in winter, and on the back porch in nearly every other season, nibbling on appetizers, catching up on each other’s lives and waiting to see who else will show up. Occasionally we will be faced with a fishes-and-loaves situation. That’s where you have to streeeeeetch the meat to see how far you can make it go.
This past Sunday, we were expecting eight. Some people are away on vacation and others are sick at home with colds. When the phone rang and it was my longtime friends Janet and Roger Stark asking if they could drop by to meet the new horses, I invited them to stay for dinner and eight became ten. I never know if our college student daughter is going to make it, but she did, with her boyfriend. Then we were twelve. A few minutes later, another one of our other daughters arrived, friend in tow, and twelve became fourteen. I forgot to count my nephew (shame on me!) and our party rounded out at fifteen.
I didn’t think we had enough meat to go around, but I figured we could fill up on vegetables. After a glass of wine or two, good conversation and a few laughs, I figured no one would notice if there were no seconds on the roast beef and ribs.
As it turned out, we even had some left over for Cody the noble guard. And for about ten minutes at the end of the evening, when the last of the daughters came home, we had all five of our girls under one roof. Miracles do happen.
But some of them escaped before I could get my camera.

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