Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Expanded Family Dinner

Last Thursday evening, I stood in a church parking lot with Maddie and Brenner who held the "welcome" sign they'd handcrafted with poster board and markers.  We'd waited and waited for a very late bus.  Julia and Isabel finally arrived from Spain, weary and exhausted, after a long, long day of travel.  We traded gifts: Westport hoodies from us to them. Malaga t-shirts and Barcelona water bottles from them to the kids, and traditional figurines and a Spanish cookbook for me.

My inability to see any child turned away from anything compelled me, at the last moment, to agree to host two teenagers in an exchange program based on volunteer housing.  Why not?  We didn't have anything novel going on this summer, and my kids would get a kick out of having a couple older girls in the house.  Plus, it would only be for three weeks.  With that, we had an entire weekend to prepare.  I had to let go of my urge to power-wash the floors and scrub the window sills with a toothbrush and vinegar.  There was nothing I could do about the dog hair stuck in the family room rug with the vacuum cleaner away for repairs.  Luckily, "the girls," as we refer to them are well-mannered enough not to say anything.

While the decision to house two students has forced me out of some of my household duties, it has simultaneously pushed me into being more creative about activities than I might otherwise be.  We had a picnic on the beach looking over Long Island Sound and the Fourth of July (oddly, taking place on July first) celebration and fireworks.
(Isa and Julia at Compo Beach for the fireworks)
I took all six kids for a day in New York City last weekend, visiting the Intrepid Museum, wandering Fifth Avenue, stopping in at Dylan's Candy Bar, and dining at a delicious Upper East Side brasserie.

We also invited other exchange students and their host families for a BBQ at our house.  You never know what will happen in a crowd of strangers, but we truly had a terrific time.  The party lasted a good two hours past my expectations, and we used just about every dish and tool in my kitchen to keep it going.
(exchange students on my back deck)
Tonight, though, we sat down for our second family meal - all eight of us - at our kitchen table.  I had hoped to use the yellow squash and zucchini in the enchilada casserole, but they are still a few days from picking.  Oh well.  It was still delicious, and it still reminded me of dinners at my friend Betsy's house aeons ago.  Warm and familial.  The Girls don't know the connection that dish conjures for me to the idea of extended family, but the intent was there.  I made Betsy's Mom's Enchiladas de Pollo (substituting veggies for chicken, of course) not because of its Spanish name, but because it feels to me like an invitation to join in the feeling of family.

(Betsy's Mom's Enchiladas - available in The Recipes)
I hope Julia and Isa are enjoying their stay with us as much as we are enjoying their presence here.  Imagine going to another country to live with people for nearly a month and finding out upon arrival that they're total whackadoodles!  I'd be scared out of my mind by that prospect, so I hope the home and family we are offering for these weeks meets their expectations.
(my extended summer family)
I am thankful for the opportunity to share my home and my family.  I am thankful for the opportunity my family and I have to learn about another culture.

I wish to learn Spanish cooking like I imagine my little figurine would do.
(my kids show Isa and Julia the hens)

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