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pool knittingSo we went on our Family Vacation, and lo, it was good.  I ended up driving down a day late with Big Brother, and then taking a day trip (which turned into a day and some sleeping trip) back to Dayton on Wednesday.  I had initially planned to come back to work a few days at the end of the week, so when Boss1 insisted that I take the entire week off to be with my family I hadn’t packed enough clean clothes to last the entire week.  This meant I had to run back for more clean underwear, and since I just happened to be there on Wednesday night, I headed over to the weekly dance too.  It’s hard to go without my dancing fix, plus there was a possibility that John the Baptist might be there.  After the crap he gave me for inviting him to dancing and then not being there the night he came, I thought it might be a good idea to show up.  He didn’t come, though Other John did.  I don’t think Other John realizes what a sensation he has created in the swing scene with the recumbent bike he rides to the studio.  It has running lights and other accessories, which impress certain people no end.  Godiva is still grumping that she didn’t get to see him ride away even though she stood watching him fix his brake through the window for twenty minutes.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get excited about it.  If it were a motorcycle, that might be different, but a bicycle is a bicycle, no matter how customized.

One of the things I picked up when I came back to Dayton (besides bringing in my parents’ mail, feeding Indy’s fish, taking back excess stuff for Big Brother, and finding the Duchess’s Little Pink Man – the stuffed doll she’s slept with her entire life) was my ice cream maker.  I’d been dreaming of frozen goodness for some time, though I was pleasantly dithering between remaking the Buttermilk Vanilla Frozen Crack, or maybe branching out into Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, or perhaps concocting something in the way of coffee ice cream.  My first attempt at frozen goodness, Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, went exceedingly well.  I had brought some of the really good, thick, strained Greek yogurt, which I mixed with some vanilla (I didn’t realize we had a lemon that I could have zested), a little Splenda, and a chopped up carton of strawberries.  That batch froze like a dream.  Before I put it in the freezer to harden I stirred in another carton of strawberries which I had sliced thin.  It was delectably good.

The second batch of ice cream did not do so well.  The back country grocery store nearby didn’t have heavy cream, only half ‘n’ half.  I figured it would be ok, and mixed it with vanilla, coffee concentrate made by diluting instant coffee crystals in only the tiniest bit of water, and a few beaten eggs.  Unfortunately, that batch just would not freeze.  I don’t know what the deal was.  Maybe some salt water got into the mix when I was refilling the outer tub?  Maybe this was a result of the (relatively) low fat content?  I have no idea.  All I know is that the stuff churned for almost two hours and never got more than slightly slushy.  It was quite a disappointment.  I was all for just drinking the mix like an extra-melted milkshake, but some of my sisters had other ideas.  They froze the liquid in ice cube trays, at which point they became the most hotly contested ice cubes in the history of our Family Vacations.  On the last night, I decided to try one more time, this time going the fail-safe route with Chocolate Pudding Ice Cream.  This was a concoction I came up with as I cruised the aisles of the small local grocery store after Mass on Saturday.  I whisked two packages of sugar free chocolate pudding into a pint of sour cream, and then beat in two quarts of half and half.  I poured the mix into the freezer, and it churned while we made dinner.  By the time dinner was served, it had become a gallon of smooth, lovely, gorgeous ice cream.  Every bit of it was gone by the time we left for home the next morning.

One of the fun (and sometimes awkward) things about being all together as a family is seeing the Impression we make everywhere we go.  There’s just such a lot of us, and we’re all so much ourselves.  That’s a poor description, I know, but it’s the best I have at the moment.  On Saturday we drove the family van (thirteen-seater, teal blue, with “Jesus Is Lord” written mirror-fashion across the front hood so that other drivers can read it in their rear view mirrors) to the tiny local country church for Mass.  Half of the parking slots were on the grass in front of the church, and my dad being who he is, he parked our huge van right in the middle parking slot directly in front of the church doors.  One of the locals, a slightly older man who, so help me, looked exactly like your stereotype of a hick in his Sunday clothes, helped wave Dad into the slot, and then stood by the door of the van being friendly as we piled out.  His first remarks were comments on what the size of our grocery bill must be.  Then, as he realized how many of us were female, he turned to Mom and said, “All these girls!  Are they married?  Single?” Mom helpfully replied, “They’re all single, every one!” To which he replied enthusiastically, “Whoooah!  Which one’s for me!?” I had to bite my lip hard to keep from busting out laughing as I went into the church.  But it didn’t stop there.  At communion I was kneeling in the pew, praying as I waited my turn to go up to receive the Eucharist.  Suddenly I felt a hand caressingly pinching the back of my upper arm.  I looked up, startled, to see that same man smiling down at me as he went by, waggling two fingers at me in a flirtatious wave.  It was, shall we say, memorable.

There’s lots more I could tell about our vacation, including Boy-O’s tickle attacks, drawing tattoos on one another with permanent marker, walks in the woods, afternoons at the pool.  There are sad things too, like those moments when I would look around thinking “Where’s Jacob?” and then feel my heart wrench all over again as I remembered.  Sunday was six months since Jacob left us.  At Mass on Saturday the closing song happened to be City of God, the same song Indy and I had chosen as the closing song for our brother’s funeral.  I don’t think a single one of us had dry eyes, though we sang it out just as loud as we always do, in four (or maybe five) part harmony, because that’s what my family does.  And yeah, the hard parts suck, but even they are part of the whole.  And life, as a whole, is still pretty darn good.