Monday, September 16, 2013


Of the gifts we give our kids each year at Christmas, there's one gift that everyone seems to love the most: the gift of "Experiences" or "Adventures" we'll enjoy in the year ahead.  Jeff and I select 6 experiences (roller skating; an overnight biking trip to Washington, D.C.; tickets to a play; and rock climbing are examples of some of our past adventures) and space them out every other month or so during the course of the year. We present the adventures in a calendar or a scrapbook as a tangible reminder of the memories to come.  Christmas 2013 was our third year of gifting experiences, because it's been such a big hit - so much so that the kids had their own suggestions to offer.  One suggestion was a "Culinary Adventure" where we would dine out at a restaurant unlike any we'd been to before as a family.  As a bit of a foodie, I thought the idea was pure genius.

Thus, in early September, we headed over to a top-rated Indian restaurant in town called Milan.  We left right after church for the lunch buffet, and as is our custom during Christmas Adventures, we sang several rounds of Christmas carols during our drive. "Jingle Bells" was still echoing in our ears as we walked inside the beautifully and tastefully decorated restaurant.  We joked like it felt like we were at our own home, because the dining rooms were the same deep purple color.   

Our agreement with the culinary adventure was that everyone would try the food and keep an open mind.  Because lunch is served buffet-style, we knew there would be many good options, including some familiar foods.  Immediately, all three boys loaded up plates of jasmine rice and naan.  Leo and Pax both reached for "hold onto's" (chicken legs) that were similar to the oven-roasted chicken they love so much.  They added fresh fruit and veggie fritters to their plates.  Although they did not profess a love of the food, they were good sports and great company.  Meanwhile, Aidan, the adventurous eater, tried pretty much everything on the buffet.  He devoured plates of food, loving each bite.  He asked how soon we could come back.

While the food was fantastic, my happiness that day came from the adventure itself, everyone's willingness in going along with the plan, keeping an open mind, and trying something very different from our usual fare.  The best part? is how much our adventure felt like a gift to our family.  I can only vaguely remember a few of the store-bought gifts that were unwrapped last December.  But this gift?  This culinary adventure? This one, I will remember for a very long time.  I will retell the story of how much fun we had, how adventurous we all were, how many compliments our family received, because admittedly, we kinda looked like rock stars with our three little kids thoroughly enjoying their Indian cuisine experience, making us look pretty awesome.  Merry Christmas, indeed.

A week later, we went to the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello.  We went last year and loved it, so all of us were filled with excitement and anticipation as we rode the shuttle to the top of Monticello on the clear, crisp Saturday morning.  I deliberately left my big camera at home that day, choosing to savor the time we had together and avoiding the distraction of trying to capture our memories in a photo.  I regretted it, though, and was glad for the few I got on the ipod.

We talked to characters dressed in period costume as they put us to work building arches.

Aidan carved a lamb out of soap, and Leo and Pax played darts using replicas of the ones Jefferson's grandchildren used.
 We played Mancala.

Everyone played Hoops on the lawn outside the house...

...and later, we jammed to the music of local artists, adding our own rhythms and beats on gourd maracas, bongo drums, and tambourines.

The boys worked hard at splitting logs in half, then stacking them to create a long fence:

Aidan chatted with employees he knew from his summer camp experience, and we ran into friends from church who convinced us to try donuts, which turned out to be the best I've ever had. We listened to a local dairy farmer talk about the milking process, and we watched the folks in the fiber tent spin wool into skeins.  We ate amazing food from three different food carts at the festival - brick oven pizza made with super fresh ingredients; amazing vegetarian BBQ jerkfruit in naan; and a delicious po'boy from none other than our next door neighbor, a chef who recently started his very own food truck business.

We drank beer in commemorative stainless steel cups from Devil's Backbone, debating whether the Oktoberfest, the IPA, or the Pumpkin Ale was the best.

As we lazed in the grass under a gorgeous blue sky, listening to a local folk singer talent, my eyes welled up with tears of happiness, with so much of it.  Seemingly feeling the same, Leo looked up at me moments later and asked, "Mom, is this a Christmas Experience?"  I hugged him and said "no, this is just a fun family day."  But it was a day that turned into a gift, etched into the collective family memory.

No comments: