April 12, 2012

There's Room for One More

I apologize that the video embedded in this post automatically plays.  I have no idea how to make it stop.  Just know that the noise you're hearing is a video that is automatically playing at the end of this post- so go and pause or stop accordingly.  And again, I'm sorry.

Not from this year, but to give you an idea of what a seder at Casa SuperMommy can look like...

You might not be aware of this, but condos in Chicago are not known for their spacious nature.

Listings are, to say the least, deceptive.  There was one very spacious place that fit the description to a T.  High ceilings, lots of storage space, nice kitchen... but that was only the top floor.  All the bedrooms were in the garden level.  And those bedrooms... well...

This was the Master Suite.  And that's my husband with his head in a convenient hole in the ceiling.  Convenient because otherwise, he couldn't stand up in that room.  Or the bathroom.  Or any other bedroom, for that matter.

Then there's our condo.  We lucked out with this place.  We managed to snap up a place with probably 1500 square feet, with two bathrooms, and with a very useful three season porch.

All of this is relevant information when you find yourself hosting a seder for 27 people.

Allow me to introduce you to my dining room.  When we moved in, it looked like this:
It always looks worse before you unpack.
You wouldn't know it, but this dining room has space for my dining room table to fully expand- which it does spectacularly.

Just how spectacularly?  Enough so that I genuinely believed that I could squeeze the bulk of 27 people around it comfortably to celebrate Passover.

When I announced this guest count to Grandmommy and Aunt Genocide, they were... skeptical.  After all, they've been in my house.  They know exactly how much space I have.  Me?  I have a can-do attitude and an encyclopedic knowledge of the furniture in my house.

I was determined that I could make it work.

Ordinarily, my dining room looks something like this:

...littered with toy food, crayons, bibs, and other assorted grubling related garbage, of course.

Now, the big bookcases and the desk certainly couldn't go anywhere, but I figured we could relocate the unneeded furniture into our guest room/sewing room/soon-to-be-nursery for the time being and make a little more space.  Aunt Genocide offered to bring some folding tables that she *said* were 3'x5', and so I made a seating chart.
Not included- the seating arrangements.  More heavily planned than my wedding.
The explodey looking thing denotes the seat where Moses* (in this case Aunt Genocide) would sit.  Seats with stars (there will be more later) are high chairs.  The bench is the sewing bench from my sewing table, and I knew I could use an old couch cushion from the chaise lounge we got rid of a few years ago as its back (I keep it as a back support for times, like now, that I'm working from bed).  That whole wall, essentially, is windowed, so the window frame would serve to hold up the cushion just fine.

Yes, there would be no circling the table.  But at least there was a bathroom in either direction, so anybody *could* get up and use it if need be.

It's not just a matter of squeezing people in though.  There's also the seating arrangements to take into account.  There's family tradition to uphold.  The most important of these is that children and those who have never been to a seder ought to be as close to Moses as possible.  The next most important seating tradition is that husbands and wives do not sit together.  This applies to other coupled couples as well.  You have to enjoy your freedom by meeting new people, not by giggling under your breath about the unintentional sexual innuendo in our family haggadahs.

I put a lot of work into that seating chart.  I agonized over it.  I made sure the skinniest people were squeezed into the back, farthest from Moses.  I figured out which children would sit where, which parents were required to attend their children, which children could be counted upon to share the bench without complaint.  I mentally measured each of my guests to determine which of my largest attendees should sit where in order to get the most room in the cramped quarters.

But oh, the hubris of planning a dinner party.

On the day of the seder, when we were setting up for the first time, it became clear that this simply wouldn't work.  Why?  You can only fit five chairs along each side of my fully extended table.  That, and Aunt Genocide's folding tables are actually more like 2'x4".  Good thing she brought three.  What we actually had looked like this.
This meant moving Moses.

If you count the chairs, you'll find that we're at least four seats short.  Four.  That's a problem.

We squeezed.  We argued a little.  We scratched our heads.  I came up with a brilliant idea.  Every single piece of furniture needed to be moved- except the immobile desk and bookshelves, of course.  During naptime.  Mere hours before the seder.
This fits everybody!

It didn't work.  There was absolutely no way that people were squeezing into ANY of the chairs on the ends- including Moses.  We'd have to try again.

We added Aunt Genocide's last folding table to the mix, brought the side table back into the dining room, and tried again.  This time, we got a little more creative.
Start counting those chairs...

That's right.  We only managed to add two seats.  Just two.  We were still two short, but at least the people who *could* sit down were going to be marginally more comfortable.  At this point, my children were awake.  The seder was to begin in less than three hours.

This is when Aunt K, I believe, came up with the genius addition of our TV trays.  M and I happen to have a set of four, and this is where it all came together.  How can a TV tray make such a huge difference, you ask?
Boo-yah.  27 seats.

That's how.  Now, the TV trays are about four inches shorter than the tables, which posed its own problem.  But with the OED Concise Edition (two volumes) across one, my 1987 World Atlas on the other, and both protected under the table cloth by the girls' place mats... it actually worked.  The two TV trays in the middle just had to be recessed.  Which didn't make too much difference, since the side table is four inches TALLER than the other tables anyway.  In any case, it would work.

I started the seating chart over again from scratch.  I squeezed children into the end with Moses, which was good because not only do they take up less space than adults, they can't be counted on to stay seated through our family's typical 3-4 hour seder.  I removed and then put back my father's spot over and over again, unsure as whether he would make it (Poppa had spent the whole day at the hospital- nothing serious, but we had no clue when he'd return).

That was when people started cancelling.  From the time we finally had the tables set up until they were all set, we first lost one guest, then gained another, then lost another two, and then lost another one.  By the time we were counting out plates for the four courses (and one for everybody already on the table), our final count would actually be 24.  It was a huge relief.  I wrote and rewrote and rewrote the seating arrangement, desperately trying to maintain all the family traditions.  I almost succeeded.  And this is what it looked like:
Those blue shapes represent ceremonial objects.  Sadly, I didn't manage to squeeze in a real chair for Elijah.  He got his plate, though.  So if he had showed up, he could have eaten.
The rectangles are our family haggadahs.  Yes, they are that big.  The blue shapes are seder plates.  The squares are matzah plates.  I'm pretty sure I missed one or two on this diagram.

I managed to get most of our largest guests on the hallway side- good, because getting around them from the kitchen with hot food was going to be impossible.  My great-aunt Judy, a tiny woman, was squeezed between the two largest people there.  I'm sure by the end of the night she had a crick in her neck.

But of course, that's not all that went on the table.  By the time it was set, it looked a lot more like this:
The ovals are place settings (minus the wine and water glasses), the red clusters are charoseth, parsley, and salt water, the ovals are relish dishes, the tiny circles are bowls of nuts, and the larger circles are bottles of wine.  Which yes, we ran out of.
And if that doesn't seem crowded enough, keep in mind that there are 23 sets of elbows on this table, that there are pitchers of water, an additional three sets of candlesticks, that there are two ADULTS sitting on that sewing bench, and that the chairs all take up more space than usual because they all have pillows on them.  The seder requires that you recline- and that means pillows.  And that means chairs take up more space.  Or that people pull their pillows off their chairs, thus cluttering the area around the table further.

Then there's the food.

We served the first course- a hard boiled egg in salt water- in tea cups.  We had plenty of those.

Then there was the matzah ball soup.

Then there was the main course- black currant lamb (or not lamb for me and the other vegetarians), brown rice pilaf with cranberries, a green salad, Greek lemon potatoes, and roasted asparagus, onions, and sweet potatoes.

And then there was dessert- plates of candies, plates of Aunt Genocide's ingberlech, a tray of my friend Chris's amazing macaroons, my grandmother's pecan cake, fruit salad...

And then there was tea and coffee.

Everybody was stuffed.  And most were more than a little drunk- after all, the seder requires that you drink at least four glasses of wine.  At least.

It was chaos.

It was fun.

And now, thank God, it's over.

Coming up- recipes for a few of those amazing foods I just mentioned!

Today, here.  Next year... anywhere but my house.  :)

*Some say that the leader of the seder is acting as Moses- teaching the assembled people and leading them out of Egypt.  I like this idea.

1 comment:

  1. Did you know that Anne Baxter's grandfather was Frank Lloyd Wright?

    I don't ever want to miss a family seder again.



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