Husband of mine has been a busy little bee with our basement. Over the past month, he has ripped out the hideous paneling (side note: it wasn't attached to any drywall. It was just hanging there by itself. Who thought hanging barely 1/4 inch paneling as a wall was a good idea??), ripped out the baseboards and door frames, hung drywall, mudded and sanded about 50 bazillion times, painted, and is currently putting in and painting the trim. His dad has been guiding him a lot through this process and has come over many times to help with various parts. He's even lent a bunch of his tools - we currently have his miter saw, nail gun, and air compressor hanging out downstairs (we also have an old vacuum of theirs since Nate's insistence on not borrowing the shop vac has led to our vacuum becoming so clogged with drywall dust that it doesn't suck anymore. At least, that's my theory, and I'm sticking to it).
FIL is an engineer. He was actually in the Navy for a while and was going to be the guy in charge of the nuclear part of the subs (and therefore the most loved man on the ship), but seasickness and a desire to actually see his family caused him to switch to the Air Force after about a year or two. He's amassed a collection of tools and knowledge through his various assignments. When they lived in Dayton, he redid all the bathrooms because they were dating the house (colored fixtures, wallpaper, etc). When they moved into the house they're in now, he made friends with the foreman and finished the basement (with the plans from the builder) himself for a fraction of the cost. He wasn't going to build their deck, but after getting scammed he ended up doing that, too. Nate has often said that his dad got more work done when his oldest brother was helping, but that FIL had more fun with Nate and his other brother. Now, he wishes he'd paid attention more closely and hadn't tried to weasel out of it so that he would have learned more.
Not only has FIL been an enormous help and source of knowledge, but MIL has been letting her husband leave during his free time (she's a bit of a crew widow currently with fall training and regattas) and coming over weekly to help me out with the kids that I felt like I had to say thank you somehow. Notes aren't really enough in this case. So I made them dinner.
It was a stuffed vegetable recipe I'd made before, but doubling the recipe never ends up quite the way you want, and I'd never doubled it. Plus, I forgot to add the parmesan to the filling, so between that and some tweaks I didn't do, it wasn't the best I'd done, but it was still tasty. And man, the ingredients were BEAUTIFUL. Red tomatoes, orange and yellow bell peppers, green zucchini, purple onions, white garlic cloves, leafy parsley, fluffy bread, marbled ground meats...if I were able to, I would have taken a picture of all the raw uncut goodness, but alas. We tasted the rainbow, and lo, it was delicious and healthy.
Also, I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil in the bread recipe and WOW. Fabulous. The crust was a little crunchier and the inside so light it was almost lacy compared to the normal vegetable oil. I wonder how much is because I baked it in their oven (they have a convection oven that I think runs a little hot) instead of the difference in oils.
And the chocolate chip cookies were nice and soft and chewy (this is an ongoing experiment between me and SIL - different recipes and potentially measuring utensils, stand mixer vs. food processor, my oven vs theirs).
BIL asked if I was trying to outdo their mother. In truth, feeding people is almost impossible for me to not do. I will cajole almost anyone into eating something and will feel like a terrible hostess if someone doesn't have even a glass of water. I'm fairly certain it's in my blood - my family puts Jewish and Italian grandmothers to shame when it comes to guilting people into eating. It's also pretty much impossible for me to make only as much as needed (see entry about Mom buying 20+ lb turkeys for only 12 people), so of course there were leftovers.
And yet, just as Nate wishes he'd paid more attention to his dad when they were doing house projects, I wish I'd paid more attention to my mom when she was cooking large meals. I can do really well for smaller meals, I have her pizza down pat and tweaked for my own tastes, and I'm getting my timing down a little better for things like meatloaf and mashed potatoes and rice and when each thing needs to start cooking so everything is done simultaneously, but my mom is a master. I would panic if I suddenly had to do Thanksgiving or Christmas myself, and yet she's got a huge turkey stuffed and roasted with a gazillion sides all done perfectly and concurrently, plus desserts. It's amazing.
If I had to take one trait from each parent and in-law for my own, I'd probably want my FIL's building knowledge and skill, my mom's cooking prowess, my MIL's organization, and my dad's unparalleled generosity. I like to think that I'm a giver, but my dad puts me and pretty much everyone else to shame. He's not much for picking out Mother's Day presents or doing huge things for Christmas, but he is a year-round giver. He traded the family van for my little coupe when Freddy was born. He randomly bought some DVDs of a TV show he found for Rosie. He regularly fights my grandmother for the check when there is a family outing. He took the van to the shop last week when we were having starter trouble because he felt bad that it happened within 6 months of the trade - and this is not the first thing he's fixed or helped fix on it. One of my favorite stories I have is from college. I got a phone call from one of our FOCUS missionaries asking for a ride from the metro - he didn't realize the buses stopped running early and he either didn't have money for a cab or couldn't find one. I asked him if he had any food in his apartment (it was New Year's, about halfway through the winter break, and he'd been gone for a bit) and he said he might have some canned stuff. I told him that I might be a little longer because I was going to make him a plate of food. So I went up to the kitchen and asked my dad, who was putting away the food, where the ham was. He said it was in a container in the fridge. I told him I was going to make the missionary a plate, and all of a sudden he was piling mashed potatoes and green beans and ham into containers and putting them in a bag, then tossed in a bag of rolls and some cupcakes. "Uh, I was just going to make him a dinner plate..." "He's a missionary!"
And really, my MIL is a good cook, my dad is a handy guy, my FIL is a generous man, and my mother...well, she's not organized, but she can sew well (she made Rosie's baptism gown). If I learn anything from any of them, I will be a better person. And if I can't learn that skill, I know someone who is willing to help and teach my kids.