The last few days have featured a few social events, which has been welcome after diving into this school-driven "underground" mode. Other than that, I hadn't had any time with folks since Easter, other than a BSG night two weeks ago, before the little ones of my friends all started passing around some virus to one another. Given that I'd spent January to March in a long run of one flu, cough, cramp, etc., I was warned off from coming last week. Still, I got to see Dan and Amy last night when we went out to dinner to try out this new Ethiopian restaurant downtown. My experience in Africa was all Arab and not sub-Saharan, and I'd never really tried out any specifically-African restaurants in the U.S. before, so I had been curious about this restaurant the last few weeks since I had first spotted it. We kicked around some plans, had Mike and Donna drop out toward the end because of the afore-mentioned viruses, and gathered yesterday around 5pm with the three of us being joined by Andrei.
Except... no Andrei. There had been a bit of debate on the way over – mercifully, Dan and Amy had offered to pick me up on the way, as this would have gotten more complicated for me had I just gone on my own as I'd intended – as to which Ethiopian restaurant we were heading toward. I'd clearly been talking about this new one in our emails, but Amy spoke of one on Farwell in addition to this new one on Wisconsin. We ended up downtown at the Wisconsin one, Alem Ethiopian Village. And no Andrei, who is usually quite punctual. We ended up calling the other restaurant, finding him there, and summoning him, feeling quite tacky for poaching a customer from one Ethiopian restaurant for another. (We vowed to go to the other, next, as a penance of sorts.) The owners of the other, the Ethiopian Cottage Restaurant, are friends of Andrei's from St. George's Orthodox Church, so that made us even more amused/mortified.
Once that was settled, though, and Andrei appeared, it became a relaxed evening. I had a yummy lentil soup with Amy and I trying glasses of Ethiopian honey wine, which I'd never heard of before. I went with the sweeter one, an "Addis," and she the most bitter "Negist," with me liking mine and she not so much hers. She and Dan split a meat dish and a vegetarian one – this being a very vegetarian-laden menu – while Andrei grabbed a vegetarian sampler and I went with a mild beef and vegetable dish that was not much different at its heart from the stew my Mom would make on occasion. The trick was figuring out how to eat Ethiopian-style with the unusual rolls of spongy injera bread torn apart as your primary "utensil," which was new to me. Casual talk, mostly about family and school, just made for a pleasant evening out, with us finishing up before eight so that Dan and Amy could get home to put the kids down.
My big social affair was the traditional packed First Birthday Party that my sister has hosted as a social debut for each of her daughters, this time it being Sophia's turn. The birthday girl actually held up impressively well, I thought, for all the oddity of a house packed with a few dozen well-wishers and their wired children. Grace was pleasantly social, though Haley was a little more stand-offish and at one point told me in no uncertain terms that she was not my niece: she was "Mommy's niece, and Gracie is Mommy's niece and Sophie is Mommy's niece." She's been doing this "I'm right about everything" bit lately, and so I didn't bother trying to explain the difference between nieces and daughters and just shared a laugh with Dad through the whole lesson.
I had been heading out the door for Leslie's when the phone rang, with a voice it took me a moment to identify as Kevin's telling me that he was on 5th Avenue at the moment. This was repeated and, as I figured out who was talking to me, I had a moment's panic that he meant 5th Street and that Kevin was surprising me with a "Hey, I'm in Milwaukee on business and I'm stopping by" surprise, which would have been awful had I just been dashing out the door for Chicagoland. But he did indeed mean that he was on 5th Avenue, in the 10-person deep crush of a crowd straining to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI as he drove by after saying Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral. I told Kev I couldn't talk and why, wished him luck in his seeing and in finding Frannie, who'd gone off looking for the good bagels, and heard him laugh and tell me he'd send a phone-photograph, which is included to the left. I don't know yet whether they had just hopped from Wyoming to New York just to peek at the Pope but, if so, mission accomplished.
Back on my own journey, I went by Mom's new apartment with Bill and Helen to see it now in its finished state, which looked wonderfully comfortable, and to just enjoy some quieter talk there before the party actually started up at Leslie and Jim's place. Joe and Daniele were already at my Mom's when we arrived, so that added to the fun, to get some time with them before blending into the larger crowd. They took the "Classy" award for the year, though, by the end of the day. Making sure not to rain on Sophie's parade, they waited until the end of the day to announce that they were thirteen weeks pregnant. (I had already headed back to Milwaukee, where I went straight to the coffeeshop to continue grading, and so ended up finding out by email, which was just as cool.)