(Okay, fine, I'll stop with the bad alliteration subject lines. But it's just so much fun!)
So, it turns out that finding a menorah on the day before Chanukah begins is actually just as difficult as I had feared. I tried six different stores, with responses ranging from, "Yeah, I'm sorry, it sounds like everyone is sold out," to, "I dunno, the Christmas stuff is over there." I have a lot of empathy, now, for Jewish people at this time of year, because there was usually one tiny little section hidden away in the middle of eight rows of red and green stuff, completely picked over. I managed to get candles, and chocolate coins, and dreidels, but no menorah. Tired out from shopping, I gave up and headed home to fashion a menorah out of whatever materials I could scrounge around the house. And Chanukah-blue modeling clay.
It wasn't until my guests showed up and pointed it out to me that I noticed the similarity between my menorah and a yule log. Oh well, I guess if I'm mixing traditions, I might as well go all the way.
My father-in-law had clipped three latke recipes out of the paper for me, and as I looked them over, I realized that all three were basically variants on the same shredded vegetables + egg/flour mixture + fried in oil theme. This, coupled with the fact that I still had no idea how many people, if any, were coming to my Chanukah party, led to the brilliant invention of the make-your-own-latke bar, which I foolishly forgot to take any pictures of. Having my digital camera semi-working again might take some getting used to. I shredded somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 pounds of vegetables, giving my food processor the best workout it's had since that time my neighbor told me to please use up the tomatoes in her garden while she was in Germany. I shredded potatoes, sweet potatoes, green zucchini, yellow squash, green peppers (which, FYI, do not shred well), carrots, fresh parsley, and onions. I also put out chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and a gluey mixture of eggs and flour (1 egg to a 1/4 cup flour), and a whole bunch of little bowls for mixing. Then I heated up three pans of oil, and let people fry their own latkes, using whatever combination of traditional and not-so-traditional vegetables they desired. I also made a tasty mint-garlic yogurt that went fantastic with every latke variant I tried (1 cup plain yogurt + 1 tsp. dried mint + 1 Tbsp. minced garlic + 1 tsp. each salt & pepper).
Forty-five minutes after my party was supposed to start, my first guest arrived. I should have known that 6:00 was too early for people to get home from work and over to my house. So, the menorah remained unlit until many hours after dusk, but I think God will understand. Several friends from church ended up coming, too, which was nice, because I've been meaning to have them over for a while. After dinner, we played with dreidels, which I proved to be not very good at. I had made a cheater dreidel with the English rules written on the sides in Sharpie, but when that dreidel proved slightly imbalanced, we switched to a regular dreidel, and were surprised at how quickly we learned the Hebrew characters. "It's the one that looks like a hand, so you have to put one in!"
We played around with the rules quite a bit, but we had a good time. I'm pretty sure "All in" is not an official dreidel term, but what can you do, we're all gentiles. And the winner kindly shared his gelt with the rest of us so no one went home empty handed.
At around 10:00, I remembered that the secondary reason I had scheduled the party so early was that I had to work the next morning at 5:00 am. But, in true, "thinking I am ten years younger than I am" fashion, I ignored the time and put on an Eddie Izzard video. Somewhere in there, I washed 36,000 dishes, too. (Dirty dishes was the main downfall of my fry-your-own-latkes idea. Tasty latkes was the main upshot.) At about 11:30, I bade Eddie and the last few guests goodnight, leaving them in Jeremy's capable hands while I laid down for a few hours of hard-earned sleep. I really enjoyed my first foray into Chanukah, and am excited to have adopted a new family tradition!