Thanks + Giving

I love Thanksgiving, not only for the holiday itself, but for what it means to me. Each year as the holidays roll around, I always go back in my mind to how things were when I was growing up. All the holidays were reasons to be with family, have a beautiful meal together, tell old and new stories, and to enjoy that precious bubble in time where all is well with everyone. It was as if any problems, issues, worries–all were put on hold for that day of gratitude.

My grandmother, Dad’s mother, loved the holidays and prepared lavishly for them. All food was prepared from scratch–every woman in my family felt you couldn’t rightly call yourself a wife or mother if you couldn’t cook, bake, preserve or pickle. Thanksgiving dinner meant a luscious turkey with crackling brown skin, bursting with delicious stuffing full of onions, celery, and plenty of sage. There were roasted potatoes gleaming with butter, homemade turkey gravy, savory boiled onions, a relish plate of cheese-stuffed celery and olives, homemade cranberry sauce and freshly-made Parker House rolls. Dessert was a choice of pumpkin or apple pie–or both.

When the meal was over, and while all the adults sat around the table drinking coffee, cracking nuts and talking, I would go to the parlor and sit dreamily on the window seat and look out at the snow (I always remember snow on Thanksgiving day). It was fun to look forward  to Christmas and wonder if there was anyone in the world as happy as me.

I believe that most families in our country enjoy getting together for Thanksgiving for many reasons. It reminds us that we were once strangers in a strange land, and that we had to start fresh to make our own way. It took back-breaking work and determination to get this fledgling country started. Families and neighbors had to help and depend on each other. There was also the kindness of strangers as well–our history tells us of the original inhabitants, the Indians, helping us to grow food, make shelters and so much more. I like to think that the first Thanksgiving was one of mutual respect and an unspoken agreement to lay doubts and worries aside for one meal together.

Thanksgiving is also a day to remember that, despite our differences and long-held prejudices, we can agree to meet and break bread together. It is a time to think hard on all things for which we are grateful. Whether we sit down to turkey or lasagna or kung pao beef or venison or moussaka or veggie burgers or fried chicken fingers or clam chowder–the food doesn’t matter as much as the people around the table do. It’s a time to be grateful, peaceful, joyous and happy. Even if you are alone for Thanksgiving, the feelings of gratitude and joy are warmth to the soul. As long as we have memories, we aren’t alone. People enter and leave our lives continually, and we recognize that this is part of life. Thanksgiving is a time to just be glad in each others company or just be content with our own thoughts and memories.

I remember a story I read a long time ago about a bus full of people who were stranded on Thanksgiving day. A heavy snowstorm had come out of nowhere, and the bus broke down. At that time, there were no cell phones, only the driver’s CB radio. The driver called for help, and was told that help would come, but not for hours. The bus was nearly out of gas and everyone was cold, angry and hungry. Everyone complained about missing dinner with family, and tempers were short. However, things changed quickly when a little girl traveling with her mother announced, “I have an orange I can share.”

Suddenly everyone started going through their luggage and handbags. A burly man with a deep Southern accent said, “I have a jar of my mama’s pickles!” An older woman with an orange knitted hat with a huge pom-pom said that she had three dozen chocolate chip cookies she brought for her grandsons, but she said, “those little pigs eat too much anyway. Pass them around!” Two teenage boys wearing sweatshirts shouted, “We have two six-packs of Coke!” A man and his wife smiled and passed around a big bag of walnuts and raisins, an old man opened a bag of apples, and the bus driver produced two big sub sandwiches, which he cut up to share.

More food was produced, and it seemed as if the bounty would never end. Everyone chatted with each other, and then someone started singing Christmas carols. The rest joined in, and by the time the tow-truck arrived, the mood in the bus was happy and festive. People began thanking each other and started rounding up all the empty bottles and containers.  Eventually everyone got to their destinations, late but happy.

At one time or other, haven’t we have all been stranded somewhere in some way, alone and afraid, missing family and friends and longing to be anywhere but where we fetched up? This is what Thanksgiving means; it is both thanks and giving. Even though we only celebrate it once a year, thanks should be given each day of the year. Once we get in the habit of giving thanks, we began to realize how much there is to be thankful for. And isn’t it a good habit to keep every day of the year?

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

My Mom is 83 Today

Today is my mom’s birthday, and she is 83. You would never know to look at her that such a well-dressed, stylish, intelligent, witty and downright pretty woman could possibly be in her early 80s, but there it is. The years simply do not show on her. The impression you get upon meeting her is that this is an extraordinary woman; one of many interests, passions, ambitions and with a white-hot personality. You can’t tell from looking at her, but she is also a fierce survivor. She has battled and beaten two bouts of breast cancer, and technically is surviving lung cancer–I say ‘technically’ because many of her symptoms have virtually disappeared. This is greatly due to the *whole food, plant-based diet that she and my dad follow.

Each week she exercises faithfully with her Stretch and Tone class, is an active member of her local PEO chapter, she belongs to a book club, and she is a jewelry designer with her beautiful work in several shops in NH and ME. She is a superb and wily Scrabble player, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve beaten her score. She is also the queen bee at the local bookstore after exercise class where she and her friends enjoy coffee and conversation. Mom is the vibrant glue that holds all the ‘girls’ together.

Due to a degenerative bone issue in one foot, she and Dad had to stop ballroom dancing (after 50 years!) two years ago. Of course she misses it, but she doesn’t let it slow her down. When she decided she needed a cane for occasional use (that is, when Dad’s arm isn’t available), she bought a gorgeously-flowered metal one and named it “Vivacious.” Aptly named as it supports an extremely vivacious woman.

Mom and I have enjoyed a close and loving relationship all my life. Mom firmly believes that a mother is a mother, not a best friend; and brought me up with a sound work ethic, good values and even better examples. (It is a happy coincidence that we also are best friends.) Even during the most obnoxious period of my life as a teenager, she managed to keep her temper, humor, patience and strong ideals. They are part of who I am, to my great and everlasting gratitude.

One of the only times I’ve heard her complain about age and the inevitable ‘**ills that all flesh is heir to’ was when she began losing some of her hair. This was not due to chemo; she never needed it, but simply to the natural aging process. Every woman in our family tree has gorgeous thick and coarse hair, and Mom is no exception. In her case, ‘thinning hair’ still means that she still has more hair than a 20-year old rock star. She only notices it because it’s on her head; I’ve told her many times that the rest of us just don’t see it–all we see is a beautiful woman with fabulous hair.

Mom has always reminded me that I come from a long line of resourceful, enterprising and strong women. Years ago she and a distant cousin worked together for several months to put our genealogy down on paper. Mind you, this was way before computer and Internet use was commonplace; they traveled and trudged through towns, libraries, cemeteries and private homes to gather information. They spoke to countless relatives and tracked down the oldest ones in nursing homes and listened to their stories and remembrances. Mom put my elderly Aunt Ruby to work; she happily called many relatives and took down their information to give to Mom. I believe to this day that those hours Aunt Ruby spent on the phone were some of the happiest of her life, and I know she was thrilled to be able to help her darling “Gloria.”

I have alluded to this wonderful self-published work my mom put together in last year’s birthday tribute. It is from this genealogy that I lived vicariously with all those strong and resourceful forebears of mine–I truly know who I came from and how their determination and strength helped me be the person I am now.

But the majority of my growing up and training is all Mom. A true mother mothers. That term includes both love and discipline, praise and teaching, being consistent, knowing when to lean in and help and when to back off, when to speak and when to listen. Mom never minced words with me; truly, I knew exactly what my boundaries were and knew when I stepped over the line. I always knew where I stood with her–I knew without question that I was loved deeply, but that there was no pulling the wool over her eyes!

There is an unbreakable bond between mother and daughter that is so strong it cannot be broken. That bond may stretch and bend, but it never breaks. The bond between my amazing and incredible mother and me is as light as a moonbeam, and is as everlasting as the mountains. The love I have for her and she for me is a connection beyond space, time and even death. I believe with all my heart that love is a never-ending source, it never ends and its influence is always felt. This influence has motivated and strengthened me all my life.

On this day marking mom’s birth 83 years ago, I celebrate the fact that Mom and I call each other once or twice a week to chat and laugh. When I read a great book, I want to share it with her. When I try out a new recipe, I want to tell her all about it. If I hear a good joke, I want to tell it to her and hear her laugh. My dad always says that the sweetest sound in the world to him is when I am visiting, and Mom and I talk and laugh together.

Happy birthday, my wonderful and incomparable mom!

*This is based on the Cancer Diet; the main diet is organic vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and small amounts of organic poultry, some fish, and rarely, beef. They do not use sugar in any form, using instead agave (which is actually sweeter than sugar, so you use less, plus there is no addiction with it as is with refined sugar).

** From “To be, or not to be…” the opening phrase of a soliloquy in the “Nunnery Scene” of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

Having Each Other’s Back

Last night for about the 30 millionth time, I went downstairs to check if the Crankee Yankee (my husband) had locked the door and shut the light off (the brilliant blazing one that lights up everyone’s backyard). And last night, for about the 29th millionth time, I locked the door and shut off the light.

As I fumed my way upstairs I thought, ‘how can he come down here late at night and NOT lock up and turn the lights off?’ When I calmed down, I realized that worry was my main problem, not the Crankee Yankee. I realized that I am worried about me; that *I* will be the one who forgets to check the locks one night and thieves will break in and steal all the cat food…or something just as ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong; I am a card-carrying Security Nazi. But more than that, I am a fallible human who forgets things from time to time…as do we all.

When I let all those ‘worry bees’ buzz in my head I remembered something; he has ALWAYS forgotten stuff like this. I’ve known him over half my life, and know perfectly well that he is and has been a champion forgetter. Of course, this didn’t stop me from telling him the next morning, ‘you forgot to lock up and shut the lights off downstairs–AGAIN!’ in a self-righteous and hectoring tone. He said that he has a lot on his mind (and to be honest, he really does) and just–forgets sometimes. So do I.

Well, I can’t look into those melting brown eyes of his and stay mad at him. Moreover, I immediately thought of all the times I have done stupid and forgetful things and he just waves it off with a ‘hey, everyone forgets things–don’t worry about it.’ Then he offers up the sweetest words a man can say to his wife, “Don’t worry–I’ll take care of it.” And then he does.

We have agreed to just go on as normal, only this time we agreed to just have each others’ back. Which is what I should have remembered from all the years I’ve known the Crankee Yankee–he is loyal to a fault, forgiving as a saint, kind, generous and considerate (not to mention loving with his whole heart). Based on all that, occasional forgetfulness is just a bump in the road. Besides, he’s kindly averted his eyes from some real bloopers I’ve done and just as kindly NOT rubbed my nose in them.

So from now on, each time I have to check the locks and lights (heck, I’m the Security Officer of the house anyway!), and each time he has to check that I haven’t parked on the newly-tarred curb in front of our house and mashed it down or forgotten to check the oil–we can just say we have each others’ backs.

That’s kind of the backbone of a relationship anyway, when you think about it.

 

When Fear Goes, Wisdom Comes

We all experience fear in our lives; some more than others, some less. When we are young, our fears are usually of the boogeyman variety, or of being left alone to fend for ourselves. As we get older, those childhood fears morph into more realistic forms, such as being in debt, not able to find a job, worry about loved ones, and so on. Often fear masks itself in anger or acting out. We are deeply afraid, can’t seem to do anything about it, and then lash out in anger in order to have some kind of control over it. Too often, we take out our fears and anger on the ones we love the most.

It’s no coincidence that the great mystics and wise people of the world are and have been long in years. They have come to realize that holding grudges against real or imagined slights harms us, not the other person. They know that everyone loses in a war, and that peace is a fragile and elusive thing that must be nurtured and practiced minute to minute. They have seen the damage that hatred and fear causes, and know how the universal whole suffers when one person suffers. They have come to know that infinite amounts of money have no safety or power when hoarded, but can do great good when used wisely. They understand through experience that it is far easier to live in forgiveness and tolerance than in anger and frustration.

This is not to say that they have given up; it is that they see a better way to live and to share knowledge. They see that youth can in general be hasty, selfish and callous; that it takes years to build a good life, and that there is a price to pay for inattention and carelessness. They have learned through experience what it takes to live well and in harmony; they have made mistakes and learned from them. In short, they are of the ‘measure twice, cut once’ variety.

I believe it takes years to fully develop into the people we are meant to be. It takes making mistakes and living with the consequences to learn what to do and what not to do. With hope, we will retain that knowledge and keep growing in the direction we need to take. We can’t berate ourselves for not being perfect every second of every day, either. But we must keep our eyes on the who and the what we want to be.

Sometimes we are in a position where we can’t yet put our needs and desires first; perhaps we have children to raise or elderly parents to care for or other circumstances that keep us from moving ahead–for the time being. But there is great nobility and grace in doing the right thing at the right time; we temporarily shelve our own desires to help someone else first. Our own time will come, and putting others first for the time being can actually make us better suited to what we want to do when our responsibilities are lighter.

There is a lot to be said for things happening at the right time, too. I keep catching myself saying things such as, ‘oh, if I had only done this 20 years ago,’ or ‘why didn’t I think more about the future when I was younger,’ and so on. Here’s the thing: 20 years ago was probably the worst time to do this, that or the other thing. It takes time, thought and experience to get us to the place where we are ready and responsive to the next step in our lives. I have learned to say to myself, ‘THIS is exactly the right time. I couldn’t have done this any earlier than now.’

I think of Grandma Moses, whose folk art paintings are masterful snapshots of a bygone time and are cherished by so many. The woman did not even pick up a paint brush until she was in her 70s! The great success of her work speaks for itself. If that doesn’t send a positive message of doing things at the right time, I don’t know what does.

So, message to you and to me; let’s give ourselves a break and not keep “shoulding” on ourselves. If our circumstances dictate that we need to care for a loved one in our home, or take an extra job to make ends meet; anything that may keep our dreams temporarily on hold–it is only that–TEMPORARY. By the time we have the time to do what we want, it will be the perfect time. Believe it.

 

 

 

GREAT Turkey Recipe – Just in Time for Thanksgiving

The Crankee Yankee (my husband) is a pretty good cook. He loves to barbeque, and his ribs, pulled pork and brisket are fantastic. This year he found a great recipe for turkey and decided to treat us to an early Thanksgiving. He found it online; it is Martha Stewart’s Herb Roasted Turkey recipe. While the Crankee Yankee cooked our turkey in the smoker, I’m sure it would be just as delicious in the oven.

Ingredients

  • 1 turkey (about 12 pounds), thawed if frozen, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus 3 sprigs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped (3 tablespoons)
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 lemons, poked all over with a fork
  • 1 quart apple cider

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in lowest position. Remove packet of giblets and neck from cavity. Discard liver. Rinse remaining giblets and neck; refrigerate until ready to make broth.
  2. Turn turkey on its back and bend wing tips forward and underneath neck cavity of bird so they stay in place (you may have to break the bones).
  3. In a small bowl, combine parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, garlic, 4 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Using your fingers, carefully loosen skin of breast and around thighs and rub herb mixture under skin of both.
  4. Season cavity with salt and pepper and loosely fill with lemons and rosemary sprigs. Using cotton kitchen twine, tie legs together so bird retains its shape and moisture during cooking.
  5. Pour cider in bottom of pan. Set roasting rack on top. Lift turkey onto rack, breast side up; rub with remaining tablespoon oil; season generously with salt and pepper. Tent turkey loosely with foil. Roast 1 hour. Uncover and continue to roast, basting frequently with pan juices, until an instant read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh (avoiding bone) registers 170 degrees, 2 1/2 to 3 hours more. (Temperature will rise about 10 degrees as turkey rests.) Tent with foil if browning too quickly; add water if pan becomes dry. Cover loosely with foil, and let stand 30 minutes before carving. Serve with roasted vegetables.

Take it from me–the turkey was fall-off-the-bone delicious.

 

 

Assumptions and Their Consequences

This morning the Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I went out to breakfast to one of our usual haunts, a nice little local diner. The food is always good, and the coffee is always strong. I asked the waitress if the Breakfast Quesadilla, loaded with tomatoes, onions, peppers, spinach and cheese; had meat in it. It didn’t, but it did have eggs. I said, “oh, I didn’t see that in the ingredients.”

The waitress replied tartly, “Yes, it has eggs–that’s why it’s called a *Breakfast Quesadilla.”

Which got me thinking: what if someone had an egg allergy and ordered this item especially because did not mention eggs? And how exactly does the word “breakfast” imply that eggs are involved? Are we to assume that bacon is also included? Or sausage? Or toast? What some restaurant’s “Breakfast Special” included eggs, bacon, toast, and a coffee, but didn’t mention the fact that they only use ostrich eggs? That would mean you’d be getting a plate of eggs the size of a small third world country. Assumptions about consumption can be risky.

Years ago this incident would have sent me off on a tear about being specific about things (and also carping about bad grammar and irresponsible usage), and engendering a rant that bored the pants off everyone within hearing. I’ve come to realize over time that this self-righteous behavior of mine is not only NOT appreciated, but not listened to, either. (The only place these types of opinions are welcome are with other grouchy grammarians and humorless usage nazis.)

But this was a pleasant morning, the Breakfast Quesadilla was delicious, AND the Crankee Yankee remembered to bring the Sunday paper in so that we could enjoy it together. So I let it go. However, the next time you go out for breakfast, you might want to nip around the back of the place just to be sure they don’t have an ostrich out there….

*Reminds me of the song, “Breakfast Blues,” as sung by the Austin, TX-based group, Trout Fishing in America, which goes:

“You give me hard eggs [heartaches] in the morning,
Cheese omelet [jeez, I’ma let] you go.
Yeah, you give me hard eggs in the morning,
Cheese omelet you go.
You just hot buttered grits [grit] your teeth and bear it girl,
I doughnut [do not] love you no more.
(Now don’t get that glazed look on your face!)
Ham bacon [I’m beggin’] you to leave me,
I never sausage [saw such] misery.
Ham bacon you to leave me, darlin’,
I never sausage misery.
Well, you treated me so ungrapefruitly [ungratefully],
You gave me a raisin [reason] to be free.
Well, what do you Eggs Benedict [expect] me to do now?
I’ve got muffin [nothin’] else to say.
Yeah, what do you Eggs Benedict me to do now?
I’ve got muffin else to say.
Yeah, you left such a waffle [awful] toast [taste] in my mouth,
You biscuit [best get] out of town today.
(You know I ain’t gonna keep those home fries [fires] burning for you.)
You give me hard eggs in the morning,
Cheese omelet you go.
You give me hard eggs in the morning,
Cheese omelet you go.
You just hot buttered grits your teeth and bear it girl,
I ain’t gonna quiche [kiss] you any more
(Jelly roll [shall I roll] it again?)

Could We Be Facing a REAL Faherenheit 451?

If you are a Ray Bradbury fan as I am, you will no doubt have read “*Fahrenheit 451.” This is a horrifying tale of a society where books are outlawed and anyone having and/or reading books are subject to imprisonment and punishment. The premise of the story begins with society making television their number one source of entertainment, and consequently generations of people grow up with little or no interest in books. Books become brutally abridged to the point where the stories are short and sloppy synopses and gradually, even these books go unread. For ‘the good of humanity,’ books are burned and television can at last be the single god of entertainment. But of course there are a subversive few who love and treasure books. They hide them away for their own enjoyment, but live in fear that they will be found out.

These days we have technology that was undreamt of decades ago, and certainly not in 1953 when this book was published. As a baby boomer, I never even saw a computer until I was a junior in college. Although I have made my living as a technical writer for years, I am a callous and impatient computer user. I regularly aggravate technical experts with dumb questions, and have often pounded my keyboard for not doing what I want it to do. In short, I am a technical *troglodyte.

In short, I am both confused and dismayed by such things as iPhones (hey, it was hard enough for me to just buy a cell phone that is JUST a phone) and Kindles and Nook and all their ilk. As handy as a Kindle, etc. may be, I personally prefer a real book with real paper. I have shelves of them that I just can’t bear to give away as I like to revisit them from time to time, like an old friend.

But back to the horrors of a society that bans books and worse; BURNS them, I do worry that we can lose ourselves in technology. Many of my friends who love reading really enjoy the ease of use of Kindles and such, especially when they travel. They don’t have stuff their carry-on bags with paperbacks and lug that extra weight around. But me being me thinks, ‘ok, well and good, but what happens if your battery runs out?’ Maybe they come with their own back-up system–I wouldn’t know because I’m a troglodyte….

As always, I welcome comments. Please feel free to set me straight on how great Kindles are and why you think I should get one. Seriously–I fully admit my ignorance about them, so do not hesitate to school me.

******* SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read “Fahrenheit 451″ and plan to, don’t read any further.*******

 

 

As horrifying as “Fahrenheit 451″ is, both as a story and a prospect; it ends with hope. There is a secret society that has broken off from the main stream and lives, as we would call it now, “off the grid.” Those staunch book lovers who have escaped imprisonment have taken it upon themselves to become the books they loved. They have memorized the books they love, and speak them each day to rapt listeners, or simply for their own enjoyment. In this way, books become alive again as told by these brave storytellers.

*”Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian [the absolute antithesis of utopia] novel by Ray Bradbury, published in 1953. Briefly, it outlines a future society in America where books or outlawed and appointed “firemen” burn any books they find. By the way, the title refers to the temperature that Bradbury understood to be the igniting temperature of paper.

 

*Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘troglodyte’ as 1) “a member of any of various peoples [as in antiquity] who lived or were reputed to live chiefly in caves,” and 2) “a person characterized by reclusive habits or outmoded or reactionary attitudes.” That last definition is definitely ME.