Let the Feeding Frenzy Begin!

I have some very caring and kind reasons why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You can read about them here. Now on to the reason we can all agree upon:  A holiday that’s all about eating and not buying gifts? Yes, please!

I have memories of being awoken before dawn by the smell of onions being sautéed in butter coming from the kitchen. That meant that Mom was starting the stuffing that would fill the bird. Once the turkey was stuffed and in the oven, she’d go back to bed until breakfast time. The aromas would continue throughout the morning as she prepared the rest of the meal.

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I never realized what a good cook my Mom was until I ate at other people’s houses. She was a master at roasting and our turkeys were always so juicy with the skin brown and crackly. She’d pull out her electric knife and carve it in the kitchen rather than at the dining room table. We couldn’t wait and would steal bits of meat while she threatened to amputate a finger or two.

It might just be me, but I swear that an electric knife’s motor actually has a faint, distinctive smell. Ok. I might be a weirdo – but that smell, coupled with the sound makes my mouth water. Kind of like the smell of our old plastic Christmas tree is more nostalgic for me than the smell of pine. Yes, I’m warped. It must be a result of being raised in the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s.

Anyway, back to the food!  The turkey was just the beginning. A few of Mom’s side dishes will be forever be my favorites. Her stuffing was very simple and she didn’t use a recipe: day-old bread, cubed and tossed with egg, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and those sautéed onions and melted butter. No celery, no chestnuts, no oysters. She’d take her wedding ring off and place it by the sink and smoosh it all together with her hands. It was so basic, but so flavorful. It was so good that my sister and I would fight over it – especially the leftovers which we loved to eat cold. I’ve come close to recreating it a few times, but it’s never quite the same.

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This looks similar to Mom’s stuffing, minus those green bits that I suspect are celery.

A am not a fan of sweet potatoes or yams, but I would eat the ones my mother made. I know most of America goes with marshmallows on top, but not us. Mom went with canned yams but then added pats of butter and huge scoops of brown sugar on top. They’d cook in the oven until the sugar and butter formed a gooey, caramelized mush that was absolutely divine. I’d mostly just put a spoonful of goo on my plate, but occasionally I’d end up eating part of an actual yam.

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Mom could doctor-up a can of yams like nobody’s business. This looks similar, but there’s too much yam and not enough “goo.”

And last but not least, desert. I’ve never been much of a sweet eater, so the pecan or pumpkin pie didn’t interest me. No holiday meal would be complete at our house without Mom’s wine jello. The ingredients included these huge, juicy black cherries – canned, I think, and Mogen David wine. When she died last year, I took a box of her cookbooks and recipes. I need to find the recipe for this stuff.

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This looks like her cherry/wine jello. I seriously need to find that recipe!

Along with all of these goodies we’d have rolls, a relish tray of olives, pickles, and carrot sticks, cranberry sauce – both canned and “real,” and some vegetables. I actually remember the first time she tried out a new recipe for something called green bean casserole. It quickly became a fixture as it did in millions of other households, eventually referred to as simply “GBC” at our house.

My Mom was a great cook, but she liked to work alone. We were usually shooed out of the kitchen so we rarely saw the magic happen. We were only called upon when it was time to help plate things and put them on the table. And do the dishes of course.

Dinner would be at 1 or 2:00. We’d come out of our food comas at about 6 or 7:00 just long enough for cold turkey and Miracle Whip sandwiches on white bread for supper – with a lump of cold stuffing on the side. The best!

In the years before she died, my Mom developed dementia. Making some of those dishes was a muscle memory for her. We’d all pitch in to get them cooked and on the table. , it was still very much her meal.

Last year, less than a month before she died, my sister, brother, and I, along with our spouses, had dinner with my Mom and our Aunt Ruth at the assisted living center where they lived. This year, we’ll do the same thing again with our aunt. We’ll reminisce about our childhood holidays. There will even be a new traditions – Aunt Ruth will no doubt complain, as she and Mom did last year, that at least one dish isn’t cooked “right.”

It won’t be the same as the Thanksgivings of our childhoods, but we’ll be together. My sister and I will be sure to argue about leftover stuffing – and that’s something to be thankful for.

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Mom, when she and Dad were newlyweds. A time and place where I’m sure some of our traditions were born.

Thankful for Thanksgiving

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The song says “Over the river and though the woods – to grandmother’s house we go!” but when I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a holiday where we stayed put. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we spent the holiday at anyone else’s table. Occasionally Grandma and Grandpa would be in town, or an aunt and uncle would join us, but sometimes it was just the five of us. It didn’t matter to us, as long as Mom was cooking.

My birthday is on Halloween Eve, so I always loved that holiday for purely selfish reasons. Aside from that, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Here are a three reasons why:

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It’s All-Inclusive

While the idea of gratitude is often tied to a person’s spirituality, it is not pigeonholed by any single belief. It doesn’t matter if you are devoutly religious or just go through the motions at church a few times a year. You can be of the “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual” ilk, or agnostic, or an atheist. At Thanksgiving it doesn’t matter. No one is left out. All you have to be is grateful – and no matter what your circumstances, you can always find something to be grateful for. It’s one of the few times a year that is only about being together with family and friends. Well, and turkey. But that’s another post.

And in case you weren’t aware it’s not strictly American either. Several other countries celebrate some sort of day of thanks and gratitude.

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No Gifts!

As I reached adulthood, I became really thankful that this holiday did not include shopping for a billion people, wrapping gifts, and loading up my car with those gifts. I was allowed to show up (maybe with a food item, maybe without), enjoy time with my family, eat way too much delicious food, and leave – with leftover delicious food!

The non-commercialism of the holiday is one of its greatest advantages. It’s only in recent years that people have ramped up the decorations with giant inflatable turkeys and pilgrims on their lawns, but for the most part it remains low key.

Black Friday shopping is another story. I do not partake in those shenanigans! The idea that some stores are open on Thanksgiving itself really bothers me. The workers should be home with their families.

Carrying on Traditions

On TV and in movies, Thanksgiving almost always includes the entire turkey being brought in on a platter and carved at the table, and an impossibly adorable football game on the front lawn. Does anybody really do this?! My family never did. Traditions are what make our family units what they are. Whether they involve Aunt Edna’s awful creamed corn recipe, or Uncle Roger’s belching the alphabet after dinner, it’s all good! The funny thing about some of these traditions is that they’re rarely appreciated until they begin to fade away. It’s why my sister and I still fight over which one of us will get to eat the cold, leftover stuffing, even if there is none. It’s a ritual that brings back cherished memories.

I am lucky to come from a drama-free family, so my memories are good. Since my Mom and Dad both passed away last year, they’re bittersweet. But I know the holidays can bring up not-so-cherished memories for some. There are a lot of dysfunctional families out there with angst and discord aplenty. The good news is that you can always create new traditions. Friendsgiving dinners are becoming popular. Do what makes you happy – but whatever you do, don’t forget to be thankful.

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I was going to include Thanksgiving dinner as my fourth reason for loving this holiday, but I’ve decided it was important enough to merit its own post. You can join me in my virtual food coma here.

It’s no Trick – Dressing Up is a Treat!

Yesterday was my birthday. That’s right. October 30. Halloween Eve. This might be why Halloween has always held a special place in my heart.

When I was a kid, there was always a party at school, so it was like having my very own birthday extravaganza every year. This was of course before every third kid developed a peanut or gluten allergy and before schools went overboard with political correctness. I have actually known of schools that schedule their picture day on October 31 so there is an excuse not to deal with the pro-Halloween vs. anti-Halloween factions. I can’t imagine who would be anti-Halloween, but apparently there are some people out there who don’t like the “pagan” origins of All Hallows Eve.

But this isn’t about those party poopers. This is about my favorite part of the holiday – the costumes!

My history of dressing up goes way back – to my very first Halloween. As I said, I was born on October 30. As my Mom always told the story, on October 31, the nurses brought all of the babies from the nursery to their mothers wearing makeshift ghost costumes fashioned from cloth diapers. From that day forward, my Mom and Dad liked to say that they were never quite sure if I was a trick or a treat. (Yep. My sarcasm is hereditary.)

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There I am at 1 and 1 day old. I’m the cute little leopard, my brother is a baseball player (White Sox of course!) and my sister is a drum majorette. (Man, my feet look big from this angle!)

Over the years, my sister, brother, and I took great care in our costumes. Most of ours were handmade – either sewn by my Mom, or crafted from clothing in our closets. As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I am the baby of the family, and things were passed down to me through the years. I never, thank god, wore one of those weird plastic masks with the corresponding smock.

 

What the hell is that? You are basically an advertisement for The Munsters or Planet of the Apes, you are not “becoming” Herman Munster or an ape. Not only is it ugly, but what fun is that? We much preferred coming up with something creative and unique.

My favorite for years was the gypsy costume. This costume was my sister’s and we both wore it multiple years until it just wouldn’t fit. Satin skirt and matching kerchief, velvet vest. Add a peasant blouse and the tambourine prop. Having Mom layer on the bright blue eyeshadow, some rouge, and a beauty mark on my cheek felt so special. I BECAME a gypsy!

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My older sister, rocking the homemade gypsy costume a year or two before I was born.

We were not a family of artists, but when it came to costumes we were pretty creative. We were really good at taking everyday things and making something unique. There was the time I got a hideous hand-me-down pants suit with vertical stripes from my cousin Sharon. I turned it into a great convict’s uniform, complete with a big black rubber ball attached to my ankle like a ball and chain. And one year my brother appropriated a floral jacket that no longer fit my sister. He wore a long black wig and carried a toy ukulele and voila – Tiny Tim!

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Tiny Tim, tip-toeing through the tulips and my turn in the gypsy costume. Not as elegant as my sister!
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The “real” Tiny Tim. Not sure how to explain him to those too young to remember… 

My parents took the prize for what to this day is one of my favorite memories. It was about 1969 or 1970 and my Mom somehow got her hands on an old fur coat. She cut it up and made the matching costume that is still one of the most awesome couples’ costumes of all time. A caveman and cavewoman. Black fright wigs for them both, plus a wiffle bat wrapped in brown crepe paper as a club. I still can’t believe my Dad agreed to do this!

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We used to joke that this was their prom picture.

I continued to wear that costume in later years. I didn’t need the wig – my 80s big hair was enough with just a little more mousse and hair spray. We all had a lot of fun dressing up in college. I’d wear the cavewoman getup, or sometimes find something vintage at the Goodwill store. There was always some sort of party going on.

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80s hair helped with the costume when I wore it in college.
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College Halloween parties were the best!

As the years passed, my opportunities to dress up dwindled. My circle of friends just doesn’t get into it, but there was the occasional party. For one, I dressed as a hippy. A kid at the party said “I know what you are. You’re one of those people from the olden days.” WHAT??? I may be a little young to have been an actual hippy, but I do remember the days when they were around.

My stepdaughter mirrored her American Girl doll with a costume made by her grandmother. Mr. Maid, as usual, being a stick-in-the-mud, went as a utility employee. Big stretch since that’s what he does for a living. A party goer thought he was there to service the house and asked the hostess what was wrong!

There was one other time when Mr. Maid and Jacoby went to a father/daughter party at her school. This was in the day when the TV show Crocodile Hunter was at its peak. They were able to easily piece together their costumes from what was in their closets and a few store-bought items.

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I thought the band-aids on his legs were a nice touch!

Overall, my favorite costumes are also the ones of the easiest to pull off. If you’re looking for a last minute costume, be a tourist. A Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and hiking shoes. Accessorize with a bucket hat, camera around the neck, fanny pack, maps sticking out of your pockets, some zinc oxide on your nose. It’s easy, you probably already have everything you need, and it’s comfortable. If you’re like my husband and hate to dress up, go as the Brawny Paper Towel man. Jeans, flannel shirt, and carry around a roll of towels. Easy!

Whatever you do, have a Happy Halloween! And if you have a party – send me an invite and I’ll be there with bells on! Or fur, anyway!

Waiting for the Scab

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I have always been the unofficial historian of my family. As a child I would spend hours going through the big cardboard box of photos. I’d memorize the faces and the events that were captured on film long before I was born. Mom would tell stories and explain who each person was and how we were related. I listened intently and committed it all to memory.

Not surprisingly, since the death of my Dad, and less than two months later my Mom, my role as the archivist for our clan has become somewhat more official.

I am now the keeper of the cardboard box, along with the photo albums depicting my youth, and that of my parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents before me. These treasures currently sit in a large plastic tub in the corner of our spare bedroom. Continue reading

Serendipity-Do

My stepdaughter is a wedding photographer and shot a wedding in New York City over the weekend. Her husband tagged along and they made a mini vacation out of it. We got to dog-sit our “granddog,” Jubilee. When they came over Sunday for dinner and to pick up the dog, we started talking about coincidences. While doing some site-seeing on the Brooklyn Bridge they heard someone call out my son-in-law’s name. Lo and behold, friends from their college here in Illinois were also there on vacation. At the same time. In New York. On the Brooklyn Bridge. Nearly 1000 miles away.

There have been volumes written about the topic of coincidences. Chance? Fate? Luck? Or merely mathematical probability? Theories abound from people much smarter than I. All I know is that I am fascinated by them. I also feel like I’ve had more than my share of them in my life. Continue reading

The Autumn of My Discontent

For your reading pleasure, I am re-posting my one and only attempt at fiction on this blog (so far.)

Once again, fall is upon us and no one is safe!

Maid's Day Off

interrogation

The interrogation room is cold. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that they do that on purpose – anything to make you feel uncomfortable. The temperature, the buzzing florescent lights, and the hard metal chair are all doing their jobs and filling me with unease and a sense of impending doom.

I’ve been sitting here for what seems like hours (another time-honored technique, I’m sure) and have had time to reflect about the last 48 hours. Jeff told me I had to be careful. He had tried to talk me out of it. “Can’t you just go along to get along?” he asked.

“I’ve had it!” I had answered. “I can’t just sit back and watch while the powers-that-be do this to innocent people.

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Ice Ice Baby

In response the The Daily Post prompt: Shiver.

It’s always hard to remember the feeling of summer heat and humidity while it’s cold outside. Likewise, when it’s 90 degrees outside, you can never accurately imagine what it’s like to shiver from the frigid winds of winter.

I took the following photos in February, 2011 after an ice storm that knocked out the power and covered everything with a 1/4 inch of slickness. Seeing them almost makes me shiver in my shorts and t-shirt.

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Watch your step!

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Each blade of grass was individually coated with ice.

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The earth was covered in a crunchy shell. Daisy didn’t like walking on it at all.
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Snowflakes that stay on her nose and eyelashes.
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“Ok Mom, that’s enough. I’m cold! Let’s go inside!”