The Other Side of Thanksgiving

If I had remembered to take pictures at the right time, I could have shown you my beautiful table, decorated and set for our Thanksgiving meal. But I didn’t and through that I realized there is an “other side” of Thanksgiving.

That side is as much a part of the good memories I hold as seeing that perfectly cooked turkey, the smorgasbord of pies ready to be served, or that plate full of food artfully arranged. The other side is seen here…

and here…

and here.

It is experienced as I wash dishes with help from guests, wipe counters clean, search space for an extra chair at the table, empty garbage, and wipe a spot of gravy off the floor (okay, it was really cat throw up but that’s not the point).

The other side includes that kind of relaxed, awkward time after eating when no one is quite sure what to do so they do this…

or this…

or this…

The other side is dear, but also a little stressfull as the number of people in the house swells, the kitchen counters are crowded with supplies, refrigerators are full of leftovers and entryways look like this.

Those necessary inconveniencies of travel, trying to keep rested over a long weekend, trying to connect in meaningful ways with each loved family member and guest – all are parts of almost every Thanksgiving I can remember. They are the other side that is maybe not so photogenic or talked about.

I think I love the other side too – the mess, the chaos, the spills, the broken dish, the menu item that gets forgotten in the fridge, the cat that dips its paw in my guest’s water glass.

Thanksgiving is a singular, memory making holiday with two sides. It might even be my favorite. All this goodness makes it easy to say “thank you family!” And “thank you guests!” And most of all “thank you God!” for another great Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Chronicle: Ordinary Times and Travel post 5

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In these days of cities and all their attractions, a pastime of young and old alike seems to be exploring. That is one of our family traditions. Whenever we gather, we try to look around us and visit some interesting place. On the Friday after Thanksgiving we bundled up (brrr….), piled into two cars and went to Port Huron, MI.

Our first stop was a museum of sorts but more. I can’t remember the name of it but the words “boat nerds” was somewhere on the building. It was on the St. Clair River which connects Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair and the port in Detroit. There is a lot of ship traffic past this place which boasts a coffee shop, an unobstructed view of the river, and knowledgeable people who call themselves, yes, boat nerds. They call out all kinds of interesting information and stories about each ship as it passes. On display are ship artifacts dredged from the river and made into art.  It was a “hangout” with a very relaxed atmosphere and quite a bit of business, considering that it was a holiday weekend. We had a good time with this place. We have a few family coffee snobs. We didn’t even try their coffee.

Next we went a few streets away to a small shopping district and wandered through some small, artisan-like shops. It was some kind of “small business shopping day” and they got real excited when our group of 10 people came in and probably kind of disappointed when we wandered back out. There were a few purchases, though.

By this time we were getting hungry. Our hosts led us to the Raven Café, a Poe themed coffee house and restaurant that was bursting at the seams with customers. All of us liked the food we ordered. I had a creamy latte, followed by Mushroom with Brie Soup and a half Annabel Lee’s Gorgonzola Cherry salad.  It was hard to choose from all the interesting names like “Premature Burial Bacon-Ham Melt” and “Black Cat BLT”. This is definitely a place diners return to. They have a gift shop and live entertainment events regularly, and a nice FaceBook page. Check them out at www.ravencafeph.com .  Go there.

Another one of our family traditions, no secret by now, is doing jigsaw puzzles. Some of us are more avid puzzlers than others but we all kind of like to have one going on. Somehow we had brought only one puzzle with us and we finished it on Thanksgiving Day. Cheap puzzles abound at thrift shops and libraries so we were on the lookout as we traveled back to Gary’s coffee shop. We ended up at a thrift/antique shop and it was a long shot, but they had a puzzle. Just one. It was antique, and although I’ve had some very old puzzles (think pieces missing, chewed on, etc…) I had never had a real antique so I bought it, more for the container than the picture.  Can you imagine it new for $0.49? It was our second of the season (#puzzlemarathon).

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There were many other things we enjoyed over our family time together – I couldn’t begin to mention them all. Many laughs, meals, conversations, hugs and then the inevitable goodbyes. But travel on Thanksgiving Saturday is coming up fast. The journey is definitely not over…

Thanksgiving Chronicle: Ordinary Times and Travels post 4

Here we were on Thanksgiving Day, in Michigan, preparing to gather at the coffee house and cook our festive meal. Since the plan was to see if we could snack/taste/eat pretty much all day, breakfast was out on the bar when we arrived. Hmmm, coffee was no problem since the place was still basically a coffee house. While some of us talked and lost track of time, others of us got busy in the kitchen fixing up the next round of food.

This was the BIG meal, the one with the turkey. My brother, the host, claimed the job of cooking the bird. He has done it several times and has gotten good at it. None of us gave the turkey another thought. I made a gorgeous veggie tray with several dip choices, just so none of us would have to stop eating between meals. Julie was busy putting together her signature salad, glazing pecans to toss with the lettuce and mandarin orange. Somehow, we all got a bit distracted when the spatula she was using began to melt (who knew?) and glaze the pecans with plastic along with sugar. Pick the plastic out? Start over? Waste all those lovely nuts?

At this point, there were a lot more people in the kitchen because it was nearing our appointed meal time. It kind of sneaked up on us and there was a “hurry up” atmosphere. Ryan was suddenly on to his mashed potato job (Aside: Did you know adding a sweet potato in with the white ones make an interesting contribution? #newtome). Jamie was finishing up her pilaf. Esther was roasting her brussels sprouts.  Jon was getting his tofurkey warmed up. The cold dishes (cranberry salad and others) were being taken out to the line-up on the bar. Gary had finished the turkey and he and Bob were carving. Richard was getting his Thanksgiving song ready to play for our blessing on the meal.

wp-1481649557967.jpgWe were at the very last moment, when Mom asked if there was gravy. She had that big-eyed look that said it wouldn’t work as a meal if there wasn’t gravy for the mashed potatoes. She must have weathered crisis like this before because she had good ideas for making it – hunting up some turkey juice, some canned cream soup, and a few other things. We even found some odd fish shaped dishes that worked for serving it. We rocked it, really.

 

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It was a lovely meal. Unlike many who photograph their food before it’s eaten, I mostly wait until the plates are decimated to take pictures, so I can’t show you the “before” loveliness, but you can see that we did have a good lively time at the table. Such fun, and it only got better when it was time for pie and coffee. Plenty of good food and hours of good company gave us a lot to feel thankful for.

Celebrating for only one day, when people come from a long distance, would be a waste of travel expense. We also have other “near traditions” that are emerging in our family and they take at least one more day of celebrating to accomplish. The Friday after Thanksgiving (not Black Friday for us) will be in tomorrow’s post…

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Thanksgiving Chronicle: Ordinary Times and Travels, post 3

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It does not take a fancy hotel name or reputation to impress me. Nice linens, a decent breakfast and cleanliness are my major interests and we had all three at the Super 8 (the price was right too). The clincher was the sunrise they arranged for us. It brought the saying “red sky at morning, sailors take warning…” to mind so we left fairly early. Well fed and rested, we arrived at the coffee house, the site of our Thanksgiving, by noon.

We call it the coffee house because it was one, briefly. Had it been in a better location, and maybe a better time, it would have been a success. My brother still owns it, partly because he lives in the second story, and partly because it hasn’t sold. It is perfect for family gatherings. Perfect in the sense that the whole lower story is made for people having a good time – plenty of seating at tables, a long bar where we line up the Thanksgiving buffet, an industrial kitchen where we cook last day dishes, a cozy (fake) fireplace, and a TV mounted in a corner tuned to the local football station.

Of course, we were half a day early so we unloaded our food dishes into the fridge at the coffee house and went to settle in our lodgings. Here I must mention my niece and her family. They are house flippers, among other things. Conveniently, they had a house they were staging for sale even as we arrived and we got to “test” it out. Seriously, they are like Chip and Joanna, or Tarrek and Christina – they could have a TV show except for the financial backing part. This was the second lovely house of theirs that I had seen and we gladly moved into the three bedrooms ready for us. It was quite brave of my brother to offer to house all of us this year and we were grateful.

The other afternoon event was waiting for everyone else to arrive. I have two daughters and they were coming from opposite ends of the U.S., one from Jacksonville, Fl flying into Detroit, and one from Seattle flying to Flint with one of her good friends.  My nephew, who had arrived earlier from California, drove to Detroit for that pick-up and the others rented a car from Flint.  They trickled in, one group at a time, along with another one of my brothers (I have four) and his wife. By the afternoon, the promised storm had begun, the roads were slippery and we got word that a couple of our invited guests had felt it safer to cancel their trip.  Our Thanksgiving group was in place except for a local couple who would join us the next day.

Our eclectic group, aged from 2 to 84, seven boys/men and six women, Midwesterners, West coasters, East coasters, two different cultural backgrounds, meat eaters and vegetarians, all gathered to be thankful, make memories and eat. Having all arrived safely, we were already thankful.  The eating started that night with soups by Jamie, my niece, and salad. But, of course, the real eating event was yet to come…

Thanksgiving Chronicle: Ordinary Times and Travels

wpid-20141015_0707500.jpgThe husband and I had been thinking and praying about this trip for weeks.  My family often tries to get together at Thanksgiving even though we are geographically scattered. Those of us from Florida have several times found ourselves “snowed in” up in Hayward for the holiday. Last year we combined the get together with Mom’s wish to spend the winter with us. We flew to Wisconsin, traveled in her car to Michigan to have Thanksgiving there with three of my brothers, and then continued on down to Florida. It worked, and we were trying it again this year, hoping it would work again.

Monday, I felt like a captive pretty much all day. I used to think that it was pretty cool getting to travel a lot – flying off to southeast Asia, to Seattle, to Wisconsin – but I am over that. Although I booked our flights weeks ahead of time there were no good seats to choose from. I sat in the window seat on the first leg. There was no chance of getting out over two other people, so I sat for that hour and a half, sleeping against the wall. The second leg was longer and I was in the middle seat, which to me is even more claustrophobic. With the space in front of my feet filled with a back pack, my knees touching the seat ahead of me, and a hefty passenger seated on either side of me, it was like being in a small box for three hours. The worst part of the trip was after the plane landed and everyone who could, stood up, filling the aisle. We waited for 15 minutes before anyone was actually able to leave. We were in the back, of course, and got to watch every person in every row struggle with their luggage. There was nothing to do but wait the eternity until was our turn. In my dreams I become rich and famous by designing a better de-planing procedure and selling it to airlines.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 (very early): I sat up in bed looking at a clock that showed 5:45 and mentally calculated that it would be 6:45 in my usual time zone – no wonder I was awake. I failed to consider daylight savings time, and so had the person responsible for setting the clock in that room. It was 4:45, so I had some “think time” to consider how it was that I was thousands of miles from where I had been yesterday. I was, always am, properly amazed and thankful for safe travel. Wisconsin in winter is dark late in the morning, dark early in the evening, leaving very little daylight to save, but there was some, finally…

 

Catch Up

I put this first just to get your attention.  Read to the end for the story.
I put this first just to get your attention. Read to the end for the story.

Over a week at home since a wonderful trip up north and I still have not had time to write down the memories and reflect on them. It was our Thanksgiving trip and since I think we would all agree that it doesn’t make sense to limit being thankful to one day of the year, I’m thankful again today!  Thanks to Florida daughter Julie, who shared the trip with us and to all our hosts and fellow celebrants in Hayward.  I love you Mom and Dad, Denny and Mary Pat, Evan, Claire, Scruffy and Socks, Bob and Ozzie, Gary, Jamie, Eduardo, Jonathan and the Madison sisters Michelle, Judith and Susan. It might better be done with pictures so here goes…

 

Before the feast - one of our two tables with Mom's birthday flowers as the centerpiece.
Before the feast – one of our two tables with Mom’s birthday flowers as the centerpiece.
During the feast.  Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?
During the feast. Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?
After the feast.  My Dad doesn't cook.  Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility.  Go Dad!
After the feast. My Dad doesn’t cook. Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility. Go Dad!

And for the second year in a row, the snow fell heavily.  We spent time in the woods, skiing, snowshoeing, and driving the unplowed fire lanes in Brother Bob’s four wheel drive truck. You cannot imagine how beautiful it was unless you live in the north and see it for yourself. 

Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.
Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.

The skiing style is cross country, which is not to say that there aren’t hills, you just have no lift to pull you up them.  An international ski event, the American Birkebeiner, is held in the Hayward area on this beautiful, well maintained trail – 26 miles through forest and field.  We spent some time on a small section of it and warmed up afterward in the shelter, and then, of course, it was time for latte’s and hot chocolate at the Mooselip Cafe.  You saw the moose himself in the opening picture.

Skis on Julie
Skis on Julie
Snowshoes on Mary Pat
Snowshoes on Mary Pat
Snow on trees
Snow on trees
Happy snow people...
Happy snow people…
Best place to come after skiing!
Best place to come after skiing!

Thanksgiving in Detail (lots of strokes to this picture…)

The Day Before

There are fourteen of us tonight.  Tomorrow there will be more for the big meal. Our family does this frequently, big gatherings, reunions, and we have expectations.  People will take turns making the meals since we are usually together for several days.  We will take turns  shopping for groceries and washing the dishes.  Beds have been scouted out and stashes of blankets and pillows have been scattered around the houses where we are gathering.  We want to be together, as many of us as can make it, because of one thing we agree on – we are thankful for family.

the reigning seniors and responsible parties
the reigning seniors and responsible parties

I am always a little surprised to hear that many people find us odd, a family that enjoys getting together.  Many people do not have this kind of tradition or this kind of family.  My mom and dad are the reigning seniors.  There is my generation consisting of myself and three of my brothers and their families.  And then there is the youngest generation, our children, ranging from fourteen to mid thirties in age.  They are students, prospective parents, house flippers,  a veterinarian, a geologist, an aeronautical engineer, a vegan, a hunter,  There is a lot of news to exchange and the place buzzes with conversation.

Food is always being prepared or consumed or both.  It seems one meal is barely finished before the next one needs to be started.  There is no room in the fridg.  This year Jon is sharing some vegan recipes with us.  Brother Bob has brought ingredients for his famous muffin breakfast.  Mom has been baking cookies, pies and cranberry bread for weeks.  There is a “happy” turkey (happy while alive, not so much now).  The kitchen is not very large and it is always full of people. We make at least five full pots of coffee a day.  We don’t fit around one table very well, although it is a huge table.

Thanksgiving Day

My family is staying in a snug 2 bedroom condo a few yards away from the one my parents live in.  My mom is an early riser and when she’s up and making the first pot of coffee for the day she turns on the outside lights.  I wait for that signal before going over for a moment of quiet reflection and planning.  Since FOOD is going to be the  name of the game most of the day, she had a breakfast casserole ready for the oven.  Loaves of bread and bagels were ready by the toaster.  It wasn’t long before the crowd assembled – and then the food was gone.  Fortunately we have a nearly seamless way of moving on to the next eating experience.

There was a brief break in the eating while we made a call to my aunt in Florida to sing happy birthday to her.  Actually we sang it twice – once on her voice mail and one live performance when she called back.  She is 90 and knows how to use a cell phone. Kudos.

.I am so glad the younger crowd embraces cooking with gusto.  I am so glad that Walmart is open on the holiday.  No matter how much planning takes place, with this many people, something is always missing or running out.  After a trip to the store the kitchen was again crowded with  Jon, Jamie and Julie turning out Buffalo Cauliflower, Killer Veggie Tray and Guacamole Supreme.  The turkey got bathed, dried, seasoned and placed in the oven to cook, leaving room for the Tofurkey to slide in beside it later.  The dressing was mixed up and put in the crock pot.  The potatoes were pealed.  The pies were set out to thaw.

a moment in the constant flow of food prep
a moment in the constant flow of food prep
wash, peel, chop, arrange, cook, stir, EAT
wash, peel, chop, arrange, cook, stir, EAT
potatoes enough for an army
potatoes enough for an army

1:30 pm

The football game is underway, accompanied by football food.  Today we do not have hunger to tell us what time of day it is.  Everyone has their favorite snack and drink and we are hoping that the continual trickle of food does not hamper our enjoyment of the grand finale.  My latest “chore” was getting the next jigsaw puzzle prepared for the afternoon.  It is a tradition at our gatherings to do puzzles and we have done two already.  There is a bonding that takes place between those willing to devote hours to staring at little pieces of cardboard.  We know who we are.  The last one was 2,000 pieces and we could hardly fit it on the table.  This next one is only 1500 and I’m hoping it will last through the evening.

this was an awesome puzzle!!
this was an awesome puzzle!!

My brother who lives in this area has left to be with his wife’s family as they celebrate the holiday a few miles away.  Somehow a miracle will happen and they will eat two Thanksgiving dinners back to back.  I am in the quiet of my condo, me and the turkey.

There is no end to the things I am thankful for.  How is all this possible? It is not a matter of deserving this plenty, this comfort, safety and fellowship.  There are many others who should have more, but don’t. I also have to consider that we may not always have what we have now. But while we have it, let us not forget to be grateful and generous.  The memory of these times, precious times, might be what sustains us in the future. I’m just sayin’ it’s best we pay attention.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Today’s Pleasant Thoughts

wpid-20141110_153711.jpgThe everyday, mundane things are special to me.  Sometimes I hesitate to write about them, as if I have to write to entertain others and of course, these simple things would not be entertaining.  But I do write about them because to me it is a miracle that I can see the ordinary, hear voices that are dear to me, organize thoughts, feel gratitude, and appreciation welling up inside, and write.  That these marks on paper can mean anything is a miracle.  We are so marvelously made. 

My Mom’s freezer is full of cookies for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The property tax bills just came, but we have escrow accounts!  What a relief.

My client graduated to rehab and is doing very well.

My car is clean inside and out (for a change).

I’m going to get rid of the bougainvillea bush that never looks beautiful and tries to stab me every time i come near.  Gonna cut the thing down.

I don’t have to cook, there are leftovers, good ones.

It is not snowing here. It is beautiful here. It will be snowing in Wisconsin when we go for Thanksgiving. It will be beautiful there too.

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For some reason I feel relaxed and not stressed out. I’m not going to question it.

I’m not in charge of anything (but I have plenty to do).

So good to get a phone call from a voice I know and love. I don’t want to forget how my people sound.

At it’s low November position, the sun lights things up like no other time of year. Love, love, love to look.

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the light…
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the glowing light…
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ah, the light!
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the light.

Thanksgiving Day

 

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Today is a thanksgiving holiday for me.  I’m just taking a day off after two weeks and several thousand miles of travel to be thankful for making it there and back once again. I have “that thought” every time I leave home that I might not be back again, ever.  I’m not upset or overly morbid about it – it’s more a realization that there is no promise of longevity or a trouble free life given to anyone. Stuff happens, no matter how careful you are.Read More »

Unusually Long Silences

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sunny gift from a guest
Unusually long silences in which readers get bored and lose interest are a dreaded reality for me in my blogging life.  I think I speak for many people when I say that sometimes the things we generally like to be doing (writing) isn’t what we want to be doing most (entertaining out of town guests) or have to be doing (work).  But it is crucial that we avoid guilt over things not done if we are being true to our priorities.

What I’ve been doing:

– a pre Thanksgiving event for the husband and other friends and relatives that I won’t get to see on the actual Thanksgiving Day.  This took me days of prep, planning, cooking and cleaning. Twenty two of us had a great time and a good meal.

thanksgiving thoughts from guests
thanksgiving thoughts from guests

– reconnecting with a long time friend and her family, visiting from afar. We kayaked, walked the beach, swam in the ocean, braved the mall, and ate several meals together. Oh, and Mexican Train up to number 7.

dining out with Cheryl
dining out with Cheryl

– worked for my employer, who is having trouble with staffing right now.  I am a so called resigned, retired nurse who works about as much as I did before I resigned. Go figure.

– spent  much enjoyed time doing music for my church (for my God).  Volunteered a little more than usual since others were out.

-spent hours and dollars on my computer, resurrecting it from death (or near death). Now if I can just figure out where all the missing files are, we’ll be fine and functioning.

– put out my fundraising letter for medical supplies for the Cambodian orphans.  I don’t want to go empty handed. God will supply what is needed, but I have to ask.

– overseeing major house washing.  Who knew it could take a week to pressure wash a house? It looks great again, except in the places where the paint needs to be replaced – but we knew that would happen.  All the accessory trees got trimmed too.

In the big picture, I think I made good choices,

putting God first,

people second

and things last.

I have to say, being a consistent writer is not easy when you have another life of any kind …