Monday, November 25, 2013

Gobble Gobble!

The smell of turkey in the oven still brings me back to my childhood kitchen on Thanksgiving.  This despite the fact that as an adult I've spent more holidays in my own house trying to replicate the feasts of my younger years.  Never mind that my husband and I clogged up our kitchen sink with the skins from 10 pounds of potatoes the first year we hosted Thanksgiving dinner.  My father-in-law had to snake a mile of pipe to clear the soggy mess.  A few traditions have changed however.  For the better I'd argue.

Take cranberry relish.  My family always had the canned cranberry jelly that was splayed artistically across a serving dish.  Round slabs of wiggly reddish-purple tartness proudly bore their ridges from the oh-so-elegant tin can (because I think it was actually chemical-leaching tin back in the day).  It's a shocker that I left this tradition in the dust, right?  Personally I like the kind of chunky, sweet cranberry sauce with ingredients that you can actually identify and enjoy.

My family would move the kitchen table to the family room and add a few extension pieces to accommodate everyone.  I loved seeing the festive decorations: the same accordion-folded paper turkey centerpiece and taper candles were trotted out each year.  We lit those candles just long enough for the dinner and then blew them out and stored them in the hall closet for the next year.  After my father died my brothers and I were cleaning out the house and happened to find a stash of mid-length, ashy holiday candles, patiently waiting for their next job.  I took that silly Hallmark paper turkey.  He'll make his long-awaited return to the spotlight this week... if he doesn't crumble first.

When the guests arrived they were always dressed nicely in deference to the holiday celebration.  My Grandma wore her dress, nylons, and sensible low-heeled shoes, with the requisite tissue tucked up her sleeve for any unforeseen emergency tissue purposes.  My Nana came in a purple mumu ensemble (always purple) with loads of rings and necklaces.  My brothers and I had to wear nice church clothes as well.  It was festive and felt like a special occasion.  My boys fight me now and insist on wearing their dirty old t-shirts with sweats, their hair all greasy and unbrushed because it's their vacation (and who would dare make them think about personal hygiene when they're away from school I ask you).

So I still dress up, as was our family tradition.  A few years ago I even had my cute boots on.  Like a conscientious host, I waited until everyone had taken some turkey from the large platter and then went to the kitchen to refill the plate with heaping piles of perfectly-browned goodness.  As I was walking back into the dining room my heel hit the one spot of grease on the tile floor.  I did a perfect James Brown imitation - minus the hop back to a standing position.  I hit the floor, the platter smashed into a million pieces, and the turkey scattered to all corners of my kitchen.  A brief, stunned silence fell and then the men all started screaming, "Pick it up!  Pick it up!" as if the 10-second rule could erase the fact that white ceramic shards coated the meat like an early-Christmas snow.  My sister-in-law almost needed the Heimlich maneuver because she was choking laughing on the food she'd placed in her mouth the moment before she saw me disappear from sight.  One second I was framed in the doorway with beautiful turkey overloading a platter, and the next second I was gone; dropped down an invisible shaft.  We saved the legs, cleaned them off and put them in a Ziplock bag marked "Floor Turkey" but nobody seemed to touch that bag of leftovers over the next few days.  Weird.

I believe that was the same year we'd unearthed my great-grandmother's china set from my father's Hoarders-like home.  I proudly set the table with the fragile pieces and then stacked them next to the sink for gentle hand washing when we were finished eating dinner.  During my second bite of pumpkin pie I heard a huge crash.  A metal file holder that was on top of the refrigerator had tumbled - you guessed it - right onto the pile of china, breaking the top 5 plates.  Now we are forced to cut 5 people from our family gatherings, like we're at Tribal Council.  "Nope, she's voted out.  She brought crappy wine last year."

Some years we visited relatives and tried out new foods and recipes, hoping to eventually expand our traditional options.  Amy's sweet potato fries?  Yes please. Joan's special gravy?  Mmm.  David's barbecued turkey?  Uh-Huh!  One year I used a teaspoon to scoop out a dozen oranges to make bowls for individual sweet potato dishes.  I couldn't feel my index finger for the rest of the night.  A few years ago I decided to make an ambrosia, figuring "well, technically it has fruit in it and the kids can get some nutrition even if they don't eat the other side items".  I come from a long line of Jell-O aficionados.  My Nana made glorious jiggly concoctions from any number of fancy copper molds and my dad could suspend canned fruits in gelatin like nobody's business.  This ambrosia has now taken on a life of its own and my fluffy pink "fruit" dish is requested at all family dinners.

This year I look forward to a nice, smallish family dinner with our favorite dishes from years past and some wine and good company.  (Not the 10 bottles of wine that four of us consumed one year.  That was a rough Thanksgiving.)  Funny enough, with all of our mishaps, it's really Easter that tends to be our ill-fated family holiday.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and your own crazy traditions.  I'll save some floor turkey for you!

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Friday, November 15, 2013

My Screaming Paparazzi

When I enter the room they scream.  No, not my fans (thanks again to all five of you).  Not even my crazy boys.

I'm talking about the guinea pigs.

Seriously.  They see me and start screeching.  Do you know how disconcerting it is to be recognized by over-sized rats who raise a high-pitched alarm to all other creatures within a two block radius?  I used to take offense, overly worried that a family pet might not like me.  (Clearly I have self-esteem issues.)  Then I realized that they do this vocalizing as a form of appreciation and begging.  They know that I am the one who makes sure they've got food, water, hay, and a clean cage.

If you have kids, you have immediately and correctly deduced that this was supposed to be their job and their responsibility.  You just know that they swore a promise to always look after these cute, vulnerable, little balls of fluff.  They very nearly swore on their mother's grave - oh, wait, that's me... and my sons will surely kill me with their lack of initiative one day.

So I go in and take care of "the girls" as we've come to call them.  They stand up on their shelf with their little paws and noses pressed against the bars as if to say, "Hello dear lady, we do so love that you bring us a spot of fresh veggies and crisps.  Please ma'am, we want some more."  Yes, they sound like Oliver in my head - another issue I'll have to hash out with a therapist someday, but just go with it for now.  I am the one to close the window when it's getting chilly, to remind the boys that the water bottle is nearly dry, and the poop has been piling up at an alarming rate.

Which brings me to my next issue: the cleanliness of their living conditions.  I actually researched guinea pig bedding options when a friend mentioned that I could do away with the ridiculously overpriced shavings and switch to reusable fleece "bedspreads" instead.  There is a market for this kind of stuff.  I kid you not.  People make piggy blankets for like $70 a pop.  But there are also YouTube how-to videos for those DIY pet owners.  That would be me.

So I dragged my boys with me to the fabric store.  Man, even that sentence sounds boring.  Yes, I forced them to be involved in this scheme of mine to furnish our guineas with visually stimulating, yet absorbent new materials.  Yawn.  They pointed at the two closest options and we left as soon as possible.  But the most important material I had to purchase online.  "Zorb" is like a miracle cloth that can hold an inordinate amount of liquid - think Sham Wow, but without the irritating pitchmen.  People use it to make homemade diapers for their kids.  (I said "people", not me!)  You sew this stuff to the fleece, the guineas love it, and appreciatively soil it all to hell. Then you remove the whole shebang and throw it into your washing machine and voila!  Fresh pen, no pee-stained paper globs to deal with, easier cleanup all around.  Right?  Well, there is still the matter of sweeping up the mind-blowing amount of little poops they produce.  Guess who ends up doing that part.  Oh yes, that would be me again!

Initially I made two blankets, and then realized that we needed to cycle through these things at a quicker pace.  My kids' friends come over to hang out and play video games and they're very nice to pretend that they don't mind the offensive smell coming from the guest room.  My boys call this the "GP room" and we used to joke that it stood for either guinea pigs or grand parents (when they visited).  Now it's really just the "Geez, pew!" room.

So I went online and ordered more Zorb.  Right around the same time I got black rubber gloves for my son's Halloween costume.  We also got a new shock collar for the dog and an orthotic neck-support pillow.  Hmm... I can just see the blushing confusion over at Amazon, thinking there's some kinky stuff going on over here.  Let's see them come up with some suggestions now!  Hey, it's what my screaming fans demand!
We're rock stars today!

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What I'm Truly Thankful For

It's November and my Facebook News Feed is filled with wonderful messages of daily gratitude that my friends have shared.  I love reading these messages and I am ultimately jealous because I will never be so on top of things to post a positive tribute each and every day.  I'd be the one with multiple bullet points or numbers, struggling to catch up to the current calendar day of thanks.

And so it got me thinking.  What am I genuinely happy and thankful for?  What is the essential element that we all reference in our own words of specific thanks and gratitude?

LIFE.  I'll say it again: LIFE.

This crazy, wacky roller coaster we are on with its unexpected turns, the highs and lows, the seemingly endless black tunnels that eventually open up to a burst of brightly colored images whirling past us at a breakneck speed.  We can't possibly take in all of the details that are constantly hurled at our overwhelmed senses.

I was thinking about a new life that recently entered into my own family and that, in turn, caused me to remember the ones that have also left my family.  It's a balance.  Life marches on.  My young son noticed the strong connection between death and new life, especially since the passing of both grandfathers was soon followed by the birth of a new cousin.  I am so grateful to welcome a sweet, pure soul to my family, my community, and to this world.

What would I teach this new person?  First, this is not The Game of Life.  We don't all start out with a fair share of the money, with a guarantee of a job or salary.  You may stumble upon more of life's pitfalls than some.  You should be thankful for all of the gifts you are given along the way.  You should always support those who are closest to you.  Who else is guaranteed to be there for you besides your family?  My parents are both gone.  It's just me and my two brothers and our growing families.  That's really what it boils down to.  In my spin around the gameboard I've been lucky to assemble a cheering squad of friends in my work and my community who I consider my extended family.  And of course, my own nuclear family and in-laws who support me all the time.

I used to be resentful of people who could not know my pain.  How could they be happy when one of my loved ones was no longer on this earth?  Why did their grandparents get to live longer than my mother?  Why did my grandmother, in her senility, get to outlive her own daughter?  She didn't even comprehend the loss.  Then I realized that I could not begrudge another person's happiness because of my own sense of loss.  New life demands a celebration.

I can't count how many times I have been present when an innocent life has slipped free of its earthly body, when a patient has finally given up the painful struggle.  I believe in angels.  I have to.
So many tiny eyes never get to witness the beauty of a butterfly's wings while others grow weary of the sight, distracted by artificial images of the world around them.

Photo credit: Life of David / / CC BY-NC-SA

So I say, to my new niece, to my children, to my friends and family: Go out and embrace LIFE.  Take it in, wonder at the good and the bad that it has to offer.  Look at everything as if through a child's eyes.  Do it for those little ones who will not be able to see it for themselves.  Do it for your own children, so that they can learn what it means to be grateful for what they have, even if it the thanks may be meager.  Teach happiness and love by example.

This November, I am grateful for this amazing journey LIFE has given me.

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