Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013, a Holiday Evolves...

When I was young, Thanksgiving was all about the food.  I have fleeting memories of some holiday dinners at my grandmother’s, but most of my holiday food memories were at our house.  My mother made a huge turkey, or at least it looked huge to my young eyes, and we had stuffing, Mom’s special rolls, cranberry sauce and other lovely things we didn’t have on normal days.  We would sit down and eat, and it was always phenomenal. 

When I was in college, Thanksgiving was all about the fun.  I remember heading to my sister’s house in NJ for Thanksgiving one year.  There were six college kids driving East with all our suitcases in a Pinto with no snow tires.  We got stuck in a blizzard in the Poconos.  Traffic was at an absolute standstill.  Parents actually let kids out of the cars to make snow angels on the side of the road.  How crazy that seems now in retrospect. We spent Thanksgiving night sitting in a cold car.  We finally got to an exit on Friday, and spend that night sitting on maps on a gas station floor.  I missed the holiday completely and arrived in Red Bank on Saturday.  My brother-in-law drove down to fetch me, I spent the night at their house, then flew back to Columbus.  At the time I thought it was a great adventure.  Now I think it was just nuts and dangerous. 

After I got married, Thanksgiving was about doing my part for family Thanksgiving dinners.  I loved it.  We would go to Mom’s for the event, but I would cook the turkey and stuffing at home in a big electric roaster, and we would take the cooked bird with us.  Mom would concentrate on all the fixings, the rolls, the pies, the green bean casseroles, etc.  I would set up shop with my roaster and make gravy.  My father’s typical comment was, “the turkey is a little dry.”  I’m not quite sure why he said that every year, but I don’t remember him saying that to Mom when she made the bird.  Perhaps it was to make her feel that no one else could cook like she did.  And no one could.  We had some pretty severe winters back then.  One time, the National Guard had come out with road graders to clear the highways, and we drove slowly down State Route 528, marveling at the walls of piled snow to either side, at least 8-10 feet high.  We managed to get there and the feast went on.

After Mom and Dad sold the big house, Thanksgiving was about gathering together, and we moved it around a bit.  We had some years when my brother and his wife hosted, some when my sister (who had moved back to the area briefly) hosted.  If everyone made other plans, we sometimes had Thanksgiving with Jim’s side of the family.  But in all scenarios, I was the one certainty, making and bringing the turkey and stuffing.

After we built the new house, holidays came to us, and Thanksgiving became more about being grateful.  I no longer had to haul the bird across the county (or counties), even though I had most of the additional preparations to manage:  seating logistics, rolls, casseroles, pies, libations, etc.  At least my oven was free for other baking (love that electric roaster). 

This year will be different.  My daughter and her family will be the only ones joining us for dinner.  My son will not be making the trip from NJ this year with his crew.  My brother and his wife and son will be staying home by choice, but may stop by for pie later on.  My other brother and my sister are far away celebrating in their own way.  Somehow I think I will be missing Mom telling me I don’t chop my onions right and Dad complaining that the turkey is a little dry.  But they are celebrating Thanksgiving together for the first time since 1997, and I am thankful for that and happy for them in a wistful sort of way. 

And now it’s time to head downstairs.  There are pies to bake, a turkey to stuff, a casserole to experiment with, and other things that need doing.  When the eight of us sit down, I will offer up my prayer of thanks that we are lucky enough to gather and do this one more year, because there are so many who don’t have that opportunity and don’t know the joy of celebrating in a warm house with good food surrounded by family.  When dinner is said and done, we’ll clean it all up and prepare for our first Black Friday Potluck.  For all the angst and prep, I am grateful for that as well.  Having all the family on my husband’s side gather for a joyous occasion is a thing of beauty, even if it is at my house!
Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

..of Cabbages and Kings...

Cabbage is cooked and ready.  Rice is cooked and ready.  Tomorrow's task is to mix up the filling, make the actual cabbage rolls and get them cooked, cooled and into the freezer.  Wednesday's tasks are stuffing and pies.  Thursday's tasks include the turkey, a butternut squash casserole, mashed potatoes, salad, and pies.  Friday's menu is potluck.  I will provide the cabbage rolls, salad, mashed potatoes, pies, and all the leftovers in my fridge and those brought by the fellow diners.  I am still struggling with the logistics of 30 for sit down. Now, all that's missing is someone else to clean up the mess...

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Later, Everything Changed, Nothing Changed

I was 11 years old when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.  I remember being in my 6th grade classroom at Assumption School in Geneva when our teacher came in and told us all to get on our knees and pray.  When the President died anyway, I remember wondering if God really hears our prayers and if prayers do any good at all.  It seemed the whole country was on its knees, yet it made no difference to the outcome.

I keep seeing posts and hearing interviews with those who remember that day, and I'm amazed by those who can't believe it's been 50 years.  I don't feel that way at all.  I feel like it was a lifetime ago.  A lot of good and a lot of bad things have happened in the lifetime since the nation's hopes were dashed by that bullet. But in the end, things haven't really changed.  It's all a matter of perspective, and what was true then, is still true now...sad, but true.

"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."  President John F. Kennedy

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Black Friday Potluck!

In a move my friends think is downright crazy, I’ll be hosting dinner for approximately 30 people the day after Thanksgiving (Thursday = traditional dinner for eight, Friday = potluck for ~30).  Needless to say, I have to prepare for this event ahead of time.  Therefore, the serious making of the cabbage rolls will commence this weekend.  I’ve decided the most expedient way to accomplish the task is to fill 9 x 13 foil pans, bake and freeze.  When I get them out of the freezer, all the pans, being of approximately equal content, should take about an hour to thaw.  I’ll pop the thawed pans into the oven two at a time until they are hot, then transfer the hot cabbage rolls into the big roaster and let everything stew until dinner time.  Many of those attending will be bringing food and leftovers, so it won’t be just cabbage rolls and mashed potatoes.  The logistics of seating 30 people down to eat at the same time in my house has yet to be determined.  I see much moving of furniture in my future.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

R.I.P. Perry Yowell

Lake County has lost yet another wonderful, multi-talented, local musician.  Dozens of Perry’s friends, fans and musical peers gathered at Rider’s Inn in Painesville to celebrate his life and his music and to wish him well at his new gig in the beyond.  Although the evening was filled with music and laughter as people shared their stories of Perry and his music, I would rather there had been no call for such an event.  Our musical community is diminished by his loss.

At least the stuffing was a hit....

Making the stuffing for 100 people (my husband’s boy scout troop and their family members) went much better than expected.  I suppose after almost 20 years making this dish for this particular event, I should expect it to go with no fuss.  Of course, I dried the 18 pounds of Italian and Rye bread about 5 weeks ago and broke it into pieces, so it was ready to be combined with the rest of the ingredients.  I dumped all the dry bread into a clean, 30 gallon plastic storage bin, and set it aside.  The actual hand chopping of the onions (10 pounds) and the celery (5-6 pounds), as well as the cooking of said vegetable bits with 6 pounds of butter in a huge stock pot, took about 45 minutes.  Once that was done, the salt, pepper and appropriate seasonings were added to the pot and left to simmer another quarter hour.  This concoction, along with a gallon and a half of boiling water, was poured over the bread.  I found the best way to mix this enormous load of stuffing is to don a clean pair of Teflon, oven-proof gloves and scoop it around with my gloved hands.  It’s quicker than using a spoon, but one must make sure that none of the boiling hot stuffing falls down the glove openings!  Once evenly mixed and cooled, the stuffing is scooped into gallon zip lock bags (nine) and placed in the fridge until used.

The funny story here is that, for the last several years, I have made my famous stuffing for this annual event without the onions.  It almost killed me to do so, and I was vocal about the diminished quality of the final product, but one of the assistant scoutmasters was deathly allergic to onions.  Therefore, the onions had to go.  My husband insisted that the stuffing still tasted fine, but I knew it did not.  I had mixed feelings of sadness and delight when the man in question sold his business and moved to Florida over the summer.  I tried not to dance with glee at the thought of once again using onions in the stuffing. 

As I sat eating the turkey dinner with several of the scout parents, a woman piped up and said, “Wow!  This is great stuffing!  They must have gotten someone new to make it since it’s been pretty blah tasting for the last few years.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

Searching for a new "Normal"

It’s been a little over a month since Mom passed away, and I find myself floundering in my search for a new normal.  Her passing has left a large hole in my life and routines.  Someone asked me what I was doing before, and I had to think back a very long way to even begin to figure that out.  I suppose this is something akin to empty nest syndrome.  Chris had moved out, but Meredith was still living with us on and off when Mom first came to stay.  She lived with us for almost 7 years of the 10 years before she went to assisted living.  Even after the move to assisted living, my life was still mom-centric. 

From the beginning, I tried to make Mom an integral part of my smaller family unit.  I wanted her to feel that this was her home as much as ours, and made sure she was included in all the functions we hosted or attended.  Everything I did, barring attending a few sci-fi conventions, was done with an eye to Mom and making sure she was included.  We went to lunch on Saturdays and we shopped.  When Forest and I were still performing as Sabbatical, Mom came with me to the performances.  When we weren’t performing, she came with me to wineries to listen to others.  Sometimes we’d stop at Your Vine or Mine for a Panini and a glass of wine.  A picture of the two of us graces the photo collage in The Vine’s foyer.  We went to Captains’ games, both as family outings and as part of work events where bringing family was encouraged.  One of my fondest memories is taking Mom to the Vatican exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

As time passed, she started to decline those opportunities, and I started to decline those invitations so that she wasn’t sitting at home alone feeling left out.  When Mom moved to assisted living, I visited a couple times a week and we continued our Saturday lunch outings.  Then her health took a turn for the worse, and her condition made it difficult for me to take her out and about.  She needed more supervision than the regular-level assisted living provided, and her dementia was progressing, so they moved her into the memory unit.  I knew she felt trapped there, so I increased my visits to as many times a week as I could, stopping after work most days and for a couple hours on weekend days. 

I'm now heading home after work, but three times this month I have found myself halfway to Emeritus before realizing that I was driving there by rote.  Then again, when I have to shop, I find myself avoiding Sam’s Club because it makes me sad when I have to drive by Emeritus to get there.

I am making a spreadsheet of what I want and need to do with my life and my time going forward.  There is no going back.  I need to create a new normal, even if I tend to be far from normal by most people’s standards.  Though, with the holidays coming at me like a speeding freight train, even my best intentions might be derailed.  We will see.  The calendar is filling up with a lot of events and obligations that in no way resemble the creation of a new normal.
  • Sunday afternoons are filled with Messiah rehearsals until the December 8th concert. 
  • Meredith needs help selling jewelry on Saturdays between now and Christmas.
  • I am slated to make stuffing for 80-100 people for the annual Boy Scout Turkey dinner, coming up this weekend.
  • Meredith, Gary and the kids are coming for Thanksgiving dinner
  • We’re hosting 25-28 (Jim’s side) the day after Thanksgiving for a huge pot luck. 
  • And then, Christmas will be upon us and I’ve done zero gift shopping. 
My only accomplishment to date was making the Christmas wine early in September and getting it bottled up in mid-October.

I guess I’ll keep working on that spreadsheet and plan on not implementing any changes to the status quo before January 1, 2014!