No Thanks.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 1.11.05 AM It’s my least favorite holiday.  I don’t think I really knew that, or even examined the question fully until today, but the verdict is clear. I’d rather just skip Thanksgiving. I believe that the grateful life is a healthy life, and that counting one’s blessings is a worthy use of time. I’ve made it Day 73 (so far) of delineating three different things I’m thankful for each and every day for a hundred days. It’s not that. I am grateful.

But this holiday . . . this holiday gets me down.

I was an only child and we lived 800 miles away from extended family.  In Ohio, my great Aunt Della was famous for her thanksgiving feasts. But I was never a guest there. I remember fish fries in the summer, and sauerbraten and homemade noodles,  and at Christmas the fudge she used to send through the mail. But I never had a chance to bow my head for prayer at her Thanksgiving table.

Nor at my Nana’s house in South Carolina. I’m sure there were Thanksgiving traditions there, but I don’t know what they were. I couldn’t even speculate. I know the fried chicken and the green beans and the macaroni and cheese and the pound cake. But Thanksgiving? I haven’t a clue.

I do remember one childhood Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a family friend:  roast goose,  Asti Spumante, Doberman Pinschers nosing around my lap for whatever I might slip them.

Then, a divorce, and we moved to England, where Thanksgiving is some foreign holiday, and the fourth Thursday in November passes without comment.  Later, in Canada, we again had Thanksgiving, but it’s the second Monday in October, celebrating the harvest and somehow cleaner, without the  bloodied history of European interaction with tribal nations. (Not that Canada doesn’t have it’s own brutal history, it’s just not that history.)

To Boston for college, and a hasty marriage one morning just prior to Christmas.  The month before my mother and stepfather came to visit for Thanksgiving,  but Bob was due for an extended family gathering at his grandmother’s house on the north shore. We delivered him there, met everyone, shook hands all around and left. Later, Bob said,  his sweet grandmother felt terrible for not asking us to join them, she’d been so flustered, there was plenty of food. But we went away and drove along the Massachusetts coast until we found someplace open. A dining room that looked out over the cold gray sea, where I ate tinned chowder and cringed under my stepfather’s harangue at not being asked to stay.

Of course, I was also rebuked for not taking more time off to be with them; but working in retail there were no days off the weekend after Thanksgiving, and we could be sure that those days were going to be utter hell.

Mind you, Thanksgiving itself is big business in Boston. Plimoth Plantation, which was developed around the site of the original colony has been a major tourist draw since 1947. It tries to present a picture of both the immigrant and indigenous cultures and you can still eat “America’s Thanksgiving Dinner” there for $93. Each. (Or $68, if you want to re-enact the 1621 dinner with  “A Sallet, Mussels Seeth’d with Parsley and Beer, a Dish of Turkey, Sauc’d, a Pottage of Cabbage, Leeks & Onions, and a Sweet Pudding of Native Corn.”)

Set off for Montana on my own some years later and I remember weeping when they played “American the Beautiful” on the radio.  Amber waves of grain, purple mountain’s majesty, fruited plains– yes! Finally, a place where Thanksgiving meant a connection to the earth.

Reality was that I married a lovely man with two young daughters. Every holiday was a cause for a fight with his ex-wife over where the girls would land, and Thanksgiving was no different. If we had them for Thanksgiving, we missed Christmas morning. And it wasn’t up to us to decide.

But working at a newspaper there in Montana I helped create the most rewarding Thanksgiving I’d experienced. While doing a human interest story on Meals on Wheels, we discovered that they didn’t deliver on Thanksgiving. Restaurants weren’t open on Thanksgiving. If you had nowhere to go that last Thursday in November, you were out of luck.

So we set about hosting an all-volunteer free Thanksgiving dinner for the community, citing of course, the communal nature of that first Thanksgiving. My friend Sheryl cooked the 90 turkeys on the rotating racks of her enormous bakery oven. The head chef from a nearby resort came to organize the kitchen. Food poured in, money poured in, volunteers came out in droves. No one was asked to prove their need. They only needed to want to be there with all of us. The District Judge gave the opening prayer. We fed 700 people.

The next year, we did it again. My father and his wife were on hand for that one, and again, it went splendidly. The next night, over dinner in Livingston’s best restaurant, my father lit into me for my lack of self-discipline. When I tried to defend myself (“I write 5000 words a week for publication, Dad. That takes some self-discipline”) he roared at me that he wanted some respect. I got up and walked out, happy Thanksgiving.

We did the Community Thanksgiving Dinner until 2001, when the events of 9-11 tapped out everyone’s last dime for charity. There was not enough money, or energy leftover to give locally.

Years later, we came home one winter evening to find three turkeys standing in the driveway. Live turkeys. They looked a bit like wild turkeys, but turned out to be Bourbon Reds that belonged to the neighbors. We were welcome to them, the neighbors said.

Apparently they’d acquired 4 turkey chicks in the spring and named them Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter. Apparently “Thanksgiving” had put up such a ruckus at becoming the centerpiece of the holiday meal, the neighbors had lost interest in going through all that again.

Turkeys are funny animals.  These three– two toms and a hen– liked to sit on the ridge line of the  barns, or atop the chimneys like storks.  They slept in the barn at night, bedding down in the straw with the ponies.  They’d greet you in the morning and run to meet the car when we came home in the afternoon. They would cluck and coo and gobble as they made their way around the farm.

One day Edward the dog got loose and caught and savaged the two toms. I wanted to kill him, I really did. I was ready to load him up and head for the veterinarian. My son Julian, then about 8, wept and pleaded and argued Edward’s case until I gave in. I picked up the poor beleaguered carcasses, wrapped them in a sheet and set them in the back of the pick-up. I knew my husband would put them in the green dumpsters; there’s no burying anything in the Montana winter.

The hen mourned. I would watch her sitting alone on the barn roof. She wouldn’t go inside anymore. She turned away from the grain I brought her. With temperatures predicted to plunge to 20 below, I brought her into the mudroom of the house. She threw herself against the door. I let her out. In the morning I found her frozen to death in the snow.

It was a long time before I could face the carcass of a turkey on a platter. The next Thanksgiving we had a rib roast.

Late in August of 2005 my father came to terms with the fact that he wasn’t going to recover from laryngeal cancer. In the inexorable march over the next three months he scheduled people to come and visit. We sent an email– offering to travel from Montana to Missouri for Thanksgiving, thinking one last chance to do this right– but our offer was refused. He’d already scheduled his wife’s son Michael and Michael’s family for Thanksgiving instead. Absent was any message of inclusion. He died the day after Christmas.

Two years later we moved to Ohio,  and finally we had a shot at a real Thanksgiving with extended family– my 90-something-year-old grandmother, aunt and uncles. their families gathered at my uncle’s house. One year I brought the sublime macaroni and cheese I’d learned how to make from my southern Nana, and no one touched it.

But for the most part, these were happy gatherings, with pickles and noodles and turkey and ham and salads and a kid’s table and plenty of wine and conversations that went on long into the night. Then my grandmother died, and we met only one more time for the holiday.  This year my Uncle tells me that the main event at his house is a “quarter pound mixed-meat hot dog and curly fries.” He did have cranberry juice for breakfast.  I tell him that we need to be better organized.

We had a quiet thanksgiving here. We weren’t in the mood to cook, and the oven is broken anyway. We thought we’d just get by with burgers today. But the burger place was closed. You can’t buy a burger on Thanksgiving, but you can buy a big screen television. Or an iPad. Or whatever Macy’s and Kohl’s and Target is selling; the hordes out there trampling each other for deals hours after being grateful for what they already have.

Thanksgiving is marked at our house this year with bacon and eggs and hash-browns. Perhaps it’s better to just be thankful every day and never mind the rest of it.

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Making Time to Write

sleepywriter

Writers are plagued with an array of hurdles that keep them from getting words on a page. Some struggle mightily with writer’s block. I am lucky in that this is a rare goblin in my life; I can generally write about anything. As long as I can find my way to the page. There is time management. This is a bête noire I know too well. It is a problem for women writers, especially. No one ever expected William Faulkner to step away from the typewriter to make dinner.

But in my life, the worst succubus of all is Procrastination.  It’s not what you think. I’m not dilly-dallying. Orputtering. Or loafing about. No, my day is chock full of things I’ve done. My to-do lists are checked. I am a woman of many irons and they are all in the fire. I am pulled in a dozen different directions, but on the whole I manage to accomplish most of what I set out to do in a day.

Except the writing. (And sometimes the laundry.)

Writing is supposed to be the most important thing in my life. It is my damnation, and my grace. I only spent the first 25 years of my life trying Not to Be a Writer, and writing all the while. I was going to be a ballerina! An equestrienne! An actress, a director, a broadcast journalist, a photojournalist, a filmmaker, a performance artist. Okay, maybe a poet. Dammit. Finally it doesn’t matter what you choose, sometimes you are simply chosen,

I have accepted this yoke, and I have made it my own. So why does writing come absolutely last in my list of priorities? Am I crazy?

One of my dearest friends is an architect. Every time he sits down to draw he suddenly has an acute need to organize his sock drawer. Sometimes we call each other on the phone and talk for an hour so as to slide ever closer to the looming deadline while not accomplishing a damn thing.

What I did today:

A lengthy and enjoyable half hour  on the phone with a good friend about a mutual project.

I had a granola bar for breakfast.

Read an essay online about a study in Europe that suggests that dogs don’t like their owners as much as we think they do. Wonder why every “expert” who conducts a study on dogs seems to know nothing about dogs and understands them even less. Make some notes for a follow up essay of my own.

Return a phone call from the Physiatry office to reschedule, yet again, my EMG test to have a look at my wonky ulnar nerve. Okay, April 6th then.

Check  on some items I’ve been watching on eBay.

Then a surprising phone call from a friend who just learned she’s being sued for $25,000 by a crazy woman. Did I know any attorneys? I said I’d do some asking and call her back.

Drove gently to the gas station to put fuel in the car, because Dear Husband left it with enough to go six miles.

Had a meeting at a firm about a copy-writing assignment for a brochure. The man who owns the firm is a friend and I told him about my Lenten project to write every day. He asked me if it wouldn’t be better to be writing for money, and I agreed it would, but confessed I was again so out of the habit of writing that I was desperate for anything to make it second nature again.

Took some notes about the brochure he needs and then got into a discussion about an officer-involved shooting that has some labyrinthian details unknown to the public. My ears perk up. These kinds of stories make my fingers itch. In a good way.

Gathering up my notes, I asked if he could recommend an attorney for my friend. He could.

Drove home because I’d forgotten the check I needed to deposit. Spent some time petting Snippy, the semi-feral cat who hangs out in the garden. He’s been on walkabout for a few weeks, and I am relieved to see him.

Go to the kitchen, call MK to give her the name of the attorney. Make a date to meet her for lunch.

Find the coupon for the car wash and go back to the car. Oh damn, the check. Go back to the house and get the check.

Go to the nearest bank drive-through. Try to deposit the check. Every time I press the button for “Deposit Check” the screen says “Your transaction is complete. Would you like another transaction?”  Give up, and drive to the ATM a mile away. Deposit the check, take out some cash.

Make the last half-hour of an estate sale. It’s a peculiar sale, full of dolls and teddy bears– but not peculiar because of that. Strange because the owner, not at all deceased, wanders among us. I buy an amber necklace for two dollars. I always feel a little guilty when I find the thing they missed, but I guess that’s why I go.

Drive to the car wash. There’s a huge line. Decide to call my family doctor to make an appointment while I’m waiting in the line. They put me on hold. Of course they answer the phone at the exact time that the girl comes to get the ticket for the car wash. She can’t get the coupon to scan, but takes it anyway and scrawls a hieroglyphic on the windshield. My appointment is for 8:45 a.m. on the 27th. I remind the phone to remind me. We’ll see if she does.

Meander down a nearby road to have a look-see at a house my friend thought she might consider. (She from the first phone call of the day.) Hmm. The road is very busy, the neighbors seem too numerous. Head back towards downtown.

Realize that I’m starving. It’s 4:30 and that granola bar was a long time ago. Go through the drive-through at Tim Horton’s. Get a chicken salad sandwich, which is very messy to eat in the car. And a maple dip donut. It’s the first donut I’ve had in two months. Delicious. When I roll up the rim on my coffee cup, I discover I’ve won another cup of coffee. Yay, me.

Arrive, still picking bits of lettuce off my jacket, at my favorite thrift shop. Wander around for 90 minutes. Find two Calphalon pots and a silk ottoman. And a stack of books, including a self-published book on a murder in Troy, Ohio. Call my husband from the parking lot, and employ “Face Time” to have a conversation with him assuming the role of my side-kick, Señor Pinchy.

Mr.Pinchy

Senor Pinchy

My husband is laughing.

When I get home, he comes out the car to help me bring in the books and the pots and the silk ottoman. My teenaged son would like to have a ride to his friend’s house.  Fine, but we feed the dogs first.

After we drop off our son, we cruise down Main Street, looking at all the remarkable architecture Dayton has to offer, in various states from abject neglect to carefully maintained. We keep driving until we are far on the other side of town. I think we might stop in somewhere for coffee and some kind of dessert to share.

First we go to Ollie’s, a strange place of cast-offs and buy-outs and insurance losses. There are a couple of books I’d like and a bag of dark chocolate miniature Toblerone.  Thank God dark chocolate is essential to our health. Of course we have to look at everything in the place: air conditioners marked “GNTW” (Guaranteed Not to Work) reading glasses, toys, books, gardening implements, pet supplies, blankets, baking pans, a whole stack of Paula Deen cookware, carpets, auto supplies, gourmet potato chips and off-season coffee. (Pumpkin, Gingerbread, Vanilla Cookie.)

We’re close to a big box hardware store and my husband just wants to check for . . . . That takes an hour.

The tire seems low, he thinks, so we stop at a gas station to add air. His favorite hamburger place is right over there, so of course we go. I had the most modest hamburger on the menu. I still have indigestion.

On the way home I get a text from a woman in Cincinnati about two dogs lost in my neighborhood; a Boston Terrier named Opie and a Frenchie name Lorelei. We head over to that neighborhood and drive around slowly in the dark. I figure they’re bedded down for the night.

When we get home, I make a large bowl of vegetables to eat.  I have just enough time to send the dogs’ owner a reassuring note and to tell her that I will be out in the morning with our own Boston terrier (a foster failure) to search some more.

Oh, and I read a story in the Daily Mail about ghost hamlets in Spain that can be bought for fifty thousand pounds.

Then it is time to go pick up our son again, as he has work in the morning. On our way to get him and on our way home, we make a detour to search again for the lost dogs.  Then we are back at home and oh, there’s Snippy again, stop to pet him.

All the dogs go out for one last whizz. My son goes off to bed. My husband looks at lawn-mower batteries online and wants me to stop and look up the numbers of those that we saw in the big box hardware store, but I plead with him to let it go ’till morning, and he says okay.

It’s 2:21 a.m.

What I didn’t do today: write.

There must be a way to put the writing first. If I want it to be so, surely I can make it that way. But even when my day is not filled with other stuff, somehow I manage to leave writing to the very end, and sometimes there’s just not enough left of me to get to it.

This has got to change.

How to Make an Egg Sandwich

 

withdadandjulian

 

First of all, you need a gas range. If you don’t have a gas range, please go out and get one. Making an egg sandwich requires the immediacy of “heat there – heat gone” that only the flame can provide. If you have an electric stove, and you insist on using it, well, okay, you can make an egg sandwich on that, but it will not be as good.

I learned to make this sandwich as a child watching my father do it, and in my heart I carried with me that method, both observed and instructed, like a kind of religious ritual. Thirty-five years later my father offered to make me the sandwich, and I was pleased and excited. Once again, I was going to have an egg sandwich made at the hands of the master! Imagine my shock and surprise, my downright dismay, when he didn’t make it right. He mixed up the eggs in the pan on the heat, it was stunning. He even added pickle relish to his own sandwich.

To properly make an egg sandwich you need five items: eggs, salt, white bread, mayonnaise and butter. (No you cannot use margarine, spreads, olive oil or anything else. It has to be butter.) For years I made this sandwich with Miracle Whip, but it contains High Fructose Corn Syrup, so I’ve gone to using mayo, it’s better for you.

No doubt you’ve seen those insidious ads that suggest High Fructose Corn Syrup is “all natural” and “nutritionally the same as table sugar.” They’re like those cigarette ads from the fifties that proclaimed smoking was “Healthy!” “Good for you!” Recommended by Doctors!” High Fructose Corn Syrup is a sweetener in which the caloric content has been used up through processing, it provides no cellular fuel at all. It may be all natural, but it leaves all natural fatty deposits in your liver. No thanks. But I digress. We like Hellman’s for mayonnaise, as it is a bit tangier and more like Miracle Whip in taste.

Clearly, this is not an egg salad sandwich, and technically, it is not a fried egg sandwich. A fried egg sandwich would be something akin to the burger my stepfather used to order at the lunch counter of the Linkletter Hotel . . . three patties of beef, three slices of cheese stacked in a bun, with a sunny-side up egg on top. He ate this sandwich continental style with a knife and fork.

This might be described as a scrambled egg sandwich, but you cook the eggs more like frittata, you don’t scramble them in the pan, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you want to use cheap eggs, that’s your prerogative of course, but the extra expense of organic eggs from grain fed, free range hens pays off in taste. (Not to mention the kharmic boost that you get from not further contributing to the misery of hens being kept on an assembly line and fed diets that include (eek!) bits of other chickens. Cannibal chickens! The stuff of Wes Craven’s nightmares.

So take two or three beautiful eggs (your preference) and crack them into a bowl, glass measuring cup or clean coffee mug. Whisk them briskly with a pair of forks. Heat a small non-stick frying pan, and add a dollop of butter. Turn the heat on high. When the butter is melted and frothy, pour in the eggs. Be careful not to let the butter brown . . . if it does, you have to start all over with new butter.

While the eggs bubble happily in the pan, get out two slices of good white bread. (A note about Wonder Bread. I am not a Wonder Bread snob. I can roll up my slice of Wonder Bread into those neat little doughy balls with the best of them . . . but Wonder Bread won’t work well for this sandwich, it’s too spongy and the whole thing will just be a soggy mess. It needs to be white bread with a little bit of body.) Or you can use nutty multi-grain bread, or the like. Sourdough or rye are likely to crowd the delicate taste of the eggs, so they are not advised.

My husband, who is a wonderful man in nearly every respect, insists on freezing the loaves of bread that cross our threshold. If I’m making this sandwich with bread that’s been frozen, I toast the bread. (Thawed bread is not the same as soft bread, darling, no matter what you say.) In the best of possible worlds, use bread that you just brought home from the grocery store, bread that has never seen refrigeration of any kind.

Take your slices of bread, and spread upon them a reasonable amount of mayo. Don’t glop it on, just a little goes a long way. Some heathen pagan insensitive types have been known to put mustard (mustard!) on this sandwich. I say to them, why don’t you just have a mustard sandwich? Even a tiny bit of good Dijon mustard will make it taste like mustard. I shudder at the thought.

Have you been keeping an eye on the eggs? You need to be keeping an eye on the eggs. They should be getting tall and puffy in the undisturbed pan. Now, depending on the intended recipient of the egg sandwich, you flip it either sooner or later. My son, who is generally a good boy, likes his eggs browned slightly. What’s a mother to do? I can’t stand them this way, but that’s his preference and so I bite my tongue and make his sandwich with the eggs browned.

Sprinkle salt on the eggs like you were dancing to Afro-Cuban music while cooking. (In fact, it’s not a bad idea to listen to Afro-Cuban music while cooking.) Flip them over with a spatula. Cook for another minute or so, then slide the eggs (a golden fluffy patty of eggs) onto the waiting bread.

Place on a small plate and carry with you to your favorite armchair to consume while reading a paperback novel. Put the egg sandwich on a tray with a steaming cup of coffee and a tall glass of orange juice and carry upstairs to your husband who is feeling not quite himself. Wrap in a paper towel and carry for your son who has his arms full with his school bag and cello so he can eat his warm breakfast in the car on a dark and cold winter morning on the way to school.

Make this sandwich when you aren’t in the mood to make dinner. This sandwich is excellent for lunch while working on household projects. It’s great nourishment for your mother recovering from heart surgery. It is, in fact, perfect for mending broken hearts, not to mention a bonafide cure for hangovers and other ailments. An egg sandwich is just the thing to fix for your father when he is dying of cancer, even if it turns out after all these years that he doesn’t make it the same way. He will enjoy it anyway, maybe all the more so because it was something of his that you took and made your own.

 

This a reprise. I wrote this piece in March 2009, and I am sharing it here in loving memory of my Dad, Larry Paul Vonalt, January 10, 1937-December 26, 2005. Thinking about you on Father’s Day, Dad, and all days. (And I would like to add that since this was written Miracle Whip has stopped using high fructose corn syrup in their salad dressing.) 

Reckoning

 

It’s been a long, long, long stressful day– not anything to do with something so mundane as health and wellness, but a huge domestic explosion in our daughter’s life, including her former fiance stealing her car and shooting at her when she went to get it back. Did I mention that he was drunk? Or that he’d called me six times today?  It’s nearly two a.m. and I just now am getting off the phone.

Trying to squeeze too much in, I rushed around and made a wonderful dinner of steamed mussels, and then, because I was concerned that I’d got so little walking in, went upstairs and tried to boost the numbers on the treadmill. I’d gone seven tenths of a mile before I realized that I felt godawful, so I did the smart thing and stopped.

Cue the Shirrelles: Mama said there’ll be days like this. Not too often, I hope.

Did I mention that when I stepped on the scale this morning I’d “gained” six-tenths of a pound? It’s okay, I laughed. I knew these fluctuations were coming.

Here’s the accounting for the week:

The target number for today is 62. I walked 3248 steps.

Number of pounds to lose this week: 2

Number of pounds lost this week: 4.8!

Cumulative number to have lost by this point: 6

Actual cumulative number lost: 18!

Number of steps to have walked: 30,000

Actual number of steps walked: 41,406

Cumulative number to have walked: 90,000

Cumulative number walked: 138,282   (52.24 miles!)

Today’s repast: banana, half-cup cottage cheese, grapes, 4 dried apricots, half-cup rice pudding with nutmeg (I love nutmeg), mussels in a cilantro-lime-garlic-sriracha cream sauce, and a half-cup of lemon sorbetto.

Tomorrow, thank God, is another day.