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One memorable Thanksgiving…

Meet Tater

The Saga of Tater…

Like a lot of people, my school experience resembled a roller coaster ride…it was filled with happy highs and not-so-happy lows. Normally I keep all school-based memories safely tucked away and deeply hidden in my memory bank. 

For some reason, the approach of Thanksgiving this year has unlocked a long forgotten experience from my elementary school days, and this fleeting moment has floated to the surface. In 1954, my dad was in the military and stationed at the Pentagon. I was 6 years old and we were living in Virginia for a few months. 

My memory of this community is filled with rolling fields and farm land. While we were living there, I attended a small K-12 school situated in this mostly rural area. The entire school had fewer than 100 students, and just one teacher per grade level. I was in first grade. 

On this particularly special day, I have a clear memory of our play yard bathed in sunshine, blessed with beautiful, clear blue Autumn skies, and a scattering of trees wearing golden, scarlet, and bronze crowns. 

Apparently, the school’s Head Master had let the teachers know that all students were to assemble in the play yard at a pre-determined time that morning. My first grade mind remembers our class being lined up and led to the yard in a flurry of excitement. This was an unusual event and cause for lots of whispered speculation among all the students, even the upper classmen!

Picture this…

There in the center of the play yard behind the painted hopscotch grid stood the Head Master and a TURKEY! Yes, you read that correctly…a living, breathing, gobbling turkey. The principal introduced us to Tater, the first turkey I had ever seen.  

Now, if this were to happen in a school today, I expect parents would be up in arms that the children were being traumatized. But this was 1954. Head Master went on to tell us, with overly dramatic gestures, that poor Tater was doomed to end up as someone’s Thanksgiving dinner. We were advised that it was our job to save him; we were challenged us to come up with a plan to save Tater from his fate as a Thanksgiving entrée.

I remember frantically trying to come up with an idea. I had nothing! My six-year-old brain drew a total blank! I think I ended up writing that they should eat extra vegetables. Lame, I know, but in spite of my less-than-stellar suggestion, that day was special. 

The students across all grade levels banded together with common purpose to fight a common battle… Save Tater! Student engagement was at an all-time high and collaboration was everywhere. I don’t remember my teacher’s name, I don’t remember the Head Master’s name, but the turkey’s name was Tater! Human nature was at its best that day and I learned a valuable life lesson. When we work together, when we are united for a common cause, we can achieve goals and exceed expectations. 

I belong to a group, Driven to Wellness, that is a great example of this theory in action. Our members live across and beyond the country, we are of different ages and stages of life, we come from different backgrounds, and multiple races. Members are facing many different challenges, but have a common goal: living a healthy, happy, fulfilled life. This common vision unites us and is consistently evident in the posts here on our page. When the world feels overwhelming, this is where I find respite. 

During times of national tragedy such as September 11, the Boston Marathon, the Pulse Nightclub attack (and many others), our country united and banded together to fight a common battle. My prayer this Thanksgiving is that we, as a nation, find a way to do this without waiting for a horrific event to spur us to action. Each of us can find a cause in our own community that allows us to feel love, passion and commitment; to collaborate and engage for the betterment of ourselves and our neighbors.

But, let’s get back to Tater. You are probably wondering whether or not we saved Tater from a ghastly demise. Well, Head Master neglected to tell us that Tater was actually a beloved pet. He was named Tater because his family would eat nothing but potatoes before they would ever eat him! So, Tater had a happy ending, and so does this post.  Have a Healthy and Happy Thanksgiving filled with great food, good friends, loving family, and plenty of fun!!!

The Colors of Thanksgiving

It may surprise you to know that we Americans are not the only people to enjoy a celebration dedicated to giving thanks. 

  • Long before Europeans arrived in North America, the Indigenous Peoples had celebrated the harvest with autumnal festivals.
  • Canada’s first Thanksgiving celebration happened in 1578, several decades before the one at Plymouth. Today, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October each year.  
  • In Japan, citizens celebrate Kinro Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day) on November 23rd each year. On this national holiday, people are encouraged to focus on the value of hard work and community service. Children celebrate the day by making cards for local police, firefighters, and other community helpers. 
  • The German equivalent of Thanksgiving is Erntedankfest, which translates to “harvest festival of thanks”. 
  • Surprisingly, there are people in the the Dutch city of Leiden who celebrate Thanksgiving. Some of the Pilgrims leaving England traveled to North America on the Mayflower, but some stayed behind in Leiden. Today, the people of Leiden still celebrate their connection to the Mayflower’s passengers by having church services on the fourth Thursday of November.
  • Americans have spread the idea of Thanksgiving around the world to places like Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean, Grenada, Puerto Rico, and Liberia.

Step back a moment and think about the people on this list who are celebrating Thanksgiving; from the Netherlands ~ to Japan ~ to Liberia, they come in all colors. 

Now, look around you at nature.  During the Autumn months, everything slows down and the vibrant green colors of summer begin to change.  Days are shorter, temperatures drop, and the Earth blankets us with a quilt of reds, oranges, yellows, and browns.  These colors just feel cozy, don’t they?  

It is not a surprise that when we look at the traditional North American Thanksgiving feast spread out on the table, we see many of the same colors. First, there is the glistening brown turkey, dressing, and warm gravy. Surrounding them you may see dark green broccoli, warm orange butternut squash, yellow rutabaga, creamy mashed potatoes, and ruby red cranberry sauce.  When we eat what the Earth provides, we find that the colors of nature are reflected in our food.

I conclude that Thanksgiving is a holiday that reminds us to be the best version of ourselves; to look up from our devices, slow down, give thanks, show kindness, have gratitude, and breathe. Let us join together to give thanks for the beautiful colors around us…in the people, in nature’s colorful display, in the bounty of food. For the gifts of the Earth, give thanks. 

Photo of trees by Dennis Buchner on Unsplash

Photo of feast by Christopher Ryan on Unsplas

Photo of pumpkins by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

Photo of turkey by Meelika Marzzarella on Unsplash

The Journey

I must uncover 

the pioneer spirit 

of my ancestors 

within myself

for I am on a journey

of self-discovery.

I must be unafraid

to travel into dark places

I have never acknowledged.

I must release memories 

of a childhood past

and lovingly embrace 

my today. 

I must acknowledge that

my heart beats for truth.

My soul longs for acceptance.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

.

.

.

.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

The Great Thanksgiving Debate…

“Debate? What debate”?, you ask. Cranberries~we need to talk about cranberries.  Cranberries are synonymous with Autumn and many people today associate cranberries with Thanksgiving. So let’s answer the question of whether or not cranberries were present at the first Thanksgiving feast.  

The answer is no. While the very tart cranberry may have been included in some Wampanoag dishes, there would have been no cranberry sauce at the first Thanksgiving.  Sugar would have been horribly expensive and scarce in the colonies in 1621. No evidence of anyone making or eating cranberry sauce can be found for at least the next half century. A recipe for cranberry sauce appears in the 1796 edition of The Art of Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first known cookbook authored by an American. She wrote about cooking cranberries with sugar to make a “sweet sauce” that could be eaten with meat.

Now that we have addressed the history of cranberry sauce, we have to turn to the great divide: I love it vs. I hate it. How is it that this simple, round, red, shiny, unassuming fruit can be the cause of such controversy?  Are you part of team love it or team hate it?  Here are the facts. 

In 2019, Instacart,  in coordination with Harris Poll, conducted an  online survey of 2000 Americans. Respondents were asked to talk about their feelings about foods on the table at Thanksgiving. The least popular item was, you guessed it, cranberry sauce.  Almost half of the 2000 participants described canned cranberry sauce as “disgusting”

Now, I am not a fan of canned cranberry sauce, but I am not holding that jiggly gelatin in the can against all cranberries.  I buy fresh cranberries and have the joy of making my own cranberry sauce on the stove.  First of all, it is so easy!  Here’s the recipe:  a bag of cranberries, a cup of water, and a cup of sugar.  Bring it to a boil and simmer.  Here’s the fun part; as the water heats up around and within the cranberries they expands and the cranberries pop!  It sounds similar to popcorn! When my son was little, he would beg to help make the cranberry sauce.  He is in his forties now and still brings the homemade cranberry sauce to our family Thanksgiving table.  So, if you haven’t, I suggest you give it a try.  It tastes so good (you can make it as sweet (add more sugar or honey), tart (add lemon rind an juice)as you like), or spicy (add cinnamon, orange juice) and it becomes a lasting family memory.

Now, part two of the GREAT DEBATE: if we agree that there will be cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table, will it be whole fruit or jellied?  My family is firmly dug in on the whole fruit side of the issue and my husband’s family will only eat the jellied version.  As you have probably guessed, I end up with not one, but two serving dishes of cranberry sauce, one for each.

In addition to really enjoying the way the tang of cranberry sauce cuts the richness of the Thanksgiving bounty, it just looks so pretty on the table. I love the beauty of the table. The rich browns of potatoes, turkey, dressing, golden colors of squash or sweet potatoes, greens of hearty vegetables, and then there is that pretty pop of red cranberry nestled in among all the warm colors of Autumn on the table. 

There are plenty of reasons to love Thanksgiving. This holiday is about so much more than the food, and I never ignore the fact that I am richly blessed by the people sitting at the table with me. Whether or not there is cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving table, I am sending out warm wishes for a holiday filled with family, friends, food, and fun.  Go gather memories and hold them close to your heart.

Thank you for the photo: melissa-di-rocco-qorye5pnuAk-unsplash.jpg

Gentle November

Beautiful Autumn

Nestled between October and December is the month of November.  November allows us to glory in the colors of Autumn, the Earth’s brightest smile. I love November! 

November is when we take a breath; we relax and focus on gratitude and the blessings we enjoy. As a child, I loved this time of year. We raked, jumped in leaf piles, put on sweaters, and we enjoyed bedtime stories more because it was dark outside.

As though November isn’t already perfect enough, it brings us Thanksgiving.  In my opinion, Thanksgiving is just a perfect holiday. It is such an unassuming and gentle holiday; Thanksgiving is when I focus on the things I cherish…on gratitude for precious family, wonderful friends, yummy food, and fun.

I bask in my “over the river and through the woods” Thanksgiving memories. Thanksgiving reminds me to be grateful for what I have and to do for others…to be the good in someone else’s life.  

During November, the Earth slows down and settles into the coming of Winter. Days are shorter, trees drop their leaves, animals hibernate or migrate. Nature knows it is time to settle in.  

November is a chance for us all to step back, take a deep breath, and focus on how we fit into the world. Everything calms down; there is no racing about, no shopping frenzy, no chaos.  The worst thing that happens is a post-turkey tryptophan-induced nap.

I love shopping for just the perfect, plump turkey. I get excited to smell pumpkin pies baking. I bake loaves of bread for the stuffing, I simmer autumn spices in the potpourri pot, I fill my house with pumpkins and gourds, and I relax. I spend time focusing on my gratitude…and I have so much to be thankful for.

Many of my friends already have their homes decorated for Christmas. I respect everyone’s right to do what feels right for them, but I refuse to sacrifice this time that allows me to just be still.  December will come and I will put up a tree, wrap gifts, and enjoy the twinkle.  For now, I am content to be fully present in my gentle November. 

How did the F-word get its bad rap?

I’m confused. If the letter F/f had a voice, it would protest! After all, is every:

  • pumpkin orange? 
  • dog a Yorkie? 
  • parent a mother? 

NO…  

And yet, somehow all the words that begin with the letter F/f have been clumped together and disparaged. Not all words that begin with F/f are bad; not all words that begin with F/f can be called an F-word.  

So, I am taking a stand against this generalization for my forlorn friend, the letter F/f. In my world, some very nice, gentle, comforting words begin with F/f and the Thanksgiving holiday here in The Hollow is a perfect time to take a closer look at this problem.

  • Thanksgiving is my number one, most favorite holiday! It is smack in the middle of my favorite season, fall! I look into my yard at the colorful foliage, my scampering foxes, and a fanciful family of deer.
  • Let’s start close to home. I love that this wonderful holiday brings my fabulous family together and I have the opportunity to feed them. 
  • What is better about Thanksgiving than all the delicious food? More than food, this is a feast! I am so fond of the star of the table, that fine, fresh fowl known as turkey.
  • I am so happy to get flour on my nose while rolling out pie crusts for an assortment of flavorful pies. Pumpkin is my favorite and apple is my fruit of choice.
  • If I am lucky, it will be chilly enough for us to sit on the floor around a crackling fire and enjoy the dancing flames while we tell funny stories and share memories.
  • When I think about giving thanks, I always include my fellowship of faithful friends.
  • Put all this together and what do you have? Nothing formal, just some FUN!

My point is that F/f is a friendly, fabulous, fine, formidable letter and we should treat it favorably; with the respect it deserves. I speak for the letter  F/f when I say “thanks in advance for your consideration!”

Missing: Self-Care!

Can you help me find it?

I have misplaced my self-care; have you seen it? How did self-care get such a bad rap? I have never understood it.  I know that I can’t pour into someone else from an empty glass, so why do I feel so guilty about taking time to care for myself? 

Let me define what I mean when I say “self-care”.

I am not~ 

  • thinking about leaving my family to go off for a week on the Riviera to walk on the beach and relax. 
  • talking about checking into a Bed & Breakfast in town to let someone else cook and clean for me.
  • imagining going on strike and refusing to do any housework for a week.

No, I am merely~

  • talking about closing the door for 20 minutes of uninterrupted time as I soak in a bubble bath. 
  • wishing for an hour to get a pedicure or a massage.
  • trying to schedule a haircut at the salon. 
  • wanting to take a Saturday morning for some at-home spa time to give myself a facial, a warm hair conditioning treatment, or a foot scrub.  

You get the idea. These are simple things that make me happy, help me relax, and make me feel pampered. Somehow, my life is so filled with “must do” things, that I keep pushing the “want to do” items to the bottom of the list.  Before I know it, I am running on fumes.

For me, I think it starts with guilt; I am an educator, and we are notoriously known for being nurturing by nature.  But, when I think about it, most, if not all of the people I know are nurturers. Go look in the mirror.  Who do you see?  Someone who spends a good bit of time caring for others? Yes, I thought so. 

Acts of giving infuse our lives. For starters we care for babies, chase after toddlers, shuffle young children from one activity to another, struggle over homework assignments, lay awake at night worrying about teenagers (yikes!). While all this is going on, in addition to a job, we are planning meals, shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, and handling a myriad of other unplanned events. 

We take a big breath when the last one of the children is out of the house and safely on their own, but then find ourselves transitioning immediately into caring for aging parents. Oh, and let’s not forget pets. They need food, walks, clean litter, vet visits. You get the picture.  

I did not perceive any of the things listed about as burdens. Caring for my child, my pets, my parents are all labors of love that leave me with no regrets. I am retired now and blessed by the fact that I had a job that filled me with passion. Yet, I remember feeling like I barely had time to breathe, so when I flopped into bed at the end of the day, I was too tired to even worry about the fact that I didn’t get a bubble bath that day. 

You would think that in retirement I would have more free time and would do a lot better about self-care. Somehow, even in retirement I stay busy. I spend a lot of my day living a digital life, the cooking/cleaning chores still need to get done, I have a 16 year old dog who needs a lot of care. Self-care continues to elude me.  

So why do you think I have such a hard time saying “NO” to everyone except myself? I go and go until I feel tired and cranky. When I allow myself to get to that point, I begin to feel resentment. Resentment is definitely NOT a place I want to spend any emotional time or currency. 

I have thought about this pattern in my life.  Somehow, it seems, I feel I need permission for self-care.  Let’s solve that right now; I grant permission!  See? Wasn’t that easy?  Have you lost track of your self-care? If so, I grant you permission too.  Now, let’s go have that bubble bath! 

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

My Grandmother’s Hands

We hear human interest stories all the time about people who can trace their passion directly back to childhood. 

  • There are the altruists who give back by working tirelessly with their charity of choice. So often, their “WHY” is  because as a child, they did without. 
  • Frequently, we enjoy the culinary talents of men or women who became chefs because they have happy memories in the kitchen with a family member.  
  • We read stories of millionaires who fiercely pursued improbable dreams because they grew up in poverty. 
  • Many authors were inspired by books they read and loved as children.
  • Countless singers learned to love music as children in church.

The stories are endless. Our early memories are foundational; they play a role in the adults that we become. Like so many others, I am an educator; this is not a unique career choice, yet I have begun to wonder if I can trace my career back to childhood. I am starting with my grandmother because she is the person with me in my earliest memory.

My grandmother was born in 1878. I was born 70 years later in 1948.  She was 73 and I was three years old when my child’s brain stored this first memory in 1951. In this memory, I re-enact my daily afternoon walk with my grandmother. As a young child, my life was tightly structured. My grandmother was a widow and lived with my mother, and me; we were living in a small, rural area in Pennsylvania while my father was overseas on a military deployment.

I loved my grandmother and she loved me. My mom struggled with parenthood and during those days, I was primarily raised by my grandmother. My grandmother was a gentle soul, nurturing by nature, forgiving, and kind. However, she met anything deemed “unladylike” with displeasure, and there was nothing I hated more than disappointing my grandmother. She grew up in the late 1800s with wealth and standards she referred to as a lady’s “comportment,” all of which seem very far-fetched in today’s world.

“What does ‘comportment’ even mean?” you ask.  It is the way you conduct your life. In my three-year old life, it meant that my hair was brushed and styled each morning. Curls were painstakingly wound around my grandmother’s finger and I was expected to stand still for however long it took. I remember dressing in the morning in what she called a “day dress”. I didn’t have to take a nap, but we had quiet time after lunch each day. She would read, do needle work, darn socks, plan menus, or write letters. 

In the afternoon, every single afternoon except Sunday, I walked hand in hand with my grandmother to the grocer’s general store. In our small country home there was no refrigerator; we had a root cellar for vegetables and an “ice box”.  Now, an ice box is literally a box that held ice in order to keep foods cool.  An ice man came to deliver blocks of ice every few days, the milk man delivered glass bottles of milk and cream to the porch, and grandmother and I went to the grocery to pick up food for the next day’s meals. 

I remember her in the kitchen. She loved being in the kitchen and told me that she had learned her techniques from a cook employed by her family when she was a young girl. I can still remember the smell of her roast chicken, stew, and my favorite, pot roast. Though it was simple food, each evening we changed clothes and dressed for dinner.  My grandmother, mother, and I sat around the dinner table. While at the table, I was expected to know which fork was for which course, to use my napkin, to sit still, and “Children were to be seen and not heard.” during the dinner hour.

After dinner, bath and bedtime stories were a favorite time. We did not have television or even a radio, so books were important. I still have some of the favorite books that I selected time and time again.  How, I wonder, did that little girl sitting on grandmother’s lap become a teacher?

My grandmother’s hands taught me, protected me, held me. I see her hand holding mine, brushing my hair, ironing my dresses, darning my socks, stirring a pot of soup, steadying me as I got into the tub, tucking me in at night. Her hands were a constant in my early life. Teachers are nurturing by nature. When I think about my grandmother’s gentle hands, I can see a clear path to my life as a teacher. Yes, her hands played a pivotal role in forming my life; she taught me how to love a child.

Fleeting Moments

Our life passes like sand in an hourglass…

My day, this 12-hour span of time, has been bracketed by death; both morning and afternoon brought news of a passing. This morning, I learned that one of my favorite statesmen, General Colin Powell, had died. This afternoon I learned that a young friend suddenly passed away.  I have been feeling off-center all day as a result of these two events.

Colin Powell was 84 years old; he was often described as the most popular American general since World War II. General Powell was the first Black U. S. Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

My young friend was an immigrant. She was 22 years old and had lived in the United States since she was two years old. She was funny, out-spoken, and fearless. 

These two people were so different. 

  • One was male and the other female,
  • One was young and just starting to live, while the other had lived a full life, 
  • One was a well-known and respected public servant and the other was struggling to earn enough money to pay for school,  
  • One was African American and the other was Asian, and
  • One was well-known; flags will fly at half-staff for General Powell, while very few people beyond immediate family know of the passing of my young friend. 

In spite of their differences, there were similarities. Both of them had family and friends who loved them. They both had more life to live and a desire to do so. They both learned, loved, laughed. 

All of us have been forced to deal with loss during our lives. Yet, no matter how many times we are faced with a loss, it is never, ever easy. So, what can we take away from this?  How can we grow through pain?

For me, these two losses have reminded me that in life I don’t get a dress rehearsal, and I am not guaranteed even one more moment. Death forces me to stop in my tracks. It makes me realize that in life, self-care is critical; it is the gift I can give myself everyday. Self-care is a way that I can make each day count by giving myself health, well-being, energy, and self-acceptance. 

Death reminds us that, for all living beings, life is a series of fleeting moments. It is our responsibility to make each of those moments matter…so, for today and everyday, I wish you joy-filled moments and memories.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Creating a Self-Care Sanctuary

Part of my self-care journey has revolved around “unplugging”.  I spend a lot of time playing on my iPad, talking on my iPhone, working on my laptop, viewing the television.  I bet you do too.  So there, right in front of me, is my reason for creating a sanctuary, that quiet retreat where I can unwind, relax, reflect.  

When I conjure up a mental image of my perfect sanctuary, I see a space that exudes quiet, subdued minimalism. In a perfect life, my sanctuary would be painted in soft gray tones with white furniture, dark woods, and a few plants. The space would be lit by filtered sunlight during the day and candle light at night. There would be soothing music playing and essential oils scenting the air. 

I see myself snuggled up in a comfortable chair with sparking water bubbling in a glass on the table next to me. I am writing in my soft, leather-bound journal with my favorite fountain pen. I am wearing comfortable clothes and the expression on my face says that I am at peace. Aaahhh. Can you picture it with me? 

Well, that is a lovely daydream!  Let’s talk about reality. The first challenge that comes to mind is that most people I know don’t have the money or the space to create a dedicated sanctuary for themselves.  Another challenge is that families are busy, noisy, and demanding.  How does a sanctuary moment even fit into a busy day of work and/or parenting?  My thinking is that “sanctuary” is as much a state of mind as it is an actual place. 

The purpose of a sanctuary is to have a quiet moment to unwind. Solitude can be found in so many different places and at so many different times. Peace of mind is behind a closed door in the bathtub with some bubbles. It can be found in a ten minute walk with the dog. It can be a few moments of precious time rocking a baby before nap time. Sanctuary can be five minutes curled up in a comfortable chair in a corner of the living room once the children are settled in bed for the night. A friend of mine uses her time in the car driving twenty minutes each way to and from work to unwind and clear her mind. I have a male friend who escapes to the garage to putter about with woodworking tools; this is his quiet time.

My sanctuary is a big, comfortable lounge chair in the corner of my bedroom. I have a small table next to the chair with my journal, a pen, and a coaster for my water glass.  Is it spectacular? No. It is simple and small, but it serves the purpose.

I believe all of us need time in our day when we can be authentic, reflective, prayerful, calm, and at peace. Do you have a sanctuary in your life? If not, think about tucking one away somewhere in your busy life. 

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

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