Butter, Sugar, and Wise Words from My Daddy

One of my friends posted on Facebook today about something that inevitably happens to many of us during the holidays.

She was preparing a dessert, and she realized she didn’t have one very important ingredient.  It happens.  More often than not around here, if you want to know the truth.  When I wrote her that I hoped all would work out, she shared that she had already looked up how to adapt the recipe on-line and was going to give it a shot.

That’s when I told her my Daddy’s mantra about cooking.

She replied that he was wise and must have been very good to have in the kitchen.

She was correct on both of those.

Not that my Daddy cooked much.  I don’t remember that happening much at all actually.  He could make a sandwich like nobody’s business and the way he slathered peanut butter on vanilla wafers, saltines, pound cake, whatever–well, he had it down to an art.

But cooking?  I do seem to remember a pan of burnt toast when Mama was at the hospital having my baby brother.  But then–maybe that was the excitement and distraction of the birth of his fourth child and not so much an indication of his skill set.

No, my Daddy was great to have in the kitchen because he knew just what to say.

Or not say.

After all, his mantra was based on my Mama’s self-doubts about her creative concoctions in the kitchen.  On more than one occasion when she’d start questioning what she had thrown together or how this or that would turn out, Daddy would say, “Look, you put enough butter and sugar in anything, it’s going to be good.”

This would make Mama laugh.  The grace in those words could work magic.

Never mind that they were TRUE.

I made the Poor Man’s Pecan Pie for today, which is very similar to the Mock Pecan Pie I made in June.  It’s the one with no nuts at all.  Or pretzels.  I saw a lot of Faux Pecan Pie pictures today–the ones made with pretzels instead of pecans, and they really looked delicious.  So yes, we’ll be trying that one soon too.

We took the pie over to Mess Cat’s for our family Thanksgiving dinner together.  When I finally cut into it, it was a bit soupy in the middle still.  Of course it was.  Because I FOLLOWED THE RECIPE.  Last time, I had to substitute for the Karo syrup I didn’t have, and it turned out beautifully.

Still the one who requested it was pleased.  “Mama, it is so good.  I like it better than the last one, ” Aub said.  (The last one which was perfection itself and not soupy at all?  Huh.  Okay then.)

That was when I thought of my Daddy.  And how much he would have loved this pie.  Because when you put enough butter and sugar in anything…..

Tonight I am thankful for hearing my Daddy’s words in my heart just when I needed them. I am grateful for the example he set in loving the cook and appreciating what was put on the plate.  He indeed had a grateful heart, and he let my Mama know it.  He and I shared an affinity for the sweet things, and I sure do miss bringing him sweet, buttery things that would make him smile.

Hoping you all had a day of sharing all the best stories and of merry memory-making with those you hold dear.

Love to all.

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The Empty Chairs

Thanksgiving.

It will be different this year.  Again.  The empty chairs, the ones not there, it all affects the spirit of the day.  The memories both lift us and bring us down.  Joy that they were, sadness that they are never to be again.

Sometimes the best way to get through it is to “act as if.”  Act as if it’s just another day.  Another day to be with each other.  To lower the expectations.  The demands of our time and energies.  To look at the substance over the form.

I am thankful for Leroy, who made the call to cut back on the preparation and dishes served this year.  I guess he could tell I didn’t have it in me.  Maybe he doesn’t either.  No matter.

So this year we won’t have the Norman Rockwell laden table with all of the kinfolk circled round, heads bowed, and everyone sharing a perfectly lovely sentiment about what each is most thankful for.  The rosy cheeked cherubs won’t clean their plates, clear their dishes, express extreme gratitude, and then head out to play in the absolutely perfect weather.  I mean, they might, but I’m certainly not expecting it.  Expectation management, as my Fella would say.

I was raised with my Mama reminding us quite often, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”  She also ended many a blessing with, “Lord, grant us a grateful heart.”  Living with my Mama, almost everyday was Thanksgiving day.  She wanted us to find something to be thankful for in the midst of each and every day.

Her and Paul.

We are called by Paul, in the Good Book, to give thanks in all things.  On the eve of tomorrow, I look around and I give thanks for the empty chairs–that they matter so much.  For all the years they weren’t empty.  For all the years I could depend on the ones I love to be sitting right there, no doubt about it.  I was loved.  I still am, and I give thanks for that too.  I give thanks for the empty chairs that are that way only this year.  Only tomorrow.  The ones that will be filled again soon, once folks return from where they are.

My Aunt and I agreed on this today, when she said, “Our time to celebrate is when we are all together.”  It doesn’t have to be a legal holiday, y’all.  Celebrate the ones you are with when you are with them.  Don’t wait for the calendar to tell you it’s time.

Remember that story about using the fancy china on a regular basis instead of saving it for a “special occasion?”  Because everyday is a special occasion of one sort or another.  I’m thinking maybe we need to serve turkey and dressing more often.  It has made me laugh how when I’ve opened up a can of cranberry sauce throughout the year, my people’s eyes light up, and they automatically think the supper is extra special.  (And yes, the stores carry the sauce year round.)

Let’s do that, y’all.  Let’s practice giving thanks everyday.  And keep a can of cranberry sauce in the refrigerator.  At all times.  Ready to go.  To remind folks that every day is Giving Thanks Day.

May you all fill the empty seats with precious memories and light.  Today.  And Everyday.

Love to all.

Gauguin's_Armshair_-_My_Dream.jpg

“Paul Gaugin’s Armchair” by Vincent Van Gogh [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

A Grateful Heart

Whoo, y’all.

Today has been a busy one.

And I wish my poor Mama were here so very much right now.

Besides the obvious reasons, there’s this.

I’d set her down, bring her a glass of tea, whatever book she’s reading, and–

I’d rub her feet.

And back.

And shoulders.

All those years she put a veritable feast on the table, and all we could do is eat it.  In such a small fraction of the time it took for her to prepare it.

And then we children would work out the details about who was cleaning up what–I’m using “work out” as a euphemism here.

Bless her.

She could cook circles around me, as my children often lovingly *ahem* remind me.  Still, I know she was worn out from all the Thanksgiving dinner preparations.  Today I’ve only done about half of what she did, and I am one whooped puppy.

So tonight I’m calling it a night with a tired body reminding me how old I am and a mind already ticking off what needs to be done when I get up in the morning.

But first–

I am thankful.  For a body that can still do and a mind that can still plan.  I am thankful for the bounty of groceries that I have gone through today and yet, there’s still plenty more to cook from the next day and the next and the day after that.  I am grateful for the sanitation folks who picked up our trash this morning and will pick up from all this from my meal preparations next week.  I am thankful for the farmers and the growers and the folks who packaged and shipped and transported and shelved and sold me these groceries.  I appreciate the laughter of my children today while I was cooking and prepping and trying to figure out if I could find one more baking dish…..

Tomorrow we will celebrate and give thanks together once again at Blackberry Flats–our homeplace for right at 37 years now.  It’s been several years since we gathered together around Mama’s good cooking, and tomorrow, while she and Daddy and all those who have gone on up to the House will be missed–it will be a celebration of what is good and right to be back “home” eating Thanksgiving dinner.  The littles will climb trees and pet kittens and play good guys and bad guys or Star Wars or something like that, while all of us grownups will either watch football or try to figure out if anyone will notice if we close our eyes for just a minute…..or both.

Tonight I am thankful for so many things, and one big one is you.  Thank you for stopping in and reading my stories.  Whether this is the first time or the 622nd time, thank you.  When you read what flows from my heart and soul through my fingers to this keyboard and screen, you bring them to life.  And I thank you for that.  A story wants to be heard.  Thank you for listening.

Most of all, I am thankful that, as I picked up one of the potholders my Daddy made for my Mama years ago and I went over to the oven to peek in on my pies, I heard my Mama’s voice.

 

“And grant us, Lord, a grateful heart,

For these and all our many blessings.

Amen.”

Whether it’s original or not, I will always think of these as her words.  It was her prayer and how she lived her life.  No matter what happened, she always looked for something to be thankful for.

Is it any wonder that, despite all the cooking she did, this holiday was one of her favorite days all year?  She just wished we’d celebrate and give thanks year round.

Thankful to you and for you.
Love to all.

Preparing

As this week moves along and people all over are preparing for Thursday and Thanksgiving in all different kinds of ways, I too am preparing for the day.

Grocery list, baking, cooking (they are two very different things, you know), cleaning up, planning the timing around the parade *ahem*, and things like that.

But I’m also, just a little, working on preparing my heart.

An attitude of gratitude is something my Mama drilled in us.  Be thankful.  In all things.  I think she really liked what that guy Paul in the Good Book said about that.  She took him at his word.  And wanted us to live it too.

As I prepare for Thanksgiving, I am looking towards next Sunday as well.  The first Sunday in Advent.

To be honest, I didn’t really know much about Advent until maybe twenty-five years ago.

And I have continued to learn more and more since that time.

I love the rituals, the lighting of the candles on the wreath.  The getting ready.  The settling of the soul.  The quiet meditations and devotions.

Oh, the quiet.

Each year for the past four, I’ve hoped to start our school year early enough that we can take some time off from our traditional lessons to step outside the box in December and go in another direction.  And each year, for whatever reason, that has been torpedoed, and we’ve worked right up through the third week in December.

But this year?

*shhhh* Don’t tell anyone, lest the universe find out and totally mess this up for us, but I think it’s going to happen.

I want for us to have time to read Christmas stories, learn about holiday traditions from different cultures, watch Christmas movies, sing songs, make cookies, play, and not have every single day structured.

That’s my holiday wish.

I am very happy that we are heading in that direction.  I already have some books picked out to share with my littles.  I have a couple of “read every day” books that we will start on Sunday or Monday (it being the first and all).  One really sweet one that I’m looking forward to reading with them for the very first time is Advent Storybook  by Antonie Schneider, Maja Dusikova, and translated by Marisa Miller.   We haven’t read any of it together yet, but as I looked over it today, it touched my heart and made me smile.  I think we will all enjoy it.  It’s the story of a little bear who wants Christmas to come fast, so his mother agrees to tell him a story each night until then.  So there are twenty-four stories about another little bear and his trek to Bethlehem.  Very sweet.

Embracing the magic of the season, we will again pull out our copy of Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Yes.  That guy.

It’s a collection of the letters that were sent to the Tolkien family home over the many years his children were small and home.  The stories will make you laugh and want to hear them all over again…..and so we will do just that.

I came across the books The Jesse Tree: Daily Readings for Advent and Gobsmacked: Daily Devotions for Advent by Thom M. Shuman a few years ago.  These are both beautifully written Advent devotionals that I dearly love.  I ordered them as downloads, e-book style, from this website, as hard copies were not available at the time.  I love everything Mr. Shuman has ever written.  If you haven’t read any of his poetry before, please take the time to do so.  Powerful and grace-filled.  Beautiful.  You can find it here.

This time of year can be so wonderful in many ways, but it can also be hard.  For many the darkness is not just because the sun is going down a little earlier.  Many people struggle with loss and pain and brokenness that doesn’t go away magically, despite the wonder and brightness of the season.  It can be very hard when you feel like there’s a party going on all over and you’re the only one who doesn’t feel like going.

I am thankful for my writerfriend and friend, Dena Douglas Hobbs, who has written a contemplative book, “Lighten the Darkness: An Advent Journey Through Hope,” in which she walks with each one of us in that darkness.  She says it’s okay and is an encourager.  As November finds her way to the door and takes her leave, leaving behind only the memories, some harder to bear than others, Dena reminds us in her book that we are not alone.  and that the advent message is one of hope.  She writes, “God comes into our broken world to be with us, to heal us, to save us from not only our enemies, but even ourselves.”

Oh me.

Yes.

If any of you are local, you can purchase her book at Bare Bulb Coffee in Kathleen and a portion of the proceeds will go to support hunger missions.  If you are not, you can order her book here.    It is available as an e-book as well.

I also look forward to reading Dena’s latest work, a devotional for the littles, with my crew.  I can’t wait to hear their laughter over the antics of Father Christmas and the North Polar Bear.  And I just know we will be drawing pictures from the adventures of the little bear on his way to Bethlehem.  The story just lends itself to good conversation and good thoughts.

I am thankful that, as this season and so much hurries and scurries on by me, I can shut it all off for at least a few minutes everyday, and sit and have coffee with my friend Dena (which I’ve been lucky enough to do in person as well), and with Mr. Thom– quieting my soul in the midst of the chaos and darkness and looking forward to the Light that is coming.  And while I love my twinkly lights in my “roost” so much, they are nothing compared to the Light of Love and Peace.  That’s what my favorite thing about Christmas is–feeling my heart fill with both of those things.

May we all find that to be true–hearts full to bustin’ with love and light and a peace that passes all understanding.

Love to all.

Rainy Day Reading

It’s been a lovely, perfectly dreary rainy day today.

And I have loved it.

Days like this are perfect for reading, something I haven’t taken time out to do enough of  lately.

So, after I hung the cheerful twinkly lights across my back porch, which is my roost and sanctuary, I sat down to read.

And I read three books.  In a row.

Yep.  THREE.

I know, I couldn’t get over myself either.  Here I’ve been unable to really focus and read much of anything, and I go and read three books in a row.

*insert selfie high-five and pat on the back for me here*

Yep.  Yay me.

Oh, wait–did I mention they were children’s books?

Ah, well.  Ahem.

Yes.

Three wonderful books related to Thanksgiving.  They were all great stories. Well written, beautifully illustrated.  I loved each one, and if you can find them at your library or have time to go to the bookstore, you will want to read these too.  I just know it.

One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  I am sure I frustrated my Mama on more than one occasion because I was more worried about not missing my favorite performer than I was about helping her in the kitchen.  It just wasn’t Thanksgiving if I didn’t get to wave to Santa on the small black and white TV we had all those many years ago.

Now it’s the same.  I love watching it with my children.  I’m a little busier these days than I was back then, but I do love that parade.  The history, the wonderful floats and balloons.  And then I found this book and read it today, and I do declare it just made it all the more special for me.  This is the story of the puppeteer, Tony Sarg, who was asked by Macy’s to build puppets to be featured in the very first parade, alongside animals from the Central Park Zoo.  And as the crowds got bigger, Mr. Sarg had to make his puppets bigger so they could be seen above the heads of others.  A true story with great illustrations and facts galore.  I can’t wait to sit and read this with the littles and then watch it all click on Thursday.

This book tells the related story of why the parade was first begun.  It’s a fictionalized account, as the “real” Mr. Macy had died years before this story is set, but even with poetic license, this book does a beautiful job of talking about heritage and remembering who your people are and what their traditions were.  I love the spirit and the joy in this book.  And Milly let loose in Macy’s–how much fun would that be?  I’ve often said I’d like to go to New York City for 24 hours.  Only. (But I’d prefer to travel the ol’ wriggling of the nose method…..or floo powder, thank you very  much.)  Looking at the window displays in Macy’s and walking around inside would definitely make the “must do” list.

The last book I read today was the true story of how Thanksgiving almost wasn’t.  Did you know about this?  I am sure the turkeys, just like the one on the cover, are not happy one bit with Sarah Hale, the woman who wrote many, many letters over 38 years, asking that Thanksgiving become a nationally recognized day.  It was actually President Lincoln, in the middle of the turmoil and chaos of the war, who finally said yes.

This true story is told with a clever sense of humor.  I laughed out loud when I read this line.

“Never underestimate dainty little ladies.”  –Laurie Halse Anderson

I think I want this quote framed and hung, because there is more truth than a little bit in it.  Anyone who ever met my Mama knows that.

This book also had lots of interesting facts we shall feast on together tomorrow.  One little tidbit, Sarah Hale is the author of the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  Ms. Hale taught school and a student actually had a lamb follow her to school and wait for her all day.   The book also touches on Ms. Hale’s advocacy for education for women–wonder if she ever visited Wesleyan?–and her stance on women’s rights in general.  A great story that I didn’t know before.

 

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite days of the year.  I love pie.  So there’s that–boy, do I love pie.  My Granny’s sweet potato with coconut, my Great Great Aunt’s Buttermilk custard–I miss them all.  And I miss my Mama’s dressing.  She would bake cornbread and let Daddy eat a little bit–but there were no leftovers for him to have the next day.  It went in the freezer for the dressing later on.  I think she started saving it a couple of months out.  That and breadcrumbs.

But I digress.  What I love the most is the being together.  The warmth, the stories, the memories being made.  This year we will be back at Blackberry Flats for the first time in years, and it will be quite wonderful–I’ve already decided.  The children will climb trees, and the grownups will talk, football will be on, and naps and third helpings are a given.

This year will be quite special as always, but thanks to the stories we are going to read and talk about this week, I think it will be even more so.  I can’t wait to hear their laughter over the illustrations and lines about dainty women being a force to reckon with.

Mama always encouraged us to be thankful every moment, every day, but I am grateful that we have a day set aside where quiet reflection is a must, where people dance in the streets to celebrate a melding of their past and present, where a puppeteer can make big dreams come true, and where the whole country comes together, if only for a day, in one accord.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love to all.

 

(and if you get a chance to read one of these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts)

 

 

A New Tradition, FunGiving

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was the first Sunday in Advent.  Advent means “coming,” and this season is for quiet reflection and waiting for what is to come–the birth of Jesus.

I have decided to try and enjoy this season.  This time of year when the days are the shortest and the darkest of the whole year could be the hardest yet.  However, as a wise one told me today, “If you don’t have enough fun in your life, you’ve got to go out and make your own.”

It seems like the children started talking about Christmas early this year.  Maybe it started after Aub’s birthday in September.  I can’t remember exactly, but it for sure started in earnest after our Princess’ birthday two weeks ago.  I know it’s part of being a child, dreaming and wishing, but I could only take so much.  I don’t like all the “I want” talk.  I especially cannot handle the lists changing ten days out.  Enough is enough.  And we have enough.  So I started a “new tradition” last week.  On Wednesday I told my crew to write their letters, finalize their lists, whatever it took.  Wednesday was the last day to pick their three things to ask for.  They are allowed to put three things on their lists.  They might get other things, they might not, but the three is a good guide to let them dream and not go too crazy.

Wednesday.  Now there will be no more talking of wish lists and “what I want for Christmas.” That’s the new rule.  Shhh.  Tight lipped.  Tick-a-lock.  My thinking was get it out of the way and then let’s enter the Thanksgiving season, with an emphasis on Thanks as well as Giving.  So now we are in the waiting period of Advent in our home, but I’m also going to challenge us to celebrate a time of Giving.  Each day I want us to think of something to do or give (not necessarily bought–we’re gonna get creative here) to surprise someone.  How much fun could that be?

Yes, I know, it could be stressful, but I’m going to do my best not to let it become so.  As Mama would say, “It’s all for the fun of it.”  And it’s time to make our own fun.  Because you are never too old to run and hide and play games with your siblings or your children or surprise someone out of the blue.

Tonight after I talked with the littles about our plan for GivingFun, I heard Cooter as he walked out of the room, sharing his thoughts in the only way he knows how to–loudly.  “I think we should go out and sing Christmas songs and raise money to help our friends who are homeless.”

For the love.

So if you see us standing around somewhere singing Christmas songs with a baseball hat on the ground in front of us, “Will you please put a penny in the old man’s hat?”**  We may be out of tune, most likely will, but just know we are having a blast and it will go to a good cause.  It’s the season for waiting and quiet reflection and, as our family’s new tradition dictates, a time of having fun with the Giving of the season.  (So it might not be so quiet around here.)

It’s all about sharing the Love and Light and Hope in the darkness.  Wanna join us?  It’s bound to be an Adventure for sure.

**from the song “Christmas is Coming” Here.  Take a peek.  And yes, it’s the Muppets version.   Focusing on fun here, remember?

“Let’s Get This Thanksgiving Started!”

This morning when he woke up my little guy Cooter came right up to the kitchen door and proclaimed quite loudly, “Let’s get this Thanksgiving started!”

That made me laugh.  I mean, the turkey had been in the oven for a while, but yeah…..it’s not Thanksgiving without the “fambly folk” there.  And how can your day go any way but great when it starts out with someone so excited to start the day right there by your side?

A morning of cooking after a day of baking yesterday, all with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade playing in the background.  I’m a purist.  We do NOT switch back and forth between channels and parades.  I do have someone on remote control duty to mute or block out the picture when certain commercials come on.  *sigh* I thought it was supposed to a family friendly program.  Ahem.

It was perfect timing as the last of what I was preparing was finished at the same time Santa arrived at the parade.  We did our traditional waving to Santa, and then we loaded up everything and headed to Mess Cat’s.  We had a wonderful meal with great folks.  As Mama and I used to say after Daddy died two years ago, “It was really good, contextually speaking.”

And yes, the memories came flooding back.  When I made Mama’s dressing and her gravy this morning, I thought back on all the years she made it and how sometimes she would make it just to give us a special treat.  Have I mentioned that cooking was her love language?

The memories took me back even further.  To when I was little.  We were having a holiday meal at my Granny’s house.  She had cooked and cooked and the food covered the stove and the countertop.  How she fit all of us in her house back then I have no idea, but she sure did.  I was finally old enough to fix my own plate, so I walked down the line and noticed there were two pans of dressing.  One had a lot out of it, and one only had a little.  I don’t know if I felt bad for the pan no one seemed to want (yeah, I do stuff like that sometimes) or if it was just easier to get some out of that pan because of the line.  Regardless, I got a helping out of the pan with more.  I realized my mistake on my first bite.  Mushrooms.  I really don’t care for mushrooms, but I sat and ate the dressing I’d spooned out for myself and didn’t say a word, exactly as I’d been taught.  On the way home I leaned forward in the backseat and proudly told Mama and Daddy how I’d eaten the dressing with mushrooms without complaining once.

Daddy laughed.  And then Mama.

It was a few minutes before they could catch their breath and tell me why that was so funny.

Granny, who also showed love with food, had made a special pan of dressing for her oldest, Daddy’s older brother.  Not mushrooms.  No.  Oyster dressing.  He loved it, so she made it especially for him.  Oh dear.  (Daddy later mused at what my Uncle must have thought, seeing more of his dressing gone.)

I may have shared that story before, but for some reason it came to my mind as we had dinner today.  Leroy, my brother-in-law, had prepared his dressing.  I don’t know why dressing was so important to me this year.  Maybe it’s because the past two years, even though I made many of the side dishes, Mama brought her dressing.  Aub would go over the night before and help her make her dressing and gravy.  They’d drive up mid-morning with all that deliciousness in tow.  As has happened with each family get-together since Mama passed on in February, the thought comes to mind–“Who’s going to make (fill in the blank) now?”  I knew I was going to make some dressing, and I knew Leroy was too.  But I also knew neither would be hers.

And you know what?

It was okay.

Leroy’s dressing was delicious.  I found out how much I really love sage when it’s added just right.  And while my dressing wasn’t hers either, it’ll eat.  I think I did her gravy justice, but Leroy’s turkey gravy was absolutely delectable.

It was a good day.  I realize that even though she’s not here to make her dressing, she is here with me.  Always.  I just have to listen a little differently now.  And as I was listening today, I remembered the Thanksgiving two years ago when Mama came to my house.  With her dressing.  And gravy.  Only one week after Daddy left this earth.  She came with dressing and love and time and smiles for all of us when that was probably the last thing she felt like doing.  There’s a lesson in that.

Today as I finished prepping the sides–the sweet potatoes and apples, the homemade cranberry sauce, Mama’s gravy, pineapple casserole, and other things we traditionally have, I remembered the people I love who taught me to make them or whose favorites they were.  And I realized that in trying new things, like Leroy’s dressing and gravy or Granny’s all those years ago, I was stepping outside my comfort zone and embracing the day.  Instead of mourning that Mama is gone, today–just for today–I was able to remember without tears, and take a taste of what this new different normal is like.

And it was actually rather okay.

And tonight I’m giving thanks for that.

(Oh and just to let you know, Cooter was ready to start the day because he loves peach cobbler.  He asked me to make it yesterday.  And today, as he sat eating it, I heard him tell his sister and cousin, “This is the best Thanksgiving ever!”

That’s more than I could hope for.)