Thankful for a Break from Politics

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Thanksgiving dawned in Michigan in the usual way: cloudy, barren skies and chilly temps. Michigan is the home of my husband’s family and the destination of my family’s Thanksgiving travels every year. Besides looking forward to the delicious turkey and fixings my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law were up early to prepare, we were anticipating the happy chaos that is always a part of our visits to the Motor City.

True to form, the buffet table groaned with an assortment of dishes and later, far too many desserts even for us and for my husband’s six siblings and their families to consume. And while there were a few minor dramas, for the most part Thanksgiving held a convivial air.

What I appreciated most about the many conversations in which I took part was the complete absence of political dialogue. At least to my hearing, there was no talk about Trump, immigration, foreign policy, or the recent November elections. Instead, Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions football dominated the scene in the family room where the cousins congregated in front of the giant TV and good-naturedly trash-talked each other’s teams.

Other than a comment made about a movement to eliminate the Thanksgiving holiday because of white settlers’ mistreatment of Native Americans, there was nothing to ruffle any feathers, and no one “talked turkey” about their political beliefs. This fact, coupled with my avoidance of Facebook all day, made for a blissfully nonpolitical and mostly unstressful holiday.

Instead, we took turns holding our nephew’s adorable baby and playing “store” with her older sister. We helped ourselves to another slice of apple pie and enjoyed the camaraderie of family members. We drew names for the annual Christmas grab bag we hold each year. By the time we were ready to bundle up and head home, we were all ensconced in the happy glow of full bellies and family togetherness.

This morning the sun is out. The brief reprieve from November gloom is a welcome sight, and it is prolonging my feeling of happiness and peace. Now the Christmas holiday season is upon us. All the shopping, baking, decorating and bustle begin. I’m so glad I had the chance to spend a day in thankfulness for the bounty in my life: family, friends, and food.

Maybe I’ll keep up my fast from politics for the entire holiday season.

Thankful Tree

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With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’ve been reminiscing about a little tradition I tried with my children when they were younger. I’d find a leafless branch in my backyard, stick it in a small terra cotta pot filled with pebbles, and voila! We’d have a thankful tree.

I didn’t make up the idea of the thankful tree. I’d read about it and thought it would be a nice way to make the holiday a little more meaningful and encourage gratitude in my children. Before Thanksgiving, I fashioned colorful paper leaves out of construction paper, punched a small hole in each one, and tied a ribbon through the hole. Then on Thanksgiving, I encouraged family members to write something they were thankful for that year on a leaf and hang it on the tree.

The thankful tree made a cute centerpiece for the Thanksgiving table. Its starkness fit into the season when fall was giving way to winter. Its leaves gave it color and made it a conversation piece as family guests read about the things their loved ones were thankful for.

Thanksgiving can be an overwhelming holiday. There’s so much food and the endless preparation that goes with it. Family members who haven’t seen each other in a while are suddenly in close quarters. Forward-thinking types are plotting their Black Friday shopping for the next day.

The thankful tree gives people a chance to pause and take stock of their blessings and to realize how many things there are to be truly grateful for. I’d encourage families to give it a try and hopefully establish a tradition of gratitude and togetherness for their many Thanksgiving holidays in the future.

The Leftovers

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Thanksgiving-Table-Setting-Featured-ImageI never realized that some people dislike Thanksgiving until I read Rex Huppke’s column in the Chicago Tribune yesterday. To me, Thanksgiving is the “un-holiday” with its emphasis on family togetherness, gratitude, and good food. Huppke’s objections to Thanksgiving mostly stem from his dislike of the traditional foods prepared on this day.

That got me to thinking. Everyone seems to have a favorite dish on Thanksgiving. You might be a meat-loving purist who goes for triple helpings of bird and then falls into an L-tryptophan-induced coma on Grandma’s couch. You might love stuffing, but only the kind your mom used to make (Begone, sausage and nuts!). You might be like me, the inveterate sweet tooth, pigging out on sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

The question is, what Thanksgiving foods do you most hope become leftovers? That’s the other entirely wonderful thing about Thanksgiving – the leftovers. After a day spent eating, drinking, and watching football (and not arguing politics, let’s hope), it’s great fun to peruse the leftover pickings the next day: the turkey just begging to be made into a sandwich with some of that cranberry sauce on top; the multiple pies brought by various guests; the soft rolls that sat sort of neglected while other foods took yesterday’s stage.

At my mother-in-law’s, where my family spends each Thanksgiving, there are some delicious Middle Eastern additions to the traditional Thanksgiving banquet. Alongside the turkey, there are usually a curry dish of some kind, delicious dumplings called kibbeh hamath, and aromatic saffron yellow rice. If we play our cards right, we will get to take some of this bounty home with us for post-Thanksgiving noshing. 

Yes, leftovers are one of the more delightful aspects of Thanksgiving. But what of those who have no Thanksgiving feast, never mind leftovers? On this bounteous holiday, it bears remembering that people all over the world are hungry. This is not a reason to despair but a reminder to share. We can make feeding the hungry a regular priority in our charitable giving. We can gather in groups and participate in food-packing events for Feed My Starving Children. We can even spend some of our holiday time at a soup kitchen. We can include a lonely neighbor or relative in our Thanksgiving celebration.

This Thanksgiving, while we are being thankful for leftovers, let’s not forget those left out.

Turkey Drop*

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My daughter recently taught me a term I had never heard before: the turkey drop. The turkey drop refers to the phenomenon that occurs when romantic couples go off to different colleges or graduate schools and try to maintain a long-distance relationship. Invariably (apparently), these couples break up by Thanksgiving – thus the term “turkey drop.”

When I first heard it, I found the expression humorous. Lately, though, I’ve been considering what people/things/habits I might separate myself from. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving and the time-honored Turkey Drop, I am challenging myself to get rid of the following:

1. mean-spirited people on Facebook. They will never have to know I am unhappy with their “low blow” types of posts. I can simply unfollow their posts without unfriending them. I have no doubt some of my FB friends have decided to unfollow my many liberal political diatribes.

2. arguing about politics. In the same vein, I’m pretty sure I have never convinced someone to change his or her political convictions by arguing my case. As my daughter recently pointed out, after 28 years of marriage, my husband and I are still polar opposites when it comes to politics. Why spend fruitless hours and create hard feelings arguing about partisan issues? I plan to follow the same policy on Facebook, where it is much easier to volley verbal grenades at one’s opponent from safely behind a keyboard. This does not mean I will not continue to post articles and blog posts expressing my views. I simply won’t engage in a pointless shouting match.

3. sarcasm. I enjoy a witty barb as much as the next person, and some of my favorite comedians use sarcasm like a finely honed weapon. Yet I tend to use it  as a defense mechanism or way to feel superior to others.

4. general negativity. This may be the hardest challenge of all for me. I tend to be a “glass half full” type of person. Negativity leads to fatalistic thinking, depression, gossip, and surliness. The holidays are a good time to shake things up and try to approach the world with a positive point of view.

I have many other bad habits that could use a revamp, but as the Christmas holidays approach, I think these are a good start. I encourage others to perform their own “turkey drops” and get rid of whatever is holding them back from claiming their own happiness.

What turkeys do you need to drop?

*Author’s note: In looking for a photo to accompany my post, I learned that in Yellville, Arkansas, live turkeys are actually dropped from planes every Thanksgiving. This is a horrible and barbaric tradition and instance of animal cruelty. Yellvillains should be ashamed of themselves. Time to “turkey drop” this tradition!

 

Stumbling Toward Thankfulness

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I am having a hard time feeling cheerful this holiday season. Recent events of national political significance have rendered me alternatively depressed and angry. Every day’s news deepens my feelings of helplessness and fear. People keep telling me to get over it and move on. Well, I have no intentions of moving on or ignoring what is happening in the country I love. But I do need to work on a little perspective and seek some peace for my own sake and the sake of my family.

One thing that helps is the realization that we have had much darker times in the history of this country. The Civil War literally threatened to rip our Union apart. Our nation has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, and the terrible quagmire of Vietnam – not to mention the many thousands of lives lost on 9/11 and subsequently in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Our black citizens no longer live under Jim Crow laws. Women have the right to vote, own property, and work outside the home. While I can’t pretend that things are completely rosy in our society today, I can at least acknowledge that we have made great strides toward tolerance and freedom in America.

Another thing that helps me is the realization that I have people whom I love dearly and who love me. In less than 48 hours, my two sons will be home from college. They will get busy messing up their too-pristine bedrooms and looking for home-cooked food. They, along with my two daughters, will join us for our annual road trip to Detroit, Michigan, where we will feast on my mother-in-law’s delicious Thanksgiving meal and reconnect with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. No matter how we may differ politically, we are family, and nothing can ever take the place of that fact.

Finally, I have a strong faith in God, who I truly believe is in control. While I don’t think God wants me to sit around and wait for the Second Coming, I do think He asks me to trust Him that all will be well. I will try.

I am so blessed in so many ways. For the holidays, I will turn my focus outward into the world and try to bring goodness into it. There are so many things I can do, and indeed that each one of us can do, to make the world a little happier, healthier, and more secure. Toy and food drives, donations to charities, and simple human kindness in our everyday dealings with others can go a long way to bring about a society in which we are proud to live.

This holiday season I plan to take to heart the adage to “be the change you want to see in the world.”

 

Friendsgiving

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My daughter and her friends like to think that they invented Friendsgiving. A few years back when they were in college, they decided it would be fun to have their own Thanksgiving feast before heading their separate ways to celebrate the holiday with their families. Ironicially, it was a friend from “across the pond” who came up with the idea.

Friendsgiving started out small: just six friends who lived together and played together when they weren’t meeting the demands of school work. Each of them contributed to the feast, which included the traditional staples of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green beans.

Over the years as their friendship circle grew, so did Friendsgiving. By their great good fortune (and no doubt some strategic planning), they found themselves transplanted to New York City after college. They continued to live and play together, and as they did, they added on to their small group. Soon they were needing two turkeys for the feast instead of one. By this time, Friendsgiving had become “a thing,” as my daughter would say.

This year there were 35 friends gathered in an apartment celebrating their friendship with wine, turkey, and all the trimmings – and then some. Friends have gotten creative over the years. My daughter, who has become a vegetarian, tries new ways to make veggies delicious. At the latest Friendsgiving, the hit of the party was a butternut squash ravioli.

Maybe they didn’t invent Friendsgiving. But I admire my daughter and her friends for the strong ties that bind them and that led them to create their own “family” holiday together. These days, families can be fractured by divorce, illness, estrangement, and even death. The Thanksgiving Day meal itself can be fraught with family squabbles. How lovely it is that these friends have found a way to celebrate their close and enduring camaraderie.

To all who cherish their friends this holiday, I’d like to say, “Happy Friendsgiving.”

Be Thankful – for Christmas

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Almost as common as the sight of store Christmas displays these days are the complaints about how retailers are rushing the season, how Thanksgiving is given short shrift, and how we should all slow down and enjoy the seasons as they unfold.

I agree with some of these sentiments, and I am especially appalled at how many stores and other businesses are open on Thanksgiving. I do believe that this least commercialized holiday of the year needs to be appreciated fully by all Americans.

I also find it a bit jarring when I go to the store and find Christmas decorations and candy going up right next to the Halloween clearance items. But I have to admit that it’s not all bad to get a jump on Christmas preparation. I myself have started my shopping in earnest as December 25 approaches, however distantly.

You see, I like to enjoy the Christmas holiday season. From the very first day of Advent, when we open the first window on our Advent calendar, I want to be in the sometimes festive, sometimes reflective mood of this waiting time leading up to Christmas. And getting prepared way in advance helps this along.

There is nothing so spirit-crushing as battling the last minute crowds at shopping malls or searching in vain for an extra string of Christmas tree lights in late December. Each day after Black Friday is one day closer to frenzy and mayhem as people ramp up their preparations for the biggest holiday of the year.

So as I make my shopping lists and start checking holiday items off my list in November, I feel a sense of joyful anticipation for all the fun I am going to have once Christmas is actually near. While others are out getting those last minute gifts or pints of egg nog, I will be in my kitchen listening to Christmas Sing Along With Mitch Miller and baking Christmas cookies with my kids.

I’m sure I won’t get everything done in time to avoid the lines and chaos completely. There is always the one gift that is hard to find or the person I inadvertently left off my list. But I will be able to approach these last minute errands with real Christmas cheer and a hot peppermint mocha, knowing that I had the foresight to plan ahead and get the lion’s share of my tasks completed long before I get sick of hearing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

So I say get out there, and get started. Pace yourself, and enjoy the holiday season.