A Turkey Story

A Turkey Story
Originally published: Wed, 23 Nov 2011

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I’m making Thanksgiving dinner this year. All by myself. It’s times like these that I feel like a real grown-up, like I’ve earned my spot side-by-side with the matriarchs in my family, the women who always smelled like dish soap and had standing weekly appointments with their hair dressers. I’m a big girl now.

Most years we travel to either my family in Tennessee or my husband’s in Virginia for Thanksgiving dinner, but this year I volunteered to host and my perfectionism is beginning to do me in. I started putting together the menu more than month ago, collecting recipes and debating on what to include. Fortunately, I decided to scrap my plans to make my now deceased ex-step-grandmother’s famous homemade sour dough bread. Doing so would have meant starting the starter weeks ago and feeding it every day, so … I’ll be serving store-bought, frozen yeast rolls instead. But everything else will be 100 percent homemade. My menu includes an 18-pound turkey (brined overnight), gravy, sausage-apple stuffing, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, green beans, kale, cranberry sauce, cranberry relish, orange salad, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and coconut cake. And yet it still seems like I’m forgetting something.

This will be third time in my life that I’ve tackled the big meal alone. The second was a few years ago when my husband was deployed and I didn’t feel like traveling, and the first time I’ll tell you about right now…

It was 2002 and my husband and I had just gotten engaged. He already lived in Fayetteville and I was still living the sunny, single girl beach life in south Florida, so we didn’t get to see each other much. Worse, he had been on a short deployment and was scheduled to fly back on Thanksgiving day on a commercial airplane. A buddy of his was responsible for booking his flight and he managed to find him a flight that landed in Miami in the wee hours of the morning, with a connection that wouldn’t leave until the evening. We’d get about eight hours together on Thanksgiving Day and I was determined to impress him.

Thanksgiving for me, as for most Americans, is all about the home-cooked meal, so having the mother of all dinners in a restaurant was not an option. I was going to have to cook. Besides, I am a good cook. I love to cook. I have a blast in the kitchen, I really do. But I had never before made Thanksgiving dinner. At most I’d made one side dish or a dessert to take to someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner. I’d always thought of Thanksgiving dinner as the Super Bowl of cooking, a task best left to the pros – the old ladies, the women who own roasting pans, the sorts of women who don’t use measuring spoons and who actually plan meals. My cooking adventures usually turned out well, if eclectic. If I was in a sweet mood, I might make four pies and a cake. If I was in a vegetable mood there would likely be no meat served. If I was in a meat mood, you can forget side dishes. So you can imagine my anxiety over flying solo and having to make the biggest meal of the year for my new fiance.

A week before the big day I called his mother and asked her what foods he likes on Thanksgiving. At least I had enough sense to know that not every family does Thanksgiving the same. Fortunately she didn’t name anything that sounded too difficult to make – and she seemed pretty pleased that I planned to cook for him. She’s told me since then that I scored major points with her that day. I bought a whole turkey and all the other ingredients and I started cooking four days in advance. I figured that by starting early I could make everything in my tiny apartment kitchen and serve the meal on time without cutting into the precious few hours that he and I would have to spend together. Everything was going swimmingly until I got to the turkey itself.

I had never roasted any kind of bird and didn’t even know where to begin, so I did the most sensible thing I could think of – the night before Thanksgiving I called my grandmother.
“First you need to put your hand into the cavity and remove the organs,” she said, not even bothering to hide her laughter.
“What?”
“The cavity, the hole. Oh, Hell,  just stick your hand up the damn turkey’s butt!” she said.
I looked at the headless bird and tried to picture it with a head so that I could figure out which end was the butt. It is not as obvious as you might think.
“The organs?” I asked.
“There’s a little bag in there that has the neck and gizzards and stuff in it,” she said.
And sure enough, there was.
“Pull out all the organs and throw them away, unless you want to make giblet gravy.”
“Umm, no. I bought gravy. I’ll just throw this, umm, stuff away,” I said, pinching the bag between two fingers and eyeing it distastefully.
“Now you just want to rub the bird down with butter real good,” she said, adding, “Make sure you soften the butter first.”
I was glad that she’d mentioned that.
“Then slice an orange in half and shove half of it up the turkey’s butt.”
A lot of butt shoving was going on with this turkey. Who knew Thanksgiving dinner started so intimately? My grandmother went on to help me figure out how long to cook the turkey for and then she asked if I needed help with any of the side dishes. She gave me a few tips on the stuffing and the sweet potatoes and wished me luck, telling me to call her when it was all said and done and tell her how it turned out.
I cherish that conversation. She was diagnosed the following year with an inoperable brain tumor. The memory of her laughing as she explained how to cook the turkey is one of my favorites.

His flight arrived at 5 a.m. I got dressed in a really sexy outfit, heels and all, full make-up, the whole shebang, and planned to meet him at baggage claim. But when I got there the stupid Miami airport wasn’t even open. I think that airport has been under construction since like 1975 and Thanksgiving day was no exception. At that hour on a holiday even the parking lot was closed. I had to just keep circling the airport until he called to tell me that he was standing on the curb. I tried to get out of the car so that he could at least see how cute I was, but he was tired and just wanted to leave. I’m not sure he ever actually noticed my sexy outfit, come to think of it. Seems like a total waste of discomfort to me now.

Thanksgiving was wonderful, though there so many leftovers that I was eating turkey and the trimmings for weeks. When it was time for him to go back to the airport I put the pies – pumpkin and pecan – a couple of forks and a can of whipped cream in the car so that we could eat them on the way.

Come to think of it, our whole married life has been kind of like that: Best of intentions always altered by a mad dash out the door.

From the Vault: A Christmas Chronology

Originally published December 25, 2008

medium_42145211818 p.m. – Bathe the kids and start getting them ready for bed. Tell my son that he needs to hurry because he has to be in bed before Santa gets to our house, otherwise Santa won’t leave him any presents. My son asks where Santa is now so we pull up the NORAD Santa tracker online. I gasp and tell him that Santa is already in South America and we’ve got to move quickly because North America is next. He runs upstairs to his room and jumps into bed. I follow him and ask what book he’d like to read. (Normally he wants to read five or six each night.) “No books, Mommy. Santa will be here soon.” Okay, I say, then let’s just say prayers. “We gotta pray fast, Mommy.” We race through “Now I lay me down to sleep” and it’s lights out. I don’t hear a peep from him for the rest of the night.

9:30 p.m. – Feed the baby and try to coax her into sleeping.

10:30 p.m. – She’s finally asleep. I put her to bed and crank up the waterfall sounds really loud so that any noise I make won’t disturb her.

11 p.m.  – Turn my attention to Santa duties. Go to the basement to retrieve presents and congratulate myself on picking out such awesome toys. “I am the coolest mom ever!”, I say to myself.

11:15 p.m. – Buy “Fred Claus” to watch from On Demand and set up all the gift wrapping supplies. Decide that gift wrapping will be much more fun with Peppermint Schnapps. Pour myself a shot, thinking, “Schnapps are so festive!”

12:21 a.m. – Gifts are wrapped and under the tree. “Fred Claus” is a funny movie. Schanapps are making me feel great. My husband calls, so I pause the movie to talk to him.

12:30 a.m. – Decide that I might as well make some breakfast casseroles so that I won’t have to cook much in the morning. Assemble the ingredients, mix it all up and put the casseroles in the refrigerator.

1 a.m. – Sit back down to finish watching “Fred Claus”. Decide to have more Schnapps.

2 a.m. – Put the video camera battery on the charger and go to bed. Miraculously, neither child has stirred.

7 a.m. – I am the first one up. I think I’m more excited than my son. I know I’m more excited than the baby. I wake up the baby and feed her.

7:30 a.m. – Make coffee, put the casseroles in the oven and go to wake up my son. I can’t believe he is still sleeping. “He definitely won’t sleep in next year,” I say to myself. I take the video camera and film him as he wakes up, stumbles down the stairs and sees all the presents. His eyes bug out and he is adorable.

7:35 a.m. – The camera stops recording. Apparently I have run out of tape and have no idea if we have any more tapes. I grab my cell phone instead and use it to take pictures. Curse myself for not knowing how to use the video function on the phone.

7:45 a.m. – Gift opening is over. My husband calls and my son tells him all about the toys. Casseroles are cooked and out of the oven. My son won’t eat them. He doesn’t know what a casserole is and pronounces all casseroles “yucky”. Decide to turn on the Yule Log channel for festive holiday background music. For some reason the Yule Log channel isn’t working, so I start trying to assemble the super cool robot Santa brought.

8:30 a.m. – Still trying to assemble the robot that Satan, I mean Santa, brought.

9 a.m. Robot is (finally!) put together. Flip the on switch and realize that it doesn’t have batteries. Have to disassemble it to install the batteries. It requires seven (!) batteries. I don’t have seven new batteries so I take the batteries out of the camera and all the remote controls. Stupid robot still doesn’t work. I am starting to cuss now, quietly.

9:15 a.m. Give up on the robot. Turn my attention to the really cute penguin toy. The penguins are supposed to climb a staircase and then slide down a luge that ends at the bottom of the stairs. The slide is a major pain to put together. Quickly realize that I need a “D” battery. Don’t have a “D” battery. My son is dejected. Kids aren’t supposed to be dejected on Christmas. I remember that the baby swing has “D” batteries. Now where is that stupid tiny screwdriver?

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9:30 a.m. I’m in the basement digging through the toolbox. Finally find the screwdriver. Voila! The penguin toy works. It is adorable! But it makes a continuous chirping noise. Think to myself that that noise might get annoying after awhile.

9:45 a.m. Trying to build a really cool marble race with the awesome (and intelligence enhancing) wood block marble race set.

9:55 a.m. Have built an amazing marble race for my son. Can’t wait for him to try it.

9:56 a.m. Marble race blocks are scattered all over the room and marbles are everywhere. My son thought it would be more fun to destroy the structure I’d built than to race marbles down it. Not sure what this says about his intelligence or if the marble race can help him.

9:59 a.m. I hate the robot. I hate the marble race. And I would really like to go back to the basement to get the hammer so I can smash the penguin toy to make it shut up.

10 a.m. The caffeine from the coffee is wearing off and the sugar from the French Toast casserole is wearing off. I am experiencing a caffeine crash and sugar low at the same time. My son goes to the bathroom and comes back without pants or underwear on. Refuses to put on either for the rest of the morning. Says he wants to “Porky Pig” it – borrowing a phrase his father uses to describe wearing a shirt with no pants. I give up. Who says a kid has to wear bottoms at home, anyway?

10:30 a.m. The house is trashed. There are boxes, zip ties, and torn wrapping paper everywhere. The penguin toy works too well and the robot doesn’t work at all. My son tried to make the robot work and now there are robot pieces everywhere. The baby is (THANK GOD) asleep. Huge casseroles sit mostly untouched in the kitchen. I’m exhausted and really regretting the Schnapps.

10:35 a.m. My son gives me a big hug and a kiss and tells me this is the best Christmas ever. He says, “I’m so happy, Mommy.”

10:40 a.m. Lay on the couch, close my eyes, smile and think to myself that Christmas is awesome. What a great day. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

 

 

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From the vault: Christmas 2009, Speaking Parts

Originally published December 21, 2009

 

Three Kings

My son was really excited after church Sunday because he said he had been the loudest one in his Sunday School class’ nativity reenactment. His teacher agreed.

“He was the loudest one we’ve ever had,” she said, smiling.

The teachers had assigned roles for each child to play in their lesson about the birth of Jesus. Bo, apparently, had played his part with great enthusiasm.

“Which part did you play,” I asked him, thinking that if he described his role as “loud” maybe he had been the angel with the famous, “And lo, from the east …” line that is something of a rite of passage for every American child. But who was I kidding? As if any teacher would look at Bo, who is always either tormenting some other child or dreaming up new forms of torment, and think, “Angel…he’s perfect for the Angel part.”

“Guess,” he told me, but I couldn’t think of any other speaking parts.

“Were you Joseph?” I asked, hoping he’d say no because Joseph is the usually the most shafted character in the nativity story. Sometimes he is left out completely. I have several nativity sets that didn’t even come with a Joseph. It’s like it was simply Joseph’s job in the Bible to lead the laboring Mary and her donkey to the stable, rearrange the hay in the manger and then just stand off to the side and let history play out, never to be heard from again. Actually, I guess that was exactly Joseph’s job in the Bible. Anyway, I don’t recall Joseph ever saying anything in any Christmas program I’ve ever seen. If Bo had been a “loud” Joseph then the whole scene had probably been a disaster.

“No. Guess again,” Bo said.

I went through all the characters – wise men, shepherds, Mary, Baby Jesus, but Bo said no to all.

Finally I gave up and said, “Bo just tell me which part you played.”

“I was the cow,” he said, with great pride. I cracked up laughing, picturing my little boy being the loudest, most enthusiastic cow to ever witness to the birth of Jesus.

“MOO!!!!” he screamed, demonstrating. As if I needed an example of a loud holy cow. He moo’d the whole way home, reliving his stage debut, I guess. By the time we got back to the house I was sorry that I hadn’t seen it for myself. But (and here comes the sappy part) such is the parenting experience.

We never get to see every little thing our children do. Even those of us who are lucky enough to spend lots of time with our kids still miss huge chunks of their lives. I learned of Bo’s first steps on a daily progress report from the teachers in his mother’s day out class, which he only attended for three hours on one day each week. He had chosen those three hours as the best time for him to step out into the world. Right beneath the details of his bottles and bowel movements that day one of the teachers had scrawled, “Bo took three steps today.” I pasted that form into his baby book in lieu of a photo of the momentous occasion.

I was very sad to have missed seeing those steps. That’s why the saddest thing for me during deployments is all the stuff that my husband misses seeing. I’m a pretty good story teller and I try to recount in as many details as I can everything that happens so my husband will feel like he was there, too. Sometimes I tell the story so effectively that months or years later he recalls the details and we both forget for a second that he didn’t actually see it happen. But, when something amazing or amusing happens while he is deployed, my first thought is always how sad it is for him that he didn’t get to experience it. My second thought is how sad it is for the kids that he wasn’t there to share the moment with them. And my third thought is how sad it is for me that I don’t have anyone to nudge and laugh with over what just happened. I suppose my fourth thought is how I will describe it when I get a chance to talk to him again.

This Christmas, like many before, lots of families are separated by distance and war. Lots of kids have been performing in Christmas plays that one or both parents have had to miss. Lots of kids will be fighting with their siblings for the attention of the one parent who is home. Lots of moms will be trying to balance a video camera while installing batteries in new electronics or fumbling with the maddening zip ties that keep toys shackled to cardboard boxes.

And “over there”, lots of soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors, civilians and contractors will have one all-too-short phone call during which to hear as many details about their families’ Christmas celebrations as can be recalled. They’ll check their emails several times throughout the day, in hopes of receiving bleary-eyed Christmas morning pictures. They’ll get off the phone and tell their buddies with pride about all that’s going on back home, including as many details as they can, telling the story as if they had been there themselves. Then they’ll go back to work and hope that the day – and the deployment – passes as quickly as possible.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and especially to those of you who are spending Christmas with your loved ones on the phone. Whether it’s your first or your fourth (or more) Christmas apart, may it be as merry as possible. To those at home: Take and send lots of pictures and note and share as many details as possible. And to those away: Please stay safe and healthy, and remember that it won’t be like this forever.

Lean Out

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Gonna buy me a ticket, to the end of the line
Wanna feel the air, breathe the countryside
As long as those wheels keep rollin’, I’ll be satisfied
Gonna ride, ride, ride”

-Robert Earl Keen, “Ride”

Nothing against Sheryl Sandberg, but sometimes you need to Lean Out, or as my friend Lori might say, Lean the fuck out. Or maybe Lori wouldn’t say that at all…I don’t want to put words in her mouth. Anyway…

Sandberg, as only my dog is unaware, is the COO of Facebook and the author of a book called “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”. And, for what it’s worth, I agree with what she says in the book. Or, at least I think I do. I haven’t actually read it. But, if women want to succeed in the workplace, we have to lean into our ambitions.

But what if our ambitions are not in the workplace?

So much has been made about the choice women face between focusing on a career and focusing on raising children, and the miserable tugging one feels when attempting to succeed at both. (A tugging I once heard a working mom describe as, “I’m a piece of meat that’s being fought over by wild dogs,” which sounded about right.) But this debate usually focuses on only two choices among the pantheon of options: workplace or home. And what if we want both, and neither?

I have a career, albeit an unorthodox one. I decided in 2004 that I would never again sit under florescent lights if I could help it, and I’m going on nine florescent-free years now. I love working, which is to say, I love doing work — but I hate riding a clock. I am not lazy, but I am ridiculously selfish with my time. I would much rather work more for less on my own schedule, than work less and earn more, but allow my time to belong to someone else. My personal mission statement? I will work my ass off for you, but I will do it when and where I choose. I want that time to myself so that I can use it for myself, but also so that I will have the time to give  to others. My motives aren’t all greedy. Now, all of that said, I am not my family’s primary wage earner. Far from it. My current situation wouldn’t be possible if I weren’t married to man who earns enough for me to have these options. But, because he’s in the military and gone more often than he’s home, my hybrid life choices actually serve us well.

And so this summer I chose to Lean Out. Way The Fuck Out. In fact, today is Day 31 of my 2013 Lean Out Experiment, also known as a roadtrip, or as I’ve told my kids, Our Great East Coast Adventure.

IMG_8240For 31 days my children and I have traveled, burning up what might have been a monotonous summer. With my husband deployed, we are lacking that nightly “Daddy’s Home!” marker that means a day has ended.

Instead of letting each blistering day blend into the next, we have spent much of this summer touring the eastern seaboard, starting in Florida, moving all the way to Maine and then back down to Florida again. Seeing old friends, making new friends, learning our nation’s history. Eating lots of ice cream. Watching boats be built. Laughing. Picking wild blueberries. Sampling flavors of honey.  Singing with street musicians. Finding common ground.

 

 

Savannah, Ga.

Charleston, SC

Fayetteville, NCIMG_7809

New Bern, NC

Virginia Beach, Va.

Philadelphia, Pa.

Mystic, Conn.

Lincolnville, Maine

Boston, Mass.

New Haven, Conn.

New York, NY

back to Virginia Beach

Oak Island, NC

Wytheville, Va.

Nashville, Tenn.

— These were our stops.

Places chosen because of their historical importance, their beauty, their concentration of people we love or simply because they were there and we were tired.

IMG_8227We splashed in fountains, practiced pirate accents, heard ghost stories, tried to touch the Liberty Bell, collected rocks, pictures of bridges and friends, ogled fake dinosaurs and sat on a hard bench in a 300-year-old-schoolhouse, where we were reprimanded by a stern school master. We learned that sperm whales are called such because they were caught for their sperm.

We ate cheesesteaks, lobsters, crab cakes and Boston cream pie — and lots of pizza, everywhere. We looked for Charles Dickens’ ghost. We walked around a life-sized replica of Stonehenge made entirely out of styrofoam. We got lost on subway lines, many times, and had to ask strangers for directions. Many times. We smiled. We chatted. We hugged. We lingered. We got lost in Yonkers. We discussed the merits of Minecraft with a British school teacher who was on her way to educate second graders in Japan.

IMG_8005We paid too much to fuel up, but got to reminisce about Mike McGill and Stacey Peralta with a middle aged gas station attendant. We had lunch with an old friend we met for the first time. We over-tipped, but heard a waitress from Haiti share dreams of traveling west. A transit officer from Sri Lanka wistfully told of plans to one day retire to Maine. A couple from Minnesota mentioned how anxious they were to get home to see their first grandchild. A mother from New Hampshire admitted that she worries for her son in Afghanistan.

We held hands.

A parking garage attendant from Egypt insisted we take his short cut, which required a trip through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel — and cut almost two hours off our Google Maps time. A man from Honduras allowed that people rarely bother to talk to him.IMG_8045 We laughed with him as he helped us catch tiny fish in nets.

We hiked a lovely mountain in Maine, and were rewarded with a view, a stunning, sweeping, suck-in-your-breath-and-just-look view. We fell in love with three little boys there, and vowed to visit them and their parents every year, one way or another. We explored an island accessible only by boat with its most interesting and knowledgeable resident as our guide. We learned how adult lobsters get caught, and how baby lobsters get free. We ate gourmet cheese and crusty bread while perched on the sort of rocky coastline that doesn’t exist anywhere in the south. We ate more ice cream. Much more ice cream.

We traveled nearly 5,000 miles, for more than a month, and never encountered even one unpleasant person.

We leaned out. Way the fuck out. And it was beautiful.

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The Babymooners

I was flipping through the new issue of Parents magazine last night and this question from a reader caught my eye:

“My husband wants to take me to a spa for our babymoon. What treatments are safe for me to have during pregnancy?”

(I’m going to ask that all the military moms reading this pause for about 10 seconds to stop laughing.)

Ok. Did you catch your breath?

A babymoon, for all of you who haven’t given birth or paid attention to those living the luxe life for the last few years, is one of the latest ways for people to pamper themselves. It’s right up there with “push presents” on my list of trends I hear about but don’t believe anyone is actually doing. (That list, FYI, also includes things like wigs for dogs, spray tans for toddlers, expensive-cakes-that-don’t-look-like-cakes, vaginoplasty and anal bleaching.)  A babymoon is a trip that an expecting couple takes just before the baby is born to relax and enjoy the last full nights of sleep that they’re likely to get for the next 20 years or so. It is, for the record, a fantastic idea and I am 100 percent pro-babymoon. I just don’t know anyone who has ever had one. Or, at least, I don’t think I know anyone. If you’ve taken a babymoon, please feel free to tell us all about it.

(By the way, a push present is a gift that a new father gives to the new mother to thank her for the pregnancy and the childbirth. I am also 100 percent pro-push present.)

What took me most by surprise in the Parents magazine question was the phrasing. The question reads like a babymoon is the most common thing in the world. While I have no idea how common babymoons are in the non-military community, I feel certain they are all but non-existent for those of us who shop in commissaries. At my OB appointment the other day (I’m about 6 months pregnant with my third child, btw.) a sign at the check in desk asked soon-to-be moms to tell their providers if their husbands would be deployed on their due date, deploying soon after or just returned from a deployment.

Our world really is very different, isn’t it? Instead of planning a babymoon to Sedona together, many of us are planning for half of the new parent couple to be on a trip to that other, not-so-pleasant, desert. Choosing between the mud wrap and the seaweed facial isn’t exactly on our agendas.

My husband and I never even had a honeymoon because he deployed two weeks after our wedding. We were okay with that, though, because up until a few days before the wedding we weren’t even sure he’d still be in the country long enough to get married. The fact that he made it to the wedding seemed like a blessing. Many of my military friends have two anniversaries for exactly this reason: They celebrate the day they were legally married at the courthouse and the day they had the actual wedding. If they got in a trip to Hawaii after the big day, it was probably because they were on PCS orders to Schofield Barracks.

The weeks before our first child was born were also a flurry of pre-deployment activity. Though we were very lucky that my husband was able to be present at our son’s birth, he left for Afghanistan about two weeks later. I can’t imagine trying to squeeze in a spa visit (even if we’d had the money for it) during all that chaos. He missed our daughter’s birth entirely, so a babymoon wasn’t an option that time, either. And now, with a third baby on the way I’m just excited that he’ll finally get to experience the “joys” of a having a newborn with me.

So I suppose our “babymoon” will come after the baby is born, just like how the honeymoon comes after the wedding. Our babymoon this time will include spending long nights together not sleeping (because of night feedings and changings) and going on meandering, scenic drives around town (to try and get the baby to fall asleep). But someday in the not-so-distant-future (cue soaring instrumental) we’ll have an Army retirementmoon and — provided we can find someone to keep the kids and the dogs — then we’ll go to Hawaii, or Sedona or maybe just to the Motel 6, so that we can take long, uninterrupted, naps.