How Thanksgiving Really Is

A lot of times after a big holiday we have a letdown, a time when we sit back and reflect on all the preparations and hurrying and worrying to make sure everything is perfect, and wonder, after all we did for a few hours of family time and food, was it worth it? All the work, that is.

The turkey’s been eaten, and leftovers put away. Casseroles are covered and refrigerated for tomorrow. Leftover pumpkin pie sits on the counter in case someone wants another piece.

All the work and preparation and it’s over in an hour or so. And everyone is exhausted.

Yes, we gave thanks for time together, and yes it was wonderful, although it certainly wasn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting. It never is. And for those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, please look up Norman Rockwell and his work. Then you’ll understand.

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At our house, it was a small gathering. Our daughter and her family, and her dad and me. And that was fine.

Now the Thanksgiving crafts Ashley brought for the kids to do didn’t quite turn out too well. Grandpa complained his crayons weren’t coloring right. Little Ryleigh lost interest quickly. Probably because she didn’t feel good. So Rachel and her mom got to have all the fun, including making a Thanksgiving hat for Daddy. Even one of our dogs decided to join in the fun and try to eat a couple of the kids’ crayons. Didn’t know yorkies liked crayons….

The food was good, even though it wasn’t all necessarily homemade. There’s nothing wrong with stovetop stuffing, turkey gravy in a jar, ready made mashed potatoes, and a frozen pumpkin pie. But I did make two casseroles myself. And Ashley and the girls made cinnamon buns from my mother’s recipe, which is our tradition.

We didn’t carve the turkey at the table; that’s just not practical. Good thing, though, because the electric knife decided to die on us when my husband started to cut it, and our son-in-law had to use his deer knife to carve the bird. He did tell us he’d cleaned it after he last used it out in the woods!

We didn’t dress up in our best clothes, like we did as kids at our grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. But we did eat in the dining room. We didn’t use our best china, but we didn’t use paper plates either. Good thing we used unbreakable dinnerware, though! You can imagine why with two little girls….

The grandkids had fun, even though they didn’t eat much. One ate three helpings (kid-sized) of corn pudding and one ate mostly cinnamon buns! Our daughter put ketchup on her turkey while her husband used hot sauce. Who else does that? And why?

The grandkids were actually more interested in running into the living room to try to play my piano and in the next minute go look out the window for Santa Claus. Rachel even said she thought she saw him on the roof and made her Daddy go look! But I guess he’d already left because they didn’t find him.

I wonder if he was starting to make his list early!

The dogs were unhappy because they weren’t allowed to be in the dining room with us, half because they wanted to be with us, and half because they knew the kids were dropping food on the floor and they wanted to help with the cleanup!

But don’t worry about their holiday dinner! They discovered the cloth napkins and tablecloth I’d thrown on the steps to take upstairs to the laundry room, and they were more than happy to grab those and run around the house with them.

Guess they wanted their Thanksgiving treats as well!

Family Thanksgiving pictures? The closest we got to that were pictures of the grandkids helping their mommy make the cinnamon buns and taking pictures of the kids modeling the Thanksgiving paper hats they’d colored.

Now tell me the truth…was your Thanksgiving more like ours or more like the picture perfect scenes you see on tv commercials and magazine ads?

I think I know the answer already. And I really wouldn’t want it any other way. After all, it’s our family, and that’s just how it is!

And if you’re wondering how my husband was able to handle all this after his heart procedure two days ago, well, that’s another story, for another time. While we wait for it to be rescheduled now that the insurance company has FINALLY sent the doctors their approval! Things do work out for the best after all. Because Thanksgiving day would have totally worn him out.

And now it’s on to getting ready for Christmas. And there’ll surely be more stories and memories to cherish.

Being Thankful 2021

(Be sure to read through it all for a surprise at the end.)

It’s almost Thanksgiving again. We’re all trying to plan our meals, figure out who will join us at our feast, as well as what everyone can bring. 

We’re trying to figure out how to prevent arguments at these family and friends dinners because, well, some of you don’t get along with each other that well, and have such uncompromising ideas that you’re afraid dinner will turn into a battleground.

People are already complaining that the cost of our traditional Thanksgiving meal is too high. We can’t get this or that and we just can’t have our dinner without it.

People are complaining that many retailers who traditionally opened after dinnertime for an early start on Christmas shopping won’t be doing it this year. They’re actually letting their employees have off to spend time with THEIR families instead of trying to deal with pushy shoppers who complain that what they stood in line to buy is gone already! 

It just isn’t fair! 

Who said life is fair? Who said we have to have certain things for dinner because it’s tradition? Is Thanksgiving going to be ruined if we have to eat chicken instead of turkey? Not, it’s not quite the same, but you do have food on the table.

You don’t want to have certain family members there because you don’t agree with them on certain things? Maybe they don’t agree with you either. Maybe you can agree to disagree for one day and leave that conversation out of your day?! Or maybe you can just forget about them this year. But do you really want to do that?

Maybe things will be different next year and you can see them then. Or maybe they won’t be around any more and you’ll never get the chance to be with them again.

Tomorrow is not promised. Next week is not promised. And next year is not promised.

When we start making holidays, say Thanksgiving for a start, only about the food and who’s cooking it, and what we can or can’t have, there’s a problem.

When we make Thanksgiving about who we don’t want as our guests instead of welcoming family members to join us for a time of fellowship, gratitude, and thankfulness, there’s a problem. When we refuse to go to our family Thanksgiving dinner because some one or two people we don’t want to see will be there, and give up going and being with others we love, there’s a problem.

When your traditional after Thanksgiving dinner early Christmas shopping can’t happen because retailers decided to give their employees off to enjoy their own families, there’s a problem.

I think we’re forgetting what Thanksgiving means. It’s not about the food. It’s not about shopping. It’s not about refusing an invitation because you don’t like someone who’s also invited, so you’d rather complain that you have nowhere to go. Because you do; you just choose not to.

And yes, I find myself starting to do that as well. I forget, too. But then I was prompted to start writing this, and as I wrote, I saw too many things inside myself that I was doing wrong.

I found myself pushing to make sure I had all the good items we “always” have for our dinner. Yes, we did get the turkey early, but we didn’t pay a fortune for it because we found a sale rather than just complaining about prices. Complaining has become the new thing to do, hasn’t it?

And if we have to change up the menu slightly from what we traditionally have, well, maybe we’ll like the changes so much we’ll keep them for next Thanksgiving. And cranberry sauce? Yeah, it’s tradition but no one really eats much of it.

As long as we can have my mother’s recipe cinnamon buns we’re good. And I ordered the hot roll mix she always used so all we need is for our daughter to make them!

And the dinner guests? Since my family lives several hours away, and my husband’s family lives halfway across the country, our dinner guests are our daughter and son-in-law and their two daughters. Over the last several years we’ve usually had several friends in the same situation; family out of town and they couldn’t get there. Or they’re newly separated or divorced and well, we won’t go there. Or some of our daughter’s friends who couldn’t get to their family celebration that year.

There’s always room at our table for one more, and many times it’s someone who’s invited at the last minute because we didn’t know they had nowhere to go.

The shopping after dinner? I can truthfully say I’ve never done that. Not even wanted to. After a big dinner and cleaning up afterwards, the last thing I want to do is go fight the crowds fighting over bargains on things they don’t really need or gifts that the recipients might not even want.

What’s wrong with stores actually letting their employees have a holiday off? Is the almighty dollar so important that the retailers should be open no matter what? Personally I’m glad a lot of them made that decision. Let families have a full day together, and that means those of you who used to take off shopping as soon as dinner was over. Spend time with the ones who are important to you while you can. The stores will be open the next day. And there will be merchandise to buy.

Now, to make our Thanksgiving even more interesting, a few days ago, a new complication was added to our Thanksgiving plans. But it’s added at the top of our “Being Thankful” list. 

My husband who’s had a history of heart issues (read his story in the Matters of the Heart series on this blog) was unexpectedly notified that after a year and a half of waiting and delays (Covid and insurance, among other things) he finally had an opening for a very important but hopefully minor heart surgery, if any heart procedure can be called minor. Two days before Thanksgiving. We took the appointment.

After a rushed several days of preparation for surgery, final meal planning and some prep for the actual dinner, and yes, finishing up the majority of our Christmas decorations, notifying our family and friends, I think we’re ready. 

Tomorrow morning he will be having a device called the Watchman inserted laparoscopically into his heart. The device is designed to prevent blood clots from breaking off and possibly causing a stroke. Which means he will finally be able to go off blood thinners at the beginning of the new year. And he should be home the next morning.

So you see, our Thanksgiving won’t be the same as other years, either. But with the help of our daughter and other friends, as well as a great surgeon and his team, we’re going to have a truly thankful Thanksgiving Day.

It may not be traditional, but it’s going to be blessed. And full of heartfelt gratitude.

So I ask you now…what are you going to be thankful for this Thanksgiving? Are you going to be grateful for what you have or complain about what you think you’re missing?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Day. And all over America turkeys are being stuffed and shoved into ovens. Pies are baking. Tables are being set for a delicious dinner with traditional favorites as well as new recipes from magazines that looked too good not to try. And we‘re hoping they’re as good as the pictures, and not a disaster!

Families and friends have traveled to their destinations and they’re now looking forward to a day of eating, forgetting whatever diet they may be on just for this one day. And then sitting down to watch football, or in some cases, start early Christmas shopping. (Which I refuse to do!)

The kitchen smells of roasting turkey, cinnamon, pumpkin, and nutmeg sprinkled on cups of eggnog.

But instead of concentrating on just the food, let’s take a minute or two to think a little more about this holiday, and what it stands for.

It’s not just a day to read all the newspaper and online shopping ads, selecting what you want to buy the next day, or even worse, later that evening. It’s not a day to complain that there wasn’t enough pumpkin pie, or that you’d have rather had chicken than turkey, or that you didn’t want to spend your whole day with your family, when you’d rather be out with your friends.

It’s a day to be thankful. Thankful for the things that matter.

Thankful for food on the table. Many families don’t have a traditional dinner because they can’t afford it, and have to rely on the generosity of others for their Thanksgiving meal, and then try to see how many days of leftovers they can stretch out,

Thankful for a home in which to have your Thanksgiving meal. It doesn’t necessarily need to be fancy; it could be owned by you, or your parents, or you could be renting it. House, apartment, or condo…you have a roof over your head. This year especially there are hundreds of families living in shelters or with friends because their homes were destroyed by hurricanes, floods, or fires.

Thankful for health, whether you’re exceptionally healthy, or if you’ve been through a number of medical procedures, surgeries, and illnesses from which you’ve recovered or are still recovering. Many people are currently fighting life-threatening or terminal illnesses, and just glad to be here for another Thanksgiving celebration, knowing next year may very well be totally different.

Thankful for your children. Even if they drive you crazy at times (and if you have children, who cannot say that!) or if they aren’t living close by any more. Many, many families have tried unsuccessfully to conceive, and would give almost anything to have a baby. Still others have lost children, and feel an unimaginable pain, especially this time of year.

Thankful for your job, even if it’s not what you really want to be doing. It’s an income, until you are able to fund something else. There are still a lot of people out there who are unemployed, either due to layoffs, business closings, or losing their place of employment due to the hurricanes or wildfires.

Thankful for friends. Old friends as well as new. Friends who are like family. Who accept you as you are, and are always ready to help you out when you need it, give advice when you ask for it, and many times even share your Thanksgiving meal with you.

Thankful for the country you live in. For the freedoms you enjoy every day; the freedoms not enjoyed by so many other countries. A country in which we have freedom to worship as we choose, and freedom to speak our minds whether our government agrees with us or not. Freedom to vote without fear of being arrested or even killed. Freedom to criticize our government.

There are so many other reasons to be thankful today. I am thankful for all of the above, as well as being thankful for my husband and his health, our son-in-law, our beautiful granddaughter, and our new granddaughter who will be celebrating her first Thanksgiving with the family next year.

That’s a lot for all of us to be thankful for. And we need to remember that before we sit down to eat. What are the things you’re thankful for this year?

And be sure to give thanks for your blessings. Not everyone has the blessings that you do! Whether you think of them that way or not.

The Invisible Table

A few days ago I read a Thanksgiving essay by Mitch Albom, one of the authors whose books I thoroughly enjoy reading.

“The Empty Table” is a tribute to his family members who are no longer here, and describes the empty table he is setting this year in their honor, a place set for each of them. And he goes on to name each of them, with a brief description of how they had enjoyed their annual family Thanksgiving meal while they were with him.

It was one of the most touching tributes for lost family members I have read in a long time.

Like Mr. Albom, I have also lost many family members, including my parents. And I so often think of them at this time of year, and if I close my eyes, I can still see them sitting at our family table, enjoying both food and fellowship, and above all, love for one another. Like Mr. Albom, I miss each of my family members terribly. I understand how he feels.

Over the years I’ve written about honoring and remembering lost loved ones at the holiday season, especially that first year without them. I’ve talked about setting a place for them at the table, even displaying a picture on the table by their untouched plate.

But setting an entire table and leaving it empty? I would not have thought of that. But yet, it makes sense.. if they’re there in spirit, why not make them welcome! Honor their memory in whatever way you choose.

Now I am in no way the writer Mr. Albom is. His way with words is incredible and his ideas and style are unique. However, his essay inspired me to write my own version of his Thanksgiving tribute, and I hope you will take a few minutes to do the same.

My tribute is called “the invisible table”. As I can imagine so many of my loved ones, once again together, enjoying a heavenly Thanksgiving dinner, probably similar to the ones they enjoyed here on earth. Now ageless, healthy, and, I would think, able to eat whatever they want, and as much as they want.

I can imagine their heavenly Thanksgiving starting early, because after all, time is eternal in heaven, and its citizens do not need to conform to the earthly time frames that once limited them. However for this day I would think a few bits of earthy traditions would appear in their heavenly homes. After all, the turkey needs to be put in the oven the first thing in order for everything else to be ready on time.

Wait! Cooking in heaven? Doesn’t the food just appear? Already prepared?

Most likely, however, since my grandmother, my mother, and most of my aunts loved to cook for Thanksgiving, I’m sure they still enjoy that in heaven, and still enjoy preparing their favorite dish to serve their loved ones and any special guests who drop by. (But I’m willing to bet they don’t have to clean up or put the leftovers away!)

I’m sure their heavenly Thanksgiving table is beautifully set, with flickering golden candles, glistening crystal goblets, and iridescent plates like we can only imagine. And once the meal is ready, most likely they are all seated at this table, and served their delicious meal by a hoard of angels.

I can see my grandfather, at the head of the table, his wavy hair now full and dark, bowing his head and saying the Thanksgiving blessing, and thanking the Lord that they are all together.

My grandmother, now wheelchair free, sits at the opposite end of that table, the family matriarch, surrounded by her children and their spouses, telling him, “Seymour, cut that turkey and start passing the food before it gets cold!”

My uncle Hilton is there, no longer shaking from Parkinson’s, his wife Ruth and their daughter Julia at his side, swapping jokes with his brothers in law, and planning a fishing trip for all of them.

My uncle Carlton and his wife Kitty, freed from the earthly prison of Alzheimer’s, offer a Thanksgiving toast with heavenly wine, the likes of which have never been tasted on earth.

My uncle Fowler is there, cancer free, wearing one of his favorite lighted Christmas ties, the lights blinking off and on while he’s racing my Uncle Jay to see who gets the turkey neck!

And uncle Jay, also free from Alzheimer’s, is eating so quickly, as always, that he drops food on his favorite Christmas tie, which actually blends in with the food spots from last year’s dinner. And of course, there are my mom’s dogs, all of them reunited with her, circling around Jay’s chair, because he always drops yummy morsels for them to enjoy.

My aunt Mary, Jay’s wife, sits happily beside him, her memory clear, and happily serves everyone a scoop of her delicious oyster dressing. And everyone is asking if she brought her special angel pie for dessert, that none of us have ever been able to properly duplicate!

And of course, there are my mom and dad. How happy they look! Finally together after so many years. Daddy’s hair is dark and full, his eyesight perfect, and his headaches are forever gone. Once again he is with the family he loved and didn’t have nearly enough earthly time with.

My mother is beside him, smiling like I’ve never seen before, because she is finally reunited with the love of her life. Her hair is once again dark and wavy, her eyes still as blue, and her face unlined, her complexion as smooth as it was in the photo I have of their wedding day. And beside them are my brothers and sisters I never met, the babies she’d lost to miscarriages, now finally reunited with their parents, and, like everyone else at the table, begging for her “famous” cinnamon buns that she always made for every holiday dinner. And there were at least four trays of them, lovingly made for the family my mom still treasures.

There are a few empty seats there, waiting for other family members to join them. But that doesn’t put a damper on their celebration, because they know we’ll all be there one day.

And this is my Invisible table, with my family. They are all happy and smiling. They’re together again. And yes, I’m sure they remember us. They miss us, but they know they’ll see us again.

What about you? Do you have an Invisible table? Please feel free to share your stories with us, as I did, and as Mitch Albom did in “The Empty Table”.

Happy Thanksgiving! Be blessed!

Missing Thanksgiving

No I don’t mean we’re not doing Thanksgiving this year. We are. Our daughter and son-in-law are hosting it at their house, and I’m sure our granddaughter will “help” in her own special 18 month old way.

We’ll have basically the same menu as we’ve had for the last 10-15 years…some traditions do continue. But the cooks will be different. The setting will be different. And the table will be missing a lot of people who are no longer around or in our lives.

That’s what I’m missing. And this year for some reason I’m particularly missing it.

I miss the days of packing the car and driving a little over two hours to my mom’s house the night before, unpacking the car, and then starting on the food prep while my husband and daughter watched movies and played with the dog.

The next morning we’d get up early and start making pumpkin pies, cinnamon buns (with our daughter helping when she got older), putting the turkey in the oven, and then setting the table for a huge family get together, using My mom’s best china and silver. It wasn’t unusual to have ten people or more. We had a large extended family then, and Thanksgiving in particular was a special time!

I have wonderful memories of the holidays from my high school years celebrating with so many aunts and uncles. And later years as our family members dwindled and changed, we still had our special holiday celebrations, just with fewer participants.

That’s all changed now, though. My mom is gone. I don’t see my aunt and her family since they live several hours away. So it’s now my husband and me, and our daughter and son in law and our granddaughter. And we’ll have a wonderful day. That I’m sure of.

But there will be a lot that I’ll miss.

I miss having my mom with us. We never missed a Thanksgiving together. It was just a given that we’d all be together. There’s always an empty spot at the table now, even though I know she’s smiling down on us from heaven, adoring her family from afar, and especially enjoying watching her great-granddaughter Rachel as she grows.

I miss my uncles who were always such a fun part of Thanksgiving. Uncle Jay who always seemed to be ready for seconds even before most of us had finished filling our plates. How he ate so fast we never could figure out, but he always wore a little of it on his tie, and always seemed to spill just a bit on the floor for the dog who happened to be under the table waiting.

My uncle Fowler who always teased us all about something, who was always ready with a joke, and who expertly carved the turkey every year (I actually think he taught my husband a thing of two about it), wearing my aunt’s apron, and happily sampling as he went, just to be sure it was cooked properly!

My Aunt Mary made wonderful pies, and of course we had pumpkin, but she also treated us once in a while to her special mince pie which was amazing! And some years, for a really special treat, and usually at the request of my Uncle Fowler, she’d bring her “famous” angel pie, with its meringue crust, creamy lemony filling, and topped with real whipped cream and shaved bitter chocolate on top. I have her recipe, and so does the rest of the family, but none of us have ever been able to make it like she did! And we’ve certainly tried.

My Aunt Pauline would always bring the scalloped oysters, and she’d carefully put the dish together, layering the oysters just right, and the waiting to pour the milk in just before it was time to bake them. She always complained that she couldn’t get the milk amount right, but they were always delicious. Even if you didn’t particularly like oysters!

And then there were my mother’s cinnamon buns. Oh my, were they the hit of every meal! And not just on Thanksgiving! Sometimes she made two pans of them, because we all wanted leftovers, and they were so good you couldn’t stop at just one! Uncle Jay usually had at least three, because he had to save room for dessert!

We always had appetizers before, dinner. My aunt’s homemade pepper jelly over softened cream cheese (yummy!) which was later joined by her “fake” crab dip (chopped artichoke hearts and Parmesan cheese). One year she told one of our guests it was crab dip, and that guest actually pulled out what she thought was a small piece of crab shell! We never did tell her what it really was, but oh did we enjoy that laugh!

Yes, I miss those days. I wouldn’t trade our family we have now for anything, but it would be so nice if we could go back in time, and take our grown up Ashley and Chris and little Rachel with us, and enjoy a Thanksgiving like we used to have, as the saying goes, “back in the day!”

But now all I have are those memories tucked in my heart, that I pull out every year at this time, and remember all the fun and wonderful times we had together. I can’t recreate them, but I can make new ones, with our growing family here, as well as friends we’ve come to call our family as well.

Yes, I’m missing Thanksgiving, but I’m missing what once was. And appreciating what is now, because the past is the past, and the future is now. We’re making new memories that our children and grandchildren will one day look back on and nostalgically remember like I just did.

To everyone reading this, may you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving. May your childhood holiday memories be a comfort to you if your family is no longer around. And may you all enjoy making new memories as you travel through this newest season of your life.

Be thankful. And be blessed.

A New Thanksgiving

This year’s Thanksgiving meal was truly extra special. In several ways. For the first time, our daughter and I actually cooked it together. In her kitchen, in her house. With some help from her husband who deep fried the turkey to a golden brown delight while my husband supervised.

And our 6 month old blessing, our first granddaughter, was right there watching, smiling and laughing, and wearing her “Gobble til You Wobble” shirt. And I’m sure anticipating next year, after her first two teeth have been joined by all the others, and she can actually eat a real Thanksgiving meal (I don’t think the banana baby food she had really counted)!

I have to say, this Thanksgiving was the first one in the ten years since my mother passed away, that I truly enjoyed the day without having a moment in which I wanted to cry. Because I was surrounded by the most special family ever. My husband, our daughter and son in law, and their first child.

I did remember Thanksgivings past, from the time Ashley was just a baby and my own mother was more interested In holding her granddaughter than eating dinner. I remember her feeding baby/toddler Ashley from her own plate when she was old enough to eat regular food, and how proud she was of her when she enjoyed it and clapped her little hands for more!

cooking-with-grandmom-age-2I remember my mother letting Ashley help her make the cinnamon buns for the first time, watching her get flour all over the floor as well as herself and her grandmother, and my mother not caring a bit! And she always let her have a bite of the raw dough, no matter how much I said not to.

And as the years went by, one tradition held firm…Ashley always helped her grandmother make the cinnamon buns. And they were always delicious! Because they were made with such love.

After dinner was over, the leftovers put away, and over slices of pumpkin pie, we’d all go through the newspaper ads to plan our shopping for the next day. At first my mom and I would pick out things we wanted to get, but it wasn’t long before Ashley took over the ads, even as a little girl, and picked out all the toys she wanted Santa to bring her. And also telling her grandmother what she could get for her as well!

The next day was spent with the three of us at the mall, three generations, happily planning a Christmas to remember, going through beautifully decorated and crowded stores to find the gifts we wanted, and waving at Santa until Ashley could get up her courage to go talk to him. We’d come home exhausted and let Ben bring our shopping bags inside and warm up the leftovers. Another ritual successfully completed….!

And this year, we began those traditions anew. With myself as grandmother to Baby Rachel who sat happily beside me in her high chair during dinner. And looking at all the newspaper ads after dinner as we enjoyed our pumpkin pie, with my granddaughter sitting in my lap, not quite sure what we were doing, but somehow understanding it meant fun was coming!


Yes, now I have taken the place of my own mother as matriarch of the family. Yes, I still miss my mother dearly, and certainly had moments where I wished she’d been there, but our family once again proudly has three generations of strong women to love and nurture each other. To pass along family traditions, family stories, and yes, even family recipes. And to make our own new traditions as well.

And we will surely enjoy every moment of making those new traditions.

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and made a lot of wonderful memories as well!

I Am Thankful

This post was originally written and posted on Thanksgiving, 2015. I have updated it to add new items that we are thankful for, and to remind ourselves of all that we truly continue to be thankful for.

Psalm 118:1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”

Today is another Thanksgiving Day. A day we eat lots of turkey, and stuffing, and pumpkin pie. We watch football, enjoy being with friends and family, and when it’s all over, we wonder where the day went!

But do we really stop to give thanks, or do we just say the words?

Today I am definitely giving thanks, because I have a lot to be thankful for.

I am thankful for my loving husband Ben of 32 years, who loves me, supports me, and stands by me in good times and bad. He is my source of strength who cares for me unconditionally; who helps me more than I ever expected, fixing dinner, cleaning the house, doing the grocery shopping, and all manner of other things he doesn’t have to do. He has supported my dreams and goals of publishing my first book, and supported me all of the way. He does it because he loves me. He is a good man, and I love him dearly.

I am also extremely thankful that Ben has survived two very frightening cardiac incidents over the past two years, one in which he coded in front of our daughter Ashley and me. I am thankful for the Lord giving us the right doctors and nurses who pulled him through and implanted a pacemaker which saved his life. I am thankful for his recovery last summer from congestive heart failure. I know God has plans for him, and will use both of these incidents as a testimony of faith, hope, and answered prayers.

I am thankful for our daughter Ashley and her husband Chris. I am so proud of them and so thankful to have had the honor of planning a beautiful wedding for them a few years ago. I am thankful for being able to watch them take their vows and become husband and wife. Such a mixture of emotions we had that day as Ben and I officially became empty nesters; our former baby bird has grown up and flown from our nest into her own, and has a wonderful new life ahead of her.

I am thankful for wonderful and close friends who stand by us, love us, and pray for us. Friends who are always available when we need them, and are willing to drop what they’re doing when we need their help. And I am thankful we are able to do the same for them. The Lord has placed some very special people in our lives, and we wouldn’t trade any of them for anything in this world.

I am thankful for the ability the Lord has given me for writing, and the people He put in my life who encouraged me and guided me as I wrote my book about my mother’s life. I am thankful for a new friend who has made perfect editorial suggestions to make this book the best it can be. And I am thankful that I will finally be publishing this book in the next few weeks.

I am thankful for memories of my family…of my many loved ones who are now gone. I am thankful to have had them in my life, and although I miss them all terribly, I am also thankful for knowing that one day we will all be reunited for eternity.

I am thankful for a job I truly enjoy and good people to work with. I am thankful for a reliable car that’s paid for. I am thankful for our home that we are able to share with others. I am thankful for good health, even through the trials of recovering from a rear end collision a year ago.

And most of all, Ben and I are both especially thankful to be proud grandparents to our first grandchild, Rachel Marie, who turned 6 months old on November 23. She is a precious gift, and we would not trade her for anything in the world! Our daughter and son-in-law are amazing parents. Truly, we have so much to be thankful for!

No matter how hard your year may have been, there are always things to be thankful for. We should all make an effort to remind ourselves every day of all that we have to be thankful for, not just be “thankful” on only one day each year.

So what are you giving thanks for? Feel free to leave your comments, and prayer requests if necessary.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Thanksgiving I’ll Never Forget

I may not remember the year, but I sure remember what happened. Because it’s not often you get a second chance to have more time with your mother.

Thanksgiving was always a time for our family to be together. My aunt, her two sons, their wives and kids. Plus my husband and daughter, of course. I’m not even sure how old Ashley was that year, but it was probably no more than 10 or 11.

She was old enough to understand what was happening, and old enough to be afraid. Not just for her grandmother, but she’d never seen her own mother fall apart and not be in charge of a situation before.

That Thanksgiving started like most of the others had for the past several years. Ben, Ashley and I arrived at her house the night before so we could help with the preparations. We’d set the table in the dining room that night, with my grandmother’s antique china and my mother’s brightly polished silverware. After all, it was going to be a special holiday feast!

The next morning we all got up early, put the turkey in to roast, started the cinnamon bun dough, made pumpkin pies and began putting together the other side dishes to be cooked at the last minute. It was always a special time, Mom and me in the kitchen, while Ben and Ashley watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV.

Just another normal Thanksgiving. Or so we thought.

My aunt arrived later with her contributions to the meal, followed shortly afterwards by her two sons and their families. We had our appetizers, and my mom and my aunt started bringing out the side dishes. Mom was just pulling the turkey out of the oven when she suddenly dropped to the floor.

No warning. No time to say she didn’t feel good. She just passed out and fell to the floor.

And my world suddenly stopped.

I had no idea whether she’d suddenly died, or just fainted. She’d never had an incident like that before, at least not one that I’d known about.

What did I do? I’d love to say I rushed over to her, checked her out, and calmly told my family to call 911.

What I really did was panic and scream and start crying. Mature, right?! But fear took over. You don’t know how you will react in any given situation until you’re in it. You can say you’d do this, or you’d do that, but until you’re actually facing that moment, you truly have no idea.

Fortunately my younger cousin’s wife Joanne is a nurse, and she immediately took over while my other cousin called the rescue squad. All I could do was cry and pray that my mother was all right.

And, oh, I sure prayed! Ashley was crying and sobbing. My poor husband was torn between trying to comfort both of us and helping my cousin’s wife with my mother.

I cannot remember ever being so scared. I do remember thinking, though, and praying, “Lord, please don’t take my mother yet! Please, I can’t handle this…!” And I tried to put the memory out of my mind of a Thanksgiving many years previously when my mother’s mother had died early that morning, right in that same house.

Most of the tragic events in our family have happened on holidays or birthdays.

After what seemed like forever, which I’m sure was just a minute or less, my mom came around, found herself laying by the stove on the kitchen floor with a pillow under her head, and a blanket over her, and everyone standing around or leaning over her, with worried expressions on our faces.

Joanne was certainly visibly relieved, but her nurse’s training was still in full swing, as she calmly talked to my mom and asked her how she was feeling, taking her pulse, visibly checking her out and assessing her memory.

At that time we had no idea if she’d had a heart attack, a stroke, or what. All we knew was, she was still alive, and seemed to be ok, if just momentarily confused. Who wouldn’t have been after passing out?

But my mother quickly seemed to return to her normal self, getting upset because everyone was fussing over her and not getting dinner on the table. “I’m fine! Just let me get up and finish getting the food on the table! And no, I don’t want any water!”

She’d never have listened to me, but she did listen to Joanne, who’d certainly had similar stubborn patients in her nursing career. So she didn’t try to get up right away.

But then the rescue squad got there; we hadn’t told her we’d called them, and to say she wasn’t happy about it was an understatement!

Since she still lived in the same small town where I grew up, where everyone knew everyone else, I wasn’t surprised that I knew a few of the EMT’s. Of course, Mom knew them all, including one of her neighbors who lived a few houses away, and whose children she’d taught in kindergarten! And she immediately told them she was fine, and we shouldn’t have bothered them!

They checked her over, and asked her the normal questions, like her name, what day it was, and heaven forbid, her age! Which she promptly told them was none of their business! So I did feel a bit better, but still, something was wrong. And convincing Mom to let them take her to the hospital was, to say the least, a very difficult task. But after everyone promising they’d clean up the kitchen and put the food away, she (very) reluctantly agreed.

Riding in the ambulance with her that night was an experience I’ll not forget either. I couldn’t be in the back with her, so I rode in the front, turning around constantly and checking to be sure she was ok. Yes, I trusted the crew, but my MOTHER was back there, and I was still scared. Even listening to her telling them how she’d ruined our Thanksgiving (which she didn’t!), and then asking if they’d eaten, still didn’t convince me she was all right.

I’d never ridden in an ambulance before. And that normally 30 minute drive from her house, that probably took only 15 minutes that night, seemed like forever. Because I figured if she’d actually agreed to this, Mom was either scared or felt a lot worse than she was telling us!

As fast as the ambulance was going, a car suddenly came up from out of nowhere and passed it! Little did I know until we got to the hospital that my older cousin was driving Ben there in his sports car, and as Ben told me later, “All I could do was hang on and pray we’d get there in one piece! When he passed the ambulance to get there first, I just closed my eyes!” Well, they got there in one piece, and ahead of the ambulance, and Ben was standing outside waiting for me.

Fortunately my mother was all right. They kept her overnight, and never really found out what had happened. Perhaps she’d gotten overheated while cooking in a hot kitchen, or maybe she’d been dehydrated. Her heart was fine, thank goodness, at least as far as they could tell.

She got her Thanksgiving turkey sandwich about 10:00 that night from the hospital kitchen, after telling all of us (our whole family of course ended up there with her – where else would we have been!?) to leave and go eat our Thanksgiving dinner! And of course she apologized again for ruining our day!

We brought her back home the next day and the four of us celebrated a day late with her delicious Thanksgiving leftovers, which tasted even better than they would have the day before, because we truly had something to be quite thankful for.

As I’ve written many times, tomorrow is not promised. We do not know from day to day what our lives will bring. We do not know who could be taken from us, in the blink of an eye, suddenly and without warning, and how quickly our entire world could be changed forever.

As Thanksgiving approaches, take the time to truly count your blessings; to appreciate your family members, even the ones who may drive you crazy, because one day you’ll miss that craziness, those irritating habits that drove you nuts, and long for just one more day….

Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy the many blessings around you!

What to Do About Thanksgiving?

Some families have the same traditions year after year. There’s an established routine that just doesn’t change. Everyone gets together at a particular person’s home to celebrate together. It’s been that way forever; no need to change it, right?

Everyone brings their favorite dish to share. You may not like Aunt Bessie’s collard greens, or Aunt Cora’s onion cheese casserole, but they’ve always made it, and it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without them, whether you eat those dishes or not!

When I was growing up we always had certain dishes on the Thanksgiving table that made the meal complete. Especially my mom’s special cinnamon buns, my aunt’s oyster dressing, and my grandmother’s pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving wasn’t complete without them. And yes, if you click on the links, you can find the recipes! I don’t mind sharing!

But Thanksgiving isn’t all about the food traditions. It’s certainly a big part, but it’s also about family and friends getting together and enjoying a special time of fellowship.

But as the years go by, families are sometimes separated; by miles, by careers, or even worse, by family conflicts that have occurred and festered over the years…conflicts that just can’t be suddenly fixed by getting together around a dining table for one day and pretending everything’s okay. But that’s a story in itself, and one to be told another time.

Thanksgiving is hyped in the media, in the newspaper and radio and TV ads, as a magical time of family reunions with everyone sitting down together in their best clothes and being a part of a picture perfect display.

Is your Thanksgiving like that? Is anyone’s really like that?

Certainly no one I know.

Ever since my mother died ten years ago, Thanksgiving has never felt right. We lost the stability of a place to call our Thanksgiving home. We went a different place each year, joining friends’ celebrations, but it just didn’t feel right. We were there, but we weren’t family, and we couldn’t share in the reminiscing about other holiday memories, because we hadn’t been there with them. As nice as it was to have our friends include us, it just wasn’t “home”.

Even the last few Thanksgivings spent with our daughter’s husband’s family still didn’t feel right. Because it wasn’t OUR family. And as much as they wanted us to feel comfortable and fit in, we always felt like that piece of a jigsaw puzzle that looks like it should fit in a certain spot, but no matter how you try to force it. It just doesn’t quite work.

What to do this year?

We have choices.

Some of our friends are going to a restaurant with their extended family and their kids. We tried that one year. And we won’t do it again. It didn’t feel like Thanksgiving. The food was good, but not the home cooking we were used to. There were a lot of dishes to choose from, but you can’t take a bag of leftovers home from a restaurant. Plus it was a bit expensive, because after all, it was a holiday.

We talked about just going away somewhere. Renting a cottage on the beach or somewhere in the mountains. Or finding a bed and breakfast for a couple of nights. After all, we haven’t had any kind of vacation in several years. But then we probably wouldn’t have the kids with us, and I’d miss the Black Friday shopping that Ashley and I traditionally do every year.

But this year will be different anyway, because we are now blessed with our first grandchild, and even though Rachel Isn’t old enough to eat regular food, we want to start our own traditions this
year. Traditions that can be carried on year after year, with just a few new additions as she gets older, and is hopefully joined in a few years by a brother or sister.

So this year we will have Thanksgiving dinner at our daughter and son-in-law’s house. Chris will deep-fry the turkey, and Ashley and I will do the rest. She’ll make her grandmother’s special cinnamon buns, that she’s so good at doing. I’ll make oyster dressing for Chris, since he and I are the only ones who like it, and we have to continue a few of my family traditions! We’ll eat at their dining room table with Rachel in her high chair watching us. And I’ll wish my mother were still here to meet her great-granddaughter.

We will have created our own tradition that in years to come Rachel will remember and one day duplicate in her own way when she’s grown and married. It won’t be the same as we’ve done in the past, but I’ve come to realize that sometimes traditions must change with the times, and with growing families. And it will be perfect.

So what are you doing about Thanksgiving this year?

Before It Was Black Friday

I really don’t remember when everyone started calling the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday. I should, because I began my business career working as Marketing Director at a local shopping mall near my hometown.

But that was 35+ years ago. Back then, we didn’t put up the mall Christmas decorations until the week of Thanksgiving. I spent many evenings at that mall until 2:00 AM with my staff, making sure the decorations would be ready for the day after Christmas, when we had our big Santa Claus arrival. The place was packed when the man in the red suit arrived, usually by fire truck, and the security guards were lined up to keep the crowds back as he made his way to his place of honor at the mall, “ho ho ho-ing” as he waved to all the kids.

Fast forward ten years in the future, when Ben and I had our daughter Ashley, and my mother finally had her long-awaited grandchild. Everything took on a new meaning. New traditions were made.

For us, as for countless other families, the day after Thanksgiving evolved into a day of shopping traditions, as it ushered in the Christmas shopping season. Ben and I always took my mother and Ashley and ventured to the mall to see how much Christmas shopping we could get done in one day. The four of us, and everyone else, of course.

Those early days were fun. The malls weren’t wall to wall people quite like they are now. Shopping with a small child was interesting. Especially the year when that small child was two, and decided to have a meltdown in one of the department stores. There’s nothing like watching your daughter rolling on the floor screaming and kicking because she didn’t get her way, and having a sales associate come over to ask if everything was all right, and her retired-schoolteacher grandmother calmly saying, “It’s okay, she’s just having a temper tantrum. She’ll be fine.” And I wanted to go through the floor.

Then there was the first year Ashley was old enough to really appreciate what Santa Claus represented. The wonder in her eyes as she sat in his lap that first time and told him what she wanted for Christmas was so special. She believed he’d bring her that doll! She knew it! (And of course he did!)

Time marches on, though, and the years slowed my mom down, but she still always made the effort to go shopping with us on the day after Thanksgiving. She and Ashley would go through the newspaper ads after dinner, cut out coupons, make their lists, and we’d hit the stores the next morning. Mom had to rest every so often, but she always made the effort to go. It had become a tradition, and she wasn’t going to stop it.

Black Friday wasn’t the same after we lost my mother, though. We made the best of it, but there was something missing; it just wasn’t right.

And I slowly realized the shopping tradition we’d done for so long wasn’t really about a day of shopping and spending money on gifts; sometimes buying things we really weren’t wild about for people, just because they were on our lists and we wanted to be done. It was about making memories, and enjoying being together.

Over the last few years I haven’t done the “Black Friday” shopping marathon. Yes, I still go shopping for a while with Ashley. But not the all-day excursions we used to do.

It’s not that I’m not in the holiday spirit. I’ve learned over these past years the holiday spirit is a lot more than going shopping on the day after Thanksgiving and seeing what bargains we can grab. We spend one day, Thanksgiving, saying how thankful we are for what we have, and the next day (or sometimes even later that evening!) we’re out seeing how many deals we can get, and how much money we can spend for things we, or other people, don’t really need.Christmas gifts

I’m not criticizing anyone for their shopping traditions; we had them, too, and I’m sure Ashley and Ben and I will continue them when our grandchildren arrive. We’ll take them to see Santa Claus and have pictures made…all the things parents and grandparents do.

But for me, right now, I prefer to be thankful for what we have. For the blessings, and love, of friends and family. I will still give gifts to family and special friends, but they will be gifts from my heart, and not because they were on sale. I want those gifts to mean something other than how much I saved and what bargains I found on Black Friday.

And I still want to remember what I was thankful for yesterday…..

Remembrances from Thanksgiving

This year I find myself having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. Maybe it’s because of the stress of the past several months which have taken a toll on our family, particularly me. Or maybe it’s just more realization that as we get older, there are so many changes in our lives that we have no control over. People, both family and friends, have passed out of our lives for various reasons, and many times we either cannot, or do not, get them back.

To compound these feelings of the holiday blues, this year there have been a number of serious illnesses and deaths of friends’ family members that have added to the remembrances of loss I’ve been feeling. This is also the first year our daughter is living in her own home with her new husband, and although we’re very happy for them, it’s still a bittersweet feeling having our only child married and starting her own family. And hosting the Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in her new home!

Thanksgiving was always a fun-filled time when we were all growing up. At least that’s how I remember it. There was always tons of food, and so many people crowded around the table. Everyone was happy, and getting along, making jokes with each other, as well as talking about plans for Christmas and visits to Santa Claus. It was definitely a simpler time, at least through my eyes as a youngster. As far as I knew, there were no worries about money, jobs, health issues, or any other number of problems that affect our families.

Or maybe as a child, we just didn’t notice those problems.

Unfortunately I only vaguely remember a few holidays spent with my family with my dad also there. Being only eight years old when he died wasn’t easy, because it robbed me of so many memories I’d never have the opportunity to make. I do have some fuzzy ones in which we were all seated at my grandmother’s huge ornate walnut dining table, with her and my mom and my aunts bringing in huge plates of food, and my grandfather bowing his head and saying his quick “grace” before we all dug in to eat. But they’re that…fuzzy.

I have much better memories of those later family holiday dinners at my mother’s house. The food was wonderful, but it wasn’t picture perfect, nor served in all matching china. And we weren’t all dressed up in our best clothes. We were comfortable, in our casual clothes, and my mom and my aunts were all still wearing their aprons when we sat down to eat. We “toasted” with iced tea and soda, while my two uncles grabbed food from the plates that were passed around, with Uncle Jay dropping almost as much on the floor as went on his plate (and since he was usually the only one wearing a tie, you can imagine food went on that, too!)! The television was on in the next room, and everyone was talking at the same time. And as soon as we kids finished eating, we got up and either played games, argued good-naturedly with each other, or watched a movie on tv.serving dinner

Those days were fun. We enjoyed being together, and never even thought about not being the “perfect” picture postcard family gathering. We were Just Plain Family.

As the years went by, things changed, as they always do. Children grew up and had children of their own, and holiday dinners weren’t the same, because my aunts and uncles now spent holidays with their grown children and THEIR children. The big family dinners continued for a while, just not at holidays. My husband and I continued Thanksgiving traditions at my mother’s as long as possible, and usually with my aunt and her grown children.

As the years fast forward, holidays become increasingly difficult because our special loved ones are living now only in our memories, and not seated at the table with us. Those memories of Thanksgivings past can sometimes hurt more than they can make us smile. In my dreams I imagine the ones who are already there getting together in heaven to still share a very special Thanksgiving dinner, probably in my mother’s heavenly mansion. With Uncle Jay still spilling food on his tie! And waiting for us to join them.
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I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know many friends going through similar feelings. It’s normal, and it’s a part of life. We’re expected to automatically be happy because it’s the start of the holiday season. Many of us are almost forced to hide our feelings behind smiles that we make ourselves wear, because we think we’re the only ones feeling this way. But there are more out there than you know.

The next time you start feeling like that, don’t be embarrassed. If you’re having a tough time, you’re not the only one. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And it’s OK to feel that way. Call a close friend and talk about it. If you know someone who’s hurting, call them and welcome them into your home. You never know how significant a small gesture can be to someone this time of year. Nor do you know what new memories will be made.

An Empty Chair

For nine years there has been an empty chair at our holiday table. Although the actual chairs that are pulled up to the table may be filled with family and friends, there is still an emptiness at our table that will never be completely filled again.

Even though it’s now been nine years, it still feels empty…like my mother should be sitting there with us, talking and smiling, and eating her small portions of food like she did for so many years. (She never was a big eater, and I can honestly say I cannot ever remember her having seconds of anything, at any meal!)

Unfortunately in our family, like many others, these empty chairs have multiplied over the years. My father’s chair was the first to be empty in my family, 56 years ago. And it was followed over the years with both sets of my grandparents, numerous aunts and uncles, and close friends of our family.
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Although we know that this is an inevitable part of life, part of what happens as we and our children grow older, it still doesn’t make it easier.

The first Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other special holiday dinner following the passing of our loved one is the most difficult, and many books, stories, poems, and even songs have been written about it. We’re advised to do something to honor their memory that year, to make it less painful. Sometimes is helps; sometimes it doesn’t.

But what about the subsequent years? Does the missing automatically stop? Of course not, but somehow the pain eases a bit with each year. The memories are there, the empty chair(s) is still a memory at the table; eventually there are enough empty chairs in our memory to fill an entire separate table.

If you look closely in your memories, you can still see each and every one of your missing loved ones, just as they used to be, happy and healthy and alive…all sitting at the table in the room with you. Joining you in your celebration in spirit, and especially in your heart.

Yes, there may be a chair, or several chairs, that are physically empty, but in our hearts those chairs will always be full.