Remembrances of Holidays Past

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 an easy thing, because it robbed me of so many memories I’d never have the opportunity to make. Oh, 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 unfortunately, they are, as I said, fuzzy. Faces blur with time, as do my memories of who was really there at those early family holiday meals when my grandparents were still alive.

But the years have a way of fast-forwarding. Children grow up, adults grow older, and loved ones are gradually no longer with us. Holidays become increasingly difficult because our most special loved ones are living only in our memories, and our memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases past are sometimes remembered as being a lot more “perfect” than they ever actually were.

And we’re bombarded with holiday commercials where we see families joyously sitting down together, a perfect meal on the perfectly set table, adults and children alike beautifully dressed up, everyone laughing and smiling, clinking glasses together in holiday toasts, Christmas carols playing in the background, and perfectly wrapped presents under a perfectly decorated Christmas tree.

Those are my real holiday memories. They were fun. We enjoyed being together, and never even thought about not being the “perfect” picture postcard family gathering. We were Just Plain Family. And yes, I miss those days.

I totally understand now why my mom and her sisters used to talk about “the old days” when we were younger. Because now those “old days” I just described, that to me are just memories from what seems just a few years ago, are now “the old days” in the eyes of my daughter and her friends. How I wish I knew what “the old days” had really been like for my mother when she and her sisters and brothers were younger.

As the holiday season is ready to culminate this week with our Christmas Day celebration, I still long to look back and relive the memories of those family Christmases so long ago. But those special times, as I’ve said, still live on in the memories in my mind, shared by just a few who are still with us. We’re all scattered now, and yes, we’ve all made our own new traditions now, just as our daughter Ashley and her husband Chris and their two daughters will be doing again this year.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know many of my friends are going through similar feelings, for various reasons. It’s normal, and it’s a part of life. We’re expected to automatically be happy at this most festive season of the year, a season that celebrates love and family. But many of us are almost forced to hide our feelings behind smiles that we force ourselves to wear, because we think we’re the only ones feeling this way. We’re afraid to let anyone else know; but chances are, many of those we meet while wearing that smile, are wearing that same forced smile, because they’re hurting, too.

The next time you start feeling like that, don’t be embarrassed. Don’t think you’re alone. 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, because there’s a loss there that is still all too real, whether the loss is recent, or months or even years ago.

You may be bombarded right now with all kinds of reminders of the holiday season that trigger your emotions. Scents of spicy pumpkin, pine and spruce trees, or fresh-baked Christmas cookies. Colored lights on a tree, or glowing candles. A child’s laughter, or the sounds of Christmas carols. Though these reminders evoke memories of happier times that are now in the past, let them also be a reminder that there ARE better times coming, new memories to be made, and new delights in the smile of new friends who are yet to come into your world. While it may be difficult now, the hope and joy that is Christmas, and always has been Christmas, is just around the corner, waiting to be found. Find one thing that makes you the happiest right now, and share it with someone else as your gift to them. It’ll make you feel a bit better that you were able to share with someone, and it just may very well do the same thing for that person, too. They may end up doing the same for someone else.

We never know how we’ll impact someone else with just a small gesture, especially during this very special season. Make it your gift to someone else, even if you don’t know them. Isn’t that part of what the Christmas spirit is all about? You may be surprised at how much better it makes you feel that you’ve been able to bless someone else.

I know I’m going to try it.

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.


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!

Suddenly Single…and the Holidays

Last year you thought you had the perfect family. The perfect life. You were so thankful for your good fortune, and worried about some of your friends who were going through a tough time with their families. You felt so bad for them, but you were secretly relieved your life was so much different; so much better.

What a difference a year makes.

Now you’re the one who’s hurting. The one whose life has been turned upside down. And you never saw it coming.

Your spouse didn’t pass away; that may have been easier, almost.

He/she left you, and your children. For someone else. Unexpectedly. How long they’d been having an affair, you have no idea. All you know is, your life is shattered, and you have no idea where to begin to put it back together again.

Your home that had been so beautiful, so comfortable, that had held so many family celebrations, is now gone. Another family is living there, and you envy the memories they’re making. And hope they’ll have a happier ending than you did!

Thanksgiving was terrible. Fortunately you and your kids had your sister’s family to share it with. But all you could think of was about last year. How you and he/she had hosted since a wonderful family dinner, with everyone happy, talking excitedly about Christmas plans and gifts and family parties. Everyone had pitched in to help, and the rest of the weekend was spent decorating for Christmas and beginning to shop for gifts.

Now you spent half of your Thanksgiving day wondering what he/she was doing; where their Thanksgiving meal was. Were they with his/her family, and excitedly making plans for their first Christmas together? Did they sit around laughing about you and your kids, and joking about how miserable you probably were and saying how lucky he/she was to finally be rid of you?

Did he/she even think about how the kids were doing without him/her, since there wasn’t even a phone call to check on them, or tell them Happy Thanksgiving! His/her parents didn’t bother to call their grandchildren either! It was as if they didn’t exist any more.

Did he/she even bother to have a moment of regret?

A small moment where he/she maybe realized this was all wrong? That he/she made a mistake?

Thoughts like this are natural in this situation. Especially that first year. You’re feeling betrayed, unloved, and unwanted.

But dwelling on your situation doesn’t help. It only serves to feed your loneliness and extend your stay in the land of regret.

Which is not a place you want to stay. It’s not fun there, and there’s no way it ever will be.

Your memories of other holidays are just that. Memories. Memories you cannot keep replaying over and over, because the outcome will still be the same. Now you need to start making new memories. You may not think you ever will right now, but you will. And they won’t all be bad ones.

For now, as difficult as it may be, you have to move forward. You need to be an example for your kids who have no idea how to handle the situation either. You have to show them how; show them how an adult handles the tough times, and makes the best of a bad situation. Even though you’re not sure how to handle it yourself.

You start by holding your head high. By not continually dwelling on what happened and telling your story over and over. That chapter has been written, edited, and put to bed. Now it’s time to write a new one.

Easier said than done? Yes. But you’ve survived so far, and will continue to. You won’t be the same person you were any more. You’ll be stronger. And an example for so many others.

Be thankful for what you’ve learned, and that you have another chance. Be thankful for those around who love you and support you. Be thankful…because as bad as it seems now, it could be so much worse.

Next Thanksgiving will be so much better, and you will have so much more to be thankful for.

And yes, I do know. From my own experiences.

The best is yet to come.

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?

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.
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.

Be Thankful

Thanksgiving Day is just a few days away. A day that families traditionally get together to enjoy a huge meal and each other’s company. It seems we take so long to prepare all the food, put out our best dishes and silverware, and then in just a quick 20-30 minutes, it’s all over with, the table is cleared, food put away, and then everyone goes their separate ways until the next time. Is that your day?

But what if you don’t have family nearby? What if you can’t get home to be with them? Do you have friends to visit and enjoy the traditional meal with?

For many people, Thanksgiving is a stressful holiday. I said that myself just the other day. We’re bombarded with ads about family meals, showing families getting together for joyous times and fellowship, everyone laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Is that really how it is at your Thanksgiving celebration?

Many people at this time of year don’t have the luxury of these traditional family meals anymore, because their families are too spread out, or no longer with them. Many people don’t even have good friends they can go and eat their Thanksgiving meal with. It becomes not only stressful, but lonesome, and a very sad and depressing time.

So this Thanksgiving day, why not take the time to remember your friends and neighbors who may not have somewhere to go and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. If you’re having a big dinner, set the table for one or two more people and invite them over. If you’re going somewhere, call your host and ask if you could bring someone with you. After all, this holiday is about being thankful and grateful for what you have. And one of the best ways to do that is to think of others who may be less fortunate than you.

Yes, it’s something we’ve heard a lot, but this year, why not stop and do more than think about it. Do something about it. The year my mother passed away (a month before Thanksgiving) was particularly hard for my remaining small family. I didn’t know what we were going to do, and how I was going to get through the holiday. All the memories of those past Thanksgivings were filling my mind, and making me so nostalgic and sad I didn’t even want to have a holiday! Then some very good friends asked us to come share their Thanksgiving meal with them, and it was a gesture I’ll never forget. It meant so much to us at a very difficult time. Good deeds are always rewarded, and this is the time to step out.

Happy Thanksgiving! Be blessed!

Our Family’s Traditional Cranberry Sauce

It’s not really cranberry sauce, but my mother always called it that. Looking back through all the variations of it I’ve found on the internet, it’s most definitely a cranberry relish. But back then, we really didn’t know the difference! It was just good, because it was homemade by my mom!cranberries and oranges

My mother had this wonderful old food grinder she used to attach to a pull-out bread board my father had made in our little walk-in pantry, which was right off the kitchen. I always wondered why other kitchens never had such a wonderful feature. All you had to do was pull a little knob, and this great board came out, which my mom always used for rolling out pie crusts, her famous cinnamon buns, and cutting out Christmas cookies.old-fashioned-meat-grinder

But that old “meat grinder” as we called it, attached perfectly to it, and she used it for so many different things. (And yes, I still have it in my kitchen!) She used it to grind up leftover ham to make the best scrambled eggs and ham I’ve ever had.

She also used it to make a wonderful cranberry and orange side dish for Thanksgiving. She always called it cranberry sauce, but we always just enjoyed it!

It was just a simple combination of a bag of fresh cranberries, and a large orange that she cut up, removed the seeds, and then just ground them all up together in a bowl. She added about a cup of sugar, and it was ready to be refrigerated until dinner was served!

Today all the recipes call for putting everything in a food processor. Some suggest adding cinnamon, or chopped pecans, or even orange juice and/or orange liqueur to give it a more modern taste.
cranberry relish photo
For me? I think I’ll stick with tradition and get out that old meat grinder and attach it to the counter top! And surprise our daughter with a new dish for Thanksgiving!

What Are You Doing for Thanksgiving?

That’s a question we get asked every year, especially since the death of my mother several years ago. My husband’s family is mostly in the Midwest and Southwest, and what family I have left is scattered around as well. So we’ve adopted our friends here as our family. We make a few new traditions each year, and the last few years we’ve been welcomed at our daughter’s fiancé’s home for Thanksgiving dinner. This year our daughter and her new husband are hosting Thanksgiving for everyone in their first home!

So what are YOU doing for Thanksgiving? Maybe you’re just too tired to make a big fuss this year. Maybe a lot has happened in your life and you just can’t bring yourself to do what you normally do. It can be a bit stressful, to say the least! If this is the case this year, you may want to reconsider and think about having dinner at another family member’s home, or some of your friends’ homes. It’s not too late to make those plans, by the way! Or, maybe even making reservations at a favorite restaurant like we did one year! (But trust me, that wasn’t the same as having it at home and enjoying leftovers over the next few days!)

This year, especially if you’re just over-stressed, take a deep breath. Relax. And do things a bit differently. If you’re still in charge of dinner, look at that Thanksgiving menu, and ask yourself if you REALLY need all those dishes, or are you just having them because they’re a family tradition and no one really likes them anyway! (You know, like that Brussels sprouts and onion casserole Aunt Maggie used to make?) Instead take the time to enjoy the meaning of Thanksgiving and be thankful for friends and family, and all the other blessings you enjoy in your life! Count them. And even if it’s been a hard and stressful year, there ARE blessings to find! After all, shouldn’t Thanksgiving actually be all year around?

Whatever you decide, enjoy your holiday. Enjoy your friends and family. And let everything else fall into place!
Thanksgiving Scripture

Grandmom’s Oyster Dressing

One of the traditions at our family Thanksgiving dinners, and Christmas as well, is actually a dish that not everyone likes. But it was always on every holiday dinner table when I was growing up, as well as our holiday dinner tables now.

Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is one of the greatest seafood areas in the country (yes, I will argue with anyone on that!), we always enjoyed a some of the best blue crabs, clams, oysters, and fresh fish I’ve ever had. One of the traditional Eastern Shore holiday side dishes was what we called Oyster Dressing, also known in other areas as Scalloped Oysters.

I’m not an oyster fan per se, but this dish is something I very much enjoy. Unfortunately my husband doesn’t share my enthusiasm for it, especially since he’s allergic to oysters, but I’m thankful our son-in-law loves oysters, so I can still make it and have someone join me in eating it!

Traditionally my aunt always made the dish, and would bring it to my mom’s house just about ready to bake, so it would be piping hot when served. Since it’s just oysters, crackers, butter, and milk, she’d always bring her own quart of milk to pour into it right before she stuck it in the oven. Because she had to make sure the liquid covered all the crackers thoroughly so it wouldn’t be too dry, she always used a glass casserole dish. When we were kids we used to be fascinated by her pouring the milk in and getting the texture just right. Why, I have no idea; it was just one of those things we did…we were kids! And we didn’t have to help cook!

Jaimie Hanna 2
So for all of you who are curious, and sea food lovers, I’m happy to share the way we made this dish, and still do today. And please, use a round glass casserole dish…trust me, it’s easier!

Here’s all you need:

1 quart fresh oysters, rinsed and drained (check for any bits of broken shell!)
1 box of saltine crackers
softened butter

Butter the bottom and sides of a round 1 1/2-2 quart glass casserole dish.
Crush some of the saltines and put in the bottom of the casserole dish, at least a 1 1/2 inch or so thick.
Place about 1/3 of the oysters on top of crackers, sprinkle with pepper, and dot with butter.
Repeat the process 2-3 times, ending with another layer of crackers, dotted with butter.
Cover with wax paper or saran wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.
Just before putting in a pre-heated 350 degree oven, slowly pour in milk in a circular pattern until crackers are soaked. (We sometimes used a knife to cut through the crackers to be sure everything got soaked really well!0
Bake 40-55 minutes until done. During baking watch to see that it doesn’t dry out; if so, add a tiny bit more milk.

Serve hot! And if you have leftovers, cover and reheat in the oven or microwave.