November’s Turkey Tawpic for Discussion: (after the turkey, we will all need coffee to battle the Tryptophan induced snooze.)
This month it’s all about Gratitude with a capital T, for Thanksgiving. The spiritual substance of Thanksgiving is simple to practice, but very hard to live by. Leonard Nimoy said,
“Because I have known despair, I value hope.
Because I have tasted frustration, I value fulfillment.
Because I have been lonely, I value love.”
I think most of us, turn our focus away from what we are lacking and what is wrong with ourselves and our world. In November, we pay attention to what we have and what is good in our lives. We focus on the positive. We practice giving thanks. We possibly, think blessings might be coming our way soon. We might even find ourselves more hopeful at this time of year. For me, it is the contrast in Nimoy’s words that are my truth. I practice being grateful every day, because I have lived years in despair, frustration and loneliness. I don’t want to go back to that life ever again. That’s not even living, as I define it now. That way is waiting for death, being inactive and silent, and giving nothing to the world. I am not that person anymore. I have changed and the events of my life have changed me. But I know how fast I could slip into the sullen sulk mode if I am not vigilant. The only prevention I know for not living that way again is to practice hope, find fulfillment in the moment and value love. The words can’t be ideals I think of as adjectives or nouns. I can’t just pay lip service. Verbs are what work for me. Action matters. Now.
With Nimoy’s words in mind and knowing what I know about myself, the truth is clear. My truth is obvious. I am so very thankful for my Stroke. I had to go through everything that I went through to have the hope, fulfillment and love I have now. Stroke shatters all illusions of who is in charge. I am powerless. Stroke has control. I do not. Life is fragile and tomorrow is not guaranteed. Stroke made me pray that there wouldn’t be a tomorrow. My Stroke made me want to die, and I am grateful for that now. The severity of that reality freed me. I had nothing to lose and nowhere to go but up. The “up” is an action word for as long as I live. I have a choice about this part. My part is do the next right thing, all day and everyday. As a result of that choice, my life today is so full. Everything in my life now is built on the fact that I know my truth and don’t ever forget it.
This truth about me has moments of ooze. What I mean is that, when I am fired up about STROKE and FAST, it becomes bigger than me. It takes on a life of its own. Ideas start cranking and it feels good. I chase that feeling today. I open my mouth and share the ideas with my students or family because then I have to own the idea. Once the idea is out there, I have to act on it. It is a great way to make sure I follow through on ideas and turn them into something, soon. And where I might get stuck on how to do something with one of my lunatic notions, where I might toss in the towel in Frustration, when I share the idea, a way always comes about to execute the idea. Something great happens. I love it. Me and my big mouth…sometimes, it’s a good thing.
This month it was a good thing. And I am grateful for that. I am blessed to have another group of amazing young people in my class. There are all so different and dynamic. What a gift to spend my days with them! However, some things about kids at this pre-teen age remain constant. That consistency is both reassuring and distressing. There is always something out there, that grab’s their attention, admiration, and focus. 1-D was huge for a couple of years. Pokemon came, went and is back. Always something… This year the fad behavior is water bottle flipping. I am told that some genius started trying to toss the full bottle in the air with the goal being that it lands standing upright. OK… I guess it is a challenge. I guess someone video taped it and many someones watch it. Many someones try to copy the fad. The many practice and practice. One someone in particular, practices in my class all day long. It’s beyond annoying to me. And it is all my fault.
I want my kids to be at their best during school. I want them to use their primo super-neuroplastic brains for academic good. Being hydrated is crucial for overall good health. It is essential for a perky brain. (Another thing I learned from my stroke. Another reason to be grateful.) So I encourage all students to have their own water bottles and drink water all day long. Most do. One doesn’t. He has a water bottle, or three. But the lid doesn’t come off. That’s a good thing, considering he flips that bottle as often as he can. Over and over he flips the bottle and catches the bottle or lets the bottle land on the table. AHHHHHHHHHH! I go insane alternating between ignoring and intervening. The rest of the class reminds me that this is a cool challenge and that our student is really good at it. I heard this for September and October, ad nauseum.
In November, I am so grateful that the tune changed. Kids began talking about the Mannequin Challenge. Jason talked about it home too. From what I gather, somebody picks an action. They set the activity in frozen poses, like a mannequin. And then someone records the scenario and posts it on YouTube. I don’t really get it. But I love that it is silent, except for the loud accompanying musical track. One day as my student flipped his water bottle for the 10th time before 9:00 am, I intervened with my big mouth and a great idea. I suggested that he consider switching fads. He should try the mannequin challenge! My class erupted into laughter. Mrs. Henry finally had a clue about something cool going on in 2016 and made a funny! The laughter was immediately turned back on me as my genius student rebutted. His comeback was that his pencil and writing and listening and reading would be frozen if he accepted the challenge. Ouch. I hadn’t considered that. But he did. And the class laughed. During their long laugh at my expense, I had a thought, a light bulb, Ah Ha, ooze moment. What if we did another video for Stroke Awareness? Not everyone had done the World Stroke Day bit. The kids loved googling themselves and watching their Stroke Awareness video. They loved sharing it with their friends. They all know all the symptoms of Stroke and that is the most important thing. They have something to say and want to help. That power is incredible. We were on a mission to do the next right thing to raise awareness.
You see, my kid’s believe me. They are the Stroke Heroes. I tell them everyday that they are the key to preventing stroke. Kids are everywhere and see everything. If we train kids to call 911 at the first sign of stroke, we will prevent stroke. We will SAVE BRAINS. The 80% of strokes that never need to happen are where we can make a difference. My students believe they are the solution and can help. I am so grateful for them.
What if we did a Mannequin Challenge of the signs of STROKE? I opened my mouth and let this idea out. Students immediately switched from laughing at me to coming up with ideas to make the idea a reality. We had 4 school days before the Thanksgiving break. Kids are impulsive and fads change FAST. We wanted to strike while the idea was hot. I got another permission slip for the kids to take home. We talked about having two or three kids pose for each sign of FAST. Who had a face that could freeze and stay drooping down on one side for F-FACE? All the kids tried and 3 came out as winners. How would we make the A? The kids without skipping a beat let one arm drop down really fast and held the pose. We found a student that would sit on our stool and show the whole left side of his body becoming putty and losing all control. Perfect!
The kids asked next about S. How would we show Speech in a Mannequin Challenge? I thought that if we showed a group of kids in conversation it would work. One student would be having a stroke and look like they were talking, with mouth open and hands gesturing. Then two other students would show that they didn’t understand at all what their friend was saying with confused faces and body language. Perfect. They immediately set about practicing it, quietly, without talking. Go figure. I knew I was in a divinely inspired moment. My students were focused, working together and quiet. It was a miracle of modern education. (The miracle was over when we started Math class. Algebra wasn’t so inspiring.) Students said that for T- Time to call 911, we should have a group of students frozen tapping their watch to indicate time. They also said we should have someone on their phone, pretending to call 911. Great idea. I hadn’t thought of the phone. But they did. Great ooze!
We had to have music, they told me. One go-getter girl said that the STROKE song that we shared with our school for World STROKE Day would be perfect. And it was. One of my boys wanted to participate but didn’t want to be an actor. He became the DJ and sat at my desk handling the music. He was great. Great ooze, again! We had to have a FAST sign, a big one. Our G2 and two super students made a great sign in just a few minutes.
With no time to spare, we recorded. Our class was joining the other sixth grade at 9:00 am Friday. We had to have Something Great by then. That was the deadline. We practiced as many times as we could with our new awesome ending. We’d stop the music and unfreeze three kids who would speak our simple message. With passion for our work and confidence in our team, we got to it. It was both a whirlwind and a frozen moment in time. What a rush! The bell rung and we were done. Rachel Henry’s class did it again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7N0H_GDdDM I am so blessed. I am so thankful for them. They give me hope. You can’t do better than them. I challenge you to try.
November 1 and 2: Coumadin- 12 mg.
It’s the weekend and I am tired. It’s a new kind of tired, called always utterly exhausted. I had PT, OT or Speech with Carole every single day during the week. And that was all I could do. I really wanted to do more, but I am so tired after each appointment and sleep is not really helpful. Rarely do I sleep well and never do I wake refreshed. My soul is dog tired, I think. And there is no amount of rest or rehabilitation that enlivens it. So I go to church with Mom on Sunday because it is good to get out. I want to see Farmer Ken and my minister. I feel safe with them. And they think I am something remarkable. I am hoping their view of me, rubs off on me.
I told Mom I’d go because it is All Souls Day at church and the choir will be doing Brahm’s Requiem. The music at the church is second to none. Each year Mom goes to this service, hears the requiem music and reflects on her mother and other people who have died. You can name your beloved deceased in front of the congregation. It is a good time to pay respects to the dead and be grateful for life. Mom says prayers, I think, with all the beautiful music playing. She grieves and mourns with her fellows. I do love the music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrk9QXmstlg And the words of Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.[d]
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
8 Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
9 Look on our shield,[e] O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
12 Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you. (Biblegateway.com)
I hear the words that comfort the living about those who have died. I did love my Gramma Harriet, more than I can say. And I did mourn her death deeply in 1995. Now I celebrate her life by following her ways everyday. That comforts me and keeps her alive inside me. (Right now, she is more alive in me than I am.) Each year at this service I hear the beautiful music and watch other people grieve their lost ones. I always enjoy the music, but not so much the grieving routine. That is not comforting to me. It seems to help Mom and the others, the music is incredible and so I go.
But the music makes me sad this year. Sitting still and quiet for so long makes me ache. I cannot settle my bones into the pew and relax with the music. My bones are not those that remembered the dead this time last year. That girl is gone, almost 7 months now. I feel like the music for the dead is for me. “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” I kind of dwell is his house now. By his house, I mean God’s house; a god who broke me and wouldn’t let me die. I live by a god that keeps me alive, but doesn’t tell me why. This god doesn’t care that I am miserable. I don’t know who I am, but I know god doesn’t care. So I definitely live in HIS house, not my own.
My strength is from somewhere else. It is not mine. It is in me and I don’t know why. It keeps me going even when I don’t want to. The strength comes and goes for different activities than what I remember before 4/4/03. I don’t get to choose anymore. I feel like a puppet with my strings being pulled. I hope whoever above is yanking them has mercy, soon. I mean how is this truly living? What in my life is really going somewhere? Where is the fullfillment? My heart does seem to be set on a pilgrimage. It has been such a journey since April 4th at 10:10 am and no one else seems to realize how different I am and how different life is now, for me. They don’t know what I know.
I am not in this life with two feet. My journey is certainly not of other 30 year olds. And I am not heading towards their life experiences of family and children and work. That is not my path. That is not my house. I am more and more solitary. My pilgrimage is headed away from their pursuits. So somehow I don’t feel right sitting in the pew listening to Brahms. I shouldn’t be sitting here listening to this and thinking like this when others mourn the really and truly dead. It feels sacreligious. I feel like the living dead at the requiem mass.
And I am not really dead, but that is how I feel. I gotta snap out of this. I think if my minister or Farmer Ken looked at me right now, they would know how crazy I am. What would they do? They’d have to do something. So I pull myself back to reality and feel the cold, hard wood of the pew. I rub my hands together inside my sleeves to try to warm my right arm or at least imagine it warming. I start to focus on making lists for Thanksgiving. I host it every year and this year can be no exception: apples for pie, baking powder for cookies, carrots, dog food, eggs…
November 3- Coumadin- 12 mg, I have PT at 10 am. We are working on my home routine. I have named it “Exercise 4 Life.” I put each exercise written on an index card and the cards are neatly in a file folder. I know I am going a bit over board with the whole thing. But I can. So I do!
I mean, what else do I have to do? My exercises are my job, my Life now. The first section is for Abs. The cards are green and my direction is to “go until pooped,” for those sit ups. The three hot pink cards are for back exercises. One of them is the Triple Threat and it is hard. I have to Bridge with the ball under my knees for a 10 count, then bridge for a 10 count with the ball under my calves, and without breaking, bridge ten times with the ball under the soles of my feet. I am on my back for all three. It is so hard. But I am better at it each day. (For what, I wonder) Next are the orange cards for ALL the upper body exercises. It took hours to write these cards and I had to break after each card. My hands are so weak. I try to practice what I learned in OT and grip well but not death grip tight. I try to sit up straight and keep my wrist loose and fluid. I try to think of it as homework. At home, I am humiliated doing this. My handwriting is so messy and I have no endurance. I can’t teach like this. I am worse off than a first grader. But I am organized like a pro. There are seven, yellow schedule cards, one for each day of the week. I read the print outs from everyone at PT and have tried to make a schedule that hits all the marks. It works. I have been practicing right when I get home from the session, for 10 minutes. I have to do my exercises right then or I know I won’t do them. And they do help. I am stronger, according to the grip machines and other tests. And this is my life right now. I might as well do it right. I have laundry to do and plants to water. so the day passes.
November 4- Coumadin 12-mg. I love having Carole first thing in the morning. My best energy is then. Starting the day with her gives me hope. I need hope. Today is election day. I go and vote right after my speech appointment. I really hope the good people stay and the bad go away. I need good people to fund better rehabilitation and help for me. I need help. So I vote. At home I take Lola for a good walk today and think in my head of more lists for Thanksgiving. My Dad and Dorothy are coming. Who else? And I think I am going to do a theme for the holiday. “A Blues Thanksgiving” is what I am leaning towards. I cuddle with Ciro and brush Lola a bit and clean up after Zoe. She is having a barfing week to beat the band. I try to snuggle her, but am afraid she will bite me or barf on me.
November 5- Coumadin 12 mg. All the incumbents won. That is mostly a good thing, for me. I have PT at 930 am and then OT at 11:00 am. I will bring my notebook so I can work on the “Blues Thanksgiving.” Should I make blue mashed potatoes? Nah. I ordered some really good blues music from a special they have been running on PBS. The sounds, words and overall vibe of the blues really suits me these days. I am going to invite Farmer Ken. Once I start making preparations for Thanksgiving, I feel good. I love that I can make this yummy, special day for people. My Gramma Harriet taught me well. When I channel her, I enjoy the simple work of the day. I really enjoy Lola too. She is a hoot to watch, so attentive and so beautiful. She makes me smile. Planning for Thanksgiving and Lola, good things.
November 6- Coumadin 12 mg. I go for bloodwork in my hospital, before my 9 am with Carole .The lab technician finds me in her suite. My INR is 4.7. Super fast runs my blood. It is kind of like my innards are liquefying and running like the rivers in the Underworld. Thank god I don’t say this out loud. The image born of my own freaky imagination, fascinates me. I am supposed to take NO Coumadin tomorrow. I have to remember that. Instead of banking on my memory, I write a note and put it inside Lola’s dish. That way, with her morning “feed me” antics, I will be sure to see it. I don’t know what I’d do without Lola.
November 7- NO Coumadin. (I toy with taking some just to see what happens. But Thanksgiving is in 3 weeks and so I don’t.) I have PT and OT back to back at 10:00 am and 10:45 am. Other than that I don’t do much. I lie down with the babies a bit and nap. For once I snooze easily. I don’t care if I can’t sleep tonight. How will I really notice the difference? I actually feel cozy. There is a lot of prep work I can do over the weekend for Turkey Day and I know I will be able to do more after this nice rest. I am so grateful for that one good snooze.
November 8 and 9- Coumadin- 6 mg per day. It’s the weekend again. I make the cranberry sauce and get it in the freezer. The cranberries pop in the pan with the sugar syrup. I am not a big fan of cranberry sauce. But Gramma Harriet had it at her feasts. And my family loves it with the turkey. My mom says it adds a good pop of color to the plate. She’s right. All the brown and white and beige foods, my favorites, need a bit of color-wow and I guess, the flavor-contrast. So I make it. I consider if there is a way to make it blue for the theme this year. Nope. Not an option. But fun to imagine. I got as far as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” When Violet Beauregarde turns into a blueberry before our very eyes and has to be juiced to return to a somewhat normal state, it is magnificent. My mind imagined the vivid, larger than life BLUE for my Thanksgiving table. But cranberry sauce simple won’t work with blueberries, not this year any way. I smile big imagining the scene.
This is My First Thanksgiving since the stroke. It’s a big deal for me. As I do the cranberry sauce and make lists, I think of Gramma Harriet and Her Thanksgivings.
Gramma Harriet did the whole of Thanksgiving for us, every year, all by herself. When I was little, I took for granted that everything, so yummy, just appeared before me. Mom and I would go down on Wednesday afternoon. Worcester had half days back then. After a quick lunch and packing up the car with our belongings and Miss Lily, our cat, we’d be on our way to the Cape. Gramma Harriet’s house was directly behind the fire station. I’d see it on the main road and knew we were almost there. Then, we pulled into her driveway and knew that when I opened the car door, I’d smell her meat sauce cooking. It would be simmering on the stove, water ready for pasta to cook, a big green salad on the table and garlic bread smells coming from her stove. After hugs and supper, she’d clean up the kitchen while we made a fire in the living room. I loved the raised hearth she had surrounding the fireplace. It was about a foot high and made the perfect perch. I’d sit on it and let my back get good and hot. From my spot, I could watch Gramma Harriet in the kitchen and I’d smile. We’d go to bed pretty early. It would take a while to warm up in bed. The fire had been so hot and the fresh sheets were icy by comparison. I’d be asleep pretty quickly in my “cozy nest,” as she called it.
As early as I’d go to sleep and as early as I’d wake up, I never beat Gramma Harriet. She was the first up. I’d hear her moving around the kitchen and smell things start “combobulating,” as she called cooking in process. I loved that about Gramma Harriet’s house. Her house was alive, always with her sounds and the smell of food or fire or even the powder she used on her skin. I felt safe with the life in that house. Maybe that is why it feels good now to be channeling her for my First Thanksgiving since the stroke. My house has sounds and smells of getting ready even though I am alone. That makes me feel a bit better. Hmm. Maybe that is why I’ve been leaving the kitchen light or bedroom TV on all the time, to bring some life into my house and hopefully into me. Hmm.
Anyway, Gramma Harriet would start with trips from the basement bringing up vegetables that had been keeping in the big fridge down stairs; mashed potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes and stuffing all in their round Pyrex bowls with the lids atop. The turkey would sit on the counter in the big oval pan with a wire rack under it which made easy work of getting at the juices for basting. Next, the bird would get lashings of salt pork on top and sage and onion stuffing inside. It looked quite noble even before she’d put it in the oven to cook. (The salt pork made for a practically self-basting bird. I have to remember to put salt pork on my shopping list for The Blues Thanksgiving.)
After breakfast and a quick trip to the beach to catch big gulps of salty ocean air and a bit of chilly wind on the face to wake me, I was ready and hungry to start helping out. Everything began with the folding table and I’d be the one to get it. It lived in the closet in my bedroom, her sewing room. Gramma Harriet called it the most important room in the house. I knew her sewing machine was a prized belonging. I knew she loved to sew. But I knew that when I was there, it was my room. And she loved me more than anything. I was proud I got to stay in the best room. The closet and the door formed one wall of the most important room in her house. The left wall of the room had a stacked metal cupboard which held many household products. The two white metal cabinets were in the corner. Now they are in my kitchen. I stacked them up near the back door. I covered the doors and shelves with contact paper that shows many herbs in green. Inside the top cabinet, I have all my tea towels divided by season. I love that collection. Some of the towels are Gramma Harriet’s still in use. The bottom cabinet has some plastic cubbies for food storage and products for the 4-leggeds: extra doggie bickies, flea and heartworm prevention for Lola, their toe nail clippers and extra cat treats. I think of Gramma Harriet when I open the doors to get one of my treasures and the familiar “clink” as the metal door shuts is comforting, always.
My twin sized bed is also along that left wall. My favorite sheets are the ginghamy sheets in pale pink, orange and green, both seventies and country at the same time. The head of the bed is under the windows on the wall facing the door. The windows look out on the back yard with the maple tree that she planted the year she moved in. Each year that maple grows bigger and faster and healthier than any other on the Cape. I don’t know why. But I grow better in this house too. Beyond the tree is the tall wooden fence and the fire station is behind that, always at the ready to help. Rounding the corner with the windows is the right hand wall with the true treasures of Gramma Harriet’s house. There is a long counter with the sewing machine and room to spread out materials. It is longer than the length of my bed opposite it. Under the counter end are 5 round lidded bins. They actually have a shiny quilting covering them. The lids are a snug fit. Just under the lid is a shallow, divided tray for threads, needles, bobbins and other findings. You can lift out that round tray. The rest of the bin is filled with patterns. The Butterick and Simplicity patterns overflow with the “How To,” for everything Gramma Harriet creates in that magical sewing room. One bin is all the patterns of blouses she has made for Mom. I am amazed at the seams and buttons and shaping and overall precision required for the blouse. Yikes. I look at the patterns and they are written in Greek as far as I’m concerned. Each garment is a labor of love and comes out looking perfect. I don’t think this is Gramma Harriet’s favorite project. I know it’s not. I hear a lot of frustrated foul language coming from her when she works on a blouse. “Tedious,” is one of the words she uses when I ask about it. Everything has to be precise. She plows through though. She doesn’t quit. But she does put that project down for a bit and work on something simpler, faster and sure to bring a smile to her face. There are always several projects going. There is always something to do. It is not often that there are idle hands that could wreak havoc. She is always making something for others.
The other pattern bins have all sorts of projects inside. She has almost an entire bin of stuffed animal patterns. My Cuzzin and I are lucky to get some of them made for us. But we are not the main recipients of these treasures. The children at the hospital are the ones in her mind during the making. My Gramma Harriet makes quilts and cuddlies and colorful treasures for the children who are being treated at the Floating Hospital in Boston. It is for very sick children. Gramma Harriet talks about how the children need the color and softness while in the hospital. She talks about it and then gets into action. Each year, she takes a car load of stuffed dogs and cats, Raggedy Ann and Andy’s, and dinosaurs of varieties including pteradactyl and brontasaurus to the hospital. There are also dolls with brown or yellow yarn braids and two outfits each. She makes boxes covered in yarn and filled with a bell that jingles when you shake it. I always smile at that one. There are brightly covered smocks or “shifts” as she calls them that the children can wear over their hospital garb. They are so simple. Arms go through the front and it ties behind the neck. So simple and so perfect.
On the shelves beyond the machine are stacks and stacks of material. The pile I like the most is the one with the bright animal and alphabet materials that she find for the smocks and matching bags that can be tied to the hospital bed. The shelves are filled from floor to ceiling with neatly folded bits of fabric, large and small. Each piece waits and it wonders, with me, what it will become when Gramma Harriet gets her hands on it. Those shelves are right near the door to the room. The whole way around my room, her sewing room there are very important and useful treasures. A small room at the back of the house has so much in it, if you are smart enough to see it, is what I think. A small ranch house on a cul-de-sac behind the fire station, two miles from the ocean. So many miss it, in their focus on the grander scene at the beach. But I know its treasures and I smile.
Every Thanksgiving morning, I complete my simple, but essential mission of getting the table out of the closet. The table sets up by the front door at one end of the living room opposite the fireplace. I’d put out the paper plates and napkins with the turkeys or cornacopia on them. Gramma Harriet would start filling monkey pod bowls and plates and platters with appetizers, nibbles and hor’deurves. I made sure to carry out the bowl of black olives and the bowl of peanuts. As soon as I set them on the table, I’d start. I loved to take a peanut, put it inside the black olive and pop it into my mouth. As I crunched and chewed and savored the morsel, I’d start constructing the next peanut-olive delight! Back to the kitchen I went and got a bowl of crackers and the spreadable garlic cheese, probably Boursin. At the table I’d have to test each kind of cracker with the cheese. I like the stoned wheat crackers the best, salty and yum. Next I’d carry the other cheeses on the pig board. It’s a board that hung all year in her kitchen, just below the cabinets on a hook. The board is only six inches in size. The center is a wooden circle. But the metal frame surrounding is all pig. I don’t know where she got it or why. I don’t know why it tickles me. But it does. It only came out on Thanksgiving and that was a special treat. Now it is in my kitchen. When Gramma Harriet died and we emptied her house, I took so much. I had to. It was hers and it was good. Nothing fancy about any of it. But I had to have it, all. The pig board, the fabric, the findings and thread, the Pyrex dishes, monkey pod bowls and plastic Thanksgiving table cloth are all mine now. They make me feel safe, prepared for anything, and loved. I knew it then to be true for me and it is true for me now. Just the simple things that others wanted to trash mean the world to me. I have to remember to use the pig board and Pyrex for The Blues Thanksgiving.
There were celery and carrot sticks to be put out on the buffet table too, but I wasn’t really into that. I was waiting for the toaster oven to “ding.” “Ding” meant done! The empanadas were done. I could smell them and knew they were coming. My old Yankee, New England Gramma, loved trying new things. In a magazine she saw a recipe for a sour cream and butter pastry that you fill with ham, green onions and green chilies. And for some reason she added this to the rotation of holiday foods. It’s tradition now. And it’s fabulous. I am making them this year. And like her, I make the dough one day and keep it cold and ready in the fridge. The next day I’ll do the innards. I have to get out the big hand crank meat grinder that I took from her house. Maybe the deli counter at my super market could grind it up? I’m not sure that I am up for it. I’ll figure it out. A different day, I’ll roll out the dough and cut circles. If I break it up into days just like Gramma Harriet did, I’ll be alright. I’ll get it all done. Then I’ll rub water around the edge of each dough circle and put a spoon of the “guts” on top, fold it and seal it up. I will bake a few for me that day. I have to test them. And the smell is the best thing ever. That’s what I’ll do. As a child at Gramma Harriet’s Thanksgiving, I’d just wait for the “ding.” That was long enough. I always grabbed one before it had properly cooled. Gramma Harriet let me steal one before they were ready for a plate or put out for others or anything. Grandmothers are the best. I’d take a big bite of flaky pastry, spicy chilies and smoky ham. The holy trinity of flavors in my face. Of course, I’d burn my entire mouth and get that thing called “cat’s tongue.” It’s such a weird feeling. I didn’t care. I had to have the empanadas. The rest would go out on the table and always be the first thing to go at the buffet.
Once the table was set, I’d need a snack, at least a cup of juice to cool down my overheating, empanada burned mouth. I’d head to the fridge to douse the fire. One year, there was lemonade. That sounded great. In the back of the top shelf of the fridge was a glass carafe. It was covered with bright yellow painted lemons and the word lemonade on it. I had to have it. Refreshing! I got a big glass out to fill with my sugary, lovely drink. We didn’t have drinks like this at home. If I was going to have a treat now, it was going to be BIG. I quietly poured a big glass. I didn’t ask if it was ok. They were in the living room right only a few feet away. But I didn’t want a “NO,” so I didn’t ask. I stood at the counter with the glass and the carafe and the fridge still wide open. I took a big, huge gulp. It went down smooth. It went right down fast. But it wasn’t lemonade; right color, very wrong taste. I took glass in hand and mouth with liquid still dribbling out the corner and gagging face into the living room and demanded to know what I had just imbibed. Gramma Harriet sat in her rocker and began to laugh, a big belly laugh. “Giblet water,” she said. I had a big swig of the water that she puts in the gravy. When she takes the “guts” out of the turkey, she boils them with an onion and celery on the stove to make a flavorful liquid for the gravy. Nothing goes to waste. And boy, was it flavorful. We giggled and guffawed all day over lemonade. For years afterwards, Gramma Harriet would make real lemonade in the carafe and remind me to check what I was drinking first for a possible surprise. Her eyes twinkled as she giggled and joked with me. And to this day, I store my giblet water in that lemonade carafe. It is the one time a year the carafe is used, for a very special, silly job. Where is that carafe? I have to find it for the gravy at The Blues Thanksgiving. I can’t remember where it is. This happens to me a lot since the stroke. My memory used to be so good. I think I’ll check the high shelf in the pantry, when I feel safe getting up and balancing on the step stool. Mornings are better for that.
At two o’clock, Cuzzin and her parents would arrive with the pumpkin pie and other goodies. We’d get the fire going, do Mad Libs for a bit, pick at the buffet and then eat the full meal. After all that preparation and waiting, we made quick work of the meal. Full bellies and setting sun, we’d toddle off for an early night. And every year, it was that good and that fulfilling. I knew it would be great, and it was. I knew I was safe and loved, and I was. And now I was charged with making that for my family. A very big responsibility for me this year in particular.
When I lived with her during college I really listened to her. I really watched her too. She took the big job of Thanksgiving meal on and did it all by herself. Weeks before the big day, she began shopping for the ingredients. Little by slow, hitting the sales and accumulating the great ingredients, when she had time and energy and money; everything came together. That’s what I have to do this year. I can’t go fast. I know I have to make lists and plan it well. I need some help. But this is my November work. I can do this. I have to. Jean Granny is coming. She will climb the stairs and represent the two best Grandmothers a girl ever had. I want her to think I did a good job. I want my Dad and Dorothy and the rest of my family to see that I can do something.
Channeling Gramma Harriet means I have to remember her ways. She laid out the parts of the menu and did them little by slow too. Although I never really think of her as slow. She had a big standup fridge in the basement and each day before the big day she would “tackle” (that was her word-formidible like her) a part of the feast. The potatoes would get peeled and boiled in the morning, early when she had the most energy. She had time and knew it would get done. And it did. And we loved it. I can do that too.
And at night, in the wee hours when I can be honest in the quiet November darkness, I own it. I am like Gramma Harriet a lot. I am doing the meal like she did, little by slow. As those around me live life, with jobs and family, I do a little each day for one big meal for them. I am letting go. I am letting go of what life promised me. I skipped that 40 or so years. My life has jumped to the end and I just don’t get those things for me. I am winding down. I am at the end of the life cycle, like she was. And what she did, I do. I am not even angry anymore. I am not even really scared. It is the truth that I can accept when I am alone. I am different than they are. The stroke took my life and I am on a different path. There is a relief in letting go of the hope for things to spring back to my old life. There is a pause in the despair and agony inside me since 4/4/03 at 10:10am. I stop fighting in the dark. In the wee hours, I can say it out loud. I can say it. My time is almost up. In the dark, at 2 am, I can speak truth. When the daylight comes and when family is around, I get busy doing the work of the day. I am happy doing what I can to make a great day for them. I am proud that I am able. I am Rachel who is doing Thanksgiving. That is all they need to know.
November 10- Coumadin still at 6mg. Today I have Carole at 9 am down at my hospital. We are working on my slurring speech. I have lots of home exercises, like tongue clicks and cheek puffing and words to read over and over as clearly as I can. I hope she notices the work I have been doing. I don’t see a difference.
November 11- 10 mg of Coumadin for the rest of the week. INR is leveling out a bit. Before I go to the two therapies, I have to go get a turkey. Mom said the sales are good this week. She is going to go with me, in case need help carrying it. I don’t. Even with the ache, I carry my own bird! I go to her house and put it in her freezer. She has a big one down in her basement and I don’t have the room in mine. I go right from her house, down the road to my appointments. I have Heather for OT at 10:15 am and then Glenn for PT at 10:45 am. I am able to get my pick of scheduling times. I am a regular. That has some perks. Back at home, I can’t get much done until evening. I take the afternoon to rest and then get to work on Blues Thanksgiving Preparations. My neighbors come home from work and I am just getting up from my rest to start my work.
November 12- 10 mg of Coumadin. I have Carole for speech at 9 am. I am up at 5 am today. I take 3 long hot showers. If I wait 20 minutes after a shower, the water has time to get hot again. I am trying to get my bones on the right side warm a bit. They hurt so much. I am hoping that all the steam helps my face relax a bit to do good work with Carole. It is a fine line between relaxed -ready to work- and relaxed- drooling. We’ll see.
November 13- I have PT at 9:00 am and OT at 9:45 am. I do so much better in the morning. Today I am energized from the sessions to get work done in the afternoon. I want to write a note to Farmer Ken. By “write” I mean type. I hope he can come to Thanksgiving. He works at my hospital at night and I hope he will be able to stop by for a bit.
November 14- I just have Carole today for speech at 9:00 am. I need it. I look and sound hideous. But at home, doing Blues Thanksgiving preparations, I don’t have to see or talk to anyone. And my babies love me anyway.
November 15 and 16- The weekend has errands to get supplies for the holiday. I have a good coupon for Michael’s to get blue things, just like Gramma Harriet. I also head to Church on Sunday. I am not up for work and I need to see people.
November 17- My bloodwork has my INR at an even 2.2. The rest of the week I take 15 mg of Coumadin. I see Carole at 9:00 am for speech. What a mess I am! I call My Doctor to make an appointment to set up a plan for work. And I have a form for her to fill out and she can fax it downtown. I have to document that how I am doing, constantly. I guess that when I stand drooling and lisping in front of them, that is not enough proof that I am not ready to go back to work.
November 18- Coumadin 15 mg. I go to Carole at 9:00 am and we do good work. I am so grateful for her. I am motivated to make the Apple Pie when I get home.
November 19- Coumadin 15 mg. I have OT at 11:15 and PT at noon. That is a bit late for me, but it’s with my favorite people so it’s all good. I have to take Lola to the vet for a 2 pm appointment. I’ve had her for a whole year. What an angel she is for me. The day is full with those appointments. I take time for extra cuddles and grooming with Lola. She hates the vet.
November 20- Coumadin 15 mg. Carole and I do good work at 9 am. I didn’t do my homework, but she doesn’t make me feel like crap about it. I am so grateful she understands. I don’t know how she does, but she does.
November 21- INR is up to 3.3 so I am down to 14 mg of Coumadin for a few days. Today is a busy day. I have OT at 10:30 am. She is really giving me good exercises and tips for making my handwriting better. I know we do good work. Why are my hands getting worse? They are weaker everyday. At 11:00 am I have PT and am bummed out about my hands. I hate to whine to Glenn. I know I am being a brat and dumping on him. I just can’t help it.
November 22 and 23- It is Lola’s birthday. I love my angel. I think she is 5 years old. Coumadin 14 mg per day. The invites are mailed and people are answering. I typed up an invite and printed it on Bright Blue paper. It was fun and much neater than my handwriting. I am so excited that Farmer Ken will come to The Blues Thanksgiving!
I do a big food shopping on Saturday. The big day is NEXT Thursday! At my supermarket I start in the produce section, work my way through the aisles, pass the meat counter, round the dairy section and land at the bakery. The whole way through my supermarket and even before I got here, I am thinking of what I have to ask at the bakery. I need help. I hope they will help me. My arms are so weak. They “poop out,” as Glenn from P.T. would say, so fast. The thought of cutting two loaves of bread into tiny cubes, kills me. I can’t face it. The bakery has the big bread cutting machines. Maybe if I asked nicely, maybe if someone I see every week is working, maybe if I say I HAD A STROKE AND NEED HELP, maybe they can run my loaves through the cutter two times and give me bags of cut up chunks of bread. Maybe. I can’t believe I am going to ask. I can’t believe I am going to tell them about the stroke. Gramma Harriet would have asked for the help. I don’t think she would be ashamed. She would chat with her friends at her market and they would help her. I have to be like her. I am so scared. My face is knotting up tight and my breathing is so wacky. I am getting light headed. This time, I know it is NOT another stroke coming. I know it is fear. (My next stroke isn’t coming evidently. But the FEAR is always with me.) In front of the bakery counter, I stop the wagon. I turn, take a deep breath, smile and open my mouth. I think I stumble and mumble, but the nice baker man, takes my loaves of bread and starts them in his machines, right away. There was no hesitation. He understood. He smiled. It wasn’t even a pitying smile. It was like he was happy to help me. I am shaking so badly as I wait. My palms get sweaty. The whole thing had to be done in a minute or so, but to me it was a trip to the moon and back. I triumphantly took my bread, checked out and headed home. Lola was in the car today. She comes in the car a lot since the weather got so cool. I feel safe with her. I am not alone with her. With the bags inside the car, I tell Lola all about my super market adventure and feat of great bravery. She wiggles her bum, wagging her back end and tail together and smiles big at her Momma. Me, I did it and she is happy for m.
I got help with the ham too. So it is time to make the empanadas. I open Gramma Harriet’s big metal recipe box. The recipe is founded in the H section for ham, not E for empanada. I found that out years ago.
The dough comes together so fast this year. I think Gramma Harriet is helping me be strong for this part of the preparations. I enjoy rolling the dough and cutting the circles. The innards are chilled in the fridge and I do a good job putting them together with the crust this year. I bag the precious treats up and pop em in the freezer unbaked. I’ll bake them early on Thanksgiving before the Turkey goes in. Why not? I’m up anyway.
November 24- Coumadin still at 14 mg. I got the Turkey out of Mom’s freezer today. There is room for it to thaw in my fridge. After I get the bird I have Carole at 9 am. And then I have on my list to try to find a bunch of things I need to have for Thursday! I know they are in my house…somewhere.
November 25- I get blood work early and the INR is up again. So I am back down to 13 mg. of Coumadin until after Thanksgiving. I have OT at 10:00 am and I think my hands are weaker again. Maybe they are not weaker altogether, but I can’t write more than a few words without losing strength. Gripping the pencil is not a good thing. Today I have PT right after OT. But today, I am not mean to Glenn. At 1 pm I have appointment with the counselor again. I know it is good to talk to someone. But I have no words to share.
November 26. Coumadin at 13 mg. It is the day before Thanksgiving and I still get to have my session with Carole. I am thankful. I will miss her until next week. My dad and Dorothy fly in from England today. That is a good thing. I haven’t seen my dad since April and my step-mom since last year. She hasn’t see me since the stroke. But she is so gentle. I am not worried about seeing her. Everything is ready for tomorrow. I can’t believe it.
November 27th is The Blues Thanksgiving. Coumadin 13 mg. It’s here. And everyone comes. I put on Gramma Harriet’s apron and do everything on my list. The day is actually a blur. We gather together. Someone makes a fire in the fireplace. It smells so good. Farmer Ken comes with goodies. He is happy to be with us. I can tell. That feels really good. Wessyfoo comes and it is wonderful to be together. Cuzzin is here. I love that. She helps so much with dishes. I am grateful. We eat the buffet items that we used to eat. I found the monkey pod bowls. I found the table cloth. Everyone is warm and full of hugs. I think the house likes having so many people in it. The turkey comes out perfect and all the food gets rave reviews. The day is a blur. All that preparation for the whole month has come to this. The sights and sounds and smell whirl around me. I do a good job. The hustle and bustle of the day is all consuming. I did a good job. Everyone sees that I am doing well. I do everything on my lists. I watch everything and everyone. I see their smiles. I hope I smile back. I am not sure.
November 27 through 30. Now what?
I am Thankful for Thanksgiving in November. The whole month is a whirl of sights and sounds and smells and tastes; too much of everything. I love it. This is the ninth year that Tim and I are doing Thanksgiving together. I can’t believe it has been so many years already. And all such good years. I GET to have Thanksgiving at our house with MY family. Who knew?
We made a quadruple batch of empanadas this year. By we, I mean all three of us had a part in it this year, for real. I make the dough in about 5 minutes flat these days. Jason is in charge of the grinding of the innards. I don’t use Gramma Harriet’s hand crank grinder. We got the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid Mixer. Tim gives Jason piles of ham, lengths of green onions and tons of green chiles. He feeds them into the grinder and pushes them down with the Pusher Thingy. The next day we set about to constructing the empanada. It was supposed to be fun. And in the end it was. But in the middle it was the battle of the chefs with 3 strong minded, sensitive, independent workers clashing over the routine. Each had a clear vision of the assembly line. Each had a different vision. We all got cranky but carried on. Jason and I took a mood adjusting break to snarf some left over Halloween candy. The sugar worked! The empanadas worked too. I am so proud to carry on the tradition. (And I am even happier that half of the empanadas remain in the freezer, uncooked to be eaten throughout the year. It’s the private reserve or chef’s stash or greedy Rachel goody.)
The turkey tradition continued too. My first Turkey in 1995 was all of 14 pounds. I remember thinking it was big. In the years with Tim, I’ve gotten a bit carried away. I own it. Each year I up the size a bit. I always cooked my turkey in the oval metal pan that Gramma Harriet used for her turkey. Each year it served one purpose. 364 days of dust was rinsed off her biggest pan and the bird was perfectly cooked. It was a perfect pan for me too. But since Tim, the pan is retired for roast chicken or ham at other times of the year. I had to find a bigger pan for the bigger bird.
Last year the turkey was so big that I split the carcass in half and Mom and I both made soups. It was that big. Historically, we cook the bird upstairs and then the next day give the carcass to Mom who makes turkey soup downstairs. We all eat it on Saturday. But last year, history changed with a big enough bird to make two broths out of it. This year could be no less. Jason and I prowled for the biggest bugger of a turkey we could find. I had a number in mind for the weight. And Jason agreed. We had to break the 25 pound mark. I don’t know why. Maybe we did that last year. I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter. This was the number Jason and I were fixed on! It had to be. And for no other reason than this light bulb whim, it was. This year’s bird weighed in at 26.3 proud pounds. Last year we numbered 13 around our table. And this year, it looked like like there’d be eight. So why did we need to get an even bigger turkey? Why ask why?
My Dad shed some light on this baffling, unanswered query of mine. It’s marvelous to me how the answers come if I just stand still long enough to catch them. As Jean Granny said, “Life is Crazy.” My Dad flew in from England on the day before Thanksgiving. I had hoped he would and he did. As usual, we gathered in the kitchen when the Wessyfoo contingent arrived. We circled the oven and noshed on peanuts and olives and the traditional Red Pepper Jelly atop Cream Cheese, shmeared on a cracker. This is definite family tradition for the Grazing before Turkey Buffet. (I think the grazing turns to gorging with the bird and desserts that follow. But, in a good way.) My Cuzzin introduced this spicy, sweet and creamy appetizer, a decade or so ago. It is a v. good addition. Even though, she wasn’t here, her food was. That is a good thing indeed. We shmeared and yummed a toast to her! I added a peanut filled black olive to my toast. Of course!
As we mingled and munched in the kitchen, I checked on the big, bugger bird. All “Oohed and Aahed” at the smells coming from the oven and the size of the bird, once revealed. The salt pork was crisped up and had added its flavor. It had done its job. I snagged all but one piece off the bird and put it on a plate next to the oven. Cuzzin and I devour it every year. Tim, once introduced to this way-over-the-top delicacy, fell in love with the salty slabs of pig fat. (Just being honest. That’s what it is. I know it. I own it.) Without the Cuzzin we had the lot to split. A once a year indulgence. (Don’t tell Dr. S… I doubt it’s on a heart healthy list of things I should eat! I can hear Gramma Harriet in my head. She had just the right words for this situation. “When I’m dead and gone, no one will know the difference.” It’s a great line she used when she’d over indulge her loved ones with treats. We’d politely say “no.” We’d try to turn down the extra spending money for a trip or impulse buy. But she’d insist. It was a little pleasure of hers and who were we to rob her of it. And we’d accept and be ever so grateful. I’m not sure she would have used this particular line to justify something so “deadly, deadly” (her words again) for stroke survivor grandaughter. But I’ll use it. And I’ll giggle at the memory.
With my mouth full of salt pork and a lull in the conversation as we all reveled in the vision of our glorious bird, my Dad told about his first bird. It was the first Thanksgiving my parents had each ever made. My Dad was concerned that there be enough. He measured the inside of the oven and then took those dimensions to buy the turkey. My Dad found the biggest bird that would possibly fit inside that oven! That’s it! That sounds just like me! I laughed and a part of me made more sense than ever this year, hearing from him.
But wait. There’s more. He was still worried that the turkey wouldn’t suffice. He went and got a second smaller turkey and cooked it in a second stove. “Holy God,” as Jean Granny would say. That is something I’ve actually contemplated. But I never found a bird that would fit in my engagement ring-crock pot. No one ate the second turkey at that first thanksgiving of my Dad’s, long ago. Not a bit of skin was needed that day. But they had it. And as Cuzzin’s dad often said, “IT’ll come in handy if I never use it.”
There you have it. There are great things that can be learned at a family holiday. There are answers to the Great mysteries of life. (Note to self: Stand still more often and listen. The answers are in the moment.) I feel a part of the holidays today. With the start of November, I think back on all the Thanksgivings of my life. And since my stroke, I don’t want to be an outsider on my own life. I don’t have to be. I will be present for my life. And I will savor each simple moment within the abundant chaos of the indulgent holiday. I choose that now. I do it now consciously because I don’t want to feed isolation or despair in my life. Been there, so done that! I have to practice every single day. My default setting is isolation and self pity. I know that about me. My Stroke only magnified these base traits in me. Stroke didn’t give me these feelings. They were there all along. And I lived, if you can call it that, with low grade “ick,” most of my days before my stroke. My stroke hit and turned up the volume on despair, pain, isolation, depression and rage til it was all I heard. I couldn’t block it out. I couldn’t drown it out. It was me. It was in me and it was loud.
I believe that I could have gone my whole life seeing only blah, gray gloom within me. I could have followed high drama relationships and roller coaster adrenalin rushes, trying to get the high, high that would make me feel I was living life right. I could have. I did. True peace and joy eluded me. The vivid contrast of knowing what REAL agony is, is where my stroke brought me. I don’t take subtle clues or lessons. I needed a big hit on the head to teach me to live life right. When I survived the stroke by having it in my doctor’s office where I could get treatment right away and because I was so young and strong, I was given a gift. At the time it was not a gift. But now I know that this day I have is all I have and it is everything. We are not guaranteed a long life on this earth. Stroke survivors know that. And once we know it, we can’t NOT know it. And I can’t take it for granted or wait for the joy. I have it now. I have to enjoy it today.
I also know that this second chance at life given to me by my Stroke, is contingent on practicing the opposite of what my twisted little mind knows. I cannot indulge that grandiose future-mongering side of myself. I choose to make this day, way larger than life and full of love. I can do that. (The flip side of living my life this way is that I get seriously exhausted and overloaded. I hit the wall and need to slow down a bit. Forget hitting the wall. I crash through the wall and at the end of the trail of rubble beyond, I fall over. Note to self: one turkey is enough and you always have enough food at your holidays. )
The day is always full. And holidays are especially so. I used to do a theme for the holiday. It was a great way for me to focus all my time and energy on something good for others at a time when all I wanted was to crawl under a rock and die. Honestly, that was me. A theme helped me make a larger than life day. But I don’t need to do that today. That is not part of the tradition that Jason, Tim and I create. The theme of everyday is doing the next right thing for those we love. And that makes for a very full day. (Yikes, I realize that Jason and Tim have to live with this whirlwind, me. Their day is kind of set on this psychotic pace by virtue of living with me. Yowsa. It’s a lot. I am so grateful they are with me and stay with me. And most of the time seem reasonably happy too.)
We do always have an activity; something for everyone to do or make when they come. Last year Jason set up a bean bag toss in his room! One year we all wrote what we were grateful for on construction paper leaves or made hand turkeys. They were wonderful to have about the house. We had turkey hats galore once and took turns wearing them. Good pictures as keepsakes that year. Always something. This year was no exception. Our tradition of each one us saying what we are grateful for that day before we eat, is going strong. What a joyous practice. This year, all year we’ve been writing our “gratefuls” down on paper, at supper. We put the date on it and keep them in a wooden trunk, beautifully made by my brother-in-law. I saw the idea in a magazine last December. You save the slips of paper all year and then on New Year’s Eve, you read over your year and see how much goodness was in each and every day. We already SAID our “gratefuls” every day, so it was not much of a leap to write them down.
Well, last month, in one of my magazines there was the idea of having everyone write their “gratefuls” down on one piece of fancy paper, using the same color marker and then framing it. It was the natural progression and the perfect activity for us. I had a big frame I had bought with purpose unknown. “It would come in handy, if I never use it.” Uncle Herb’s motto was in my head when I bought it. Very handy now. The next step was getting the right kind of paper and perfect marker. We went to our local art store. I think it is the oldest art supply store in the country, or near enough. It is a local treasure. We got a big piece of cream colored paper and Jason picked Kelly green markers with two tips, fat and skinny. Tim hung the empty paper on the inside of our front door. Everyone was told when they arrived to add their heartfelt “gratefuls” when they could. And they did. Of course, it didn’t get done the way I had imagined. It didn’t even get finished that day. But it, like the day worked out just as it should. What a gift.
As the sun was setting, the Wessyfoo clan headed west. Bellies were full, overfull. I packed four brown bread muffins to have for breakfast the next day. They hadn’t the room to eat them with the bird and veg. I packed Pumpkin Pie with the sugar cookie crust. They hadn’t been able to fit it in either. I was grateful they had made room for the other desserts: Henry Sugarhouse Apple Pie, Pumpkin Spice Snowball Cookies and Harry Potter inspired Butter Beer Pie. They did well. But I had to make sure they didn’t miss the muffins or pie. Home it went with them.
If the picture made you drool, here are the recipes.
1st of 4 Thanksgiving desserts: Tried and True Apple Pie
Henry Sugarhouse Apple Pie
Crust: Apple Insides:
1 2/3 cups King Arthur flour 8 medium apples: peeled cored
1 TBSP. sugar and sliced
½ tsp. salt ½ cup each white and brown sugar
¼ tsp. cinnamon 2 TBSP. real maple syrup
1 stick unsalted butter ¼ tsp. salt ¼ cup flour
Cold and cut into cubes 1 TBSP. vanilla 1+TBSP. cinnamon
2 TBSP. Crisco ½ tsp. nutmeg
3+ TBSP. ice cold water
Crust: Put flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Add butter and Crisco and stir with a fork until they are in pea sized bits with the dry ingredients. Add the water and briefly combine until a ball forms. Use your hands to make one disc of dough. Wrap, bag and put in the fridge overnight. Take out the dough while you make the apple innards. Cut the disc in half and roll into 2- 11 inch crusts. Place on the bottom of your pie plate with the edges overhanging.
Innards: Toss the prepared apples with all the innards ingredients making sure each slice of apple is well coated.
Pour the innards into the bottom crust. Place top crust atop and press edges together to seal. Make a steam vent in the center. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 350. Bake for another 50 minutes or until the apples are soft when forked. Cool as Long as you like before devouring.
2nd of 4 desserts: Pumpkin Pie with Vanilla Cookie Crust.
Crust: I used one tub of vanilla wafer cookies from Trader Joe’s. (Okay, I ate 5 cookies while I made the crust.) 6 Tablespoons of salted butter, melted. I put the cookies in a plastic bag and Tim banged and bashed and rolled a pin over them until they were fine crumbs. (My food processor is dead. This method is more fun anyways.) I put the crumbs in a bowl and added the melted butter, stirring and mixing until a crust sort of came together. Then I poured the lot into a 9 inch pie plate. I pressed the crumbs using my hand and the bottom of a glass into place. There was crust over the bottom and up the sides of the pie dish, as evenly as I could get them. Then I baked the crust at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes to set the crust.
While that cooled, I make the filling.
-One 15 oz. can of pumpkin puree
-1 cup heavy cream
-2 large eggs beaten a little
-2/3 c cup firmly packed brown sugar
-1 TBSP. pumpkin pie spice
-1 TBSP. pure maple syrup
I kept the oven on 350 degrees. In a big bowl, I whisked together the pumpkin puree, cream, eggs, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice and syrup. I poured the filling into the coolish cookie crust. Then I just baked it for 45-50 minutes until the filling was set according to the lightly wiggling the pie plate test. Cool and keep in the fridge.
3rd of 4 desserts: Butter Beer Pie that was supposed to be Chocolate Chiffon Pie for Tim. Last year, we decided to save the Mince Pies for the Christmas season. Tim requested chocolate cream pie. I made a test pie and he said that while it was great, he wanted something lighter for Thanksgiving. I googled around and found that what he was describing was a Chocolate Chiffon Pie. I made it. He loved it. Everyone loved it. That was the plan for Thanksgiving 2016 too. But then I saw a recipe inspired by the release of the New Harry Potter Film. I showed Jason and Tim as they are reading the books. I should say Tim is reading and Jason falls asleep after a few pages, every night for a year now. The Butter Beer Pie was Jason pick and bumped Tim’s pie from the roster for this year. Tim looked skeptical at the picture and description of the pie. He had never heard or imagined such a pie. He thought it would be too sweet! (As if anything could be.) But it wasn’t. It was creamy brilliance. We’ll have it next year until the next idea bumps it!
Crust: I used ½ of my homemade crust detailed above in the Apple Pie Recipe. I cut the ball in half; rolled it out, put it in the pie pan. I weighted it down with my new-fangled device for this purpose and I baked the pie shell for 15 minutes as directed. When I opened the oven, the crust had shrunk to the size of a cookie. No good. I had used the other half of the tried and true crust to make a cinnamon roll to snack on with the family. A small portion of that crust had been rolled and cut to look like Harry Potter’s lightning scar. This baked safely and was put aside til serving. I shed a few tears as I threw out the first pie crust. I revived with the smell of cinnamon roll baking. It happens every time I try to use my crust for a one crust pie and try to bake it before the filling goes in. With time ticking on the day before Thanksgiving, I sent Tim to the market to get a store bought crust. I know. It’s a bit of a cheek, but it worked, eventually. The box comes with two crusts. I took one crust out, put it in the pie plate and again laid on the weights. I assumed it was my crusts with the problem and that they alone shrunk. Not so. The store crust had the same end. No good. With Time further along and the one crust left, I got desperate and determined. This must work. Tim googled such baking disasters. Following some internet advice, I did not roll the crust. I used a smaller pie pan. I draped it over the pan with the edges way over the pan. I let it sit for 10 minutes and “rest” before I baked it, with the weights. And, much to my surprise and pleasure, it worked. At last. Fortunately, the eating the cinnamon roll had restored me to enough sanity to carry on with the filling of the pie.
In a small bowl, I combined butterscotch pudding mix with 1 ½ cups cold milk. I whisked to combine. Then I let it stand until thick. In a big bowl, with my hand mixer, I beat 2 cups of heavy cream until they were forming soft peaks. It took about 3 minutes. Then, I folded into the whipped cream, by hand the pudding and 1/3 cup of caramel sauce. I took a spoon and tasted it. Delish. I put this filling, minus a spoonful I gave Tim, into the Pie Shell. I smoothed it until it was a beautiful –high mounded pie. I put this into the fridge until after we had Thanksgiving supper. Then I beat 1 cup of heavy cream until it was whipped. I folded in ½ cup of marshmallow fluff and shmeared that over the pudding filling. Atop that, I set the lightning bolt of pastry and sprinkled gold sugar on the lot. The result was about 6 inches high and by far the hit of the desserts. Although Jason didn’t eat any of it that day… Nope. His request and the child ate cookies. The next day however, he did indulge and approved.
4th of 4 desserts. Made Thanksgiving Eve in case the above 3 aren’t enough…Pumpkin Spice Snowball Cookies.
1 cup unsalted butter 2 ¼ cups King Arthur Flour
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, divided ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla 2 tsps. Pumpkin Pie Spice, divided
¾ cup chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make sure the cookie sheets are lined with parchment paper.
- Mix butter and ½ cup powdered sugar and vanilla in a big bowl with hand mixer until well creamed.
- Add flour, salt, 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice and mix until a dough forms.
- Add the nuts and mix.
- Scoop balls using a small scoop (about 2 Tablespoons each). Put on cookie sheets.
- Bake for 8-9 minutes until the bottom of the cookie is JUST a TOUCH brownish.
- Take them out and roll them right away in a bowl which has the remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar and 1 tsp + pumpkin pie spice mixed. Roll them until they are well coated. Roll them again if you like. With a quieter house and full heart, I puttered around the kitchen cleaning up. Jason was curled in a recliner watching TV, off and on. Tim was having coffee in the dining room with our last Thanksgiving feast friend. He had come for dessert and stayed for a good chat. Sounds of the mens carried to the kitchen. I love that our home is so full of love and life. The dishes were washed and leftovers were packed up. Tables and extra chairs were sorted. The linens were piled for laundry. I then set about to battle the carcass. I got all the meat off it and whacked the carcass in two. I might as well get my broth going. I pulled out the rest of the giblet juice from my fridge, cut up a couple of onions and carrots and got that to boil in the biggest pot I have. I added water to cover the bones I had and let her rip. I put some of the meat in a cubby for me and Tim and Jason to eat and saved some for our soup. The other half of meat went into a big cubby with the other half of the carcass. I brought that down to Mom so she’d be ready to make her broth the next day. It was an early night for all three of us after the richness of the day. The sounds and smells of the broth simmering was comfort for the weary. The next day, we were up early because we always are. Jason and I have a Black Friday tradition. We don’t get up extra early for this day. But after breakfast, we are off. Tim stayed home to head to the basement with his brother-in-law, the maker of the trunk. The water main needed changing and today was the day. Jason and I headed to Joann Fabrics in Shrewsbury. Their Black Friday sale on Fleece stocks me up for blanket making for the holidays and beyond. The sale is stupendous and the haul each year is too. Jason gets to pick a fleece for his holiday blanket. Each year he gets a new blanket. (Each year the blanket gets bigger. He grows so fast.) Over the years he has picked fleece patterns of The Grinch, Santa on a John Deere Tractor, Batman, Pokémon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I began by double the amount of fleece. I cut two rectangles and laid them together. Then I cut strips around the entire edge. All I had to do was knot the sides together and I had a warm, snuggly new blanket. Jason got his blanket the next day. He never waits til Christmas. But the ones for Wessyfoo with Cardinals or Woodland Critters, the ones for my Godmother, God daughter or Cuzzin wait and are wrapped up, and opened at Christmas. These blankets are much sought after under the tree. Their weight and size and comfort and style delight me and my family. It is so much fun to put hands and eyes on all the hundreds of patterns at the store. They are arranged by color on one wall and then by specialty pattern in smaller aisles. Jason and I take at least 3 trips around the store before heading to the cutting table. We load a wagon with the bolts we love. Sometimes we change them out three or four times before finding, “the one.” Sometimes, the first one is the winner. Our first grabs of fleece at Joann Fabric secured Tim’s Christmas sports throws. I had my arms full. Jason went and got a cart and with that found his choice for the year. It was the cuddliest softest Star Wars fabric. But it was not fleece. We got it anyways. I found a new blueish-tealish fleece for Cuzzin’s blanket to match her bedroom. She had mailed me a picture of the carpet. The picture didn’t shed much light (Ha-Ha) on the color. I did my best. One particular fabric called to me on all 3 passes. That was the one I picked. Wessyfoo got a new fleece and then I picked one I just loved, for me or someone special. Unknown for now, but not for long. Jason and I pop into one more store and then we are off to our friends for a cup of coffee and sword play. I get the coffee and Jason gets the sword play. The friends we made last year, the mother and son, and daughter too, have moved from our hood to out by the fabric store. They had hosted their first big holiday in their new home. A quiet day of rest was in order for them. Knowing they’d be there, we cheeked an invitation for a caffeine/play date after our shopping. What a treasured time! Elf work followed by time with friends, what a gift.
- Back at home in the early afternoon with rainy gloomy for weather, but holiday cheer was in our hearts. Tim and his brother-in-law were still battling the water Main. A small job proved to be larger. They were steaming up and down the stairs checking taps and drains. Jason had a quick leftover lunch and then added his hands, and young legs, to theirs. I took the new lights and headed out to “frost” the shed. I knew it was only the day after Thanksgiving and not the time to go full force into the Christmas decorating. I knew that. But the shed was a small project and would get the season going. Our family logo is the Henry Sugarhouse and the shed at holidays turns into a mini version. Light up candy canes encircled the shed in the past, with icicles hanging down and a wreath on the window. It was right out of Hansel and Gretel. Yup, I’ll be the witch. The candy canes had been checked and given last rites. I bought color morphing snowflakes on stakes today at our one extra store. I figured this year, the shed would be a “sugar frosted” house. The crystally colored snowflakes, two white lighted big stars on the doors and white snowflake lights hung from the roof. The vision dancing in my mind, I set about to make it so. The cold drizzle on my back and 500 step assembly of the color morphing stakes proved to dampen my holiday cheer. But my stubborn streak took over and sweet victory was mine. The mens stubborn streak and talent reigned too. At day’s end we had water in the house, twinkling frosting on the shed, tired bodies, cheerful hearts and of course Thanksgiving turkey dinner take 2, hot on our plates.
- The line for the cutting counter was not too bad this year. There is a bright red ticket dispenser at the end of the counter. You take a ticket and find a spot to wait. There are always people and their fabrics you can watch. I try to figure out what they are making. I love people watching. Jean Granny and I used to wait outside shops and watch people. From their faces, clothes, the hunch of their shoulders, the pace they were walking and the bags that they carried, stories would unfold. We’d imagine their “background,” watch their present and forecast their futures. Standing in line waiting for the fleece to be cut, is a wonderful opportunity for just such activity. There is time to spare; we might as well enjoy it. Jason and I don’t just watch, we start chatting with our fellow shoppers. This year Jason was matching the numbers before our ticket with the people waiting with us. He was quick to sort out the order and surmise how long it would be, based on the size of their load. The woman beside us admired all the sports fleece in our cart. She was there solely for one yard of cream colored flannel to finish a project. While waiting with us, she decided to double her order, and be ahead of the game for the next project. I wonder what project could be waiting for the cream flannel: a doll face, a curtain, a pillow, or part of a quilt. I wanted to ask, but her ticket was next and off she went. It is fun to imagine. It is so indulgent to be surrounded by and touching fabrics and findings of every material and color and texture. The hustle and bustle is my vision of Santa’s Workshop. For that hour, we become Santa’s Elves brought together at the beginning of our busy season. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” we sing as we bound back to the car with our big bags of presents yet to be.
- Last year I changed it up a bit. I saw a new way to make the blankets. You use only one layer of fleece. I bought a special rotary cutter tool. Instead of cutting the fleece it punches holes. Then I take any yarn and CROCHET an edge to the fleece blanket. It is amazing. Last year I got so much yarn given to me. It is sorted into twenty odd cubbies in the attic. I already had quite a stockpile. My stash is quite remarkable now. I was looking for ways to use the yarn and ways to save on the huge amount of fleece I used to make the blankets. The heft and cost was getting up there, even with the Black Friday sales. This crafty discovery opened a whole new world. If I didn’t cut back on the yardage, I could make double the number of blankets. But as I don’t have double the amount of time, I try to remain reasonable. Last year I did add seasonal recliner and kitchen chair throws into the mix. Each one is small and the patterns are fun. I have Stroke blue throws for May, Green polka dots for spring and Gingerbread people for Christmas in our kitchen. I made Tim a Red Sox throw as a last minute fleece impulse for Christmas. He used it all year
- All in the house enjoyed the fleece blankies. This summer, Jason said that Dad should have one for each of the Boston sports teams. I kept this morsel in mind for our excursion
- I let my broth simmer til midnight. When I got up then to feed Ciro a bit of food, I turned off the broth and set the pan in the back hall. In cold weather, that hall is endless cold storage. Tomorrow I’d be able to strain it and such and get my soup made.
My Dad and Jenny had forgotten to sign the grateful paper, in the hustle and bustle of family yum on Thanksgiving. So Jason and I went out to Wessyfoo on Saturday after for a blueberry pancake and bacon breakus and a walk in the woods with Granddad. We brought the paper with the empty spaces and Kelly green markers with us. After we ate all the pancakes and cleared all the dishes, I laid the paper on the table to be completed. My Dad signed quickly. My aunt hesitated with marker in hand. “What do I write?” she asked as dishes rattled in the kitchen sink, as Jason and Granddad broke kindling and laid a fire in the wood stove, and as I looked out the window to the shed and hydrangea and birds at the feeders. I told her just to think of our day together and write down whatever she was grateful for.
The answer came. “I am grateful for Jean. For this.” She raised her arms to the home and family around her. Tears and love filled her eyes and face. “She didn’t have anything in her background. Nothing. How did she know about Martha Graham? How could she know and share modern dance with me?” My Dad added treasures that Jean Granny had no reason to know or aspire to, and yet she did. “Jean made all of this. It came from her. She gave us everything…each other and this haven.” With those words said, there was nothing to do but pull up a chair for my aunt and let her write. And she did. And it was done, perfectly complete, so simple and treasured forever. Just like life.