Friday, November 30, 2012

(Pilgrim's) Progress Report

Looking back, it’s a blur, a filmy orange streak. Thanksgiving Day 2012 is. I thought I was ready, that this would be the year I’d achieve my goal. I didn’t want much, just to get everything on the table at its appropriate temperature. I was on track too, until they arrived, the invited guests. Then everything went SHABOING, like one of those trickster cans of peanuts you open and out shoots a cloth-covered spring, wild with potential energy.
            The problem wasn’t that the guests were in the house. The problem was that they were in the kitchen. I’d arranged all kinds of awesome appetizers elsewhere to keep people out of the kitchen, away from me.
            My brother was the first invader of my domain. “Whatcha doing?” he said.
            I kept chopping. “Before I forget, I meant to tell you last night on the phone, we can take Mom home afterward,” I told him. “If you all wanna go Black Fridaying.”
            He peeked over my shoulder as I transferred garlic chunks into the green bean pan.
            “I’m over that idea,” he said, “after what happened on the way here.”
            My heart skittered and I stopped stirring, turned to face him. “What happened? Did you all hit a deer?”
            “Close. A big dog.”
            My eyes filled and I placed an oven-mitted hand over my heart. “That’s terrible!”
            He nodded. “Yep. We came around the corner and there it was, in the middle of the road, licking its butt. And then it wasn’t.”
            My son burst through the door, skidded to a stop in his stocking feet. Held out the empty cracker basket.
            “I, I mean we, need more Nut Thins.”
            I glanced at my watch. “The shrimp butter’s been out all of ten minutes and you’ve already polished off a whole box of crackers?”
            He cowered. Took tiny steps backward.
            I glared. “You know what this is, don’t you?” I handed him another box of Nut Thins from the snack cabinet. “It’s gluttony. Pure and simple.”
            He grabbed the box and ran. My brother followed him.
            Moments later my sister-in-law sidled up next to me. “How can I help?”
            I motioned to the pan of rolls. “Put ’em in the toaster oven please. It’s preheated.”
            “You want me to brush ’em with butter? My mom always did.”
            I squinted at my to-do list. “Sure. Whatever.”
            Right after the toaster oven door rattled shut, I felt her breath ruffle my hair.
            “Are you making gravy next? Can I watch? ’CauseI can’t make gravy. Gave up trying years ago.”
            Her confession gave me pause. I gathered in a deep breath. Be in the moment, I told myself, here. Connect. Share.
            I faced her with a grin. “It’s easy,” I said, “if you know the secret. Gravy needs to be shaken, not stirred.”
            She watched intently as I measured equal parts flour and cooking sherry into a jar. I screwed the lid on tight and handed it to her.
            “Shake it like crazy.”
            As she shook, her face glowed. “I remember now!” she said. “My mom used to make gravy like this.”
            “You’ll never have lumps again,” I said as I poured the slurry into the pan juices. I pressed a whisk at her and glanced at the stove clock. Despite all the interruptions, everything was running pretty close to schedule. The dining room table was set. The votives lit. All the side dishes were arranged on the kitchen table. There was only one thing left to do.
            “Men!” I yelled. “Time to carve.”
            My husband and brother bonded while they devastated the turkey, trying and rejecting a variety of knives.
            “I thought you all had an electric knife,” my brother said.
            I surveyed the pile of pale shreds. “Bring yours next year please.”
            When no one was looking, I stuck my pointer finger into the center of the mashed potatoes. They were warm, not hot. I closed my eyes and growled. Dang it! I missed the mark, again.
            Without being told, my sister-in-law removed the rolls from the oven, slid them into the bread basket, and covered them with a clean dishtowel.
            She smiled when she caught me watching her. “I’m really excited about the gravy,” she said.
            Something inside me unfurled. “Me too.”
            “Maybe I can make it next year,” she said.
            All of me clenched, but then I willed all of me to let go. “I think that’s a great idea.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Winter Soon

Go outside. Onto your front porch or into the parking lot. Breathe. In through your nose. Do you smell it? The barky, brownish-gray scent of smoke? Someone nearby must have lugged a portion of their woodpile inside and arranged it just so in the orifice of their hearth. Perhaps they then sprinkled it with a handful of fallen leaves from an oak or maple, pressed a button, and Floom! Flame emerged from a long-handled lighter. Created coziness.
            Inhale again. Is there something else? Indeed there is--the fragrance of the clouds when they prophesy, “Snow soon.” I love that ice-blue perfume, grin as it stirs remembrance on the inside of me. Do the math. Smoke somewhere + snow soon = my happiness.
            I’m craving another scent and I know how to make it happen. I enter my house from the evening dog walk and search determinedly for a box of matches. Here they are. So much better than a book of them. Uniform and diminutive, stand-at-attention-wearing-red-hats, suicide bombers. One or more of them will sacrifice themselves in the fire for the greater good—my olfactory pleasure.
            The lid of the candle jar settles on the entryway’s tabletop with a hula hoop’s 'round and 'round frenzy followed by a metallic Ca-lank! A pale redhead skitters across the strike strip then Fuwah! Becomes a brilliant, quivery tulip of light. Petal points twitch and sway when the furnace exhales with a grunt. Down into the charred jar I tuck my flame-bearing fingers. Kiss the black-blossomed wick with orange and purple. Invisible wafts of butter, yeast, and cinnamony sweetness rise. So does a corner of my mouth.
            I hurry to the entrance and unchain, unbolt, swing back the old, carved door. Elbow open the newer, top-to-bottom-glass storm door. I restrain the latter with my hip. Notice the slap of straight bitter cold on my left cheek. Relish the golden dry house heat on my right. I gather the night again. In through my nose. Fill my lungs completely with the knowledge of fire somewhere, snow soon, and imaginary treats baking. This, these, I love.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pilgrims' Progress


1. The act or process of desensitizing.
2. Physiology, Medicine/Medica. The elimination or reduction of natural 
or acquired reactivity or sensitivity to an external stimulus, as an 
3. Psychiatry, a behavior modification technique, used especially in 
treating phobias, in which panic or other undesirable emotional 
response to a given stimulus is reduced or extinguished, especially by repeated exposure to that stimulus.


            Well, what do you know? It’s six days out from Thanksgiving and I’m not freaking out. Yet. About the ginormous stuffet I must prepare in less than a week. I can tell I’m relaxed this year because it hasn’t even occurred to me to locate my fountain pen in order to calligraphy the menu and after that the multiple it’s-pert-near-Turkey-Day to-do lists. I call that (Pilgrims') progress.
            For decades, my ma-in-law had the knack of feeding dozens of diners with amazing aplomb. I wonder how long it took her to lose her fear of cooking 30 items for 30 people and exactly how many years did it take her to master the skill of arranging everything on the buffet at the same time at each individual item’s appropriate temperature? I haven’t even begun to grasp that ability and probably won’t until I a) buy a turkey roaster or b) get one of those fancy-schmancy multiple oven stoves. Instead, I vacillate between two mantras:  1) even-if-it’s-slightly-too-cool-it’s-still-yummy and 2) it’s-better-than-eating-out-isn’t-it?
            Alas, my own mother is eighty years old and she still hasn’t conquered cooking for a boatload of folks. In fact, it still jangles her to prepare open-faced Longhorn Colby sandwiches, Mrs. Grass’s chicken noodle soup, and Crystal Light lemonade for four.
            Even though she does not possess high-level hostess abilities, I have managed to learn a thing or two from my mom with regards to feeding a crowd. Namely, if something can be made ahead of time, by all means, add it to the menu. To Mom, this means prepare as many items as you can two to three weeks in advance and freeze them. To me, this translates to make or bake as many items as possible two to three days out and Ziplock and/or refrigerate them until needed.
            Holy cow! We’re inside a week now. I guess it’s time. To make the list and check it twice.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2012
(Adventure Girl will hog these for sure.)
(These bites inevitably yield garlic breath but Sandwich Child claims they are exceedingly worth it! Especially if there are no handsome,
available young men present.)
Shrimp Butter on Crackers
(Boy Child would weep if I didn’t make this family favorite.)
Spiced Pecans
(I find these alarmingly addicting. In fact, they may not make it to the buffet line. I might just hide them in the kitchen built-in alongside the
Pretzel-Cheddar Combos and bite-sized Reese Cups.)
Herb Roasted Turkey
(From Bon Appetit’s 1994 November issue. Why change perfection?)
Bon Appetit’s Mushroom Stuffing
(I did change perfection. Amped up the traditional flavor with the addition of celery, roasted chestnuts and scads of sage.)
Thyme-Scented Browned Butter Green Beans
(I love green beans either bright green and crisp or grey- green and cooked to death with ham bits and a whole onion. These are the former.)
Super Buttery and Garlicky Smashed Potatoes
(With regards to smashed potatoes, there is no such thing as too much butter.)
Sherry Shitake Turkey Gravy
(Bon Appetit 1994 strikes again. Note to self: Mince the mushrooms super tiny
so Boy Child can’t find them.)
Sister-in-Law’s Superb Secret Recipe Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes
(Sometimes she even lets us keep the leftovers!)
Mom W’s Corn Pudding
(I requested this dish last year to dissuade my mother from bringing lime-Jello-with-cottage-cheese-salad. As if it wasn’t scary enough, Mom insists on serving it atop a bed of Iceberg lettuce with a dollop of Miracle Whip. I used to furtively distribute air-sick bags to my kids whenever she brought this item.)
Cranberries Jezebel
(To my amazement, I'm the only one who cares for this delicacy. The secret ingredient is horseradish. Oops!)
Mom T’s Bread
(Every year in my tummy of tummies, I pray Mom T will bring her famous potato rolls, but anymore she just shows up with sliced Italian bread in a waxed bag. Know why? ‘Cause at 84, she’s totally over cooking for the masses.)
Black Bottom Pumpkin Pie
(This is the only new item on the menu. The recipe is from Southern Living so I expect it to be to-drool-for.)
Pecan Crescent Cookies
(Know why these delicately delicious, boomerang-shaped treats crumble on your tongue? Because the recipe calls for two, count ’em two, sticks of butter.)
Cappuccino, Coffee, or Milk
(I suggest the former to ward off the effects of turkey tryptophan.)
          I have good news. I just took my blood pressure and checked my pulse. Neither is elevated whatsoever. Maybe I have indeed desensitized my Turkey Day Phobia. Thank you, Jesus! Now if only I could do something about my gephyrophobia; you know, bridge phobia.


(I'm curious and/or nosy. What's on your menu for Thanksgiving 2012?)

(Desensitization definition found at

Friday, November 9, 2012

Something Else

            I didn’t mean to hurt you. That time I said he was my favorite. Brother. It’s not that . . .  What I meant was . . . Well, you’re different. You’re something else.
            I will give you this: you never came at me with stealth, a certain anarchy oozing from your pores. And not once did you approach me hands choke hold ready and cheeks stoplight red but forging through anyway. You were different. A low tide. Quiet, steady.

            I like to look at your senior picture and consider how your hair was like the bunny slope at Canaan Valley when I went there in eighth grade with the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church youth group. Not white, but a smooth, nut brown arc with one perfect dip in the middle. 
            That first morning I hurtled down the hill over and over, winter’s edge both thrilling and terrifying me. Right before lunch, the ski patrol gal advised me that falling down in a six-point star formation at the bottom of the slope was not a safe way to stop. She demonstrated the snow plow a couple times. Recommended lessons. I never skied again. Ever.
            In your portrait your eyes seemed serious even as they smiled. Did you already know you had healing (and therefore much responsibility) in your hands? Your irises matched the widest stripe in your chubby tie—fall-morning blue-gray sky.


            Remember all the stuff we dabbled in? I do, because I made a list. That’s how I write a story. I jot down everything I can remember then comb away all the stuff that’s not so hot. Here, I’ll show you:

Stuff We Did Together

Yoga (living room): For a whole summer we copied the moves of Lillias as she did Hatha Yoga on public television. We wore Marshall green gym shorts and gray Thundering Herd t-shirts. I was way more flexible than you.

Weight Lifting (basement): You lifted. I watched. Because you’d read somewhere my bones wouldn’t be ready for resistance work until at least fourth grade. I wept, but you insisted.

Archery (back yard): We set up a range behind the house, crammed the target into the tangle of honeysuckle that concealed the chain link fence. We were evenly matched until our flimsy green bow broke and you replaced it with a red, white, and blue compound model. I couldn’t budge the string so I became the designated arrow fetcher.

Church (Ohio): You invited me to come along when you started attending church across the river. We’d hold our breath as we drove over the bridge. Make a wish when we got to the other side. You suggested we start a gospel group since I was taking piano lessons. We practiced a few times but then you went off to college. I was sad to see you go but also relieved that I wouldn't have to inform you that your pitch was less than perfect.


            Did you know that writers are supposed to show instead of tell? You never told me, “I like spending time with you,” but you didn't have to. The stuff we did together showed it. Proved that you were in fact something else, something better than “favorite.” I might go as far as to say you were the best. Brother.

Friday, November 2, 2012

It's a Matter of When

I am not an alcoholic but I'm pretty sure I could be. In my blood runs the stuff of addiction. Case in point: My way-back-when relative named Sterling rode a horse off a cliff due to alcohol’s deathgrip.


Years ago I heard the Spirit’s whisper to not be drunk (with wine). I obeyed for the most part, except for that one birthday. I woke the next morning my head obnoxiously pained, my mouth potty paper dry, my world a Tilt-a-Whirl.
            I squinted at my face in the bathroom mirror. “How did I get home?”
            Furtively. Illegally.
            “No one asked if you were okay to drive,” someone, something defended.
            How many times did I do that very thing in my early years? Drink . . . drive . . . regret . . . swear off . . . Well, maybe just one. It's rare now, but still . . .


In vino veritas the saying goes, but really, I don’t even need the wine. Words rush and tumble out of me without liquid assistance, but introduce alcohol, caffeine even, and my tongue’s audacity quadruples. More often than not, it's been my careless, fluid speech I lament the most. 


I pencil a pro and con list. The  pro row is pitiful. The against column is pregnant, late term for sure. All I can praise is taste and relaxation. I speed read the cons: killer headaches, gnarly stomach, embarrassment, calories, hypocrisy, embarrassment, sugar (another familial issue), the risk of losing everything. There wasn't much to lose before, but now?
            “I should just quit,” I told my cappuccino one morning. “Forever.”
            “Then why don’t you?” something, someone in the house whispered.


My mother’s vice is sweets.
            “Come into the kitchen with me,” she says after supper.
            I watch as she feeds the leftover peach cobbler to the garbage disposal. Wince as stainless steel blades gobble the treat. I almost ask why but I know full well why. What I wrestle with is how. And when.


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