Lessons From Thanksgiving Past And Present

Published in The Ferndale Record, November 24, 2010

The year was 1971 and I was a freshman at a small college in southeastern Idaho. My roommates, except for the one from Indiana, had all gone away for the holiday and a kind local church member invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner.

We gathered around his table that day with other students who hadn’t made the trip home. It was crowded, sweet, and different for a girl who’d never missed a holiday with her family before. But I had my roomie, and later, we were going to see “Gone With The Wind” in a special showing at the tiny, local movie theater. I decided it was going to be a good day.

All during dinner, our nice friend gushed about his wife’s pumpkin pie, and that we should get ready for the culinary splendor which we were about to imbibe. My mom’s Thanksgiving dessert was the best ever, and I couldn’t imagine something better than that.

One forkful put every doubt to rest. It seemed our benefactor’s wife had forgotten the sugar, or the pumpkin, or something. There was little resemblance to anything of the pumpkin variety in that pie. In fact, it was practically uneatable, and for a young woman with a healthy sweet tooth, that was really saying something.

I nibbled politely and then feigned fullness. Nothing was said, but I can’t believe I was the only one who noticed something terribly, nastily wrong. My mother’s was still the best—by a very long shot.

However, that year I was thankful for a friend to share the day with, another who didn’t let us eat alone, and especially grateful for a mom whose Thanksgiving feasts were legendary, and at whose table I’d again, one day, pull up a chair.

Thirty years later, I made a solo trip to the Oregon coast for Thanksgiving. My children were with their dad, enjoying the holiday together, and I needed a getaway. It was the first time in my adult life I wasn’t with my offspring for Thanksgiving, and it stung a little. But this place at the beach soothes my aching soul, and it did the trick that year, too.

I shopped before I went to the ocean front condo, buying supplies for the few days I’d hole up and watch the waves. No turkey that year—just a loaded down shrimp salad, bread, Dr. Pepper, and a few selected goodies. Food wise, it was practically effortless, and good eats.

The weather was intense—gray winter sea roiling up to the beach bulkhead. Wind, rain, and waves pounded the sand. I talked to my kids on the Thursday holiday and stayed warm in my retreat.

That first year without my children on Thanksgiving, I was thankful for another place to be that I loved, for having the courage to try something different, and for a front row seat watching nature’s fury at sea.

This year, 2010, I’ll spend the day with my two sons, a daughter and grandson at her home. I’m supplying the homemade biscuits and our generational family favorite—my mother’s recipe for blue cheese dressing. I’ll be a guest in a home with people I love, and despite a difficult financial year, gratitude overwhelms me.

This is the year I’ve learned that one can be thankful no matter how little they think they have, and with that gratitude comes personal power, responsibility, and the quiet confidence that what you have is all you need.

Would a little more be nice sometimes? Of course. But stark, loving appreciation for what I have at the moment gets me beyond the longing, and reminds me of how much I can do without.

For me, 2010 has been full of Thanksgiving Days. I’m positive there are more to come.

Finally, A World Series I Actually Cared About

Published in The Ferndale Record, November 3, 2010

Just when I think society is going to hell and there’s nothing I can do about it, the Texas Rangers clobber the New York Yankees in game six and take the American League Championship Series. The universe is restored to its rightful order, and everything is on track.

Not that I’m a Rangers fan, I just don’t like the Yankees. I can’t remember exactly when they fell from my personal grace, but it was sometime after the words “Yankees” and “World Series” were repeatedly used in the same sentence. It was a foregone conclusion, ruling out the underdogs.

Of course in baseball and life, you can’t count anyone out. It’s here I would interject, “..except maybe the Seattle Mariners.” But that flame of hope still burns, and I won’t go for the cheap jab, which I suppose I just did.

Even though the San Francisco Giants showed the Rangers who’s boss in this year’s World Series, that last game of the playoffs between the Yankees and Rangers was, well, historical. I particularly enjoyed seeing all of Texas on its feet, and witnessing the final out: New York’s Alex Rodriguez, humbled in a ballpark that used to chant his name for a different reason. It was sweet to see a team that’s never been to the World Series finally get a shot by beating the one club most fans expect to regularly take home another World Championship ring.

Not this year, New York.

The Yankees are, I’ll admit, a great team. Fantastic baseball is exciting and they deliver the goods. One of the best (if not the finest) closers in baseball, Mariano Rivera, is like spare, exquisite poetry. Fans of the opposing team cower when he takes the mound. I single him out because he’s just that good.

I understand that some teams often play better than others. Those players get the press, the glory, until someone else comes along, from another team, sometimes out of almost nowhere, and makes a dent—if not history. That is equally, if not more entertaining as solid baseball.

Although he probably wasn’t the only one to say it, Lou Piniella asserted that on any given day, any one team could beat any other team. While that seems logical, even obvious, I like it. It gives everyone a chance. Not just the New York Yankees.

It says that when someone’s expected to win, you can’t necessarily count on it, so you’d better pay attention, like when Mine That Bird came from nearly eight lengths behind the field to blow past all the favorites and win the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The lesson? You never know, and that’s part of what makes competitive sport so compelling.

Finally, a World Series I cared about. I’ve been guilty of over estimating the Yankee machine myself and discounted the Fall Classic as over before it started simply because New York was in the game.

The Rangers winning the American League pennant reminds me that other teams play stunning baseball, too. Like the 2004 Boston Red Sox powering through the playoffs, past the Yankees, and ousting St. Louis in four games to take the World Series. This year we saw San Francisco chalk up a few memorable moments as well.

I’m just a fan of the game. But the upsets, especially where New York’s involved, are precious. Entitled Yankees fans can blame bad calls, or poor management, but maybe they just weren’t that good this time.

It was someone else’s turn this year, and that alone was worth watching.

In Praise Of The Road Trip

Published in The Ferndale Record, September 22, 2010

In the years before DVD players in automobiles, iPods and cell phones for each traveler, I rode 3,000 miles across the United States with four kids in a Volvo station wagon—twice. Our children each had their own books, blanket and pillow, one Sony Walkman between them, and a game of travel bingo. Yeah. It was like that.

If you’re at 35,000 feet you can’t pull off the road to see Mt. Rushmore or snag last minute tickets to see the Kansas City Royals.  You don’t really cross the Mississippi River or get to ride around the oval at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rather than stopping for a nosh at a local diner, air travel offers honey-roasted peanuts. You get a beverage in a small plastic cup, not a bountiful breakfast buffet at a Holiday Inn in Nashville, Tennessee. Plus, you can carry bottled water in a car without paying $4.50 for it after you go through security.

Sure, road trips take longer, can be less comfortable (although with modern amenities and standard airline seating, that’s debatable), and depending on the annoyance factor of whom you’re traveling with, car travel is occasionally dreadful. But I opt for it over air travel anytime I can.

Admittedly, part of my choice has to do with being an uneasy flier, but I like to think it’s more about everything you get to experience along the way.

This week, five of us are piling into another Volvo wagon and making the trip from Ferndale to Salt Lake City. We’ll attend a wedding and the festivities associated with it, load back into the car and return, all within just a few days. Flights were out of the question this time, and despite complaints from the teenage member of our group, it’s just the way it is.

This particular trip isn’t about stopping at every historical marker or cruising the scenic route. It’s about getting there, joining in the celebration, and getting home. We’ll be focused, and alternating three drivers to get us there on time.

We’ll travel through mountains and deserts with little or no cell phone service, and definitely no Wi-Fi. Chances are good we’ll play the Alphabet Game, the Geography Game, and of course, travel bingo.

We’ll have ample time to think, read, sleep, listen to favorite music on our iPods (foregoing the inordinate amount of Country-Western radio stations through southern Idaho) and see places that aren’t at all like Western Washington.

This time, the road trip is about the love we have for our family member who’s getting married. I’ll be in a car with four folks who are among my favorite people on the planet. I expect the usual conversation, the musing, and the family jokes.

But I also anticipate those moments of wonder when I’m hurtling along through relatively desolate places, and find myself engaged in meaningful, even unexpected talk with a fellow traveler—something often done quietly while others sleep. It’s intimate and bonding—and hard to do in a plane with 100 other passengers.

That drive is a long stretch, one that’s covered in only two hours by air. But this time, our road trip, is part of the wedding gift. And based on past experience, I suspect it could also be a gift for us, if we let it.

We’ll Be Back Right After These Messages…

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, March 31, 2010

You know that somebody did something right when you remember a TV commercial—even if it’s one you dislike. They got your attention and that was the point.

Here are a few that have rattled my cage lately. See if you agree.

First, the bad news.

Jack-In-The-Box’s enormous, white, bulbous head is starting to really annoy me. At first it was a little creepy, then it was a little clever, then I got used to it. Now, it’s time to mothball the novelty head and get fresh material.

But was it ever really that great of a marketing coup to begin with? The advertisers would have us believe that Jack is just a regular guy, married to a woman with a normal noggin. Really? Face it. These commercials have always been unnatural and a little perverse.

And while the brand name is unmistakable (mission accomplished), the ads in no way have made me more of a Jack-In-The-Box customer than I was before. I’ve visited this franchise twice in four years.

Next up are those superb Dos Equis beer commercials about “The Most Interesting Man In The World.” Even if you happen to just hear one of these ads from the next room, you get to the TV in a hurry to see what they’re talking about.

The narrative is classic: “His blood smells like cologne.” “He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels.” “He lives vicariously through himself.” “His personality is so magnetic he is unable to carry credit cards.”

After a series of video clips showing the hero engaging in wildly intriguing situations with rugged and beautiful people, he’s seated at a table with adoring companions. He looks up and says, “I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.”

Then, with that swarthy Latino accent, almost at a whisper, he purrs directly into the camera, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

I don’t drink, and this advertisement doesn’t make me want to. It does, however, make me a little thirsty. Not to mention a tad bit curious about The Most Interesting Man In The World.

Well done, Dos Equis.

Finally, here’s the one that caught me off guard—in a good way.

It was a simple evening in front of the tube, and out of nowhere, The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane” started up. Instead of writhing dancers, black leather, or motorcycles I looked up to see soup and crackers. That’s right.

Bowls of thick soups in a prism of colors, splashing over the top in high, vertical peaks as perfect, square saltines rain in from above—all in slow motion.

An uppercut of marketing brilliance, this commercial had me mesmerized. Was it Nabisco’s Premium Saltines? Was it the raucous music set to mere crackers plunging into creamy tomato bisque?

I don’t know, but whatever it was, and without realizing what had just happened, the combination made me hungry for—you guessed it—soup and crackers.

Here’s the deal. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when I do, it’s fun to see well-crafted commercials that demand my attention because of their creativity.

Jack, I beg you to hang up the giant cranium. And Dos Equis and Nabisco, you’re the clear winners for now. Keep ‘em coming.

The Thing About November..

Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, November 11, 2009

I like November.

I like the flashy leaves, the wind, the cooler, bordering on cold weather. I like a late World Series, Thanksgiving, pecan pie, and the promise of December’s holidays.

But the real reason I’ve always liked November is because it’s my birthday month.  I get a little goofy inside when Halloween’s over and I suddenly realize it’s almost here.

November days until my birthday are just preparatory. I’m not sure for what, exactly. There doesn’t have to be an event, a party, or anything thrilling planned to make my birthday extraordinary.  But, hey—it’s MY day. I know I probably share it with a lot of other people. I even know some of them. But it feels like it’s all about me.

I have to credit my mother with making birthdays an exceptional experience. They were always a big deal, and I perpetuated the tradition with my own children. Surprises, balloons, friends, cakes, parties, dinners out, presents—they were always extravaganzas.

I’ve learned that when you’re an adult, you usually have to plan your own party, except for when little children and spouses make an effort to fuss over you like you’re nobility. That’s always nice. But minus kids or a significant other, you get to do whatever you want and that’s not bad either.

Best birthday ever? My 17th.

My boyfriend, who lived about 40 miles away, told me to expect a surprise. I knew it wouldn’t be a visit from him, but he was nothing if not a romantic. Whatever it was, it was going to be great.

Around 5:00 p.m. I watched a flower delivery truck pull into our driveway.  The driver handed me a dozen red roses and a gift card that I still have. Yup. The boy pulled through in a big way.

That night, my best friend, Lila, came over for a dinner Mom made at my request. Roast beef, homemade Au Gratin potatoes, and for dessert, a Tunnel-Of-Fudge cake. And yes, it was as insanely delicious as it sounds.

After these tasty eats Lila and I went to a movie, then I came home and shut myself into my bedroom all alone with those fragrant roses. Every deep breath reminded me that someone was in love with me. How awesome is that?

I haven’t had a worst-ever birthday. I think it’s because I expect them to be fun. Phone calls, Emails and a little extra attention go a long way with me. I don’t consider myself high maintenance, although others may argue that point.

I worry very little about aging, so the numbers don’t matter. Although, lately I’ve become slightly unhinged at the thought that I’m considerably older than I feel, and I know the end of this story, which is, with any luck I get to grow even older.

So, I anticipate my birthdays, no matter the year, and feel a kind of sweetness about having a day all to myself, even if people standing in front of me in line at the post office don’t know it. I know it, and that’s all that matters.

Eleven other perfectly good months come and go. But when the wind starts to howl and Jack-o-lanterns begin rotting on porches across the nation, my inward excite-o-meter begins to rise, looking forward to the love and remembrances coming my way.

It’s November, and it’s my birthday.