Thanksgiving…because mom did it that way!

The holiday is more than just a full plate. It’s also full of memories. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Thanksgiving is two days away, give or take a few frantic hours. I’ve got a schedule, lists, food piled on a prep table and packed so tight in the fridge that the bottom shelf is actually in the dark when you open the door.

Some things I fix for the big day I do because I like them, and/or the family likes them. Some things are just part of tradition dating from an unknown time, place or reason and continued because, well, mom did it that way.

Dad passed away many Thanksgivings ago, so his influence on the day is minimal. Though we figure he had something to do with the baked ziti. We’re not Italian, but many of his friends were, and someone must have served it at a party. Mom made it for years, using a black enamel baking pan. I have that pan, one of the few things I took from her kitchen when she passed away, and I still use it. Most of Thanksgiving winds up in disposable aluminum pans, but not the ziti.

One change I did make is the sweet potato casserole. Grandma mashed and whipped and served it with the toasty little marshmallows on top. Of course we all ate some to be polite. Hated it, but we ate it. I bake my sweet potatoes, scoop them, break them up in a baking pan and top with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and nutmeg. No mashing and no marshmallow puddles.

The appetizers are things mom liked and have not changed in forever. Spiced steamed shrimp, fresh veggies and onion dip, chopped liver and crackers. Totally unsophisticated in a world of amuse bouche, but it’s family food.

And there will be latkes, the Jewish potato pancakes. I do this because the Chanukah holiday is usually fairly close to Thanksgiving. It isn’t this year, but Mom always made them: a platter of gently crispy outside, soft and oniony inside latkes. She had to work fast; latkes are the last thing you make before dinner is served, and you have to hide them as you make them, or people come into the kitchen, drawn by the aroma of fried potato perfection, and eat them right out of the pan. Served with applesauce (an American affectation; purists insist on sour cream), they are never, ever a leftover.

This Thanksgiving, there will be several sets of dishes mixed together: mine, mom’s and grandma’s. We will all fit at the table this year, with only the need for one extra chair. But everyone we love will be there in food and memory.

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Filed under cooking, family, food, Holiday

Planting something in a food desert

No fresh food for an entire town is something no one wants to imagine.

I’ve got some thoughts rambling through my head at the moment, so maybe some of you can help straighten them out.

One of our local towns, population about 2,000,  is about to become a food desert; that is, a town with no source of fresh food. The only grocery store is set to close shortly. There are other grocery stores outside the city limits, but for many people without cars, those are not within walking distance. And pubic transit here sucks.

I write about food, and I am particularly passionate about fresh and local food. Organic fresh and local food is good, but this town’s inhabitants have a median income that does not lend itself to buying the more expensive organic food, so fresh and as local as possible would be good. Unemployment is high and high-paying jobs almost nonexistent.

The town has other issues: crime, drug and gang violence. There are neighborhoods that are not safe at any hour.

The town has a primarily African-American population. What I love about this town is the number of small ethnic restaurants: Jamaican, Haitian, Mexican, Central American and Caribbean places that offer great food in less-than-glamorous surroundings, which of course means that the price of a meal is right.

There are large corporations doing business near this town, but they are either national companies and/or have around a long time and have a loyal and steady workforce, and that workforce makes enough money to have personal transportation. There’s no city money to pay an incentive for someone to come in here and open a grocery store. And with profit margins pretty thin (between one and one and a half percent), who would take the risk?

But what about everyone else? How do people who cannot access a grocery store eat? And do they have the right to expect such access?

They rely on friends and family for a ride, eat unhealthy and expensive fast food or from convenience stores, use food pantries, free school lunches, free senior meal deliveries and the occasional holiday handouts. It’s a tenuous way to live, especially if you are feeding your kids.

I’d like to get involved in feeding a community, not just for a day, but for a lot longer. Maybe forever. Never been in that line of work, though. How do I get started? How would you get started?

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Filed under budget, Children, Current news, food, hunger, poverty

Swim in a meet, meet new friends

Watch and learn: even when you're waiting for your event, other swimmers teach a lesson.

Watch and learn: even when you’re waiting for your event, other swimmers teach a lesson.

I drove (and swam) a little outside the proverbial comfort zone this weekend. I went to a three-day swim meet about two hours away.

I’m wiped out, but it was worth it.

I was the only swimmer from my team to make the trip (hey, you’ll have to ask the other swimmers why they didn’t go!) and of course, it gets a little lonely being a solo act. Fortunately, I was adopted by another team. The group was from Georgia, and there wasn’t a “y’all” to be heard from any of them. Actually, they all sounded like they were from anywhere except the Peach State. Their hospitality, however, was pure Southern. They want me to come to their next meet. They’ve promised me great barbecue and adult beverages. I’m not planning on turning any of that down, by the way.

As for the meet itself: it went well enough. I brought back some hardware.  There were a lot of better swimmers there, and a lot of old swimmers. And by old, we’re talking about athletes age 85 and older, who can still go fearlessly off the blocks and haul hindquarters up and down the meter lanes with the best of the whippet-thin whippersnappers. I saw family while I was there; my niece was my counter for one of the long races. I warned her that what she would see at a Masters meet was nothing like the high-school team she coaches. “You’ll see bodies that don’t belong in these kinds of swimsuits,” I said. “And body parts that should never, ever see the light of day. Just letting you know.”

Her reaction? “I hope I can still swim when I am as old as some of these people!”

Kids say the darndest things. And I agree with her. I hope I can still swim when I hit the age where they stop bothering to keep official records. By the time I reach that age, it shouldn’t matter anyway. What should matter is that I’ve made more friends than I can count (and hopefully, they’re still around) and that I can stagger out of bed each day and steer my rear to the nearest pool.

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Filed under Aging, Exercise, family, Relationships, Swimming, thought, travel

They say the legs go first…they may be right

My heredity has finally caught up with me. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa: thanks, but no thanks anyway.

The varicose veins have not just arrived, they are making my legs look like a Rand McNally road map with construction issues.

It’s a family thing, with the previous two generations not only suffering from the condition, but going through the only treatment available back in the medical Stone Age: vein stripping, which was a rather brutal means of dispensing with the problem. It required hospitalization, general anesthesia, a month of down time and offered a host of complications, though the surgery did work.

Methods have gotten kinder now, with chemical injections done in a specialist’s office over a period of weeks or months. I’m grateful for the newer treatments, as they have little or no down time, no surgical issues, no anesthesia (other than local) and no hospitalization. The drawback is that the treatments will be for life, as there is no guarantee that once injected into oblivion, the veins will not return.

Ugly legs suck, even when you are as lucky as I am to be in the good end of the gene pool for most everything else. I cannot complain about much of what I inherited. I still have my hair and teeth and the basic body parts I was born with and still require for survival. My failing vision has been replaced with brand-new technology (thirteen months, and 20/20 vision has yet to get old!), my hearing is perfect and I can smell and taste without issues. Still, I look at the newspaper and magazine ads with the leggy models advertising the vein clinics, promising “the youthful, beautiful legs you once enjoyed.” Thing is, I never enjoyed them youthfully, either. I’m built like a cross between a cube fridge and a tree stump, so the concept of great gams never applied in the first place.

A cousin of mine, who passed away a few months ago, had legs so beautiful she was a leg and foot model for a famous New York department store . I always liked her, although I’m convinced she got every atom of good lower limb genes the family had and left the rest of us with nothing. I’ll think of her when the first of many needles destroys the first of many bad veins, beginning next month. I’ll get my good-looking legs; I just won’t come by them as naturally as she did.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aging, health and beauty, technology

It’s not just about Ray; it’s about Janay

Love shouldn't hurt.

We can stop the violence. We all need to get involved. This means you. Now.

By now, you’ve seen the video of Ray Rice and his then-fianceé Janay going at it in a casino elevator. She comes at him, he hits her hard enough to knock her down, then drags her out of the elevator. Rice was suspended for two games by the Baltimore Ravens, who saw only the dragging; when the knockout portion was released, the NFL suspended him indefinitely and the Ravens cut him from the team.

So much wrong on so many levels with this one. And for many, the most shocking wrong is why Janay not only stayed with Ray, she married him after the assault.

Why?

A few suppositions:

It wasn’t the first time his fist had connected with her face. That was one well-practiced punch. It was only the first time it was caught on camera. And Janay knows it. The look on her face when they faced the news media was hard, cold and almost glaringly daring the press to ask her the obvious: What the hell are you thinking?

What is she thinking?

The NFL was as much her meal ticket as his. He had a $10 million contract with the Ravens. Plus the perks, prestige and popularity that goes along with being the wife of a professional football player. It’s gone and she’s not happy.

She remembers what is good about him, and knows he is capable of being that good person. What she does not realize is that the violent man is likely the real man; the good “outbursts” are only temporary.

She really thinks she can change him and make him a better person. Change never comes from outside, only inside. And if other women failed, you will, too.

She places blame on others; instead of acknowledging the real issue, she blames the media and the public for ruining their happiness by using the story for ratings. Honey, there’s more important stuff to pay attention to. And it’s not anyone’s fault that the casino happens to have a plethora of photographic devices. Casinos usually do.

Oh, and she does love him. A well-conditioned victim can love their abuser, even if it’s not love as most of us would define the word.

I may sound harsh, but I hold them both at fault here. I hold Ray Rice responsible for assaulting Janay Rice. And I hold Janay Rice accountable for her actions after the assault. No amount of money and fame is worth the price of your self-esteem.

Janay defender her husband with one of the saddest declarations I’ve ever seen, posted in her Instagram statement:

“This is our life! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels.”

Yes, Janay, it is your life.

And no one hurt, embarrassed or caused you more unhappiness that you did to yourselves.

It’s an odds-on bet that you won’t be living that life much longer. Standing by your man, not taking a stand that love shouldn’t hurt, that no one should be scarred for life or scared to die in a relationship means that Ray Rice now has a blank page to write the next more violent chapter of your relationship.

 

 

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A woman’s work is easily undone

Is it housework or punishment? Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Is it housework or punishment? Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Did you ever wonder why a clean house, weed-free yard and washed and waxed cars in the driveway matter?

Yeah, me too. And yet I keep doing those things, only to see them get dirty/overgrown/muddy again. It’s like being on a diet for six days, only to have the ice cream truck break down in your driveway on day seven. All the counting calories and fat and carbs, then the goop hits the eating device.

It’s the classic definition of a vicious cycle. And in my case, I actually guilt myself into the everlasting cleaning parade by worrying about what people will think about the yard (don’t want it to look like we abandoned the place), the house (a random human could stop by and white glove-judge the coffee table and countertops) and the cars (The Husband is an ex-racer and lifelong automotive junkie, so when it comes to cars, I have to keep up with the in-house Joneses).

And worst of all: I clean my house completely before I go on vacation.

I could be talked out of doing some of these chores, if anyone cared to try a little arm-twisting. My mother worked, and had a once-a-week cleaning service, a tall blonde Valkyrie of a woman named Helga. She never said much, but her capacity for work was astounding. She certainly gave credence to the phrase “heavy lifting,” back in the day when everything was ironed (including sheets and pillowcases), all the floors were washed and waxed and furniture wasn’t just dusted, it was polished. I’m no slouch, but Helga’s ability has me beat any day of the week. I cannot imagine having a stranger in my home to clean it, though. I’d never stop wondering what they were thinking.

I look forward to the occasional day or weekend away because it forces me to break the cycle. Of course, I return from the time off in a panic, because now I’m “behind” on things and “have to” catch up. Is it too late in the year to make a resolution to do less housework, or am I doomed to run forever on the cleaning carousel, like a gerbil on speed?

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Filed under home improvement, relaxation, thought

‘Tis the season for family reunion fallout

A good family reunion is more than just a packed picnic table.

A good family reunion is more than just a packed picnic table.

A friend of mine is planning a family reunion for next year. It’s going to involve big numbers and already involves big drama.

My friend is trying to keep the attendee list to “immediate” family, meaning grandparents, parents, sons, daughters and grandkids. No distant relations, twice-removed cousins or folks known as “Uncle” or “Auntie” but whose actual blood ties are unknown.

His mother was one of eighteen children, and each of those eighteen children have an average of six children each. And that generation of children all have children now.  My friend figures it’s somewhere around 250 people to invite to this party.

That’s not a party, that’s a full-scale invasion. He was asking for advice as to where to have the party. I’m thinking he needs his own empty country, complete with hotels, campsite and industrial-sized cooking facilities.

To be fair, he is not paying for any of this, is considering using a state park, doing potluck and is looking for a central location to make everyone happy. Except that the words “family reunion” and “making everyone happy” don’t belong in the same sentence, because it’s about as likely as a guarantee of perfect weather.

He’s posted the reunion information on Facebook, and there’s already whining about who can come and why others are not invited, how cousins are related to one another, whether “other” dads or moms are invited (some of my friend’s family members have multiple kids with numerous partners  inside, outside and alongside conventional marriage), and this is before getting all these people to agree to one really massive potluck. Because 250 people cannot simply be told, “Bring a dish.” You wind up with soda, fried chicken, potato salad, napkins and not much else. So food has to be assigned, either by alphabet or family. Then there’s where to stay, the games people can play (to prevent gossiping or arguing about religion and politics during the reunion) and how to get there via car, plane or  train.

I really want to attend this reunion. I want to be there for the hair-pulling, name-calling, manicured nail breaking catfights and of course, that booty-and-ball-busting moment when the police show up and tell the adults to behave. Meanwhile, the kids will raid the tables, fill their plates, eat like deprived hyenas and go play with whatever they can find, while making new friends among this family. The kids know better than to fuss. There’s food and new people in a place that merits exploring, and that’s all they need.

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Filed under Children, family, food, Relationships