T minus 8 Hours to Our Top 6 Thanksgiving Traditions!

2012-11-22 16.03.09

The last leaf! Thanksgiving walk 2012

The last few days have been busy ones and though they haven’t been hurried, they have been busy. I have had two work projects delay until they were happening simultaneously and between altered schedules, the unexpected, and the toil of everyday, we have been more of a tag team than a couple. While we’re a great tag team, I really don’t like it when that happens.

But now the leaves are raked, the fireplace is clean, and work; after tomorrow, work has been told to buzz off for the next four days. We are ready for what I have been calling the Thanksgiving Relax-o-thon. Our Thanksgiving isn’t traditional. For starters, it is just we two. Turkey is only involved as a leftover, and the main course is chow fun and spring rolls. Just saying it makes me smile. This is the most relaxed, low pressure holiday imaginable. Here is what I am most looking forward to:

6.      Being cozy at home with a fire crackling and a mug of cocoa. The pure joy of this is augmented by the weather we are having. Cold and wet and icy; perfect for being home and watching movies.

5.      Thanksgiving Dinner of Perfect Bites. Rather than an enormous thanksgiving feast we have decided to make just the perfect bites of the things we like the most. We like surprises, so I can only tell you mine–salty, green Sicilian olives and stinky cheeses. These will be an appetizer (more like evening grazing) before the dinner. The main course is Chinese food, T originated this tradition. Talk about no pressure Thanksgiving!

4.      Baking. Even though I’m not making dinner, I couldn’t get through Thanksgiving without baking. This year I am making two things: a classic pumpkin pie, so I can call my dad and have a piece over the phone and a two loaves of brioche. One loaf will be for turkey sandwiches on Friday, and the other will go home with a great teenager who is coming over tomorrow after school to sort through our surplus CDs. I am pretty excited about making both.

3.      Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Confession time—I have been watching every sickeningly sweet, late night, cable channel Christmas movie I have come across for weeks. These uncomplicated movies full of twinkling lights and happy endings have been warming me up for the real holiday movies to kick off.  Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the official movie our Thanksgiving weekend. We quote the movie all year long and it never ceases to make me laugh almost to the point of tears. The end of this scene in particular makes me lose it every time. 

2.    Talking to my Family. I am hopeful that my mom has decided not to cook. I am crossing my fingers that she is ordering a turkey from one of the terrific BBQ places near her house, and then powdering her nose with flour before she brings the pie (and Redi-Whip) to the table to the oohs and aahs of my brothers. Just when I think I have swayed her to take it easy, she will change her mind (relaxing is not her style!). I will know all the details for certain when I call them with my own piece of pumpkin pie and I can’t wait.

1.      Thanksgiving Weekend Date Night. A long walk in the crisp air with the one I love is enough to make my heart burst with gratitude for the life I get to live. A few years ago, we started taking a Thanksgiving walk (I am sure we were motivated to burn off some of the pie we planned to eat) and now it has become a tradition. When the world starts to spin almost out of control and deadlines, and chores, and responsibilities come calling, were good at reminding one another to breathe and to laugh. In the quiet moments, it feels great to say thank you for that and to just enjoy being together.

 A view of the lake from our Thanksgiving walk 2012.

Geese on the lake;
from our Thanksgiving walk 2012.

I will get back to living in the moment, but for now, I am filled with anticipation for my top six–and right on the heels of Thanksgiving, the Christmas tree lighting and caroling. Commence the Christmas season!

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“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago.”

imagesAt my house, we have been talking a lot about what it means to really savor the season. The conversation keeps winding back around to one thing: being mindful about how time is spent–and how it isn’t spent. Its amazing how refreshed I feel on the nights we put Christmas music and read in front of the fire, rather than putting on the TV. Reading is one of those activities that requires all of your attention. All of your focus. I think that is one of the reasons why it is so rewarding. It also allows you to wonder and imagine in a way that the Internet doesn’t. Of course, the Internet is on my top ten list of things I am thankful for. It is great to be able to search and find the answer to any question in the blink of an eye, and it is wonderful to learn about things far an wide from the comfort of your sofa, but it takes away time from seeing things with your mind’s eye.  Its good for the soul to just imagine, without having Google there to inform every nook and cranny of your thoughts.

I hope you find sometime to wonder and imagine and read. And so you don’t have to spend your unhurried moments looking for something to read, heres is one of my Christmas favorites: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It is complete with off-beat relatives, the sounds of jingly dimes, a dose of reality, a touch of politics and the joyful, expectant feeling of Christmas.  Without further adieu….

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. 

To keep reading, click here. 

Chicken Wing Dip. Because Its Delicious and I am from Buffalo

I have long since given up finding good wings south of Buffalo. There was a brief and shining moment when we found good wings at a great old neighborhood restaurant within walking distance from our house. They had a fireplace, loud live music from time to time, and the bartenders knew our wing order as soon as we sat down. But alas, they lost their lease, and again, we find ourselves wingless.

Enter Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip. It takes ten minutes to make and it saves me a trip north, and saves my boyfriend my  impassioned  tirade about what real chicken wings taste like 🙂 I offer it to you as something quick to pull together for a party. It has also stood in for dinner more than once at this house.

Step one: Gather up chicken (this is canned chicken breast),  a cup of Franks Red Hot Sauce (there is no substitute),  a cup of Marie’s Blue Cheese Dressing (this one is “light” which is kind of funny when you consider this whole dip is predicated on a block of cream cheese), one block of cream cheese, a 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, and a big bowl.

Step two: heat the cream cheese in the microwave until it is soft (about a minute).

Step three: Shred the chicken and stir into the cream cheese.

Step four: add all other ingredients and stir until smooth

Step five is choose your own adventure–you can either bake it and make it all bubbly, put it in a crockpot to serve warm, or dive in as is. I prefer the last option 🙂

Letting Christmas Traditions Bloom

AmaryllisI was talking to my mom about slowing down and unhurrying the season and we were trying to figure out the last time I wasn’t working around the clock for Christmas. We were on the phone and it was a long conversation, which is a new benefit of the unhurried Christmas.

My mom usually gets the brunt of my busyness. She always takes the time to call to make sure I am taking the time to sleep and eat and do something fun now and again, and she is met with “Can I call you back after…” or “I can’t talk, I was just about to…” or “I have been meaning to call you but by the time I slow down it has been too late.” She tells me the housework will wait when I am running on 5 hours of sleep. She tells me she will call me to wake me up if I decide to take a nap between work and an evening commitment.  Mama Mia, if you are reading this, thank you.

But I digress…

There was one time I slowed down a while—when I moved back to upstate New York and moved in with my grandparents. I worked part time raising donations for a television auction. I didn’t have a car or an alarm clock, I just fell into the staid, calm of their routine.

Every morning my grandfather said my name at the closed bedroom door and 30 minutes later there was a cup of coffee on the table for me between his mug and my grandmother’s tea cup. We bundled up and headed out in the icy air of a Buffalo winter, and listened to old music on an am station in the car. From January to May my grandfather drove my grandmother and me to work and picked us up at the end of the day.

There was not much quiet in my big, rambunctious, Italian family, but my grandfather was a font of calm for me. Somehow when I moved back I got this focused time with my grandparents that I hadn’t had since childhood, before all of the cousins and siblings were born. For the first time, I was an adult to my grandparents (or as much as a grandchild can ever be an adult to their grandparents) and our relationship grew.

Amaryllis12707That winter I bought an amaryllis and when I showed it to my grandfather, he adopted the whole project. We’re both gardeners in a family that is kind of annoyed by the mess dirt creates. Before too long, the plastic pot the bulb came with was abandoned in favor of a recycled ice cream tub. As the bulb sprouted, he stuck pencils in the soil to prop it up. And then the pencils were replaced with yard sticks. The whole operation was in the window next to his chair at the dinner table—the sunniest spot in the house for many reasons. And that bulb, our Christmas experiment, thrived.

By the following Christmas, I had moved out of their house. I had rented an apartment a little closer to the city, got a promotion and started working full time, finally gotten my license, and was on the verge of getting engaged. In all of that, I stopped to buy two amaryllis bulbs—one for his sunny window and one for my apartment. I loved having this thing we just did together—me and him. I remember running out of my uncle’s house as my grandparents started to pull out of the driveway after a visit. I almost forgot to give it to him. I handed the blub to him through the car window, standing on my toes to avoid the slush at the curb. He was genuinely happy about it. “I’ll go home and plant it now.”

Not long after that, after a quiet, eyes-forward conversation as we drove together, my grandfather, my papa, told me that he had lung cancer. I brought him a tiny Christmas tree in the hospital. He was home and back there over the Christmas season. I would go and sit with him and talk with him for the few minutes that he would be awake and he would smile and laugh and ask me to turn on the news. That was the last Christmas we had together.

I found those bulbs at the foot of his basement stairs in the spring when he passed away. The bags said “Christmas bulbs” and the year they were first planted written in his handwriting. When I went back for them a week later, someone had already thrown them away. I have planted an amaryllis and thought of him, no matter where I have been, every year since them.

My mom started planting them too. Somewhere in there, I started sending them to her for Thanksgiving and we would plant them—on opposite ends of the country—at the same time. We then spend the whole Christmas season sending one another pictures of their progress and then of the big, breathtaking blooms. I have gotten a lot of Christmas memories and cheer out of this unintentional tradition.

Slowly it bloomed...

Slowly it bloomed…

I am posting this a bit early because it is on my mind—and because I want you to take the time to plant one too. Last year I kept meaning to get to it and I didn’t. It wasn’t until my mom told me she gave my brother one to plant for the first time at his house that I eventually bought one at Target. It was the last of the batch, it was busting out of its torn paper package and it was already stunted and contorted. It did not have a good start and I didn’t have my grandfather’s sunny window. It took forever to get rooted. I was so behind the others. It bloomed around the New Year and it was gorgeous, but it wasn’t the same as taking the time to do it right. I said never again, so here is where I own up to that.

This bulb will hit the dirt on Thanksgiving. And with it will spring up another year of memories and the warmth of the season.

Angel Watching Overhead: Unbreakable JOY of Baby’s First Christmas Ornament

World's most fragile Christmas ornament.

World’s most fragile Christmas ornament.

This is my baby’s first Christmas ornament. Somewhere along the lines my mother added the date in sharpie. While I am glad to have this, it has always stressed me out.

It is thin glass with a foil-y white paint and the traditional silver cap covering the sharp glass top. I have always lived in fear of breaking it. More specifically dropping it and smashing it into a million little shards that you can never quite clean up.

This is why I have taken such care in picking the baby’s first Christmas ornament for my niece, Laura.

You see, for a long time before Lola, her mom and my bff, was able to conceive Laura, we prayed for her—a lot. I never had any doubt that Laura would come, but it took a long time and a lot of patience and Lola could not hurry it. My super achiever friend who goes out and get what she wants had to be patient and wait, because there was no other choice.

Sistine Angel Babies

Sistine Angel Babies

One December, when Lola and I were in Vatican City (I know, lucky ducks) and walking through the Sistine Chapel, I saw this relief and it stopped me in my tracks. And one of the moments I remember praying about Laura with Lola was right there. I told her that those were her angel babies and from then until now, before she was a cell, before she had a name, before she was in the world, Laura was known as the angel baby.

And while I know they would have loved each other the same, no matter how they came together, having to wait and wonder and hope for their family has resulted in an endless amazement between the three of them. It is beautiful. They seem stunned by their good fortune; and grateful. So grateful.

So this Christmas as Lola and her husband celebrate their first Christmas through the eyes of their own child, I want this angel to hang on their tree and watch over them.

Baby's First Indestructible Christmas Ornament

Baby’s First Indestructible Christmas Ornament

And as Laura bounces (and man does that little one bounce!), and laughs, and a plays with boxes and paper in lieu of her toys, I don’t want them to give the ornament angel a thought. And if Laura reaches up and yanks this little angel off the tree to see how she tastes, or if someday she throws it in a backpack to take to school, or in a box to bring to her first first apartment I don’t want her to worry.

I want them all focus all of their attention on the wonder and awe of the season and begin to create the traditions and memories of a lifetime under the watch of an angel and with all the love of me, her Zia.

PS–don’t read this post to her. I want her to be surprised 🙂

Hot Cider and The Orchard

Spending the Afternoon in an apple orchard from the cozy of my couch.

Spending the Afternoon in an apple orchard from the cozy of my couch.

Speaking of not hurrying, let’s stop to celebrate Thanksgiving.

I spent part of today re reading a book that my friend Gail passed on to me. It is the kind of book you can wrap yourself in. It makes me crave apples, an old farm house, and a good day’s work.  The book is The Orchard: A Memoir by Adele Crockett Robertson.

I wonder if you could survive a winter on apples alone...

I wonder if you could survive a winter on apples alone…

The Orchard lets you into the world of a woman’s struggle to save her family farm in New England during the Depression. There is little to be depressed about in this book. Its amazing to follow along as Kitty changes from a young Radcliffe student to a dyed in the wool apple farmer, like her father. Just a girl and her dog, she survives broken machinery, overcomes debt, and shows her spunk and moxy like a good New Englander (just like my friend Gail, actually). There are instances of incredible kindness among neighbors and even a Thanksgiving that would warm Norman Rockwell’s heart.

If you look for it on Amazon (click here), you can read the beginning of the book right now…seize the moment, but don’t miss out on reading the whole book.

I am going to send my copy of the book to another friend who needs to have it. She is one of those selfless, hardworking New Englanders, too. I want to make sure she knows I admire those qualities in her and I am thankful for her friendship. When I am done with that I am going to work on warming my boyfriend up to the idea of getting a dog.

As an aside, so that I don’t paint an unrealistic picture, I should also mention that I had to go to the dentist today, so it wasn’t all falling leaves and warm drinks today. You take the good moments where you can get ‘um!

Thanksgiving Memories Across the Pond

Amalfi on a rainy day!

Amalfi on a rainy day! That’s me on the right and my BFF, Lola on the left.

Thanksgiving has always been a time to create new traditions for me. I grew up in a very large extended family–and while I love my family, as an adult I took the first chance to excuse myself from the chaos and follow a more contemplative, relaxed, and, as long as I am being honest, quieter road.

For a while, before boyfriends, husbands, and babies, my best friend and I hopped across the pond and explored Europe. Thanksgiving is a great time to go to Europe–rates are low and its off season for London and Rome. If you are on a budget, this is a way to make the dream of going to Europe come true for a lot less money. The memories we made were worth every cent we spent. On Thanksgiving we always celebrated with a great dinner and good wine. I don’t think we were too obnoxious, but we were always happy to tell the people around us it was American Thanksgiving.

Look at the excitement of those faces! And we are on a bus to Pompeii here.

Look at the excitement of those faces! And we are on a bus to Pompeii here.

This is an excerpt from my journal at the time. It still makes me smile…and want to plan another trip:

Time in Sorrento: Hours

Gelato eaten: Who cares. Did I mention I was in Sorrento?

When we drove out of Naples and into the rocky cliffs to Sorrento. We checked into the Hotel Michaelangelo (not Buonarotti, they were all very quick to point out, another one). I took a bath in the most fantastic coral marble bathtub. After all that talk about Roman Baths in Pompei, I was thrilled to have a chance to splash around.

I thought about leaving this story out, but I have to share it.

We had dinner in the hotel. It was Thanksgiving! We decided two things–1. We were getting dressed up and 2. We were drinking three bottles of wine. When we walked in to the well appointed dining room and were seated I noticed a commotion in the corner. When I looked over, several members of the wait staff and the men from the kitchen had dashed to the door and were more or less drooling on the travertine tile. I couldn‘ t help but grin at them but them I immediately looked away. I distinctly heard a Mamma Mia (they actually say that?). Even when they are lusting after the

new girls in town, they are still calling for their mothers 😉 Anything Lola tells you about the rest of this evening is likely to be untrue. She was making things up about me kissing a hot Italian waiter. All lies. He kissed me.

Early the next morning, we were up and ready to catch a hydrofoil to Capri. Through an act of divine intervention, our day in Capri turned into a private, escorted tour to Amalfi in a Mercedes instead.

We headed up and down and around the cliffs, through the three towns of Sorrento and around the coast. From the single lane road we could see Capri and the other islands in the Bay of Naples being beaten with waves. We pressed on, stopping to take some pictures, buy some pottery and nearly give in to car sickness (seems to me our driver would speed up, hit a curve, slam on the breaks and repeat). We went through Positano and Salerno and ended up in heaven.

Amalfi is the most beautiful place on earth. The drive is not for the faint hearted, the destination is remote and to say it is paradise would be to insult it. I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough.

Three steps from the small port, there is a rail, stone steps and a pebble and black lava sand beach. I stood at that rail unable to form words. There in front of me swelling and crashing and emphatically waving hello was the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea.

When I could pull myself away, Lola and I went back to the square and took it all in. They were putting up Christmas lights around the town’s patron saint, Andrew. His feast was the next day. We wandered into a chocolate shop (mmmm. Ginger), and wandered into the winding back alley streets. We stopped to buy a present for our favorite new baby and started talking to the shop owner, Maria. Maria has two unmarried sons in their thirties. She is 62 and would like to be a Nonna. Wink. Nudge. By the end of our chat, I think I found an apartment to rent in Amalfi. So, I am going to use it. More on that when I get home.

Before we headed out, I went back to the seaside view and it had improved. There beside me, out of nowhere was an olive skinned man the Hollywood could not have cast any better. He started talking (va bene) about two men on the beach by the waves and so on 😉 When I started to leave he made the pleading gesture and asked: Where are you going bella? And you wonder why American woman leave and never come back. Lola got a beautiful picture of an enormous wave smashing into the coast. I asked our guide about a stone structure on the very, very top of the mountain and she told me it belonged to the town hermit. The town hermit! That is awesome. She also told me the townspeople used to bring food up to him every week. This made me think; perhaps he didn’t intend to be a hermit. Maybe he just did not want to have to walk down the mountain every week and lug back groceries 🙂

The ride back to the hotel, which we nicknamed the Georges V, was harrowing. We made it one piece. I spent the rest of the evening savoring Amalfi…and when Lola took a nap, I mapped out my return strategy. If (and by if, I mean when) I am ever missing, don’t worry. You will find me somewhere between Sorrento and Amalfi.

Ciao for Now…

Sigh. Those were some good days of being unhurried.

Friends we met on the road!

Friends we met on the road!

Looking over Positano.

Looking over Positano.