Thanks Giving

I have this vision in my head of my large extended family sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner, dressed in our finery, and enjoying our meal at a lovely table decked especially for the holiday. The tablecloth is perfectly pressed, the silver flatware is polished, the dishes all match and so do chairs around the table, and the centerpiece includes a graceful row of candles mixed in with some festive flowers or fruit. That’s the vision.

The reality is not quite so lovely. In the first place, not all of our family can make it for Thanksgiving. Our older daughter will not be home. One sister is traveling. Another sister lives very far away and is working to get her own brood together for the holiday, and my brother and his wife will be with her family this year. But we will have a very nice assortment spanning three generations all at the same table, since one daughter will be home with a friend, one sister is coming with her family, my nephew, niece and her boyfriend will join us, and mom will make the short trip as well. So our crew is a little short this year. Never the less, we will serve dinner for thirteen people.

Thirteen people. Now, I am not superstitious, and happen to believe that any number of people can create a festive holiday event. But thirteen is only slightly awkward.

We do not own thirteen matching plates. We have eleven in one set (there used to be twelve but one broke), seven in another set, and ten in my grandmothers old china that I rarely put on the table for fear that more of it will break. So the dishware will not match.

All of our children have long since outgrown a “kids table.” Sometimes, they not so secretly enjoy eating at a kids table still, since it gives all of the cousins a chance to connect without having any of the grownups within close listening range. But we will not do a kids table this year. We will put our regular table end-to-end with a drop-leaf table that normally stands in the living room, drape a couple of matching tablecloths over them, and pull up as many chairs as we can.

The chairs will not match. We have six regular dining chairs, a set of antique end chairs always on standby, and a slew of folding chairs from two different sets that won’t match, either. Oh well. At least we’ll have space for people to sit down to eat, even if it will be a bit tight.

We do actually have matching silverware for as many as twenty people, thanks to my sister who lives far away. It turns out that my sisters and I, though we have very different perspectives on things too numerous to mention, sometimes exhibit very similar taste, possibly even identical. When my husband and I got married we had a small wedding and did not register for gifts like fine crystal stemware or silverware. But later on, after we had been married for several years, we found some simple and lovely silver plated flatware on sale and bought it. My sister later got married and did the whole gift registry thing, and chose the SAME silverware. We were both blissfully unaware of this, until she spent one holiday with us and saw our good silverware in use. A few years later, she inherited some flatware from her husband’s side of the family, and gifted me her entire set. I think of her fondly every time I open that silver chest and polish the silverware.

Side note: Even though I don’t like housekeeping, I love to polish silver. To me, it represents both instant gratification and a small spark of luxury in an otherwise mundane life.image

The centerpiece will be some supermarket flowers I arranged into a container, and a couple of votive candles in mason jars. As for finery, I am confident my nephew will wear his usual jeans and baggy shirt, and I’ll try to throw on some decent slacks and a nice sweater once the major kitchen work is behind me.

But here’s the great news: vision for a lovely table or not, we will have family and some friends together. Our family has much for which to be thankful this holiday.  We will express our gratitude for the food we consume. We will share some good wine and good conversation. And before the young people run off to do something else, they will have experienced once again what it means to be a family and to break bread together.

I wish you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving!

A Marriage Made in the Neighborhood

Some real love stories are better than anything written for Hallmark movies. We had the wonderful opportunity to attend a wedding today that united two amazing young people in marriage. They are really special, and that’s due in no small part to their families. We have the great honor to know both families. In fact, the bride grew up across the street from us, and the groom’s mother bought the house next door to us eleven years ago. This truly is a romance made in the neighborhood.

When we first met the bride, she was a toddler, not even two years old. She and her older sister are just a little more than a year apart. Somewhere in our collection of photos we have a picture of these two adorable little blond girls playing with the puppy we got back in 1987. Their younger brother came along several years later, and became a playmate to our oldest daughter who had been born just eight months earlier.

It’s a testament to our neighborhood that some people simply choose to never leave it. The bride’s family outgrew their home, so they moved two houses up the street. A few years later after we outgrew our home, we bought the house next door. That’s when we sold our first house to the groom’s mother and they moved into the neighborhood.

Handsome groom and beautiful bride!

Handsome groom and beautiful bride!

The bride went to college, but then moved back home to start her career in her hometown. She lived with her parents, but when the house across the street from them went up for sale her dad said to her, “if you don’t buy that house, I’m going to.” So she did, and she moved across the street.

The groom went to college, then started his career and later bought another house across town. But his mother still lived in the neighborhood, where he couldn’t help but notice the very attractive young woman up the street.

These two started dating, and eventually he moved in with her in the house across the street from her parents and two houses away from his mom. It’s a neighborhood love story.

After seeing them together, and witnessing their marriage vows, I am pretty sure this is just the beginning of their story. They are fun together, and they are very good friends. We wish them many years of happiness as their love story continues.

Give Me Coffee or Give Me Death

There are plenty of things I find offensive. Coffee cups are not on that list.

If there is a “War on Christmas” (which I doubt), we can attribute it to the crass commercialization that has absconded with a religious holiday and created an economic machine that drives a great deal of our gross national product. Sadly, we have come to expect a “Merry Christmas” on everything from soup bowls to bath towels. If you truly want to keep Jesus as the reason for the season, you might want to reconsider whether there should be a Merry Christmas label on everything under the sun. You’ll find it if you look. How do you feel about boxer shorts or scanty little thong underwear that say “Merry Christmas?” Not only are those items in poor taste, they sincerely denigrate a religious holiday.

I have written before about the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays.” I absolutely do say “Happy Holidays” and I mean it, because it is a catch-all greeting appropriate to use when Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s all roll into a single event that lasts for weeks on end. I also say “Merry Christmas” when I mean to say it, at Christmas time. Not at Thanksgiving and not at New Year’s.

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to shorten the Christmas season so that we can really appreciate it for what it is? Can’t we celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and keep that feeling in our hearts year-round as it is intended? Or do we need retailers to tell us that we have to give up our completely non-secular national day of Thanksgiving to head to shopping malls and big box stores because four weeks is not long enough to get our Christmas shopping done?

Starbucks image via PBS.org

Starbucks image via PBS.org

Starbucks got it right. They created a very simple, yet festive, coffee cup for this very long and drawn out holiday season. It is designed to offend no one. A Jew, a Muslim, or a Buddhist can enjoy a cup of coffee without feeling as though they have been beaten over the head with a secular religious holiday that is not their own.

Statistically, Christianity has grown in the United States. The US Census Bureau does not ask mandatory questions about religious affiliation, but it does collect information that is provided on a voluntary basis. According to the 2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the number of US residents who claim to be Christian has grown by more than 14.6-percent in the past 20 years. In fact, all religious affiliations have reported an increase, except Judaism, which is down. In this country, there is no war on Christianity and no war on Christmas.

If you’re offended over a coffee cup, I strongly encourage you to stop for a moment and consider how you would feel if you were actually oppressed. Think about the throngs of migrants pouring into Europe to escape persecution in Middle Eastern countries. Consider the cultures where women are truly second class citizens and treated as personal property. Think about children living in poverty in this country and around the world who go to bed hungry for nights on end or maybe don’t even have a bed to sleep in.

Here’s a reality check: the things that are most offensive are not inanimate objects, they are behaviors. Bigotry is offensive. Hate is offensive. War is offensive. Poverty is offensive. Purposeful damage to human beings, animals, and the environment is offensive.

There is a lot of injustice in this world. A coffee cup has nothing to do with it. If you disagree, meet me at Starbucks and we’ll discuss it over a Venti Blond Roast.

Moving Mom

It’s a challenge raising an older parent. They don’t listen. They have a mind of their own, and insist on making their own decisions.

After many weeks of work and planning, mom is moved into her new home. I think she’s going to like it. Last night we moved in her clothes and her groceries, and today the movers came to take the furniture from the old house to the new house. It will take her a little while to get as organized as she would like to be, but she’ll do it.

Just over three years ago we had a big scare with mom. She had a terrible fall down some stairs and suffered a broken neck. Her injuries were serious, but with patience and excellent medical care she recovered. Ever since then I have encouraged her to consider one floor living. In these intervening years her knees have been more and more troubling to her, and walking up and down the stairs in her home has become harder and harder.

I admit to being an instigator in her decision to move, but honestly never thought that it would mean moving into a new home. An apartment seemed like a good idea. I have been telling mom for years now that because she is in pretty good health for an 85-year old, she is still able to live life on her own terms. She has the ability to make her own decisions to protect the lifestyle she wants, which includes maintaining her social life, some volunteer work, her garden club, her book club, the concerts she enjoys attending, the custom sewing and alteration work she enjoys, and the piano lessons she began just a few years ago.

So, it turns out that mom was actually listening to me, and chose to make a decision. She made an informed decision. She looked at all of the apartment options in her community, but the drawbacks meant giving up her piano and her sewing work. She even looked into having one of those electric chair lifts installed on the staircase at her old home, but it was impossible on her very curvy stairs. Then she turned to looking at single story homes. There aren’t many in the town where mom lives, at least not many in her price range. But she found one and invited me to come along for a look. It had tremendous potential under the heavy plush carpet, palm leaf ceiling fan, and dark and dingy brick fireplace. We went through it carefully together then went back to her house for a very long talk about the ramifications.

“Do you think I can do this?” Mom asked.

“You won’t be in it alone,” I assured her. “I’ll help.” I never commit for my siblings, but fortunately for mom and for me, two of my sisters also jumped in with both feet to help out.

Mom's new living room.

Mom’s new living room.

Throughout the process of going through her things to decide what to keep and what to get rid of, selling the old house, and getting the new house ready to move into, mom developed a little anxiety. So did I. Along the way, the little pep talks I gave her were as much for my benefit as hers. “It’s an adventure,” I kept repeating.

It has been an adventure, and it’s not done yet. She is planning a complete kitchen remodel over the next few months. The house was built in 1950, and it is apparent that the kitchen hasn’t been upgraded since. But the new home is about two thirds the size of the old one, will be less to clean and take care of, has a very small yard, and will suit her lifestyle just right.

Honestly, mom knows that very few people take on a project like this in their mid-80’s. Very few people would have the guts to try. I admire mom for taking it on. She knows she couldn’t have done it alone, and is grateful for the help of her daughters. We are happy to know that mom will be safer, while maintaining her independence. It’s a win-win. It’s an adventure, for an 85-year old and for her daughters.

Tonight, after her major pieces of furniture were arranged, her computer was set up, most of her kitchen stuff was put away, her bed was made, and the bathroom furnished with towels and toiletries, we stood together for a moment to take it all in. After a very busy day, the new house looks like hers.

She has known for some time that she could no longer cope with the stairs at her old house. Sure, I prodded her along towards a decision, but in the end the decision was hers. I think she made a good one, and hope she enjoys this new place for many years to come.