Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

The right way to talk turkey on Thanksgiving

Commentators discussing the 2016 presidential election have said things like, “The people spoke.”

Really? That strikes me as an overly euphemistic turn of phrase. From where I sit, we didn’t so much speak as let loose a big, ugly, collective hurl, one whose nasty contents spilled far beyond our polling places.

Frankly, we should’ve seen it coming. For more than a year our information diet consisted of gut-roiling junk, much of it doled out 140 characters at a time or in Facebook posts, because we didn’t demand anything of substance. After eating all that garbage, of course we got sick.

It’s going to take a long time to clean up this toxic mess, of course, but we shouldn’t let it touch Thanksgiving (or “Yanksgiving,” as I like to call it). This holiday should be about community, kindness, gratitude, and charity, and a meal that celebrates those things. My family will be celebrating the fact that I’m not cooking the turkey this year, for example. But I digress.

Right now a lot of people are asking how, if they’re surrounded by turkeys, they can make sure the only turkey that gets the stage on Thanksgiving is the bird on the table?

I offer two pieces of advice, the first of which was given to me by a dear friend: “When you least feel like giving is when you most need to give.” The friend in question said this when we were in the middle of an argument and the only thing I felt like giving him was a knuckle sandwich, but you know what? He was right then, and he’s still right. I forced myself to give, he forced himself to give, and slowly but surely, the giving created a positive loop and things began to get better.

What did we give each other?

  • The benefit of the doubt
  • Our full attention
  • Smiles
  • Gratitude
  • Calm
  • Kindness

We checked our snark at the door, ate humble pie, and generally acted like the adults in the room. And that’s what you should do, too.

HAHAHAHAHA! I’m sorry, I just cracked myself up, there, with that whole “adults in the room” thing. Who am I kidding? The only room we’re in right now is Romper Room, and the lone adult, Miss Sally, has gone on the lam.

Which brings me to my second piece of advice: get ready to channel your inner Mad Libber. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, someone might bring up one of those other turkeys, and when they do, you’ll need a diversionary tactic. You can’t just get up from the table – what if the pie hasn’t been served yet? – but you can change the subject, and this construction works well:

“LOOK, a [absurd noun]!”madlibs

For example, “LOOK, a UFO!” (I have another friend to thank for that one – it was his default response to any declaration of love.)

Speaking of alien life forms, “LOOK, Kanye West!” would probably work too. The more absurd, the better.

If you really want to sell it, as you’re mad-libbing, be sure to gesticulate wildly in the direction of the nearest door or window. And then steal the last bit of stuffing while no one’s looking. Go ahead, you earned it.

So you’ll survive Thanksgiving just fine. But unless you’re aiming for a career in politics, you can’t hide behind Mad Libs and diversionary tactics forever.

If you want to feel better in the longer-term, try that first piece of advice, and also consider cleaning up your information diet. Go out and get quality content yourself; don’t rely on others or social media to feed it to you. Find out where your information is coming from before you consume it. Check not only your source but your source’s sources. Not all purveyors of information are purveyors of fact, and even reliable sources get it wrong sometimes. Make your diet balanced, eat slowly, and take time to digest. And for Pete’s sake, if someone hands you a Twinkie, don’t let ’em tell you it’s kale.

Taking “winging it” to a whole new level

Several readers commented on my post about volunteering to cook the turkey for this year’s Yanksgiving at my parents’ house. Though my stint in the kitchen was not a planned happening so much as the result of a change in Mom and Dad’s travel plans, I nevertheless viewed this as a passing of the torch. Those readers seemed to view it the same way and, mindful that my track record with fire isn’t all that great, chimed in with all sorts of suggestions. They agreed wholeheartedly with my brining. They also told me to remember to bring a meat thermometer and butter, but if I happened to remember only one of those two things, make it the butter.

My friends Marvin and Gil expressed their concern by inviting me to their home Wednesday night so we could talk turkey in person. They’ve put on a big Thanksgiving spread for as long as I can remember, so I headed over there. I felt certain they’d offer me quality pointers, or at the very least a glass of wine. I sat on their sofa, a full glass of white in hand, and leaned forward in anticipation of receiving the insights only a seasoned turkey pro could offer.

“Remember to turn on the oven,” Gil said. And because Marvin and Gil are the kind of people who stop at nothing to help a friend in need, they topped off my wine.

On Thursday at noon, I showed up at my parents’ house with the star attraction –my 15.8 lb brined bird, escorted by a bottle of bubbly –as well as potatoes and asparagus, which to me are sort of like backup dancers. By 12:15, I had the bird stuffed full of apples and spices and ready for its champagne bath.

Before...

Before…

Thank goodness I stole a last peek at the recipe, otherwise I would’ve doused the turkey with an entire bottle of champagne rather than the mere 2/3 it called for. It’s one thing to ruin a turkey and another altogether to waste a perfectly good glass of champagne.

Disaster averted, I somehow managed to get the bird into the oven bag. As soon as I tied off the bag, I had my mother snap a photo of me downing the remnants of the champagne.

I texted Marvin and Gil, “Chef and turkey are both in the bag.”

They wrote back, “Keep him in plastic and you in paper. Gotta breathe.” I have such supportive friends.

I plopped the bagged bird into the roasting pan my mother’s been using ever since I can remember. It’s black with white speckles that are either decorative or a function of the fact that the pan has spent a lot of its life in my parents’ basement near paint cans. I’m sure there are better and fancier pans out there, but that flecked pan is the only one that holds our family traditions, so when the time came, I didn’t consider using anything else.

After loading up the pan, I stuck it in the oven and had Mom set the timer to go off every hour, expecting the turkey to take at least three hours to cook. Heavenly smells began to waft through the kitchen after an hour. I fully intended to give the meat thermometer a go at the two-hour mark but got sidetracked by an opportunity to try out some new tunes on the piano while my sister Suzi sang along. (We crushed “Piano Man,” in case you’re wondering.) I wasn’t worried, thinking there was no way a nearly 16-lb bird would finish cooking in under three hours anyway.

When the timer sounded at the third hour, I pulled out the turkey and popped in the thermometer. Turns out my gold-plated, free-ranging bird was advanced in every respect, including done-ness. While I suppose it’s better to cook a turkey to within an inch of its life instead of your family’s, I worried that it might be too done. We raced to get the backup dancers caught up with the star, and by 4:45, the stage was fully set. We took our places and gave the usual thanks for family, friends, and freedom from salmonella.

If I were rating my first effort on a 100-point scale, broken down into three categories –texture, taste, and artistic impression –here’s how I would grade myself:

...after!

…after!

  • Texture (possible 30 points): 23. The dark meat had perfect texture. The white meat? While no one would have bitten into it and mistaken it for a Topsider, it didn’t exactly melt in your mouth.
  • Taste (possible 40 points): 40. Maybe the brining had something to do with it, but I choose to give full credit to the champagne, mainly because doing so gives me license to douse all future uncooked poultry with a bottle of bubbly. And the gravy? So otherworldly good it has visited me in my dreams.
  • Aesthetic appeal (possible 30 points): 22. It came out all in one piece and would generally be recognized by the sighted world as a cooked turkey, so that’s a plus; however, as I removed it from the bag, some of the skin ripped off, making it look like the bird had been tossed out of a speeding car and skidded along the pavement before coming to rest on the platter. So maybe my turkey won’t be asked to pose for the cover of Bon Apetit any time soon, but it’s not a Pinterest fail, either.

I give myself an 85 overall, which is a solid B effort. Not altogether bad for winging it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take the turkeys out for a trot, but make sure you know where they’re going

Happy Elastic Waistband Day, everyone!

I’m in Richmond this year, with my sister Suzi and her crew. After a leisurely breakfast whose contents ranged from omelets to last night’s Chinese food, my parents and I set out for a walk in Suzi’s neighborhood. Mom and I love a good stroll, and Dad has become something of a walking enthusiast on finding that it helps him manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. We planned to cover four miles and then come home to clean up, watch football, and get our sloth on. I left my phone behind so I could enjoy the company and the day, free of electronic distractions.

Suzi’s been in her neighborhood since 2003.  When she moved in, it was so small that we could’ve walked the whole neighborhood in fifteen minutes, including a thorough tour of the cul de sacs. Since then, various builders have come in and expanded the ‘hood,  adding sections that look sufficiently similar to the existing ones to blend in quite well. Now, you can easily complete a four mile loop without retracing a single step.

As my parents and I walked, the conversation somehow turned to my book, perhaps because I’m preparing to do my first-ever signing event at Riverby Books in DC this Wednesday.

“This whole thing has been an incredible learning experience for all of us,” my father said, referring, I believe, to the mechanics of publishing a book. Dad’s right: the how-to’s (and how not-to’s) have taught me a lot. But the thing that really bowled me over had nothing to do with words on paper. What truly overwhelmed me was the incredible outpouring of support I got, often from surprising sources.

It all started the day the author’s copy of my book arrived and I posted a photo of the cover on Facebook. I hadn’t even spoken of the book before that, so I wouldn’t have expected anyone beyond my family to care, yet they did. Elementary school friends –people I hadn’t seen in decades and who had never before commented on anything I posted –immediately cheered me on. Brand new friends, like my pals Bud and Gareth, jumped on the bandwagon despite the fact that the driver had never been behind the wheel and had no idea where this thing was headed.

As I described these experiences to my parents on the walk today, I felt a powerful urge of gratitude for open hearts. I’ve encountered so many of them over the past forty-three years–this book thing is just the most recent example –and they fuel everything that’s good in my life.

I got lost in the warmth of those thoughts, which perhaps explains why we got lost in real life.

My parents and I had thought we were making a loop, only to discover it was more of a crazy eight. We’d gone four miles but were nowhere near home and had no idea how we might go about getting there, what with the builders having done such a masterful job blending the old and the new. We also discovered that I wasn’t the only one who left her phone at home; all of us had.

We kept walking, racking up six miles but getting no closer to home. Eventually our aimless wandering brought us into the path of a very nice four-person group that was out for a pre-gorge stroll. One of them lived a block from my sister. Even better, he had a smart phone, which enabled us to pull up a map.

It didn’t take too long after that for me and my parents to get back on track. I mentioned the whole incident to my brother when he called today.

“Between the three of you,” he said, “you have a pretty high collective IQ. But I’m a little worried about your street smarts.”

He has a point. I still feel very thankful for open hearts, but I’m really grateful that none of my ancestors was steering the Mayflower.

 

The coolest little bookstore in DC (and I'm not just saying that because they're selling my book…)

The coolest little bookstore in DC (and I’m not just saying that because they’re selling my book…)

 

Thanksgiving traditions: the Mayflower, pilgrims and…Dave & Busters?!

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. When I was a kid, I looked forward to the food, especially the side dishes and my mother’s gorgeous, homemade apple and pumpkin pies. (I still view turkey as nothing more than a platform for gravy and an excuse to heap piles of Mom’s signature mashed potatoes and stuffing onto my plate.)

The older I got, the less I cared about traditional trappings of the holiday and the more I appreciated the way it brought together people I love. As my siblings married and had kids, our annual numbers waxed and waned such that one year, my parents and I were the lone Yanks celebrating together. We decided to abandon tradition altogether and opted to have dinner out at Corduroy, a terrific restaurant in D.C. It felt a little strange at first, but it didn’t take us long to warm up to the idea of spending no time in the kitchen whatsoever. And it wasn’t too hard to sacrifice a week’s worth of leftovers in exchange for not having to wash a single dish. We enjoyed ourselves so much we did it again the next year.

Then there was the year my parents, my brother and I boarded a plane for Egypt on Thanksgiving. We didn’t care that our holiday meal consisted of chicken fried rice at the Wok ‘n’ Roll (JFK Airport branch), because we had good company.

This year the Thanksgiving holiday finds me in Richmond, celebrating with my sister Suzi and her family, along with my parents and one of Suzi’s neighbors. I arrived around lunchtime this afternoon to find Mom in Suzi’s kitchen, extracting one of her perfect apple pies from the oven. It turned out that Mom and Dad had picked up my other sister’s kids and brought them to Richmond, too, so that was an especially welcome surprise.

I was excited, expecting to wrap up my workday and then suit up to help with the prep. I did not, however, expect the kids to burst into the room where I was working and ask when I was taking them to Dave & Buster’s. This is what happens when you’re the childless aunt: they don’t ask you to make the stuffing; they give you the “other duties as assigned.” They don’t care if those other duties require you to go to the kind of place you normally wouldn’t leave your zip code for, much less make the destination of a pilgrimage.

Yet there I was at 5 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving, loading up my niece and nephews with spending money that they would either lose altogether or, in an even worse-case scenario, convert to tickets that they would later redeem for prizes. I don’t know about you, but I would rather set fire to a stack of $20 bills than wind up with a bucket full of tickets. Yet there I was, at 6:30 p.m., holding five buckets full of tickets.

Showing the kind of resilience that would have made the pilgrims proud, I took the tickets, dumped them on my brother-in-law, and got the heck out of there, claiming dinner responsibilities. I feel certain the pilgrims also would have approved of my decision to outsource dinner in its entirety to a popular Chinese joint near my sister’s place.

I returned to the house with armloads of Chinese fare, expecting to receive a warm welcome and instead getting shot at by my niece and nephews, who were wielding marshmallow guns they’d bought with their tickets. A fool and her money, quickly parted and then rapidly reunited in the form of Stay-Puft Saturday night specials: a proper turkey shoot if ever I saw one.

daveandbusters

If you can’t beat ’em, don’t join ’em. Go out for Chinese food.

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks, and Giving

[On this day meant for giving thanks, the regularly scheduled splat has been hijacked by sincerity. What can I say, maybe Philippa is rubbing off on me.  But don’t worry, the splatting will resume tomorrow.]

When I made the decision to end my marriage after just ten months, I knew my friends and family would have questions.  I braced myself for, “Are you sure you tried everything?” and “Did you really give it your best shot?”

Sure enough, as soon as I made my news public, questions came pouring in.  But not a single person asked me if I’d tried hard enough.  Instead, the people who love me flooded me with countless variations of one simple question: “How can I help?”

It came to me in forms like:

  • Do you need a place to live?
  • Would you like me to listen?
  • Can I remind you that you’re special and wonderful?

The very people who didn’t wait for me to seek their help didn’t wait for me to answer their questions, either.  They simply gave.  Their acts of generosity showed up as:

  • A finished basement to live in and the world’s best (and youngest) roommates to keep me company
  • Shoulders that shook as we cried together
  • A hilarious getaway to Gettysburg to ride horses and scramble for a place to stay when the TraveLodge turned us away
  • Ears that listened without fatigue and with complete faith in me
  • Lovingly prepared dinners
  • A lockbox and real estate advice that helped me survive For Sale By Owner
  • Couches and guests rooms in all kinds of places
  • Phone calls
  • Letters and cards
  • A “Do-Over” 40th surprise party
  • Laughter, in unlimited quantities

When I tried to express my gratitude for this unsolicited outpouring–the thing that made the worst time of my life somehow also the best — my loved ones told me they were thankful for me, for our relationship, and for a chance to give back.

As a result of that experience, I’ve begun to equate gratitude with generosity.  The best way I, or anyone, can show appreciation for what we have –walls and a roof that shelter us, clothes that warm us, food that fuels us, and, most important of all, relationships that sustain us – is through generosity, especially of spirit.  Give things that no one could ever have too much of, like smiles, the benefit of the doubt, encouragement, your full attention, and your gratitude.  Give whatever you can, however you can, as often as you can, simply because you can.