Thanksgiving Dinner

Have you ever noticed that most restaurants don’t serve turkey unless it is a holiday? The first and only time I ate Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, someone took my order, cooked my food, served it to me, and it all felt very very wrong. Restaurants are for celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, or because it has been a long day and there is nothing in the fridge, but Thanksgiving dinner is more than a meal. It is about giving thanks for each other through the process of travel and food shopping and football and setting the table and taking out the trash, and laughter, and occasional shouting.

More than ever this year, a number of people I know are opting to dine out at a restaurant for Thanksgiving. They say it’s easier. I say they are missing the point. Criminals surely think that stealing is easier than earning something themselves. Cheaters think copying answers is easier than studying, and Hollywood obviously thinks remaking an old film is easier than coming up with a new idea, but is easier better? Rarely. I believe making time and putting in the effort reflects what is important to you.

At our house, the November holiday includes three generations of family and friends sharing a potluck of holiday food, but the celebration begins long before the turkey roasts, the pies bake, and the house fills with the memories of tradition. When the first crisp fall days call summer to its end, emails fly around cyberspace asking who will be home for the holiday? There is a lot of planning involved. Where does everyone sleep? How much food do we need? With so much to think about, I’m not opposed to shortcuts. No need to tear up bread and chop onions for stuffing, Stove Top works just fine. Though I always peel and boil potatoes before mashing, instant will suffice. I’m even forgiving of store bought pie. The reward comes from demonstrating how thankful we are for the good in our lives and for each other by contributing to and sharing in the meal. Sitting down at the table together is the opportunity to take pride in each other, and it always leaves me feeling grounded, centered, and humbled because I can’t achieve it alone.

Though it can be a lot of work for a single meal, Thanksgiving offers great rewards. My most memorable Thanksgiving was during semester abroad in college. The group consisted of nine Americans-all strangers to me on day one. I was lonely and homesick in the first few weeks, but somehow in the makeshift dorm kitchen, and with the help of the University which provided the “turkey” (actually a chicken, they don’t have turkey in Japan) we cobbled together a feast for twenty eight. Our Japanese guests celebrated the totally American holiday for the first time, and I celebrated the first Thanksgiving without my family, but in the process, these strangers became my foster family, and even with an impostor turkey and frozen peas, the day was filled with laughter and love. Thanksgiving traditions bond people together long after they are physically apart.

For anyone scheduled to meet at a restaurant this Thursday to spend an hour or two at a meal just like any other, think twice. If you’d rather enjoy a home cooked meal and make some new friends, let me know. We always have room for one more 🙂

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Is My Dog Sexist?

My dog loves me. She follows me around when I’m home. She sleeps on my bed. She obeys my commands (unless I tell her to stay and then walk out of the room. She can’t stand to have me out of her line of sight). None of this is unusual. Dogs adore their masters. I feed her. I walk her. When her paw hurts, she offers it to me to fix. When the skunk sprays her, she submits to me to rid her of the stink. I provide her whatever she wants or needs, but there is one exception. It’s my Dad. On a normal day, the dog doesn’t pay Dad much attention at all. If he reaches out to pet her, she will sometimes move away and other times allow it depending on her mood. She doesn’t dislike him, but he clearly makes her nervous. Then yesterday, I come into the living room and my dog is curled up on Dad’s lap as hail from the storm outside pelts the windows. A clap of thunder sends my dog running to find Dad every time. No amount of cooing or cuddling from me will do. I do not understand this especially when a storm rolls through in the middle of the night, and she jumps off my bed to find him.

She doesn’t seem to realize that he can’t protect her any better than I can. He is nearly 84 years old and has the physical strength of a 7 year old girl. He doesn’t see or hear well, and he smells like an old guy. How do I describe that smell exactly? Well, it is similar to the scent of rotting pumpkins or wet bales of hay in the Fall. Since smell is relied on by canines, I’m sure she understands the implications of his aroma, but still he is her ultimate protector. Is it because he is a man? Do dogs display gender bias? I Googled the concept and got zero hits. Why has no one studied this? Would a male dog gravitate toward a male or female human when feeling threatened? I would chalk this up to one of life’s unexplainables, but in the past 10 years, I’ve found my dog to be purely predictable. There is no mystery in her method. Therefore, I know there is some answer to my question. When she and I lived alone (without my Dad), she hid under the bed during thunderstorms (still not relying on me for comfort). I look down at her and then up at him. He is very tall. Does she think he can fix the thunder because he is closest to the problem? That sounds like dog logic. Get the tall guy to turn it off, and if he has trouble, offer him a ladder. By running to Dad, she is selecting the appropriate person to cater to her needs. My dog isn’t sexist, she is just smart!

Choose Your Own Adventure

I had tremendous friendships growing up-powerful bonds so deep that my friends felt like an extension of my family. The early years often felt like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, and no matter what form the discoveries, experiments, physical and emotional growth and turmoil took, we did it together. Our shared history cemented us, and we naively believed it could last for ever never acknowledging the gray hair, wrinkles, and change to come. You can’t predict when or how, and you can never be prepared for the affects, but as life unfolds and forces choices, change ensues. People get pulled apart. Cemented bonds begin to crumble. New adventures begin with different people. One day the mirror reflects those gray hairs and wrinkles, and when you turn to laugh about it with those you once loved best, some are missing, and others seem like imposters standing in place of friends you used to know.

 

It wasn’t like flipping a switch. Friendships rarely begin or end in an instant. Startling changes normally ignite a desperate rush toward the familiar, like grasping for a life preserver. The most insidious changes happened slowly, over time. So, when did my childhood friendships began to unravel? My best guess is college: the curious combination of drastic change combined with subtle transition. Four years of physical separation from the people who had been a part of everyday was also four years of new and exciting challenges and experiences. Four years away from the usual safeguards doubled as a vast ocean of possibility. College was packaged so brilliantly, I dove in gladly and ignored the ring buoy tethered to the dock in case of emergency. Four years of college showed me that I could go it alone and I released my grip on the supports I’d previously held so tightly. I was strong, powerful, and independent. I didn’t notice how far the tide was carrying me away from my old life.

 

After college, I reconnected with childhood friends and stood witness as they married strangers. None of us stopped to think about what was lost because the gains seemed greater. The circle was expanding, wasn’t it? No one recognized marriage as a defining threshold. My friend became the spouse of someone else and no longer shared daily adventures with me. When the children arrived, the couple became a family. A new cycle began and replaced all that came before. But I never crossed the threshold of marriage, and without traditional means to restart the cycle, I was abandoned in a sea once filled with laughter.

 

I see my old friends sometimes, but the tides have carried us far apart. As I wave and smile, I barely recognize them and hear only the combined murmur of their family voice. I realize they remember me as I was and cannot see who I am now. At first, my individuality reflects harshly in the bright light of middle age, but when my eyes adjust, I see that the discoveries, experiments, and growth shared shoulder to shoulder with childhood friends was meant to be a launching pad. Like “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, the key is to pick the path that will extend the story. With no spouse and no kids, my story is wide open. Though my friends disappeared down long corridors without me, my adventure is ongoing. Which door will I walk through next? And who/what will be waiting on the other side?