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Month: November 2019

Holiday with a Side Dish served Dark

It takes more than a perfect menu to make a great holiday. It takes at least one good tradition, and sometimes those come from the craziest sources.

Thing1 had graciously offered to spend his first afternoon home from college helping me with the big shopping trip for the big meal that was coming up on Thursday. The sentimental part of his brain (coincidentally attached directly to his stomach) had apparently suggested that any Thanksgiving dinner would be incomplete without now just one or two of his favorite recipes, but all of them, and he had ideas about the shopping list.

The final list included ingredients for his favorite green beans, the boys’ favorite cranberry relish, enough stuffing ingredients to feed an entire village, and, finally, burnt bottoms.

Yep, you read that right. With Thing1’s help, I finally realized that our family’s signature recipe for every holiday meal includes a big basket of buttery, flaky, burnt bottoms.  Here’s how I make them:

I start with only the best ingredients:

  • Enough tubes of Crescent rolls to meet the real and imagined capacity of two average teenaged boys (I just get what’s left in the freezer case).
  • A functioning timer
  • One too many irons in the fire (or pots in the oven as the situation permits)
  • Optional ingredients (one, maybe two, glasses of wine or a good conversation)

I roll out the crescent roll dough from the tube and then re-roll the pre-cut dough from the fat end of the triangle to the skinny end (The boys and/or their cousins often volunteer).

We then put rolls on a cookie sheet after a good debate over whether eating rolls baked on a non-stick coating or a greased metal sheet will be worse for us 20 years from now. We set the oven to recommended temperature, put the sheet in and set the timer.  I used to be tempted to set the timer a little early to keep the bottoms nice and golden, but this strategy somehow always backfire.

Someone usually pours a glass of wine, and I go back to preparing the rest of the meal, often talking with a family member or other guest about food or some other non-distracting topic like politics.

When the timer goes off, I check the oven to confirm that rolls are almost but not quite done. I set the timer for another minute or two – or, actually, I don’t – I know I’ll remember to check them again before they get too well-done just like I’ve never done for the last 23 years.

This year I deviated from the routine, setting the old-fashioned timer with the bell along with the timer on my phone. It was Thing1’s first Thanksgiving as a college man, and I wanted the dinner to be perfect. But the bell rang, and the bottoms weren’t even done.

I set out the cranberry relish and the stuffing and completely missed the buzzer on the phone. It was only as I pulled out the green bean recipe that a distinctly smoky smell made it clear that I’d done it again.

“Oh man,” I moaned and then laughed as I pulled out the first cookie sheet. To be clear, I am not the only hostess in my family cursed with the inability to serve anything but burnt bottoms in the bread basket, but, I was sure this Thanksgiving would break the curse.

I hollered the bad, but expected, news to my oldest son who blurted out what he had asserted in the grocery store when I presented the option for an alternative starchy side dish just a few days earlier:

“It wouldn’t be the holidays without a burnt bottom, Mom! Now Thanksgiving can officially begin!”

And when I thought about it each time, it wouldn’t be the holidays without at least one good inside joke.

What’s your signature dish?

 

P.S. The burnt bottoms get eaten every single year – every single one.

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After They’ve Seen Paris

“Is it always this dead on Friday nights?” The college boy had home for ten minutes and the perfunctory welcomes and unpacking were done. He had been away for less than three full months, but the question highlighted how a few months can make an entire lifetime.

“I drove through the center of town, and there was no one out– at 9 o’ clock!”

“Well, it’s almost winter,” I said. The dairy bar has closed for the season, and the school sports teams have finished their fall championships. Absent a benefit supper at one of the churches, there is little to pull people away from their woodstoves at this time of year.

This should not be a new discovery for Thing1, but after a few months of being surrounded by midnight cookie delivery restaurants (yes, that’s a thing) and pick-your-favorite-food places, he has made no secret of the fact that his tiny hometown is, well, tiny.

The tininess is what drew us to the Arlington, VT area almost 20 years ago. We know most of our kids’ friends’ parents. We see their teachers at Little League and suppers. The  country store — the only store in our valley — proudly boasts, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it,” and, for the better part of the last 2 decades, the entire family has been on board with that philosophy.

But now Thing1 is discovering the other philosophies outside our mountains and valleys — as he should, and we’re discovering that, even though he’s home for the holiday, there’s a little, adventuring part of him that may not come home again for a long time.

In my head, I knew even three months ago that, once he’d “seen Paris”, he might not come back as the confirmed country boy we’d known all these years. But knowing something in my head and watching my first-born become the adventurer he’s supposed to be adds a bittersweet sting to the cutting of yet another apron string. It’s a realization that, even as he’s making his identity, I may be on the precipice of creating a new one for myself as well.

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Been Here, Done This

Apple Maps was pretty quick about changing our navigation, and we thought the digital deities surely knew about the Christmas light tractor parade that was about to start. but it was 20 minutes to start time, and we were thoroughly stuck. There was a truck parked behind us and another in front. Thing1, back from college just the night before, walked had a few hundred feet forward to confirm that, yes, we were stuck for the next hour at least.

It wasn’t the worst place in the world to be stuck. OK, five minutes into our wait I realized I’d had one too many Diet Cokes, but the car was warm, and we knew we had almost a front row seat for when the tractor parade did start passing by.

Still, my mind managed to take me to all the downsides of the night. Wasn’t this a colossal waste of energy and resources in the face of a climate crisis on a planet whose ecosystems are threatened every which way? Couldn’t they have put a sign at the end of the road to warn us it would be closed? Surely there were better ways to waste the weekend.

And then I realized, I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now. I think of an idea for a story and then find a way to shoot it down before it had a chance to germinate. I think of an idea for a painting and instantly follow up with thousand reasons why it’s a bad one.

I’m stuck. And even though I’ve never been on this particular street in upstate New York before, I have definitely been here before, watching the signs of depression setting in.

At this point in my life, I know I’ll get through it (that was not always so). The ideas will start finding their way on paper, and the barriers will drop. But as the twinkle-lit tractors started appearing, worry about the next few weeks or months started to eclipse any pressure from my bladder.

For the past 10 years, I’ve been working at home, and, when the depression has started, there has been some room to let a few things fail. I could go a day or two without washing hair and no one would know. I could binge eat at my desk while I typed, using my DIY psychotropics to navigate through the down swings.

This year, however, is a different. This year I’m working with students, and there is no downtime. Teachers have to be on every day. Teachers in our school also have to be aware that most of our students are dealing with their own mental health issues. They are recovering from trauma. They may be dealing with their very first episodes of depression or mania, and they can’t afford for their teachers to let anything fail.

For most of my first six months teaching at our school, my experience navigating bipolar disorder has been an advantage. I don’t talk about it with students (it is not appropriate), but it helps guide my dealings with them. I can sense when someone needs a little extra help. Certain warning signs are instantly recognizable as more than just textbook examples.

But this month will be different. This month I need to get better at helping myself so that I can keep helping them. And, just as I don’t during the good times, I can’t share it with them-either intentionally or by having an off day.

The one thing I realize I want to do is find ways to help them understand that while bipolar doesn’t get better as you get older, you do learn ways to manage it. Thinking about that lesson plan seemed to make the tractors go faster and, for the first time in weeks, I thought of something I really needed to write.

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Baby Steps

One of the unexpected gifts of InkTober has been the reminder that life is more about progress than perfection.

This is the opening layout for my book “The Truth About Trolls”. Normally I’d be looking at every out of place line that I don’t love, but after a month of mad drawing, I’m learning to look for the opportunities and the successes.

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What the Heart Needs

One of the ironies of my career change to teaching English and Special Ed is that, while I feel that an English teacher should be writing with every spare minute of time (and feel more confident about writing than any other skill), in the few minutes of each day that I devote to creativity, I end up drawing.

It is what the heart wants, even if the head is saying I should/need to write. Part of me wonders if one of the pitfalls (or blessings depending on how you look at it) of a career that demands so much emotion and thought and writing is that, at the end of the day, there is only room for the emotional release that is drawing or painting.

I recently came across a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo. He had just received oil paints from his brother, and, during the year of waiting for the paint, had devoted himself to drawing. In the letter he mentioned how grateful he was for the time to draw, it helped him see the beauty in the paint so much better.

For my part, this last month of drawing has helped me see the beauty in my students and my life even better. It is not writing, but it is still a conversation with life.

I don’t know if the next season of creativity will feature brushes or strokes on the keyboard, but I do know that the main goal is to keep the conversation going, one way or another.

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