Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Want You!

The month of November is nearly over. I like November. It's starting to get colder here. The days have a nip in them until they get downright chilly like this morning. Tights and boots and summer dresses with thick cardigans pulled over them, not having to shave my legs everyday (come on, it's the little things,) Thanksgiving, all things spiced and pumpkin and festive begin, and this month that meant writing everyday here for NaBloPoMo. Some days what I wrote was fast and silly. Barely a twenty minute thought with a photo and a few words. But that's the beauty of writing every single day. The days that aren't amazing or perfectly crafted are just fine. They serve their purpose, they keep that writing muscle toned and limber and ready for when the really inspired posts come out. And there are these pieces I'm really proud of having written this month. Proud because they were difficult or important to me, reflective or funny, or just something I was excited to share.

That's the benefit of making myself write everyday. Those pieces come much more frequently when I know I have to write. I am more open to inspiration. I look everywhere for ideas. Out of the necessity to create everyday, I find myself letting a little kernel of something I would have overlooked in a different month developing into a full blown post. It also forces the perfectionist inside of me to take a break, take a breath and realize that I can't edit every post to Pulitzer prize winning perfection. And that's ok. There is a beauty in the short, dinky posts sometimes too. There is a beauty and importance in capturing a regular day instead of all the exciting trips and vacations and family visits and extravagant meals. There's beauty in the simplicity of a row of days added together to capture the feeling of what my normal life looks like. And blogging everyday enhances that for me. I don't plan to keep it up, mind you. But do I have some exciting plans for December? You bet!

Last December about 6,000 bloggers and I participated in the December Reverb project, where we wrote responses to a set of 31 prompts, one for each day of the month, reflecting on 2010 and thinking about what we wanted to manifest for ourselves in 2011. Well, the hosts of Reverb have bowed out this year and put it back on the participants to create our own Reverb groups. So that's what I'm doing. And I want you to join me!

I had no plans to participate in Reverb this year, last year the posts tended toward the new agey, slightly cheesy and repetitive. Too much manifesting and reflecting. I want more humor, lightness and whimsy in the prompts. I finished it because I had committed myself to doing it, but I didn't like it about 1/2 way through. In fact I think I complained about it rather annoyingly. My friend Kristen and I had talked about starting our own group, so why not right now?

Our Reverb group, the Reverb Broads (though men are more than welcome) is going to chuck that reflection theme since I think we are all more pragmatic and down-to-earth than new agey, and go with our own prompts, no rules, just creative and interesting. I've invited some fantastic bloggers to join us and help create prompts and write with our group. Because the more the merrier!

So if you've considered starting a blog or have a blog and would like to join us, please click here to go to our public Facebook page, like it and don't forget to post your blog address there too. Or leave a comment here to join. We'll add you to our Facebook group, our Google Reader bundle with the other bloggers and you can get writing! We'll be posting the prompts here everyday and sending them out through our Facebook page and group, you can write on any or all of the prompts that you want, the more the better, but don't feel obligated to write every single day. I've found the more I write, participate, read other's blogs and comment within groups the more I get out of the whole thing. This should be a great chance to flex your writing muscle, read some excellent work from other bloggers, and create a little community for ourselves.

We aren't interested in huge readerships or major publicity, but more interested in creating a quirky, fun, and thought provoking month of writing. If you decide to join in we have three "Writing Broads" buttons you can choose from to put on your blog, as well as a twitter hashtag " #reverbbroads11" so we can collect all of the posts more easily when you tweet. I'll be writing here everyday to promote the prompts and the other great bloggers, and do a bit of writing myself, but for now here's our growing line up of bloggers: 

Adrianne at
Amber at
Amy at
Andrea at
Becca at
Bethany at
Brenda at
Bonnie at
Catie at
Colleen at
Craige at
Dana at
Deanna at
Emily R at
Emily H at
Eva at
Jamie Sara
Jen M at
Jen W at
Jennifer H at
Jennifer at
Jenny P at
Jessica at
Julia at
Julie at
Julie P at
Kaitlin at
Kassie (me!) at right here!
Kat at
Kate at
Kathy at
Katie at
Katrina at
Keri at
Krissy at
Kristen A at
Kristen R at
Lauren at
Laurie at
Lea at
Louise at
Mallory at
Mandy at
Mary at
Matthew at
Melanie at
Melissa at
Neha at
Niki at
Rebecca at
Sarah at
Sarah H at
Sarah at 
Shannon at
Stacy at
Susan at
Tara at
Taren at
Wendy at

Check back tomorrow for our first prompt of December and please join us. Happy writing and reading!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Celebrating Fred


I believe it is a generally understood fact that most funerals are somber, serious, deeply sad gatherings. Mourning and loss and regret mixed with lots of black clothing, a minimally personal homily or eulogy from a religious figure, cold ham salad sandwiches made by the very kind church ladies, and an exhausting collection of family members forced together to grieve in a way that can feel impersonal and disconnected from the essence of the person being missed. Often staid traditions and the chilly, antiseptic quality of a floral and beige funeral home sucks all the personality and joy out of what can be a celebration of a life well lived. Which is what makes the weekend we spent in Omaha last month so special. A celebration is exactly what Joe and I had the honor of participating in, a true memorial celebration for Fred Wupper, the 95 year old patriarch of the Wupper clan.


My husband Joe's mother, Sherry, married John Wupper, Fred's oldest son, back in 1991. So John has been in Joe and his brothers' lives for more than two decades. And therefore they have been an extended part of the Wupper clan for just as long. So when John's father, Fred, passed away at the end of September, it was a true loss for the whole family. John has two younger sisters, and all three of them have a few kids, and now many of those kids have kids. Fred's family is now large, diverse and scattered across the United States and even the island of St. Martin. As Fred's health declined over the summer and early fall, John and his sisters kept the family connected and apprised of the latest news with these  thoughtful emails. Each email, weekly at first and almost daily toward the end, had a quick update and prognosis at the top, and then shared a memorable story about Fred's life. They were funny and sweet stories, and such a wonderful way to remember Fred before the inevitable advances of age weakened his energy and his health. But age never weakened his zest or exuberance for life. Right up until the end Fred loved ice cream, loved visits from his family, and kept his wicked sense of humor.


So when Fred passed away, John and Sherry and the sisters requested that all of the family come together. Come together for an entire weekend to celebrate and remember Fred and the love, commitment and passion that created his clan. So we did. We gathered in Omaha in October. We shared meals and drinks, laughs and reminiscences.




And Fred would have loved it all. Babies ran around, wine was poured, and that was all just the first night.


The memorial service was held on Saturday at the chapel of the assisted living facility where Fred had lived for the last several years. It was his chapel and he wanted his friends, staff and family to be able to gather there, looking up at sun streaming through the stained glass, seeing the corn stalks from his farm propped up next to the mums and pumpkins of a Midwestern fall and listening to the music and memories of his family and friends. A slideshow with big band music played. Many brave family members stood up and shared stories about Fred. Through tears and tight voices, grandchildren and children remembered times that exemplified Fred's tenacity, his kindness, his humor, his true love for his wife and children, his steadfastness, and many many stories involving his deep love for the healing properties of ice cream.


After the memorial, the family headed right around the corner to have an ice cream in memory of Fred. It's the most joyful and silly thing I've ever done after funeral, and it was perfect. After spilling cones and dribbling on ties, and wiping off the sticky hands and faces, we drove over to the cemetery for the inurnment.




Fred was a WWII veteran so the military presence, complete with a gun salute and flag presentation took place. It was emotional and moving. The pomp and tradition felt very appropriate and respectful in honor of Fred's service, which was a very important part of his life.




Having married into the family a little later and living out of state, I never knew Fred quite as well as I would have liked. I always enjoyed talking politics with him at holiday gatherings, he was a staunch Democrat and was famous for showing a Michael Moore documentary at his retirement community, much to the chagrin of the predominately Republican residents. He always had a good story to share. After serving as a pilot in the 1940's, Fred had a passion for flying and I remember seeing his face after he had come back from flying a glider (in his 80's!) and that look of pure joy on his face. Even later in life, Fred knew how to make the most of a day.


After the weekend spent with Fred's closest family and loved ones, I feel like I know him well now. Because they knew him so well. The respect for others, the appreciation for a perfect DQ cone, the warmth and kindness, and wise, pragmatic advice that Fred bestowed on his children and those lucky enough to know him, will always last. Fred may be gone, but his legacy is broad and powerful and he imparted a gentle strength that will always keep his family connected and comforted. I'm happy to be a part of Fred's extended clan. And now I kind of want some ice cream. I know he would approve.

All photos by Joe Sands, of course.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Peanutty Thanks

Oh, the dreaded Monday after a loooong holiday weekend is kind of evil. I have no energy, no motivation and only wish to sit on the couch and watch the super cheesy super creepy American Horror Story that Joe's cousin Dave got me hooked on. But instead I went to work like a good girl, went with Joe to pick up my car from getting some work done, went grocery shopping, hit the library, and then actually went home to cook a savory and nutritious new recipe.

We love the veggie chicken potstickers from Costco, but they aren't quite a real meal. So I found this light, veggie filled peanut-ginger noodle side dish recipe. It was creamy, nutty and slightly spicy and the perfect side for our lazy potstickers dinner. Lots of cilantro, lots of Thai chili sauce and I only modified a couple of things. So my list of accomplishments for this drab Monday have just increased. Add "yummy dinner created." Now add, "cleaned kitchen and watched TV in pajamas by 9pm like an old cat lady." All I have to say is "meow."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bubble Light Thanks

We got home last night after an excellent holiday trip to Madison. I'm thankful we were able to have all day today at home with very little planned. Other than Joe coming down with some kind of stomach flu last night and being down for the count most of the day today, Sunday was solid. I had brunch with my parents, got some Christmas shopping started, bought saltines and Sprite for the rarely ill husband after waiting in line behind the lady using 35 coupons at Walgreens and then came home and hauled the decorations and tree trimmings up from the basement, avoiding one very large, angry looking non-festive spider in the process. (I saw it eyeballing my bare feet, contemplating running over them just to make me shriek, so I grabbed the closest box of bubble lights and ran up the stairs like I was being chased. He had hidden somewhere by the time I got up enough nerve to go back down for the next box. He was hairy and conniving.)


So the house is all decorated. And now I want to sit on the couch with a cuddly blanket and hot cup of tea to watch Elf or Love Actually or Nightmare on Elm Street (just making sure you're paying attention) and relax in the festive splendor. Nat King Cole and Eddie Izzard helped entertain me while I decorated the house. It was kind of lonely doing it by myself while Joe slept or watched Return of the Jedi in our bedroom. But I only dropped the f-bomb once while putting up the pain in the ass bubble lights. It's not really Christmas in my family until someone fights or curses over a string of faulty holiday lights. And those damn bubble lights always cause trouble. But they are worth it, because now it's done and pretty and my in-laws can enjoy it all with us when they visit later this week.

Tomorrow is back to work. At least for the next couple of weeks before the holidays roll around again. This week I've got to finalize our shopping list, start working on my handmade presents and figure out what cookies and candy I'm going to make to ship off to distant friends and family this year. I'm thinking salty caramels, but the other slots are open. I'm looking for some new options. Do you have any family classic recipes you want to share? Some treat that makes Christmas Christmas in your family? But the baking will wait. Because tonight  I'm going to put on my pjs and pop a movie up on Netflix and relax the evening away while Joe watches Sunday Night Football. The last gasp of the holiday weekend. Hope you had a good one too. Because tomorrow it's back to reality.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

7 1/2 Hour Thanks

Strips of concrete, lined down the middle in bright white and yellow, to keep us all in our places, rolling down the road, passing other families and singles and grandparents heading home, cars packed with lugagge, a sad looking middle-aged man driving an empty rusty sedan with the windows cracked to let out the constant trail of his cigarette smoke, packed minivans with three tiny car seats Elmo playing on a tiny screen speeding across the miles, all of us right next each other but also entirely alone in our own bubbles. Listening to the radio, rolling across the miles and highways and towns and states. 

Casey's General Store, the Kum and Go, Conoco, McDonalds, BP, DQ, all flashing lights and greasy 10 minute fuel. Big rig drivers pump their air brakes to slow down to exit for the night. Sleeping in their cabs after a quick shower and piece of pie after dinner. We stop for gas or drinks, back in the car after stretching our legs, eyes glazed over from the miles and the stale air, making good time, reaching our destination. Keeping on track with home in mind, playing someone else's story to make our time trapped in the car speed by faster. While somehow living our own story at the same time.

The last hour feels the longest. Driving past the empty amusement park, the darkened shadows of hulking roller coasters still make my stomach flutter like a little kid. Remembering that thrill of driving past them and their impossible size looming over the highway, somehow both exciting and menacing on the horizon. They mean we are almost home. They greet us on the edge of town like a man-made mountain range in our flat prairie town. Telling us we have arrived.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Thanks

The day after Thanksgiving is usually mellow for our family. We aren't big shoppers. No one got up at 3am to hit Target. We are more of a movies and talking and snacking on leftovers kind of clan. And usually a walk. Because aren't we all usually a little desperate for some exercise after all the feasting?

After a quick visit with the grandparents before their trip back to Philadelphia. And an afternoon spent watching football, eating Texas caviar, leftovers and veggies and dip and running around after the little kids, we all wrapped up in warm jackets and gloves. Loaded ourselves in the car and headed over to a beautiful walking trail near the hotel where half of us are staying.

It was a perfect afternoon for a walk. Cloudy and crisp, the kids rode their bikes, we strolled along and chatted and enjoyed the scenery. It was a perfect little mile or so. Nice to stretch our legs, breathe some fresh air and avoid the mall at all costs. 
Tomorrow we head back home. Our holiday was everything we wanted it to be. Here was all the family, pie, brussels sprouts cooked in blue cheese and cream, long conversations about weddings and Dubstep, shared book and movie recommendations, recitation of our favorite Parks and Rec lines, and plenty of baby holding time, snotty noses and hugs from the cutest little boys I know. Big thanks to Jim and Katy, Mary Jo, Bonnie, and everyone else who made our holiday so full of thanks, joy and the pleasures of holding one sleepy baby girl so long my arm fell asleep. I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tomorrow, though I'll miss our wake up call from two little ragamuffins bursting into our room at 6:30am.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Feeding Frenzy Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving! Like a Norman Rockwell painting, today was filled with family and friends, three different turkeys- one fried, one roasted and one crockpotted. Wine flowed. Little kids ran around, played with uncles and great grandparents. Babies got passed from aunt to uncle to cousins who've held maybe one baby in their entire lives. Look at all those desserts. Insanity, delicious insanity.

Jack insisted that I take his picture, while his brother had little interest in the camera, he was busy flying planes and managing the runway on my iPad.

And now we are sprawled across couches, watching football, talking books, the frenzy of Black Friday, and getting progressively sleepier. It's been a long, delightful day. I hope you day was filled with warmth and friendship and teasing and laughter and so much food. I'm eating a caramel right now and flipping through Target ads and chatting with Jon Sands about the discount charms of Marshalls. I deem today a really great day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Between

I'm writing this in the passenger seat of Joe's car half way through our trip up to Madison for Thanksgiving. Joe is listening to one of his many tech podcasts, verbose men and women currently discussing X-men characters as cell phone brands, Android as Mystique, and I'm typing away thanks to the magic of the iPad. It's a nerd explosion up in here.

We just finished listening to an hour long episode of This American Life all about the middle school experience. Somehow it took us almost two and half hours to finish listening to this one podcast because we kept pausing the show to talk to each other. You'd think after 10 years of marriage we would already know all of each other's childhood stories, but for some reason middle school is sort of this awkward dead zone. Maybe it's the horror of being 11-13 years old, the peer pressure, the hormones, the decades that have passed since we lived out these experiences, that make us want to forget those years. But listening to middle school students talk about their daily lives and listening to other writers share their hilarious and embarrassing stories sort of broke open our memories. We suddenly started recalling clothes and friends and being bussed from one side of town to another, and hideous one piece gym uniforms, polyester swimsuits that were owned by the school and worn to swim in and then turned back in to be washed and passed out to the next class, gag. (That was Joe's memory, thank god, not mine, because the idea of shared swimsuits, frankly the idea of having to wear a swimsuit in middle school at all, is horrifying to me, in fact I think I actually had nightmares about this when I was 12.)

The stories on This American Life included an interview with a fascinating researcher who has studied the preteen/young teenage brain and helped to explain why middle school is such a painful, extraordinary and often challenging time for kids. The brain cells of 11 and 12 year olds are overproducing at a rapid rate and when that production slows around 12 or 13, those cells have to fight it out to survive, so those cells that are studying and focused and frequently exercised survive. Focused on Spanish, or music or English,  often those things that you become interested in at this age become the things the adult you is still interested in. Middle school age kids are still trying to figure out who they are, their identities aren't solidified yet. They are open and ready to try on new identities and new interests, new friends, figure out their place in the complex social strata of school. This all makes sense. 

In 7th grade I vividly remember writing a story for my English class. It was some type of first person journal written by Vincent Van Gogh. I loved writing it. I remember that feeling of making up the details and emotions around the brief bit of his story that I did know and how powerful that felt.  I can still see the compliments that my teacher wrote on the paper in her curvy red handwriting. Mrs. Komm was my teacher that semester and she was very very petite and she wore the highest heels that I had ever seen, everyday, while standing up and teaching class for 8 hours, she clip clopped down the hall and she was fantastic. I was hooked on writing. 

So yes, the learning and education and experimentation can be wonderful in middle school. That openness and lack of cynicism makes learning new things exciting and interesting. But that sudden desire to find your place and figure out who you are in the larger world, makes the social side of school so painful. The hormones, the anxiety, the unwritten social rules, the sudden arrival of "cool" and "uncool", the desire to blend in and never never stand out because to stand out is to invite ridicule, yeah, those parts aren't nearly as fun. 

I had good friends in middle school. But I also took part in those "mean girls" activities too. Excluding friends from the lunch table for no good reason. Struggling to french roll the perfect Guess jeans so I could look just like the drill team girls did. Getting uninvited from my friend's birthday party because her mom wouldn't let her invite more than 12 girls and I would have made it 13 then she ran off giggling to a group of our friends and I could hear her repeating what she'd told me, confirming for me that it was a lie, and laughing. Talking about friends behind their backs. Picking and teasing and not bullying, but not being nice always either. I don't think I was a "mean girl" often, but I was too inside my own head, letting my own self esteem and anxiety drive my actions. But I was 12. 

Middle school is a no man's land. You aren't a kid anymore. You become aware suddenly of the rest of the world and at the same time terrified about where you fit in inside of that world. You lack the maturity of an adult to deal with those anxieties and fears, and so you act stupid, sometimes cruel. I wish at 12, I had known that almost everyone was nervous and uncomfortable at that afterschool dance. That everyone wanted to slow dance with someone and were equally scared that it would happen and that it wouldn't. 

At 12, I was still secretly playing with Barbies. I had a Coca-Cola swimsuit with a little skirt. I though that spending the night at a friend's house, playing with the Quija board, watching Erasure, Madonna and Living Colour videos and then doing each other's hair was the ultimate way to spend the evening. I was in the chess club, but only because I had been sick on the club selection day and all of the other clubs were full. The constant rumor mill that flowed through those halls, sharing a locker, figuring out how to talk to boys without turning bright red (I still haven't figured that out.) Suddenly capable of self reflection, trying things on to see if it's you, open and flexible, picking friends for the first time, not sure who you are yet, but not yet jaded.

I can still feel that self conscious 12 year old inside of me, nervously standing in gym class, wearing that itchy gray polyester, my required t-shirt with my name written in block letters across my growing chest, waiting to learn how to dance a waltz with a boy almost eight inches shorter than me. My palms are sweating just thinking about it. That tall, awkward girl, who bumped her elbows and knees on everything, is still inside me somewhere, I'm just thankful I never have to attend middle school again, because I'm pretty sure my jeans aren't nearly cool enough.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stuffing Your Face Early

Dry brine prep or aka Joe feels up a turkey 
How are you cooking your thanksgiving turkey? Maybe you're going with a tofurkey or maybe a ham just to mix it up. Maybe you've decided that deep frying is the way to go. I hear it is the most delicious way to serve turkey. But if you haven't yet bought the deep fried turkey equipment or maybe your co-workers forced you to watch the horrifying videos of idiots cooking frozen birds in overfull pots of oil and then setting their decks on fire instilling in you a new deep-seated fear of setting your house or self on fire while 25 of your closest family members watch, might I suggest dry brining? 

There's some scientific mumbo-jumbo explaining why dry or wet brining works and makes for a super juicy super flavorful turkey, something about opening the pores or saline transfer, I don't know, I'm not Alton Brown, so I can't explain it, but he does, here. I just know that based on entirely anecdotal evidence, it's totally true and absolutely the best turkey I've ever had. Here's the recipe Joe used and the flavored salt recipe as well. It's easy as long as you start early enough and it doesn't need to involve an enormous bucket of water taking up all of the space in your fridge like wet brining does. And Joe got to use the mortar and pestle, he was very excited about this. And he will give me a resentful, "why did you say that? I wasn't that excited." look, and we will all know that I'm right.

Mmm, pie

No faux Thanksgiving is complete without some kind of pumpkin based dessert. I like traditional pumpkin pie. I just know that I'll be having some scrumptious pumpkin pie in a few short days. I went with a lighter, double layer treat instead. One layer Cool Whip, cream cheese and sugar, then topped with pumpkin, vanilla pudding and more sugar, all poured over graham cracker crust. No baking, no oven, just two bowls, two layers, and two spoons to lick when you are done. Pop those pies in the fridge and four hours later you have yum. Here's the recipe. My co-workers gave their stamp of approval to this pie at our potluck on Monday. So you don't just have to trust me. More Cool Whip on top if you like a little excess, and isn't that the name of the game this time of year?

Apple Sausage Cornbread Stuffing
Somehow I managed to marry a man who doesn't like stuffing. Or as he would call it "soggy, mushy bread." Why waste your time on that when there's mashed potatoes or green bean casserole? But this stuffing recipe was so good, he had leftovers and actually complimented my soggy, mushy bread. I borrowed this recipe from Pioneer Woman's site and then modified the heck out of it. No mushrooms, swap french bread for some whole grain bread, add a little apple cider for the wine, since I forgot to buy wine at the store and I'm too lazy to go buy it just for "soggy bread," and slightly spicy pork sausage instead of italian sausage, because the same person who doesn't like mushrooms or soggy bread also hates fennel in his sausage. This stuffing was fantastic. Sweet and savory, crunchy bits on top and moist and herby on the inside. Plus it has this warm golden color from the turmeric. But then again, I love some soggy, mushy bread as long as it's got a little sage and some apples. (Side note: after making cornbread in a cast iron skillet for the first time I will never make it any other way, it was perfect. Plus I felt like someone's tough, no-nonsense grandmother cooking on the farm with these ridiculously strong forearms acquired from lifting cast iron skillets at every meal.)

Roasted brussels sprouts with shallots and balsamic vinegar

If you'd told me five years ago that I would willingly and joyfully be making brussels sprouts as a side dish for our mini-thanksgiving, I would have laughed in your face and told you that they taste like tiny cabbage scented sweat socks. But I was wrong. I had only ever eaten steamed brussels sprouts and I still hold the opinion that they are heinous and sour. But roasted with shallots and olive oil and doused liberally with balsamic vinegar, they are tangy and slightly sweet and bitter and earthy and perfect little morsels of veggie goodness. Try them please. They will surprise you. Here's the recipe we used, but if you add some butter and some bacon, they are even better.

Roasted 14 pound turkey baby

See how beautifully browned and crispy Joe's turkey turned out? He patted and seasoned and bagged and dried and coddled that baby off and on for two days, and we were rewarded mightily. It was juicy and perfectly salty and now I'm scouring the internet for recipes worthy of it's leftovers. We whipped up a quick gravy to go with the mashed potatoes that my parents brought, and basically to drizzle over anything that made it onto our plates. It is accurately called The Best Gravy Recipe Ever by Alton Brown and it is heavy with red wine, herbs and turkey drippings and those dark crispy fatty bits on the bottom of the pan, they have a fancy name that Joe could tell you but I've forgotten, I'll just call them crispy bits.

Happy early turkey day
We had a feast. We had wine. We had a pretty table. I got out cloth napkins and these things called napkin rings. Joe moved his laptop and I dusted our kitchen table which we hadn't actually eaten at in weeks. Then the clean up, wow we had dishes, sweet lord, did we have dishes. Again, the sign of a good dinner party, three loads of dishes in the dishwasher. That was our feast. Try some of the recipes we used, they were all pretty easy and definitely crowd pleasing. Ok, four person pleasing, but still, we have good taste.

Now on to the real holiday! So what are your big holiday plans? I plan to be as helpful as possible, with minimal sarcasm on Thanksgiving, as my sister-in-law and brother-in-law take on the mighty task of hosting 25 family members for dinner. I've been told that holding my baby niece may be on my lists of helpful tasks. I hope I can handle it. That and some sweet potatoes sound like a pretty perfect way to spend the day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Beeper King Thanks

Today I'm thankful for:

Happy hour with some smart, funny, excellent women and a cold dirty martini.
30 Rock rerun with several of my favorite characters including Dennis Duffy, the Beeper King, which is second only to the Cleveland episode as my favorite.
Coming home to delicious thanksgiving leftovers for dinner.
Emails from people sharing stories that made me feel entirely surrounded by supportive friends who are sadly going through very similar struggles.
And the fact that this work week is only 2.5 days long and by Wednesday I'll get to hang out with many of my favorite Wisconsinites, Pennsylvanians and Nebraskans, hopefully avoiding all heated political discussions,at least while sitting at the dinner table.
What are you thankful for on this dreary, cold Monday?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just So Tough

I thought I would be writing a post all about our early thanksgiving day of cooking and prep. The smells bubbling in the kitchen and filling the house with warmth and growling stomachs, but I'm not today. Instead I've gone about my cooking and prep, with joy and pleasure alongside Joe, but with this constant sickening, hollow pit in my stomach. This ache that has been there for a very long time because someone I deeply love is an alcoholic. I have this hideous feeling of helplessness and guilt, mixed confusingly with anger and frustration. And so instead of writing about cornbread stuffing and turkey brining, all I can think about is my loved one. I opened a heartbreaking email first thing this morning from my loved one. Full of pain and hurt and self hatred, and a plea for help and a desire to go into rehab and frankly there is nothing I can do. Other than offering my support and my desire for their good choices and strength, this is a path that I can't walk for them. I can't call around and find a rehab for them. I can't and won't pay for it and until they decide to make an effort to get better I'm going to be deeply skeptical and cynical. I hate feeling this way. I want to fix it. I want to make it all better.

And this is my personality flaw. This desire to take the pain away for my loved ones when it's not my place, or my responsibility, or even a healthy way to help them. I can't fix it. I can't solve it with good advice and a shoulder to cry on. I have to put up these barriers because they've hurt me so many times. I have to keep myself apart a bit for my own self preservation. I don't want to be an enabler, so I have to stand back and just watch. Alcoholics can be manipulative, deceptive and so often passive aggressive. They can also be intelligent, passionate, loving and dynamic, but their addiction makes them deeply selfish and stuck sometimes. They control the people around them with their addiction. They can suck all of the energy out of their family. But this doesn't stop you from loving them. It just stops you from being able to get too close. So thanksgiving will wait. And I'll sit here for the rest of the day questioning myself. Wondering if I've made the right decision, wondering if I've done enough and only letting myself cry for a few moments. Because this isn't my addiction. This isn't my responsibility and even the strength of my love can't solve the problem. So I'll eat some turkey and hug my family and the day will go on. And in the back of my head I'll be wondering what he's doing and thinking right now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Meet Cute Thanks

When I was a teenager I thought adulthood would look like a movie. My life would be a series of parties and dates, pretty dresses, a cozy house, someone who loved me, a career that I adored but that part was a bit hazy, time to read every book I wanted. Maybe marriage, as long as I didn't screw it up like my parents, probably kids at some point, but even though I was a pretty mature kid I don't think I ever thought about the responsibilities of adulthood. I just thought about having freedom. Being out from under my parents' control, away from the rules and chores and curfews. I would get to do exactly what I wanted. Spend all the time I could imagine with my boyfriend and my friends. Drive anywhere, do anything I could dream up. Silly girl.

I think while many of the things I pictured as a naive kid have come true in certain ways, there are so many dull realities that children don't see, can't imagine, won't anticipate. Those parts never make it into those glossy, perfect movies. But don't we need that gloss occasionally? Put aside the laundry and the car inspections and the deck staining? Cut through the monotony of daily chores and tasks, like the three hours of yard work we did today, and plan an evening out with friends. To get all dolled up, break out the cute shoes and that dark top that shows a bit of cleavage, put on some lip gloss and go out on the town. Star in your own movie for the evening. So we did that tonight. It looked just like the perfect date night scene in your favorite romantic comedy. Three couples out on the town. Married 30 something's, happy to be out together, kids tucked away at home, sparkling conversation and laughter. We tried a new restaurant. We ate delicious foods. We talked about new houses and light fixtures, movies, crazy family, babies and daycare, accessories and the holidays. We marveled at the bizarre outfit the hostess was wearing and it was excellent.

Only difference though, if this were a real movie, our evening would have continued at some dark bar or trendy club instead of parting ways at 8:30, some of us heading home, some to a movie, and Joe and I off to start Christmas shopping, grab some coffee and end up at home, baking pies and watching tv on the couch together. The movies always cut out the best parts anyway.

Friday, November 18, 2011

14 Pounds of Turkey Thanks

I love Thanksgiving. I love cooking and sharing a meal with a big gang of loved ones. I love traditions and the smell of a Butterball turkey cooking in the oven. An insane number of side dishes and that goofy gelatinous cranberry jelly, the smell of sage and apples, creamy mashed potatoes and laughter and time spent with people we don't get to see nearly often enough.

Since we are heading up to Madison for a huge Thanksgiving celebration, Joe and I decided to cook our own little Thanksgiving on Sunday. In order to avoid the craziness of holiday grocery shopping I headed over to the store tonight. There were about 10 people in the whole place. It was heaven. I wandered around and filled up my cart leisurely without having to navigate the masses loading up their carts with Stovetop and pie crusts. So if you can get past the nerdy aspects of grocery shopping alone on a Friday night, I highly recommend it.

So this weekend will be filled with yard work and then lots and lots of cooking. We have a 14 pound turkey defrosting in the sink today and it will be getting dry brined tomorrow. Then Sunday we'll be making roasted brussels sprouts with shallots and balsamic vinegar, red wine gravy, sausage, apple and onion cornbread stuffing, and double layer pumpkin pie. I think we'll be freezing some turkey leftovers and making turkey pot pies and turkey soup throughout December. I'm looking forward to a whole day in the kitchen with my husband. Plus some new recipes for my 52 this year! So what are you doing for this Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sea Change: Achingly Observant

Like the ocean, this novel lulled me into it's rhythms, waves of hazy, palpable sadness, set adrift by loss and somehow anchored to that loss at the same time.  Sea Change by Jeremy Page, Blogher's Book Club selection for November, is a gorgeously sad novel. It is filled with exquisite writing, a devastating story at its core, and the intensely painful recollections, observations and memories of a man working to deal with the inescapable loss of his family.

The main character, Guy, is living alone on a houseboat off the coast of England. He teaches piano lessons but mostly he is alone. Deeply alone. Except when he is writing in his "diary."  Every night Guy writes the story of his family and creates a fictional future for himself, and his absent wife and daughter. He keeps his family intact but only in his imagination. This fiction is his anchor, it gives him something to live for everyday but it also paralyzes him and prevents him from moving on with his own life. He is obsessed with creating a future for himself, his wife and his daughter that is impossible. As the book cuts back and forth between the fictional family Guy has fabricated and Guy's own daily life, we are immersed in his internal monologue. And it's this internal struggle to just keep moving everyday that is so sorrowful. Guy can't connect with other people. Only the people in his fictional world. Guy's grief, his ever present suffocating grief, makes the story monotonous at times but intentionally so. The story has that wearisome feel of being on the water too long weighed down by the dull aching monotony of Guy's loss. You could feel it all through the book, but it was always a pleasure to read simply because the writing is so controlled, tight and lovely. I was swept up in the tragedy. I was swept off onto Guy's house boat, drifting through the seas and estuaries, bumping up against other people but never really joining them, always aloof, always alone. This novel is an achingly observant tale of one man's grief and the power of writing to, as Guy says, "reclaim the things you have lost." The power of the imagination to protect and explore, and the power of fiction to create a world better than the world we might be living in right now. A place where the dead are still alive, and while it may not be perfect, families are still whole.

(I was compensated for my review of this novel, but all opinions expressed were, as usual, my own.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Trying Hard to Be Thankful

Today was a long, long day. So today's thanks were a bit harder to find underneath my stress, my pissy attitude and just my general sense of ongoing pressure, mostly self induced. So here's all I've got:
This link which is freaking adorable:
Roasted chicken and potatoes cooking in my oven right now.
Dinner with my little brother for the first time in a very long time.
Introducing him to the ridiculous entertainment that is Hard Core Pawn.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hoofing It Around the Garment District

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to keep a gang of twenty or so photographers together? They wander. They meander. They hyper focus on brick work or the light hitting a window, the details. They seem to intently stare into space. They look toward horizons and vistas or tiny fascinating cracks in the sidewalk. They are in your world and yet in their own world behind the lens. Framing and sculpting the image they see into the image they can capture. Focusing and tweaking, setting apertures and speeds, switching lenses, laying on the ground or climbing up on ledges just to get that perfect shot. The photo club that Joe is part of hosted a walking tour of the Historic Garment District in downtown Kansas City a couple of weekends ago. And I felt bad for the very gracious and knowledgeable guide, Nancy, from the Historic Kansas City Foundation, who led us around the area. Her audience was constantly scattering. Chasing down the next shot.  Oh, we listened closing at the beginning but as the tour continued it was hard to keep us all wrangled together.

The two and half hour tour extended into three as Nancy tried to wait for the group to reconvene before she told her next story or explained the next beautiful brick structure. She had to give up though and just plow on with her anecdotes without everyone at attention, otherwise we would have been there for days. She talked through the different buildings and the dates they were constructed. She talked about the huge number of employees that worked in the Garment District in it's heyday, more than 3,000 in the textile mills and fabric stores, and she very patiently, if with a expression of bewilderment, tried to keep us all within sight of each other. On a Saturday morning, this area is quiet. It was crisp and overcast and silent. As we ran across streets, jumped curbs, wandered around corners and gazed up at scrolled iron fire escapes it felt like we almost had the city to ourselves. A few cars drove by, giving our motley group some strange looks and a few honks and hoots out the window, but being there in this less populated part of the city, quietly recording these gorgeous historical buildings was wonderful. So let's get to the photos. Joe's are first.

We took a ton of photos between the two of us. If you want to see the full sets, click here and here. Joe pulled a few of his best shots. (Out of like 400!) He used a wide angle lens for much of the morning so his shots tend to be grander, broader and more dramatic than mine. I love these.

This is the monument to the Historic Garment District in the little park where our tour started.

The New England Life Building, built in the 1880's, it's dark red and covered in New England themed motifs, like anchors and ships.


This is probably my favorite sign in Kansas City. I remember seeing that little fox as a kid and thinking it was adorable.


Too bad it's not 7 Days right now.


The Phoenix is one of the many jazz clubs in KC. Thick velvet curtains welcome you in.



This Hardware store looks like it came straight out of the 1930's.


Another classic jazz club and steak house, the Majestic. The upper window frames and ledges are all covered in copper and when the sun hits it they light up like they're on fire.


And these are mine. I like little details. Joe set me up with the 18-200mm lens so I couldn't capture a lot of wider shots, but I had plenty of room to get in close and still catch some full shots of buildings and the skylines.

There were some beautiful condominiums facing the park where we started the tour right above here. I could see living down in this part of the city. It's gorgeous and more residential.



This dark red entryway to an old dress manufacturers shop. I loved this vintage ad. Why don't women get to wear hats anymore?


Gaggle of photogs.

Peeking in the windows of Harry Epstein Co. is like stepping back in time.


Bunker Building

This building was under construction/repair. Nancy, our guide, was very concerned that they weren't taking the building down since it was a registered historic site. It looked like they were taking it apart brick by brick. She panicked a bit. It was kind of cute. 

Mural along the wall of The Phoenix Piano Bar


Feeding the meter

Being a tourist in our own city was eye opening. I think of other cities as historic and beautiful. Cities like San Francisco are easy to get poetic about. The allure and the history are right there, smacking you in the face everyday with stature and relevance. Kansas City is more subtle than that. You have to dig a bit to find the history these days, with suburban sprawl and glossy commercial districts like Power and Light,Westport and the Plaza, places geared more towards dining and shopping and drinking, their history just a little plaque on the wall, or a bubbling fountain. But when you dig and look closely, and escape those typical spots, the history and the beauty is right there waiting to be rediscovered. I'm thankful to live here, in this charming, friendly little cow town.