Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Best holiday of the year

I am amazed. As I sit to write, it's not yet 11 o'clock this Thanksgiving Eve. I have baked cookies -- and by baked I mean added an egg and butter to the package mix -- prepared the first half of the cranberry salad (which must sit overnight), remembered to set out the yeast rolls and managed not to burn a chess pie. I've done more food preparation this evening than in the last, uhm, what year is it? I realize this is a paltry effort compared to, oh, most any mother with two good hands and a stomach. My own mom has probably been in the kitchen for 18 hours by now. BooMama has doubtless cooked enough to make Paula Deen weep.

Roy has injected a poor, defenseless turkey with Cajun garlic marinade, and we've set aside the neck and sundry other bird gut items for Mom to use in her giblet gravy tomorrow. Roy won't touch the stuff, but he's faithful every year to set it aside for her.

And here's the really amazing part: the house is pretty clean. And there's not one basket full of clothes waiting to be folded anywhere in this house. It's like an early Christmas miracle. The fact that I can say all of this before 2 a.m. is astonishing.

Tomorrow we'll load up sometime before noon and make the five-minute drive to Mom and Dad's house. Family I haven't seen in years -- the California Garrards -- will already be there. In fact, they're probably arriving at my parents' house as I type this. Not long after we get there, the Browns will arrive en masse*. They're family by choice, and we've been gathering for Thanksgiving as long as I can remember Thanksgivings. The only year I've ever missed was when Roy and I were living in Ireland. To my shock, the Irish don't observe an American Thanksgiving. Go figure. Although one pub we visited offered free buffalo wings that Thursday. Oh, yes. Guinness and dried-out chicken wings: We were one Wampanoag short of recreating Plymouth Colony.

I've always loved Thanksgiving. By the time I hit my mid-teens, I had decided it was better than Christmas. I love being around so many people I love, so many people who make me laugh, so many people who complain about the board games we always play. There will be incredible food, someone will bring wine in a box and insist it isn't that bad. Mom will pull out all her china and my grandmother's. The silver will be used. We'll run out of room and tables and tell the kids to quiet down. They won't.

After dinner, we'll gather all the food on the island in the kitchen and cover it with a clean tablecloth. Then we'll visit and laugh and not two hours will go by before someone pulls up a corner of the tablecloth and digs in again.

I love Thanksgiving.


* Writing en masse takes me back to a lovely time in my life as a journalist. Early in my newspaper career, I pulled a story off the Associated Press wire about some poultry disease spreading through Mexico. In an effort to stamp out the disease, the government was wiping out the entire poultry population. I used the story and, pushing deadline, hurriedly slapped on the headline, "Mexico kills chickens in mass." Probably somewhere in Haiti, there are people perfectly comfortable with this marriage of voodoo and Catholicism. But that wasn't exactly what I was going for. Y'all don't go killing any turkeys in church over the holidays. Trust me. It's frowned upon.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Worrying, happiness, vomit and thanksgiving, or The Day I Turned 35

Today is my birthday. From college on, I don't recall getting particularly excited about a birthday. I'm perfectly pleased to have lived another year, and haven't the slightest qualm about my age. But a birthday is pretty much another day for me, except, if I'm lucky, my mom phones early to sing happy birthday. I get a few thoughtful presents. Some people I love call me or even visit. Those are good things.

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the day my best friend's father died. She's the same age now her dad was when he died. That and something else that occurred yesterday had me thinking this morning -- before I ever got out of bed -- about the possibility of dying young. (Not that I've been given any bad news, mind you.) Connor wouldn't remember me. Madeline wouldn't remember me well. So there I was -- the woman who rarely cries at crying-appropriate times -- all weepy.

Poor Roy. He behaved as though he didn't even notice the wife he went to bed with had obviously been body snatched by Sally Fields in a performance somewhere between "Steel Magnolias" and "Not Without My Daughter."

Connor woke and crawled into bed with us, and we giggled together. Then Madeline made an appearance in all her tumble-headed glory. And I felt better.

We all joined Mom and Dad for breakfast before church, and I got presents and kisses and the pleasure of just being with my parents ... without having to pull Connor into the bathroom for a stern talking to/thrashing. Nothing spilled. No one cried.

I felt good.

The music was great in church. The band led us in a super-charged, rockin' down-home version of "I Saw the Light" which no one under 30 had the slightest clue what to do with. But we older folks -- you know, 35 and up -- clapped and sang like we all have Dolly Parton and Randy Travis on speed-dial. Oddly enough, there were helium-filled white balloons loose in the sanctuary -- probably the remnants of a wedding -- which would swoop down from time to time while we sang and while the pastor preached. Kyle made a joke about how God had appeared as a dove. Maybe he takes balloon form these days. From then on, I imagined the slowly diving and lifting orbs as his spirit. I know they were just balloons, but the visualization was a comfort.

Sometimes, even when it brings out the Sally Fields in us. Even when it's at an inappropriate time, like your birthday, I think it's worthwhile to remember we aren't promised tomorrow. "Man is like a breath. His days are like a shadow that passes away," the psalmist tells us. In my recent sleeplessness, I came face-to-face with a review of regrets I would have if, indeed, I didn't have tomorrow: an angry response to a wet bed, days and days without answering a prompting to open my Bible, putting off making cookies with Madeline, not getting under the sheet-and-chair tent with Connor. Not praying enough.

Our church had a potluck Thanksgiving meal tonight. Unfortunately, Roy couldn't go with me because -- in the fine tradition of my sister throwing up on me one long-ago Christmas Eve -- poor Madeline was hit by a stomach virus this afternoon. You know, to commemorate Mom's special day. Roy insisted on staying home with the kids, so I went on and even wore the tiara and red feather boa all members of our small group must wear during their birthday celebrations. Picture the looks caused by a woman sweeping by in twist of red feathers, a head full of cubic zirconia and a plate piled with chicken enchiladas. Priceless.

After we ate, Kyle told us about the Pilgrims' tradition of counting blessings during the meal and prompted us to do the same. It was a wonderful exercise and a great way to close out the evening. In fact, expanding on what was shared around the table tonight, the following is an incomplete, in-no-particular-order, off-the-top-of-my-head list of 20 things I'm thankful for:

1. I'm thankful for a great marriage. Not a good one. A great one;
2. I'm thankful for two healthy kids (present stomach virus excluded);
3. I'm thankful Madeline didn't throw up in a restaurant;
4. I'm thankful for the carwash vacuum cleaner, floor mats and Febreeze;
5. I'm thankful for the flowers, the cake and the balloons waiting on me at dinner tonight (even if the balloons were already tangled 40 feet up in the ceiling joists when I arrived);
6. I'm thankful for thick, warm socks on a cold night and the feeling of taking my bra off after a long day;
7. I'm thankful for music -- jazz, rock, pop, praise, bluegrass and even the occasional splash of hip-hop;
8. I'm thankful for living in a country where education, access to healthcare and the right to worship and vote are largely considered givens;
9. I'm thankful the holidays are coming, and I'll have a chance to make memories and take pictures and see my children thrilled;
10. I'm thankful for terrific friends, good conversation and a bottle of wine;
11. I'm thankful for being tall;
12. I'm thankful for serving in a church that truly cares about people;
13. I'm thankful I can pick up most of my children's toys with my toes;
14. I'm thankful Roy is able to provide well for our family;
15. I'm thankful my mother-in-law just moved back to Texas;
16. I'm thankful my parents live in the same town, and my sister has a new baby boy;
17. I'm thankful I have a brother who enjoys my company;
18. I'm thankful for a king-sized bed and the man who shares it with me;
19. I'm thankful for good books that don't end with the hero dead; and
20. I'm thankful for God's grace.

Your turn.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

A cowboy, an Indian and an ill-mannered orangutan

Apparently along with the gum, lolly-pops, fake cigarettes and jaw breakers, Connor and I picked up a virus for Halloween. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to have hit Connor as hard as me. (Yes, I knocked on wood -- you know, just in case there is no God but rather an angry family of imps randomly punishing people for spilling salt, breaking mirrors and assuming they've dodged trouble.)

Halloween night was fun. We trekked over to my parents' house so the kids could show off their costumes to Grandbee and Granddad. A few days earlier, we spent a small fortune on Connor at Lone Star Western Wear. I was going to go the Wal-Mart route, but Roy and I decided to splurge, and the kid's outfit ended up costing about the same as a one-minute Super Bowl ad. It was worth it, though, when I saw him all dudded up. Connor looks like my dad in his Stetson. As for Madeline, well, she was a Disney Princess for the fourth year running. This year it was Pocahontas. A very blond, Nordic-looking Pocahontas.

Roy couldn't make it because, poor man, he was home in bed with a migraine. Nevertheless, the kids and I met up with Erin and her clan to trick-or-treat through Bel-Air neighborhood. Folks there have to buy candy in milo-sized bags.

It was, as always, a memorable experience. On the occasions I hung back while the kids walked up to a door, inevitably something interesting would happen. Connor really enjoys ringing doorbells and viewed the evening as a doorbell delicatessen. Once, Madeline reported he had squashed a plant. I asked him if this was so.

"No," he said very seriously. "I just laid on it."

About 30 minutes into the evening, Madeline began grabbing her throat and making fairly impressive hacking sounds. "I need water," she demanded. "I need water!"

"Did you eat hot candy?" I asked.

"No! I'm just thirsty." She looked at me as though I was capable of pulling a Capri Sun out of my nose.

We stared at one another a while, her exasperation refreshingly wordless. She waited for me to DO something.

"Well," I offered, "I could spit in your mouth." Because, you know, I'll go the extra mile for my kids. "Otherwise, I don't know what you expect me to do at this moment." I held my hands out to verify I had no liquids.

She looked at me the way she will be looking at me for at least the next 15 or so years and turned on her Disney Native American heel toward the next house. There were about a billion kids pressing toward the door and I was caught toward the back with Connor. So it wasn't until I heard the man at the door saying, "Yes, sweetheart, go right on in." And the yelling: "HONEY, can you get this little girl some water?!" that I realized Madeline had taken matters into her own hands.

By the time I made my way past the press of humanity and identified myself as the camel's mother, she was walking out of their kitchen wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and looking very satisfied. I guess the spitting idea wasn't her first choice.

Once home, the kids had a few pieces of candy, and I got them cleaned up and to bed, just in time to have my mom come over while I took Roy to the ER with his migraine. Two hours and shot of Demerol and Phenergan later, he was doing much better.

Wednesday morning, I woke up not feeling so great. Nevertheless, Roy's headache was gone, and we had plans to go to the Fort Worth Zoo with the kids, where Roy had arranged to meet a high school friend of his (with her oldest daughter) whom he hadn't seen in 21 years. When it's been over two decades since a visit -- not to mention having told the children 500 times they would be going to the "big, big zoo" that day -- feeling a little under the weather and having logged a trip 10 hours earlier to the emergency room isn't enough to call it off. So away to the zoo we went.

We did indeed meet up with Roy's friend, Shannon, who, not surprisingly, proved to be lovely and witty company. Those two caught up as we walked through the exhibits. My favorite was the primates. Connor was particularly fond of the orangutan, which looked just like the one in "Every Which Way But Loose." While I was thinking about Clint Eastwood and how much I hated that movie and wondering why it was broadcast on network TV at least 50 times when I was a kid, the hairy beast walked right up to Connor from the other side of the glass and proceeded to eat his snot.

I don't buy into humans having descended from monkeys, but Connor and that primate have eerily similar eating habits.

About an hour and a half into our visit, I was freezing -- more so than the weather should have caused -- and feeling generally awful. So I excused myself from our company, left the kids with Roy and returned to the car.

And I slept. For two hours. In the zoo parking lot.

So that's what I did yesterday: Went to Fort Worth to take a nap.

Good times.