It’s Complicated!

My extended family is complicated. My father had seven siblings. He was the oldest. All those siblings (including my dad) went on to have a total of 36 children. I have 33 first cousins in my dad’s family. My mom had three siblings—she was child #2. She along with her siblings, had a total of 17 children. I have a total of 14 cousins in my mom’s family. First complication: I do not have a total of 47 first cousins. I have only (haha! I said ONLY) 40 first cousins. That is because 7 of these cousins are my double cousins, so I can only count them once. What are double cousins, you say? My mom and her sister married brothers—their children are what are called double cousins because we are doubly related!

I think it is special to have so many cousins. I have many fond memories of visiting and playing with cousins in my youth. All my family on both sides originated in the St. Louis area after immigrating to the United States. The emigration out of St. Louis started in the 50’s as families saw new opportunities out west in Phoenix, Arizona. One aunt moved to Ohio after marrying someone from there. As the years went by many of my cousins moved throughout the country as they became educated and found opportunities in new places.

000 constructionAnother interesting thing about my family is that the majority of my uncles were entrepreneurs. They started their own businesses, mostly related to the construction industry, They were building contractors, land developers, HVAC and sheet metal contractors, the patent holders for the machine that manufactures continuous seamless gutters, and the list goes on.

In the 1980s I worked for a company that made some organizational changes, such as moving a whole department back to the city of their headquarters. I was in that department. One day, the Human Resources Manager asked that all 10 of us from that department meet in the conference room and then proceeded to terminate our employment. I was an administrative assistant at the time.

000 LayoffsAs I reflect on this layoff today, this company treated us very well. They gave us a generous severance package considering none of us had work there over 18 months, they paid our health insurance for the next three months, and they sent everyone, down to the administrative assistant, to outplacement where a professional group helped us write resumes, taught us how to network and seek a new position. They even typed and mailed our cover letters and resumes to other businesses for us—this was before the day everyone had a computer at their fingertips.

I met with one of the career counselors. I had just started my masters program, and didn’t have an impressive resume. The counselor suggested I contact my family members and ask if there were any job openings at their companies where they were employed. Family complication #2: none of my relatives were ”employed.” They all owned their small businesses. They were not looking for administrative assistants, nor were they open to tuition reimbursement for my continuing education.

000 danger signComplication #3: On one side of my family there was a huge rift. You know, they say don’t discuss politics or religion in polite company. Well, our family split over religion. Some of the family members left the religion they were in, and decided to become part of a very different set of beliefs. Words were not kind between some of the siblings, and a rift was formed. One half of the family did not spend time with or get to know the other side of the family. We grew up knowing we had cousins, but not knowing them. Sometimes we met at a family funeral.

000 Family FuedAs we got older, we realized we are living with the hurts of our parents’ past, not our hurts. Some of the cousins started connecting, maybe at a funeral, maybe on Facebook. We got to know each other. We liked each other. Although our parents may have had different religions, they behaved similarly, and our shared stories were similar. We found out that we really like these cousins. We don’t have to agree on religion. Interestingly enough, both sides of the family, although having very different beliefs, are both very strong religious folks.

A couple years ago I tried to pull together a family reunion. I gave the families only a few months notice. It was at my home, and we have plenty of room for a lot of people to picnic, swim, paddle boat around a small lake, and just sit around the various decks and patios to visit and reacquaint with each other. Not many came, but those who did had a marvelous time. We told stories about our childhood, our memories of our shared grandparents, and compared notes to find our parents were very similar in many ways. All our parents were hard workers, and loved their children dearly. We all grew up to be hard working respectful adults. We all missed having the connections to share our lives together.

This past week I was on vacation in a city where I have many cousins. Some I knew well in my childhood because they lived near me and our parents were close. Some were cousinssmall children when I was in high school and college, and now they are my contemporaries. Some were from the family that was on the other side of the rift. We all got together. We loved and enjoyed each other’s company. We promised not to go long periods without being in contact, and hopefully, meeting up again. I got to attend a party that one family of cousins had. Their children were cousins who all grew up together. Now their grandchildren were getting to know their 2nd cousins. There were 63 family members at this party. The children ran around this large yard without a care in the world. Their parents, all first cousins, and their spouses, sat around the tables visiting and reminiscing about their adventures together as children, and sharing their lives today.

I wish our family had done this instead of what happened. That is history. Why do we study history? So we don’t repeat the negative parts. I loved watching this family of siblings, 1st cousins, and 2nd cousins spending a whole day together loving on each other.

None of my children’s first cousins live anywhere near them. That is such a shame. We live in a mobile society. It makes me sad to think they have missed out on these type of gatherings. It is never too late to reconnect. I am in my late 60’s. I have lost two cousins and one sibling to death. It is never too late to reunite, to get to know, and to love each other. I am so grateful that in the last four years of travel with my husband, that when we go through a community where my relatives may live, we try to meet up with them. I have done this in Arizona, Utah, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. I may have not know all my family very well, but I am getting to know them now. I am beginning to understand that we all have challenges in our lives, and we can share and care for each other. I am also beginning to understand that my family tree is a huge, beautiful tree, filled with amazing people. I can’t live with regrets for things in the past, but I can chose to make our days more meaningful together.

Why do families do this? Why do parents and children become estranged? Why do siblings become estranged? We all have expectations of others that many times do not match our beliefs. Unless these folks are harmful to each other, why do we just write them off? I will say there are times one must break away, especially if there is destructive behavior that could physically harm a family member, but I’m not talking about that. Think about the people we work with, the people in our neighborhood, the people in our churches. Sometimes we treat them better than we treat our own families.

How is that rift repaired? I believe the future generations need to reach out to each other. How do we make friends? We find the things we have in common. We don’t dwell on the things that we don’t have in common. We find a common ground and we build on that. As I mentioned in a previous blog on the diversity training I did a few weeks ago, everyone is unique. We don’t fit in anyone’s box. Not everyone is going to be best buddies, but we can appreciate and love each person for who they are.

Do you have family members you wish you knew better? Reach out to them. Friend them on Facebook. Ask them to meet you for lunch. Have a big party and invite them. Send them a note. Don’t talk about the things that divide, but the things that connect. Families have a history. Find out about that history. It is really interesting to hear the different perspectives of the family history. We all have our own perspective of the same event. Be open minded and love one another. We won’t be here forever. It’s time to reach out in love.  000 ephesians

 

Oh, Come All Ye Faithful

How it happened, I don’t remember. I love the fact that every Christmas I have several nativities to put out around my home. I always wanted a nativity scene, but for years didn’t have one. In the mid 90’s I was working at Famous-Barr. How many of you remember that department store? It was owned by May Company, and they owned several department stores, including Famous-Barr, Hecht’s, Filene’s, Lord & Taylor, Robinsons-May, and a few more I cannot remember. At the end of the Christmas season, all the Christmas stock goes on sale for at least half price. In the china department, they had the Holy Family manufactured by Coalport by Wedgwood. It retailed at the time for $90. It was at least 1/2 price, and with my 20% discount, I purchased these three beautiful pieces. It was the start of my nativity. The following Christmas, for some reason, Famous-Barr did not carry the rest of the set.

00 auntieI had always admired my Aunt Mary’s nativity, which was a Lenox painted set. It reminded me of the set I had, except the Wedgwood set was about half the size in height as the Lenox set. Time marched on, and I changed jobs, became more successful, and was having a house built. The following fall, my Aunt Mary called me and said to be expecting a package delivered to my home. She said she found the complete nativity set, and she bought it for me. I told her I couldn’t accept such an extravagant gift. She said that it was a house warming gift, and she wanted me to enjoy it. Every year I take each piece out of its box, and lovingly set it up thinking about my aunt. I remember one year I was setting it up, and I stopped and called her and said I was coming to visit. Aunt Mary passed away four years ago, but every year as I set up this set, I think of all the wonderful times I spent with her. She took me under wing after my mom died. We had many dinners together and watched a lot of movies together. I have told my children that when I die, I don’t care what they do with my stuff—except for that Nativity set—please make sure that someone receives it who will appreciate its beauty and the fact that a very dear aunt filled my Christmas each year with joy!

Somehow, I started collecting nativity sets. I like seeing how different people and different cultures envisioned the nativity. What is interesting is that Jesus was probably born in a cave, and it was primitive. Mary and Joseph traveled for miles while she was quite pregnant so they could pay their taxes. There was no deodorant in those days. I am 00 kidssure the real Joseph and Mary were not in the beautiful dress and robes you see in photos and nativities scenes. Jesus had a lowly birth, but his birth, his death, and his resurrection changed the world forever. No one in history has ever had such a huge effect on our world as did Jesus. Even those who do not believe in him as their Savior cannot deny him historically or that his life on earth had such a huge impact on this world.

00 camelMy next nativity set was one I found walking through a mall. It was made of resin, and it depicted children. It reminded my how a Sunday School Christmas program might look, with the children playing the parts of the Holy Family, the wise men, and shepherds. it struck my fancy, and nativity # 2 was added to my soon to be expanding collection. My favorite character in the set is the camel, which is two little boys under a camel costume.

00 fisher priceOf course, one cannot forget the Fisher Price Little People Nativity. I always put this on my coffee table at easy reach for the grandkids. They could touch it and play with it, and it will not break. Last year I sent one like it to my grandson in Los Angeles since he hasn’t had an opportunity to see mine. My teenage grandkids still comment when they see it on the table. They love that it is still there, and it reminds them of the many Christmas celebrations when they were just tots.

00 mayanTwo years ago my husband and I went on a cruise of the western Caribbean. We were in Cozumel, Mexico, and took the side trip to see the Mayan ruins. Their gift shop had many Mayan designed items, but what struck me was their nativities. They were colorful and fun. I love seeing how other cultures depict the birth of Christ. None of us 00 scissorswill have it right, but as long as it is a reminder of the miracle of his birth, I am good with it. I purchased the set, and looked forward to setting it up the following Christmas.

My kids and friends have given me other nativity sets. Probably the most unusual one I received was from my daughter-in-law. It is a one piece set from Peru. You open the doors, and there is the manger scene, and there are people dancing with scissors! Yes, scissor dancing is some sort of tradition in Peru, not a religious tradition, but one that was combined with the nativity to make it unusual and unique!

I would love an African nativity, but I want it authentic and not bought off of eBay. I just may have to travel there sometime, or find someone who knows where I can get one. I wonder also if there is an Asian version of the nativity. I have never seen one of those, but it would also be interesting.

00 peru lightedThere is no magic in the nativity scene. There is a miracle in the birth of Christ, though. He was prophesied throughout the Old Testament, and his birth, his death, and his resurrection, are all foretold by the prophets of old. The people thought the prophecies were about an earthly king, one with riches and power, but Jesus, is a spiritual king. He had no riches, he had no bed to lay his head, he lived a life of love and service. He was tough, and he stood up to the religious leaders of the time, who were more interested in “looking religious” than having a life of love and grace. His death and resurrection seals the deal for us, to know we can be in a relationship with the God of the Universe, and we can know true peace that passes all understanding.

00 woodEaster is actually the most significant holiday for Christians. Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is what seals the deal. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Yes, what he came to earth to do—to come as a man, to take our sin upon himself, and to die for those sins, he finished the work he came to do. His resurrection was the completion, the proof, that he was not just any man who died. He was the Savior, and death could not hold him.

I love my nativity scenes, and all of the Christmas celebrations. I love that Advent looks at the promise and the waiting for the Savior. It all is the prelude to the biggest of all events that we celebrate at Easter. I love looking around my house, seeing the tree decorated with memories of my family, and looking at the nativities and the celebration of the birth of Jesus! Merry Christmas! Rejoice!Isaiah

Oh Tannenbaum!

00 foodI love decorating my Christmas tree. My tree has never been the normal commercial tree everyone seems to have. When my children were small, I hung candy on the tree. Not just candy canes, I had strung gumdrops. They are really cute on a tree, but a huge pain to string. I had lollipops hanging. There was a local candy

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If you look closely at this tree from 1976, you can see the popcorn & cranberry garland.

store in St. Louis who made perfect beautiful oval lollipops, and their colors were see-through and wrapped in clear cellophane. I taped a ribbon loop to the back of the lollipop, and hung them like an ornament. I also purchased chocolate coins, wrapped in gold foil. For those I used a small needle and threaded through the top of the foil to make the loop to hang. I made sure the foil was closed good in the back so it wouldn’t fall out.  (I won’t go into the story that one of my sons carefully unfolded and refolded the coins and ate all the chocolate before Christmas, to the disappointment of his brothers–and me)!  I tied a ribbon to a twisted pretzel, added a hook and hung them from the tree. I also strung popcorn, but thought it was rather plain, so my popcorn strings were actually 4-6 popcorn, 2 or 3 cranberries, repeat, repeat, repeat! Of course, my ornaments started out with Hallmark character ornaments.

00 1st treeMy Christmas tree has simplified over the years when it came to candy, but was still unique. I have always used multicolored lights. One year, I decided to go with all clear lights. Wow, that was a mistake. Four young adult and/or teenage sons were so disappointed that I changed the lights. They said my tree looked like everyone else’s tree, and please don’t make that mistake again. So, the next year I went back to multicolored lights. Buying artificial trees have been pretty difficult if you are a fan of multicolored lights. I hunted down and found a beautiful artificial tree with the correct lights. A few years later, I went to put my tree together, and the center of the tree was missing. I was heartbroken. I loved that tree. I was so heartbroken that I didn’t even want to put up a tree, but my daughter-in-law knew that would not make me happy. She showed up at my house with an old artificial tree and lights, and she proceeded to put up my tree. It wasn’t the tree I wanted, but she saved my Christmas! The following year I was surfing channels on the television, and QVC popped up with a deal of the day of a 6’ pre-lit artificial tree that had both clear and multicolored lights. Not only that, it operated by remote control, and the price was reasonable. I immediately ordered it, and it was a magnificent tree for many years.

 

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This is NOT an ornament, but the cat did like climbing into the tree!

My first grandchild was born 22 years ago.  As Christmas approached, I was looking forward to this celebration with my first grandchild, although she would be only 3 months old. I purchased two ornaments for my tree that year. The first one was a “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornament, and the other was an ornament with her photo in it. That began a new tradition which I love to this day. Every year I purchase an ornament for each of my grandchildren. Their first 5 years, I also do a photo ornament. As they grew, I searched each year for an ornament that is about their current interests. Once in a while, I make my life easy and just get a cute traditional ornament. Each ornament has their name printed on it along with the year. When the grandkids come to visit, the first thing they do is go to the tree to see what kind of ornament I got for them that year! When they are all grown up, out on their own, and ready to have their own Christmas tree, I will pack up all their ornaments and give to them for their tree. In the meantime, I get to reflect over all the ornaments for them each year.

Another tradition I started was to purchase ornaments for the many places I have visited on vacation. My tree has ornaments from Yellowstone, the Queen Mary, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Niagara Falls, the Golden Gate Bridge, Carlsbad Caverns, to name a few! Every trip I go on, I add to this collection. Just the other day I purchased an ornament of the Alamo.IMG_3282

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The Singing Chickens

My tree also has Mardi Gras beads. I had a beaded garland on the tree, and the Mardi Gras beads hang on the limbs downward, giving the tree a bit of a gypsy look. I have an alligator in the tree (each year the grandkids look to see where it is hid). I have 2 American Flags in the tree. I received the first one when I made a donation to help restore the Greek Orthodox Church that was damaged in the 911 Attack. I have early Hallmark Keepsake ornaments going back to the early 70’s that were my mom’s. I have old musical ornaments that are strung on an old string of lights because it’s the only way they will operate. When my tree gets turned on, all of them play at the same time—the Statue of Liberty plays the “National Anthem,” IMG_0391the space ship counts down to blast off, the chickens cluck “Jingle Bells.” It’s so funny, because they all play at the same time. My singing chickens are dying, and I cannot find a way to open the ornament to do a repair. I will be very sad when they totally quit clucking “Jingle Bells.”

When I got married and moved to the country, I brought all my Christmas decorations with me. Our living room has 20’ ceilings, and a 6’ Christmas tree would look dwarfed in the room. We purchased a 12’ pre-lit tree. The only problem with the tree is that it only came with clear lights. That would not do, so we purchases strings of multicolored lights and wired them to each section, so that there are approximately 3,000 lights to the tree. That tree is covered with memories. Every ornament is wrapped and packed separately, and every year, as I unpack them, memories come flooding back of my family—my parents, my sisters, my kids and grandkids. My tree will never win the prize for the most beautiful tree, but it might win the prize for the most fun and memorable tree!

Tree

 

 

King of the Road

When I was a single mom, I had no money or time to go on vacations. I did take my kids for a 3 day trip to Branson, MO. This was before all the shows took over the city. We stayed in a small cabin, and I brought food for 2 meals a day, and we dined out for one. We spent two days at Silver Dollar City. We took in Marvel Cave. I have been through it again a couple years ago visiting Silver Dollar City, and I cannot believe I took little children through this cave. It is a miracle that we all survived. It’s a pretty scary place, especially for one who is afraid of heights. On the way home, we visited Fantastic Caverns, which was a lot more palatable since the only way through the caverns is to ride in trams. That was pretty much my travels. Later in my career, I was fortunate to travel around the country for conferences and business meetings. I could extend my business travels over the weekend and take time to visit the local areas.

Five years ago this week, I met Dennis. We have been married now for four years. Dennis is the king of all road trips. I was used to flying everywhere I went, and he pointed out all the things I missed seeing on the way. We are leaving to visit my son and his family in the Los Angeles area. We will be driving all the way to San Antonio, Texas. Why? Because I have never been there, and Dennis says I should see it. We will go through Oklahoma City, Dallas, Waco, and then on to San Antonio. From there we will catch Interstate 10, which will take us right to LA.

I want to share with you some of the scenery and unique places we saw to and from our road trip we took three years ago. This will be more of a photo album of beautiful, and also off-beat places you might want to see.

00 corn palaceOn our way to Big Sky, Montana, we went through Mitchell, South Dakota.  It is the home of the Corn Palace.  It’s an old fashioned entertainment venue.  What makes it so interesting is that the building is decorated with corn cobs.  They change the murals annually.  Unfinished murals look like paint-by-number canvases.  We were told that they grow locally the different colored corn just for the corn palace.  They cut the corn through the cob lengthwise so it has a flat surface, and then fill the spaces with the different colored corn to make the murals.  It’s pretty amazing.  There is a gift shop across the street that has a lot of — you guessed it — corn stuff!  They also have an annual Corn Festival at the end of August.  Now that might be an interesting time to visit

.010 corn palace  030 corn palace

As we continued west on this trip, I took photos from the car as we were traveling full speed down the highway.  I was amazed at how well these photos turned out.  One of the most amazing was of what I thought was an old house.  It appears to be a church, and possibly a tourist attraction.  I did not notice until I was home that there was a live camel in the photo!  The location was somewhere between Mitchell and Rapid City, South Dakota.  Take a look!_DSC0056 - Version 2

As we continued on this path, we saw signs for miles that advertised Wall Drug Store, as they offer a free glass of water on the way to the Badlands.  It is worth the stop, and I wish we had more time to really spend in this quaint little shopping area in the middle of nowhere.

99 wall drugs      99 wall drugs 2

We moved through the Badlands and onto Mount Rushmore.  We stopped at a service station for gas and found a Museum of stuffed animals from around the world–yes, at the service station!  Not sure why it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it made for an interesting stop.

00 badlands  00 animals

Of course, Mount Rushmore is beautiful.  The second photo is exactly what the sky looked like at the end of our day at Mount Rushmore.  Just breathtaking!

001 rushmore  001 tree

_DSC0320Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and The Grand Teton National Park–no words to describe it.  Why had I waited so long in my life to see these places?  I am awestruck by the beauty of God’s creation.  I was amazed by the wildlife in the road.  They own the land–they move around, and we watch in awe.  I was struck by how big the sky really was.  The mountains, the roads winding through, all visual eye candy.

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11 Mo riverAs we drove, I realized I would not have seen all this scenery if I was on an airplane.  There is so much beauty in this county that we miss because we are in a hurry.  We are concerned about getting from destination to destination.  My husband has taught me to love all the beauty in-between.  We finally arrived at Big Sky in Montana, which is located in the Gallatin National Forest. We saw folks fly 11 horsesfishing in the streams, horses grazing on the mountainside.  The views were breathtaking.  We were a short drive to Yellowstone National Park.  We saw the headwaters of the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark camped out in 1805.

Yellowstone National Park was the final destination.  Wildlife roamed the park.  They had right of way on the road (try to tell them they don’t)!  In all my life, I have never seen any place like Yellowstone.  Photos don’t do it justice.  It boils, it roils, it smells like sulfur, it is desolate, it is full of vegetation and animals, it is the most unique place on this planet that I have seen so for.

 

I hope this little tour of our trip out west in 2014 has inspired you to get in your car and drive.  Stop along the way.  Take longer than it takes just to drive.  See the sites, meet the people.  Take photos, and know it will never be as good as seeing in person.  I am so grateful I married the “King of all Road Trips.”  He has shown me so many places all over this country that I had never seen or experienced before.

 

 

A Stressless & Delicious Thanksgiving!

00 clockTime marches on faster every year. It is already November, and I am still trying to figure out what happened to summer. Yes, summer is my favorite season, but there are some special things about the upcoming holiday. I never thought I was really a traditional person, but sometimes I surprise myself with traditions that I have grown to love over the years.

Thanksgiving was not my favorite. It came at the end of a working week, and required a lot of preparation. I was pretty clever back in the day. My sister, Judy, was an excellent cook. Nothing was ever ordinary on her menus. She cooked and served with the flair of a Martha Stewart. For more than a decade she and I were the only immediate family in St. Louis. Our mom had been gone for years, our dad relocated to warm Arizona, and our other sister, Marilyn, lived near Washington D.C. Thanksgiving and Christmas became the holidays we did together, adding our children and their expanding families to the mix. I convinced Judy that she needed to do Thanksgiving every year. She had the time to do all the prep work that I did not. I could do Christmas, because the company where I was employed shut down between Christmas Eve and New Years. I had plenty of time to prepare on Christmas Eve, and clean up during the long stretch off work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat all changed in 2012. My sister, Judy, passed away after a very short and difficult battle with cancer. It was a super hard year. Watching my sister who had been healthy all her life slip away from us in her 68th year was heartbreaking. My holidays changed forever. Later that same year I met my husband. So not only did my holidays change without her, my new life the following year in a new community in the country, changed my holidays even more. Tradition is wonderful, but we have to be prepared for changes, and how to shift and adjust to these changes.

Now I was in charge of all my holidays. I like my life to be stress free, so I look for ways to do that even during the holiday season. I never liked cooking turkey. I thought it as a big super dry chicken! Ha! I started watching the Food Network and going online to find the best way to cook a turkey. I found that the secret was brining the turkey before 01 dinnerroasting. The first year I tried a brine that Alton Brown had on one of his cooking segments. He always gave the science behind what happens to the molecules while cooking, so I understood the brining process, but I wanted a brine that would be more my taste and style. I discovered a sweet and citrusy brine that worked to perfection. It is made with apple juice, brown sugar, kosher salt, orange peels, and a few spices. I will post the recipe below. The first thing I had to do was get a brining container. I went to the local Home Depot and purchased an empty 5 gallon plastic paint bucket. It cannot be one that ever had paint in it. I cooked up my brine days in advance, and when cooled, returned it to the apple juice bottles, including the peels and all, and refrigerated it until the night before Thanksgiving.

01 family festThe night before Thanksgiving, I remove my thawed turkey from the refrigerator. (Remember to take out all the stuff on the inside—you know that little bag containing the neck, heart, giblets, and liver). I got my paint bucket and poured in all the brine ingredients. (Another reminder: don’t forget to wash the bucket well with warm sudsy dishwater, and rinse well). I put Tom Turkey down into the brine. If the turkey isn’t covered, I add water and ice to bring the solution above the turkey. I cover the bucket with one of my very large Tupperware seals and place a pot on top to keep the lid on. If the weather is not freezing outside, I set the bucket out on the screened-in porch for the night. In my other home, I put in on my patio, which is why I needed a heavy pot on top, so the critters wouldn’t try to get in the bucket. If it was a freezing cold Thanksgiving, I put the bucket in the garage which gives it enough protection from the cold, because the last thing I need to happen is the turkey refreezing.

Another preparation I did in advance is all the chopping of everything fresh for the stuffing, and yes, I stuff the bird. My mother stuffed the bird, my sister stuffed the bird, I 00 buffetstuffed the bird—and, no one has died yet! The celery, onion, and any other fresh ingredients used in a stuffing recipe is chopped and in containers in the refrigerator. I don’t like stress. I don’t want to be working like a crazy person on the day everyone is arriving. I want to relax and enjoy my guests, and not spend my time in the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying each other’s company.

My stuffing recipe is a pretty basic one, which is actually pretty much the one my mom made. There is something about eating food that tastes like my childhood to bring back warm fond memories of my mom and our family feasts. Once I am ready to stuff the bird, I retrieve it from it’s hiding place—the bucket. Hint: I put a couple bath towels on 3 piesthe floor around the sink because I have not found an easy and clean method to pull a big (18-22 lbs) bird out of the bucket and lift it to the sink. There will be a brine mess on the floor. My sink had been washed out so I can lay the bird in it, and I start rinsing it off. One of the secrets about brine is that through osmosis, the salt gets absorbed into the meat. Having too much salt on the skin surface is not what I want. I rinse and rinse and rinse. I make sure the crevices and interior of the bird is well rinsed. It will not take the salt or added moisture out of the meat. I pat the bird dry, set it in it’s rack. Side note: I have the best turkey rack in the world. I bought it years ago from QVC. This rack comes in three pieces — the two sides and a long pin that forms a hinge that holds them together. When I lift the rack with the turkey in it to the cutting board, the rack will wrap tightly around the bird so I have a stable grip. Once on the cutting board, I pull the pin out, and the sides of the rack slip off, and the bird is safely, without fuss ready to set and be sliced. Roasted meat should set for 20-30 minutes for the juices to settle in place before slicing.  I cover the bird with aluminum foil to keep it warm during the setting time.

What is amazing about the brine, is that the turkey is moist, like no turkey I have ever eaten, and it has just the right amount of salt—no one has to salt their meat. I cannot describe what is like, but if you don’t like turkey because it is dry, worry no more, brining is the answer. My 99 year old mother-in-law does not like turkey. When she came to my first Thanksgiving four years ago, she politely took a small serving of turkey, and then proceeded to ask for more. She said it was the most moist turkey, and the most flavorful turkey she had ever had! Now that’s saying something since she at that time had 95 years turkey experience!

00 assembly lineI have grown to love making Thanksgiving dinner. I do as much prep as possible ahead of time. Last year I had 30 guests for Thanksgiving. I made the turkey, stuffing, and pies. I actually made two turkeys, because it is all about the leftovers!  Everyone brought sides and more dessert, because you can never have too much dessert! My pies were even prepped ahead of time, so that the evening before, they assembled and baked. All my side dishes are prepped in advance, and the table is set the day before (except when having 30)! Some tables have to wait!

This year I am making Thanksgiving dinner, but I am not serving it at home. I will roast my turkey a few days in advance, and prepare the sides. We will drive to St. Louis on Thanksgiving morning and stick the sliced turkey and side dishes in my son and daughter-in-law’s oven to warm up. We are leaving the next day for a long trip out west. I don’t want the mess or all the leftovers. It all stays with them!

I miss my sister and would much rather be celebrating the holidays with her, but I have learned to enjoy entertaining on this special holiday. I have so much for which to be thankful. My cup overflows, and I could not ask for more for which I have been blessed.

Everyone, wrangle up your family and your friends, and have them come to your place for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. The most important ingredient for the dinner is gratitude! We should take time on that day, like the Pilgrims did in early America sharing their harvest with the Indians who taught them to farm, and be thankful for all the blessing our God has given us. Don’t forget why we have this holiday—it’s not about gorging yourself and watching football. It’s about being with those you love and being grateful for them and the life you have, even in its challenges. Happy Thanksgiving!

Ultimate Brine For Turkey

Brining a turkey results in an incredibly moist and juicy (not “watery”) bird every time.

  • 1 1/2 cups, KOSHER salt (not regular, use Kosher)
  • 1 1/4 cups, brown sugar
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 3 teaspoons, black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 gallons (6 quarts) apple juice or cider (non-alcoholic)
  • The peel 3 oranges (colored part only – not white pith)
  • Optional: 3 teaspoons, dried thyme and/or 3 teaspoons, dried sage

Note:  I don’t always put all the spices in if I don’t have them.  It’s really the apple juice, brown sugar, kosher salt, and oranges that make the brine so good.

Combine all ingredients in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes (partly covered). Allow brine to cool completely.

Rinse turkey under cool running water, inside and out (remove giblets from body cavity – but reserve them, if desired, for giblet gravy).

Pat turkey dry with paper towels, then immerse turkey in cooled brine.* Turkey should be COMPLETELY submerged in liquid (place a plate on top of the bird if necessary to keep it covered with the liquid).

Cover the pot and refrigerate for at least 8-10 hours, up to 24 hours.

Remove turkey, rinse, pat dry, and roast as usual.

Let the roast sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 an hour prior to carving.

Note: *Be sure that the container for the turkey in brine is non-reactive: use enamel, glass, crockery, stainless steel, even a plastic bucket – never cast iron or aluminum. The pot should be just large enough to contain the turkey (so the brine will be sufficient to cover the bird).GIVE THANKS.jpg

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