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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Back Away From the Turkey Leg




Give Thanks



The table is set. The guests will soon arrive. Uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, grandfathers and grandmothers, ex-husbands and wives, or maybe the step children, lots of significant others, newborns and toddlers, teens and tweens, neighbors and possibly even folks passing by on their way to an empty house or apartment, lured in by the smell of roasting turkey and the still warm pumpkin pie on the counter. 

Smack dab in the middle of the dining room table sits the cornucopia, spilling out its contents, signifying the bounty ahead. That the veggies filling it are artificial may also signify an omen of what may soon follow. 

It all starts out well. Well, that's not exactly true. Some bad feelings may actually begin in the car en route to the final destination, the seat at the table. Lord knows the competition for the best stuffing recipe began the day after Halloween and chances are that at least one picky eater will disassemble it from one corner of the plate to the other and ask, "What's THIS stuff?"

Thus the knock-the-stuffing-out-of-you begins. Though the early arrivals enter with their holiday faces plastered on, once the chairs scrape back across the floor, all bets are off. Aunt Cora chews with her mouth open, Uncle Bertrand tells the same lame anatomically perfect, lewd and lascivious jokes to a wincing audience. Mother Addie's hearing aids whistle and whine every time she reaches for the mashed potatoes. Elder son's significant other announces she is a Vegan, a SERIOUS Vegan and casts the first stone by offering up a prayer for the lost soul of the turkey unnecessarily sacrificed for no darned good reason. 

Martha, chief of the Nursing Earth Mother vigilantes, bares her not-a-turkey breast while her five year old paces back and forth between her legs, dipping his free hands into the cranberry sauce to finger paint his name on the tablecloth. Good Neighbor Sally, who sees the positive in any situation, praises the red fingered savant, as she drains the last of her third Whiskey Sours and sucks on the stem of the maraschino cherry at the bottom of the glass. 
Terrible Tommy the two year old picks his nose,
and you know how the rest of it goes. 

Down. Hill. 

Out in the kitchen, an electrical disaster is narrowly avoided at the last second, when Great Grandma gets too close to the microwave and her pacemaker beeps a warning. Too many women in the kitchen, elbowing each other for counter space, while wiping the not so feminine sweat off their foreheads. The gravy is clumping, the potatoes are lumping, and egos are bumping. The only thread that binds these women together is the sacred Thanksgiving Oath they have all sworn to that dinner will be served HOT. Steaming, piping, tongue burning, eyes watering HOT. 

At the table, once the turkey lands on the platter, the drama continues. White meat or dark? Pass the...pass the...can I have the...I haven't had the...where's the...who forgot the...sniping
But the final battle awaits. The battle for the turkey leg. 

Perhaps it is this way at your house and I can share a worthwhile Martha Stewart pointer. A tiny piece of advice. When it comes to the turkey leg, we ALWAYS defer to the cousin sitting at the card table alone in the corner of the den. The one with the ring of tattoos around his neck. The one who was just released from PRISON. 

And at this very moment, when I know that appetites are sated, belt buckles undone, zippers unzipped, and feet resting on the edge of the coffee table while arms reach for the remote, I give thanks. 

For Tryptophan. 

For the sweet, sleep inducing drug that will result in the truly traditional, truly blessed, post turkey coma

So I stand, finally alone in my kitchen, hidden by the piles of pots and plates and recite the Thanksgiving story. The true, politically correct and hysterically accurate rendition of the first Thanksgiving Feast. 

I give thanks to those women of the Wampanoag Tribe, the Native Americans, who warmly welcomed the Women of Plymouth. Sisters in the Sisterhood of the Garden. Celebrating the bounty of the Earth is not just a custom of the Americas, but a recognized ritual celebrated around the world by those ever grateful for the second helpings of the harvest. 

In fact, maize, beans and squash are called the Three Sisters. 

Do not think for a minute that those women were relegated to setting the table and washing the dishes. The Wampanoag Women and the Pilgrim Women stood shoulder to shoulder giving thanks. 
No silverware. No cookies, cakes, nor pies. 

No fancy ovens. 

And yet...



Food for the Soul. 

Here's where I put my foot down. I've heard the folklore about what happened that day. It might not have been November, but it was cold outside. There might have been venison instead of turkey, plums, grapes and dried fruit instead of pie. 

It might even be true that they didn't pass the food around, that the social pecking order determined your place at the table and those on the lower rung of the social ladder ended up with a bowl of stewed pumpkin. 

This I know to be true. 

It was a celebration. 

A giving of thanks. 

A joining of hands. 

Heads bowed or faces turned to the sky, and in each and every heart, the simple and elegant words of grace. 

Thank You. 

How they did it without Tryptophan is beyond me.

But as I gaze out over the mass of bodies snuggled close on the couch, spread out face down on the floor, cuddled together on the carpet, pretending to be watching a football game blaring on the TV, I am grateful for my family. Not just for my family gathered here in my home, but for each and every family, not only HERE but THERE. 

Thanksgiving is not just an American tradition. 

It is not a new idea or a badly worn tale. 

Thanksgiving is for the bounty of the harvest, the celebration of our seasons, the endless efforts we make from seed to table, and the spirit of gathering together in us all. 
We gather together to ask for a blessing.

And to say...

In my most humble way...

Thanks for the Tryptophan...Tom.  

I wish you all...

Blessings From The Garden. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tough Cookies








When we moved awhile back, we filled a 1-800-Got-Junk dumpster to the brim with piles and piles of stuff. Horrid, gnarly flower arrangements, heavily embroidered drapes, nicks and knacks, sacks and sacks or ornamental trash, in colors that NEVER EVER appear in nature. Mauves and sea foam green. Among the odd pieces of shag rug mixed in with my deserted and abandoned half finished stabs at cross stitching, I found an old wall hanging I must have made while on heavy medication, a five foot by seven foot hooked rug, of what was once the setting sun, long well set and unraveling in my hands. Ah yes, this was from our "chrome and glass" period. Actually worse than that, more our "chrome plated" and "smoked glass" decade. Vase after vase of trailing fake ferns covered in dust.. I won't even mention the terrible awful offal pile of polyester pants and suits and oh my the mustard colored stirrup pants and matching shoulder-padded-oversized sweaters. The leg warmers and matching head bands. Enough! Enough! Enough!

So, no one was more surprised than I to witness the resurgence of consignment stores and warehouses cropping up deep in the downtown recesses. I read about them in the paper and ventured forth to see what all the buzz was about. There, in full view, the downsized remains of baby boomers, just like me, stacked in piles, and young people standing in lines...lines! dig through the boxes and the crates for that one special "find". I got the giggles, I must admit, thinking that someone would pay to own what I had thrown. However, there, laid bare, my past, my distant far away past sat within reach. Armoires with hand carved doors lined with silvery etched mirrors. Leather strapped steamer travel trunks, lined inside with still smooth satin. Beside these hardy and sturdy time travelers, a dressmakers mannequin. The outline of the shape and form of the women I once knew. Full figured, hour glass shaped, nipped in at the waist. 

The. Big. Tough. Broads. 

The women in the photo albums at home, the ones photo cornered in black. The women standing stiff and straight, their long locks swept up and back, held by ebony combs. One hand resting on the back of the chair in which their husband sat, equally tall and equally straight. Both staring into the lens of the camera, nary a smile nor a show of emotion. The woman in deference to her mate, perhaps. Or as I know, because I grew up around these women, the Big. Tough. Broads., they rarely sat down, for anyone. 

Where are those scary faced women who asked me to give more than what was expected. The ones who stared into my eyes and without a single word asked Well?  

The ones who saw more in me than I never knew I had. Saw beyond my ill fitting clothes, beyond my social stammer, to what I could not see. That I could be anything if I tried. That I could do anything if I was willing to learn. 

They expected an effort. A try.

These are the women who kept their boots on the ground while the earth shook all around them. They had no need to protest, as they needed no one's permission. What was broken, mended. Who was ill, tended. The hard working shirk no duty, move over, hands in hot water broads

Busy busy broads too busy with the fullness of life to protest in any other way than by the sheer weight and power of setting an example for the next in line. Women will big appetites and full figures. If they had ever burned their corseted brassieres, it would have been a lusty pyre. But when you're busy building bridges there's little time for bonfires. 

You know these women. Just as I do. The courageous who crossed the ocean in search of a better life. The solid souls, reins in hand, driving wagons across plains and over mountains. The fearless who crossed the lines when the signs said Don't Walk. The tenacious few who strolled up the aisle and simply sat down. The beautiful Big. Tough. Broads. who used their calloused hands to help other women up.

If they were here right now, standing with their hands across their formidable chests, they'd merely shift their stance, narrow their gaze and without a word, ask Well?

The. Big. Tough. Broads.

The. Yard. Yetis. Of. Lore. 

Raquel Rhododendron...One. Big. Tough. Broad. 

Her story begins here...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One Ringhy Dinghy

The Secret To Successful Snooping...





Someone Else...

And I think I will. I blame my mother and her relationship with Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. No, not that kind of relationship. She wasn't THAT old. But she did play a part and so did her generation.

My mother was a switchboard operator. A connector. One of the "hello girls" in the 40's. The voice on the other end of the line asking "Number Please", then glancing up at the little flashing light above the plug on the manual switchboard in front of her and plugging into the corresponding jack. She was polite and cordial no matter how rude or nasty the voice on the other end of the line became.  Her job was not to judge, merely to connect two parties one to another. When the call ended and the light went out, she pulled the plug.

It was a repetitious job, and the professional ethical code required her to face forward, answer and end each call in a proper manner and to ignore the other operators sitting close beside. It was not her job to eavesdrop on other conversations. But she did. They all did. Once in awhile. Just to pass the time, mind you. Not to pass along information.

Not all switchboard operators were so above board. Many, in fact, knew more about the employees and their trysts or peccadillos than anyone would ever have imagined. But they kept it to themselves.
Next up, the party line. The source of Saturday night entertainment for small towns and rural communities across the country. It was inevitable. You needed to make a call. You picked up the phone, and it was "in use". The respectable thing to do was to lower the the receiver and to try again later. But sometimes, on a boring eve, the conversation sounded much more interesting than what was on TV, and believe me, back in the day, TV on a Saturday night left a lot to be desired. So, maybe a touch of gossip. A bit of inside information. To be shared in the hair salon, in soft secretive whispers and knowing smiles. Innocent. Rather, a more expansive version of the game of "Telephone", with the details slightly exaggerated to be more tantalizing.

Enter the entrepreneurs. The marketing whiz kids. The Ozzie and Harriet Nelson team. Why not call people up, make them feel special and ask them what they are watching on TV at a particular hour on a particular night. Ah, now we have a rating system. Innocent. Just call up, ask an innocent over-your-shoulder-peek-a-boo question like..."What are you watching right now?" If you call enough people and get enough answers you can drive advertising to the perfect spot, at the perfect time and at the perfect rate.

Neither Ozzie nor Harriet ever called my house. Not once. Not ever. But then I didn't have caller ID, back in the golden olden days.

I never had a party line. I didn't work on a switchboard. I was not a tattletale and I guarded my privacy, as far as the cord on the rotary dial phone situated in the hallway within earshot of my parents, could take me.

Spring forward a number of years. I started cutting coupons. Lots and lots of coupons to help stretch the dollars for a growing family with a stay at home Mom.

Enter the next available entrepreneur. The inventor at the end of the check out counter at the supermarket. Believe it or not, when I was 14, I worked at a grocery store and there were no prices on any of the products. I, the check out girl, memorized them. All of them. Even the daily specials. Once in awhile, the owner used a black crayon and wrote the price on the top of the can, but that was a luxury, and he rarely did it, so he could be more "flexible" with the going rate.

As Mom and Pop stores were replaced by larger supermarkets, the products had to be stamped individually. A time consuming chore. You probably remember the young kids with the towers of canned peas and the purple inked stamp.  Clack. Clack. Clack. I am positive that one of those kids went home one night, and on their PC, decided there must be a better way.

Tah! Dah! The Universal Bar Code.

A bar code that could be scanned.


Lots and lots of good information. How many cans of canned peas sold on Monday or Tuesday, which brand the most popular, when inventory was depleted. When to restock.

Innocent. Useful information.

And then, what was innocent became a bit more invasive. How to beat the competition at their own game. Lower your prices but ONLY for very special customers. Your customers. The ones with the coupons that are a pain in the neck. Give them a card, and in return for just the tiniest pieces of information. Name, address and phone number. Then whenever I, your loyal customer want a bargain, I simply slide my card across the scanner and I get a discount on my items. The person behind me, without the magic card, does not. Ha! I am special and I just tattled on myself.
Until my salad days are over and I see the magician behind the screen. If I buy 9 salads, the 10th is free. But how will I know? How will I keep track? The switchboard operator, check out scanner, item encoder smiles at me and says, "Don't worry we have your information on file."

On file? My information?

They actually have a print out of all my favorite foods and what I like to buy and when I bought a few extra candy bars and which brand and if I paid cash or charged it and which charge card I used...and now I have new mail in my mailbox from guess who? The manufacturers of the brands I buy. The exact brands. Thanks to another enterprising entrepreneur, the information stored on my behalf by my local supermarket, is for sale. Can be shared. Without my permission. Someone is eavesdropping, overhearing, listening in to my conversation with candy bars and snickering all over town and not just at the hair salon.

So what to do. What to do.

Well, like just about everyone else, I shrugged my shoulders.

When I was young, I had a library card. The librarian knew what I was reading. I never thought that she snitched.

When I was young, I got report cards from school. The only person I worried about having access to that information was my wait-until-he-gets-home father.

I did, however, like everyone else, enjoy knowing how I ranked. Who had it better or who had it worse, than me. Where I fit in. My place in line.

I liked being in the know.

Welcome to the computer age. The age of instant communication and instant information. Right at our fingertips.

And we all loved it and for the most part still do.

So much so, that when social websites started up, our personal success could now be measured by how many people like us.

Or not.

So we all became eavesdroppers. Willing to give up a little bit of our privacy to be liked. Or disliked.

Just for a bit of attention. Just to prove we have connections and the bigger the number the better.

You know how you feel when you are the last to know.

An outsider.

Out of touch.


So to make life more interesting, why not add pictures of our houses and our kids and our dogs and our cats? Why not meet up with "friends" from our high school year book and chat with their friends too? Like pen pals, sort of.

Oh and while we're at it, why not include what we ate for breakfast and flash pictures while sitting on the bus and text who has a big nose and that our new puppy is lactose intolerant?

What do you mean anyone can see? What do you mean anyone can know everything about me? I thought everyone was being a professional and ethical switchboard operator and keeping their eyes to the front and not whispering to their friends.

It's a party line folks! And the party is in full swing.

I'd like to think that there is some way to opt out of this folly, but as I look back I played a part. Stuff usually only happens because we let it. Occasionally, we can be too trusting in the decency of our fellow man.

So I sit here and think to myself, in my advanced age, someone is watching.

Someone is watching me all the time.

Where I go and what I do and what I say.

Someone knows I didn't shave my legs today because I haven't bought a new razor in waaaay too long. I got a coupon in the mail today for a Lady Bic. Perhaps the next time I pluck my Groucho Marx eyebrows while sitting on the back porch, because I need the sunlight and an extra pair of reading glasses, I'll look up and smile, in case a drone is flying overhead and taking my picture.

Or I'll set out a pot of geraniums in front of my house for better curb appeal when the Google car cruises by. I might just sit in my shorts with my unshaven legs and wiggle my wooly eyebrows at them too.

The bottom line is this.

Once upon a time, I believed that someone was watching over me.

And had a pretty good idea of my every move.

I have to admit that that makes me a bit more cautious. Just in case my name IS in a ledger somewhere and someone IS keeping track. Someone with professional and ethical qualities urging me to behave as though someone just might be listening.

Someone just like my mother. 

Someone I admire and respect. 

Someone who admires and respects me. 

Someone without an axe to grind or a bone to pick. 

Someone looking out for my best interests. 

I still believe there is someone out there like that. 

Connected. To me. One on one. 

I know it for sure.

I have caller ID. 

There is still a sense of innocence in all of us that no one can ever take away, unless we let them.


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