A Cranberry Colored Misunderstanding

For the first Thanksgiving in my new home, we hosted the celebration ourselves. That’s something I haven’t done in about a decade. It was great fun.

I am a lover of traditions, though, so I asked our guests if there was a particular dish that said Thanksgiving to them, because I wanted to be sure we included it, if so. Thanksgiving is a homey holiday, and I wanted everyone to feel at home.

One person said cranberry sauce. I cringed, inwardly, but added that to our shopping list. I hate cranberry sauce. I had no problem providing it for others, though, just as long as I wasn’t expected to eat it myself. It turns out that my husband felt the exact same way, which is further evidence that we are made for each other.

So on the day in question, I opened the can of red gelatinous muck and shook it out of the can. (Have you ever noticed that cranberry sauce makes a distinctive schlurp sound? Shudder.) And then I sort of mushed it up to disguise the can lines. As one does.

Once that was done, I had to admit that it was pretty, sitting in its cut crystal bowl, adding color to the proceedings. (Just keep it on your side of the table, please. So I can pretend it’s not there.)

Once we tucked in to our meal, I proudly pointed out to the person in question that we had her cranberry sauce for her.

She replied, “Oh, it’s not for me. It’s for my husband. I don’t like cranberry sauce.”

Well, then. I looked across the table at him. He seemed perplexed.

“I don’t like cranberry sauce. I just eat it because it’s there.”

“We’ve been together for 32 years and this whole time I didn’t know you dislike cranberry sauce?”

“Yup.”

The sauce went straight into the compost bin. Woo hoo! Free at last!

But it makes you wonder how many traditions are only traditions because one person thinks the other person loves them. Go figure.

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What Thanksgiving Was, Is, and Should Be

When I was little, they taught me in school that the first Thanksgiving was a feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Indians, and it was a celebration of peace and friendship. We would take construction paper and cut out Pilgrim hats and feathers, and turkeys and cornucopias, and feel all warm and fuzzy because of all this love and cooperation.

I hope they don’t perpetuate that myth in schools anymore. Even as a kid, that description struck me as a little weird. Which tribe? No one could or would ever say. And why would Native Americans be thankful that we invaded their land, spread disease, and basically took over? Would you be wanting to party if someone did that to you? Gimme a break.

In fact, as long as there has been farming, people have celebrated the end of a successful harvest in one form or another, all over the world. And these celebrations, by definition, came about sometime at the end of harvest time, which in this climate falls in the middle of autumn. In fact, until Abraham Lincoln decreed it, various states celebrated on different days each year. So no one really knows when the first Thanksgiving was.

Also, as long as people have had some type of spirituality, they’ve given thanks when things have gone their way. A fruitful harvest. The birth of a monarch. And sometimes these celebrations were more nefarious. For example, one such celebration occurred in 1588 after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. I’m sure the Spaniards weren’t feeling quite as thankful. Victory in battle was often a time of thanksgiving, losers be damned.

An obvious candidate for the precursor of our current holiday, and one that very few of us know about, is described in this article. There was a horrible slaughter of 700 members of the Pequot tribe in which men, women, and children were surrounded and brutally “subdued”. An annual day of Thanksgiving was then declared by the slaughterers, members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It’s no wonder that many Native Americans have a problem with this holiday.

Nowadays, I don’t think most non-native people look at Thanksgiving as some sort of historical event that we are commemorating. And the majority of us are too far removed from our food chain to actually be giving thanks for a successful harvest. We just look forward to the day off, the great big meal, and the football. We also either anticipate or dread the family visitors. Another more depressing trend these days is the glorification of the need some people feel to shop.

People may try to twist this day into some warped justification of genocide, or some attempt to feel patriotic about our occupation of this land, or the desire to take advantage of a really big sale, but the reality is, we’re celebrating the same way the ancient Egyptians did, and probably the same way even more ancient peoples did long before the Egyptians existed, because a good harvest has always meant the difference between life and death, and that’s definitely something to celebrate.

I must confess that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Good food, good company, no gift-giving pressure. Just a time to be grateful for love and abundance. That is how I choose to celebrate the day.

I refuse to take this time to glorify and perpetuate the misguided deeds that lead to this country’s founding. Regret for our brutal past is with me year ‘round, even though my family didn’t get here until the 1930’s. It doesn’t merit a feast.

If you choose to give thanks on this day or any other, Happy Thanksgiving.

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Musings on Gratitude

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It’s my favorite holiday. No gift buying. Just good food and good people. It’s a time when we all focus on what we are thankful for. What’s not to love about that?

I have long maintained that an attitude of gratitude is what we need to get along, And I think that attitude should be maintained all year round, not just on Thanksgiving day. There’s much in this life that we can be thankful for.

I’ve written a great deal about gratitude. So much, in fact, that I’ve published an anthology entitled, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. It’s available on Amazon, and I guarantee you that I’ll be grateful if you purchase it! It would make a great gift for the ones you are most grateful for. (Especially if you do want to give someone a gift for cooking all that great food for you on the big day.)

Having said that, check out one of my favorite posts from the book, entitled Congratulations, You’re Alive! and know that I’m grateful for you, dear reader, every single day.

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Out There for the Holidays

The holidays can be painfully lonely for those of us who are single. At a time when joy is almost mandatory, it makes you feel that much worse when you can’t quite get there. Bah, humbug.

In years past, I’ve tried my best to pretend that the holidays weren’t happening. For example, it’s my New Year’s tradition to be asleep well before midnight. And I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have to work on Thanksgiving day, so no turkey for me.

But this year, I’ve decided to go about things differently. Rather than pull my head into my shell, I’m going to thrust myself, headlong, into the festivities.

First came the Holiday Bazaar that my little town puts on. Vendors and craftsmen galore. I was really impressed by the level of creativity. I treated myself to a few things, knowing that Santa hasn’t had me on his drop-off schedule in years. Usually I’m not really in to acquiring stuff, but what the heck.

On another day, I went to Julefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum with my friend Paula. Being half Danish, this has sort of become my Seattle tradition. Again, I bought myself stuff, and also enjoyed the good food and the traditional music. But mostly I enjoyed spending time with a dear friend.

Here are some of the things that I got myself at these two events. The dog is not included. But the socks are. I like the symbolism of the chick emerging from its shell. A local artist paints all sorts of things on rocks, but this spoke to me because I’m trying to emerge, too.

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Next, I bought myself some pre-cooked turkey, some instant stuffing, some canned corn, and two types of pie (two slices). I had myself a Thanksgiving dinner a few days late. I even let my dog have a bit of turkey, as I’m thankful for him, too.

Then I went to my little town’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Festivities included Christmas music by the high school band. And when the city councilman spoke, the speakers stopped working, which seemed like a gift from above, if I’m honest. Then the tree was lit, in the same square where I’ve enjoyed Tuesday Farmer’s Markets all summer. My town. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

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And talk about putting myself out there. While waiting for the tree to be lit, I noticed a man my age, all alone, and sans wedding ring, in the crowd. An old hippie, wearing a leather hat. Just my type. Unfortunately, he was not receiving my “please talk to me” mental telepathy. Normally I’d leave things at that and just feel lonely.

Not this time. I knew if I didn’t at least try, I’d regret it. So, heart pounding, I walked up to him and introduced myself. I told him I’d recently bought a house in the area, and this was my first Christmas tree lighting, and I wanted to see if I had the courage to walk up to a nice looking man and say hello. So… hello.

He thanked me. He said his name was Neal. He said I’d probably see him around. And that was that.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Men aren’t used to being pounced on, especially at our age. And if he’d have been able to switch gears that smoothly, and ask me for coffee or something, I’d have been shocked. (But I probably would have gone. And I don’t even drink coffee.)

Ah well. I tried. And I’m proud of me for that. Life goes on. This loneliness blanket that settles upon my shoulders is actually kind of soft and warm after all these years.

At least I’m putting myself out there. Next on the agenda: The Great Figgy Pudding caroling competition with my friend Amy, and then Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, the musical, by myself.

Do me a favor. On Christmas morning, remind me of three things: How much money I’ve spent on myself, how much fun I’ve had, and most of all, how lucky I am to have so many awesome people in my life, even if they aren’t there on those red letter days.

(But don’t be surprised if I still go to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve.)

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Grieving through the Holidays

If you’ve lost someone you love, the holidays can be a particularly painful time. All those memories. All those traditions. All those people, still alive, who insist that you to carry on all those traditions.

How can you be expected to decorate a tree when every ornament reminds you of the person you’ve lost? And it takes so much energy to put on a brave face at family gatherings. I know more than a few people this year who were forced to retreat to the bathroom to weep.

There is a great deal of pressure at this time of the year to be joyful. That makes your utter lack of joy feel even worse. And no one wants you to figuratively (or literally) pee in their eggnog. “Can’t you see we’re trying to fa la la here? Don’t ruin it!”

And then there are the well-meaning gifts, designed to memorialize the one who is gone. They were given in a spirit of love and support, but they feel like little stabs to your already wounded heart. No one knows the right thing to say or do, because there is no right thing to say or do.

Even in a good year, the holidays can be exhausting. But they seem positively soul-sucking when you’re dragging around a tractor trailer of depression. It makes you feel detached at a time when everyone is coming together.

For me, it’s like having to take a huge breath and plunge into the ocean, in hopes of coming back to the surface again before you drown. That was Thanksgiving. That was Christmas. That was my birthday. What a relief to get through it all and come up for air!

One more to go… the dreaded New Year’s midnight, when no one will be kissing me. I’m supposed to overlook the fact that I’m completely and utterly alone. I’m supposed to feel happy for everyone who is being kissed. I’m supposed to look forward to the new year, and feel nostalgic about the past year.

That’s a heck of a lot to ask. I’ll probably try to go to bed at 11 pm and hope the neighborhood revelry doesn’t wake me up. While you sing Auld Lang Syne, I’ll be trying really hard to pretend it’s any other night.

If you know people who are grieving, ask them what they’d like to do or not do for the holidays. Ask them what they want to talk about or not talk about. Don’t apply pressure. If they are ready, offer to help them create a whole new tradition, perhaps one in which dancing and romance aren’t flaunted.

But most of all, be patient. And don’t force your fa la la on them until they can get through it without weeping in the bathroom.

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The Fellowship’s the Thing

I had a very unique Thanksgiving this year. It wasn’t about turkey or relatives. No family tension.

Since Thanksgiving has forever been my favorite holiday, I always kind of feel a spike in anxiety just before the day. Will I be spending it alone? I can think of nothing worse. When I came to this city in August of 2014 I didn’t know a soul. It was kind of daunting, really. It’s not easy to start over again in your 50’s.

But my first Seattle Thanksgiving was a delightful one. The cousin of a dear friend kind of took me in, and I met a lot of really nice people in a beautiful house in Ballard. On year two I had to work, but a friend brought me a plate on the job, and hung out with me while I ate it. That was unbelievably kind.

This year I was invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving. I met her daughter and her daughter’s partner for the first time, and got to know another one of her friends a little better. Vegetarians all, but willing to occasionally eat fish, they had no turkey or gravy on their table. We had salmon, and the most amazing stuffed squash and salads and mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs, and pumpkin pie for dessert. And then I had to rush out the door and go to work. But I left encased in a warm glow.

Then at work I got a text from another friend. “Look for hippies in hats,” she said. Huh? And then there they were, walking up the bridge! I had a nice visit with them while I ate my second Thanksgiving of the day. (Calories don’t count on this one day a year, don’t ya know.) They made this pilgrimage in the rain just to spend some time with me. And that meant so much to me that it brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it.

Yes, the meaning of Thanksgiving is rather troublesome. I would be thrilled if it were replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day. (But I can see how that would be a difficult shift to make for some people, after the momentum of generations of tradition.) But for me, the Thanksgiving story, with all its falsehoods and inequities, is not the thing. The thing is the fellowship. It’s breaking bread with people. It’s gratitude for making it through another year. It’s the coming together, without the pressure of gift giving or elaborate decorations. Good food, good people. Good times.

This was a most excellent way to spend the holiday. Salmon may fly in the face of what we consider to be tradition, but it felt like the perfect Pacific Northwest way to celebrate a year of abundance. And sitting in the dark on a drawbridge and watching the rain fall may not be a horn of plenty, candles, and the good silver, but it was such a relief to be around people who weren’t at political loggerheads, and had no reason to rehash old wounds, as there were none. It was the best of that day—fellowship with people who accept you as you are.

With the right people, you could serve me a TV dinner fresh out of the microwave. It would still seem like a feast. When all is said and done, that is definitely something to be thankful for.

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New Paths to Independence

Independence Day is my second favorite holiday, bested only by Thanksgiving. What I love most about these holidays is that there’s no pressure behind them for gift giving or decorations. You can go all out or tone it down. Just good food and good friends. Who could ask for more?

This 4th, for the first time in a decade, I will have the day off. Woo hoo! And even better, a friend of mine has invited me to a party, and that person’s house is close to the fireworks. I’m excited.

Oddly enough, the thing that excites me most, despite my strong tendency toward introversion, is the opportunity to meet new people. I’m actually looking forward to that. After all, new connections mean a chance to send your life careening in exciting new directions. You never know. And these days, I’m unusually open to that type of adventure.

I enjoy the prospect of stepping into the unknown. It feels like the epitome of independence. And that, after all, is what this holiday is all about.

Happy 4th of July, everybody!

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Working on Holidays

I love that more and more people are refusing to shop on the holidays in order to pressure companies to not force their staff to spend those days at work. And I love it when I hear of a company that chooses to do the right thing and close during those periods. I will always support organizations that support their employees.

But while you are enjoying your turkey today, please don’t forget that it’s not just the cashiers of this world who are forced to work on the holidays. As you read this, I’m most likely working all by myself on this, my favorite holiday, and feeling kind of lonely because of it. I’ll also be working on Christmas and New Year’s Day, just as I worked on Memorial Day and the 4th of July.

As a bridgetender, it kind of goes with the territory. Heaven forefend that the shipping lanes are not navigable for any reason. And I’m not alone. The ambulance drivers, nurses, policemen, cab drivers, 911 operators, security guards and airport personnel of this world are right here with me, keeping the gears of society turning.

So when you give thanks today, thank those of us who can’t sit at the table with you. And maybe bring us a plate. A little of everything, but hold the cranberries, please. I hate cranberries.

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A Parade from the Inside Out

One of my coworkers moonlights as a Duckboat Tour operator here in Seattle. I’ve yet to have the opportunity to take one of these tours, but it’s way up there on my to-do list. Just riding in a vehicle that leaves the street then plunges into the water, then later drives back out again, would be worth the price of admission.

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So when he posted on his Facebook page that he’d be driving a duck in Seattle’s annual Macy’s Holiday Parade the day after Thanksgiving and that he needed passengers, I was jumping up and down. “Me! Me!”

The only real down side, aside from the fact that it was bitter cold and raining out, was that we had to meet at the “nest”, where they keep the ducks, no later than 6:50 in the morning. But still, I was excited. I had seen plenty of parades in my lifetime, but I’d never actually been in one.

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I have to say it’s a different experience entirely. After we drove to the staging area and jockeyed for our position amongst a great deal of confusion, there was even more waiting than the spectators experience. The parade wasn’t to begin until 9:00. But the time passed quickly because it was extremely surreal. Clowns and penguins and snowmen were wandering in the rain, some without their costume heads on, looking dazed and confused. Polar bears conferred on the sidewalk. Balloon floats alternately sagged and perked up and bumped into each other. I honestly couldn’t imagine how this chaos would turn into a parade, but somehow it did.

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On the duck we were given a choice of Santa hats or antlers to wear. I went for the antlers. You can never have too many antlers. They were playing some of the funniest ever Christmas music full blast, and we started singing along and rocking out. Santa stopped by to say hello on his way to his place of honor in the back, and high school marching bands started streaming past, looking wet, miserable, determined and excited by turns.

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 And then we were off. And suddenly everything made sense and went off like clockwork. It was really amazing. And I’ve got to hand it to Seattleites. The streets were packed in spite of the freezing rain, and it kind of made you feel proud. It also made me feel even more obligated to give them a good show, so I waved and smiled at every little kid I saw as we boogied on down the road. I even spotted two really nice women I had met at Thanksgiving the night before, and that was really fun. “Look at me! I’m in a parade!”

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And the energy that was directed back at us was amazing. People were so happy and excited to see us! For the first time in my life I got a little taste of what it must feel like to be famous, and it is without a doubt addictive as hell. I didn’t want it to end. More please. What a rush! I was grinning in spite of myself. And I was thrilled to see a reflection of us in a department store window.

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And then abruptly it was over. Balloon floats deflated, characters pulled off their heads, and band members scattered to the four winds. And naturally we were caught in a float jam of epic proportions.

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But eventually we made it back to the nest 4 hours after we had left, still high on adrenaline and rather pleased with ourselves. I will never view a parade the same way again. Each one is a miracle of coordination and teamwork and patience. This was a delightful experience that I’ll always remember. What a fabulous way to kick off the holidays!

Raise Your Head

I used to know someone who was so pessimistic that it was draining to be in his presence. I’m not exactly Little Mary Sunshine myself, but I do have a fundamental philosophical difference with that guy that we were never able to resolve. I believe your attitude can dictate your mood. He believes that you have no control over your mood whatsoever. He used to say, “I’m not going to paint a plastic smile on my face.” It made me want to slap the white off his teeth.

I really felt sorry for him. He constantly gave away his power. It was as if he was this helpless creature to whom happiness or sadness was bestowed, and he had no choice in the matter. It kind of makes you understand why some people make sacrifices to their higher power. If you have no control, the only thing you can do is cajole, flatter and beg. How exhausting.

In fairness, it must be much easier to keep your head firmly planted in your hind end like that. Then you don’t have to take any responsibility for the way your life turns out. But on the other hand, if you raise your head and look about you, you have the opportunity to see your situation in comparison with others who are worse off than you are. You have a chance to shift your focus. You learn how to solve problems, and most of all, you see the abundance that is spread before you.

This Thanksgiving, if at no other time, raise your head. Be grateful. Appreciate your unique life. Smile often. Who knows? It just might become a habit.

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