Friday, November 27, 2015

When Thanksgiving Wasn't Thanksgiving

When we first go married, hosting Thanksgiving wasn't even a thought in our minds. Well, it was, but we shooed it away and said, "hell-to-the-no."

There just ain't no way.

Like, you've got to build up stamina in order to procure something of that nature. We spent Thanksgiving with my wife's side of the family, took Friday off, and then spent that Saturday with my side of the family. It all worked out. Every family member and memory had it's own nook and cranny.

Actually, that's not true. Thanksgiving weekend used to be jam-packed with festivities and travel, much like this:

We traveled back in time to Ancient Rome so we could use the Vomitorium after all the eating.

Thanksgiving was definitely a whirlwind, but the threat of having to host it was years away, since, at that moment, we didn't own a house.

Once we did get married, and my brother was married, and there were multiple families to work with, our Thanksgiving weekends started to look different. I think we spent Thanksgiving at her parents house, spent Friday up North (but we came home that evening) and then spent Saturday at my parents' house for a third round of Thanksgiving. It was still nonstop insanity.

"Have a restful Thanksgiving Break," read emails from people.

Yeah. Right.

Then her side of the family decided to start hosting the Thanksgiving/Xmas mash-up on Friday, so instead of all of us driving up North, they all came down to us -- which was much nicer, but weird, because we discovered we weren't celebrating Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day. We celebrated it the Friday and Saturday after -- this was a conundrum.

What were we all going to do on the actual day? You can't not celebrate on the day, right?

So, we decided to have everyone at our house for Non-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.

"You all can come to our house, but we're not having a typical Thanksgiving dinner," is what we said, since we were to have turkey and all the trimmings the next two days.

So, we had ham. And not just any ham, Paula Dean's Smithfield ham -- you know, the one that hit her in the face.

There were a few years where we squeezed all the people into our tiny little house. One year, we invited friends over, along with family, because they were celebrating on Black Friday, like ourselves. We had my aunt, uncle and cousins come down from Chicago, along with her side and my side of the family: my parents, her parents, her three siblings, one set of her grandparents, one set of my grandparents, my grandma, and the dogs.

Well, OK, not my parents' standard poodles.

These past few years, her side of the family stopped hosting the Friday Thanksgiving/Xmas mash-up, and so Thanksgiving was to be on Thanksgiving, again, for her side of the family. My parents still didn't have a place to go since my side of the family still celebrates it on Saturday, and since we'd already been celebrating Non-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving at our house, it just made sense to just keep it at our house -- which meant, we were going to do what we said we'd never do in the beginning -- have Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.

The first year we had official Thanksgiving Thanksgiving, we brined our turkey. It was an Alton Brown recipe, and since he is our lord chef and savior, we gave it a go. And don't worry, we also had ham.

Not only did we say we weren't going to do Thanksgiving, we did it and then some.

I can't remember much of the brine, probably because I scrapped it from my memory. It's a process, brining, and we'll never do it again.

First, you thaw the turkey. Since it takes up an entire shelf of the refrigerator, this is a good time to get rid of all the old food that's been sitting on the second shelf, anyway. Then, the night before, you pull the turkey out of it's plastic, but do so carefully. All that thawing has unleashed salmonella juices that have oozed from the turkey. Balance the turkey over the sink, squeeze the juices out, and pat it dry.

The turkey has become a baby, and you have to also rinse it off. Make sure you have your bottle of Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo ready. Condition the skin, massage it, and place it into the large blue storage container, because unlike Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, we don't have those fancy measuring containers that can fit a small goat.

It was so much work for so little impact.
The next year, we needed to make sure it was easier.

Sometimes, regardless of how fancy you want to be, you've got to cook smarter, not harder.

The ham is a mainstay and deserves all the heat from the oven. The turkey is secondary at our Thanksgiving. We just buy two smaller turkey breasts, already seasoned, and cook them in the Crockpot.

You fry, we crock.

This year's Thanksgiving Thanksgiving was one of our smallest ones yet, featuring nine family members sitting comfortably around one table. Typically, we're split up between two.

And with the turkey and the green bean casserole in the Crockpots, the ham and butternut squash sharing the oven, the baked goods prepared the night before, and the potatoes brought by family, we've been able to find our food preparation groove.

You know you've made it to the big time when you actually have a system for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Liveblogging Event: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

I'm fashionably late to this whole thing. And then I dropped my laptop on the floor, and the parade, at this point, is showcasing nothing but bad pop stars lip syncing to their own terrible music.

Old lady in hockey gear dancing to Jake Owen's crap song? What is this?

I don't know if I have the energy. My arms are hurting from doing an Insanity Max 30 workout two days ago, and Maeve keeps scream-barking at all the moving things outside.

The first hour of the parade is all the Broadway shows none of us get to see. This second hour is lambasting us with popular culture floats, tainted pop music and marching bands.

Oh, great, Andy Grammar just nah-nah-nah'd at us. He can go away. I don't think he'll sell any more records for Christmas. I think I'd rather have a lump of coal in my stocking.

And, what, Panic at the Disco? They're too spastic for Thanksgiving -- like, they're music is that unpredictable family member sitting at the Thanksgiving table. You just don't know what they're going to say.

I actually don't mind these guys, and I see that they're hanging out with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the Nickelodeon float, so I guess I can't hate on all that too much. Those turtles have fans I'm not getting in the way of.

BUT I WON'T BE NICE TO THE POWER RANGERS! Wait. That's it? You mention a movie coming out in 2017, do a single pan of the red Power Ranger balloon and call it a day?

I will give it up to all the dancers that make their way to the giant green space in front of Macy's. Since I was a dancer in a previous life, I can relate to them, but wait -- now we've got the Plain White T's performing? Where have they been?

Do you see the kids waving on the Royal Caribbean float as they perform? It's like they've been possessed by old ladies. They must be pacing themselves, since they've got, like, 2.65 miles.

It takes 75 people to hold onto the Spongebob Squarepants balloon, but they're holding onto, what looks like, boomerangs. Now we've got a pirate float and Matt Lauer just mentioned how he's always looking for more booty. Steph wasn't paying attention, was like, "What?!" and then saw that the word "booty" was attached to the pirate. Then she said, "Oh."

We've hit the pinnacle -- a bunch of men in little blue shorts, tank tops and red jackets dancing around to Jamaroquai, followed by a bluegrass band called Mipso.

If you wanted to peg me in a one-minute sequence, that's it.

And with that, I'm going to call this liveblog done. We're hosting Thanksgiving, and I need to vacuum.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Introducing The Holidarian

After posting nonstop #2sentenceterrors during the month of October, I decided I needed a vacation. So, I packed up all my things, left my writing notebooks at home, and traveled to Hawaii for the month of November. I taught all my middle school journalism classes via Skype while sipping Mai Tais.

And then I woke up, realized it was the end of November, and saw that I haven't been a very good writer lately.

Not cool, My Bucket of Parts, not cool at all.

Last weekend, I kicked off the holidays by supporting a local historical theater during their "Festival of Trees Gala" where people decorated themed Christmas trees for auction. All proceeds went to the theater. After posting said photos to Facebook, I realized that a new persona had emerged.

One of holiday frivolity.

And so begins my new My Bucket of Parts series: The Holidarian.

Because, seriously people, we can all relate, right? Whether it's stressful or bountiful or down-right insanity, the Holidays hold us under its spell (or curse, depending if you hate this time of year).

This is the time of year when the Hallmark channel shows off all the best made-for-TV Christmas movies, like this one, starring Judith Light:

Judith Light stars as workaholic Samantha who's become a Scrooge. She's about to lose her husband during the Holidays, when magically, her younger self (who used to adore Christmas) visits her older, meaner self to turn things around. 

With lines like:
Who are you talking to, Samantha?

Samantha (looking at younger version of herself):
Oh, I'm just talking to myself.

Co-worker (unbelieving):
More like arguing...

Maybe I'll become a Martha Stewart for the next many weeks, or one of those really annoying food bloggers, where I post one million photos of the cooking process and write about how my homemade pumpkin spice ravioli spoke to me, before giving you the actual recipe. Or I'll hot glue a bunch of puff balls together and write in a monotone voice like a sewing craft show on PBS.

Whatever it may be, allow for The Holidarian to share with you tips, tricks and stories about this festive time of year.

But don't get too enamored because you've got those eggnog cookies baking in the oven, and we wouldn't want them to get burned, now, would we?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"The Stand" by Stephen King

My first experience with this book wasn't in written form: it was the four-night miniseries event that I watched when I was a seventh grader, you know, back when miniseries were...


During May sweeps.

Is that a thing anymore? Didn't Netflix, like, cancel that? Or was it DVR's fault?

When it came out on video, I went out and bought the two-cassette-tape-VCR-set, and it took me seven hours to watch it straight through, and it was binge watching before binge watching was binge watching.

Like, I felt drained and guilty after spending that much time in front of a TV.

So, 21 years later, it was about time I tackled this classic epic by my favorite author. One of his top three longest novels.

"The Stand" is just as relevant today as it was when it came out in 1978. With pandemics around every corner and political restlessness, this books seers a nice vision of hell right into the psyche.

Except, it mostly takes place during the summer months, so as I was reading it, I was like, "ahh, summer."

And then a dried up body appeared in a car with flies all over it, and I was like, "never mind."

Everything and anything has already been said about this novel. Experts that aren't me have written all over walls about it, but since I write about every book I read, this one is no exception.

I often read King and wonder, "How is this horror, exactly?" Most of this tome is spent with characters who are stuck just trying to survive. It's not totally supernatural. Instead, it's a realistic approach to what someone might do if found within the belly of a catastrophe. Travel by motorcycle, keep camping gear, search for food, learn to hunt, etc. From the start of the book to the end, these characters grow, change, mature, live, and breath. Without writing a constant series where readers can return to the characters again and again, King does a phenomenal job of dropping a bucket down into his imagination and drawing up vats of character development for this 1,200 page book.

And sure, the supernatural is all fun and games, and the random chapters describing all the gross that's described because of the plague is all gruesome fun, but readers stay for the characters. They stay for the survivors who have chosen to be a part of the good, and they hope the characters who've chosen to be on the side of the bad will have a change of heart, and when they don't, it's not because they're evil -- it's because they feel they owe the Big Bad for saving their lives when they were found in ruin from the plague.

This book finds regular people hiking through life after the end of the world. Although these characters are pulled this way and that from their dreams touched with supernatural about which side they want to be on (good or evil), it all comes down to choice.

This is a story about making choices, and the consequences of those choices, and also how those choices can either grow or shrink a person.

It's just done in a big, dramatic, scary way.