Sunday, November 27, 2011

Table Talk - PHS (Post-Holiday Syndrome)

This is after 2 loads in the dishwasher
and there is still a lot left to go...
Plus, you can't see how dirty the floor is!
Okay, so my house is officially a disaster and I am PHS-ing.  Hosting 9 young adults for four days tends to leave one's home in a bit of disarray...well, maybe quite a bit...or even more realistically, like a tornado blew through!  If you can remember back to my Thanksgiving blog, Day 1 of their stay was the muddy football game.  Day 2 was "shooting" out in a muddy field.  Then we went to the beach and came back with sandy shoes and smoky clothes as souvenirs.  Add to that their regular weekly laundry that they bring with them every weekend...and then start counting the laptops, the games, the gear, the homework, and the SHOES!  Canadians take their shoes off at the door, so my entry was piled with footwear...and so was my porch because of the muddy shoes I wouldn't allow inside.  And let's not forget the dishes...or the furniture moved around to accommodate the games they played and the TV they watched...or the linens--blankets for cuddling on the couch and then all the bedding and towels for 11.

Today after Sunday dinner, which was all the Thanksgiving left-overs (except I did whip up some fresh mashed potates!), I picked up the new Christmas issue of "Real Simple" (Ha!) and sat down in the comfy chair that everyone usually fights over (they were in the living room playing a game, so it was free).  I sipped my coffee and eggnog and calmly disregarded the distaster.  One of my sweet college boys (I'll name him since he told me he reads my blog!), Ryan, asked me what they could do to clean up.  I said, "Pick up your bags and leave!"  That was a joke.  I laughed and said, "It's true, Ryan, if everyone took their stuff away I think the house wouldn't be too bad!"

A little later, that's just what they did.  Like a crescendo, there was even more mess and even a little chaos as everyone began packing up and loading their stuff...and gathering up the 60-some shoes (not exaggerating---do the math:  11 people x 2 or 3 and even 4 pairs of shoes for the girls = 30+ pairs = 60+ shoes!).  Finally the cars were loaded, the hugs, good-byes and thank-yous distributed, and the kids drove off.  I shut the door and turned around to survey the damage, and then shot both arms straight into the air and shouted "Whoooo-hoooo!"  My one remaining son laughed.  He knows I love to clean.

So I went to the back bedroom and began there...gathering up the sheets and towels and starting the laundry, collecting dishes and loading the dishwasher, bagging up the garbage and recycling, taking advantage of the re-arranged furniture to vacuum and mop in places that aren't usually exposed, and packing up the fall decor.  And now tonight I am going to make a bowl of popcorn and watch the BBC DVD I've been saving for this moment and thoroughly enjoy my PHS (post-holiday syndrome)---that tiny sliver of time where my house is clean and quiet after one holiday and before another, because tomorrow . . .

                                                       I'm decorating for Christmas!!!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Saying Thank You

Happy Thanksgiving!

I woke this morning at 6:08 to my cat clawing the sheets to wake me up:  I am thankful for my pet, who purrs, has soft fur and loves me (I think).

Kitty exploring the box of apples!

I walked through the bedroom in the dark so I wouldn't wake Jeff, and before I turned on the bathroom light I noticed the sunrise through the window:  I am thankful for the colorful sky and warm light of the sun after a good three days of heavy wind and rainstorms.

I showered, dressed, threw in a load of laundry, fed the cat, and grabbed my camera and ran outside in my slippers without a jacket to take a picture of the sky:  I am thankful for my beautiful neighborhood and the amazing walking paths near my house that allow me to enjoy stunning views of mountains, creeks and forests on a daily basis.

I came back into the house after a good 15 minutes of jogging around with my camera, the phone, and a handful of pretty leaves, and I called my mom to talk about the upcoming events of the day:  I am thankful for living only a mile from my mom after 20 years of being separated by 1000 miles!

I preheated the oven and popped in the first of the day's baking, two apple pies and two pumpkin pies:  I am thankful that I love to cook because it not only brings great joy and satisfaction to me, but it also blesses others. (They gobble down in 5 minutes what took me 2 hours to make!  Go figure.)

My oldest son Justin was the first to break the stillness of my morning.  He greeted me with a shoulder squeeze and a kiss on the top of my head.  He was up early to watch the game.  His first words to me were, "What can I do to help?"  I replied, "Well, I think everything is pretty much under control, so you can watch your game."  He said, "I didn't ask you if everything was under control, I asked you what I could do to help."  So he carried things to and from the garage and helped me put away some heavy items, and then he made me a french press of excellent coffee from Coava:  I am thankful for my son, who loves me, helps me and treats me with respect and honor.  One day he is going to have one very lucky wife!

Everyone finally crawled out of bed around 11-ish.  This Thanksgiving we have our four kids, our regular Canadian college kids who spend every weekend with us, one of the kids' friends from Canada who came to visit, and this year we also have two students from Brazil. The house was lively with laughter and activity, and suddenly a holiday atmosphere filled my home:  I am thankful for the college kids who come every weekend to stay with us, enriching our lives with their energy, passion, and humor.

Appetizers at noon!  No one had eaten breakfast but me, so everyone was hungry.  We had an old-fashioned Thanksgiving relish tray with black and green olives and sweet and dill pickles, but then we jazzed it up with marinated artichoke hearts, Greek olives, and sweet peppers.  My mom brought another old-fashioned stand-by...deviled eggs, which I love.  Then I made butternut squash soup and served it in little cups (which everyone politely sampled!).  I tried a new recipe of dates stuffed with roasted almonds and wrapped in bacon and broiled, and those were pretty good, and then we had ooey-gooey meltingly delicious brie cheese topped with plum chutney and served with cornbread crackers.  All that was washed down with hot spiced cider.  It was nice to sit down and have a snack in the midst of the busy preparations:  I am thankful for a good game plan that allowed me to be organized enough to rest and relax with everyone, despite the demands of the day.

The last two hours before the feast!  What fun to take each dish out of the oven and smell the wonderful aromas mingling in the kitchen...turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, two kinds of stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with apple butter, Yoshida-glazed green beans, buttered corn, an Autumn salad of three kinds of lettuce, pomegranate arils, roasted pumpkin seeds, feta cheese, green onion and a raspberry vinaigrette, red jello salad, and two kinds of rolls:  I am thankful for the abundance of the safe, clean, quality food we enjoy---really, I am!

Kate and Anna made these leaf votives

We joined hands and prayed, each of us one by one expressing what we were thankful for.  Then we ate our delicious meal while we talked and laughed, reminiscing about the old and learning some new.  Such rich fellowship!:  I am thankful to the Lord, for it is He who gives us what we need and then so much more!

After dinner the kids jumped up and cleared the dishes while my mom and I relaxed at the table.  Then the kids relaxed in front of the TV (more football!) while my mom and I finished up the dishes and food the kids didn't know what to do with.  The kitchen was clean in no time!  I am thankful for the "many hands" that truly do make light work and for young people with a heart to serve!

We changed into grubby clothes and headed to the park for a game of touch football.  Everyone except my mom played, even Jeff and I, although we are "old" compared to everyone else.  It started to rain and we got soaked and very muddy.  But we didn't care!  It was great to run off the heavy meal...and I scored a touchdown!  I am thankful for my health and that I am still able to keep up with the young guys!

Now, what do you do with 12 soggy, soiled football players?  I was not about to let them in the house, so first we put the girls in the garage and they stripped down to their undies, leaving their muddy clothes in a heap, and ran upstairs to shower and change.  Then we let the guys into the garage and they did the same, until we were all clean and cozy in our warm sweats and loungewear:  I am thankful for a warm house and plenty of hot water!

After burning off some calories we were ready for dessert!  Ohhhh, so decadent!  Apple pie with a vanilla-sugar crunch to the crust, homemade pumpkin pie (right from the pumpkin) topped with maple-spiced whipped cream, gingersnaps, pumpkin-cream cheese roll, homemade caramel corn (thanks, Grammy!) and "brigadeiro," a rich and creamy chocolate pudding-like dessert our Brazilian students made for us.  And of course Justin made a few more pots of french-pressed Coava coffee, with eggnog to stir in for a holiday touch:  I am thankful for the "sweet" things in life!

Grammy's Caramel Corn

Pumpkin spice roll

Pumpkin and Apple Pie

Brazilian Brigadeiro

We carried our dessert into the family room and started playing games.  First was "Taboo," one of my favorites.  My team won!  Then we played "Four on the Couch," a memory game, and the other team won.  We laughed ourselves silly more than once, especially over my mother's antics.  How she combined "Charades," "Name That Song," and "Taboo" into one game and how she kept pressing the wrong buttons to increase her team's score kept us more entertained than the game itself!  I am thankful for laughter and a merry heart, which is better than medicine!

By the time we had finished our games, it was late.  I had to do a bit of typing because hospitals don't close on holidays.  While I was busy typing, the kids emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it with dessert dishes:  I am thankful for overtime, the convenience of being able to work from my home, and for the blessing of employment.

The day is done.  We are well fed, well rested, well played and very well blessed.  My house is relatively clean.  I am really looking forward to crawling into bed and pulling my clean sheets and duvet under my chin, snuggling next to Jeff and listening to the sound of the rain on my window as I fall asleep:  I am thankful for a day where I am reminded to be thankful all day!  And I am thankful that I know who to thank...Thank you, Lord, for your goodness and grace in my life!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Lesson in Assertiveness

Sometimes lessons can cost us a lot of money, even if we never signed up for them!

I spent $100 for my last lesson.  It was a lesson on assertiveness...or lack thereof, in my case.

There is a new shop in town that just opened about a month ago.  This weekend was an open house to showcase its seasonal goods.  The building is actually a red barn that has been tastefully cleaned up, landscaped and lit with bright white mini-lights.  For sale is all manner of artisan creations by local artists---beautiful woodwork, hand-painted ceramics, bath goods infused with locally grown lavender, herb-infused olive oil, handmade chocolates, and many other interesting and well-crafted goods.  I was excited to explore this new shop and eagerly went on Saturday with two friends.  We sampled some of the tasty treats as we browsed, admiring the craftmanship and beauty of the artists' offerings.  I came across a beautiful platter made of wine barrel staves, and I couldn't help but exclaiming over it to my friends.  I have admired a similar platter in one of my favorite coffee shops for quite some time and have tried to find one for myself.  This platter was rubbed smooth, highly polished and given legs to keep it from rocking, as barrel staves are naturally curved. 

I wanted a more rustic one, minus the legs and polish, that looks like this:

I spoke out loud to my friends that I wanted a rustic one, and suddenly a man's voice came from behind me and said, "You're looking for a rustic one?"

"Yes," I said, hopefully.  "Do you have one?"

He was the artist, and he did have one, but it was up in his barn.  He said he would be happy to go get it for me, as it was only minutes up the road.  I was excited!  He left and I looked for the price on the one he had finished.  $135.  I reasoned to myself that $35 would probably be a fair price for a slat from a broken barrel, and even though it cost the artist nothing I was willing to pay him for getting it for me since I had no means to get it myself.

He came back shortly and handed it to me.  It was what I wanted, complete with cracks in the edges, but it was dirtier than I expected.  It left a long streak of dirt on the sleeve of my jacket.  It obviously came right off the floor of his barn!  But I figured I could lightly sand it and clean it up.  I'd even get to use it for Thanksgiving dinner this week!

I took it to the counter and he followed me up.  "It's not on inventory," he told the girl who was ringing me up.  "So how much?" she asked.  "$100" he replied.  The girl and I both gave a little, "Ha!" at his funny joke...$100 for a dirty, broken barrel stave!  She continued to ring up my other purchases and when she had finished she asked again, "How much for the platter?"  He said in a very firm voice with the tone of I've-already-told-you-this-why-are-you-asking-me-again, "$100."  She looked up and said in a bewildered voice, "But it doesn't have legs."  He said in that same firm tone, "She doesn't want legs."  So the girl wrote "100.00" on my receipt and I just about died inside.  But I didn't say a word.  I felt trapped.  I had already made a couple connections with this man, first when he met us as we entered the store and I recognized him as being a member of the community club that selected and sent my daughter to France as an exchange student and second when we had had a brief discussion about the church I'm from, which was just kitty-corner to his store.  So now standing at the register with him beside me, I felt intimidated, stupid, powerless, mad, taken advantage of, and a whole lot more!  I handed over my visa as casually as if the price was $10, signed the slip, met my friends, and walked out, thanking him as I left!  Thanking him for ripping me off.  Thanking him for being rude (or shrewd) enough to make 100% profit.  Thanking him for reminding me why he was rich and I was poor.

See, he is rich...easily one of the richest men in our city.  I'm sure he didn't rip me off to be mean and unfair.  It's just the way he thinks, has been trained to think, and has thought his whole life.  You do what it takes to make a profit on anything you touch.  If people are willing to bite, you've got yourself a catch.  And that is why he is rich.  I, on the other hand, think and have been trained to think and have thought my whole life, "Oh, it's this much?  Okay.  It's more than I wanted to pay, but if you say so."  And that is why I am poor.  He is the weasel and I am the wimp.

When I told my son my story, he laughed and said, "And that's why you're the 99%."  Yes, it's true.  And that's why I made up my mind to go back to the store and return the $100 dirty barrel stave.  Sure there's some happenstance to why and how we may not be in the 1%, but mostly it's a choice.  He chose to charge me $100 for the barrel stave and I chose to purchase it.  I wasn't forced.

So today I dressed up, did my make-up, put on my power heels and picked up the most expensive purse I own. Then with confidence I went into the store and returned my barrel stave.  I didn't apologize or make excuses, I simply said, "I thought about it and I'd rather not pay $100 for a barrel stave."  And she said, looking over her glasses with understanding eyes and a kind smile, "I understand completely," and handed me my receipt.

Now, a rustic barrel stave platter is on my Christmas list.  If you find one for less than $100, let me know!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Table Talk - Out of the Box (or can...or package)

By now you know that I love to cook and I shun packaged and prepared food items, making my meals usually from scratch and using fresh, local produce whenever it is available.  Every "Table Talk" blog includes my Sunday menu and sometimes recipes and cooking tips.  Food is important to me, and good food is almost an obsession.  So how, then, did this Sunday's meal come to be a package of ravioli, a ring of sausage and a jar of marinara sauce?  I would be embarrassed to even publish this Sunday's menu if there wasn't a funny story behind it!

A couple weeks ago my son Justin made a delicious pasta dish.  He is a very good cook, especially considering that he is both young and male, and he often creates some gourmet sandwich, pasta or omelette for his lunch that leaves the rest of us drooling over our PBJ.  After this latest pasta creation, he offered me a taste (which he often does), and I appropriately sighed and "mmm'd" and pronounced it delicious.  Then he said, "Mom, next week I am going to make Sunday dinner.  You can take a break."  Well, the next Sunday (which was last Sunday) was our Thanksgiving Fellowship Meal at church, so he told me he would cook after Thanksgiving.  "Perfect," I thought, as that would free me up to focus on Thanksgiving dinner and not have worry about shopping and cooking for the Sunday meal as well.

So, Saturday night I am peeling potatoes at about 8:30, doing those wonderful make-ahead mashed potatoes that make life so much easier on Thanksgiving Day.  I'm also noticing that Justin is relaxing in front of the TV and snacking on something after getting off work.  I asked him if he needed anything for his dinner tomorrow.  I felt my body sag as he looked at me blankly and said, "What are you talking about?"  Well...long story short, when he said he would make dinner "after Thanksgiving," he meant the actual holiday and not our Thanksgiving fellowship meal.  So he wasn't planning to do dinner until next week.  I wanted to grab my hair with my rubber-gloved hands and give out a gutteral groan, but I turned back to the sink and continued peeling...and pep-talking myself back into a state of calm.  "Okay, there's that new recipe for chicken and gnocchi soup...that's easy.  Then just add a salad and homemade bread in the breadmaker.  Super easy, super quick.  And for dessert I'll use that coupon for free ice cream and Belgian cookies and then whip up a batch of fudge sauce to go on top."  So I quickly made up a small grocery list and sent Jeff to the store after the game.  Relaxed and feeling good about getting life so quickly under control, I finished the potatoes, popped them in the freezer, and checked "potatoes" off my list.  Then the phone rings.

Yep, it's Jeff.  "I can't find the gnocchi."  Actually, I was expecting this call, so I told him where to look and even gave him a back-up location if they weren't in the first section.  The phone rings again.  "The guys says they don't carry it at all anymore."  Well, it's 9:30 now and I don't feel like thinking up a new menu and sending Jeff for more ingredients, because I know he already doesn't want to be there.  So, I clean up the kitchen, fold the laundry, and head for bed, rolling through the recipes in my mind like a card file.  Finally, I settle on a good Canadian stand-by that my gang will love and think of as a real treat: pyrogies and kielbasa.  In our four years here, I've only come across Cheemo pyrogies in one store.  Back in Canada, pyrogies were just a super-quick meal that we didn't eat often and didn't really treat as special. But deprivation makes divine, so because pyrogies are almost impossible to come by here, they are now on everyone's list of favorite foods.  I planned to still do a batch of bread in the breadmaker, but then on the way home from church I would stop and pick up pyrogies and kielbasa.  Calm and in control once again, I fell asleep.

Next morning after church I zipped over to the store.  Kielbasa was on sale...a really good sale!  Oh, yes, I am happy.  Gonna have a quick and easy meal that's cheap too!  But, I'm sure you've guessed, there are no pyrogies.  That section of the freezer now holds frozen mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and potatoes for holiday meals.  I ask about pyrogies and the girl says, "What are pyrogies?"  She gets another guy, who also says, "What are pyrogies?" and then tells me they most certainly are specialty foods which aren't carried regularly.  So now what?  I've got a household of hungry guys and I'm tyring to think up dinner #4!  By this time I plain old don't care what we eat.  I grab a bunch of packages of fresh ravioli (not canned, I'd never go that low!), keep the kielbasa, and throw in a couple jars of marinara sauce.  At home I start the water boiling for our one-pot wonder meal and get the girls to make a caesar salad.  The bread machine beeps and fragrant bread emerges.  We sit down to eat.  The guys devour it, loving it just because it's food.  But then my mom comments: "Oh, this is delicious.  Justin, what did you put in this.  It is sooo good!  Excellent job, Justin."  We all burst out laughing.  "What?  What?" my mom asks, bewildered.  "It's all canned!" I exclaim.  So we told her the whole story, and she got a laugh out of our "gourmet pasta" meal too.

Funny thing is, it really was good I ate the left-overs for lunch today!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Happy Hoarder

I have a confession to make...I am a hoarder.  No, really, I am.  I know, I house doesn't look like the houses on the show "Hoarders, Buried Alive."  But in case you didn't know, there are different ways to hoard.

Most of you are probably a bit like me in that you are both drawn to and disgusted by the show.  I've only watched it a handful of times, but this strange fascination takes hold of me when the kids call me down and say, "Mom!  Come see this house on 'Hoarders!'" and I run right to the TV to see.  I don't live among piles of garbage, clothing, furniture, debris, food, dishes and "mystery" items (though I have actually been in the houses of some people who do).  But I too am a hoarder, just of a different sort, and I was reminded of my psychological silliness again today.

I was perusing the left-overs in the fridge to creatively put together a delicious lunch that would thriftily use up some odds and end in the fridge and clear some space for the pending holiday goodies soon to be stored there.  I had some left-over rice from last night, some fresh pico de gallo, and half an avocado.  I also had a can of black beans in the pantry...and a jar of Yumm sauce.  What is Yum sauce?  Well, it's Cafe Yumm's signature sauce that they serve on all their rice bowls.  I love Cafe Yumm, and the only one for a long time was in Eugene (until this fall when a new one opened in downtown Portland, yay!).  Every time we had to drive anywhere south of Eugene, I would make my husband stop there for me so I could have a rice bowl.  The last time we were there, I decided to splurge and buy a jar of Yumm sauce so I could make my own delicious rice bowls at home.  But once I got it safely stowed in my cupboard, I couldn't seem to find a reason good enough to warrant opening that little jar of deliciousness.  So today, 3 months later, I wondered if maybe it was time to pour a little on my rice bowl.  I debated.  Should I?  Was it really okay to open it, or should I wait and save it for another day?  Finally I gave myself permission, and I took the jar out of the cupboard.  Uh-oh.  It was greasy.  I unscrewed the lid and looked inside.  The sauce had curdled and separated.  I flipped the lid over to look for the date...yep, expired.  So down the drain went my $8 jar of Yumm sauce.  Once again I had hoarded until I lost what I had hoarded.

Get the picture now?  If not, here's another example:  One year for Christmas Jeff bought me a gift set of my favorite perfume, so now I had lotion, powder, soap, bath gel and body splash to layer my fragrance.  I put it away for "special" occasions.  Only the occasion never seemed special enough.  One day when I was rearranging my bathroom drawers and cupboards I came across the pretty box that held the bottles.  "Oh, yeah," I thought with delight, "I'll have to wear this!"  I opened the lotion and sniffed.  To my dismay it was rancid and ran out like water when I tilted it.  I opened the travel-size perfume bottle...alcohol.  I sprinkled the powder, and it barely contained a scent.  The only thing that seemed to be okay was the soap.  That was quite a bit more than $8 down the drain!

And so it has been for most of my life.  When I receive a special gift, I put it away to bring out for the right occasion, only the right occasion never seems to come.  I'm talking candles, chocolates, coffee, perfume, lotion, dishes, food...

Here is my insight into my idiosyncrasy...when I was 13 my family went through a turbulent time of uprooting.  In just two weeks' time, we had made the decision to move and then relocated across the country taking with us only a suitcase of clothes and leaving everything else behind.  In my mind, my hoarding is a little self-insulation against the sudden uncertainties of life: "I will hang on to this because I might not ever have it again."

My sister is just like me, and we laugh at ourselves and encourage each other to use and enjoy the things we have.  We're good for each other!  My mom is a hoarder too, but not the way we are.  She has many of the same items....lots of lotions, lots of candles, lots of treats.  One time I stayed a week with her after she had had major surgery, and to help her out I cleaned out some of her cupboards (not because they were messy...they weren't...but because she had wanted to get rid of stuff and just hadn't been able to with being sick for awhile).  We laughed and laughed, because under the sink I found 9 toothbrushes (stored neatly in little containers), 7 sponges in a sponge holder, 24 lotions, etc., etc.  Her  hoarder's mantra---just a little different than mine---is: "I will stock up on this because I might not be able to get it again."

So, no, I'm not buried in my stuff, but I do bury my a squirrel against a winter's day.  And now that I've confessed my little oddity, I am going downstairs to light a fragrant candle just because I like the scent, and then I'm going to open up the little cubby in my desk and eat a chocolate!

...or maybe not...

...the box is dated December 2008!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Table Talk - Good Old-Fashioned Church Potluck

Praying before the Thanksgiving Fellowship Meal
I don't know about you, the but word "potluck" sends shivers down my spine rather than rumbles in my tummy, and my experience is that the food is usually yucky, not yummy (good rhyming, eh?).

This week we didn't have our usual Sunday dinner because we had our annual church Thanksgiving Fellowship Meal.  It was a great meal with traditional turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy accompanied by a plentiful "potluck" of delicious side dishes and dessert.  Everyone had a great time and was very well fed.  But you don't know how hard I've worked over the last four years to make these "meals" a success.

When my husband and I first took over the church, there were bi-weekly "Pot-Bless" meals (because "luck" isn't a Christan word).  Tables were rolled out and chairs set around them, with a used paper placement in the center for a pitcher of water, salt and pepper shakers, and a container of toothpicks.  Seriously.  That was the first sign that this was not going to be a good meal.  The second sign was in the kitchen.  Food began arriving in slow cookers and towel-wrapped casserole dishes (I distinctly remember a little bowl of someone's left-over scrambled eggs from breakfast).  Hmmm.  Pretty skimpy offerings, so the ladies went into the fellowship room and outside to where two huge deep freezers were located and began pulling out food to supplement the meager spread.  Left-over rice, freezer-burned rolls, some nondescript vegetables in the shape of a green rock from being thawed and refrozen were selected for defrosting.  The microwave was just a-hummin'!  I was so excited when one of the ladies offered to run to Safeway for some roast chicken!  That day I vowed to my husband that come Fall when we officially became the lead pastors, "Pot-Bless" meals would receive their final blessing.  So for a whole year we didn't do potlucks.  We had lots of social events, but the church provided the food and my mother and I prepared it.  Then the next year we introduced what I call a "controlled potluck," where the church provides the main course and the people provide sides, signing up on a sign-up sheet under the category of the food they would like to bring, i.e., vegetables, desserts, rolls and butter, salads, etc., to ensure we had a variety of foods that complimented the main course.  This worked as far as selection goes, but we still came up short time after time.  So this year I announced that the church was providing the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy and beverages, and everyone else was to bring TWO dishes---one side dish and one dessert---and each dish was to be enough to feed their family.  So, "If one dozen cookies won't feed your family, then you need to bring triple that."  Well, my pep talk worked.  This year the tables were loaded that we actually had to set up two extra tables to hold everything!  It was wonderful.  Looking over the abundant spread, I thought to myself, "The thing I'm most thankful for this Thanksgiving Meal is for this Thanksgiving Meal!"  Everyone was fed, even going back for seconds and thirds, and we made up bundle after bundle of left-overs to send home.  It was a great day.  The pot that once ran out of luck has now been blessed!

P.S.  Do you know there are actually whole websites, blogs and articles on pot-lucking?  They cover topics like food poisoning, dirty kitchens, bad cooks and more.  So I think it is safe to say I'm not in the minority with my aversion to these events!

So what do YOU think?  Love them or loathe them?  Tips for success?  Horror stories or glowing testimonies?  Tell me!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Hawk-y" Highlights

I went to my first hockey game in probably 15 years this weekend.  I was surprised at the rush of memories that came with the event!  Since I have a "Can-Am Fam" (Canadian-American family), hockey has made some great plays in the game of our life.

Surprisingly, hockey for me is in my genes, starting before I was born...even though I didn't know it for many years.  My grandpa on my dad's side played for the farm team of the Detroit Red Wings and before that in Winnipeg where he met my Canadian grandmother.  He died when my dad was just 14, so I never knew him or his stories.  I found out about his hockey skills at my own dad's funeral when my grandma showed me my grandpa's obituary and told me a bit about him.  I was glad to learn that tidbit later in life because I had a much greater appreciation for it, living at the time in Canada surrounded by hockey lovers in my in-laws, family, friends, co-workers, city and nation in general!  At that moment, I felt I was finally a true Canadian!

When I was a little girl living in Indiana, we had a neighbor who played hockey.  He was a Canadian from Ontario who had moved to the States to play.  I don't even remember the name of the team or the division he played, but I do remember my first live hockey game.  I remember distinctly my mom dressing my sister and I in identical white sailor pants that buttoned up on each side of the hips.  She did our hair in pigtails and gave us clear instructions as to what our behavior was to be at the game, as she wasn't accompanying us.  It was a cold, snowy winter night in the Great Lakes region, classic hockey weather!  I remember climbing the stairs of the cavernous coliseum and how that in itself was awesome.  Then we took our seats.  My sister and I marveled at how they folded up with us inside them and quickly learned to sit on the edge of our seat to keep them down because we were so little and light.  Then the music started!  The old organ cranked out rah-rah chants that we learned and participated in within seconds...Da-da da-da da-daaahhhh....CHARGE!  The scrape of skates against the ice and slam of bodies against the boards, the big zamboni, the rowdy crowd and the fights!  Wow!  I was overwhelmed in the best way and decided I loved hockey.

Then we moved to Oregon and to a new hockey scene...the Portland Winterhawks.  Not the NHL but not bad hockey either.  The sport wasn't popular in my town; it was the Portland Trailblazers who stole the show, but I remember two girls in my school who lived and breathed the Winterhawks, wearing red and black striped scarves, sketching hawk wings on their binders, and going to all the games.  Whenever they talked about hockey I was always reminded of the games and gifts I received from our hockey-player friend in Indiana and how much fun it had been.

In college I became friends with a Canadian student.  He was an avid hockey fan.  I remember one day at the lunch table in the cafeteria him talking enthusiastically about the Edmonton Oilers with another fellow Edmontonian.  I asked innocently, "Who are the Oilers?" thinking football in Texas, not hockey in Alberta.  They both looked at me, dumbstruck.  "You've never heard of the Oilers?" Jeff asked incredulously.  "No," I replied.  "What about Wayne Gretzky?  You've heard of him, haven't you?"  I knew my answer was supposed to be yes, but I had to be honest.  "No."  Now they looked at each other, dumstruck.  And so Jeff began to educate me about hockey in a very passionate way, and I've been learning ever since!  As our friendship developed into something more, Jeff decided to ask me out.  Where was our first date?  Yep, a hockey game!  He wanted to be sure I liked it before he liked me!  So off we went to the Winterhawks game.  I remember three things about that game:  1) What I wore (gray cords, a black sweatshirt with my name custom printed on it with some cute design, and gray flats), 2) How Jeff put his hand on the small of my back to guide me through the crowded coliseum (I thought it was romantic), and 3) All the fights.

So we dated and went to the Winterhawks games, and then we got engaged and traveled up to Edmonton to go to an Oilers game.  This was the real deal.  By now I totally knew who the Oilers were and who Wayne Gretzky was, and I was excited to experience NHL hockey at its best.  And the NHL did not disappoint me...Gretzky skated out on the ice and within seconds scored.  The crowd went wild and Jeff looked at me knowingly, with a huge grin plastered to his face, as if to say, "See, what did I tell you?"  I loved it!

We got married and moved to Edmonton in the Oilers heyday.  I entered my first hockey pool at work (with Jeff coaching me from the sidelines).  We went to games and wore the colors.  I often scored free tickets from work, which was a blessing to a newlywed couple without a lot of expendable cash.  Then our son was born...and Jeff was quick to indoctrinate him by watching games on TV with his newborn son in his arms so his little ears would hear the sounds of skates and sticks and Don Cherry's commentary and work it into his infant psyche.  Then we (Jeff) purchased a "Little Tykes" hockey set when Justin was a toddler.  One of my favorite memories of Justin at the age of 2 is playing hockey with Jeff in the basement, and every time Justin would make a goal he would throw both arms up in the air and shout, "EEE DOOOOOOO!!!"  (which in baby language translates "He scooooores!", the way Rod Philips always announced it).

Because Justin loved hockey so much, he took my place at games.  I had three other little ones to take care of by then, so I was happy to let Jeff and Justin have their night of male bonding.  But the Oilers traded Gretzky and slid into their slump, and hockey wasn't much of an interest to me for many years, until the wonderful season of 2006 when they pulled up their socks and pushed their way back into the play-offs.  The reason I really remember those Stanley Cup play-off games is because it was the first time in my married life that I turned on our complicated Sony TV all by myself.  Jeff and the boys had a conference to attend and couldn't watch the game and I was alone.  You may think it's odd that I had never turned the TV on, but I really dislike TV and never watch it.  Never.  Really.  So, the play-off game was on and I picked up the remote and began pressing buttons, guessing at the correct combination until, voila!  The TV came on, and I watched that play-off game all by myself, getting just as excited as the guys would have!

Then we moved back to the States, and I didn't watch hockey again until the Olympic Gold game between Canada and the US.  I am a dual citizen, but that day I was all Canadian.  Canada should win its own game.  Americans win everything...they don't need hockey. (Or soccer!  Give that to the little nations!).  So I decorated in red and white, we dressed in red and white, I served Canadian food (Timbits and Hawkins Cheezies among other more gourmet offerings) and we proudly waved the Canadian flag.  We sang the Canadian anthem and cheered and went crazy (yes, crazy) when we won.  So much fun!

Now my boys (all of own sons as well as my Canadian boys who spend every weekend with us) play in a ball hockey league.  They are known as "The Canadians," even though that is not their team name.  They made it to the play-offs this fall, so we went to the play-off games to cheer them on.  They only had two subs that day, so playing 5 games in one day was pretty exhausting.  But we watched them win again and again, until the very last game for the cup.  We girls painted a red maple leaf on our cheeks and sang the Canadian anthem and cheered until our throats were raw.  I think I was more excited for that game than for a real hockey game...probably because it was MY boys playing!  But those guys, the youngest in the league, whupped the big boys and won the championship.  They lifted the cup high in the air, kissed it and pretended to drink the beer because none of them could actually drink it as some were under age and the rest were all in Bible college.  With their sweat-soaked jerseys, shaggy "No-Shave November" beards, and wide grins, they were quite a site to behold.  I decorated for our Sunday dinner the next day with hockey gloves, maple-leaf napkins and their championship cup filled with red and white flowers and the Canadian flag.  It couldn't have been sweeter if it was the NHL!

So the Winterhawks game this weekend was really not about the Winterhawks game.  I'm truly not that big a fan, and I'm not into stats or seasons or stars.  The enjoyment was all about this little part of me I don't pay attention to very often but every once in awhile comes alive.  By genetics, by marriage and by nationality, hockey has a small but firm hold of my heart.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Table Talk - Autumn Apple Centerpiece

I love my new centerpiece.  I found it on Pinterest, a new website I've joined...and yet another internet distraction in my life!  Anyway, it is good for ideas of all kinds, and this is an example!

A couple weeks ago my husband and I traveled to beautiful Hood River, Oregon to take in the Heirloom Apple Festival.  It was a wonderful day...full of fresh fruit, gorgeous scenery and great food!  After stuffing ourselves with cherrywood-smoked ribs, Hood River pear coleslaw and cider baked beans, we walked along the river on a woodsy path deep in crunchy, colorful leaves.  We took lots of pictures on my old broken camera and Jeff's cell phone.  We toured the Apple Valley Country store and bought a pint of the very last picking of raspberries and sampled all kinds of jams and apple varieties.  We took a whirl on the tire swing hanging from a big maple tree, then we drove up the mountain and down the other side into the valley and headed to the apple orchard.  We picked a big metal bucketful of apples and pears fresh from the tree and ate yet more cider donuts and one of those fresh-picked apples.  From there we drove a winding road up to a view point where we should have been able to admire both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, but they were both wearing a thick cloak of cloud that day, even though the weather itself was quite warm and mostly sunny.  Then back down, down, down into the quaint little town of Hood River for a coffee and shopping as we walked up the main street and back down.  I picked up some unique fall napkins for my Thanksgiving table at one cute shop and picked up ideas at another.  We decided to make one more stop before hittting the highway, so we purposefully crossed the highway and drove down to the mighty Columbia River.  I love the Columbia River Gorge...always have, even before Jeff proposed to me there beside a romantically lit waterfall on a blossom-scented spring night many years ago.  We took more pictures and admired the view from the banks of the river standing in the fierce wind until we were too chilly, so we climbed into the car, which by then felt good to sit and be warm, and enjoyed the rest of our coffee and conversation on the drive back to Newberg.  Once home, I made an amazingly delicious Bavarian Apple Torte from those perfect apples and then kept the rest of them in a box in the cool garage to enjoy through the fall season.  I used a bunch of them for this centerpiece, and when I am done with fall decor and move on to Christmas, I will eat waste!

The week after the apple festival was my foraging foray.  It was then that I gathered so many colorful leaves and berries.  They too went into my centerpiece.

So here it is, the culmination of two wonderfully woodsy, fun-filled fall days, on my table to enjoy all through the autumn season.

So I set the table for Sunday dinner and served cranberry-ginger pork roast, smashed Yukon Gold potatoes and parsnips, broccoli and cauliflower with sesame, warm kalamatta olive bread, and salad with paper-thin pear, crumbled bleu cheese, green onion and maple-glazed hazelnuts.  Dessert was amazing, if I say so myself!  It was a pumpkin roll, which is a super-moist pumpkin cake filled with a deliciously rich cream cheese filling, rolled into a log and sliced to form a beautiful spiral.  Everybody went crazy over that one, so I may just do it again for Thanksgiving and include the recipe and photos here!