Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Happy Thank You!"

As I sit here, writing this, on the day before Thanksgiving, it would be really really very easy to focus on little things that are bugging me right now, little things like the fact that my office smells vaguely of burnt plastic fork, or that I cannot eat or drink anything without shooting pains in my jaw.

But I'm not going to think about those things, other than to explain them, maybe, because tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I was thinking this morning about how many things I have to be thankful for, thankful because they exist and I have experienced them.

And so rather than think about how I have to in the next few weeks have someone dig into my jaw to finally get out that wisdom tooth that is lighting up my nerves like the Bingo board at a Catholic church, rather than regret that I did not pick up the plastic fork Mr F dropped onto the heater when we left Saturday so that all week long my office would smell like burnt plastic fork because the heat wasn't on on Saturday but it was on Monday when I came in... both minor distractions... I choose to focus on those things that I am very specifically thankful for -- and which I will list at the end of this post.

And if you know me, you know this is not going to be the kind of list that we all give at the table when we eat Thanksgiving dinner and everyone goes around the table and says what they are thankful for and we're all supposed to say stuff like "my health" or "my family" or "the fact that we were not, personally, affected by Hurricane Sandy other than the news stories about it pre-empted Tosh.0".  I mean, yes, I am thankful for that (except for the health part, which I do not have) but that's a given, right? If you have a decent family, of course you are thankful for that, probably without even realizing it until you make the effort to do so, so it's not a bad idea to say "Yeah, yeah, my family, I love you guys" because the rest of the year you probably spend a lot of time bickering with The Boy about whether or not you are reading the cell phone bill right and/or whether Bane was a better villain than The Joker ("Yes" and "No," respectively.)

Thanksgiving at our house is a relatively low-key affair.  We more or less go through the motions of "Traditional Thanksgiving" while not working it up into anything that would be recognized as such, and that is because, honestly, I'm not really that into it and I don't think that Sweetie is, either.

Thanksgiving, when I was a kid, was a huge and terrifying ordeal that was to be gotten through, rather than enjoyed, and that was more or less the way of all holidays when I was a kid: You survived them, because they were required to be a Really Big Deal and you had to dress up and make desserts and clean the house and use the dining room table, with the leaves expanding it, and people would be in the living room and kids would be in the basement and you would probably be wearing the white button-up shirt you had not worn since Easter and the pants that ditto and they probably wouldn't fit that well because you were kind of a fat kid anyway, and the preparations for Thanksgiving began days, if not weeks before, and continued all through the entire day until you finally ate dinner at 4:00 p.m. or whenever, it was always a weird time, either 1:30 or 4:00 and before dinner relatives would start arriving and would filter into the house, cousins also dressed up too nicely to enjoy the day, and uncles who would kid around with you long enough to make you think you were part of the grown-up group and then would abandon you to go talk to Mom, and aunts who would try to help in the kitchen but who would not really be welcome to, and a grandmother or two who always had to be helped into the living room and who would more or less sit in the same spot, watching everyone and never really weighing in on any subjects much, and throughout it all a guy could not just go up to his room and read his Cracked magazines and was expected to entertain his cousins and help out in the kitchen with making all the stuff that required so much preparation it was like we were making everything from scratch, including the turkey, somehow: the level of work my parents put into holidays, including Thanksgiving, could not have been exceeded if they had decided to construct a turkey from the molecular level.

IT WAS EXHAUSTING, and into my early adulthood I carried on that tradition of making holidays not just work, but less than fun until one year...

... I stopped.

It began, actually, with the first Thanksgiving Sweetie and I ever hosted as a couple, a Thanksgiving that we invited family members to at her apartment and which we shopped to prepare for and had a menu and everything.  Not being particularly into cooking and/or caring about cooking, we didn't get all uptight about how we would prepare things, but we did have a traditional menu including all the turkey, etc., that you are supposed to have, and we homemade some pies, even, the night before and then got up at 6:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to get ready for everything.

We got up at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day because that was what you were supposed to do, I knew, from 30+ years of having existed in my family on Thanksgiving Day.  There was work to be done!  There were vacuums to run, shelves to dust, turkeys to do whatever it is you do with turkeys, stuffing to mix with water and fluff up (LOOK THAT IS ALL THAT IS REQUIRED OF STUFFING, OKAY?) and so on and so forth, and we went at it with vim and vigor.

(Vim? Really?)

Anyway: by 8 o'clock a.m., we were... done.

The apartment was clean, the turkey was cooking, everything else was ready or would soon be, and I sat down on the couch and looked at Sweetie and said: "What do you suppose my parents were doing all those years that Thanksgiving took them 3 days and it took us 2 hours?"

Now, some might say "they were doing more than putting a turkey in the oven and hoping for the best," which is the method I use to cook our turkeys, in part because they are never fully thawed out when we begin cooking them, which is only one of the reasons why I do not deep fry the turkey: I have wanted to deep fry a turkey since I discovered that you could deep fry a turkey, and nothing seems more fun to me than building a big fire in our backyard, heating up a giant vat of oil to boiling, and then drop a giant turkey into it, but I heard that if there is even one drop of water on the turkey it will explode and burn down your neighborhood, and so I haven't wanted to try that, plus, just typing the words "building a big fire in our backyard, heating up a giant vat of oil to boiling, and then drop a giant turkey into it" has likely set off Sweetie's "Husband Sense" that alerts her whenever I am thinking of doing something that could result in our house being burnt down, which is a lot of the time.

We thaw out our turkeys using the only system I know: putting them in a kitchen sink full of water and letting them sit overnight and then putting them in the oven and hoping for the best.  If there is another way to thaw out a turkey, I don't know it, and being scared to death of botulism or whatever it is spoiled turkey can give you, I don't want to try any other method of thawing the turkey, and I'm also afraid of leaving it in the sink full of water too long because I don't actually think that does anything, putting it in water.  Heck, I don't even know where I got the idea that you are supposed to thaw a turkey that way.  Possibly from when I was a kid but all of my memories of Thanksgiving cooking as a kid revolve around peeling a godawful amount of potatoes and constantly cutting my thumb and having to rinse it under water until it stopped bleeding, putting a Band-Aid on it, and going back to work.

Here is an actual cooking tip for you that I came up with on my own: Do not wash the potatoes before you peel them. If you rinse the potato off before peeling, as I was taught to do, you are accomplishing nothing, because you are rinsing the skin, which you are going to peel off anyway, but you are at the same time making the potato a zillion times slipperier, which is a word, and increasing the already-near-certain likelihood that you will cut your thumb.  Instead, peel the potato, then rinse it.

That is my Thanksgiving labor-saving tip for you.  I have lots of those, tips like "Just use ready-made stuffing and don't put those gizzards in it or anything gross," because you know that little bag of organs they put in your turkey that sometimes I once forgot to take out? NOBODY OUGHT TO EAT THOSE.  They are organs and we live in a civilized country in the 21st century and even if they tasted good which they do not because they are organs you should not eat them because they are organs, so just throw that bag out and do not cook them and do not cut them up and put them into the stuffing because they are organs.  If they were meant to be eaten, they would not be called things like "gizzard."  Things God wants us to eat do not have names like Gizzard.  They have names like McNugget.

The same goes for the neck.  I love my Dad but I would happily strangle him if it would keep him from ever again cooking the neck of the turkey and eating it.  Do we seriously have to even debate that? Do we seriously have to have a conversation about how the reason people used to eat things like gizzards and necks and stomachs and the like is because in the Olden Days before the year started with the number "20", people were poor and had to eat all of the animal because we were basically savages who were going to die of dysentery before we turned 35 and couldn't even keep track of all of our kids.

That is not the case anymore.  If you are eating a turkey tomorrow then 99.9% of you bought that turkey from a giant bin at the supermarket and it was only three feet away from an endcap of Candy Cane Oreos, which I just found out existed and which I am pretty sure I invented in a typo, and that means that you have enough money to buy a pre-killed, frozen, shipped-from-California-on-a-semi turkey, and do not need to subsist on gizzards because let's be honest, there are, like, four cans of Pringles in your cabinet; and the other 0.1% of you who didn't buy that frozen turkey went to the Whole Foods Organic Turkey and Wheat Germ section and spent $200 on a grain-fed, free-range, single-payer turkey and have even less of a reason to eat the neck.  So let's just stop it with that nonsense.

I forgot where I was.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate Thanksgiving at our house by getting up early for no reason other than probably Mr F will wake us up as he doesn't usually sleep past 6 and if he does, Mr Bunches won't: he'll wake me up to come in and stand by him during the scary parts of the previews for his movie, like he did this morning at 4:45 a.m., and I will, after standing by him during the Monsters, Inc. preview, go down and start my coffee brewing and begin making one of the only two things I really like about Thanksgiving, my homemade Chex Mix, which I make about twenty pounds of and which I really do not  like to share.  I will put the turkey in the oven at some point, and we will make stuffing from a box and mashed potatoes from scratch -- I still peel the potatoes, but I do it right-- and we will home-make the pies because that's important: I am insisting on a pecan pie which only I really eat, and Sweetie will make her pistachio pie and we'll have some pumpkin pies because you have to, it's like a law.

But that's just because it's Thanksgiving and we feel like we should have a tradition.  It'll still be laid back; we won't dress up, not even tomorrow when Middle Daughter is bringing her new boyfriend to meet us for the first time, although I will probably trade up from the sweatpants I usually wear on Thanksgiving and will wear a pair of jeans. We won't clean the house any more than is necessary to make sure it's liveable: I gave the kitchen a good cleaning last Saturday, even going so far as to dust off the ceiling fan, but that was about the extent of it and so our house will look clean but not immaculate the way our house had to look when I was a kid.  We'll clear the table of airplanes and Lego-Notre-Dame-Cathedrals and Slinkys (Mr F likes Slinkys) but it'll get full of them anyway, and we'll spend the day wondering if we're cooking the turkey the right way but not really caring, and watching funny videos and debating whether Iron Man and Batman are basically just the same superhero ("Yes") and playing Mousetrap if Mr Bunches decides we can play, too, or just watching him, and pushing Mr F on his swing, and mostly enjoying a day off of work by not making the day be more work than it has to. 

I never cared much for those fancy Thanksgivings that my parents did so well, after all: why should holidays be troublesome? Why spend the day driving and cooking and cleaning and dressing up and all that when you could spend the day relaxing and actually talking to your family?  That's how I look at it.

So I'm thankful that I have a family that lets me not be perfect on the holidays, because a holiday that's less than perfect is the perfect holiday for me.  Tomorrow, about this time, I will look around my house, with its Hot Wheels spread out on the floor and Little Einsteins videos playing on the TV and older kids lounging crosswise on the chair, and I will think -- as Mr F wishes people, because Thanksgiving is hard to say -- "Happy Thank You, indeed!"

And I'm thankful for all this other stuff, too, in no particular order other than the order I listed them in:

1.  The fact that Middle Daughter introduced me to the song "Movin' On Up,"  which is this song:

and which really is a remarkably upbeat song that came on my iPod this morning as I was driving to my weekly meeting with my partners, holding an ice-cold unopened can of Diet Coke to my jaw to keep it from hurting too bad.  It's a good song.  If it wasn't for Middle, I wouldn't have heard it.

2.  I have a book that I've been saving to read and now I get to read it over the holidays.  I bought the book This Book Is Full Of Spiders over a month ago, and it's been just sitting on my Kindle, waiting for the right time to read it, and that time, I think, is going to be tomorrow.

3.  I heard Burger King has a Gingerbread shake. How can you not be intrigued by that? Event food is the best kind of food.

4.   Sometimes, when he is scared of a scene in a movie, Mr Bunches will make me stand in the doorway to his room and he will stand behind me and put his head under my shirt and listen to the scene while I watch it for him, and to make sure I do it right, he'll say "Can I have shirt?" which is my cue to block him from the harmful scenes.  How can that NOT be something to be thankful for? I have a purpose in life.

5.  Unequal levels of hand-tickling.  Look, I'm not good at giving Sweetie back-rubs and holding her arm and tickling it; she says I hit the same spot over and over and doesn't like it.  So I try, but I am the recipient of her holding my hand and lightly stroking it as I fall asleep far more than the reverse.

6.  The game "Chinese Checkers."  I mean, I haven't played it in years and years, and it always started out pretty slowly, plus we rarely had more than two people playing it at once, but I really liked that game.  I would love to have a 6-person game of "Chinese Checkers" going sometime. I did just play it online, though. And I won. :) But it was only two-person.  :(  And I just used emoticons. 0.o

7.   The series "Better Off Ted" on Netflix. I have watched it about a hundred times.  It's playing in the background right now. I would like to be friends with everyone on Better Off Ted.  I would play Chinese Checkers with them.

8.   Wind-up toys. I have a wind-up panda on my desk and a wind-up hopping chicken.  Mr F likes to buy them from time to time.  If you talk to me on the phone, odds are I am talking and also watching a wind-up panda ride a tricycle past a small blue castle on my desk.  (The castle has pink turrets.)

9.  Pancakes. We'll probably cook them tomorrow.  Because Mr Bunches likes cooking pancakes, and I said we would be cooking on Thursday.

10.  Summer.  Without it, life in Wisconsin would be unbearable.  But just the memory of summer is enough to keep me going through January and February.

11.  The word "onerous," because it turns out I have been pronouncing it correctly all my life and I therefore won a debate about how to pronounce it earlier this week.  Go, me!

 12.  My smart phone. I know it's not a popular thing to say.  But I love that thing. I'm never bored.  Ever.

4:56 p.m. Heading home!  Happy Thank You!


Liz said...

My family never did the big has-to-be-perfect holidays. And I thank them profusely for that. We still don't.

As for deep frying a turkey, check out the Good Eats episode that explains how to do that without burning down the house. It involves hardware, and it's way cool.

Actually, if you're worried about your turkey preparation (and it sounds like you're doing just fine), Good Eats did an episode about that, too. (Good Eats is an obsession of mine. Best. Ice. Cream. Ever.)

Andrew Leon said...

My wife has an uncle with a deep fryer, and we had deep fried turkey over there one year. I wasn't overly impressed with it.

Candy Cane Oreos have been around for a while.

I never had to dress up for holidays as a kid, because they all happened at my grandparents' farm, and the kids were expected to be outside getting dirty anyway.

Um... there was something else... the main thing, but I was getting the small things out of the way first, and, now, I've forgotten the main thing which often happens when I'm at the grocery store.


Andrew Leon said...

Um... we don't peel the potatoes at all, so that solves that problem.

As for Batman and Iron Man:
I almost agree with you except for one thing -- Batman has that annoying childhood motivator to do good, his parents were killed and, now, he has to put all the bad guys in jail. That separates him from Stark in terms of internal motivation, which I find important. Other than that, though, yeah, same hero.

Have a great, relaxing, low stress, Thanksgiving!

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