Tag Archives: gratitude

A Fowl Thanksgiving Under a Gemini Moon

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Even before this week’s full moon in Gemini brought promised tension and chaos, our Thanksgiving preparations yielded a few glitches: the cornbread mix wasn’t gluten free after all, necessitating another trip to the busy store; too much liquid in the pie crust made the dough tougher than usual; and the Thanksgiving napkin rings were nowhere to be found–annoyances that slowed us down a little but didn’t jeopardize the coming feast.

On Wednesday morning, my yoga teacher warned us that the Gemini full moon could make Thanksgiving interesting. “Great,” said a friend. “Just what I need to hear with 18 people coming for dinner.” Those of us with big Thanksgiving plans resolved to summon flexibility and remain open to changes that might prove improvements on traditions rather than problems.

I went home to finish the pumpkin pies (from our Winter Luxury pumpkins) and set the table. John was gone when I arrived, on his way to deliver onions and carrots to the community food share for Thanksgiving dinners. The phone rang. “Do you know anyone with a German Shepherd,” asked my elderly neighbor, “ because one’s here right now killing my chickens and ducks.” Horrible! I’ve seen dogs kill chickens and it’s a terrible sight. I didn’t know anyone with a German shepherd but told her I’d watch for the dog as she hung up to call 911.

After putting the pies in the oven, I went out to our Sunflower community room to set the long Thanksgiving table, a task I always enjoy. The dishes are from my childhood, my parents’ pottery wedding dishes with a harvest design. My younger sister and I stood on stools at the kitchen sink to wash those dishes for years until a dishwasher and Corelle came into our home.

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I use my Grandma Smith’s silver plate, too, and set beeswax candles in her old blue canning jars down the center, reminding me of all my farming grandparents and the delicious meals they’d provide. In the middle of the table I placed the new pumpkin centerpiece made from canning jar lids that John’s mom had sent. We were sorry she’d miss celebrating with us this year.

Soon John appeared at the Sunflower Room door, opening it just a crack, which seemed odd until he said, “There’s a dog out here. A huskie.”

“Oh, no. That must be the dog that killed the neighbor’s chickens. Can we catch it? Is it safe?”

The dog seemed friendly enough and came to John when he called. We were cautious, though. Strange dogs make me nervous, “strange” meaning both unfamiliar and odd-acting. This dog seemed more the former than the latter, but it’s wise to be careful around any stray dog, especially one that’s just killed something. John held the dog’s collar and read the owner’s name, phone number, and address while I wrote it down.

Since the dog was docile, we decided to tie it to the tree with the goat rope until someone could come get it. I unwound the rope from the pen, the goat watching warily the dog from the top of the overturned barrel where she likes to climb. We carefully attached one end around the tree and the other to the dog’s collar–and let go. As soon as it realized it was tied, the dog lurched and jumped, trying to get free.

When we called our neighbor, the animal control officer was already there and came over right away. “I know that dog,” she said as she approached it under the tree. “He gets away a lot, but he’s never killed livestock before.” The dog seemed happy to see her as she switched our rope for her lead.

“What will happen now?” I asked.

“The owner will get a ticket and he’ll have to keep the dog in his own yard somehow. He’s a nice guy; I’m sure he’ll compensate for the chickens and ducks.” We were glad to hear that; lost chickens and ducks meant considerable lost income for our neighbor.

After lunch, Thanksgiving preparations continued. I finished setting the table and preparing the Sunflower kitchen for the next day’s cooking (we use three ovens for the feast). On the way back to the house, I stopped in the barn to check on the 30-pound turkey in the barn fridge, the only cold place large enough to hold it. John had turned the fridge up when he’d brought the turkey home. I’d felt ice crystals on the skin under the packaging the day before and turned the temperature down again. I wanted to be sure the turkey was properly thawed because discovering a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning isn’t fortuitous.

Truthfully, we didn’t need a 30-pound turkey. Three of the fourteen of us at the Thanksgiving table are vegetarians anyway. I thought I had ordered a 25-pound organic turkey from our local health food store but somehow my order ended up in the “over 25 pound” category. I wasn’t even sure it would fit in our oven, not to mention having to get up an hour earlier Thanksgiving morning to give those extra five pounds time to roast.

I opened the barn fridge door, expecting the top shelf to be full of turkey. The top shelf was empty. The second and third shelves (too small for the turkey anyway) were empty. I even looked in all the fridge drawers and door shelves where a 30-lb turkey obviously could not hide. I looked all over the barn, thinking John had left the turkey out accidentally. Having previous experience with objects de- and re-materializing, I even looked back in the fridge again to be sure I wasn’t overlooking something. Still no turkey.

What to do but go ask John if he’d brought the turkey in the house. No. So where’s the turkey? For a moment, I wondered whether that morning’s dog had gotten into the barn and dragged the thing away. Nah—it would have made more of a mess.

Then I remembered it was Wednesday, the day the food pantry people come for the veggies we donate to community families every week. The person picking up surely must have thought the turkey was another donation. That made sense—but we were still short a turkey. The pantry only runs until noon on Wednesdays. Now three o’clock in the afternoon, surely we were too late to get the turkey back.

Every Tuesday, I send an email to the wonderful friend who picks up our veggies to tell her what we have. I looked back at that week’s email and saw that I had mentioned that the turkey was on the top shelf because I needed to let her know the veggies were on the second shelf rather than the top this week. Once I re-read the note, I realized that she must have sent someone else for the pick-up. Even though the turkey part of the message was vague, I knew she would never have interpreted it to mean “take the turkey.” On the other hand, someone less familiar with our arrangement certainly could think a turkey donation accompanied the vegetables.

Since the pantry was closed for the day, I tried to call and email my friend but couldn’t reach her. Now the need for logistics took hold. It wasn’t that we minded the turkey having gone to the pantry, but we still needed a turkey—and it was 4 PM the day before Thanksgiving. Would we really be able to find an organic turkey at this late hour? I called the store where we’d bought the missing turkey. No, they were out—but they hoped we could find one.

John jumped in the truck for his second trip of the day to the neighboring town while I called to reserve a turkey—hopefully. Yes, they had an organic turkey—21 pounds, which was plenty—and they’d hold it for him. When John got home, he said everyone in the meat department had a good laugh about our “donation.”

I was glad, in fact, not to cook that big turkey. We had plenty at our Thanksgiving meal, with most of it—potatoes, leeks, squash, onions, carrots, beets, herbs—grown on our own farm. We rushed around getting everything on the table until, finally, we could sit down to eat as I whispered “What have I forgotten?” to John. The gluten-free cornbread stuffing was especially good this year with Oregon hazelnuts from John’s mother (see recipe below). I had forgotten to cook the kale ribbons for the beet-farro salad, but no one missed it. If I had to forget something, that was the thing to forget. We were complete, seated by a fire in the wood stove as the snow fell gently outside.

Before we recited our annual grace together, I asked everyone to think about all the Thanksgiving dinners sharing something from Stonebridge, from vegetables on the table to the wine we’ve grown and vinted—to the turkey in the barn fridge. We laughed a little at that thought before giving thanks with a poem of gratitude by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

For each new morning with its light

For rest and shelter of the night

For health and food

For love and friends

For everything [that] goodness send

We are thankful.

Between the meal and dessert, a few of us headed out for a breezy farm walk. Dusted with snow, the grass in the prairie flower garden waved like white caps on the ocean. I love the winter garden for its call to rest instead of weed.

IMG_5688After the heat of the walk turned to chill, we headed back to the Sunflower Room for pumpkin and pecan pies, dishes to wash, and games to play. As the sun set and the snow fell, everyone went home, and John and I took the leftovers into the house. He’ll make turkey soup with the roasted vegetables and turkey; I’ll make soup from the remains of the spiced squash scooped out from its skin and pureed with coconut milk. With all the leftovers (including pumpkin pie for breakfast), we won’t need to go anywhere for a wintery while.

When my pantry friend called to apologize for the mix-up, I told her not to worry about it. Other than the stress of the moment when I worried we’d have no turkey at all, everything turned out well. I didn’t have to wrangle a 30-pounder into our oven and another family had a nice organic turkey that should make lots and lots of post-Thanksgiving sandwiches. I’d learned my usual precautionary paranoia comes in handy sometimes when it says “check the turkey” the day before rather than 6 AM Thanksgiving morning. Imagine our surprise if it hadn’t gone missing until then—a circumstance for which we offered thanks. And we have a good story with which to remember this very Thanksgiving, a time of chaos exchanged for a time of deep bounty, a reminder of gratitude for all we have and can share. For this and so much more, we are thankful.

 

Stonebridge Gluten Free Cornbread Stuffing

Makes enough for a 9 x 13 cake pan (Serves 15 but double if you’ve got a big crowd and want some inside the turkey too)

Ingredients (veggies and nuts can be prepared the night before and stored in the fridge):

1 package Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Cornbread Mix (read the package carefully to be sure it’s GF)—prepared two days ahead of time in a square pan as directed and cut vertically into ½ inch rows in the pan to dry (cover lightly with foil as it dries). I prefer Bob’s Red Mill Glute-Free to his non-GF cornbread—it rises higher and has a moister texture for the stuffing.

3 large carrots, grated, about 2 cups

3 leeks, sliced thinly, about 2 cups

1 ½ cups chopped roasted hazelnuts (any nut will do, but hazelnuts are especially good)

One 32-fl oz carton organic vegetable broth

Fresh rosemary and dried sage, chopped finely, a tablespoon or so or both, depending on your herb tastes

Salt and pepper to taste (a tsp or two salt and some cranks of pepper)

 

Preheat oven to 375. Place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of a 9 x 13 cake pan and oil the bottom and sides, especially the corners (or just oil really well without parchment).

In quite large bowl, mix the cornbread cubes (breaking them into ½ cubes when needed), grated carrots, sliced leeks, chopped hazelnuts, herbs, salt, and pepper. Pour the box of veggie broth evenly throughout the mix, turning with a large spoon to moisten all the cubes.

Place the mixture in the cake pan.

Bake for 20 minutes. Cover with foil (leave it unattached for venting) and bake another 30-40 minutes (keep an eye on it for over-browning.)

For our spiced squash recipe and more on Stonebridge Thanksgivings, see the chapter “Putting By” in A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography.

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What We Need

Our gas was turned on yesterday morning, a relief after 18 days. John lit the tank so the water could heat. We made lunch on the stove and turned on the dishwasher afterward. I had a bath; he took a shower. Soon we forgot that we’d been heating water to bathe, solar-showering outside, and cooking on electric griddles, crockpots, and the community room propane stove.

In the afternoon, we drove to Boulder on Hwy 36 for the first time since the flood on September 12th. We couldn’t believe what the St. Vrain River had become. The corner of 36 and 66 is no longer a highway intersection but a crossing of riverbed three times its previous size. The two-story log home that used to sit at the corner is gone, the bank where it stood now shirred off high above the river. A mass of twisted metal lay on the side of the road, former guardrails and the debris they’d stopped as the river roared through.

At Middle Fork Road, Left Hand Creek had engulfed a house and torn away a garage. The house still stood but the porch was surrounded by river rock and tree limbs dragged through the waters. Driving to Boulder and back home again, we gawked at new vistas left behind by a river and creeks straying madly off their course.

After dinner, we walked to our neighbor’s house to tell him about the dumpster arriving this week for cleanup along our stretch of road. We crossed the highway to look at the train tracks that normally run from the cement plant to the south, now shut down and silent for the first time in decades. The ground beneath the tracks and trestle have disappeared, washing rails away like Lego pieces snatched from a toy train. But no real trains will run that way for months, maybe years, maybe never.

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Exactly two weeks before, we’d stood here on the highway at the checkpoint temporarily restricting access to the town of Lyons, its residents evacuated from the flood that destroyed roads, homes, and businesses. We’d been called down to the checkpoint to vouch for friends staying with us temporarily. The barrier was intended to safeguard residents, but had become increasingly frustrating as rules changed daily.

By the time we got there, words had been exchanged and our friends had left down a side road now closed for the night. The officer confronting us wasn’t happy with the situation. He’d heard enough about who needed to get where. “Why don’t you people leave?” he yelled. “There’s nothing for you here.”

I paused to calm my voice. “But that’s not true.” I shook my head. “We have water. We have power. We have food. We have everything we need.”

He stared, surprised. Clearly, this was new information. He must have thought the rural places along the highway had been affected like the town. He didn’t know how self-sufficient we are with our generators, propane, septic systems, and gardens, not to mention our general off-grid attitudes.

Without a word, he retreated to find his superior officer. By the time they returned, the situation had eased. They took our friends’ names so they could return to our farm; we thanked the deputies for their long hours of work.

Everything we need.

I can’t speak for those who have lost their homes or businesses in this flood. I can’t even imagine that loss. But for those of us trying to hold as hard as we could to what we still had, the flood swept off the trivia of life’s worries, leaving a renewed vision of what matters most in its wake.

Now we’re rebuilding with the certainty that disaster can come when we’re not looking. What will happen next, we can’t ensure. But for now, we’re grateful  for the chance to rethink what we really need before it’s taken away .

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Another Year Over

I’m a little superstitious when it comes to the New Year. I believe that the things you do on the first day of the year set a pattern for the rest. I try to spend my New Year’s day on the kinds of activities I’d like to continue or achieve during the coming year. This year I’m planning some writing time and some photography, as well as time with loved ones.

I make resolutions too and try to stick to them. This past year one of our joint resolutions was making crepes on Sunday morning, which we’ve done almost every Sunday this year. Another of my resolutions was to take a yoga class. I’m approaching a year of that as well—one of the healthiest resolutions I’ve managed to keep.

We’ve had a busy December with a graduation, family visit, retirement from teaching, our Solstice get-away, and the usual holiday events with family. Today was our first real day of unscheduled time all month. A couple days ago, I started thinking about a sewing project I’d begun in 2003, something that I’d come across this month in my fabric drawer.

Last night before I went to bed, I got excited thinking about the project again. I decided to devote today to finishing it. It’s just a blouse, peasant-style with gathered neck, back, and sleeves, but off and on throughout the last nearly nine years, I’ve often thought I’d like to wear it, if only it were finished. I’d even cut out the fabric years ago, so it didn’t seem like sewing it up would take much time.

But when I got it out of the drawer this morning and read through the instructions again, I remembered why I’d stuck it in the back of the drawer. It was fussy, with bias tape casings around nearly every edge and little draw-stringy things that require tweezers and a magnifying glass to edge. I was out of fusible interfacing for the one little piece where the drawstrings come through, so I had to run to the fabric store for that, which was okay because I needed thread to hem some jeans anyway.

As anyone who sews knows, half the time sewing is spent ironing, so I set up the board next to my machine and filled the iron with water for steam. I had to iron all the pieces first because they’d been wadded up for so long, but the wrinkles came out easily. I cut the elastic, made the bias tape casings, and started sewing.

I had to adjust the elastic quite a bit for fit but it all went well until the last step, when I looked at the diagram incorrectly. I sewed the bias tape to the wrong side of the fabric and had to rip it out and start again. I was getting tired but I got all the machine work done by sunset. When I went outside for the mail, I heard our pair of great-horned owls in the trees and found them both silhouetted against the day’s last light. I hope that means they’ll nest nearby this spring so that we can see the owlette when it fledges.

I’ll finish my blouse tonight when I hem the bottom edge and whipstitch the casing edges closed.  I love the turquoise paisley design of the fabric and the soft, cool feel of the cotton. I know I’ll wear it a lot on hot summer days.

Just last week I wrote about the value of homemade gifts and how objects made by hand offer a special kind of thoughtfulness. I contemplated that today as I was sewing my blouse. I spent about four hours on the project, not counting travel time, and another hour in 2003 cutting it out. Is five hours too much for making something that’s only a gift to myself? I haven’t sewed my own clothes for years (although I have knit some sweaters) beyond hemming pants or altering second-hand skirts. Today I enjoyed the work but I kept feeling like I should be doing something else, something more practical farm- or work-wise.

But I kept going because I didn’t want that project hanging over my head anymore—and I’m glad I did. Good to clear out the space in the drawer, good to have a new blouse to wear, good to quit thinking I need to finish it, good to end the year with a task completed, but most of all, good to remember that making clothes is real work that takes real skill. And that leads to gratitude to the women—since that’s who sews clothes for the US market—who make our clothes. My gratitude doesn’t improve the conditions under which they work but it does make me realize once again how enmeshed our lives are with people we never see.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. I’ll spend some of the day organizing for the year to come and another part preparing our New Year’s dinner. We’ll have a quiet celebration, just the two of us, New York time, and that will wind down a very busy year before the start of another. We are lucky to have each other, lucky to have the people who walk alongside us, and grateful for each and every one. Have a happy, healthy New Year!

A friend left a gratitude card on a table at a coffee shop and a couple days later, found it posted on the bulletin board!

 

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A Season of Gratitude

 

I had these cards made recently by a local letterpress artist and I’ve been leaving them in stores and posting them on bulletin boards wherever I think the message might be appreciated as a reminder that “fourth quarter,” as the marketers say, is more than just a time of shopping frenzy. The message is also directed at our national political scene, where decisions are being made that benefit those who already have so much rather than showing compassion for the common good.

December can be depressing when gift-giving becomes a stressful burden rather than a way to show love, friendship, or appreciation of community. I know many people who bow out of giving gifts altogether, and I understand why they’d choose not to participate in the craziness that gift-giving has become. But for those of us who do give gifts, it is easy to forget why we’re doing it in the first place: to show gratitude to the people in our lives who care for us and make our lives better.

For me and many people I know, giving a gift means making a gift or giving a gift from the earth that they tend (like honey from bees or herbs grown in a garden). Making gifts takes more time than money, so often the “value” in that type of gift isn’t readily recognized. One year my daughter and I spent hours making hand-beaded candy canes to tie on the packages we sent out of state. When I asked later how the recipients had liked the beaded canes, the answer was, “Oh. We didn’t notice them. They must have gotten thrown out with the wrapping paper.” Not the right folks for that particular gift. Although it would have been nice for the candy canes to have been received with joy, the pleasure was in making and giving them, and we were the ones to receive that.

One year when my students organized the Why Shop? Week consumer awareness project I wrote about in my last post, several of them were interviewed on a national radio program, where they advocated giving handmade gifts as a way to avoid participation in dubious consumer practices. When they were asked by the radio host, “What if your friends don’t like homemade gifts?” the students happily answered, “Get new friends.”

At 18, that may be possible. At middle-age, we’ve made many of the friends we’ll have for the rest of our lives; some craft and some don’t. I am grateful to the people in my life who do make gifts. To me, a homemade gift or card always says, “I took this time to think about you and I enjoyed making this for you.” That doesn’t mean other gifts aren’t thoughtful or welcome, but as a handcrafter myself, I do appreciate the sentiment behind something homemade. I know that handmade gifts take time for planning and designing, gathering of materials, and the crafting itself, often in many different steps.

This year one of our friends referred to his wife as a “one-woman craft factory” in her making of beautiful photo cards and felted soaps for family and friends. I don’t think he meant that she didn’t enjoy it but rather that she had to be well organized. For me, that sounds more appealing than going to a mall in the hustle of cars and frenzied shoppers looking for deals on the season’s latest trends. The popularity of the handcraft web-shop etsy shows that many people agree with me and would rather support a handcrafter than plunk down money at a big-box store.

This year, I am grateful for the many wonderful gifts made for us, from the inspiring quotation handwritten on paper to the soaps and bath salts and confections we’ll use everyday to the adorable ornaments made with care that will decorate our home to the handcranked wool socks that will warm our feet. Let’s think of this time of year as the “Season of Gratitude” when gifts of all kinds show gratitude in both the giving and the receiving.  And let’s extend that practice of gratitude all year for the gifts we already receive every day: the gift of love from the special people in our lives and from the earth that sustains us.

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