Sunday, November 28, 2021

Every year I forget

there are nearly two sticks of butter in the sweet potato casserole recipe, and every year I say, as I am softening the two sticks of butter, Oh My God, I can't believe there are two sticks of butter in this recipe! And then I make the casserole and it is out-of-this-world delicious and I forget about the butter, because who cares, we only eat this casserole once a year.

It is the same when I am digging the heart and liver and neck and whatever else out of the cavity of the turkey, adding the cup of sugar to the fresh cranberries before they simmer and pop on the stovetop, melting the block of cream cheese I use for the green bean casserole. I make the same meal every year, most of it, if not all of it, by myself, and after thirty years I've gotten the timing down, the order of casserole assemblage, the basting of the turkey, whether we are having 20 people over to our house

or two, 

which is what we are this year. My husband and I discussed it. Maybe just... order out? But then decided against it. Only two of us, but we like the tradition. The butter, the sugar, the heart in the cavity. Some years it might depress me, the small table, the quiet. 

Last year, for example, it was only four of us, our daughter and her boyfriend--now fiancé--and it was nice, of course, but also scary, what with the pandemic and all of that twisted up with fear for the future, the unknown, and where would we all be next year, would we make it through unscathed? Something horrifying last year, the turkey,

this over-priced, farmer's market-ordered, precious, organic thing--when I unwrapped it the night before to prep--was missing both legs and a wing. I had a moment of anger at the farmer's market person, a quick back and forth to let her know, her immediate effusive apology and offer to drive to our house with another turkey, but by then, the anger was gone and now it seemed a silly thing to be angry about. That turkey was gruesome 

and yet... funny, the perfect symbol of how I felt last year about the holiday, about the world. I cooked the legless, one-winged horror show and it was surprisingly tasty. Maybe the best-tasting turkey I've ever made. There are no guarantees about anything. The future, turkeys, what two sticks of butter might do to your arteries, the number of people around your table, where you are now

where you will be next year. 

When my husband and I got married we put a ludicrously expensive formal set of china on our gift registry and somehow managed to get four place settings out of the deal. These are hand-wash-only and gold flecked and ridiculous, and we never use them, but this Thanksgiving, we pulled them down from the high cabinet and dusted them off. The gold flecks will blow up the microwave, 

but the sweet potato casserole looks lovely plopped into the center of our two plates. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Good Soup

So, you know how I keep giving people soup? Well, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea if this soup was actually... good. I mean, the people I've sent it to say that it's good, but maybe they were just being kind? I got into a discussion about this with one of my cousins and she smiled her bright smile and said, Ooh, let me send you some!

Cut to:

The soup came in the mail and it was, in fact, good. I mean everything about this gift was a Gift with a capital G. The soup--chicken noodle--which was very tasty. The rolls and cookies, delicious. A ladle. You get to keep the ladle! And the packaging. I have never seen such cool packaging. I know I sound like I am doing a commercial here or being paid off by the Spoonful of Comfort soup people, but I assure you I am not. Here is the cool thing about the packaging: each individual box is reversible, with an adorable pattern and just waiting for you to reuse for packaging another gift. My husband and I got two complete meals out of the soup and loved the entire experience in a way that I know sounds mildly loony, but there's the truth of it. Thank you, cousin Lindley! 

And speaking of cool gifts, a few weeks ago, my friend Natalie D. Richards had a new book come out and I wanted to give her something fun to commemorate the occasion. Natalie is a New York Times Bestselling author and this is her 8th book, but she still gets a little anxious by the whole thing, the idea of people reading what she's written and all of the publicity stuff you have to do when a book comes out, never mind the fact that she is knee deep in the writing of her ninth book and time is scarce for her, to put it mildly. 

Anyhoo... I was talking about this with my lovely friend LaNesha who works at the library and makes greeting cards as a side business, and she said, What is this book about? And I said, It's about a scavenger hunt that turns deadly. And she said, I bet I can make her a nice card. And I said, okay. 

Well. This card. Oh my God I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it is the most awesome card I have ever seen. Can we even call it a card? No, it is a gift in and of itself. A giftbox, to be specific, that looks exactly like the giftbox that the main character in the scavenger hunt story receives. (Side note, this happens at the beginning of the book when a girl is getting out of the shower and finds a white box with a green bow sitting on her bathroom sink, and who the heck put it there and is potentially creeping around her house?) 

When LaNesha made the card (really, it is more like she built the card) and presented it to me, I was so excited to give it to Natalie that I wanted to race right over to her house at that moment instead of waiting for her book launch day. When I did finally give it to her, of course, she loved it. 

And speaking of loving people's gifts, my husband built me a library and I am over the top in love with it. This is one of those Little Free Libraries that you may have seen set out at people's curbs or in public parks or near schools. How it works is the library steward (as we Little Free Library owners are called) fills the library with books and anyone who is walking by can take one or two or all of them, and they, or other people, can drop books into the library and then take more and it's all just a nice karmic book sharing thing that I love the idea of, but I wasn't sure, exactly, how it would work in practice. 

But let me tell you, it does work beautifully. The first day I filled it with books (these are books I had around the house, books I'd read and was happy to share). I also filled a basket by the front door with more books, assuming I'd have to replenish, but the funny thing is that I haven't had to dip into this backstock at all. The first few days, nearly the entire library collection turned over and it was a new set of books, books I wanted to browse myself. 

And there you have it, another good gift, and isn't it funny how the best good gifts are the ones that truly do keep on giving?

Sunday, November 14, 2021

It's snowing

and I didn't even know it was supposed to snow today. These are big flakes, a thick downpour of them, and so odd-looking against the backdrop of trees, the branches still hanging onto their yellow and orange leaves. Just last week, it seemed, it was summer. The week before that we were moving into spring. Slip back a little further and I am driving through a snowy day like this one, 

a college trip with my son through New England and how excited we both were. This was it, the final moment before he had to turn in his applications and where was he going to choose, or rather, who would choose him, and now that decision, which was mostly out of his hands, would potentially determine the course of his life. 

Most of our decisions aren't so momentous. Or else, how could we stand it? We need a break between Big Things. The quiet ordinariness of the stretch of days, each one the same as the ones that came before. 

The same dog walking routes. The same ingredients in the breakfast smoothie. At the library, checking in books, the same bestsellers being read and returned. The same questions when we answer the phone. Yes, we have Covid tests. No, I'm sorry, we are out of Covid tests. The polite banter at the check-out. With the new patrons. With the regulars. 

Oh, I have to tell you about this darling little boy who has been coming into the library since we opened to the public again back in May. Always, he is sitting quietly in his stroller, looking around curiously and very solemnly. When I give him a sticker, his mom sticks it to his hand and he frowns the same frown as he examines it. Every time it is the same with this adorable little boy. 

Until one day, he's not in the stroller. He's toddling right through the library doors. Another day, he is wearing glasses. His mom asks if we can find some books about other little children who wear glasses, or maybe we have books about animals wearing glasses? We, at the library, are on the case! Meanwhile, the little boy offers his hand and I give him his sticker. We have officially been introduced at this point. I know his name. He knows mine.

My son ended up choosing the college in New England or they chose him or however you want to describe it and he went away and has been living his life apart from us for quite a while now. Funny thing I just now realized: that college trip, that drive through the snow in fall, took place exactly ten years ago. There were other Big Things that happened along the way,

and many many more small ones. I used to get very nostalgic about these things and I would go into a misty-eyed tailspin thinking about it, how my son, for example, was once a little boy who sat in a stroller. He didn't wear glasses, but he did like stickers, and there was this one time when I thought he was taking a nap, but actually, he had crept out of his bedroom and gotten into a box of bandaids and unpeeled every single one of them and attached them over all of the available surfaces of his body, 

which would launch me directly past misty-eyed nostalgia and into full-blown boo-hooing, but now I only smile at the memory. Something not funny about the snow on the college trip: it turned really bad. The trees alongside the road where we were driving, so heavily weighted down by snow covered leaves, began to crack, the branches falling and then the trees themselves, tearing down the powerlines, sending us hurtling into darkness. We barely made it home. But this snow, this day, is not like that at all. 

It swirls from the gray sky, lovely and quiet, slows, and soon stops all together, leaving behind only patches of snow on the leaf strewn lawn.



Sunday, November 7, 2021

Falling back

I am wide awake at 4 AM but I stay in bed until 5, the dog still snoozing peacefully on my husband's side of the bed. He's out of town, visiting with his parents several states away, and I am thinking about the million things I could do with this rare sliver of time alone in the house -- clean up the garden and paint the upstairs hallway and organize my office and make some luscious cream-based soup and and and--  I will probably do none of those things. 

Instead, I read a disturbing book that makes me question everything I thought I knew about my childhood, and I take the dog on a marathon walk. Or rather she takes me. I've discovered the secret to her meandery route. It's not meandery at all. No. Over time, she's learned where all of the free dog treats are in the neighborhood. This is a thing people do around here, set out dog treats and fresh water for dogs. Our dog has learned and remembered these locations, and she's created a route that hits each and every one of them. 

This has nothing to do with anything, but I can't stop mulling over a weird interaction that happened at work the other day, where a patron went off about masks. For the record, employees are required to wear masks at my library, but we merely recommend that patrons wear them. Most do. Some don't. It's rare that anyone says anything about it and we all just go about living our lives and talking about books. But this guy wanted to explain to us why masks were stupid and didn't work and blah blah blah,

and the two of us sitting at the desk just nodded along and blinked at him like, "okay, we hear you," but this response was not the response the guy was looking for apparently, because he raised his voice and kept ranting, informing us that he was a doctor and he felt it was his obligation to bless us with his knowledge, 

Yes, he actually used the words Bless us with his knowledge, and thank God I was wearing a mask because I started chuckling under the material and had to excuse myself to go to the back room, and only later did I think of other possible responses, such as, Can we bless you with our knowledge for a second, sir? Nobody cares about your mask opinion. Plus, you're scaring us. 

But of course I would never say that to him. The guy's a narcissist and narcissists don't like it when you contradict them. It destroys the narrative they have about their own precariously crafted identity and makes them feel uncomfortable to the point of being enraged and who knows how they might react and the next you thing you know, everyone is tiptoeing around the person, like they're a tasmanian devil with the emotional maturity of a three year old, someone you could hate if they weren't such profoundly broken human beings. 

Anyway, that's what the disturbing book I read said about them and I believe it. There was a little girl at the self checkout with her mom while this interaction was taking place and after I came out of the backroom, to the still ranting and raving man who was blessing us all with his knowledge, I watched the mom hustle the kid out the door and how freaked out the little girl was or maybe I am just projecting,

which is another thing I was thinking about at 4 AM going into 5 AM and how dark it is outside, especially now that I-- I mean all of us-- have fallen back. So many hours stretching out into the coming day, and maybe I will make that luscious cream-based soup after all. 

Right after the dog takes me on another meandery treat walk.