Secrets of a Super Chill Thanksgiving

Culled from 3 or 4 stuffing recipes, including my old one.

Culled from 3 or 4 stuffing recipes, including my old one. What could go wrong?

Here’s what I used to do. Troll the web for the best and yet easiest recipes for things like stuffing, sweet potatoes, and this year green bean casserole though we’ve never had that at Thanksgiving before. Apparently it’s a big deal, green bean casserole. But this year it’s my idea for a good vegan dish. Anyway, I find all these recipes, multiple versions of each and also things like salads, desserts, apps, etc. Then I grocery-shop at like five stores, buying ingredients for vaguely-all-but-not-exactly-any of them, because I don’t know which I will actually make and I’m pretty sure I have some of this stuff at home but maybe not so I buy more of the stuff I always think I’m out of and not enough of the stuff I never realize I don’t have. (Oregano. Bread crumbs.)

Then Thanksgiving comes and I haven’t figured out the oven and cooking times, and the house is spotless but I am dithering, literally pacing back and forth with hands flapping, between many different possible recipes that I have almost all the ingredients for, and I realize none of that shit matters and why didn’t I just figure it out ahead of time and plan the oven time and ingredients and not end up with too much of what I don’t need, and everyone arrives and it’s loud and I’m panicking and cousin Liz says This is so great, and I say quietly though there’s no need to whisper everyone else is talking so loudly, No it is a disaster, I’ve never been this unprepared, and she says, Really? Everything looks so nice, and I say No you don’t understand half the stuff is not even cooked yet, and she says There’s no rush, everyone’s having fun, and I get angry that she doesn’t understand how disastrous this holiday is.

Then eventually we all eat, after Jimmy or Rick or Marty says grace, ironic about it only until the moment where they actually start, and we eat, and everything is great. And then we have dessert, and there is way too much of it, and it’s all delicious, I realize that all the dinner food didn’t matter that much, because it’s all kinda cold by the time people are eating it anyway, and it all tastes pretty much the same, I mean it’s all good but it’s not like going to change the world, you know? You don’t have to go to Whole Foods just for nutritional yeast for the vegan casserole, fuck it, it’s good with some cashews added. And then I vow to be way more relaxed next year and not worry about it.

SO. This year I am sitting here forcing myself to decide on one recipe for each thing. Which means I’m creating some new recipes that combine different things I think I’d probably combine if I were in the kitchen. Then I’ll look in the cupboards and fridge to actually see what I actually still need. For each thing I will do that. Then I will go to Harvestime for them. And later today, when we pick up the turducken and the turkey breast and have those actual cooking times, I will sit down and figure out exactly what will be made when, and cooked when, and cooked where — oven, crockpot, etc. There will be a chart. The chart will have times and instructions, and will account for the awesome stuff everyone else is bringing that has to be warmed up at the last minute.

And I might think this chart is ridiculous, way too planned-out for a meal that shouldn’t really be that big a deal, it’s not that different from other meals, but I won’t be swayed by that this year.  I will just look at my chart and do what it says to do next, and it will be the chillest Thanksgiving ever.

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How to not toot your own horn

It's all about the journey.

It’s all about the journey.

“Hi, I had a book on hold?”

“Ma’am, the hold books are out there now.”

“I know. I just wondered if it might be back there.”

“We had to move them, Ma’am. We do so many holds now, because of the Internet.”

“Okay. It doesn’t matter.”

“Can I help you, Ma’am?”

“I think I just missed the window.”

“Last name, Ma’am?”

“C-o-z-z–”

“So we go by the C’s. Right on this ticket. We hold them for ten days.”

“Yeah, that’s where I screwed up.”

“Cashen. Corrigan. Crawford. Hm. Was it a new hold?”

“No.”

“Those are over in this case, if we haven’t sorted them yet. Title?”

“No, it’s alright.”

“I’m happy to help, Ma’am. What’s the title?”

“Um, it’s something like How to Toot Your Own Horn. It’s really not important.”

“It’s no trouble. Shelly! This lady’s looking for a hold.”

“I’ve got a few back here, just came in.”

“She’s looking for How to Blow Your Own Horn.”

“No! It’s actually How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing it. I think.”

“I feel like I just saw that. Is there a horn on the cover?”

“I don’t know. I got the notice a couple of weeks ago.”

“Ma’am, we only hold them for ten days.”

“This was longer than ten days.”

“Oh. Well, why didn’t you say so?”

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10 Things Regarding the Prospect of Worms

Food for worms.

Frozen food for worms.

1. No one has ever reported their escape. At least, not in the reviews.

2. The nicest kit is about $109 on Amazon.

3. They like to call them factories. I can’t decide whether that’s cuter or more disturbing.

4. There’s one for sale on Craigslist but we are agreed that if we’re actually going to do this we’re going to start with an absolutely brand new and pristine…factory.

5. You have your choice of worms. We’re going with Red Wrigglers.

6. You can buy the same ones at bait shops. Does that mean we can then sell them to bait shops?

7. There’s absolutely no problem with fruit flies, but if you want, you can freeze your fruit scraps first. But there’s really no problem with fruit flies or smells or anything like that. But you can freeze the stuff first.

8. One pound is about three handfuls. Handfuls.

9. Sometimes the worms don’t use the ladders (included) and you have to help them.

10. They’ll be here on Monday.

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Outrageous fortune

"Nurse, get me the remote and a dog biscuit, STAT."

“No time to focus, this is a dog Martian collar halter biscuit serious EMERGENCY!”

Yesterday Toots came over to watch “Lovejoy” but we ended up watching “Slings and Arrows.” The temperature in the room changed, as she said, when we learned she’d never seen it. “Lovejoy” is a fun thing to bond over—our mutual adoration of Ian MacShane, our affection for the Lovejoy world where everyone pretty much just cares about antiques, enough to kill for them, but mostly just enough to look menacing and almost kill until Lovejoy ambles along and saves the day—or, at any rate, when the day gets saved by some ramshackle coincidence. Then they all go to the pub for a pint.

I wanted to make a test batch of chili because contrary to Dana’s email I don’t actually like to make chili. I just thought it would be easy and I know I’ve made it before, and it was good. But I don’t know what recipe I used, and browning the turkey always stresses me out. So I picked a recipe and decided to stick with it exactly and I did mostly, but I always pick the easy version in my online search—Easy Turkey Chili! Easy Thanksgiving Stuffing!—and then scoff as I cook because it doesn’t have enough interesting ingredients. So I add some.

I made the chili and set it to slow cook and then drafted our proposal for a new freelance project and corresponded with the shuttle service who might get me from Redmond airport to the middle of rural Oregon for the residency next April. They are willing to stop at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for only fifteen extra bucks. I feel like I’m walking on bubbles, up on top of bubbles, because so many good things have happened lately and this is not where my heart is used to processing emotion. I’m trying to find a way to be calm and wise about it, so that when the many things are rejections and losses and just plain nothings, to which I am more accustomed, I can be just as calm and wise.

Taking a lunch break to read Pam Houston’s Contents May Have Shifted put me on more familiar ground because it made me wonder, God am I just treading her ground with the small stories I’m sharing, only hers are about surviving an Alaskan mudslide whereas mine are about being afraid of ground turkey?

But I set that aside, because I can’t go down that road or I’ll never get to tell you how desperately important it was that Toots and possibly you, if you haven’t, see “Slings and Arrows.” Standing in the kitchen after she’d arrived, catching up from the week, having a slow drink before the chili, I can’t remember whether it was Dave or me who mentioned something  Slings-and-Arrows-related and Toots said, “What’s that?”

And suddenly it was like an emergency operating theater. “What? You’ve never seen it? I think maybe I’ve heard of it. You. You have to. You can’t go another day. Lovejoy is out. But it’s not on Netflix anymore. We’ll find it. Where’s my phone? How do I? Oh, I’ll try the TV.” And then it was on Acorn, and we fixed our bowls, “Come on come on, we’ve got to fit as many episodes in as possible—there are only 18—does everyone have napkins? Okay, go.”

And this makes sense if you are the sort of person who can appreciate both the charm of one show which is really lovely even when it’s awful and the plot points only sort of connect, and the humor and utter seriousness of another that’s constructed of a thousand truthful details that build so cleverly to reveal what is wonderful and awful about loving something so much that it makes a fool and a hero of you, all at the same time.

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The Art of Dramatic Surprise

Did I really say, "She talks to fairies"?

Did I really say, “She talks to fairies”?

I’d thought the make-it-up-as-you-go drama was on stage at the Annoyance—two powerful performers improvising together. The way they connected and counterpointed. The way they pushed some things and let others go. The way things came back. It was beautiful and surprising in a way that scripted drama never can be. Afterward, I got to talk a while with someone I haven’t seen in a while, and my soul felt better that it has in a while. Oh, and sitting at the bar with a very young friend, waiting for our drinks, after she had said “I feel so old” and I thought wow, my guilty conflicted love of the Annoyance probably dates back to before she was born—is that possible? Potty-trained, anyway.

And then afterward, in my ongoing desire to connect everybody and have them be best friends, I said the fairy thing which was momentarily embarrassing, but who listens to street chat anyway, and I got on the train, and Dave met me at the other end, with Django who was characteristically excited to see me for exactly one second.

And as we walked home, Dave told me about a far stranger drama. He was at a dress rehearsal for an opera, playing in the pit. They started at 7:30, did a straight run-through, then had a half-hour break, union rules.

At 9:50 they went back to the pit for the remaining forty minutes of rehearsal time. With gigs like this you only get three or four rehearsals, so every moment is precious. However, they weren’t allowed to pick up their instruments. Due to some other rules about dress rehearsals at that particular theatre, it wasn’t allowed. Also, most of the lights were turned off. At one point the maestro said something like, “Can I at least have one light so I can see my score?” And he talked through the trouble spots while the musicians followed along, light permitting, in their scores. “Surprisingly,” said Dave, “it was pretty productive.”

Which just goes to show, no matter where your stage in life happens to be, when something confusing happens and you just go with it, you might be surprised at how well it can work out.

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What not to say

Should be posted everywhere.

Should be posted everywhere.

In the afternoon we went to Home Depot, where Dave struggled against his recent overwhelming desire to buy more plants. “Let’s come up with a plan first,” I said, reminding him of his earlier plan to come up with a plan.

By the time we got home with firewood and mulch and landscape bags, I was so hungry I almost didn’t help carry any of it into the yard. But then I saw Dave walk out to the sidewalk to talk to the neighbors, and I didn’t have keys to get inside, so I started hoisting bags from the trunk, hoping it would speed things up once he was done consulting about the bare spot on the parkway that used to be a tree.

“I’ve got a bag of grass seed from last year,” I heard him offer. I lifted out the last bag and tried to slam the trunk in such a way that would make him notice me and want to let me inside. I know I should carry my keys but sometimes I don’t know where they are or I think they’re in my purse but actually they’re in a different purse or sometimes I just don’t feel like it.

The trunk slamming didn’t work. He was still talking with the neighbors, a pleasant woman and man, and gesturing at the bare spot on the parkway. They all seemed to agree that nothing seemed to be growing there. I ventured a few steps toward them and announced, “I’m sorry but I need to get inside.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Dave immediately; and then, “this is why you should have your keys.”

“Yep.” Dave started to follow me inside, but then made the error of saying to the neighbors, “Oh, by the way, I wanted to ask you about these.” He pointed to some flattened plants peeking out from under the tangled coil of the neighbor’s water hose.

“Yes?” They walked up to look.

“These day lilies.”

“Oh, the day lilies,” said the neighbor woman. “Those grow like weeds.”

“Yes, well, I was thinking maybe I could move them.”

“…What?”

“So they can grow,” Dave explained.

“Oh.” Suddenly the temperature seemed to go down. “Well, where would you move them?”

“I’d find a place for them, “ Dave said.

The neighbor couple looked at each other and then back at Dave. “I don’t know about that,” said the neighbor woman.

“I could move them closer to the front of your house,” Dave offered. “I’ve moved a bunch of ours.”

The four of us stood in silence.

“Or not,” said Dave. “I just thought, so they could grow.”

“I’m going to have to think about that one,” said the neighbor.

“Dave, I’ve got to get inside and eat something,” said I.

We got inside and I ate something. Heather stopped by and we went to Gene’s Sausage Shop for a rooftop beer. “Look under that hose,” I said as we exited, “but don’t look like you’re looking.”

“Got it,” she said.

At Gene’s, she told us how her father had planted a whole fence-worth of day lilies, dividing them season after season until they spanned the length of the yard. “But then we got new neighbors,” she said, “and it turned out the day lilies were over their property line. So they dug them up and put in a fence.”

“Oh no,” I said, “your poor dad.”

Heather shrugged, “They grow like weeds.”

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Feelings and stuff

Things get left.

Things get left.

I am the worst person I know. The worst one. Yesterday I sat in a packed church, at a funeral for a very kind man. Prayers were said, and I prayed along, and was careful not to cry because I hadn’t known him very long, but the whole time I sat there feeling grief but trying not to feel too much, do you know what I was thinking?

A few things. First, the guy in front of me. He did not for one minute ever stop messing with himself. First he rolled his white shirtsleeves all the way up to his triceps. Then above his triceps. Then he rubbed his beard and his neck and the top of his head, symmetrically, with both hands, like he was rubbing in some magic ointment that would make it not 90 degrees in the church. He was with an older couple and I decided that he probably had something going on, maybe his skin was itchy or he had a mental challenge or maybe he was more upset than I because he knew the deceased better, but do you think that stopped me from being all snobby and needing to stand even more perfectly still, to prove that I was better and more holy than this guy who was probably doing his best to stand as straight as he could in this church of heat and strangers and mystified sorrow? Of course it didn’t.

I stood as straight as I could. When we kneeled down, I kneeled as straight and still as I could. I sang like I meant it. The uncomfortable feeling of half-pretending and half-believing in what was being said in the mass was comforting. It reminded me of being a kid in church, back when I thought that looking holy and reverent was going to get me somewhere. The only thing it ever got me was sort-of picked up once at a Christmas Eve midnight mass I went to with my dad. I know I must have started flirting with the guy next to me because at some point I was showing him my ID to prove “I am SO eighteen,” and my dad looked over and I realized the priest was talking. After that, I stood super straight again, like I was standing now.

The only thing that made me move was the woman behind me. I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was looking at her phone, so I turned a few times, just now and then, as if to say, “I cannot believe that you are looking at your phone in a church, so I have to physically turn around in order to check. Yep, that is you looking at your phone right now. You see me looking at you? Good, I’ll turn back around like I don’t want you to see that I was staring at you because I have such good manners. Maybe you can learn something from me.”

You can just imagine what I did when she started accidentally playing a voicemail message on speakerphone. A VOICEMAIL MESSAGE! On SPEAKERPHONE!

To my credit, I held it together when I noticed that the woman two rows up, a stalwart-looking Russian grandma type with white hair gathered in a clip on top of her head, was wearing the exact same vest I got at Target that I wear all the time. For some reason I’ve always thought this vest was so cute and special that Target only sold one of its kind, the one I have. I thought it looked kind of handmade and chic, but seeing it stretched across the back of this woman over a peach top that did not need a knitted vest because it was 90 DEGREES IN THE CHURCH, I felt rather ill.

Are all my clothes this bad? Certainly the sundress I was wearing which is at least 15 years old but I think looks great because it hides my waistline, that dress is okay, right? I mean, the purposely-uneven hem that is short in the middle and longer on the sides is coming back in this year, right? And the knotted straps that show my gray bra straps, those are cute, right?

Let’s not even talk about my hair.

Afterward, we walked to Lincoln Square and bought an air plant. We didn’t get ice cream from the vendor outside the church because it didn’t seem appropriate.

Today I cleaned out the back closet because I got a new shelving unit that is going to change everything back there. I saw a box of photos and inside was a picture of my mom and me, just a few days before she died. She is smiling at the camera—or maybe at my cousin Liz who took the picture—in a way I don’t remember ever her smiling. Probably she only had this smile for a few days. Her smile is as wide and toothy as her normal smile, but her eyes are different. They look rueful, which I just had to look up to make sure that’s what I mean, and I’m glad to see that its flavor of regret is “slightly humorous,” because that’s exactly what I see in her eyes. It feels like she’s living somewhere else other than in that room with us, but she’s stepped back for the picture. She’s slightly sorry that she forgot about us for a second, like “oops,” but she really does love us and wants to give this picture all she’s got.

I did not open that box because of the funeral. I opened it because of a shelving unit from Home Depot that allowed me to reorganize the closet and this box of pictures had to be moved and the picture of my mom happened to be on top. Grief is random and cyclical and not affected by petty or grand or judgmental or kind thoughts. It’s just there, first an affliction you can’t get rid of, and then a balm you are grateful for because it brings back for a moment the person you have lost.

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One-minute rehearsal

No problem.

No problem.

Yes I felt kind of silly, going to the rehearsal of a one-minute play I’d written. But the director had invited all the playwrights in my clump. And when I showed up, an hour late thanks to getting sucked back into work after a month away, I was indeed the only playwright there. But the director and actors welcomed me, and sat me down, and although I felt a little foolish, over-eager, definitely not the oh-so-busy-professional who doesn’t have time for such trifles, I was also happy not to be. Happy to remember I don’t need to be. Fine just as I am, etc. AND, I got to watch and be part of their rehearsal process. Which means I got another free lesson in acting and directing.

When it came to my piece and I pulled out my script which I had completely rewritten on the el ride over, oh I’m cringing now remembering this, she listened or at least looked like she was listening to my longwinded explanation of the changes which were probably longer than the play itself – “If it weren’t in a clump of other plays about weather it would be fine, but since everything’s about weather maybe it’s too on the nose and could be more about the relationship? And also I could cut a few lines? Or maybe it’s fine as it is? I’m sorry, I know it’s just a minute, do you want to just not look at these?”

Oh, she did not say, Thank God only one playwright showed up. She did not huff, Why are you cutting into my precious rehearsal time with your needy crazy talk? “Of course,” she said, “Why don’t we just read both versions?”

“Oh, that would be great!” She didn’t seem fazed by the fact that this might be impossible, since I had the only copy of the new version and it was illegible. This puzzled me, because I would not have been able to proceed without first solving this logistical problem. And because the solution would be a pain in the ass — have me tell everyone the changes and mess up their copies with changes that might not get made? — I would have been annoyed, and I would have had to show everyone how much effort it took to figure this out and what a good director I was for making it work.

Instead, she had the cast read the first version, and they were hilarious. The play worked just fine as it was. The director had already given them a concept based on the original script, and they ran with it, and it was all good. No changes needed. “I just want to change these two lines,” I said.

“Love it,” she said, “Actors, we have a couple of line changes.”

And later, when the piece was on its feet, we were able to cut the last line because the actors’ performances had made it irrelevant. I love watching talented people in action. It just makes me glad to be alive.

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Day 25: Don’t explain

Once upon a time there were people like this, and there still are.

Once upon a time there were people like this, and there still are.

When I first told people I was going to Ragdale, they said things like, “Hope your class goes well!”
“Well, it’s not really a class.”
“Oh. Well, hope your retreat is relaxing!”
“It’s not really a retreat.”
“Oh. Well, hope you have a good workshop!”
“It’s not really a workshop.”
“Oh. Well, what is it?”
“It’s an artist’s colony.”
“What’s that?”
“I have no idea.”
Now that it’s ending, I realize that all those people were right. Ragdale is a class in persistence, a retreat from familiar routines, and a workshop designed around whatever we choose to share with each other. The citizens of this colony change from session to session, but the underlying principles of respect and support ensure its success.

Another thing people kept saying was, “Well, have fun!”
“It’s really not about having fun,” I said. And was wrong again. Working all day on my writing, while being handed a gracious home, beautiful surroundings, and delicious meals with interesting people, is actually quite a lot of fun. The deadline for next year is May 15, people. www.ragdale.org. Get on it.

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Day 23: Separation Anxiety

We'll always have Ragdale.

We’ll always have Ragdale. Sob.

Exity
by Beth, Lila, MT and Patricia

Special prairie
Clouds no I was kidding
Ow my toe
Bad bad toe
When’s dinner?
Ibuprofen eight hundred
thousand. Plus whisky. Feel fine.
Good night.

Sunrise cloud Kafka
Makes my whirly word
Blossom. Friendship. Consultation.
I leave the prairie with the trill of victory.
See ya.

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