Chez Songbird, Children, Food and Drink, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Thanksgiving

Secret Ingredients

"Is it weird for you," I asked Snowman, "to have your day turned into a sermon on the same day you're having the day?"

He looked at me, puzzled, as we began the drive home from the community Thanksgiving service. "Huh?"

"Well, that sermon, or part of it, was all about our day today. That was about you, the two strong men wrestling with the food processor stuff."

"If you can get something for a sermon out of a broken food processor, I guess that's why this is your job."

My job, indeed, includes a large measure of reflecting on the practical and seeking the message in it, trying to parse the secret ingredients. I'm thankful that a lot of what I do goes on inside my head. And although I enjoyed the two days of preparation for Thanksgiving, I'm particularly thankful I don't have to cook all day every day, especially given the overwhelming fatigue that hits me after being on my feet for an extended period of time, a reminder of how changed I am by rheumatoid arthritis.

Although perhaps "changed" is not the right word. I don't accept it readily enough for it to be change. I'm adjusting, unwillingly, but the moment of giving over still comes later than it probably should, when I simply cannot stand up anymore or worry that my wrists will not support the dish or pan. Still, I want the dishwasher loaded "my" way. God bless Dos for asking me which way I liked the silverware to go in–handles up, the way my mother taught me, naturally–for I was then able to let her load in my place.

The day unfolded with the background sounds and images of the parade, the dog show ("Look, there's a Berner!!), and "Miracle on 34th Street," with what seemed to be a floor full of dogs in every room, though there were only two.

When we sprawled around the living room after dinner last night, my children, Dos and I, we could truly say everyone had a hand in the meal. Together we trussed the turkey with kitchen twine, together we schemed and peeled and processed and pressed and rolled and stirred the apple pan dowdy (even Pure Luck, who cored, quarted and chopped), together we mashed and set the table. Light Princess and Anime Fangirl contributed place cards. The Father of My Children arrived with roasted vegetables and took the major responsibility for carving the turkey, even finishing the job after dinner before taking his leave.

We even dared to use the food processor one last time, well worth the effort at getting it open again when it yielded turkey liver paté.

When the gravy seemed doomed to fail, we began again after consulting over the stove. The old bottles of Gravy Master produced nothing, so we turned to molasses. Snowman took over stirring the second batch, and told me it didn't taste quite right. "Too floury?" I tasted, too. It really tasted good, I might have been happy just adding a smidgen of pepper and a pinch of salt. But then I remembered their Papa's secret ingredient: he always adds jam to sweeten the gravy.

I reached into the refrigerator for blueberry preserves, but the young people denied that jam could ever be in gravy. I knew I had the secret ingredient right, but decided I could make a substitution in the face of their objections. For on the shelf above the counter sat a jug of beautiful maple syrup. Soon we deemed the gravy "perfect."

I haven't written much about Dos over the years, because the relationships of young people can be ephemeral, and I don't want to leave anything behind to hurt or embarrass anyone, but as #1 Son's girlfriend of almost three years, she feels special enough that I must say how dearly I've loved having her with us this Thanksgiving. When others flagged, she chopped more rutabagas for the Rotmos. When we needed to truss the turkey, she cleverly followed the directions we found on the Internet.

And when people began to look around for second Thanksgiving, I found her sitting beside #1 Son on the couch with a big Ziploc, smiling. "It's turkey, and everything that goes on it!"

"It's Thanksgiving in a bag," I replied with a grin, realizing it must be the turkey and stuffing once on the platter, the rest tucked away in Tupperware.

"It felt like the right thing," she said.

I nodded in complete agreement. The whole day felt that way, though it contained fewer people than usual, and I had worried I would miss cooking with my sister-in-law, the one who knows how to cook everything just the right way. Instead of assisting her, I found myself coordinating the efforts of the younger generation.

And maybe that's the real secret ingredient, sweeter than maple syrup, the flexibility to try doing things a different way, surrounded by the people you love.

Chez Songbird, Thanksgiving

Giving Thanks and Blessings

CornucopiaIt's just past 8:30, and the house is mostly quiet. The shower runs for LP, but Pure Luck and the dogs have gone to the beach, while Snowman, #1 Son and Dos still sleep. Soon all will wake, and the frenzy of cooking will begin. But for now, I'm grateful for the sunshine coming through the kitchen window, the cup of coffee on the table beside the laptop and a moment of peace.

We'll eat at 4 p.m., giving Pure Luck time to go see his family at noon. And when we sit at the table, he will share this blessing, one he wrote for our Thanksgiving Eve dinner a few years ago:

Blessed are the fires of the sun which give their
light and warmth freely to the Earth.
Blessed is the Earth which upholds sea and soil, the
wellsprings of abundance.
Blessed are the falling rains which quench the thirsty
fields and renew the sea.
Blessed are the farmers and the fishermen who toil so
that we here might share the bounty of our world.
Blessed are we to receive these gifts born of sun,
soil, water and labor.
We honor them by striving to be as they are:
To be as the sun, bringing light to the darkness and
heat to the shivering.
To be as the rains, quenching that which is parched
and barren.

To be as the soil, nurturing of life.
To be as the farmers and the fishermen, working to
share the wealth of the Earth with all who dwell here.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sermons, Thanksgiving

Generosity in a Pinch

Community Thanksgiving Service    November 26, 2008   2 Corinthians 9:6-15

A fresh turkey rests quietly in my
refrigerator, waiting to play his part in tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast. Little
does he know: this is the only meal I can cook for a crowd, and if I didn’t
know what to do with him, we would be in trouble.

Today we made a last run to the
grocery store, baked apple pan dowdy, crossed our fingers that the pumpkin pie
might set just right and wondered whether we had enough butter, enough whipping
cream, enough of everything. We made cranberry relish, but we have the
cranberry jelly in the cans, too, that all needs may be met. We know we fall
into the category of the fortunate—there is no doubt. We will eat our turkey in
a warm house surrounded by people we love. We really do have all we want and
more.

For once I remembered to buy all the
necessary spices. Some you use generously, but others serve better in the
quantity of a pinch. Don’t confuse the nutmeg with the cinnamon! And Martha
Stewart advices merely a pinch of cloves.

If I had to make a complaint, it
would be a small one, the size of a crack in the lid of my food processor. It’s a problem
to use because you can’t be sure of getting the lid OFF again. A batch of
squash soup poured out through the food chute, and once we got the lid off
later, I wondered if we dare try again. Today it took two men working together
to open it and liberate first the pie dough and then the relish. For tomorrow, I
have human helpers with strong arms and willing hands to chop and mash.

The Thanksgivings of my childhood
had a particular rhythm. My mother and my grandmother cooked the turkey using
the overnight method. I look back now and admire them, mother-in-law and
daughter-in-law, neither of whom loved to cook, getting into that kitchen and working
with a generosity of spirit to make a feast appear. In those early years, my
brother and I sat at the “children’s table,” a picnic table moved into a corner
of the dining room, then covered with a fancy linen tablecloth. We children
never felt alone, because my grandmother and her best friend, Maggie, always
sat with us. I must have been ten before I thought to ask why they sat with us
instead of with the grown-ups; they grinned, and Maggie said, “Why in the world
would we want to sit with them?”

It wasn’t long before we
“graduated,” and everyone sat together, but I never forgot how important
Maggie, a 1st grade teacher, made us children feel. I never forgot
her generous love for the little ones.

Generosity matters. “God loves the
cheerful giver,” we heard, and I believe it to be true. Giving practical
assistance to those who need it this winter will matter, perhaps more than it
has in many years. But it begins with an open heart, a heart warmed by love for
those who may not be lovable in the personal sense but who are lovable simply
for being among God’s children. It’s easy to love my children, easy to love
people who are like me, but the challenge comes in loving those who are less
familiar. It takes that kind of love to give to people on the edge without
judging the nature of their neediness.

Because it’s too easy to create a
scorecard and overlook the little ones who have the biggest troubles. It’s too
easy to say they brought it on themselves, the pinch they’re in or the cracks
they’ve fallen through. It’s too easy to forget that God scatters seed widely,
allowing it to fall where it will, and we are not in charge of deciding whether
it fell right. It’s our work instead to share more where less is available,
remembering that God loves the poor without reservation. God loves us when we
are poor, or feeling poorly, whatever the pinch may be.

There was a Thanksgiving when I felt
just like the lid on my food processor: cracked and ill-fitting. That year I
got divorced and had to sell my house. I had plans to spend Thanksgiving with
my dad, while my children saw their father. In October, my father died
suddenly. Now, really, Thanksgiving could, and maybe should, have been the
least of my worries. But as the day approached, I became increasingly miserable
at the thought of spending it alone.

Then someone reached out to me.
Georgia and I sang together in the church choir; she made sure I got to the
rehearsals, even providing a teenage daughter to babysit my children. Would I
come and share Thanksgiving with her family and friends?

God loves a cheerful giver, and I
know God loves Georgia. I surely loved her for that much-needed invitation.

We will all face times that feel
lonely, times of grief or despair or want. Those are the times when we need our
communities, the town that provides Thanksgiving baskets and the friends that
provide hospitality. We need them when we feel cracked and pinched. And this is
the time when we need our communities of faith, the places where we take our
questions and our worries, the place where someone will recognize us, or miss
us if we are not there.

And sometimes giving when we’re
feeling pinched ourselves can be the true measure of our generosity.

Over the past few weeks I followed
the story of a young man from Seattle named Brenden Foster. Doctors said that
11-year-old Brenden, diagnosed with leukemia three years ago, had only weeks to
live. The national media picked up Brenden’s story when they learned of his
last wish. On the way home from a doctor’s appointment, Brenden saw a homeless
“camp” known as Nickelsville. His heart went out to the people there; he
declared it his last wish to provide food for them. “They’re probably starving,
so give ‘em a chance,” he said. Brenden’s wish led to food drives not only in
Seattle, but all over the country. Brown paper sacks of food went to the
hungry, inscribed with the words “Love, Brenden.”

In a television interview, Brenden
said, “I had a great time. And until my time comes, I’m going to keep having a
great time.”

God loves a cheerful giver.

I think of Brenden’s mother, Wendy,
who shared her son with the world at a time when most of us, cracked and pinched
by inevitability, might have turned inward. 
She understood the special nature of her child, his power to inspire,
and she gave him to us all.

Brenden died last Friday morning,
but not before he saw how others fulfilled his wish. Despite his illness,
despite his death, and because of his generosity of spirit, he inspires others
to give. That’s the kind of generosity we all need to receive and to give,
whatever the pinch may be.

Thanks be to God for God’s
indescribable gifts! Amen.