On Thanksgiving day, I had set our alarm to wake us in time to catch the free continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn where my husband, The Gryphon, and I were staying. I didn't realize that, since the alarm consisted of playing music on the radio, it was thus ineffective when you left the radio on all night in order to soothe a nervous doggie.
My sister doubles as a pillow
Una did a good job of waking me up, anyway, as soon as noise started in the hallway, and we still had plenty of time to eat. At first, we tried to go to breakfast together, but Una whined so loudly in the strange hotel room that we decided to go individually.
When it was my turn, I looked through the offerings of muffins, Danishes, cereal and fruit, trying to figure out a filling breakfast that wouldn't add many calories to the big feast day.
I didn't notice the do-it-yourself waffles until I'd already put an English muffin in the toaster. The hotel staff had left out cups of premixed batter, which could be poured into hot waffle irons. A timer automatically started, and you had a fresh waffle in two and a half minutes. I resolved to try it the next day. Instead, I put some peanut butter and jelly on my muffin, then got a banana and some coffee.
Since I hadn't slept as well as I do on nights when my dog isn't reacting to every phantom noise, I didn't notice I'd given myself decaf coffee until I'd nearly finished the cup. So I also got a cup of regular, wondering as I did whether the psychological effect of the decaf would be the same, if I simply believed it was caffeinated.
A number of other hotel guests were also getting breakfast in the cafeteria-type room. The loudest was a little boy of about 4 or 5, who was full of boisterous energy by comparison to his adult guardians. Children that young don't need caffeine.
When I returned to the hotel room, The Gryphon asked me if I'd seen an old couple talking. I told him there were several and asked him to be more specific. He told me he'd overheard an interesting conversation between an elderly couple, who were trying to decide whether they were liberal or conservative. They agreed that they were both. While they were liberal on social issues, they felt they were conservative since they use coupons. I bet one of them drank decaf by mistake.
After we'd taken our showers, I called Mom to let her know we were coming to drop off Una. When we arrived, she loaded us up with food to take for the Thanksgiving dinner. While my dad has a bigger space to host a large dinner, my mom still does the bulk of the cooking. Some dishes she does ahead of time in her house, while other items are cooked in Dad's narrow, poorly organized kitchen. This has led, in the past, to much confusion, but now we've got it worked out to a science. A frenetic science, that is. Or perhaps chaos theory. The main principle is simply to keep working, despite all obstacles. No potato masher? Don't waste time looking through drawers filled with antique items from my paternal grandmother and great aunt. Instead, use a coffee mug. It's not pretty, but it works.
When we arrived, I could smell the turkey. My sister and her husband had made sure the turkey got into the oven on time, and her husband was basting it at regular intervals to keep it moist. Both my sister and I are lucky to have married men who enjoy cooking.
My niece and nephew were perched on my sister's lap, watching one of their favorite cartoons. It didn't take long, however, before they were investigating my Dad's place, using their imaginations to turn nearly everything into a toy. The night before, my Dad, an osteopath, had distributed a number of drug company giveaways, which had always abounded in our house growing up. Recently, the freebies have been outlawed, as if ad-strewn stress balls or nose-shaped coffee mugs would unethical prescription practices. So Dad and his girlfriend, another doctor I call The Adventurer, had raided the booths at a recent medical convention, bringing home plenty of swag to distribute.
I'd taken a purple stapler with a Levaquin ad on it which, while it is organically shaped, is sturdier than the Nasacort stapler, shaped like an inhaler, which Dad had given me on a previous visit. Others had claimed fancy pens and laser pointers, and we'd all reminded Dad to keep an eye out for any remaining Viagra products. Cause anything with Viagra on it is cool, in an ironic way.
I didn't always feel this way about drug company freebies. One of the enduring shames of my childhood was popping open an umbrella at the bus stop, only to realize that it sported a large ad for some mysterious prescription drug. I lived in fear that I would inadvertently advertise medication for some embarrassing condition (although it didn't occur to me that, in those days before widespread broadcast drug ads, the only people who would recognize the medication were probably taking it). Strangely enough, despite my fears, I never got teased for such gear, in part because I was good at hiding it, but mostly because, bookish, chubby, four-eyed girl that I was, there were plenty of other things about which to pick on me (such as, for example, my dislike of ending sentences with a preposition).
My nephew had developed a liking for a stress squeezer shaped like a flattened figure-8. It was soft and squishy, and he liked to hold it up to his nose to make a long, funny-looking purple schnoz. His delight in the prank made me laugh, no matter how many times he did it, which destined it to become a recurring joke, as various members of the family were asked to sport a strange, squishy purple nose. Come to think of it, it was a marvelous stress reducer.
I remembered that my niece liked to draw, so when she tired of her dollies, I looked through my Dad's antique secretary, crammed with pens and stationery, to find something she could use. In a drawer behind some yellowed thank-you notes, I found a box of large crayons, which I presented to my niece. We took them into the dining room, where someone had earlier had a similar idea, finding an empty notebook and some pens and highlighters.
She had very specific ideas of what she wanted, which she conveyed to me using gestures and her limited verbal skills. Thrusting a pen into my hand, she pronounced, "Kitty," which I took to mean that I should draw a picture of a kitty. If Dad's cat, Mia, was still determined to remain hidden, at least she could see and touch a feline facsimile.
When I'd drawn my approximation of a kitty, she colored it enthusiastically with her crayons, which she first arranged, all the points facing one direction, in approximately rainbow order. Let me remind you: she has just turned 2. Now I could truly understand why my brother calls her an artist. Given the limitations of her object manipulation, she was very particular about how and what she drew.
Then she gestured to something in the room, trying to convey something else I should draw. Finally, I realized that she was saying, "Chair," and I confirmed it by pointing to the chair and repeating the word. She nodded, handed me the pen, and I drew a simple version of the chair, which she colored in with blue crayons (the closest color to the pattern on the chair). Moreover, she colored the background orange and red, the colors of my Dad's dining room. I told her it looked really good, and she seemed pleased.
Mom joined us after a while and tried to suggest that my niece draw specific things, which she didn't like. She is a very independent little girl, much like I remember my sister at her age. Instead of taking requests, she climbed out of the chair, saying, "No!" My brother tells me that it is currently her favorite word.
My nephew, meanwhile, had begun playing with some cars that my brother's wife had packed for him. He had fun parking them in a line and then driving up another car, saying, "There's no room!" To make room, that car smashed into the other cars until there was space to park. I laughed but advised him that this was really poor parking technique.
As we played, my sister and her husband prepared various items in the kitchen, including homemade cranberry sauce, which this year would include dried apricots. Yum.
My brother had been given the task of peeling and chopping up potatoes to make mashed potatoes. I helped him. Since we could only find one potato peeler, I let him use that while I used a paring knife. I successfully avoided cutting myself, which I attribute to having had real coffee, instead of just decaf.
When my Mom arrived with family friend The Pastor, they pitched in, so I left the kitchen. Four people is about the maximum in there, and I wanted to keep out of the way. Instead, I kept my niece and nephew occupied by playing with them so they'd have no interest in checking out the kitchen, where hot and sharp items would be whipping around in a controlled chaos for the next couple hours.
At 1 p.m., I had to start my usual transcription assignment, which took longer than normal because of breaking news (which has fewer commercials). As I finished up, they brought the dining room table into the living room, adding the leaf. They also brought out Dad's sideboard to use as additional seating space. I frantically tried to finish, feeling as if everyone was waiting. By the time I finally uploaded my file, they'd set the table and brought out most of the food. My mom sat with my brother and his family at the smaller table, while the rest of us took seats around the larger table.
I snapped a couple pics as people served themselves, but none of people eating, since that never looks good.
My sister serves turkey to The Pastor's Youngest Son.
(clockwise from left) The Pastor's Youngest Son, Dad,
The Pastor's Oldest Son, The Pastor.
(clockwise from left) My nephew, my brother's wife,
Mom and my brother serve themselves.
My niece enjoys a sampling of Thanksgiving foods.
We didn't go around the room and state what they're thankful for, which used to be a tradition when the family was smaller. Instead, we just agreed we were thankful to be together.
The meal was really good. I loved the fact that we had lots of color: lots of fruits and vegetables. This year, Mom tried a new stuffing recipe, which was delicious. My colorful, wonderful Thanksgiving plate, contained salad, homemade cranberry sauce, green beans, homemade mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing and turkey.
For dessert, there were both apple and pumpkin pies. Some people chose one or the other, but most took a small sliver of each.
I was quite full at the close of the meal, but not uncomfortably so, having eaten lightly the rest of the day. Afterwards, I helped clear the plates. It is an unwritten rule in my family that whoever didn't help cook has to help with cleanup. Dad has a particular way he likes to load his dishwasher, so I just brought the plates to the sink to allow him to do so.
After dinner, we socialized. Since my nephew shares my silly sense of humor, he gave me some 3D glasses he'd found, and we walked around the apartment, looking at things, getting closer and farther away. I had someone snap a few pics of us. Though it's blurry, I like this action shot the best. We're coming right at you!
My sister and Mom played dollies with my niece, and then Mom watched her draw, lying on the floor. The light was sinking fast and is never terrific in Dad's place, so the color balance is really off on the pictures I took. Still, converted to black and white, I think they're fairly decent.
Then we tried out a toy that Mom had brought. It was a little stick on which you played a disk. When you pushed it off, it spun and whirled through the air. When my brother, Mom, my sister and The Pastor's Youngest Son left in a blur of excitement, my niece wanted to go, too. After making sure it was OK with her mom, I put her shoes and coat on and took her outside, being careful to hold her hand while we were close to the street.
The toy was fun, though a little hard for a 3 1/2-year-old to use on his own. Though he enjoyed it for a while, he pinched his hand and got a brush burn. We had to go inside and put a Band-Aid on it. Dad gave him one that contained cartoons, and he nursed it carefully the rest of the night, seemingly convinced that the Band-Aid possessed extraordinary powers of healing.
We also made some homemade ice cream with a special ball that my brother had given to Dad a while ago. You loaded it with the proper ingredients, then put ice and salt in the external portion, and rolled it around the room for about 15 minutes while it froze. Both kids and adults enjoyed it, and the ice cream was surprisingly good.
I wish I could have taken the night off, but I don't get paid vacations, so I'd agreed to do my normal assignments. Some of them had been canceled due to the holiday, but at about 7, I began working while everyone enjoyed a little TV. With my noise-canceling headphones, I had no trouble working, though I had to remove my earrings.
During a break in my assignments, I drove with The Gryphon to walk the dogs and bring our doggie, Una, and my sister's doggie, Emma back to my Dad's place, since the kids were in bed. My brother was happy to see them for the first time in ages, and they deferred to him just as they did when they were puppies. After all, he and his wife were their first people, since his late dog, Pulsar, had been their mommy.
One by one, people either left or went to bed. When I finished, even though it was a little earlier than the night before, The Gryphon and I were the only ones left. I half-watched the Stephen Colbert Christmas special, which came on while I was completing my work. This time we got back to the hotel about an hour earlier than on Wednesday. Una seemed to know where we were going, though she couldn't identify our exact room, sniffing the pausing at each one as we passed, waiting for us to use our magic card to get us inside.
She actually slept through most of the night without any disturbance. Much as she might have felt our new digs were strange, she seemed willing to adapt. I think she was probably also tired out from running around with her sister, Emma, and her brother, Murray (my Mom's dog), as well as honorary big sister Sunnie (my Mom's dog), who despite being in the final stages of cancer, perked up this weekend and enjoyed the company. I was thankful that all the excitement had tired Una out; thankful for the Christian station that calmed her; and thankful for a drama-free Thanksgiving.
Kids can make toys of anything.