Have you ever tried a new recipe over the holidays and bombed it? Or, even better, has trying something new in the kitchen paid off for you this year?
Mark and I were hosting both of our families for Thanksgiving a few years ago. While we both eat turkey as the main dish, we don’t have much else in common on the table, so instead of trying to decide whose traditions to go with, we decided we make a few of our own.
Maybe the most important difference is the stuffing, or dressing. My family makes a bread stuffing with celery, chicken stock, and butter. Mark’s family makes more of a dressing with a tomato base, garbanzo beans, pork, potatoes, and some other seasonings. We knew whichever we chose, half the room would be disappointed so we looked up a bunch of stuffing recipes and picked three to try ahead of time.
The winner? None of them. We really didn’t like any of them and definitely none were good enough to serve on Thanksgiving. Now what?
We were making two turkeys and would need to use Kate’s oven that morning as well as ours. Finally we decided we both wanted Thanksgiving the way we knew it and since Kate was already prepping one turkey, why not stuff it with our stuffing while she was at it? Mark and I would prepare his family’s recipe at our place.
It was perfect. Everyone got what they wanted and we all enjoyed a mixed-family holiday – not something we do often. Or ever, really, but I wouldn’t hesitate to host it again, now that we have a game plan we know works for everyone.
What about the holidays brings out your inner Grinch?
The very first thing I thought of when I read today’s prompt was Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester, CT.
For six or so of my illustrious ten year career with Friendly’s Restaurant, my Christmas season started with a cringe worthy day of serving weary, impatient, aggravated shoppers on Black Friday at the “Friendly’s in the mall.”
You had to clarify which Friendly’s then because there were three within spitting distance of each other – the one “in the mall,” the one “outside the mall,” and the one in .Burr Corner – just around the corner from the one inside and the one outside the mall. I worked at all of them at one point or another, as well as the Silver Lane and Burnside Avenue locations in East Hartford, the Rockville (CT) location, one crazy day in Mystic, and a winter break at the Sumner Avenue location in Springfield, MA.
But the Friendly’s in the mall was my home location. It was the most fun job I ever had. Ever. I was an excellent server and I loved coming home with an apron full of cash and an arm covered in ice cream up to the elbow. Our little group of workers were tight. We’d fist pump when we were working the same shifts. We’d pool our tips even though we weren’t supposed to. We get to work, kill it, close up and hang out til 1:00 or 2:00am. Get up and do it all over again the next day.
Black Friday signaled the start of the most irritating two months of work. Also the most lucrative, but I’m feeling the annoyance creeping up on me just thinking about it.
First of all, you had to leave for your shift at least an hour early to get through the traffic to the mall, find parking and walk from Guam into the restaurant in the middle of the complex.
Now, if you live in NoVA, this isn’t a big deal. You probably leave for work well over an hour early everyday, but that is just NOT how it is in Manchester, CT and sitting in the line of traffic on Slater Lane was infuriating.
You finally get in to find out you’re covering breaks. That’s restaurant speak for “making no money while taking care of everyone else’s tables.” The unspoken rule in serving is if you start the table, it’s yours. Even if all you’ve done is drop off waters and take an order. So when you’re covering breaks, you’re mostly taking care of tables off of which you will not be making any money. Then you’ll get one party seated in that section that IS yours and ten minutes later, you’re in another section covering for another server and you have one table there. And so on and so on…
You finally get your own section and you’re trying to get into a rhythm but these people are insufferable. They are tired from getting up early to get the good deals. They are indecisive because they’ve had to make decisions on gifts all day. And absolutely MOST importantly, they’re out of money. I mean, not everyone, and never completely, but they sure as heck aren’t in the “giving mood” after shopping for presents for their entire family and probably for their in-laws, too.
If it’s early enough – 11:00am to about 12:30pm, they are probably just stopping for a quick bite before braving the crowds again. One Senior Fishamajig with cole slaw and a coffee. Total bill: $7.50. Tip: $1.00.
At 12:30pm, the families start showing up. Exhausted and unable (willing?) to keep their kids from mashing up french fries, crushing their crayons, and then throwing ALL of it on the floor, I will beg the hostess to sweep under the table before seating it again. I know this is futile. A. The hostess will just kick the crayon/french fry mush further under the table because B. The carpet sweeper hasn’t worked in three months.
One Turkey Supermelt with fries (hold the thousand island dressing, sub ranch, light on the cheese and hold the butter on the bread), one Colossal Bacon burger with waffle fries (oh, waffle fries are 50 cents more? Never mind. What is your vegetable today? Broccoli? Ok, but no stems, k? Thanks), one Kids Grilled Cheese with applesauce. (YES applesauce. YES APPLESAUCE!), one Kids Mac and Cheese with french fries (Because SHE behaved herself in Macy’s unlike someone else. No, no milkshake. Because you get ice cream with your meal) **cringe** Two Cokes, two Kids milks, and four waters. (But can you put theirs in the kids cups with the lids and could you give them the different colored straws in each? Thanks.) Total bill (after making a Monster Mash and a Conehead Sundae to-go): $35. Tip: $5.
Three o’clock is actually the sweet spot of the day. Hardcore shoppers are gone. Kids are in the playscape and out of your hair. In walks the appetizers and ice cream crowd. Solid $20 checks, solid $4-5 tips. You have time to put an extra cherry on the sundae of the college kid flirting with you. You have time to do “coffee shots” with the crew before gearing up for dinner. You steal a slice of bacon from the VAT on the grill. You plead your case to the supervisor for why you should be the first one cut if it slows down.
At the end of your shift, you roll two trays of silverware, you “marry” the ketchups, you refill the sugars and you make yourself a sundae to-go. You may or may not pay for it.
You make plans to meet up with everyone after they close and you take the long walk back to Guam, get in your car and try not to get ice cream or grease on anything.
My parents’ house is a masterfully decorated winter wonderland. There are tiny snowmen in nooks and crannies. There are gorgeously painted Santa Clauses clustered perfectly. The mantle is trimmed with fresh greens and there are angels seemingly floating above it.
There is ALWAYS Christmas music playing. Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Amy Grant, Manhattan Transfer, Barry Manilow….and of course, the family faves: NSync and The Muppets (RUN RUN REINDEER). That’s to name maybe 20% of the collection. The music plays, we all sing along. Sometimes Ginzo will whisk you into a two step or spin you around just to catch you and lead you expertly in rhythm to Barry begging you to stay because, “Baby it’s Cold Outside.”
There are at least a dozen different kind of homemade cookies. Of course there are. We all have different favorites. Kate – sugar, Dad – cocoa logs, Mark – oatmeal raisin/lemon, Ginzo – hmmm…she likes the shortbread with the chocolate and the lemon and the cookies she adds a raspberry jelly to…and me? I don’t even know if I can narrow it down. I love the “lace” cookies, break-ups, scotch crunchies (Mom – are those the ones with the Chinese noodles, peanuts, chocolate, and butterscotch? Those.) I’m not even sure if I can choose a favorite of those. Mmmmmm…
Kate’s pretty stocking and my ugly one.
Midnight Mass at St. Bridget with the choir.
Snow. Or at least cold weather.
It’s just not quite the same when we’re in VA for Christmas. I don’t seem to get into the spirit quite the same way. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I’m fairly certain I married the Grinch 😉 It’s not his fault. If your birthday was December 23rd, Christmas might not be your fave either.
I’m thankful my parents will be here next week through Christmas. Maybe when Mark is out, we can play some merry little tunes and they can spread a little of that Christmas spirit around my home the way it envelops theirs.
Prompt 4 is…. (if you’re thinking, “Wait! I missed prompt 3!” no worries, so did I. A picture of “Whimsical Holiday Decor.” I don’t even know what that means. Skippin’ it.)
Prompt 4: What is one tradition you plan to pass on to future generations of your family and friends?
Kind of a loaded question for a childless-almost-forty-year-old. I don’t know how you pass on a tradition without kids. I guess I hope my sister passes on our family’s traditions to her kids. Or maybe I just hope they include us in the new traditions they create for themselves. That would be good, too.
As for traditions I enjoy…
I like a real tree. I like the smell and the feel of a real tree. I like the imperfection of a real tree. I like the responsibility and the struggle of a real tree. I like the memory of my dad tagging a tree ahead of time and cutting it down himself. I like the memory of unveiling said tree when it was ready to bring in and set it up.
The actual decorating of the tree is actually not my fave. If I could just come home one day and a real tree would be set up and completely decorated, I’d be a very happy girl. Probably has something to do with bucking against the extremely precise way we decorated growing up:
Ginzo picks 5 Christmas CDs to be played IN ORDER. No shuffle. No way.
Lights go on the tree
Kate and Ginzo check for duplicate colors too close together and switch them (not kidding)
Ginzo hands us our ornaments one at a time. Hanging them has it’s own rules:
Small ornaments up top and larger ones down low
Each turn (one by one) goes on in order: Front, side, back, side, repeat.
You do not put two ornaments in a row in the front.
You do not skip the back of the tree.
You hang Ginzo’s for her because she is conducting this orchestra of decoration, BUT her ornaments follow the same pattern – no skipping.
You ask dad to find a branch strong enough for your porcelain bear ornament and he inevitably skips the front/side/back/side order and is reminded it is not optional.
(Ginzo is either laughing at the precision of this description or bitter that I don’t love it the way she does 😉
Yeah – I’m cool with decorating a little more willy-nilly than that. Or making Caleb and Sam do it for me 🙂
Christmas dinner is a fave.
Christmas music is a fave.
Not sure what I’ll pass on or to whom, but there are definitely some traditions that I really love that I hope continue. Fingers crossed.
Here we are. Reverb 2017. Oh what a year it has been. First 2017 prompt:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
In 2017, Mark and I made a concerted effort to focus on our marriage. After five years, life had gotten in the way of what made us US and we knew we needed to find a way to rediscover our couplehood after all the excitement of weddings and houses and puppy dogs and career changes. Those things are great for sure, but for the first few years of marriage, we were living exciting change to exciting change and when the changes stopped coming, so did the excitement.
Marriage is hard. Not always, not everyday, but it certainly has its moments. We are not faultless as human beings. We hurt; we fail; we ignore; we take for granted. And after five years and some trying situations, it can be a seductive idea to walk away and start fresh. Shrug off the disappointments and dream of the one who would never allow doubt into the equation of your perfect relationship. That person HAS to be out there, right?
Wrong. We are not faultless as human beings. Weren’t you paying attention? It was only four sentences ago! Keep up!
We could walk away. We could find other people. We might even find someone great. But we aren’t going to find someone perfect. They don’t exist and thank God for that, because if they did, the pressure to live up to the PERFECT mate…Jesus. That’s just the kind of thing my anxiety is made of, peeps.
If we’re being real real, and you KNOW I like to keep it real real, my perfect, imperfect mate is Mark. We are very different people. Very. Different. People. But..he brings out the best in me. He is the first person with whom I want to share news. He is MY guy and I am so proud of that. Maybe that’s why I know it can work and maybe that’s why I want to keep trying, keep really working.
What did my true love give me this year?
He gave me a reason to fight for me, for him, for us. He gave me direction and purpose. He reminded me of what is truly important to me. He reminded me fighting for what you want can be so hard and there can be so many roadblocks, but in the end, you will never regret the effort you put in to something you really want. Even if you don’t get it.
So Mark, please know, you are worth every laugh, every argument, every Sunday morning cup of coffee, every doubt, every revelation, every hard, honest moment, and certainly you are worth my love, loyalty, and dedication for as long as you’ll have me.