Being selfish on Thanksgiving

Wanting to spend time with family instead of working.

Maybe I’m being selfish, but hear me out. I thought it’d be a time to relax during Thanksgiving week, hang out with my family and eat my body weight in turkey. I was wrong. My grandmother immediately asked me to take candid photos of everyone throughout the night, since I’m the designated photographer of the family.

Let’s stop here. For some reason, my family consistently thinks that I want to take pictures for them for free, or for well under what I charge. And since they’re family, I’m obligated to. Which I don’t really mind that much, but let’s keep going.

When I take pictures for free, especially on Thanksgiving, I’m giving up my time so I can work. That time can be spent sitting on the couch and catching up with family members or playing outside with the kids. You may be thinking, “Stop being so dramatic! You’re still visiting with family even if your face is behind a camera!” Maybe you’re right. Let’s move on.

These photos are going to take up space on my computer. Yes, I know, I can delete them after I send them to my grandmother, but it stresses me out! I already don’t have enough space as it is!

Probably the biggest reason I hate working for free is editing. It can take HOURS just to edit a 30-minute session! Now, editing isn’t always necessary for free work (after all, it is FREE), but the day after Thanksgiving my aunt decided that I would love to take their Christmas photos for free. If they’re sending out my photos to their friends, do you think I want them to be unedited? Of course not! So I spent an hour working on 10 photos that we took in about five minutes.

Maybe I’m being a selfish jerk? I think in the end I just need to get a little courage and learn to say “no.” 

Black Friday is taking over Thanksgiving

What happened to the real Thanksgiving holiday?

Thanksgiving is a holiday that I really enjoy. The problem with this holiday is that it is often overlooked and its importance seems to be diminishing little by little.

This year I have noticed this more than ever. Black Friday seems to be taking over this holiday week to the point where people are going to have to start celebrating it earlier or later than usual. Black Friday is the name that is used to describe the day after Thanksgiving.

This day is known for its great deals and its pure chaotic features. If you go shopping on this day, some people might say that you are crazy. You will encounter thousands of people out looking for great deals.

I have personally shopped on this day for the past five years or so and each year it tends to get worse. People begin forming lines at stores days before this day and people are all fighting to get the things they want. This is all fine and dandy, but it has caused people to look forward to this shopping day more than Thanksgiving Day and this is the problem I have with this American tradition.

This year stores are opening at midnight on Thanksgiving night or even evening hours on Thanksgiving Day. Before you know it, these sales will be starting days before Thanksgiving and people will soon be eliminating Thanksgiving altogether.

One family member short this Thanksgiving

A grandma that is truly missed.

I once attended a church that skipped the sermon the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Instead, everyone was asked to bring in one item that represented what he or she was thankful for that year. Each person would bring the item up to the alter, explain what it meant to them, and why they were thankful for it. I loved this tradition and it really got the eyes of the church members on what the holiday is all about.

This week I was asked by a friend, who also attended that particular church back in the day, what I would put on the alter if the church was still participating in that old tradition. I didn't have to think long. I lost my grandmother on November 5th.

I would place the heart shaped necklace I bought us many years ago on the alter. I had one half of the necklace and she had the other. One half said “Granddaughter” and the other “Grandmother.” That necklace signified the close bond that we shared ever since the day I was born.

This Thanksgiving, I won't be setting a place for my grandmother at the table, but I will be thankful for the 35 years of memories she gave me and for our daily telephone chats. I'll be thankful that she got to know my kids, and that she always showed unconditional love to my youngest daughter, who suffers from a rare neuro-genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome. My daughter is never expected to speak, yet she somehow was able to utter the word “mommom” whenever my grandmother would enter the room.

My grandmother will be truly missed by all, but I choose to be thankful for her life. Thankful that I got to be a part of it.

Six tips for a happy Thanksgiving

If you want to survive it with a smile on your face, you're going to want to play by the rules.

On paper, Thanksgiving is a fabulous family holiday filled with gratitude and the sharing of a bountiful feast. In reality, the picture of the decadent meal served on fine china to a well-dressed and dimpled crowd of thankful, smiling faces gives way to a pack of hungry football fans hoping to get back to the game before another round of “You know what's wrong with this _____?” (fill in the blank with “country,” “family,” “turkey” or something of your own) begins.

  1. Let someone else cook. When Aunt Agnes asks who will be hosting Thanksgiving this year, look down at your feet until some other sucker makes eye contact with her. It's a rookie mistake that will ensure the hassle, mess and bulk of the financial obligation will fall on his or her shoulders.

  2. Choose pants with elastic waistbands and never wear white. You will overeat, and during the savage consumption of your three plates of turkey and gravy, the cleanliness of your clothes will be sacrificed along with your status as a civilized human being.

  3. Don't talk about anything remotely controversial. Anything from politics to whether or not you liked The Culture Club in 1984 is off limits. Don't go there. It won't end well.

  4. Avoid alcohol. Not only will it lead to a fight or embarrassing two-hour episode of “No, I love YOU, man,” but it will fill you up quickly and you won't have any room for your cousin Ellen's famous strawberry rhubarb key lime surprise. It's an all around party foul.

  5. Don't get fancy with your dish to pass. If you get some crazy idea to try one of the 8473 recipes you found on Pinterest...stifle it. The fancier you try to be, the more things go wrong and better your chances are of having to find a store open on Thanksgiving Day.

  6. Be thankful in blanket statements. Don't try to be specific about why you're thankful for each person in your family. Inevitably, you will say something that will offend someone and you'll forget to be thankful for your wife. Or your mother. Or your Mother-in-law. Or all three. Say you're thankful for your family and live to see another Thanksgiving.

Turkey Day & Pigskins

Together like mashed potatoes & gravy.

Thanksgiving Day became a fixture on the late-November calendar about the same time that football was taking hold of the American sports imagination.  So it was probably inevitable that the two would become inextricably linked.

  • Reportedly, the first college football game held on Thanksgiving Day pit Yale against Princeton on November 30, 1876.  It was just 13 years after Abraham Lincoln had declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.  Yale won, 2-0.
  • Among historically African-American schools, Alabama State and Tuskegee have played on Thanksgiving since 1924.
  • The best college game on Thanksgiving was also perhaps the best college football game ... period.  Undefeated and No. 1 Nebraska faced undefeated and No. 2 Oklahoma in 1971.  They were not just the two best teams in the nation, they were also rivals in the old Big Eight Conference (in those days, conferences with numbers in the name actually had the number of teams identified in the number, a quaint practice that is no longer applicable in the modern world).  Paced by the classic punt return of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers (see video above), Nebraska won the back-and-forth contest, 35-31, and went on the win the national championship.
  • In the NFL, the Detroit Lions have hosted a Thanksgiving game since 1934.  Various other teams had Turkey Day games, but only the Lions have continued the tradition.  They were joined in 1966 by the Dallas Cowboys.  In 2006, the NFL added a third game, played at night, with rotating home teams.
  • The first NFL game to be televised on Thanksgiving was in 1953 on the DuMont network, thus adding "falling asleep in front of the TV" to the list of holiday traditions.
  • The most memorable play on Turkey Day came in 1993, when Cowboys defender Leon Lett mistakenly tried to recover a blocked kick, but the ball squirted away and the Dolphins recovered, allowing Miami to get the game-winning field goal. has a retrospective of the play here.  Lett is now an assistant line coach for the Cowboys.

The evil of tofurkey

Don't you dare call it turkey!

If you ever have the delightful opportunity to visit the sixth level of hell, you'll find that it's populated by large sentient globs of tofurkey, the most evil food on the Earth. What? Do I hear a chorus of vegans sobbing in the distance at the mere mention of this most sacred meat substitute?

Before the national tofurkey alliance slaps me with a restraining order, let me get a few things of my hairy man chest. While I understand the need for people who don't like or choose not to eat meat to have alternatives on Thanksgiving, that doesn't mean you should shape some pliable mass of soy into the vestige of a turkey.

I don't care how much non-chicken or non-beef gravy you smother it in, it's not going to taste like turkey. Sure, you can shape it into something resembling a drumstick, but you can do the same thing with a large pile of cow poop as well. That doesn't mean you should eat it.

If you want to have a nice salad or steam some vegetables or even go for some vegan stuffing, that's fine with me, but don't tell me an artificially flavored loaf of meat substitute is going to taste as good as a gravy covered pile of fresh, moist turkey.

You may not realize this, but tofurkey is actually classified as evil. It's true. Look it up! OK, so maybe evil might be a little strong, but you can't tell me that when Satan sits down to Thanksgiving dinner and gives thanks for his endless eternity of torture that he's not carving a tofurkey loaf. 

There are so many alternatives that vegetarians can use, so why bother with the tofurkey? When in doubt, just eat ham.


Turkey Day trials, tribulations and triumphs

What I’ve learned about Thanksgiving and the art of cooking.

Being the epicenter for my extended family’s Thanksgiving celebrations over three decades has brought about a few challenges that I’ll always remember and definitely keep in the history books. Surprisingly, there’s really just three such fabled tales to tell –thus far.

At number three, it was the year I bought a super-sized turkey and forgot about defrosting it until T-minus six hours. With so many other cooking details and preparations to orchestrate, this certainly could have been a full-on disaster. But some quick online research and an audibly thanked new and unused trash can later, and that Thanksgiving went off seemingly without a hitch to all who gathered at our table that year.

Coming in at number two was the year my daughter was exposed to chicken pox weeks prior to Thanksgiving. No symptoms, but the very fact that she might be a carrier was sufficient enough for the rest of my family to put us under quarantine. For Thanksgiving.

Once again though, I prevailed. In fact, that year was deemed my very first Thanksgiving Triumph by my daughter, mother and of course, me. Never having been responsible for a full Turkey Day menu before, I was not very confident in my resulting efforts, while my daughter was highly doubtful at best. But the food was delectable.

My little girl couldn’t stop eating or praising the dishes I prepared for our intimate feast. Later on, she related by phone to my mother how delicious everything was and sealed my fate by remarking, “It’s even better than your food, Nana!”

The following October, my mother announced that she was handing over Thanksgiving to me.

The years rolled in and out, and like the changing tides, brought many flavorful feasts upon which my family could rely. I had become a well-oiled Thanksgiving machine, and could make most mainstay dishes from memory.

Everything ran like clockwork until the year my daughter became a vegetarian. While she would consume dairy products, the site and smell of meat rendered her nauseous. This was serious. The little girl who’d always loved my meat-based cuisine was now threatening to boycott Thanksgiving and come only for dessert.

I promised to master two main vegetarian dishes for her by the big day… and I did. Yet again, all doubters were pleasantly surprised to witness my daughter scrape the plate and demand seconds of the rich mushroom sauté and three-bean salad I had prepared in her honor.

And that’s when it hit me. “The art of cooking” is like most other endeavors in life: it’s all about the love you have to put in to it. Call it seasonal corn, if you will, but my experience lends the following advice to all cooks in the Thanksgiving Day kitchen: Keep all the love you have in your heart and your mind, and it will come out through your hands and onto the table. 

Thanksgiving in Alabama: Food, family and football

Annual Iron Bowl game is becoming a holiday tradition.

Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, is more popular in my home state of Alabama than college football. And yes, that includes all major holidays. College football in Alabama, I dare say, is pretty much bigger than Christmas. That being said, when a holiday coincides in some way with a major football game, it's a win-win for everyone. Once again, the annual Iron Bowl, between bitter in-state college football rivals Alabama and Auburn, falls on the Thanksgiving weekend. Specifically, the 77th Iron Bowl will be played on Saturday, November 24, 2012, just two days after Turkey Day.

Now some of you are probably saying, "So what? Just watch the game and enjoy leftover turkey sandwiches." Oh, if it were only that easy. You see, in our family, we are sharply divided: Half of us went to Alabama (or pull for the Crimson Tide, no matter what our alma mater) and half of us went to Auburn. How do we keep the peace and continue to be thankful for each other on Thanksgiving?

I'll tell you what works for my family: During Thanksgiving dinner, we can discuss all manner of subjects -- even politics and/or religion. But bringing up college football, at least while we're all gathered around stuffing our faces with, well, stuffing (or "dressing" as most of my family calls it), is absolutely forbidden. You will not hear a muffled "Roll Tide" or "War Eagle" while we're sitting around my sister-in-law's elaborate feast. Anyone who dares to utter either phrase is immediately banished, with no pecan pie for dessert.

Once the Thanksgiving meal ends, all bets are off. That's usually when the spirits are imbibed, and lips get pretty loose. Trash talking about the Iron Bowl ensues. This is when Crazy Uncle Bill (and no, his name isn't Bubba or Cooter so just hush) will no doubt start going on and on about how mad he is that even if Alabama wins out this season, they'll miss out on another national championship "on account of that unfortunate Mayans thing." Once he gets going, I usually escape to a back bedroom to watch Wheel of Fortune with my great grandmother ("Buy a vowel, you ninny!") and curse the SEC for once again scheduling The Game over the holiday weekend. Ninnies, indeed.

Despite the harsh words that sometimes pass between the "Bammers" and "Barners," eventually at some point, usually after the post-turkey nap, everyone apologizes and agrees to play nice. We all share one common thing we're thankful for on this holiday, after all: Football. Roll Tide, and gobble gobble, y'all. I hope the Mayans weren't right...

Hard on historians

The other side of the coin.

I've never been a fan of Thanksgiving. Sure the “idea” was not lost on me to any great extent, but the problem is that I was raised knowing not only the American history and leaving it there. No, I was raised with the UK history as well, never content for half histories. And to be honest? The whole pilgrim thing? I would say it would have been better had the ships sunk.

It might be harsh to say, but then again, one needs to really, really understand the full scope of history to understand that these events started rolling with the War of the Roses, the end of the Tutor eras and the start of the Elizabethan era.

The people seeking religious freedom would have been noted as extremists even in their own insanely over zealous church period of time. And with them came some of the strictest, discriminating concepts that, from a world view still scar the U.S. today. It makes the holiday that much harder to enjoy on that level, but as they say, ignorance is bliss.

Mistakes and consequences

Give thanks and live life.

We are all human and have made many mistakes in our lifetimes. Every mistake—small or large—has the potential to result in catastrophic consequences. Recently, a young woman in Dallas exited a small private plane and inadvertently stepped into a spinning propeller. This was a small mistake in that she was preoccupied and for just a microsecond her attention wandered. In another sense it was obviously a large mistake because the consequences were disastrous; she lost one eye, the side of her face and one arm.

Almost any mistake can be defined not by size, but by how bad the consequences are. A shopper in a mall was walking along the aisle between the stores while looking down to carry on a texting conversation. It was hilarious to watch when the footage was posted on You Tube and showed the shopper walking directly into the reflecting pool set in the middle of the mall’s first floor. Being totally absorbed in texting was a small mistake that would have been a large one if the person involved had been driving a car instead of walking and collided with another vehicle.

And some mistakes are impossibly large to begin with and yet the consequences are small. Many years ago, I purchased a Swedish made automatic pistol. Being Swedish, it was very complicated with a number of different safety devices built in to ostensibly assure the gun couldn’t fire accidentally. I immediately took the pistol to my dad’s house to show it to him. We were sitting at the kitchen table while I was demonstrating how the unfamiliar gun worked when it accidentally went off. The slug dug a hole in the tabletop and careened off it to lodge in the ceiling. The bullet struck the tabletop approximately one foot to the left of where my dad was sitting.

This was a huge mistake in that the gun was loaded to start with and also that I did not know how to handle it properly. The consequences were small in that my father wasn’t wounded or killed—an outcome too terrible to contemplate—and I learned lessons that have stuck with me throughout the years.

My life is full of small and large mistakes and I find myself unconsciously revisiting them from time to time. The list of mistakes is long and the results could have been much worse that they were. I have been incredibly lucky in that the consequences have always been small and I realize I have done nothing to deserve this good fortune. At these times I fervently give thanks. I don’t know if I am thanking God, Karma or the universe-at-large. I am simply giving thanks in the best way I can.

While it is certainly not necessary to wait until Thanksgiving Day, it does provide an excellent venue for me to stop, reflect and realize how fortunate I have been and give sincere and heartfelt thanks.