With my hands deep in the stuffing, crying from the onions, and probably still sticky from a butter-like cookie topping, I thought, ‘This is a lot of effort for just six people, four of whom are only going to eat some starches and marshmallows.’
That thought didn’t hold much gravy, though, and I plowed ahead. Like many of you, and like we do every day as parents, we just did it. We did it to keep ourselves and our older relatives safe, and to reduce the spread of the virus. And to presumably cut back on the work. Ha ha, just kidding—we still have four little ones.
It was significantly less stress, I’ll give you that. No travel means no packing. No little one throwing up in the car on our drive. No one who loves green bean casserole means one less dish to prepare.
We did partake in one of my family's traditions. Once our food was ready to go, we did a quick Turkey Trot around the block before sitting down to eat. Miles the Puppy joined us for the jog on the path behind our house on the half-mile loop. Poor, old Chloe had to go in the crate. We didn’t want to risk coming home to a dog eating the meal before us!
Six additional guests did join us at dinner. Two black and four gray squirrels devoured the pumpkins on our front porch, one sitting inside the giant gourd while he munched his little feast.
Since it was just us (inside), AJ and I made sure the kids pitched in. Ella cleared the table (which was a lot of work—they do a lot of crafts with (ahem) little supervision). Brooklyn cleaned the sunroom with the promise of decorating for Christmas tomorrow. Sienna went down easily for her nap.
And we got them to assist with making the meal:
Turkey: AJ and Lucas (5). They prepared it and they were pretty much the only two to eat it. We have a lot of leftovers!
Stuffing: Katie with stirring by Lucas. Fried up some onions and added to a breading mix. No celery since no one likes it. We can be discerning when it’s just us!
Corn pudding: Brooklyn (9). When I was fresh out of college, I waited tables at a Mexican restaurant on weekends to save up for my first dog, Artie. My absolute favorite dish there was the greasy, addictive corncake. Every shift, I’d order it as my 'free meal.' Now, every Thanksgiving, I try to recreate the creamy, melt-in-your-mouth dish, sometimes competing with my older sister to see who does it better. Brooklyn followed the directions to the recipe I found online. She won this year's contest. I'm not sure if Sienna ate anything besides this.
Mashed potatoes: AJ, Lucas, and Sienna (3) peeled them.
Sweet potatoes: Katie and Ella (7). Since our grocery doesn’t sell frozen squash, we substituted with sweet potatoes and layered with marshmallows and delicious vanilla wafers. It was one yummy, gooey favorite.
Brussel sprouts with cherry/pistachio pesto: Katie. Last-minute add for a pop of green. Lucas shelled and crushed the nuts. Brooklyn chopped the dried cherries by hand. The pesto mixed with the stuffing was also fantastic!
Cranberries: Lucas opened the can and plopped it in the dish—low key since no one was judging that there were no actual cranberries in the mold.
Gravy: Katie. With a dollop of help from Lucas.
Rolls: Lucas pulled them apart and put on the baking sheet to warm for 5 minutes.
For dessert, we had a homemade pumpkin pie (Ella and I made in advance) and a store-bought pecan one. In homage to our Irish relatives (but not the British ones since, you know, Thanksgiving), we drank with tea and waved to our neighbors as they passed by on their own pre- or post-turkey walks. I should mention that I’m on a nearly vegan diet—so, barring the turkey/gravy for the boys, these were dairy and pretty much egg-free dishes.
So what did I learn?
1. We have a lot of picky eaters. Yikes!
2. Lucas is more helpful than we give him credit for. I think it is time for him to start folding and putting away his laundry!
3. We miss our family but we don’t miss the stress. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be as hectic as we make it.
4. After ten years, this may be our last Thanksgiving timed to accommodate nap time. (Fingers crossed but small tear.)
5. You get what you put in. When we travel, we go all in—visiting new places, trying new foods, experiences new adventures. Thanksgiving at home (alone) meant we all pitch in and learn a new skill. When Brooklyn made 1.5 recipe of corn bread, I asked her, “Do you want to round up to 3 eggs or down to 2?” “Creamed or kernel for the extra can?” Try something new and experiment sometimes.
6. We will continue to find the blessings where we can. I’ll close with a lesson I learned in Finland after some missed connections.
Sometimes, life seems rough, but it’s really not so bad in hindsight. You missed the ferry. So, what? Sometimes, you’re caught waiting out a thunderstorm in the cold. Sometimes, you’re running beyond exhaustion. Sometimes, you’re at the funeral of an older family member you’d like to see one more time. Through their Sisu, the Finns have it right. The bad won’t last forever, so I try to find the blessing, however small it may be. Appreciate the sun when it peeks out from behind a cloud, feel the runner’s high, acknowledge a long life, and smile with family members you haven’t seen in years.
We certainly appreciated today’s beautiful weather and enjoyed seeing so many families celebrating outside. We can’t wait to travel next year and see our family (that we’ll have not seen in years!?!). With everyone staying home, we hope that means we have a full table in 2021. Hope you had a safe and healthy holiday as well!