This Thursday, 17 people came for Thanksgiving. We finally located the kitchen counter on Friday afternoon, as we dug out from under. 4 large pots and pans remain to be washed, and with that, we are done for another year.
I tried very hard to keep my expectations low. I could not avoid, however, high hopes. The events as they played out in real life left me with some thoughts. And dishes, of course, but those are all now clean. What follows is a dishwasher for hopes. If you will pardon the sentimental metaphor.
When You Cook Too Much Food For Thanksgiving And Other Life Lessons
Keep your eyes on the prize.
I had a singular priority this Thanksgiving. I wanted to bring together a certain group of people, and celebrate a certain set of relationships via a certain atmosphere and a certain menu. I focused on the task and, despite very complex logistics, succeeded. In other words, we fed 17 people at a sit down dinner with linen tablecloths, silver centerpieces, and silver utensils. I need to be clear. Everyone helped. This was not a solo effort, although it was my plan, and we made turkey, gravy, stuffing, two kinds of cranberry including canned for those who insist, two kinds of mashed potatoes, two kinds of rolls (one version from scratch with yeast), chard, brussels sprouts, peas, sweet potatoes, salad, fried rice with lap cheong, salad, pecan pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, and a gingerbread cake with chocolate glaze. Also ice cream. Lactose-free and regular. The food was delicious.
I even changed into my Prada dress. It looked beautiful under a brown and black giraffe-covered apron.
1. Do less, achieve more.
In retrospect, the menu was a bit over the top. Dinner came late to the table. Small children waited for food. Never a good thing. And 17 people had to navigate the small living space in my small ranch house for 2 hours, requiring several trips to the park. Everyone handled the situation well, with more than reasonable good cheer. But I, the cook and manager of the event, felt badly. Had I tried for less, I could have provided a better experience. Which, after all, is what I was after. The long list of dishes was to ensure that everyone could eat as they pleased, from the completely traditional to the rather experimental. This wasn’t necessary. I should have remembered that my family eats broadly, and therefore nobody needed both peas with mint and chard stir-fried with shitake. I should have kept my eyes on the higher prize. Set aside the letter-perfect menu for the full experience of several hours spent together. We are rarely all together.
2. Once you achieve a goal, don’t discount it. Persist in your gratitude.
I found myself a little wistful during the evening. Once I sat down to dinner, I kept thinking, “But wait, where are the hosannas? Where is the peak moment of fellow feeling?” Especially I wished for a stronger moment of feeling my family together. Although people ate happily, somewhat quietly, I wanted more. Having achieved my stated, strongly-held goal, why did I move on to a new desire? That way lies discontent. Focus instead on what has been achieved. Persist in your gratitude.
3. To keep your eyes on the prize, you have to admit what it is.
You see, had I been honest with myself, I would have acknowledged that I wanted not only to feed everyone, not only to set a beautiful table, but to sit, full center, in the midst of those I love, and be acknowledged by all. Briefly. No need for prolonged fanfare.
I couldn’t fully enjoy my realized prize because I hadn’t put away hope for something more. And I couldn’t have my something more because I told myself I cared about things like salty gravy. A gravy focus meant that my plan to have the little children do the place cards, happening outside my supervision, evolved into having little children plan the seating chart. Said seating chart put me on the periphery of adult conversation. One cannot inspire hosannas from the edge. So even though I should have basked in achieving my first priority, even though I sat next to those I love with all my heart, my secret wish wormed my heart. I know better than that. Nobody’s fault but my own.
If you really want something, admit it or move on. There is no middle ground.
4. Even if every known fear comes true, the outcome is not that bad.
Many things I’d feared happened, my house was too small, it was too hard to cook so much at the last minute, some people got a little cranky, some people drank a little too much. These things didn’t matter. Known fears are never as dangerous as the unknown.
5. How you remember something is how it happened.
If there is wisdom in age, it is the ability to narrate one’s past with a reasoned voice. In other years, after this event, I would have scolded myself into a tizzy of shame and regret. Instead I tell myself, now, carefully, the best part is that I can learn. That, and everyone got fed well. That, and we were all together. And happy. All of us.
These days I remind myself, eyes on the prize. I know that life is complex, and made up of very small steps. I congratulate myself, just a bit, on what we actually accomplished. One learns over time to forgive oneself errors even while remaining focused on doing better next time.
6. Life tends to give you second chances, rarely when you expect it, most often when you ask.
Yesterday the Wizard of Oz was on television. I found myself on the sofa, someone I love on either side. You know, somewhere over the rainbow.
7. Persist in your gratitude.
Happiness is in large part a matter of intent. Little provides so much happiness as gratitude. I am grateful to have had my family here. I am so grateful for my big family. Every single person in it.
Speaking of second chances, my brother is getting married in May. We will all be together once again – this time even my father and his wife. Eating food I don’t cook, in a big space I don’t own. I will make sure, that day, to intend gratitude and recognition of my family.
I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a wonderful time. To those of you who don’t, have a wonderful weekend anyway. You probably don’t have a large roasting pan full of turkey juices on your countertop. Thank goodness for that. Let us celebrate all manners of gratitude.