The Thanksgiving Table

MEMORY
My childhood’s home I see again,
And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
There’s pleasure in it, too.

(by Abraham Lincoln in 1846 when he was 37)

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IN RECENT YEARS, MEMORIES OF PAST THANKSGIVINGS come to visit at Thanksgiving time, like welcome spirits, filling the house with smells, sights, sounds and stories of long ago times with family and friends around the family dining table. – When family gathers now, we share the old stories, visit familiar traditions and renew family bonds once again.

THE THANKSGIVING TABLE

MOM IN HER APRON at 6:00am –
she and turkey greet the sunrise;
women in the house don aprons after breakfast
taking directions to prepare the feast.
Young daughters and granddaughters set the table,
check the centerpiece,light the candles,
and sometimes stir a mysterious mixture –
then run off to play with siblings and cousins.

DAD CARVES THE SUCCULENT TURKEY in the kitchen,
separating meat slices – white to dark –
arranging artfully on the turkey platter.
Mom says carving the turkey is a man’s job –
and he performs the ritual with pleasure
as head of our family.

OUR THANKSGIVING table covered end to end
with food, family and friends;
Dad at the window end of the table
by the turkey proudly starring in our feast;
Mom at the other end, near the kitchen
to fetch a forgotten spoon.

THE SAME THANKSGIVING MEAL re-appears,
no trendy new dishes here to explain;
dishes of food artfully displayed
on the white tablecloth with the best Haviland
china, silver, crystal and cloth napkins.
A bowl of flowers and lighted candles
centers with food nestled around the table:
fresh green beans, mashed potatoes served in Mom’s
mixer bowl, dressing smelling of sage, corn,
a full gravy boat with tender pieces of turkey swimming,
sinfully rich sweet potatoes with the
heavenly aroma of brown sugar, butter and pralines,
cranberry sauce in the familiar glass bowl,
salads, hot rolls wrapped in a cotton bun warmer
decorated on the edges with Mom’s white crocheted lace,
and a pitcher of ice cold ice tea (sweetened of course).

WE HEAR COFFEE PERKING on the buffet beside the desserts:
cookies for the children and pumpkin and pecan pies –
butter pecan ice cream added later.
With bowed heads and hands clasped around
the table, each of us speaks of the year’s
greatest blessing – opening hearts of gratitude –
while family bonds tighten. Dad says grace and
finishes with a toast for health in the coming year.

WOMEN adjourn to the family room
for coffee and talk – while men tackle dishes
and clean-up in kitchen and dining room –
in gratitude for their traditions and sated stomachs.
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IN MY HOME, I have continued familiar traditions, and serve many foods shared over the years at the Thanksgiving tables in my parents home. I use Mom’s green bean recipe for perfect green beans, and serve turkey, mashed potatoes, lots of cranberry sauce, hot rolls, dressing and iced tea, pumpkin and pecan pies and cookies and ice cream.

I HAVE MADE A FEW CHANGES and additions over the years: reduced the calories in the sweet potato recipe, and served additional lower calorie dishes as options, for example, wild rice with cranberries; field greens salad with raspberries and toasted walnuts and goat cheese; sliced cucumbers with onions and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, basalmic vinegar and oregano. I also serve ham for some family members who prefer it to turkey and a wine option with the iced tea. The past 20 years, I have served my mother-in-law’s holiday pineapple salad (loved by my family) and occasionally make her delicious squash casserole dish – thus incorporating traditions and memories from my husband’s family.

THIS THANKSGIVING, we will once again gather together at the holiday table. I am thankful for traditions past – and blessed to be engaged in passing them on.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

When Grieving Hangs Over Christmas

THE HOLIDAY SEASON is a time of joy, surprises and laughter -but, it also can be a time of heartfelt grief and loneliness for many folks, especially families who have lost a loved one in the past year. 
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IN MY PROFESSIONAL ROLES as registered nurse and family therapist, I sat with many families who lost a loved one, while they grieved.  As a member of the board of Hospice and Palliative Care of Charlotte, including having served as Board Chair, I am well aware that the holidays are a challenge for families who experience recent loss. 

I  HAVE PERSONAL LIFE EXPERIENCE, as well, in trying to get through the holidays after losing a loved one.  Five years ago, both my Mother and Dad and a brother-in-law died within six months of one another – two of them left us in November, just before Thanksgiving. It was a long and difficult holiday year that stretched from Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year’s.

Ten suggestions for the Holidays When Loss is in the Room

1. ACCEPT THAT YOUR FEELINGS of loss are real, and recognize you may need some time alone during the holidays to grieve. Time alone is OK – taking a walk, stirring up something in the kitchen alone, taking a drive, taking time-out in your room. Research demonstrates that healthy families accept when a family member needs some time alone. HOWEVER, healthy families also reach out and support the person to re-engage in family life, if she is withdrawing too long.

2. GREIVING IS AKIN TO taking out a treasure box and going through your memories stored there, one by one – appreciating them and then putting them away. The work of grieving cannot be done all at once, but thankfully will occur over a period of time, as memories arise – even a year or two. Share memories of your loved one with close friends and family. There will surely be fond memories that will eventually make you all smile and even laugh together.

3. IT’S NORMAL TO HAVE REGRETS about a loved one now gone – woulda, coulda, shoulda done this or that. Forgive yourself any regrets! After all, you’re only just human. Knowing this was a normal response to grief was helpful to me, as I thought about other things I might have said or done while mom and dad were here. I wrote a poem about regrets after Dad’s passing – called Small Regrets.

Small Regrets  

I wanted to tell you one more time that I loved you,
and I wanted to thank you for being such a great Dad.

I wanted to thank you for Sunday drives for ice cream,
and games on rainy days.

I wanted to tell you what wonderful memories I have
of standing beside you in church singing hymns in harmony.

I wanted to thank you for driving two hours in a rainstorm
to bring a book I left behind –
that you thought I needed for a college class.

I wanted to thank you for so proudly escorting me
down the aisle at my wedding – and to my 20th high school reunion
when my husband was out of town.

I wanted to thank you for teaching me to drive a car,
to sing, and to laugh back at life’s hurdles,
all of which have been useful to me in my life.

I wanted to tell you again that we would be OK –
and we would take care of Mom.

Today, my heart is filled with gratitude,
for having you with us for so long,
and for taking the opportunity when I had it –
to say “Thank you” – and “I love you”, –
but, in this hour of loss – a small part of me,
Wants to tell you – one more time – “I love you, Dad”.     

4.  INCORPORATE A WAY to honor the memory of the person you lost, an ornament on the tree, flowers at church. My Mother loved candles – on her dining table and in the kitchen. She always lit a candle for “travel mercies” as she called it, when any of her children were traveling – she let it burn until we arrived safely at our destination. The first Christmas she was gone, I distributed some of her candleholders to all the family, children and grandchildren. We all lit a candle for her during the holidays for travel mercies. Finding a way to honor a loved one’s memory may bring comfort.

4.  KEEP TRADITIONS that have meaning for you and the family… and savor them…and let go of traditions that are too painful to keep this year.

5. TAKE ADVANTATGE of any community events that will support your need to acknowledge your feelings and the life of the person no longer with you. Our local hospice offers a holiday service in early December, specifically for families who have lost a loved one in the past year. The program is largely choral, with uplifting poems, and candles to honor individuals. One woman said every family should attend each year just to remember with love all family members who have lived before. Standing with other people in Christmas Eve service, or a community candle lighting event may bring comfort – just knowing we are part of a human community.

6. IF THE LOSS OF a loved one significantly changes how you can celebrate the holidays, start a new tradition. When our children were grown and were home only a short time during the holidays, and our parents were gone, we found ways to expand our holiday activities in new directions, for example, sharing some of our baking with the neighbors, visiting friends and acquaintences and thanking service people who do things for us every year. For example, giving cocoa and cookies to the mailman on a cold day.

7. MAKE A LIST OF foods, favorite books, friends, and places that bring you comfort and make a plan to eat them, read them and visit them.

8. SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE during this time. Accept only invitations that bring you joy. If you are feeling a lot of stress, plan a simple menu for family dinners, reduce your shopping or order from catalogs.

9. NEW YEAR’S IS a new beginning. Start a journal this year recording your feelings, thoughts and memories as you travel along 2014.

10. AS NEW BEGINNINGS become clearer to you, set goals for the year – when you are ready to do so. For those of you who have lost a loved one this year, may you be comforted by your memories, and blessed with beginning new transitions.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Is it the Real Santa? (For the Children)

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IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS – as the holiday song goes. This post is for children everywhere who are still in the magical time of life to eagerly await the arrival of St. Nicholas.

ONE THING I KNOW FOR CERTAIN – all the signs are there. He will be stopping by this year.

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IS THAT SANTA?

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NO… looks like a Santa doll. Wait!

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NO! That’s not him!

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NO! THAT’S TOO FUNNY to think that’s Santa.

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IT LOOKS LIKE SANTA – and he has presents. But it’s just a picture.

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Look, these are not real Santas… Just his helpers.

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YES! THAT’S HIM… I think it’s a picture of the real Santa.

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WHOA! IS THAT HIS SUIT?

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I SAW HIS BOOTS ONCE! Now that’s real…I think so.

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COULD BE HIS GLOVES because it’s cold at the North Pole.

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IT’S HIM! I’M RIGHT! It’s really him! I TOLD YOU!

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HI, SANTA CLAUS! Santa, are you on schedule for Christmas Eve?

Santa Claus is coming to town!

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

My Top Ten Blessings This Thanksgiving

THANKSGIVING IS THE TIME OF YEAR to count our blessings, one by one – and I have many. It is our family tradition when we sit down to the Thanksgiving meal, for each of us to share at least one thing we are thankful for during the past year.

Thanksgiving at mother-in-law Nora's.  Traditional pecan pies and jam cake with caramel icing
Thanksgiving at mother-in-law Nora’s. Traditional pecan pies and jam cake with caramel icing, Italian crème cake, Hummingbird cake

AS I REFLECT ON THE PAST YEAR, I am so aware of new blessings that have come my way, since I retired from an academic career, and started freelance writing. I truly loved my work in the university and was unsure about leaving it. But, I found there are new life experiences to be savored. Oh yes! And it’s something for those who have yet to retire to look forward to.

TOP TEN NEW BLESSINGS I am thankful for this year:

1. A LEISURELY BREAKFAST with my husband and time to read two morning newspapers before starting the day’s activities.

2. SHOPPING DURING THE WEEK in uncrowded stores, when most working people are in their places of employment.

3. SCHEDULING ROUTINE APPOINTMENTS (e.g., medical and dental) in the afternoons, in case I want to sleep late or finish work at home first.

4. TAKING A TIME-OUT “Me Day” to do just want I want to do. If I want to read all day – it’s ok. I am so oriented to being productive, that it took awhile to feel comfortable taking an occasional day off.

5. SPENDING MORE QUALITY OF TIME with loved ones (e.g., enjoying family in new activities, learning more about family history, lingering at the table with friends).

The Pie That Made My Dad Propose (recipe in Aug 29, 2013 post)
The Pie That Made My Dad Propose (recipe in Aug 29, 2013 post)

6. FEELING AND LOOKING (and being) more rested. When I was working full-time, I had a demanding schedule that sometimes compromised my time to sleep. I don’t take naps, but am able to get a full 8 hours of sleep a night now. When I meet an old acquaintance who comments, “You look fantastic.” I reply, “It’s called being rested.”

7. HAVING LARGER BLOCKS OF FREE TIME available, so I can work longer on a project I have started (writing or home-based), rather than working on it in only short bursts of time. And I might add, the rewards are great when I complete a project I was eager to do.

8. SEEING A REAL OPPORTUNITY to plan and implement some of the “if only I had time” goals. When it really gets down to planning, there are some things I thought I wanted to do, that I no longer have a desire to do. But making a new “bucket list” is exciting – and working on the list introduces new adventures in my life.

9. THE SPONTANEITY to drop what I am doing and seize an emergent opportunity. The freedom to change plans midstream is an unexpected pleasure (e.g., meeting friends for coffee or a concert at the last minute).

10. THE OPPORTUNITY TO PURSUE new interests and develop new skills. Learning something new every day is my mantra!

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Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

WHAT IS ON YOUR list of blessings this year?

Sweet Potato Recipes for the Holidays: Part II

MY SEARCH CONTINUES for sweet potato recipes for the holidays to expand my culinary repertoire for using this vitamin packed and low calorie vegetable. In response to the public’s increasing interest in healthier fare beyond meat and French fries or mashed potatoes, vegetables are showing up more and more on restaurant menus and the sweet potato is one of them. Thank goodness!

WE SOMETIMES EAT OUT on Sundays after church. Today, we met our son at Long Horn Steak House for lunch. I chose a fabulous salad that would be a nice addition to a holiday lunch: spinach leaves, thinly sliced tart apples, toasted pecans, bacon crumbles, cranraisins, and sweet potato chips, drizzled with balsalmic vinegar. It was delicious – and the sweet potato chips on top added a crunchy flavor to the salad.

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I FOUND SEVERAL SOURCES for appealing sweet potato recipes that I want to share with you in this Part II post.

THE DECEMBER ISSUE of Southern Living (p. 181) has a recipe for sweet potato spoonbread that I am so anxious to try. The first time I ate spoonbread was at my mother-in-law’s house when I was first married. She was an excellent Kentucky cook who served real comfort food. I enjoy all kinds of bread – but this new spoonbread, with a crusty outside and custardy inside, smeared with butter and jam, was a new taste sensation for me. I remember she said she always used Martha White flour and white cornmeal. The sweet potato spoonbread is an old American recipe. English cooks make yorkshire pudding, and American cooks make spoonbread – a recipe dating to Native Americans, some say.

THE LOUISIANA SWEET POTATO COMMISSION has a mouth watering list of recipes of all kinds on their website to try, soups, salads, entrees.(sweetpotato.org/recipes) Many recipes sound special enough to star on the Thanksgiving table, for example, these dessert recipes sound so Big D delicious:

Brie and Sweet Potato Tart in Maple Pecan Crust
Sweet Potato Flan
Sweet Potato Souffle
Sweet Potato Bundt Cake
Old New Orleans Sweet Potato Rum Cake
Sweet Potato Cookies with Vanilla Icing
Sweet Potato Cheesecake

OK – DESSERT RECIPES HAVE A PLACE during the holidays, but what about entrée vegan recipes and healthy recipes with sweet potatoes? I found a small 35 page cookbook by Wendy Jordan, Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes (2012) that includes a few of these recipes. This cookbook is available as a book or Kindle download from Amazon for $3.99. (Amazon.com) Recipes are included for soups, sides, pastas, roasted dishes, etc. There are several healthy recipes I marked to prepare for the family taste test. Examples in her book include:

Asian Sweet Potato Soup
Grilled Caribbean Sweet Potatoes
Sweet Potato and Pasta
Mexican Stuffed Sweet Potato
Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Crispy Sweet Potato and Pear
Sweet Potato Wedges with Thyme and Garlic
Shrimp and Sweet Potato Salad
Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew

IF YOU HAVE A SPECIAL family approved recipe you want to share, I’m interested. So.. A salute to the colorful vegetable that is so good for us.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving: Soup, Sinfully Rich, Healthy Sides and Dessert

Today was such a busy day of errands that we didn’t even take time for lunch. At 3:00, we stopped at Jason’s Deli and ordered take-out of the soup of the day, along with one of my favorite sandwiches. I wasn’t sure the sweet potato and pork soup would be good, but I knew the sandwich of multigrain bread, roast turkey, philadelphia cream cheese, cranberry relish, onions and field greens would be great. We took our carry-out lunch home to relax and eat.

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I added some of my raspberry mustard to the sandwich and sampled the soup. To my surprise, it was delicious… I mean Big D delicious. I imagined this tasty soup could be a good evening meal with leftovers, using sweet potatoes, blended with vegetable stock, left over shredded pork roast, spinach and onions. I would have to experiment with the spices to try to recreate it.

When I was growing up, Mom prepared sweet potatoes often. She usually prepared some version of candied sweet potatoes, so my repertoire for using sweet potatoes was limited.

WHEN I BEGAN COOKING in my own home, I made the candied version too, but less often, and in recent years, frequently serve baked sweet potatoes with a little butter and salt. I also roast them in the oven with other vegetables with some olive oil, salt and pepper … or cook them in the crock pot with pork chops, orange juice, onions, ginger, honey.

WE COULD EXPECT TO SEE on Mother’s Thanksgiving and Christmas table, her sweet potato recipe that she called her “sinfully rich sweet potatoes” – and it was too. I don’t know where this recipe came from, but it has been a staple in the family for many years. Sure it had its share of calories, but it was the dish that some family ate for dessert, or even breakfast, if any was left over.

Ina’s Sinfully Rich Sweet Potatoes

3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter (or margarine)
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup pecans

In mixer, beat sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, evaporated milk, butter and vanilla. Pour into greased 2 quart casserole. Mix brown sugar, butter, pecans and coconut till crumbled and sprinkle over potatoes. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. (I have lightened the calories in the recipe by substituting half and half for some of the butter, and Splenda and Splenda brown sugar for some of the sugars.)

I CHECKED MY FAMILY’s OLDER COOKBOOKS published from 1907 to the 1940’s and found no recipes for sweet potato soups. When I searched on the internet, I found dozens of recipes for sweet potato soups, with a wide diversity of ingredients. . They seemed to be grouped into savory soups with garlic, onions, celery, chicken stock using leafy tops of celery and other spices, milk… or with lentils and spinach… or curry and carrot. There are also slightly sweet soups with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, maple syrup, brown sugar. My daughter says she recently had sweet potato soup with coconut milk.

AS I CONTINUED TO EXPLORE other recipes on line and in contemporary cookbooks, I began to realize just how versatile this tuberous vegetable really is. There is sweet potato risotto, sweet potato pie, sweet potato cookies, sweet potato pancakes. Sweet potato fries are showing up on a number of restaurant menus now. And the list goes on. Health.com lists 25 healthy recipes using sweet potatoes, like quesadillas,

THE VERSATILE SWEET POTATO is one of the oldest vegetables known to humans and is a major staple in many parts of the world. It was often quoted that Christopher Columbus introduced the sweet potato to America. DNA testing has produced other information, says Michaeleen Doucleff (www.npr.org/…How the Sweet Potato Crossed the Pacific Way Before the Europeans). There is compelling evidence that sweet potatoes originated in the western coast of South America.

SWEET POTATOES ARE LOADED – and I mean really loaded with nutrients and vitamins – vitamin A and C, some calcium and iron, lots of fiber and low calories. The versatile sweet potato will surely find a place on my holiday tables… in various forms.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE sweet potato recipe?

Writing Holiday Poems by the Fire- 1, 2,3: Just for Fun

I have been playing around today writing short 1-2-3 poems about the holidays – just for fun. Please join me by adding yours to be enjoyed by others during this holiday season. Anyone can do it… It’s only three lines – one word, two words and then three, to express a thought about the holiday season.

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The
blessings of
Thanksgiving are now.

Hugs
mend hearts
and enrich lives.

Family
reminds us
we aren’t alone.

Shopping
makes me
a hungry debtor.

Gratitude
for life
warms my heart.

How
many friends
are you bringing!

Just
one roaring
fire fuels romance.

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So
many Santas
in this town!

We
always receive
a new nightgown!

My
Christmas wish
has come true.

I
wanted laughter
spilling from you.

Christmas
is coming
ready or not.

Reward
is in
the gifts given.

Wanting
peace on
earth is universal.

Is
creating peace
on earth impossible?

Sun
on snow
makes crystalline stars.

Pumpkin
pie tastes
like grandma’s house.

Family
life can
sometimes be chaotic.

Belonging
is the
best Christmas gift.

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Faith
brings something
bigger than me.

A
family that
sings together rocks.

Christmas
trees carry
glitter and memories.

A
child’s giggle
peals joy and mirth.

Thank
you for
my life’s blessings.

Silent
Night, Holy
Night…quiet night.

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

PLEASE ADD YOUR OWN 1-2-3 POEMS FOR OTHERS TO ENJOY.