Imagine that you’re waiting in the checkout line at a store that sells home décor and furniture. Naturally, most of the displays near the front of the store consist of ...
A few days late… But look at everything I ate/drank last month!
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The wishbone rivalry, the giving of thanks, and the unfortunate task of rescuing grandma’s teeth from the gooey clutches of the cranberry sauce—these are Thanksgiving traditions you’re probably familiar with, but I’ve got my own enduring ritual that trumps them all: deception. From my unassuming place setting at the table, I’ve been lying for over 10 years.
As younger, finicky lass, I was an even pickier eater than I am now. While many of the nose scrunch-inducing foods of my youth still inspire repugnance (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and mac ‘n cheese, I’m lookin’ at you) some of my culinary censures have been recanted. After all, I’ve gotten older and developed my palette to appreciate pleasing flavors in foods other than Lunchables and Chips Ahoy!
At every family Thanksgiving and Christmas, my mom has contributed one dish to the bounty: au gratin potatoes.
Hearty, scalloped potatoes drowned in cheese… The simplicity of this humble accoutrement only adds to its mouthwatering charm. As a kid, I was wholly unimpressed by this mound of starch. I was of the steadfast opinion potatoes should only be boiled, mashed, or wrapped in a salty cocoon, deep-fried, and metamorphosed into hot french fries.
Without fail, that steaming bowl of au grain potatoes would make its clockwise rotation to my 3 o’clock spot at the table, and each time I would turn it down. It wasn’t long before I aligned with one of my older cousins. She felt the same way about the putrid potatoes, cleverly nicknaming them “au rotten” potatoes. From that moment on, we unofficially became Team Au Rotten. When the cursed fusion of the states of Idaho and Wisconsin would make it around to both of us, other family members would tease, “Are you going to have some au gratin potatoes???” We’d glance and each other and proudly declare our anti-au gratin sentiments with all the indignance of a vegan being offered a glass of milk.
I had no idea my premature allegiance to this anti-gratin gang would haunt my taste buds for years to come.
A few years passed in this fashion, but I became restless, enmeshed in the confusing struggle of my preferred potato orientation. After some deliberation, I decided to give au gratin potatoes another chance. On Thanksgiving, when my mom finished her beloved dish, she fixed a small bowl for me to sample once more. With a few years of food wisdom under my belt (and also making my belt tight), I approached these familiar dairy-infused potatoes with an open-mind and a growling stomach.
They were delicious. The potatoes were cooked to a perfect al dente, and the cheese melted my stubborn heart. With every bite I took, I knew my days of “au rotten” were behind me. I finished my bowl and licked it clean, demanding seconds.
We took the remaining pot of au gratin potatoes to Thanksgiving dinner. When we entered, I could feel the sweat appearing on my brow. It felt like everyone was looking at me differently, as if, “I ACTUALLY LIKE AU GRATIN POTATOES NOW!” was written on my forehead. I checked my chin and shirt for any molten cheese shrapnel that may have missed the target, but I found none. Only my conscience was stained.
My troubled, pounding heart and me joined the rest of my family at the table. I guzzled my glass of water, and wondered if I was truly ready to come out as an au gratin lover. I should have pulled my like-minded cousin to the side before we sat down—this news was sure to wound her most of all! Perhaps she feels the same way, too… We could present a united front!
The passing ritual began with the mashed potatoes, then the corn. I skipped the Jell-O mold because no food should readily include the word “mold” in its description. I helped myself to turkey, and then the moment of truth came. The au gratin bowl made it into my shaking hands, and I saw all the expectant eyes of my relatives focused on me. They light-heartedly sneered, “Katie! Your favorite!” I looked down at the bowl. One simple spoonful would set me free! I would no longer be bound by the foolish condemnations of my childhood! I scanned the faces of my loved ones around the table. They looked like vultures, eager to pick my bones clean with “I told you so!”s.
I am a woman of few pretentions, and I typically maintain a healthy level of vanity, but faced with admitting I had changed my mind about the au gratin potatoes, all that went into the trash with the leftover sweet potatoes. Pride has a funny way of surfacing when you least expect it.
Like I’d been doing it for years, I imagined how Meryl Strip would behave if she were playing the role of a young girl who lies about liking one style of potatoes. I sighed overdramatically while looking down my nose with disgust at the bowl of au grain potatoes.
“Gross. I am not eating those au rotten potatoes!”
I looked up at my partner in crime beseechingly with the frantic hope my performance had been believable. She nodded approvingly, and I forfeited custody of the potatoes to the relative next to me. I watched wistfully when she spooned an extra large helping onto her plate consisting of her portion and my surrendered one.
In that painful moment, I knew I had chosen my fate.
Every Thanksgiving since then has carried on this way. My mom keeps my secret, and I show up to each Thanksgiving dinner with the imperceptible hint of au gratin on my breath. It might cause more inner-turmoil than most other Thanksgiving traditions, but I’m not a wishbone-pulling kinda gal anyway.
With the holiday season in full swing, people are packing up their cars and preparing to move into the airport terminal temporarily all to reunite with the extended family they
avoid rarely get to visit. Reconnecting with your distant relatives can be a worthwhile, enriching experience–if you can somehow circumvent how nosey and judgmental they’ve become during your time spent apart. Don’t be nervous! Everything will be just fine as long as you steer clear of discussing the eight topics below…
Your Relationship Status: Your extended family doesn’t need to know anything about your dating life until you’re engaged, entering a civil union, making it official with your cat, or swearing off men/women forever. Dating, more-so than any other topic, inspires bitter memories—like when Uncle Dan got catfished by his (much younger, but still legal) paramour Tootsie-Ann—and uncomfortable inquiries that give you a new sympathy for convicted murderers—like two years ago when your single status prompted this thoughtful remark from your first cousin Kyle: “Whatever happened to that one guy Rick? He was mad chill. …Oh shit, is that the one who cheated on you with that chick that appeared on Jerry Springer once?” If anyone asks, you’re asexual.
Your Career: Unless you’re a doctor, astronaut, engineer, pilot, or CEO (and especially if you have a doctor, astronaut, engineer, pilot, or CEO in your family), do not mention anything about your job. Any complaint you have will be pooh-poohed as being petty, and any optimistic speculations will be shot down as being unrealistic. You’ll endure jokes about living on easy street (when your salary is actually pretty modest) or jabs about barely being able make ends meet (when your pay is well above the median household income). Keep your career comments vague.
Recent Decisions You’ve Made: If you recently made any significant decisions about your life, the kind introduced by statements like, “I’ve been mulling it over, and…” or “I’ve been giving this a lot of thought…” do not discuss these at a family function. Whatever you’ve decided is wrong, and chances are you’re throwing your life away, wasting your talent, making a big mistake, or doing something you’re going to regret. Do not make the mistake of sharing your ambitions, either.
Your Political/Religious Sentiments: Do not wander into the treacherous arena of politics or religion among your relatives. Invariably, you’ll have incorrectly pegged your loving, supportive family as like-minded liberals, drop a few Fox News criticism bombs (very conservative of you) or profess your undying love for John Stewart, and to your retinas’ alarm, drunk Uncle Gabe will rip off his sweater Hulk Hogan style to expose a tattoo of George W. Bush’s face on his chest. And this year, please do yourself a favor and avoid mentioning the “o” word: Obamacare.
Children (or your lack thereof): Believe it or not, your extended family is the ultimate authority on your progeny (according to them). Generally, the womb wisdom they impart goes something like this: If you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a few months, you should be planning on getting married and making a baby ASAP. If you’re married, yet still childless, you need to have a baby ASAP. If you’re single, you should find a partner—not to dosey-do—but to marry and have a baby with ASAP. If you have one child, you need to have more ASAP. If you have too many children, you need to get rid of one (the ginger, probably) ASAP. If you have/are expecting a child that will be born out of wedlock, expect to be removed from the will ASAP. Change the subject when children come up.
Sports: This seems like a deceptively safe topic, but 2 out of 5 family feuds begin because of a sports team disparity. In Chicago, that statistic jumps up to 5 out of 5. In an effort to avoid talking about your personal affairs, you’ll start mindlessly rambling about how it was a bad year for the White Sox, but your once favorite nephew will point out he’s a Cubs fan, which will prompt the swift realization that he’s a little North Side sympathizing dipshit. While chatting about da Bears with cousin Todd, great grandpa Elliot will wheel over and announce his undying allegiance to the Green Bay Packers in between huffs of oxygen. You’ll have no option but to stoke the dwindling embers in the fireplace with Elliot’s feeble, cheese-loving body (he was on borrowed time, anyway). Avoid sports talk.
Your True Age: No one likes to be reminded that they’re getting older, and if you inconsiderately slip up and mention your birthday, past or upcoming, at least one extended family member will fly off the handle. You see, if you’ve gotten older, that means that they have, too. There’s always one relative who has appointed themselves the age-keeper for the entire family, and they’ll actually argue with you about your own age: “Are you sure you’re 23? I could swear you’re 21, because you’re 15 years younger than Frankie. 23… No, no. That can’t be right.” Do not mention your age in any certain terms.
Any of Your Interests: You may not know this, but the things you like are not only awful, but they’re also telling signs of unrealized personal struggles—your extended family will remind you of that if you give them the chance. A family gathering is not an appropriate venue to discuss how much you loved the finale of Breaking Bad, no matter how universally appealing you assumed it was: “HOW CAN YOU STAND ALL THAT VIOLENCE!?!? Have you tried meth…? Is everything going OK?” I also don’t recommend you share that you recently saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in the theater: “MOVIE FRANCHISES LIKE THAT ARE A BLIGHT ON THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY! I thought you had better taste than that…” Practice apathy.
The best tactic for awkward family small talk is this: lie pathologically. Say things that reaffirm your extended family members’ flawed perception of who you are, because that’s all they really want anyway. Leave your true personality (and shoes) at the door.
By the way, everyone’s favorite Bellman, The Hook, interviewed me for his new 5×5 feature. It’s a Thanksgiving Eve Miracle! I’d love for you to stop by and check it out, and while you’re there, follow his blog. You will get hooked on The Hook. He’s the main reason people are still visiting Niagara Falls: 5×5 With The Hook: Katie of Sass & Balderdash
A few days ago the wonderfully talented Emily (of The Waiting blog, duh) asked me to contribute a post to Tipsy Lit, an awesome online community that merges three of my favorite things: reading, writing, and booze. The post is about writing while having a full time job and other responsibilities that sometimes take your attention away from writing.
I’d love for you to head over and give it a read: Writing in Real Life
…And while you’re there, start following Tipsy Lit. It’s a great resource for writers and authors, and the content is consistently informative and inspiring.
This Thanksgiving season, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, I’ve noticed instead of championing the $1.99 DVD stockpile at Best Buy or the 50% off price tag on the latest hit toy your kid will ignore after two weeks in Walmart’s ad, we’re criticizing stores for opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday. We’re outraged by the notion that some of the unluckier retail employees will have to part with their families on Thanksgiving Day. Like any other fair-minded individual, I shudder at the thought of anyone having to forfeit a second helping of pumpkin pie, but I must ask one question: what turkey’s ass has your head been shoved inside for all of these years?
Did it just suddenly occur to you in 2013 that businesses are open on Thanksgiving? Well, forgive me for questioning your sudden stanch sense of holiday morality and good family values, but this has been going on for years, folks. Let me take you on a little tour of Thanksgiving pasts…
Last year, when you were running late to Grandma’s house and you realized the quarter tank of gas in your fuel-mongering, environment-obliterating SUV wasn’t going to be enough, did you stop at the gas station to fill up? Oh, I’m sorry! I forgot that doesn’t count. That lowly gas station attendant is an orphan who has no place better to be than at work selling fucking cigarettes, lottery tickets, and gasoline to people who should have already bought that shit the day before.
Once your tank was filled, did you then remember you promised your Aunt Jeanine you’d pick up some flowers to, as she put it, “further the Thanksgiving ambience.” When you realized no florist is going to be open, because it’s actually a holiday, you decided to stop at the local grocery store. But that’s okay! That grocery store probably closes early, so it’s totally fine those employees had to wake up early to deal with a mob of forgetful, entitled jackasses who miraculously managed to realize mere hours before Thanksgiving dinner that they forgot to buy a turkey, stuffing, cranberries, foil, Ziploc bags and a pineapple.
This time of year, we all love to jump on the “criticize consumerism” bandwagon and bite the hand that feeds. Major retailers are heartless monsters to take their employees away from their families to deal with cheap asses and extreme couponers! You’re absolutely right. It is completely fucked up that any person of any age should have to cut their Thanksgiving short for any reason, whether they’re spending it with family and friends or not, but let’s not forget there are other businesses that are open on Thanksgiving too, and we don’t seem to give a shit about those people. So let me ask, what’s acceptable?
Are we okay with men pitching a tent (literally and metaphorically) upon finding out Best Buy is opening at the ass crack of dawn the day after Thanksgiving? Do we see any problem with Black Friday being the black cloud over many retail employees’ Thanksgiving festivities, because they know they have a twelve-hour shift ahead of them the next day? When I worked as a cashier at Sears for a few years when I was in high school, I almost didn’t want to celebrate Thanksgiving because I knew the next day was going to be a miserable sentence of price checks, arguments, and an endless array of cheap skating, topped off with a triple lutz of assholery at the register. You know what my boyfriend told me a couple days ago that blew my fucking mind: “This will be the first year I’m not working Hot Friday since 1994.”
I’ll admit it: I’ve shopped on Black Friday. I’ve set my alarm for the wee hours to stand in line with bags under my eyes just to get a good deal that’s not only available online, but that will come around again before the holiday season is over. I’ve been swept up in the psychology of it, too—the idea that shopping on Black Friday makes you a part of something exciting, like being in a 75% off mosh pit. The whole thing is corrupt, ridiculous, and unnecessary. It doesn’t matter when it starts or what type of business it affects. Some things are meant to be enjoyed, and I think Thanksgiving, and the single day that follows it, is one of those things.
I’m glad we’re taking notice and getting pissed about crowds quite literally trampling Turkey Day, but let’s not act like this is something new. If one more person wastes their breath on, “Pretty soon the stores will be open on Christmas!” I’m going to lose my shit.
The moment you realize you can conjure a tempest with words you’ll be ruined. Whether or not you start legitimizing the title on your business cards or writing under a nom de plume, the madness will start seeping in. The vulnerability of exposing yourself between the lines makes all of us writers our harshest critics, and many of us strive toward the elusive goal of “being good”—yet we have outrageous expectations as to what that actually entails.
For most, “being good” entails a bestselling book, a blog whose posts explode with comments within minutes of a post being published, a website whose content routinely goes viral, or a dedicated fan club whose members beg to have their unmentionables autographed. For some, “being good” happens when you get your articles featured on websites whose traffic, numbered in the thousands, makes your bank account balance into an embarrassment. For a handful, “being good” translates to someone other than the Microsoft Word wizard or your mom reading your words. For very few, “being good” translates to putting your heart into your prose, writing about things of significance to you (regardless of where they rate with other people), and challenging yourself to become better with every piece you transcribe.
Unlike most careers and hobbies, writing is a skill that’s worth relies on the connection between the finished product and its creator. Think of Pinocchio and Geppetto, but with less lying. When a writer fits arbitrary words together like tessellations, they’re sharing an excerpt of their heart and mind. Borne out of this tie between creator and creation is a helplessness that can make writers insecure in their quest for “good”ness.
Despite the beautiful snowflake, shiny gold star quality of every writer’s unique voice, we become possessed of the notion that everyone else’s writing success necessitates our own failure. We read articles whose articulate and vibrant presentation inspires a laptop slamming temper tantrum, complete with a foot stomp and a petulant, “Why didn’t I come up with that?” We skim blog posts whose punchy humor has us damning our bad karma, swiveling in our chairs while turning the same thought around in our mind: “Why can’t I be that funny?” These are our more innocent reactions.
On tougher days, we read these same articles and tear them down with, “I’ve written better essays than this,” or “This isn’t that good; why would anyone like this?” We underestimate our own potential so earnestly that we perceive our own peers as threats, and instead of learning from other bloggers, journalists, essayists, or novelists, we treat them like competitors whose accomplishments diminish our likelihood of “being good.” The real snake in the grass is the underestimation of our own skill.
I’m guilty of it myself, and maybe you are, too. I read blogs all the time whose poignancy, word choice, title, delivery, wit, satire, or imagery suddenly make everything I’ve ever written seem inferior, like my cute little blog is a toddler trying too hard to walk in wobbly high heels in a world full of Candice Swanepoels.
I’m going to offer some unsolicited wisdom from the pep talks I routinely give myself when I get too absorbed in this concept of “being good”:
1.) It’s tempting to compare yourself to other writers, but you can’t. You’ll always fall short in your own eyes because you’re too close to your experiences, your voice, and your inspiration—that proximity has a weird way of lessening their value. The only progression that matters is your own, and the only way to truly measure it is by looking more closely at your writing, not by poring over every brilliant line written by a stranger with a serious journalist-sounding name from San Diego.
2.) You can’t look at the milestones you haven’t accomplished yet as things that are definitely never going to transpire. Maybe it’ll take a few years, or maybe it won’t ever happen after all. Regardless of the outcome, one thing’s for certain: adding a fellow writer to your shit list because they achieved something before you did isn’t going to bring you any closer to making it happen for yourself. If anything, it’ll only bring you closer to a premeditated murder conviction and an orange jumpsuit.
3.) There’s no ordinance that states every time one writer succeeds, another one fails forever. It’s not like a horrible alternate ending to It’s A Wonderful Life. So when you react like a sore loser to news of your peers’ triumphs, check yourself, and keep in mind that there was a time when they weren’t on top of the world. Even now that they are (in your eyes), they probably still have many of the same doubts about their work as you do about your own.
You can “be good,” even great or spectacular, without everyone around you totally sucking. Do you really want to be the William Faulkner in a small pond filled with those espousing caveman diction anyway?
Today I’m guest posting over at Long Awkward Pause* about the love, the loss, and the loaves that go into bringing a dish to Thanksgiving dinner.
What are you waiting for? Head on over and give it a read!
*Please don’t confuse Long Awkward Pause, an online humor magazine, with Long Awkward Paws, a serious health condition that many young puppies live with. When you read that, I hope Sarah McLachlan was playing in your mind.
After spending years being served in college campus coffee shops, lending its aroma to soaps made by empty nesters with Etsy shops, and taking whatever odd pie jobs it could get, pumpkin spice had finally made it to the top. For the entirety of October, pumpkin spice was all the rage in Starbucks lattes, post-poop Febreezed bathrooms, and social media feeds. Pumpkin spice reveled in its long-awaited mainstream acceptance, but it was entirely unprepared for the powerful enemies it would make as a result of its commercial success: the trio of Christmas flavors.
Peppermint, eggnog, and gingerbread have been holiday favorites for years, because they destroy any flavor or scent that threatens their position of prominence. Have you ever heard of patchouli? Well, back in the early 2000s, patchouli was positioning itself to join forces with pine to become Glade’s newest air freshener offering, but peppermint, eggnog, and gingerbread wouldn’t let that happen. After an intense smear campaign that criticized patchouli’s ties to the hipster community, overambitious patchouli was relegated to the potpourri circuit, destined to rest on toilet tanks for the rest of its days.
When this holiday trinity heard rumors about up-and-comer pumpkin spice, they weren’t concerned. They knew pumpkin is a polarizing flavor, and they were confident the rejection pumpkin spice would endure would make it realize its rightful place: smothered under whipped cream in a pie. Besides, it can take years for a flavor/scent to become a beloved seasonal favorite, and pumpkin spice was no imminent threat. Peppermint, eggnog, and gingerbread underestimated pumpkin spice’s appeal and zeal.
Before you rally against this tyrannical threesome know that, like most bullies, their actions are entirely the result of insecurity…
You see, there was a time where peppermints were only welcome in the crammed in the pockets and purses of grandmothers, stuffed next to used Kleenex and eye drops, in oft-overlooked bowls at the hostess stations of restaurants, or in the board game Candyland. It was only until one peppermint-loving candy maker (who was actually designing holiday costume options for Mr. Peanut, FYI) created the candy cane that ol’ peppermint became a versatile, timeless treat. Eggnog has a similar tough background.
Eggnog’s entire existence is owed to a desperate accident, much like most children conceived in the Las Vegas city limits. Back in Medieval Europe, before people knew anything about taste buds or pasteurization, it seemed like a great idea to combine milk, sugar, eggs, and nog in one beverage. It wasn’t until one miserable young man at a holiday family gathering thought, “Only booze could make this dairy shit taste good,” that eggnog secured its place at every awkward Christmas dinner. Let’s not forget about what Gingerbread’s endured…
Gingerbread had a bad reputation because of ginger ale. For a long time, people associated this flavorful treat with tummy aches. As with most intimidating house spiders, it took a man to solve this problem: a gingerbread man. After years of plain sugar cookies cutout into little handless, impotent man shapes, outsider gingerbread became the new default for man cookies. These days, gingerbread finally gets the respect it deserves. As of 2012, 99.3% of edible holiday houses are made with gingerbread.
Success and approval have been a long time coming for peppermint, eggnog, and gingerbread, and they’ve paid their dues. After witnessing how quickly pumpkin spice has gotten popular in their key demographic of people aged 18-34, they started spreading rumors and turning pumpkin spice’s own friends against him.
It’s a quietly accepted fact in the spice community that pumpkin spice and cinnamon have been romantically involved for decades. They first met in the kitchen when they were both included in a pumpkin pie recipe. Since that time, they’ve collaborated on countless autumn desserts, and they complement each other perfectly—both in the oven and on the spice rack, but cinnamon’s always feared pumpkin spice has been carrying a flame for ginger.
Ginger has been in gingerbread’s pocket since he became an established flavor, and it wasn’t long before gingerbread called for a favor. In a scandal that rocked the cabinets, ginger came forward alleging that she and pumpkin spice had been carrying on an affair since 1998. Cinnamon, long considered the noblest of spices, was devastated, despite pumpkin spice’s desperate assertions that ginger wasn’t telling the truth.
Adding to pumpkin spice’s disgrace is his newfound homelessness. Pumpkin spice enjoyed a cozy spot on the spice rack next to nutmeg, an old-timer that’s all too familiar with the harassment of peppermint, eggnog, and gingerbread. Nutmeg did his best to look out for pumpkin spice, until peppermint and eggnog came around one day. They threatened to make nutmeg their next target, intimating that nutmeg would lose its place as the “secret ingredient” in every baked good. Desperate to hang onto what little use he has, nutmeg had to channel Brutus and turn his back on his friend.
Once Thanksgiving passes, pumpkin spice’s season will officially be over. A spice that was once on top of the world has become a struggling exiled flavor thanks to peppermint, eggnog, and gingerbread. It’ll be interesting to see if this change in circumstances will affect pumpkin spice’s success next fall…
Don’t underestimate the Christmas flavors.