Chasing the Perfect Thanksgiving Redux

Sometimes you need a bad Thanksgiving to learn to appreciate the good ones.

Happy-ThanksgivingNRWhen I was a child, I used to love Thanksgiving. We would go over to my step-grandparents’ house, where they had a big spread much like the famous Norman Rockwell print. My baby sister, my cousins, and I were relegated the kids table and I still remember being incensed when my oldest cousin graduated to the grown-up table. My mother and stepfather divorced before I was old enough to claim my own place at the grown-up table, so I never did get that honor. But the memories of those Thanksgiving dinners always stayed with me.

Fast forward ten years to my first real Thanksgiving as an adult. (I’m not counting the time my soon-to-be husband and I made turkey cutlets and Pilsbury crescent rolls in the toaster oven in my dorm room.) My (now) husband and I were in Germany, thousands of miles away from family, but we were determined to have a real Thanksgiving feast. Okay, maybe it was just me who was determined. We invited friends of ours, Germans who had never experienced an American Thanksgiving, and armed with my Martha Stewart Living magazine and Better Homes & Gardens cookbook from 1982, we set out to create a meal to die for. (Somewhat prophetic, but I’ll get to that in a moment.) I only had one condition: it had to be a happy time. I grew up with too much hostility and bitterness that came to a head every holiday, and I did not want that for my own family.

It started out fine. My husband worked on the turkey (still his job today) and I set about making homemade rolls. But then the rolls wouldn’t rise, and the ones that did came out of the oven hard as a brick. The puppy kept getting underfoot in this very small, galley-like kitchen that barely held the two of us, which aggravated my husband and he, in turn, upset me. I won’t go into details, but hard rolls were thrown and sweet potatoes were mashed with a bit too much force. There went my desire for a peaceful, happy holiday!

To make matters worse, our electricity went out. When it finally came back on, only the top element of the oven was working. We kept the turkey in and crossed our fingers.

My desserts came out fine, especially the fancy meringue cookies a la Martha Stewart I made. I was proud of those suckers. When Hans and his wife arrived a few hours later, the table was set with my best china and fabric napkins (folded in an elegant pocket-design, thank you again Martha Stewart). I still wasn’t speaking to my husband, but we managed to fake cheerfulness and explained our little mishaps. Because only the top element of the oven worked, only the breast of the turkey actually cooked. The four of us had minuscule amounts of dry, white turkey. But we had plenty of side dishes (minus edible rolls) and after washing down our bits of meat with a fine German wine, I brought out the desserts.

Hans loved my meringue cookies. I was beaming. Until his wife gently reminded him of his diabetes. I think I nearly smacked the cookies out of his hand! For those who don’t know what’s in meringue cookies…it’s pure sugar. Sugar and egg whites, and not much else. Sending our guest to the Krankenhaus (hospital) in a diabetic coma would have capped off a perfectly awful Thanksgiving, but gratefully, he survived. We all survived that dinner. Even the dog.

That was seventeen years ago, and we can laugh about it now. Since then, we’ve attended a few fine dinners and hosted many more. The food is always fantastic. My husband is a turkey expert and the turkey (knock on wood) is always moist and thoroughly cooked. And since that first fateful Thanksgiving, we haven’t argued on the holiday.

I think the secret to our now successful, happy Thanksgivings is that after that first holiday, I’ve learned perfection is overrated. I was chasing the memories I had of my early Thanksgiving dinners, trying to recapture the magic I held in my mind. Honestly, though, I was stuck at the kids’ table back then. So while from my perspective, it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting, it might have been just as stressful and unhappy for some of the adults as it was for my husband and I the first time.

I want my kids to have good memories of Thanksgiving, but we let them see the work it takes to put it together. They see the frustration when I realize I forgot something and the exasperation when I have to send my husband to the store. They witness the drudgery of peeling apples and potatoes, of rolling out dough, of chopping vegetables. They have been party to dishes that didn’t come out as intended (this year’s pumpkin pie is more a deconstructed pie…) and been guinea pigs for new recipes. They don’t just show up to the table after a day of watching the parade and playing and find a perfect dinner in front of them. What they find is a labor of love, a meal they each had some small hand in, a feast that is perfect in its imperfections. My hope is someday, when they have their own families, they won’t feel they have to live up to some idealized memory. They can relax, have fun, and make a memory that’s more about love and family than perfectly spiced pie and pretty napkins.

May your own Thanksgivings be less than perfect and more than real, filled with love and laughter and the things that really matter. Because as much as we’d like it to be, life isn’t a Rockwell painting. It’s more like a three-year-old’s fingerpainting, messy but colorful, and something to treasure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(originally posted November 26, 2015)
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October Obsession: 5 Reasons I Love This Month

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October is absolutely my favorite month! I really can’t think of a better time of year. (No offense, December!)

My love for all things autumn is one of the things that inspires me to write. It’s my most productive and most creative time of the year. Sure, spring is lovely, with its blooming blossoms and buzzing bees. And winter has a snowy charm the heartiest of us can truly appreciate. Summer… well, to someone who hates sweating in awkward places, summer kind of sucks. Though it is a welcome time for enjoying sand and surf, and it’s nice not having to wake everyone up at the crack of dawn to get ready for school.

Here are 5 reasons why I am obsessed with October:

  1. Autumn Leaves. There are few things on earth more beautiful than seeing the changing leaves, especially along the mountain ridge. My current work-in-progress is set in the fictional town of Catoctin Ridge, Maryland, and it was in no small part inspired by how beautiful this part of the state is during this season.
Inspiration for Catoctin Ridge, Maryland

Inspiration for Catoctin Ridge, Maryland

2. Football (and Fall Soccer). I am a die-hard football fan. Miami Dolphins fan til the day I die! (Which may be soon, because they’re killing me. They’re killing me!) Now that two of my kids (my 12-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter) play football, I love it even more. The cheers of the crowd, the excitement of a nail biter, the camaraderie from tailgating with friends… all these things come to their full glory in October. This year, my youngest son is playing fall soccer as goalie, upping the sports excitement for me. It thrills me to watch him diving for the ball and making saves, while bundled up in my sweatshirts, drinking pumpkin spice coffee. Which brings me to #3…

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3. Pumpkins. It feels wrong to enjoy pumpkin anything when the temperature is above 70°F, which is why it was so disheartening this year to experience so many heat waves right through the end of September. But now the weather has cooled, and it’s time to indulge in pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin chili, pumpkin risotto… And to choose from all sorts of pumpkins to paint or carve and display. One caveat I have for this season… pumpkin spice does not belong in everything. Oreos? Blech. Popcorn? Yuck. Pumpkin Spice Salmon? Dear God! Make it Stop!

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4. My anniversary. I married LOML (Love of My Life) on October 20th, which also happens to be the anniversary of two of the greatest people I know–Jim and Carol, parents to one of my best friends.

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5. Halloween. Please don’t ask which I like better, Halloween or Christmas. That’s like asking me which of my children is my favorite. I love to be scared, and there’s no better time than Halloween to watch the scariest movies you can find (The Exorcist, hello!) or read the scariest books you can read (King’s It still scares the bejesus out of me!). There’s also the fun of making your house super spooky. I prefer old-fashioned fright to cartoonish creepy. Then you have trick-or-treating, which gives you the perfect excuse to keep candy in the house. (Plus, it’s a well-known fact that candy bought for trick-or-treating or acquired through trick-or-treating has no calories. It’s true. I saw it on the internet.)

What about you? Do you have a favorite month or season?

ps: I’m always looking for good scary movie recommendations. I’d love to hear yours!

pps: Check out my friend Shadow’s page for some awesome, eerie original art!

Better to have hands too full, than a heart too empty

Better to have hands too fullthan a heart too empty.

Yesterday, Scary Mommy posted “Here’s What to Expect When You Have Four Kids“. It was a humorous, and mostly true, account of what’s it like to have a big family nowadays. I commented about my own experience:

Gotten the snide comments and looks. Whatever. After 10 miscarriages (including once with triplets) & being told my eggs were “bad” and I’d probably never sustain a pregnancy, I consider my 4 miracles just that.. miracles. Trust me, better hands too full than heart too empty!

It resonated with people more than I thought, which makes me alternately sad and comforted. Sad, because so many women suffered the way I have. Comforted, because so many understand.

One of the things I try to do with my stories is infuse them with emotion. Each of my characters is broken inside in some way, and one of the hardest things for me as a writer is to relay that to the reader in a way they can understand. Because aren’t we all broken in some way?

Even though I now have four healthy, beautiful, totally awesome children (not that I’m biased or anything), I still remember the pain of loss that came before them. It colors my perspective and my choices. Just as my characters are shaped by whatever pain they harbor.

One of the reasons I love to write romance is that the genre comes with one, invariable rule: every story has a happy ending. And it’s through overcoming their pain–whether it’s by finding that other person who makes them whole or digging within themselves to find an inner strength they didn’t know they had–that my characters are able to find their happy ending.

I found my happy ending…four times. And no amount of sarcastic remarks, as annoying as they are, will ever take that away from me.

National Grammar Day, the Oxford comma, and me

If you are anything like me, you rejoice in National Grammar Day, aka Christmas for Word Nerds. I love the written language. I love words and linguistics and etymology. Maybe that’s because I’m a writer, or maybe that’s why I became a writer. I couldn’t say; it’s one of those “chicken-or-egg” mysteries.

I don’t mean to be a pedant when it comes to grammar, however, I do have my personal pet peeves. One is people using “could of” when it should be “could have”. Another is using “literally” when “figuratively” is the proper choice. My biggest pet peeve is when people post an attack or angry diatribe that is rife with errors my second-grader wouldn’t make. If you care so much to get your angry message across, at the very least, proof your work.

I also have my grammar pets. For example, I adore semicolons; when used correctly, they add a little spice to your writing. Yes, I’m well aware of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous advice to writers:

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Personally, I think they show a writer unafraid to take a risk. Plus, they’re part of the winky emoticon, which gives them some sass.

What I am most passionate about, though, is the Oxford comma. This is an ongoing battle among grammarians that I think is best solved with everyone agreeing to use it. (I’m kidding…another pet peeve of mine are so-called ‘absolutes’, such as never use adverbs or never end a sentence on a preposition. Pbbblllttt!)


FYI: Weird Al is Switzerland when it comes to the Oxford comma.
He doesn't want your drama.

Certainly, use of the Oxford (or serial) comma can add clarity to otherwise ambiguous writing. But that is not to say there aren’t moments when leaving out the Oxford comma would be a better choice for the sake of clarity. In my personal experience, I’ve come across more instances when an Oxford comma would lessen ambiguity rather than add to it.

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Best case for an Oxford comma ever. (Credit to Twitterer @zamosta)

For example, I once line-edited a client’s manuscript and came across a sentence that read something like this:

In my travels, I came across two homeless men, a parking attendant and a valet.

The subsequent sentences did not go on to explain if the author had come across four different men or two men who happened to be employed and homeless. In this instance, we needed that Oxford comma.

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Although, history might have turned out much differently if this were true…

I’ve already warned my critique partners not to redline my Oxford commas, but I often wonder how an American publisher will treat my manuscript in the editing phase, since I use Oxford commas throughout. I’ve noticed that is not the case in most of the books I read. I suppose that’s when my enthusiasm for the Oxford comma will be put to the test.

But until that happens…

chuck norris

Long Live the Goblin King

bowie-jaggerLet me start off with an admission: I’m not a huge David Bowie fan. I like much of his stuff (Space Oddity, Young Americans, Modern Love) and some not so much (Fame, Changes). Then there’s the downright inexplicable, and I’m not even talking about The Thin White Duke. (Yeah, looking at you Mick Jagger!)

But even though I can’t classify myself a die-hard Bowie fan, when I woke this morning to the news of his death, I was sad. Really sad. He was part of the landscape of my childhood, always present in some form or another…on my MTV (back when the M stood for Music not Moronic), on my radio, in my movies. He was Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, the Goblin King…a rock-and-roll chameleon who changed personas almost as often as Katy Perry changes hair color. Even the name we know him by, David Bowie, is a persona.

My (then) 8-year-old son as Major Tom for Halloween. Not an astronaut, Major Tom.

My (then) 8-year-old son as Major Tom for Halloween. Not an astronaut, Major Tom.

One thing never changed, and that was his unique sound. Whether you like his music or not, there’s no denying he was a cultural icon whose influence has been and will be felt for years to come. I respect and admire his contribution to music–heck, his contribution to the world as a whole.

His death means his last album, released this past Friday, truly is his last album. That’s what makes me most sad. There will never again be a new persona or a new character for him to play, no new album or single or appearance to look forward to. David Bowie takes his creative genius with him to the beyond. And the world is all the poorer for that.

Rest in Peace, Ziggy… Rest in Peace…

bowie-RIP

National Novel Writing Month Begins Tomorrow!

Tomorrow begins one of my favorite months of the year… NaNoWriMo! I love the exhilaration of trying to write 50K words in just 30 short days. With four children aged 12 and under at home and a day job, it’s even more of a challenge. They will have to get used to seeing this:

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I don’t think they’ll mind. Thank goodness for Netflix and Crock Pots…they’ll be entertained and remain well-fed.

Who’s NaNoWriMo-ing with me this year?

Your Arguments Against NaNoWriMo Are Invalid

Another great post from Bryn Donovan, this one about ignoring the NaNoWriMo critics. I love National Novel Writing Month. I’ve actually reached the 50K goal a few times (and got the t-shirt, because what kind of competition would it be if you couldn’t get a t-shirt?) and I have a completed, ready-for-submission manuscript. It took more than half a year’s worth of revisions, but it’s done. NaNoWriMo is great for getting that shitty first draft out of the way. Who else is doing NaNoWriMo? (ps: You can find me on the site as LadyCroc. Come be my buddy!)

Remembering My Angels

I wrote the following post a few years ago, and each year on October 15th, I resurrect it. I could rewrite it, and perhaps someday I will, but the sentiment in the post and my feelings haven’t changed. My losses are a part of me and always will be.

Originally posted October 15, 2012 on A Common Sea.

This morning began as most school day mornings do—the kids and I shuffle half-blind with sleep down to the kitchen, where cereal is chosen and milk is poured and requests for lunch are made. Then there are the 2-3 admonishments to “Finish your milk!” “Eat the yogurt!” “Don’t leave the banana peel on the table!”, followed by “No, you can’t wear shorts today.” “Did you brush your teeth?” “What do you mean you haven’t seen your toothbrush since Saturday?!” Somehow we manage to get everyone dressed, book bags packed, and out the door to catch the bus on time, and that is no small feat with three children under 10 and one toddler thrown in the mix.

Our morning routine encapsulates the organized chaos that is our family—which some would call “large”, a notion my late mother-in-law (one of 13 siblings and mother of 7) would no doubt scoff at. When we go out in public, I am to be in drill sergeant mode, keeping the troops contained lest they wander away from the pack into danger. If I had a nickel for every time someone has said, “You sure have your hands full!”, I could hire an extra set of hands. I know it’s normally said with good humor and it honestly doesn’t offend me, but every time I hear it, the thought runs through my head, “Better full hands than empty arms.”


Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. It’s a day when women like me light a candle and remember the babies that we never got to hold, and the ones we held for too short a while. It’s when we also remember what it felt like (and for some, what it still feels like) to be a childless mother.

I know how heavy and burdensome empty arms feel. I know what it’s like to carry around pain so entrenched that the sight of a new mother pushing a stroller is enough to buckle your knees. But you can’t fall, you can’t let the very delicate façade you’ve so meticulously crafted crack wide open in public. So you give a little smile, and let your gaze linger a little longer than you should on that baby in the blanket burrito. There’ll be time later, in the privacy of a house that is as silent and empty as your arms, to fall apart. I’ve been there. And while I admit to breathing a sigh of relief when the kids are in bed and calmness settles down over our home, I would never trade my home’s soundtrack for the old quiet that used to reside here.

In our first five years of marriage, my husband and I lost nine babies. By the time we moved into a new house and started new jobs, I’d finally begun to accept I wouldn’t become a mother, at least not physically. But then came Larisa, and with her, the promise that our fortunes had changed. One more miscarriage when she was 10 months old humbled me, and I thought I should be happy with the one child I had. I was, truly I was, but my heart still yearned. Beckett came along the following year; 3 ½ years later, Finn (almost literally) burst into the world. All three were born after many prayers and petitions, and use of alternative herbal therapies. Just when we thought were done, Moira came into our lives. I won’t go into the details, but trust me when I say there is no earthly reason she should be here. Quite fittingly, she is our last.

I won’t lie; it’s overwhelming to have so many children. My hands are often overflowing, never mind full. I don’t have as much patience as I feel I should have, and I harbor more guilt over my inadequacies as a mom than I could possibly tell you. I see the judgment on some people’s faces when we walk around; I know the judgment from some in my own family who think I’ve wasted my potential by having all these kids. But there’s no doubt—I am blessed, not burdened.

So tonight, at 7 p.m., I will light my candle and I will remember Hannah, Sean, Owen, Grace, Paul, Valentine, Aisling, Liya, Joseph, andWarren. I will take down the little wooden box of mementoes left from my pregnancies with each of them, including the few precious ultrasound pictures that gave me my only glimpse of a few of them, and I will touch each and every item. Then I will put the box away until next year, tuck my miracles into their beds, and give thanks for all of my babies. Even my angelbabies.

Please join us in lighting a candle tonight at 7 p.m. in your time zone. Even if you have not personally suffered this loss, chances are you know someone who has. Light a candle for them and for all the babies this world misses. Visit http://www.october15th.com for more information on PAILRD and the PAIL Awareness Movement. 

Who said 13 was an unlucky number?

Today is September 13th, and even if it were a Friday instead of a Sunday, it still wouldn’t be an unlucky today.

Nope, today is a lucky day, indeed! It’s a day for babies.

On this date many odd years ago, (I won’t give an exact number–don’t want to risk her wrath!) one of my most cherished friends came into the world. Exactly one week after I made my own appearance.

Katie and our Valentine's Day dates c.1993 & with our soulmates now.

Katie and I with our Valentine’s Day dates c.1993 and with our soulmates this past spring.

Eleven years ago on this date, my first son was born. Fittingly, he shares his birthday with his Godmother, Katie.

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My birthday boy through the years…

And today, at some point, my niece will arrive. (Hopefully sooner, rather than later for my sister’s sake!) One more September 13th baby to brighten the world.

I’d call that pretty lucky!

Happy Birthday Katie, Beckett, and Hannah!