This is the month we are Thankful. Not that we are supposed to be more thankful now than the other 11 months of the year, but this is the month that we actually make a group effort to reflect, recognize, and maybe even verbalize all that we have to be thankful for.
I am thankful for all of the many blessings in my life…Good job, good family, wonderful marriage, etc….
More than anything else in my life, I am thankful for my two sons. This should really go without saying. But anyone who has raised boys, lived with–or near– boys, or ever even just known a boy, may need enlightenment on just how one can be thankful for boys.
I mean, other than the fact the one should love one’s children all the time, with one’s whole heart and soul.
You see, boys smell. They fart, and burp, and sweat. All the time. They pee in weird places. Their feet and dirty socks smell like vomit. What’s worse, they seem to enjoy these smells, and the torture they inflict on others.
“Hey mom, smell my socks….”
I am thankful for the farts and the burps and the socks that smell like vomit, because without my boys, my house would smell clean and fresh, but my life would really stink.
They are also loud, destructive, and just indelicate in general. One boy child sounds like a herd of elephants coming down the stairs. In our house, we frequently have to change out light bulbs in our downstairs light fixtures, because somebody ran like a water buffalo across the upstairs floor. And I can patch sheetrock like a pro.
I am thankful for the broken lamps, patched walls, and stained carpet, because without my boys, my house would be pristine, but my heart would be broken.
Reagan is 20, and Max is 16.
Many days, I have just been thankful that they survived the hours without me there, and that I didn’t kill them when I was. Neither is as easy as it sounds.
Like me, Reagan is a thinker—a man of thought. I have always been thankful for that.
Except for maybe the time he THOUGHT it was a good idea to spray paint the blue drippy spots on his jungle gym slide, and the back side of our house.
That day, I was most thankful for privacy fences, and latex paint remover.
It was probably also NOT the best thought he ever had to swim to the cement bulkhead at City Lake Park, and jump off of it. Due to the “KEEP OFF” signs posted all around… The nice young police officer, who we now know as Doug E Fresh, was very nice, and they chatted about country music and their favorite firearms until we could get to the scene to collect our wayward youth. Sometimes boys will just be boys.
That day, I was most thankful that our small town police force has the time to respond to this sort of thing, because they don’t have murderers and rapists to be chasing.
I loved his thoughtfulness the day he said to me, at age 16: “Mom, they were passing out condoms at school today, doesn’t that send the wrong message?”
“Well, in one way yes, it does. But it also sends the message that if you are going to make the other choice, at least be responsible about it.” That lead us to discuss marriage, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases. Like two old friends having coffee.
I was most thankful that day that I have a relationship with my kids where they feel they can discuss anything with me.
Max, on the other hand, is a man of action, like his dad. I’m not saying that half of my household doesn’t think…Just that they tend to be more impulsive. And visit the emergency room more often.
I have told you before about the time I caught Max, only 18 months old, on top of the fridge, eating Oreos. And about the time he got his weenie (not food) caught in the tape measure. But I haven’t told you about cable ties.
When Max was about 5, we were spending the weekend hunting. The men and older boys were in the hunting truck, heading out to check feeders and blinds. Max was in the bunkroom playing video games, and I was just getting ready to rest on the couch. I should mention that we were 45 minutes from emergency services.
I feel a small tug on my shoulder, and Max says “can you help me get this off?”
I rolled over to see that he had a large cable tie—the largest one they make—about 18” long, ½” wide, and ¼” thick…… Around his neck. And since he had tried to get it off himself, and since getting it off, to him, meant puling on the end of it, it was very tight around his neck. I tried to remain calm and reason through how I was going to get it off. How would I get scissors between his neck and the tie to cut it off? If I used a knife and sawed into it, I would surely cut him.
I started to panic a little bit, and then he did too. His lips were turning purple. “Mommy, I can’t breathe……”
Then I REALLY started to panic. Just then, my dad came back in the cabin—he had forgotten batteries for the feeders. While I fell to my knees, he quickly grabbed the scissors, slid them between Max’s neck and the cable tie, turned the blade upright (completely cutting off Max’s airway for a second), and SNAP. He cut through the cable tie in one swift motion. I began to sob uncontrollably. Max just looked at me and said “I’m okay, Mommy…”
He had no idea how close he came to going away forever. I still can’t discuss it without crying.
That day, I was most thankful for sharp scissors, forgotten batteries, and my dad.
Not long after that, we were at one of Reagan’s T-ball games, which Greg was coaching. Reagan’s best friend Raeford was with us, and he and Max were running around the ball park, and riding Max’s little bike. Every once in a while, they would make a run past me on the bleachers, and as he always did, Max would put his hands on my cheeks and shake his little face. I have always said he was recharging his battery when he did that. At one point, I realized that he had not been by for a bit, and started looking for him. The sports complex is fairly large, but not grossly crowded. Nevertheless, I became worried after I had searched the entire complex and could not find them. He and Raeford both were prone to wandering, though, so I figured I had just missed them, so I took another loop around. When I still saw no sign of them, I got pretty scared. Once I had made the emotional commitment that it was time to call the Sheriff, all of the horrible thoughts started hitting me like a ton of bricks.
“What if there’s a pervert back in the woods behind the field?”
“What if someone from a visiting team took them?”
“What if some freak has them in the bathroom?”
As I lost it, my friend Cristie, who was there watching her own son’s game, came running over. I remember her saying to me “No, no, no…Christine…I can’t be friends with someone whose child goes missing…” So, while I called 911, Cristie organized a search party. She told everyone what Max looked like, what they were wearing, etc., and several strangers fanned out to begin searching the park.
One of the volunteers pointed to the far back (and at the time, unfenced) side of the property, and said “did you know there’s a deep ravine and a river back there?”
As I looked off in the distance toward the tree line, I saw Max’s little bike laying on it’s side past the end of the cement and sidewalks of the developed park. Whether it was perverts in the woods, or the river beyond them no longer mattered—he had gone towards the river.
I was heading that way just as the Sheriff’s Department arrived, and we all fanned out in a long line running north to south. My husband, noting the fanfare of law enforcement, came running off the field and immediately ran towards the far south end. Just as the rest of us began to head for tree line, one of the deputies grabbed my shoulder, pointed to the far north end and asked “is that him?”
Emerging from the trees were two small figures, completely clueless to the turmoil and chaos building on their behalf. Max, from just above his waist to the tips of his toes was covered in mud. He had fallen in, and Raeford and fished him out. Luckily, the river was little more than a muddy creek after a few years of no rain. With very wide eyes Max came walking up to me, now on my knees and in tears, and said “I’m okay, Mom.”
On that day, I was most thankful for Cristie, the kindness of strangers, and for drought.
Nine years later (three years ago), Reagan called me at work and told me that Raeford had died. He was only seventeen years old. In the years since elementary, Reagan and Raeford had found new friends and drifted in different directions. They stayed on friendly terms, but were growing into adulthoods that were different from one another. Reagan got interested in rodeo, and mud trucks, while Raeford took to motorcycles and sports cars. I hung up the phone and wept for his parents and his sister, because I cannot imagine bearing that kind of loss, and don’t know how I could survive it. I cried for Reagan, because Raeford was his first best friend. And I cried for Raeford, and the future that was lost for him.
That day I was the most thankful for mud trucks, and rodeo, and being able to hug my sons when I got home.
This week, as you sit down to supper with your crotchety old uncle, ask him to tell you the story again, of how things were “back in the day”…. Every night you go home to your kids or your spouse or your pets, remember:
–laugh at the burps;
–wail and pretend to pass out with the farts;
–and grab your chest like you are dying when your son waves his smelly gym socks in your face.
Because life is fleeting, and sometimes way, way too short.
Lemon Pepper and Herb Turkey
- 1 12-15 pound turkey
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 sticks soft butter
- ½ cup olive oil
- Zest and juice of two lemons
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 4 finely minced sage leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 475*, and place the rack in the lowest position.
Make sure to remove giblets from inside the turkey. Rinse the bird and pat dry. Sprinkle the salt all over and place breast side up in the roaster. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl, and then massage the mixture all over the bird, including on the inside.
Place the squeezed out lemon rinds (including the ones from the gravy, below) inside the bird, along with a few extra sprigs of thyme and sage.
Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350* and continue to roast, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices, for about 2.5 hours. A meat thermometer inserted into the fattest part of the bird should read 160. The legs should also be very loose and wiggly when the bird is done. Remove from oven, and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Lemon Pepper Gravy
- Giblets from the turkey, cooked (liver, heart, neck, gizzards)**
- –OR—three chicken thighs, cooked in broth until done
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves crushed garlic
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons chicken bouillion
- 1 family size can cream of mushroom soup
- 1 can of water
- 1 family size can cream of chicken soup
- Juice and zest of 3 lemons
- 1-2 tablespoon cracked black pepper (per your taste)
- Salt, to taste (how much will depend on the brand of stock and bouillion you use)
- ½ cup cornstarch mixed with ½ cup cold water
Chop the giblets or chicken thighs into small pieces, and set aside. Place onions, celery, garlic and butter in a large dutch oven or stock pot, over medium heat. Cook until the onions are transparent. Add meat, chicken stock, lemon juice, zest, water and soups, and stir well. Reduce heat to low, and let cook slowly for an hour and half, stirring periodically to keep from burning. (OR, place in crock pot on high).
When the turkey is almost ready, add the pepper and salt to your liking. To thicken, whisk the gravy while slowly pouring in the cornstarch mixture, as little at a time, until a proper gravy consistency is reached. It should be like a cream soup.
Cornbread Dressing or Stuffing
- 4 boxes Jiffy Corn Muffin mix
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup milk
- 2 14-oz cans creamed corn
- 6 sage leaves, chopped very fine
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 loaf French bread, torn into 2 inch chunks
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 8 stalks celery, chopped
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 3 teaspoons pepper
Preheat oven to 350*
Combine first six ingredients, and pour into two 9×13 cake pans. Bake until done, about 45 minutes.
Place French bread in a large bowl or tub (18 quart or so). Toss in onions and celery. When cornbread is cool enough to handle, break it into large chunks and toss with the bread. Combine chicken broth, salt and pepper in a small pitcher. Drizzle the broth, a cup at a time, over the bread mixture, tossing to incorporate fully. Taste a small bit of the dressing, and add additional salt if necessary.
Place dressing in a roaster pan, and pack down slightly. Bake at 350* for 60-80 minutes, or until the top is slightly brown and crusty, and the vegetables are soft.
***you may also stuff the dressing into the turkey before baking, which makes it “stuffing”……Please note, however, that there is an increased risk of salmonella, so make sure to measure the temperature of the stuffing in the center of the bird before serving. It should be at least 160*
For fun, or for easy hors d’oeuvres, try stuffing mushroom caps with dressing
Jalapeno Corn Pudding
- 1 pound cream cheese, softened
- 1 pound frozen corn kernels
- 1 or 2 fresh jalapenos, minced
- 1 small (2-2/12”) minced onion
- 4 beaten eggs
- ½ cup corn meal
- 1/3 cup agave nectar, maple syrup, or sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 350*
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour into buttered casserole or large deep dish pie pan. Bake for one hour. May be served hot or room temperature.