Thursday, November 26, 2009

The First Thanksgiving (David Stoddard)

From The Writer's Almanac:

Today is Thanksgiving Day. When we talk about the first Thanksgiving, we're referring to an event that happened in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But there were actually Thanksgiving ceremonies in the United States much earlier — in 1565, 600 Spanish settlers arrived in what is now St. Augustine, Florida, and had a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate their safe arrival, and followed it up with a feast. Other Thanksgiving celebrations occurred in El Paso, Texas, and in the Virginia Colony.

But the most famous is the Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621, when the Plymouth colonists celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians. It was the colonists' first harvest, so it was a joyful occasion. The Pilgrims had barely survived the last winter and had lost about half their population. But since then, they had built seven houses, a meeting place, and three storehouses for food. Now they actually had food to store.

They invited the Wampanoag Indians to feast with them. The Wampanoag people and their chief, Massasoit, were friendly toward the Pilgrims and helped teach them how to live on different land and with new food sources. A man known as Squanto, a Patuxet living with the Wampanoag tribe, knew English because he had been a slave in England. He taught the settlers how to plant corn, beans, and squash and how to catch eel and shellfish. And he was their interpreter.

So the Pilgrims asked the Native Americans to share in their first harvest. Harvest festivals were nothing new; both the English and the Wampanoag had similar traditions in their culture.

At the first Thanksgiving, they didn't eat mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, and they probably didn't even eat turkey. The only two foods that are actually named in the primary accounts are wild fowl and venison. The meal was mostly meat and seafood, but probably included squash, cabbage, corn, and onions, and spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper.

Unlike our modern Thanksgiving, this event wasn't just one day. Many of the Wampanoag had to walk two days to get to the Plymouth settlement. There were about 50 English people and 90 Wampanoag, and since there wasn't enough room in the seven houses for the guests, they went ahead and built themselves temporary shelters. In between eating, they played games and sports, danced and sang.

The most detailed account of the first Thanksgiving comes from one of the Pilgrims, Edward Winslow. He wrote:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. […] At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a national holiday on different dates, in different months, and one year it was even celebrated twice. It wasn't standardized until 1941, when President Roosevelt signed a bill declaring that the fourth Thursday in November would be Thanksgiving Day.

Happy Thanksgiving to all - the house is already redolent with the aromas of various food offerings... and we're expecting a full table of loving family and special friends. Of course it's a bittersweet day, this being the first major holiday without mom - I'm making her Southern cornbread dressing, and Sarah's preparing her pecan pie recipe, in remembrance...

I thought I was going to be okay with this holiday, because we didn't normally celebrate it with mom, but I've had some rough patches these last few days - the memories transcend calendar boxes and timelines and, bittersweet as it may be, we will honor the grief mixed with the gratitude...

It was interesting to go back and read
last year's post, not too much different than this year's sentiment - wishing you and yours a most wonderful Thanksgiving...

SONG: The First Thanksgiving by David Stoddard

Bless This Food: Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World by Adrian Butash

POEM: Cranberry-Orange Relish by John Engels

A pound of ripe cranberries, for two days

macerate in a dark rum, then do not

treat them gently, but bruise,

mash, pulp, squash

with a wooden pestle

to an abundance of juices, in fact

until the juices seem on the verge

of overswelling the bowl, then drop in

two fistsful, maybe three, of fine-

chopped orange with rind, two golden

blobs of it, and crush

it in, and then add sugar, no thin

sprinkling, but a cupful dumped

and awakened with a wooden spoon

to a thick suffusion, drench of sourness, bite of color,

then for two days let conjoin

the lonely taste of cranberry,

the joyous orange, the rum, in some

warm corner of the kitchen, until

the bowl faintly becomes

audible, a scarce wash of sound, a tiny

bubbling, and then

in a glass bowl set it out

and let it be eaten last, to offset

gravied breast and thigh

of the heavy fowl, liverish

stuffing, the effete

potato, lethargy of pumpkins

gone leaden in their crusts, let it be eaten

so that our hearts may be together overrun

with comparable sweetnesses,

tart gratitudes, until finally,

dawdling and groaning, we bear them

to the various hungerings

of our beds, lightened

of their desolations.

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)

This is embarrassing to admit... but, other than a few bouts with strep throat in the past, I haven't been to a real doctor for a thorough check-up in over five years - I know, I know... shame on me...

My dear daughter has been nudging, nagging and nipping at my heels (understandably so - she's worried)... and I finally went last Friday - knock on wood, all seemed to go fairly well, although I'll go back in two weeks for urine and blood test results. One thing that did concern them was that my blood pressure was high - they checked it twice, did an EKG (which showed nothing, thank goodness) and sent me home with a low-dosage blood pressure medication. I've of course been doing some research on hypertension and medical side effects... and discovered that daily usage of cinnamon can be very helpful in healing this health issue - this cracks me up, as I've had a reputation for years as a cinnamon lover, craving it on/in anything! Now I'm just going to have to choose it sprinkled in my oatmeal or yogurt, over apples or in my tea... rather than in breakfast rolls, cake or toast - I can do this...

I also have "prescriptions" to get a mammogram, a bone density test and a colonoscopy (all standard tests for a woman in her mid-50's) - my gynecologist appointment (for a routine pap smear) is scheduled for the first of the year... and I know I need to see a dermatologist then too (South Florida sun can be harmful to the skin - major understatement). It is empowering to make these forward steps... and I was already feeling the need to do a better job of taking care of myself, after spending all summer taking care of mom - the doctor even made mention of the fact that givers have a hard time receiving (even though this was her first time meeting me, she had me pegged). I started crying - it's all still so fresh... but I want and need to change... now... not just for myself, but for my spouse, my children and my circle of friends...

I'm also still walking almost 3 miles a day, 6 days a week - if I could be smarter with my food choices... and limit my food portions, I'd make some serious progress toward looking and feeling better...

SONG: Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young

BOOK: Cinnamon: Spices of Life by Barbara Wexler

POEM: Lessons by Pat Schneider

I have learned
that life goes on,
or doesn't.
That days are measured out
in tiny increments
as a woman in a kitchen
measures teaspoons
of cinnamon, vanilla,
or half a cup of sugar
into a bowl.

I have learned
that moments are as precious as nutmeg,
and it has occurred to me
that busy interruptions
are like tiny grain moths,
or mice.
They nibble, pee, and poop,
or make their little worms and webs
until you have to throw out the good stuff
with the bad.

It took two deaths
and coming close myself
for me to learn
that there is not an infinite supply
of good things in the pantry.

QUOTE(S): “I really don’t think I need buns of steel. I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres

“It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.” ~ James Gordon

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Old Dogs (Bill Staines)

For my dear friend Melanie, who only yesterday lost her beloved dog Xena... <3

SONG: Old Dogs by Bill Staines

BOOK: Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

POEM: I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life by Mary Oliver
(Percy being her dog)

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.

QUOTE: "You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us." ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, November 6, 2009

To Live Is to Fly (Townes Van Zandt)

I am now apologizing to myself for not blogging in two weeks - I miss it when I allow myself to skip more than a few days, not to mention it's easy to forget what happened in the meantime. I confess to having been in Roly Poly Mode... and I'm trying hard to snap out of it - in coming up for air a bit, I realize what a blessed life I lead...

Yeah, the fact my mother died mid-July is one big, fat, f*cking sadness still weighing heavy on me - I expect it will be with me forever, even as the hits to the heart come further apart. I still can't predict my reaction when I think or talk about it - sometimes I am fine... others I am inconsolable... and I imagine that's "normal" (having done some research on the grief process)...

I am finally reconciling to the fact that life does indeed go on - I have memories of good times, lots of photos and a no-regrets feeling that most only dream of. I also have amazing family and friends to hold me up during this difficult time, as I try to find my way out of the stuck place - much to be thankful for:

~ a 3+ hour cathartic lunch with my dear friend M, who I hadn't seen since before I went up to Atlanta - she lost her mom this past February, and has helped trailblaze this unknown path for me...

~ our October book club meeting, for which we read Middlesex, a wonderful book that's been on my bedside table for over a year - combine the literary stimulation with the comfort of other BookSluts (our new official name for ourselves), and I'm in "died and gone to heaven" territory...

~ saw the movie Where the Wild Things Are with my husband and two sons (my daughter was out of town that weekend), at the urging of my "baby" (21-year-old E), who remembered me reading him the book when he was but a small child - the movie was extremely enjoyable, but viewing it flanked by "my boys" was tear- and goosebump-inducing...

~ experienced a quiet Halloween, staying home and passing out candy to almost 100 trick-or-treaters, the cutest of which was a young (one-year-old, maybe?) Asian boy on his father's shoulders, dressed in a Sumo wrestler costume - my dog stood in the doorway in equal parts joy and amazement at the parade of visitors...

~ my friend Judi asked if I wanted to hear John Irving speak at a bookstore function which, with the purchase of the ticket, provided an autographed copy of his newest book (below) - it was not only great to hang out with her one-on-one (we're usually in group gatherings), but a dream-come-true to see one of my favorite authors up-close-and-personal (he's warm, he's witty... and his reading of a key passage in the book took my breath away)...

~ I presented a service at church last Sunday, revolving around the book Life Is a Verb, tying it into my mom's illness and promoting the "what would you do if you only had 37 days to live?"
philosophy - I wove in some wonderful poems, played some appropriate songs and received warm, and sometimes tearful, appreciation...

~ finally got together with my dear friend Kate, to walk the Labyrinth and catch up on each other's lives these last few months - she is a cherished friend, with whom I always pick up where I left off, which can never be taken for granted...

~ participated in a Religion and Poetry workshop at the church, where I had the opportunity to share favorite Ellen Bass and Jeffrey McDaniel selections - the ensuing discussion was thought-provoking as well...

~ I have been kicking *ss in the physical fitness department for the last month, attending a BodyWorks + Abs class at the gym twice a week, and walking the 3-mile route in my neighborhood four days - on the seventh day I rest... :-) My friend Mel has kept me good company a majority of the time, but she's been out of pocket the last few weeks for one reason or another, so I'm having to self-motivate, which is always a challenge - I miss her muchly... but I'm proud to say I've risen to it, and am thoroughly entrenched in addicted mode (my legs twitch to get on the road as soon as I get out of bed each morning!)...

~ my husband and I signed up for a wellness program with a local franchise of a national chain, and have been enjoying monthly massages (part-therapeutic, part-pampering), which we've turned into Date Night, segueing to dinner afterwards - it's nice to spend time with each other in a relaxed mood, away from the house...

Days, up and down they come

Like rain on a conga drum
Forget most, remember some
But don't turn none away.
Everything is not enough
And nothin' is to much to bear.
Where you been is good and gone
All you keep is the getting there.

Beautifully said, Townes... :-)

SONG: To Live Is to Fly by Townes Van Zandt

BOOK: Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

POEM: Sweet Darkness by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

QUOTE: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations." ~ George Bernard Shaw