Even the Weeds

I’m leaving my rural office until November in the morning. I’m grateful for this place. Even the weeds. And the butterflies and bees that are drawn to the weeds.

I think I’ll get some beehives.

Shut up! Now you’re complicating things!

But, it’s  just . . .

Stop it. Just be here. See the beauty before you.

I’m grateful for these weeds. For the beautiful things that are drawn to them. But mostly for the time with my parents. Yes, those folks who might mow down these weeds from time to time.

But not these weeds at this moment.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Right Reserved, 2017.

Gratitude in the Garden of Plenty

Like many middle-aged humans, I have a tendency to assess what’s left to do, accomplish, or reach. This is not necessarily unnecessary, but unbalanced amounts make us focus on what we lack, think less of of what we have, separating us from gratitude for what is already growing and within reach.

  • My thumb isn’t as green as mom’s.
  • What’s taking my cucumbers so long?
  • I wish I had more flowers and color in my yard.

I was having these thoughts as I watered my flowers but I decided to take a few photos. When I opened the images on my computer, I realized how disparate the lack I feel is to the garden I have.

These images brought me joy.

Maybe this is my lesson: If I zoom out and focus on what’s not there yet, I miss all of this joy. If I zoom in, I swoon through the colors, shapes, light, and insects. My gratitude and celebration for this wonder is good for me (especially for those around me) and I’m sure they will hasten the wonders to come in my life. Sometimes this (taking a photo and stepping away) is what it takes for me to return and be truly present. Enjoy.

© Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2017

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Thanksgiving Leftovers

Part 1: A circle of thanksgiving

We stand in a circle holding hands, a tradition that evolved in my parents’ home from a combination two traditions, leftovers, if you will: grace before a meal and gratefuls during meals.

Boil these down for gumbo tomorrow.

Every link in our circle has suffered at least one wrench or break from another link in this circle. Yet, here we are. “First, we’ll take turns expressing what we’re grateful for . . . It can be anything,” to ease the younger links into the tradition.

“I’m thankful for this family . . . “

Gratitude has become a bandwagon for those anxious to reap the emotional, spiritual, as well as fiduciary benefits of thankfulness. Rewire your brain! Relieve stress. Improve sleep. Improve relationships. I ride that bandwagon. Gratitude helps me deal with leftovers of relationships, disasters, even meals.

What are we going to do with all of these potatoes?

In gratitude we push away shortcomings to focus on our strengths, we see beyond our losses to be joyful for our blessings, we displace grudges with forgiveness.

“I’m grateful for this time together . . .”

We acknowledge that, like all families, there have been unfortunate turns in our family. Ours comes back to this circle of thanksgiving, woven with the strength of our love for each other, the joy of the blessings we share, and the magic of forgiveness. And food.

Can we freeze the rest of the cranberry relish?

Thankfulness in many ways is magical. When divides —whether political, religious, social, or emotional— feel irreparably deep, gratitude for the leftover goodness mends, a circle of thankfulness bridges gaps between us.

“I’m grateful to be included in this family.”

We all have at least one thing in common, at least one thing we can be grateful for together.

How many pies?

I’m thankful for common ground.

“. . . and for the children, who are present and engaged.”

My dad closes the circle of gratitude with a prayer.

” . . . and for these blessings, we give thanks.”

We squeeze hands and chime in “Amen” before we dig in and begin creating . . . the leftovers.

Part 2: Leftovers

Stacks of dishes, naps on recliners, impossible puzzles, long walks through the fields, disappointing football games, and then the question.

What should I do with this?

For those of you who tuned in for leftover recipes, here are a few ideas.

Turkey Gumbo

In Louisiana, we often pull the okra and sausage out of the freezer and cook up a pot of turkey gumbo on Black Friday. Online recipes for exact ingredients and measurements are plentiful. This is the basic process.

  • Start with a stock.
    • Boil the bones alone or with some herbs (bay leaf, oregano, for example) and vegetable scraps (onion ends and skin, a head of garlic cut down the middle).
  • Make a roux.
    • About 1 cup each of flour and vegetable oil for a big pot of gumbo.
    • Slowly heat the flour in the pot until it becomes golden.
    • Add oil and whisk until it blends smoothly with the flour.
    • Continue to heat slowly until the roux is dark.
  • Add vegetables.
    • Add chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery (1-2 cups of each).
    • Once these are soft, follow with minced garlic (4-5 cloves).
  • Add the stock, leftover (and chopped) turkey, Andouille sausage medallions (Italian sausage will do), sliced okra (1-2 cups), and 2-4 tbsp of Worcester sauce (to taste).
  • Season (salt, cayenne, Tabasco, black pepper) to taste.
  • Bring the gumbo to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  • Serve with rice.

Dressing BallsThanksgiving-2

If you end up with extra dressing or stuffing, make dressing croquettes.

  • Work a beaten egg into a bowl of about 3 cups of dressing.
  • Form balls (slightly bigger than a golf ball).
  • Optional: Fill the balls with cranberry relish or any compatible leftover.
    • Poke a hole.
    • Fill.
    • Reclose.
  • Cook for about 5 minutes:
    • To fry, roll in a little flour then deep fry.
    • To bake, place on cooking sheets and bake at 400º.
    • To air fry, place balls in Airfryer and cook at 330º.

Sweet Potato Chips

Leftover baked sweet potatoes?

  • Slice the cooked sweet potatoes about ¼ inch thin.
  • Season to taste (salt and cayenne or cinnamon and brown sugar).
  • Cook.
    • 300º for 10 minutes in Airfryer.
    • Deep fry for 2-3 minutes.
    • 400º for 10-15 minutes in the oven.

I was the last to leave my parents’, which means my mom filled my car with the leftovers she didn’t want. As I repurposed the turkey, dressing, potatoes, and relish, I reminisced about the week our family spent together. I’m grateful for that leftover lagniappe.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

I didn’t plan to be a mom.

For the first quarter century of my life, I boasted that I’d never marry, that I wouldn’t have children.

I would write, travel the world. I would be a nomadic wordsmith.

Yet here I am, mother of three adult children. Despite an empty nest and a portable work-from-home career, here I sit, on the patio of my home of 23 years.

Where did I go wrong? I didn’t. While I didn’t plan to be nor get here this way, I made the choices that set me on this journey, sometimes to float and let the current take me.

Was my life adventure diminished? Absolutely not. My mama journey has included travel, lush paths, white water rivers, mountains, beaches, boat rides, horse back rides, soccer and volleyball games, swim meets, concerts, road trips, and every roller coaster in every theme park we ever visited.

This journey  —which isn’t over— includes good days and bad days, brilliant moments and miserable mistakes, heart split wide open (mostly with love but sometimes with ache), and just about every cheesy greeting-card cliche about being a mom.

How do I celebrate Mother’s Day?mother's-day

Casually at best.

My firstborn arrived on a Mother’s Day. So sure, Mother’s Day has a special place in my heart. But let’s face it Mother’s Day has become like a commercial holiday, with ads that guilt children into sending the card, flowers, a gift, making the phone call, going to visit . . .

  • What if she remembers too late to send a card?
  • What if he’s working on that day or studying for a final exam or writing a final report?
  • What if they don’t have the money to buy a gift or the time or creativity to make one?

This “special” day also brings heartache to some celebrants.

  • For children who have lost their mom, the day can be bittersweet and sometimes sad.
  • For moms who have lost a child, the day brings a new wave of grieving.
  • For the childless woman . . .

Let’s talk about her for a minute.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 20% of women between 40 and 44 are childless, and over half of those not by choice.

  • For the childless who long for a child, surely Mother´s Day brings a bitter reminder.

What of the childless by choice? Remember? That was my plan.

While Pew RC puts the statistic at around 7-8% of women between 40 and 44, a whopping 45% of my friends (mostly in their 50s and 60s now) are childless by choice. I calculated the same result for both the close-friend and closest-friend pools. Although the stigma of being childless by choice has diminished, it’s there.

  • For the childless by choice woman, Mother´s Day can stir her defensiveness against those empty-life prejudices.

In my little world, those prejudices hold no truth. The lives of my childless friends are full, exciting, and often selfless. Many have mom skills, and some have filled in as second moms. Yet this holiday excludes them.

Two more points that should not be excluded.

  • Some children have crap moms. They could buy her a house and a car for Mother’s Day and still fall short.
  • Some moms have crap children. This day is a poignant reminder of their narcissism.

Am I poo-pooing Mother´s Day?

Yes and no.

When my Mother’s-Day firstborn was still a baby, we went to a one-year old’s  birthday party. My friend joked that the celebration wasn’t about her son, but about her, the day she labored to bring this new person into the world. The first birthday was a Mother’s Day. I liked this idea! I announced the same sentiments for all three of my children’s first birthdays. It’s not your birthday, it’s your mother’s day!

Similarly and conversely, the most important part of Mother’s Day for me is my children. Not the card. Not the flowers. Not a gift. Certainly not guilting them into cooking, cleaning, or taking me out to eat (although I confess I tried that once or twice ). Mother´s Day is about this unexpected path, a journey I never imagined for myself. Motherhood. My children.

I celebrate my mom and her impeccable model of strength and love in action on this day. Most years we have a combined celebration in May: my mom’s birthday (first week of May), my daughter’s birthday, and Mother’s Day. Mother’s Days is never the thing, but one of the things we celebrate in early May.

So, to answer the question:mother's-day

  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the commercialization of Mother’s Day.
  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the negative feelings Mother’s Day generates for those who feel excluded.
  • Yes. I am poo-pooing the typecasting of women and the complex roles they play in the lives of children.
  • No. I’m not poo-pooing having a special day for mom. Maybe it’s the second Sunday of May. But it could be any day of the year. Or many days of the year.

Celebrating motherhood fans out. I reach back with love and gratitude for my mom. I reach forward and love this unplanned journey, my children. I reach more to unfold my gratitude for the friends I have made through my children, and my gratitude unfolds even more tenderly for the friends of my children who are a special part of my life.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of us!

Is all of this to say that I would I hate chocolates in a goblet or a snuggles and a visit from my children? Absolutely not. But if not on the second Sunday of May, any day would do. You’re part of my journey, and that’s what I celebrate.

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.