Into the Woods

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At that dark time of year when every cell in my body screams out hibernation, my husband and I ventured over the river . . . and stayed in the woods for Thanksgiving. Our daughter flew off to spend the holiday with relatives in more exotic climes, so we found ourselves suddenly on our own without family or friends, no dish to prepare for a lavish meal, no festive gathering to clean for or drive to.

Instead, we walked into the forest on a day that could have been mistaken for early spring and listened to the birds chatter, squirrels rustle and ancient trees still hum with the loss of their kin to a pioneer’s axe. The eccentric Scotsman who found this enchanted spot full of caves, underground springs and streams, bought the land not to plunder and clear, but to preserve.

What remains are some of the few remaining acres of virgin timber in the state and country, a landscape littered with the carcasses of dead giants, petrified beneath the gentle shade of their younger brethren, their memory enshrined in sacred roots. Dotted here and there you can still find a living elder, oaks with many limbs amputated, beeches tattooed in initials long forgotten, centuries documented by burls and knots and hollowed trunks.

And so it came to pass this year, while others gathered at the lodge to feast and play, we walked hallowed ground in the hush of our own kind of holiday, gratitude for the presence of these gentle giants singing in our hearts.

The Downsizing Dozen: Diminished Drumsticks

Over the last few years, gatherings around our extended family’s holiday table have dwindled, sad to say. We’ve lost the older generation of grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and while I’m blessed to still have both my parents, the scores of side dishes and days of preparation are over.

Dinner was pretty simple this year: my dad’s special brined turkey and sausage stuffing, the creamed onions he only makes at Thanksgiving, my mom’s fancy cranberry sauce spiked with undiluted Grand Marnier liqueur, and a pumpkin pie using almond instead of cow’s milk to accommodate my new diet. Mashed potatoes and roasted butternut squash rounded out the menu, and I even tried my first turkey liver to fulfill a weekly quota of organ meat.

I have to admit it was refreshing not to crowd my plate with so many different foods that outer fringes of peas and brussels sprouts rolled off the brink, and real estate around my place setting became a maze of bread plates, dessert forks and wine glasses. In the past, main dishes grew cold waiting for the rest of the meal to find its way to the table. My mother was often so exhausted the next day that my father took her out for a drive and a nice lunch to get her away from the tremendous pressure of the holidays.

There were just four of us gathered for the holiday meal this year. No need for place cards or a children’s table. The kitchen counter wasn’t groaning under the weight of dirty pots and pans. Clean up took an hour instead of a whole night switching sodden dish drying towels. Our smaller turkey actually fit into the refrigerator along with a manageable amount of leftovers.

And while I do miss the relatives who made the holidays special and colorful, let it be known that I’ll never wish to live up to the reputation of a Norman Rockwell holiday feast ever again, however nostalgic.

Happy holidays from 900 square feet.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, Make It Stick in August, Following Your Feet in September, and Case of the Missing Mac in October.

My Reason for the Season

Thanksgiving is becoming an afterthought in our quest to rush through the holidays. The fact that it’s slinking in the backdoor of November this year doesn’t help. My husband and I caught the tail end of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on primetime TV last night and wondered, Since when did they start running this stop-motion harbinger of Christmas toy commercials before the Thanksgiving bird is even stuffed?

Sure, there is lip service done to the practice of gratitude over a gluttonous meal on a particular November Thursday, but I can’t seem to block out the noisy fights over stores opening early to beat the Black Friday rush, or the mistreatment committed on poultry farms, or the ever-popular fears about blowing our restrictive diets.

In a few hours I will pull down the lid to my laptop of turmoil and shut off the world’s woes for a journey of reflection. Winter’s sharp tongue causes me to pull inward, to sit by the home fires and whisper encouraging words to myself as encompassing darkness approaches.

My tasks are laid out like soft flannel for the long night. I have a new body to get to know, a pile of worries and baggage to knit up into something useful, and a half-century of traditions and habits that need to be sorted and tossed into the flames. There is a waiting host of wondrous dreams that have existed only in my imagination. Their frail constitutions need warming in the glow of possibility.

My wish is simple. May you be able, in this spinning holiday dervish of a dance, to find a quiet corner, to stand stock still until the ripples fade from your over-scheduled lives. And clearly see who you are.