My Best Thanksgiving

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Growing up primarily homeless with divorced parents means I was bounced around a lot as a child. My grandparents were the most stabilizing presence in my life. On the occasion that I happened to spend Thanksgiving with my grandparents, I remember it being a big production.

My grandmother would get up at 3 am to put the turkey in the oven and start the preparations. My grandparents lived on a farm when I was growing up. Just because it was Thanksgiving, did not mean it was a day off. The animals still needed to be tended and the chores still needed to be done, even if it was Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving meal was always served mid-day at my grandparent’s house. That way, it was in between morning and afternoon chores so my grandfather and uncles had time to sit down to enjoy the meal. Hence, my grandmother getting up at 3 am to start cooking. The Thanksgiving meal would be served sometime between 11 am and 1 pm. Closer to 11 am was preferable, closer to 1 pm was only if there was some unexpected delay.

When not at my grandparent’s house, I was tossed around between different relatives. In addition to having divorced parents, my mom was a nurse and nurses don’t always get holidays off either. My dad lived in another state, so there was always travel involved.

As an adult, I have always said I do not want to travel on holidays. I just want to stay in my house with my cats and celebrate the holiday. My cats are my family. By staying home with them, I am celebrating the holiday with family. 

There was one year where I did go somewhere to celebrate a holiday. I remember it was New Year’s Eve. I was completely miserable at this New Year’s Eve party I attended. I would have been happier at home with my cats. The entire time I was at the party, I felt guilty for not spending the holiday with my family. I have since renewed my vow to spend holidays with my family.

So for the past 20 years or so, I have spent every single holiday home alone with my cats. I am completely okay with that. I get plenty of phone calls, text messages and letters in the mail from humans. Holidays are family time and the cats are my family.

So spending Thanksgiving home alone with the cats during a pandemic was no big deal for me. It was just like any other Thanksgiving. While most of America completely ignored CDC recommendations and chose to risk their lives and the lives of other people to travel on Thanksgiving, I stayed home like I always do. I was perfectly happy.

Twenty years ago I cooked a big turkey Thanksgiving and had friends over. Even though I do not want to go anywhere on holidays, I don’t mind if people visit me. Cooking Thanksgiving was a lot of work. I did it once. I said I would not do it again. I haven’t.

In Thanksgivings since, I have been way too tired to do anything special for Thanksgiving. I spent 15 years working 2 or 3 jobs often 7 days a week trying to make ends meet. Holidays were the only times I ever got a day off. So instead of cooking anything special for Thanksgiving, I would often just put a frozen pizza in the oven and sleep. I was exhausted. I was just happy to have the day off to be home with the cats.

When I finished my master’s degree 5 years ago, I decided to cook Thanksgiving to see what it would be like to be a “normal,” non-student adult. However, instead of cooking any sort of poultry, I made a lentil loaf. I remember being in the kitchen almost all day. If you have ever cooked a lentil loaf from scratch, you know it takes about 3 hours to do so, provided you have soaked the lentils overnight ahead of time.

I got up early to cook so that my meal was ready about noontime, same as when I was a child. Cooking Thanksgiving that year was a lot of work. I even went out of my way to make an allergy-friendly pumpkin pie. That was another endeavor that took hours to make. Of course the allergy friendly pie crust was made and rolled out by hand too. 

Again, after that Thanksgiving, I said never again. I was not going to get up early and spend the entire day cooking just for one meal. It’s not worth it. For the record, the lentil loaf was excellent. I have made it many times since then. However, I do not spend hours making mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the other things to do with it. It is much more manageable to make the lentil loaf by itself on a long weekend.

This year, being in quarantine, I am home all the time. I really wanted to do something to make the holidays extra special this year to break up the monotony and to feel like I was really getting a break and having a special treat. 

I decided to cook Thanksgiving this year. However, I told myself that based on my past experience watching my grandmother toil in the kitchen at 3 am, that I was not going to do that. However I chose to cook Thanksgiving this year, I would rather have my meal later than get up that early just to cook a meal.

Plus, as a single person, a turkey is a bit much. Yes, you can always have leftovers, but I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of cooking an entire turkey. When looking in my cupboards, I do not even have any pans or cookware that is big enough or adequate to cook a turkey.

So while I decided I would cook Thanksgiving this year, I came up with a completely different plan and it worked perfectly. In fact, Thanksgiving 2020, in the middle of being quarantined in a global pandemic, was the best Thanksgiving of my entire life. Here is how it happened.

The cats actually let me sleep in for an extra hour on Thanksgiving morning. I was surprised. They usually don’t let me over sleep for too long before they start fussing around me wanting their breakfast. But on Thanksgiving morning, I had an extra hour of sleep. Thank you, furballs.

My morning went as usual. I even had time to sit on the couch with my coffee and relaxed listening to a CD. After my relaxing morning routine, I went to the kitchen to set up the crockpot.

I cooked my entire Thanksgiving meal in the crockpot. It resulted in less dishes, less mess, and less work on my part.

I sliced open a sweet potato and put the two halves on the bottom of the crockpot. When the crockpot was done later in the day, I essentially had a baked sweet potato. On top of the sweet potato, I put a Cornish game hen. The Cornish game hen I had gotten on an Instacart order back in September. It had been in my freezer waiting for Thanksgiving. The biggest prep I had to do was remembering to pull the Cornish game hen out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator a few days before Thanksgiving.

The Cornish game hen went in the crock pot on top of the sweet potato. I then opened a can of cranberry sauce and a can of mandarin oranges and out those in. This way, the Cornish game hen would have a cranberry-orange glaze, and the sweet potato would too. 

Now, there is a saying that “nobody likes it from the can” when it comes to cranberry sauce. I have to agree. I have made fresh cranberry sauce before from a bag of cranberries. However, I did not want to go to the hassle of making cranberry sauce from scratch. Not to mention, that when you put canned cranberry sauce in the crockpot, it makes it indistinguishable. By the time the crockpot is done, both the Cornish game hen and the sweet potato are cranberry flavored. There is no way to tell the difference between if fresh cranberries or canned cranberries were used, so I just used canned. Less work for me.

I set the crockpot up and went about my day until my Thanksgiving dinner was done. Thanksgiving dinner ended up being ready at about 5:30 pm, which was in line with my normal meal time and medication schedule. Another challenge with special holiday meals is trying to coordinate your food schedule with your medication schedule when you happen to be on a medication that requires you take it with food. I planned Thanksgiving dinner to replace my normal evening meal. I also had a bottle of sparkling white grape juice ($3), which was easier to obtain and way more affordable than if I had wine ($25).

For the record, the cats had Thanksgiving too. I wanted to make the day special for them also so that they would know it was Thanksgiving and not just another day. I do not ever feed the cats anything other than their prescribed cat food, but on Thanksgiving, I split a packet of tuna fish between the 3 of them. If they only get tuna fish on Thanksgiving, then they know that is a special day. This year was Jolene’s first Thanksgiving with us, so that made it even more special.

While Thanksgiving was cooking in the crockpot, I was able to get a lot done around the house. I watched two Thanksgiving movies. I pulled out my Christmas CDs and put them on.  I put up the Christmas tree and decorations. I wrapped all the Christmas presents.

It was a very relaxing day.

After my Thanksgiving meal in the evening, I watched a Christmas movie with the Christmas tree lights on. The cats and I had a great day. 

This was the best Thanksgiving I have ever had in my life. I was home with my family, the ones I love. I had a special meal that came out great and took little fuss to make. I think a cranberry-orange Cornish game hen with sweet potatoes sounds like Thanksgiving to me. It took a lot less work than a if I had done a traditional turkey.

Although, while the meal was great, I think next year I may try a boneless turkey breast or do boneless chicken breasts instead of a Cornish game hen to be honest with you. 

Many Americans this year were in uproar over COVID and Thanksgiving. Many people risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to see their family. They just could not give up their traditional Thanksgiving to save their lives. 

I’m not judging. I just don’t understand it. The cats and I are “alone” every year. I was not lonely. People do call to wish my Happy Thanksgiving. I spent the holiday with my cats – my family and the ones I love. Thanksgiving could not have been better for me. I don’t understand why people have to put so much pressure on one day to tell people we love them. You should be telling people you love them every day. Life is short.

This year we are thankful to be alive. We are thankful to be together. The future is not promised.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone. The cats and I are having the best Thanksgiving of our lives.

The Fourth R

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The last of the grapes I ate the other day. I am pretty sure those are the last grapes I am going to have for a very long time due to scarcity and price gouging.

We all know the three R’s. We grew up with reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, the three R’s are typically reduce, reuse, recycle. To the three modern R’s, there is a fourth R in our COVID-19 world, ration.

At first blush, there does not seem to be much difference between reduce and ration. They both indicate a decrease of some kind. However, when I sat down and thought about it, I realized that the difference between the two concepts is macro and micro.

When I think of reduce, I think of concepts like minimalism. Minimalism typically involves reducing the total number of items in your home. It also involved purchasing less things. Not only are you bringing less items into your home, but you are paring down items that are in your home so that overall, you have less. This is on the macro scale.

When I think of ration, I think on the micro scale. We take the items that we have and use less of them. We are not reducing – getting rid of the item – because it is an essential item. However, we are using less of that essential item so that it lasts longer.

The reason why I am focusing on rationing during this period of time is that I am trying to reduce my expenses. Mass layoffs are real now, people.

If we can make what we have last longer, then that is less money we have to spend in replenishing essential items. We are also leaving essential items on the shelf for someone else to have in this time of scarcity.

It is not just about toilet paper anymore. People are hoarding all types of things. If you run out of an item, you may not be able to get another one, either in-store or online.

Items that I have had difficulty obtaining include: feminine hygiene products (this is a REAL problem, people – bigger than toilet paper), fresh foods, pet products, and canned goods.

I did not realize how wasteful I am as a person until I started thinking of this idea of rationing. I am trying to reduce my water, gas, and electric bills. I am trying to reduce how often I use things inside my house to delay when I need to purchase more.

Some ways I am trying to be more mindful:

  • I am now actually paying attention to how much laundry soap I am using. Those little lines inside the cap mean something. Laundry soap is one of the “specialty items” I have to get due to my multiple food allergies. Most commercial laundry soap contains almond oil, which means my clothes could send me into anaphylactic shock if I did not have “special” laundry soap. I am trying to be conservative with how much of my “specialty” laundry soap I am using since it is now almost impossible to obtain.
  • To that end, I am trying to wear clothing items more than once before washing. I am also getting more uses out of items such as towels before washing them.
  • Toilet paper. Yes, I am now counting sheets of toilet paper used. Look, toilet paper scarcity was a real problem in my childhood. This situation is not helping.
  • I am using my crock pot more. This week, I have used it every other day. I am literally using all of the fresh food in my house. I am not throwing anything away. If something looks like it is starting to go bad before I can “use” it, I am throwing it in the crock pot with anything I can to make a soup, stew, whatever just so I do not “lose” that item.
  • I made chicken breast with vegetables in my crock pot. It was the best piece of chicken I have ever had in my entire life. I will not bake or grill chicken again. Any time I have chicken in the future, I am going to cook it in the crock pot. Crock pot chicken is amazing.
  • My dish soap is also a “specialty” item due to multiple food allergies. I am very conscious of how much dish soap I am putting in the sink to wash dishes now.
  • I am unplugging everything when I am not actively using it. This includes the microwave and coffee pot. If they are unplugged, they are not drawing power.
  • Since I got my pixie haircut a year or so ago, I use less soap and shampoo. Again, all my soap and shampoo are specialty allergy-friendly items that come from one company in California. I am serious that if this goes on much longer and I cannot get a haircut, I may shave my head.
  • Kitty litter and trash bags. I use trash bags to line my cat pans for easier clean up. I am trying to reduce both the amount of kitty litter I use and the trash bags I am using for liners by scooping their cat pans more often. My trash hauler requires us to use 13-gallon clear trash bags, and those are difficult to obtain right now, both in-person and online. 

Anyone have any other suggestions for rationing or ways to reduce expenses when stuck at home?

Stay safe and well.