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.

Minimalist Holidays in a Pandemic

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Jolene sleeping hard wrapped in a blanket.

The snow is falling outside and it is absolutely stunning. There are about 3 inches currently on the ground. It is early morning, the sun is up. We just went through Daylight Savings and are now on the sense of time I enjoy the most. It is November 2 and this is our first snowfall of the season. 

What makes it even better is that I don’t have to drive in it. The car is in the garage in case the man who does the snow plow comes. I have the day off, but even if I didn’t, I would be working from home.

I am inside the house with the cats nice and warm enjoying some Sinatra and coffee watching birds and snow. Life is good. 

It’s holiday time. I will tell you that due to the food shortages, I already started holiday planning back in September. This year is going to be the first time I have cooked something special for Thanksgiving in 5 years, since 2015.  In 2015, as I finished my Master’s degree, I decided to cook a lentil loaf for Thanksgiving to celebrate my retirement from being a college student. The lentil loaf was so good it has become a staple food item in winter that I make about once a month or so.

This year will be the first time in almost 20 years that I have bothered to cook any type of poultry for Thanksgiving. I have a Cornish game hen in my freezer that has been there since the end of September. There is no point in cooking an entire turkey for just me. I am going to put the Cornish game hen in the crockpot with cranberry and orange. It is the perfect size for one person while still being a “full” poultry. 

I am also hoping to make sweet potatoes with it, if I can get them. If not, I have plenty of yellow potatoes in my house right now. But sweet potatoes would be a special treat. 

I am just happy that the cats and I are all in the house together and safe. That is definitely something to celebrate in this hellish year. The way things are going with the virus and the economy, we may be dead next year, or we may not be in the house. But for now, things are good, and we are going to celebrate the holidays. The cats and I are truly home. This is the highlight of my life.

For Christmas, I am going to keep everything the same as every other year. The goal is for the cats to think everything is normal. I don’t want them to know we are living in a global pandemic and the world is in crisis. I’m trying to shield them from that and give them a good life.

This will be Jolene’s first Christmas with us. I adopted her in January last year, right after the holidays. It will be her first time with a stocking, a Christmas tree and presents.

Since I only had two little stockings, I went and hand-sewed brand-new stockings this year, so that all three cats have a stocking and they all match. Jolene needed a stocking. I did not want her stocking to be any different from the boys because I work hard to treat them all the same. So I took some Christmas theme fabric I have and made them all a stocking.

In our house, Santa fills the stocking. He comes down the chimney, fills the stocking, and goes. Presents under the tree come from mom and each cat typically gets 1 to 3 presents each. 

Since being in the house, Christmas is especially exciting because we have a fireplace with a real chimney so Santa does not have to use a “special key.” Santa usually fills the stockings with a few small toys and treats.

I added one Christmas present for each cat onto the October Chewy order to be sure I have their presents. The next Chewy food order does not arrive until sometime in December, and I didn’t want to put the presents on that order that close to Chrismtas in case it didn’t arrive on time. 

So each cat has one present from mom this year. Santa will fill their stockings with small toys (I have some left over from a package of toys from last year that I kept for this year). I will add cat treats for the stockings to my Instacart order.

Christmas for humans is another story. Again, I typically do 1 to 3 presents for each person I buy a present for. Usually everyone gets one present, so that won’t change too much this year. I honestly don’t have money for Christmas.

The only change will be in type of gift. While I usually do a gift bag of various coffees, teas, and cocoa for people, this year the gift bag will be one coffee and potentially one other item.

The formula for this year for gifts is going to be: coffee, hat, or socks.

These are all items I can get, and they are all “essential” items. I am not going to have someone risk their life in a pandemic for a Christmas present. That’s cruel and inhumane. 

Fancy coffee I can add to my Instacart order and get rather easily with my normal grocery order. It’s nice at Christmas to be able to splurge on the expensive or fancy coffee to enjoy as you watch snow falling out the window.

A hat or socks is something you can wear and keeps you warm. Therefore, they are essential. I have been focusing on hats and socks this year mostly because I am cold. If you have a hat and warm socks, then you will be warmer. A lot of us are having financial difficulty in the pandemic and can’t afford the heating bills. If you have to turn your heat down to try to keep the bill down, then a hat and warm socks are going to be needed to stay warm. 

Socks are one of the most requested items by homeless people. Take it from a former homeless person, a warm pair of socks is like Christmas. So this year, a warm pair of socks may just be Christmas.

Back in the First Great Depression in the 1930s, Christmas gifts were often something to eat or something to wear. Children would often find an orange or some other citrus in their stocking because citrus was hard to come by. There might be a yo-yo or small hand carved toy.

In this line, the cats get some treats and some small toys in their stocking.

During the First Great Depression a Christmas present might be a scarf or gloves that someone hand crocheted or knit. I don’t have that kind of talent. But I can order warm hats and warm socks. 

Another Christmas throwback this year will be method of delivery. I’ve seen old home movies from back in the 1950s. A beloved family member comes home for the holidays. They pull in the drive way and pop open the trunk of the car to display a pile of wrapped presents inside. There is one for each family member. 

In the event I cannot figure out any other way to safely deliver presents this year, that is what I will be doing. Open my trunk and grab your present. Safe and socially distant.

Another tradition in which I have been engaging for a long time that I am hoping gains widespread adoption this year is card writing. 

I always take time to write personalized messages in cards for that person. Someone told me recently that the only thing they want from me for Christmas this year is a card because I write great cards. In this socially distanced pandemic, I am hoping that card writing like that catches on.

We cannot be together this year. We still need to be sure that people hear things they need to hear. We need to be sure that people know how we feel abut them, especially with so many dying. May your Christmas cards this year give you the opportunity to send heartfelt messages to people you are unable to see.

I am not sure if we will be doing photo cards for Christmas this year or not. I will decide that next week. It mostly depends on if I can afford them. I want to do them, for the cats. I have great photos of all of them for this year’s Christmas card. The only one I do not have a great photo of for this year is me. But it’s not about me. It’s about the cats. We will see if we do a photo card this year or not in addition to the traditional hand-written cards.

Luckily, I have enough Christmas items so I do not have to worry about buying gift bags, wrapping paper, etc. Most people do. I’m sure if you look around the house you will realize you have enough Christmas stuff too and don’t need to buy anything.

I will admit that when I buy gift bags, etc I try to get them in neutral red and green colors. This way I can use them for birthdays and other holidays, not just Christmas. I have some Christmas theme tissue paper to make them festive. That way I get a lot of mileage over any packaging I may buy.

There is also the old stand-bys of using newspaper and paper bags as wrapping paper too. You can even draw and color on them to make it more special.

The only differences the pandemic is making in my minimalist holidays is that people are strictly getting one present, where some years there may have been 2 or 3. Also, less people will be getting presents this year than usual. I just don’t have the money. But people will still be getting cards with heartfelt messages. Sometimes the present is just that I am happy you are alive.

How will you be spending the holidays in a pandemic?

Nothing to wear

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One of my favorite bloggers is Courtney Carver, who authors both Be More With Less  and Project 333. Courtney helps to bring minimalism into the realm of reality acknowledging that the movement is not an exercise in sacrifice or denial, but rather an effort to live life more fully with the people and experiences most important in our lives.

To this end, I have been following the Project 333 movement, without exactly conforming to its specifications. I honestly am completely unaware of how many items of clothing I have. My efforts have been to strive for an amount that is enough without being overwhelming. Over the past few years, I have been trying to move away from the familiar distain of standing in front of an overstuffed closet complaining I have “nothing to wear” to a more simplified and streamlined morning routine. My goal is for all of my clothing to fit into my closet and dresser without having numerous storage bins scattered around the house trying to contain the overflow. I want to be comfortable in my clothes while being able to meet the demands of the activities in my life. I want to wear things that I love every single day.

Since following Project 333 and putting many of the suggestions into action, I have found that I spend less time doing laundry, less time worrying about going shopping for certain items of clothing, less time packing when I travel, and more time enjoying things in my life that were previously lost due to never ending cycles of laundry.

I have less decision fatigue and less stress in my life. I am no longer running late in the morning throwing various items of clothing around only to come home to a mess of shirts and pants scattered around the bedroom.

Perhaps some of the most helpful tips I have garnered from Project 333 include only wearing what I love, and choosing items that are timeless. If I wear something and find it to be completely uncomfortable or frumpy, then it is the last time I wear that outfit and it ends up in the donate pile. I am then left with items in which I am comfortable wearing every single day. I have noticed that this has left me with a uniform of sorts – dress pants or jeans paired with v-neck tops in various colors. While uniforms sound boring and remind me of private school when I was a teenager, they are in fact, quite versatile. I have plenty of colors to choose from and can mix and match items if I stick to solids and minimize prints.

Minimizing my wardrobe is definitely a work in progress. I am still not quite sure what to do with all my race shirts, and I still have one storage container full of clothes that is too many for my comfort level. My goal is to have all my clothes fit into my closet and one dresser with perhaps one storage bin of seasonal items that rotate in and out. I am currently at two storage bins, mostly due to race shirts and some sentimental items that I have been putting off facing.

Getting dressed for the day is quite simple. If I hit the snooze button too many times, I am no longer slowing my morning down even further by trying to decide what to wear. I can virtually pull any pair of pants out of the drawer and match them with the nearest top. I have kept my dress slacks and dress skirts with blazers for more formal or professional events such as when I defended my thesis. I have some sundresses that I love to wear for the summer.

Laundry has always been something that stresses me out. I was typically doing two to three loads per week. I don’t understand how one person can produce so much laundry! Now that I have streamlined my wardrobe, I typically have one load per week, sometimes two if I am washing a load of running gear. Growing up, I remember laundry day was always this huge event, where the car was literally loaded with clothes. Once a month, I would be dropped off to do 10-15 loads of laundry. We needed a huge amount of clothes to be able to make it to laundry day once a month. They were not even in laundry baskets – there would be huge trash bags full of clothes. I do not ever want to spend one entire day each month doing laundry again. Creating a capsule or minimalist wardrobe may mean that you have to do smaller loads more frequently, but it is better than losing one entire day per month to laundry.

I am fortunate that I now have a washer and dryer at my house and can avoid the Laundromat. However, if you do have to use the Laundromat, it may be easier to spend two hours twice a month than an entire day once a month. Can you pare back your clothes so that you have enough to last two weeks instead of an entire month? Less clothes means less stress in maintenance and ensures that you are only wearing what you truly love and not items that don’t fit well or don’t feel right.

I have learned that my experiences are more important than what I am wearing. I do not need a t-shirt for every place I visit or event I attend. Memories of the experience are more important. With a streamlined wardrobe, I can easily find what I want, and am not spending a lot of time washing, drying, folding, and ironing. I take that time and spend it with my family and friends.

If you find yourself standing in front of your closet every morning with “nothing to wear,” you may want to consider Project 333. The best part is, you can break the rules. You do not have to feel like it is an exercise in sacrifice or denial, if 33 does not work for you, then try 58 or 75. Whatever works for you is fine! The goal is not the number; the goal is to simplify your day so that you have more time doing things you love. Maybe your goal is not a specific number, but maybe space issues like mine. Maybe you want all of your clothes to fit in a certain container or area. However you choose to incorporate Project 333 into your life, you will feel the effects of the program in all aspects of your life. You will have more time and feel happier being able to engage in activities you love with less stress.

With the holiday season upon us, we can all use less stress and more time with those we love. It’s time to stop standing in front of a stuffed closet with “nothing to wear.”