Cups of coffee and thanks

An old friend and colleague used to say about marketing, “You can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” I have expanded his advice over time to mean  fellowship and building relationships regardless of whether a future transaction is involved. To me, it is also a metaphor for saying thanks.

Cups of coffee (or tea, smoothie, etc) represent getting together for whatever reason. It could be to help a friend or the friend’s adult child network for a new or first job. It could be to meet to discuss how someone can follow their service bent and volunteer.

It could be catching up with an old friend you bumped into at the store. It could be to coach someone on an interview or offer snippets of advice to an adult child. Or, it could be to say thanks to someone for doing you a favor.

Whatever the reason, those cups of coffees represent more than the caffeine. They represent community. They represent gratitude.

Just like cups of coffee, you can never thank people enough. And, of course, you can order decaf. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving All

Even for our friends who do not celebrate Thanksgiving, peace be with you. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, bar none. Nineteen of us will sit down to dinner and fellowship.

This will need to be short as more preparation is required. We have been at this for ten days, but thank goodness people will be bringing food, drinks or ice.

Please remember this season all of the things to be thankful for. Also, note good news is vastly underreported and bad news is vastly overreported, so things are never as bad as they seem. With that said, there are too many who do without or less than we do in this country and world. There are too many that live in a more dangerous area than we do and are ostracized and disenfranchised daily.

Let’s be thankful for what we have and remember those who are not as comfortable as we are or are in severe need. All the best.

Let’s give thanks

My favorite holiday is upon us, one that brings families and friends together. We have a crowd of twenty-two joining our feast and fellowship this year, which is more than ever.

Especially nice will be seeing some new faces with our niece and two of our children each inviting a friend. It brings my wife and me joy to see them feel comfortable enough to invite a friend.

We will also be meeting the son of one of our nephews for the first time. They live in California and he has not had the opportunity to bring him east until now.

Of course, we are excited to have everyone here. My daughter asked how long ago did we start this tradition. When my grandmother passed away, going to her home for Thansgiving passed away with her. So, we remember her by making her cornbread dressing and continuing her  tradition.

Please enjoy your Thanksgiving and travel safely if you must. Hug everyone a little longer this year and share plenty of stories.

Safe travels and take along an extra dose of patience

In spite of retailers trying to steal the thunder, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It means time with family and friends. My favorite memories as a child were going to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. Now, we have that house, where we will host 15 or more folks for dinner. And, we honor my grandmother, who we called Big Mama, by making her cornbread dressing.

I have written before about Big Mama and Granddaddy. They were each very special people and very different personalities. My grandfather was very quiet and worked with his hands building houses. He also loved to fish and we would leave early morning to drive to the lake returning with endless lines of fish.

Big Mama was a character and had character. She was very funny and was as talkative as my grandfather was quiet. She worked in retail sales for years and had relationships with families as she helped dress their kids all the way through college. Yet, unlike today, she did not work in the store on Thanksgiving.

I bring this up today, as I want people to travel safely to their many destinations. This goes for folks in other countries as they begin travel for their various holidays and year-end events. With things that have occurred in Paris, Beirut, Egypt and Mali recently, we need to remind ourselves to live our lives to their fullest and hug our friends and loved ones closely when we see them.

And, as we travel, please take along an extra dose of patience. Many travel officials are doing their darnedest to make us safe from those who want to do people harm. Help them, help you by being patient, considerate and kind. Expect and plan for travel delays. And, always remember, we choose how we react to things. Don’t cede that power and get flustered by things that are outside of your control. People in line behind you do not want to be in the line with the exasperated or angry traveler, just as you don’t want to be behind one yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving all. Safe travels and may the force (of patience) be with you.

 

Travel safely and happy Thanksgiving

It looks like my youngest son will be traveling through some rain and snow as he ventures home from college. We have been watching the weather and it looks like he may get through early enough, but we will keep our fingers crossed. Unfortunately earlier options are not possible given the flights of students going home.

I wish for everyone who is traveling or has loved ones or friends who are traveling to do so safely and without too much disruption. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as it means fellowship with friends and families. To me, it is offensive that end of year holiday sales will ramp up on that day for some. I will take my usual pass on Black Friday and wish shoppers happy hunting.

I would encourage all to take the time Thursday to remember the ones who are no longer at the table. Tell stories about your fathers, mothers, uncles, grandparents, etc. who have passed away. Think of a few conversation starters to get the stories flowing. “Do you remember the time….” will work just fine in this regard. We will have several siblings of my wife at the table, so we will have many perspectives on family history. It is interesting how much is learned each year by all.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of my grandmother, whom we called Big Mama. Although she had the same name as the matriarch in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” my mother’s mother was not a mouse like the character in the play and movie. She was a character and had a lot of character. She would have stood up to Burl Ives’ Big Daddy in the movie version. She was the second youngest of a family of eleven kids, so she had to fend for herself with older brother and sisters.

Tomorrow, I will begin cutting up celery and onions as my wife makes Big Mama’s “egg bread” before we make her dressing on Thanksgiving day. Egg bread is cornbread with a few more eggs in it than normal. And, as any southern cook knows, you make your corn bread and only your corn bread in a certain iron skillet. Now, my wife tells me we will be using vegetable stock (rather than chicken stock) with the dressing this year for my traveling son and other vegetarians. Even my grandmother would go out of her way to welcome people, so she would be OK with this digression. To her, family is what it is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. If you do not celebrate such in your country, please think good thoughts about your lost loved ones and fellowship with others. Take care.

They’re all my chairs, but you can sit in that one

My grandmother, who we called Big Mama, lived life large. She was quite the character and was unlike the acquiescent namesake in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” She would tell you what she thought and was usually pretty funny in so doing. The title of this post is one of her familiar sayings. When she would get up from her chair to go in the nearby kitchen to begin cooking, we would ask if we could sit in her chair. To which she would respond, “They’re all my chairs, but you can sit in that one.”

Big Mama would have been 103 on her birthday next week, so she is in my thoughts. Although, she died fifteen years ago, her memories and funny stories echo and certain events will bring them to the forefront of my mind. In addition to being a character, she was a person of character. My grandmother had a tough time the last ten years of her life, as she worked on her feet most of her life as a clothing sales person. With osteoporosis, her body would begin falling apart and she would often fall breaking things. In fact, one doctor said he believed her hip just broke, then she fell.

She ran the Boys and Men’s Clothing sections of the stores where she worked in a large, small town. Her clients were lifelong, as men would get out of college and go see her to be fitted with a business wardrobe. My favorite story about Big Mama was when she teased her cheap boss in front of the President of the company who had come to visit. After lending the President her pen to write something down, he put it in his pocket. She said, “Sir, that is my pen. My boss is too cheap to buy us pens, so I brought that one from home.”  That got a chuckle, albeit a nervous one from her boss. She made the company so much money, she would not get chastised for telling the painful truth.

Yet, when I think about Big Mama, I think of Thanksgiving. Our ritual was to pack up our family and go to her house for the holiday. The family of one of my mother’s sisters would attend as would several of Big Mama’s close by siblings and their spouses, whose kids lived far away. Even after she could not walk much, my wife and I would go and she would direct us on how to make the various dishes. With her fingers ravaged by arthritis, I would tell her as she would micromanage too much, “Big Mama, don’t point that crooked finger at me,” to which she would laugh. To do this day, I make Big Mama’s cornbread dressing, which is the name it is given. To me, it is my way of paying it forward, as our house has become the go-to house for Thanksgiving.

Big Mama was the next youngest of a family of twelve. The rhythm method was not very effective as a birth control means. She got her large personality from her mother, whom everyone in the community called Mama, even my mother and her sisters. Mama was also the local medicine woman, as the hospital was so far away. Big Mama told us the story of her younger brother who knocked his front teeth out as he attempted being a gymnast unsuccessfully. Mama sat him down and boiled some water, while she rinsed his teeth off. She placed a towel in the hot water and gave it a quick rinse and told her youngest son to shove the towel into his gums. The gums swelled up and she jammed his teeth back in and they held. Big Mama learned from the best.

I have written before about my quiet grandfather. He and Big Mama were a perfect match, a yin and yang. My grandfather that I knew was my step grandfather, as Big Mama’s first husband did not stay home very much. She divorced him at a time when few people did, so it shows that she was not going to live with her mistake any longer. Being a small community, everyone understood. But, her greatest heartbreak was when she had to bury her youngest child, my favorite aunt. No mother or father should have to bury a child. I cannot imagine a greater heartbreak. While hard, we are heartbroken, but less surprised when we have to bury a spouse as we know that is part of the pact. Yet, a child should outlive his or her parents. Even when the child is in her fifties, it is still hard, especially after the child had health issues all her life.

She mourned my aunt’s passing until she died. Like any mother and daughter, they butted heads, but loved each other greatly. We all did. Big Mama, you are the best. You are one of the biggest characters I have known. You also were a person of character. We are better for having known you and you are still missed. Happy Birthday.

 

 

Have you noticed food with a geographic name costs more?

In the US, we are about to embark on my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. That is if the retailers who are opening stores early don’t ruin it. Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends and food. And, usually lots of it. Another nice feature is we usually honor those not with us anymore by breaking out the recipes of grandmothers, mothers, aunts and sisters (with some uncles and grandfathers thrown in). Since people come to my house for Thanksgiving, I am asked if we are going to make Big Mama’s dressing and no, that is not from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

One of things we don’t serve is the geographically named foods that you see in restaurants or high-end meat or fish markets. Whereas, Thanksgiving food is usually named for a person whose recipe it follows, restaurants and markets tend to name food by geography or style of feeding. Why? So, they can charge you more, of course.

Sir, would you like to try our Chilean Sea Bass or North Atlantic Salmon this evening? How about some Alaskan King Crab, North Carolina Trout or Deep Sea Scallops, instead? If you want some beef, we have some Kobe beef which is delicious or we have free-range chicken. The latter one has always puzzled me, as on the opposite end, you have an un-named chicken producer who gorges his chickens on corn so much, the chicken has a distinctive yellow color – there is nothing free range about it. The free range, is better for the environment, though as more grasslands absorb carbon from the air, but does it do anything for the taste?

Of course, we take it to an extreme in the US, by having restaurants that are marketed as if they are authentic food from another part of the world. Most Americans do not know that Outback is owned by a Florida company with numerous other restaurant brands. Our friend Judy from Australia would likely question some of the menu items. So, we fork over a slight premium to get the perceived Australian version of a steak and blooming onion, one of the most sinfully good and heart-unhealthy dishes around. To Outback’s credit, people are willing wait in line for a long time to get in.

Like Outback, what is interesting about all of these names of food is the lack of verification of authenticity. Chilean Sea Bass has been overfished, so the supply cannot meet the demand. Cod from Cape Cod near Massachusetts is dangerously low in stock. So, what you are eating is probably not what is named. Deep sea scallops is a terrific misnomer as it is likely shark meat. You can usually tell by the uniformity of the cut of the scallops – real scallops are like snow-flakes and have different shapes. And, we could spend a lot of time talking about truffles whose market has been infiltrated by cheap knock-off versions from Asia rather than Europe, where they are sniffed out by specially trained dogs (talk about an asset).

So, the next time you are in a restaurant or market, look at the prices and see if a pattern emerges. If you want to have fun, you could ask is this really Chilean Sea Bass? Or, you could stay home and have some reheated Joe’s turkey, Big Mama’s dressing with Linda’s cranberry relish. They won’t mind a bit. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.