This year, I am officially the Matriarch of our small family. So, yeah, you might want to say a prayer for my husband and kids. Matriarchs are not supposed to still be operating (at least mentally) on a 20 year-old level. I’m having to navigate everyone’s food preferences, and make sure that there is plenty of gluten-free stuff for my hubby, and non-Thanksgiving type food for my daughter. I have to make the Pumpkin Cheesecake, lest the entire family mutiny. I have to do most of the cleaning up for myself, because Mom is no longer here, and Gaylon and Abby are working. And I have to figure out how to make the things my mother always made, like her amazing fruit salad. And NO! I do NOT want it with yogurt or kefir or almond milk! Ewwww!!!! We are going to at least do the fruit salad correctly, and use good, old-fashioned Hellman’s Mayonnaise! And if we all die from it, at least we’ll die happy!

But in reality, all I want to do is crawl back into a safe place in my past, that looks something like this: I wake up on Thanksgiving morning to the entire house filled with the smells of my mother and grandmother cooking turkey in the kitchen. I will pad out to greet everyone, and there will be pumpkin pie (made by Granny), apple pie, and pumpkin bread (made by my mom) covering up one counter. (My brother will bring his World-Famous-Or-At-Least-It-Should-Be Pecan Pie when he shows up later.) My grandmother will probably already be tipsy, although there will be no evidence of this, since her main source of alcohol was the vanilla! Or vodka, but that’s another story. . . Daddy and Granddad will be drinking coffee and discussing all sorts of things that I don’t care about or understand, but now that I will never again awake to the hum of their voices, would give anything to hear. In addition to the wonderful smell of turkey, the air will be filled with the scent of coffee, cigarette smoke from my grandmother and my dad, and with the steam from the potatoes my mother is boiling on the stove.

Granny will worry that the turkey will be too done, and that the stuffing won’t work. She’ll fuss over how much it cost at Tootie’s, and whether or not she should have gotten the potatoes at another grocery store. Daddy will laugh at her, and tease her, and make her laugh, too. My grandfather will sit quietly, taking it all in. He was crippled, so he couldn’t do much around the kitchen, and wouldn’t want to, anyway, since he was born in the day when women did all the cooking. Except in my dad’s case, in which he was an amazing cook, and taught my mother how to cook after they married.

At some point, various relatives will show up. My brother will come, with his (now ex) wife and her bratty kids. She’ll bring sour cream potatoes that were absolutely divine. My Mom’s brother will probably come, too, with his wife and my two cousins. They will have already eaten at her mother’s house, but will make an obligatory stop at our place later in the afternoon, during a football game. Sometimes, my dad’s sister would come, too. Sometimes she brought people with her, sometimes not. My sister rarely joined us, but would call from Albuquerque and talk to Daddy, since we had different moms.

And ah, yes, the football game! After everyone has eaten their fill of the turkey, cornbread stuffing, giblet gravy, rolls, potatoes, corn casserole, fruit salad, cranberry sauce (plopped unceremoniously from the can onto a plate, which I always thought was hysterically funny), candied yams and green beans, we all migrate into the living room to watch football. My mother will scream and cuss and shake her fists at the television, never doubting that her antics would help propel her team to victory. I will probably fall asleep on the big floor pillow in front of the television. After the game, we will all wander back into the kitchen and eat more. There is, as of yet, no such thing as “Black Friday”. In a week or so, depending on when Thanksgiving falls, I will celebrate my birthday with my friend, Maureen, and we will watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at either her house or mine. And the whole world will feel completely safe and cozy, with no threat of ISIS or terrorism or economic meltdown.

All of that is, of course, an amalgam, a mixture of my memories of Thanksgiving with my family over the years. My brother and sister are still alive, as are my uncle and his family. Everyone else is gone now: my mom, my dad, my grandparents. And it feels very empty. My husband’s family usually doesn’t invite us to join them, now that his dad has passed. His mom just really isn’t up to it anymore. And even though we are back in Texas with most of the rest of the still-living family, it’s a long drive for any of us to get together, and now, of course, I’m on call for several births. Thanksgiving just ain’t what it used to be.

And yet, my little family still wants to get together and celebrate, and eat perennial favorites, like the corn casserole and the fruit salad. I am doing my best to fill in the gaping hole left by my mother, and yes, I’ve already sat down and cried my eyes out several times. I know I’m not done; this is our first year without her. But we will carry on, and we will enjoy each other and the food, and honor her memory, as well as the memory of all the others who no longer join us at our earthly table.

We are home from Midland, and my overwhelming feeling is one of total gratitude and thankfulness.  The only thing that could have made this Thanksgiving better would have been having all of my children and my Mother with me.  Perhaps next year.

We spent Thursday at my brother-in-law, Chuck’s, house.  It was cold outside, but we had a great time anyway!  And the food was excellent, too.  We enjoyed visiting with everyone and getting to see all of the nieces and nephews.  Abby was happy to meet several of her cousins that she’d never met before.  🙂 I loved hearing from our nephew, Joe, that he and his wife are in the process of adopting a child from someone who had been planning to have an abortion!  They found out about it and chose to give that baby the gift of life!  I am so proud of both of them, and of the mother, whoever she is, for being willing to carry the baby to term so they can adopt it.  Yes!

Then, that night, I got the rare and wonderful opportunity to stay up until 3:00 a.m. with my cousin, Pattye!  We were enjoying our visit so much that we didn’t realize how very late it had gotten.  I really cannot begin to express how much I enjoyed that evening by the firelight, recalling family members and places that we haven’t seen in years, and coming to realize how much we have in common with one another.  It is a memory I will cherish always!

Then yesterday, we had another Thanksgiving celebration at Pattye’s.  Pattye’s son, Heath, and his wife, Jessica, brought the turkey, dressing and corn casserole.  I made the sweet potato casserole.  Pattye and David covered the rest.  The result was wonderful!  It was a lot of fun getting to visit with Heath and Jessica, too.  I really enjoyed being around them.

Mike, Valarie and Pattye

My brother, Mike, came over with his family, and we got to meet his new granddaughter, Trinity.  Okay, I’m not a ‘baby freak’, so I sort of think that most babies are adorable, but not necessarily attractive.  But I have to say that little Trinity is absolutely beautiful!  She was so happy, too, laughing and smiling most of the day.  I gave her a Longhorns bib, because her mom is a huge Longhorn fan. 🙂  I really enjoyed visiting with my brother and his wife, too.  We really haven’t gotten to do much of that for far too long.

So, all-in-all, it was truly a time for thankfulness, and I was very blessed to be able to spend it with so much family!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving! There is so much horror in our world, I am grateful to have at least one day out of the year to just focus on blessings. I am grateful, most of all, for my Husband, my Children, and my Mother. Running a very close 2nd are all of my wonderful and amazing friends who have supported, comforted, and lifted me up in prayer over this past year. I would surely be in a padded cell by now, if it weren’t for them!

We are headed out in a couple of hours to our friend, Tiffany Galozzi’s home, where we are going to enjoy her wonderful cooking and hospitality. Woo Hoo! Then, tomorrow, we start decorating the house for Christmas, and finish the day up at the Trans Siberian Orchestra concert down in Greenville.

So, today I am going to start baking homemade rolls for Thanksgiving.  We are going to be at a friend’s home this year (Thanks, Tiffany!) so I don’t have to actually prepare the entire meal, which is so nice!  And, there will be about twelve people, so that will be really nice, too.  I really prefer Thanksgiving when there are a lot of folks to enjoy it with.

We are also going to be cleaning house today and tomorrow, because this weekend, we will be putting up all of our Christmas decorations!  So, I am thinking about the Holidays, and how fast they seem to be racing toward us.  It will all be here (and then gone!) before I know it.

Faith’s friend, Anamarie, said something the other day that really made me think. I have not looked forward to celebrating Christmas for a very long time, because it seems like we are always so short on money when it rolls around, no matter how much I’ve saved for it during the year.  (This year, for example, I have had to dump almost $1000 into my car in the past WEEK!  That was Christmas money.  Now, it’s just a painful memory. 🙁 )

But, back to Anamarie.  I was driving the girls somewhere, and she pipes up in her adorable little twelve-year-old voice and says “I can’t wait for Christmas!”  And I said “Really?  Why?  What is it that you enjoy most about Christmas?”  I wasn’t being sarcastic in any way.  I really wanted to know.  Sometimes it is just so nice to get a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a child.  It’s almost always a nicer place than I tend to think it is. Well, she explained that she loves putting up the tree, and opening presents, and getting to go to both of her grandmother’s homes for more presents and for yummy food.  Hmm.  I remember feeling excited about those things.  It was a long, long time ago.  Somehow that excitement has gotten away from me over the years.

Okay, I don’t mean to be on a total downer here.  I am merely taking an honest assessment.  And, yes, I am very well aware of the fact that Christmas is not supposed to be about all that stuff, but that all of that stuff is supposed to be about Christmas.  The birth of the Savior of the world, the Christ Child.  And we do things every year to remind ourselves of that fact, to celebrate and focus on that meaning.  We light the Advent Candles every evening, and pray together as a family.  We go to Daily Mass more often, and we attend special church services.  We celebrate Wigilia, and go to Midnight Mass.  And don’t get me wrong:  I *LOVE* those things!  But I still find it very difficult to get in the mood when the time comes.

But this year, I am really going to try, really hard, to focus on the *spirit* of the season, and not worry about all the rest of it.  Yes, I would really love a big family Thanksgiving or Christmas, where all my family joined us and we had this wonderful time together, then all went to church together.  I would love to feel a sense of hopefulness about the future of our country.  I would love to think that our house is about to sell! 😛  But none of those things are real.  What is real, though, is God, and the blessings that He has given us.  So, I am focusing on the blessings, and on being Thankful for them, as we Head for the Holidays.

Our family has been so busy already that it is difficult for me to believe that we are just now starting the “busiest” time of the year! So, let me catch up with everyone a bit with what’s going on in our world.

Back in October, Biltmore Farms Homes laid even more people off, and Gaylon was among them. It didn’t take long to realize that in Western North Carolina, there are no jobs here to be had, at least in anything that’s even remotely related to the construction business. We started praying, and trying to figure out what we should do.

So this past week, Gaylon flew out to Texas to meet with his nephew, James, who took over Gaylon’s dad’s business after he died.  James had a Project Estimator position he had been needing to fill, and offered it to Gaylon, and Gaylon accepted.  We are very excited that Gaylon is going to have a good job, making good money, doing something that he enjoys.  We are thrilled that we will be in closer contact with family, both his and mine.  The only thing we aren’t nuts about is that it is located just outside of Abilene.  None of us wants to live in West Texas.  We love the people there, just not the landscape.  I hated growing up out there and used to fantasize about what it would be like to grow up somewhere with trees!

Riverwalk - San Antonio, Texas

So, we are moving to San Antonio!  Yes, I know it’s hot there, and yes, I can speak Spanish. 😉 And yes, we all are aware that it is four hours south of Abilene.  Gaylon plans to commute on weekends, and possibly do some telecommuting.   We love south Texas, and we have even more family and friends down there. (And as my friend, Joanne, immediately observed, Texas is a “red state”!) Mom is thrilled, and will be moving with us.  All we have to do now is sell our house here in North Carolina.  As soon as that happens, we’re headed west!

Now, I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t say how very much we are going to miss our friends here in North Carolina.  How much we are going to miss our home, and these heavenly mountains.  To be brutally honest, I never wanted to leave this area.  I love it here, like I have loved no other place I have ever been.  And I love my friends here even more.  Without question, the hardest part of all of this is that Kendall will not be moving with us.  He is really enjoying UNC-A, and this is his home.  This is where he grew up, and all of his friends are here.  Most significantly, his girlfriend is here!  So, it’s not like I won’t be back to North Carolina on a regular basis.

Alexander will miss his friends, too, but he smells an adventure, and is very excited about it.  Faith is already grieving, but is hopeful (and so am I) that some of her friends will be able to come out to visit us.  I know this will be really tough on her.  However, her attitude is good, and she is being very accepting and understanding.  God has given me a peace about all of this, and although I know it’s going to be amazingly difficult, He will take care of all of us.

In other news. . . Gaylon and I celebrated 22 years of marriage last Saturday!  We didn’t do a whole lot, but we did go to Mass as a family, and the Mass was said for our intentions.  I couldn’t think of a better time for a Mass to be said for our family!  Then we all went out to dinner.  The only hiccup in the entire evening was when we found out that Carrabba’s no longer serves Tiramisu!!!  Wow. . . what a huge disappointment.  Other than that, the evening was wonderful.

Alex finished his stint with the Orphan Train on Sunday.  The play was a HUGE success, drawing sellout crowds and standing ovations every time.  Fortunately, somebody video recorded it, so we will have it on DVD!

Well, today is Thanksgiving, and I do have a meal to prepare.  I will say this, though.  This year, more so than in many, many, many years, our family has so very much to be thankful for.  In spite of the constant stream of discouraging and downright bad news from the media, I can see God’s hand so clearly in our lives, and feel His guidance and protection more now than ever before, I think.  Thanks be to God!

Thanksgiving is next week.  Based on the results of the recent presidential election, most Americans have nothing to be thankful for.  Over fifty percent of us voted for Obama, because he promised change.  I keep wondering, and indeed, have wondered all along, what “change” it is that everyone is so desperately seeking.

Well, my friend, Angela, sent me a link to an article that was written two years ago, but still applies today.  A few statistics are off, but the point is well made.  Even in this shaky economy, Americans have more tangible blessings than they can count.  And that, I believe, is what is wrong with most of us.  We are spoiled rotten.  And like all spoiled rotten brats, we always think we need “more”.   I think Craig R. Smith of WorldNetDaily says it far better than I could, so I am quoting his article below, in full.  To view the site, visit: Made in the USA: Spoiled Brats.

The other day I was reading Newsweek magazine and came across some poll data I found rather hard to believe. It must be true given the source, right? The same magazine that employs Michael (Qurans in the toilets at Gitmo) Isikoff. Here I promised myself this week I would be nice and I start off in this way. Oh what a mean man I am.

The Newsweek poll alleges that 67 percent of Americans are unhappy with the direction the country is headed and 69 percent of the country is unhappy with the performance of the president. In essence 2/3s of the citizenry just ain’t happy and want a change.

So being the knuckle dragger I am, I starting thinking, ”What we are so unhappy about?”

Is it that we have electricity and running water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Is our unhappiness the result of having air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter? Could it be that 95.4 percent of these unhappy folks have a job? Maybe it is the ability to walk into a grocery store at any time and see more food in moments than Darfur has seen in the last year?

Maybe it is the ability to drive from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean without having to present identification papers as we move through each state? Or possibly the hundreds of clean and safe motels we would find along the way that can provide temporary shelter? I guess having thousands of restaurants with varying cuisine from around the world is just not good enough. Or could it be that when we wreck our car, emergency workers show up and provide services to help all involved. Whether you are rich or poor they treat your wounds and even, if necessary, send a helicopter to take you to the hospital.

Perhaps you are one of the 70 percent of Americans who own a home, you may be upset with knowing that in the unfortunate case of having a fire, a group of trained firefighters will appear in moments and use top notch equipment to extinguish the flames thus saving you, your family and your belongings. Or if, while at home watching one of your many flat screen TVs, a burglar or prowler intrudes; an officer equipped with a gun and a bullet-proof vest will come to defend you and your family against attack or loss. This all in the backdrop of a neighborhood free of bombs or militias raping and pillaging the residents. Neighborhoods where 90 percent of teenagers own cell phones and computers.

How about the complete religious, social and political freedoms we enjoy that are the envy of everyone in the world? Maybe that is what has 67 percent of you folks unhappy.

Fact is, we are the largest group of ungrateful, spoiled brats the world has ever seen. No wonder the world loves the U.S. yet has a great disdain for its citizens. They see us for what we are. The most blessed people in the world who do nothing but complain about what we don’t have and what we hate about the country instead of thanking the good Lord we live here.

I know, I know. What about the president who took us into war and has no plan to get us out? The president who has a measly 31 percent approval rating? Is this the same president who guided the nation in the dark days after 9/11? The president that cut taxes to bring an economy out of recession? Could this be the same guy who has been called every name in the book for succeeding in keeping all the spoiled brats safe from terrorist attacks? The commander in chief of an all-volunteer army that is out there defending you and me?

Make no mistake about it. The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have volunteered to serve, and in many cases have died for your freedom. There is currently no draft in this country. They didn’t have to go. They are able to refuse to go and end up with either a ”general” discharge, an ”other than honorable” discharge or, worst case scenario, a ”dishonorable” discharge after a few days in the brig.

So why then the flat out discontentment in the minds of 69 percent of Americans? Say what you want but I blame it on the media. If it bleeds it leads and they specialize in bad news. Everybody will watch a car crash with blood and guts. How many will watch kids selling lemonade at the corner? The media knows this and media outlets are for-profit corporations. They offer what sells. Just ask why they are going to allow a murderer like O.J. Simpson to write a book and do a TV special about how he didn’t kill his wife but if he did … insane!

Stop buying the negative venom you are fed everyday by the media. Shut off the TV, burn Newsweek, and use the New York Times for the bottom of your bird cage. Then start being grateful for all we have as a country. There is exponentially more good than bad.

I close with one of my favorite quotes from B.C. Forbes in 1953:

‘What have Americans to be thankful for? More than any other people on the earth, we enjoy complete religious freedom, political freedom, social freedom. Our liberties are sacredly safeguarded by the Constitution of the United States, ‘the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.’ Yes, we Americans of today have been bequeathed a noble heritage. Let us pray that we may hand it down unsullied to our children and theirs.”

I suggest this Thanksgiving we sit back and count our blessings for all we have. If we don’t, what we have will be taken away. Then we will have to explain to future generations why we squandered such blessing and abundance. If we are not careful this generation will be known as the ”greediest and most ungrateful generation.” A far cry from the proud Americans of the ”greatest generation” who left us an untarnished legacy.

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