A Thanksgiving Full of Turkeys

Whenever I used to be on the verge of making a decision that Andy didn’t think was a good idea, to try to remind me of a past bad “I told you so” decision, he would say two words– “Bill Hicks”.  That was in reference to a time when I played a comedy album (on cassette) of that late profane comedian for my parents, who were visiting from out of town.  “I wouldn’t do that,” he warned.  “It’s pretty blue.” I insisted on playing it anyway, telling him I’d play side one only, that the stuff he was thinking about was on side two. “I think you’re wrong,” he warned again. He was right. It was more than blue, and my face was more than red to be listening to it in my parents’ presence.  But now I finally have two simple words that I can say to him to remind him of when I was right: “propane tank”.

See, we hosted 18 people for Thanksgiving a few days ago, the first time I think we’ve ever played host on that holiday, and Andy and I decided a few days ago to have a “turkey-off”, a little friendly informal competition to see who could cook the best-tasting bird.  He wanted to smoke a turkey indirectly on a gas grill; I wanted to bake one in the oven.  The oven would be more of a sure thing, I felt, since I’d done that before on Christmas awhile ago, and it was fine.  I planned to just follow the directions on the bag like I did before.  Keep it simple, I thought, since that was kind of the theme of our Thanksgiving this year– we were providing the meat and everyone else was bringing side dishes.  Besides, why would I want to try something new with 18 guests coming? Besides, with three family birthday celebrations all happening this month as well, keeping things simple was a necessity.

But…that was hard for me to do when the newspaper, every day, was showing new and tasty ways to prepare Thanksgiving food.  At every checkout line, Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart and Paula Deen were yelling at me from the magazine covers…and then Andy started buying his supplies, and they were showing up on the kitchen counter. A bag of wood chips. A new digital meat thermometer… and celery, onions, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  “I’m doing what’s called the Simon and Garfunkel method,” he proudly proclaimed.  And all I was planning to do was follow directions from the bag of a Wal-Mart turkey? What’s that, the Hank Williams, Jr. method?

I started asking friends how they were planning to fix their turkey, and got a few more ideas.  When my friend Shannon mentioned how she used the Alton Brown method, and that even her husband, who is a chef, was impressed, I decided to look it up.  Alton is a Food Network star and I quickly found it at bonappetit.com.  It involved brining, or soaking the bird overnight in a salt and vegetable broth solution, then cooking it at a very high heat for 30 minutes to crisp up the skin and lock in the juices, and turning down the oven to 350 for the rest of the cook time.  Interesting. I mentioned the method to Andy. “I’m brining mine, too,” he said, and explained that’s why he’d been washing out our coolers. Well, that decided it for me.  If  he could “brine”, then I could, too.

He let me choose the cooler I wanted to use and I started buying my supplies.  We discussed our plans further.  “What are you going to do if the grill’s propane tank runs out while you’re cooking?” I asked him.  “Shouldn’t you have a spare ready just in case?” (As longtime Uncool Mom readers may remember, I’m usually the grillmeister at our house and indirect gas grilling is my cooking method of choice…) I told him that better yet, if he didn’t want to buy another tank, he could cook it a day ahead of time to make sure stores would be open if he needed to run out to get ours refilled (or traded in for another).  From past experience, I’ve had propane tanks run out “mid-steak” several times…but in the true “I’ll take risks” way of life that cause men’s insurance rates to be higher than women’s, he chose to go forward with only the propane tank on hand, and cook it a few hours before he planned to serve it.

Thanksgiving Day dawned later than usual for me– I’d been up til 3 a.m. the night before, setting tables, cleaning house, and preparing the brining solution (I’d spent much of Wednesday helping Allison celebrate her 17th birthday) and when I saw 8:20 a.m. on the alarm clock, I thought my bird had really been cooked, if you know what I mean. My turkey was supposed to already be in the oven– and I still needed to get dressed and walk the dogs, not to mention rinse the turkey, pat it dry, stuff the cavity, make a “foil snake” for the bottom of the roasting pan, and “cover every digit of the hands with butter and massage the skin”… I ran downstairs in my pajamas and simply let the dogs out in the backyard, not caring if the neighbors saw me.  A nice apple wood smoke smell filled the air as well as the music of John Hyatt and Bruce Springsteen– Andy had moved a speaker out on the patio so he could hum along and cook at the same time…and he was by the grill, cleaning up. “Everything’s going fine,” he said.  “It’s been cooking for about a half hour and the grill temperature’s perfect.”

Well, la dee freakin’ da.  I rolled up my long flannel pajama sleeves, hauled the round cooler out of the fridge and started pouring off the brining solution into the sink. Of course I spilled some (I swear that cooler has a crack somewhere), and had to wipe up the mess with old towels.  As I was patting down the bird with paper towels after rinsing it, Andy came into the kitchen about 8:45 looking panicked and announced that the propane had just run out.  “What do I do?” he asked. I could have said “I told you so” but all I could think of was that my bird wasn’t even in the oven yet and we might be feeding our guests popcorn and toast a la “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”… I figured there had to be some place open on Thanksgiving that sold propane.  “Don’t some gas stations sell it?” I asked.  He called Wal Mart to see if they were open and they were, but the closest location is not that close to our house.  He unhooked the tank from the grill, jumped in the car with it and headed out.  His bird remained on the grill, waiting…meanwhile, Emmie had woken up and needed attention.  She felt awful and had plopped down on a sofa in the living room, and wanted me to take her temperature and bring her some medicine.  I went into nurse mode while my bird waited, too…

Luckily Emmie had no fever (just a bad cold) and after giving her a couple extra-strength Tylenol and bringing her some orange juice, I told her to watch the parade on TV and stay out of the kitchen…Miraculously my bird went in the oven around 9:10 a.m.  If Alton Brown’s calculations were correct, it would still be done by the time guests started arriving at 12:45; but if the online reader comments were correct, it would take a lot longer…

At 9:15, as I was cleaning up the kitchen, the phone rang. It was Andy, calling from Wal Mart. “They can’t find the keys to open up the %$#@! outdoor propane cage!!” he said.  Now I really wanted to say I told you so, but now was not the time.  I told him to wait a few minutes longer to see if they could find them and then go to another Wal Mart if they couldn’t. But surely they would find them…don’t all the propane-loving ranchers and cowboys of the world shop at Wal Mart? I thought about his bird, still waiting on the grill…

My bird came through the 30-minute, 500-degree phase with flying colors– a gorge
ous golden-brown color to be exact.  I turned down the heat, put the “protective foil shield” on the breast meat and inserted my new meat thermometer into “the deepest part” of that breast meat (I’d bought an even fancier thermometer than Andy– one with a cord that reaches outside the oven and magnets a digital reader to the outside of the oven, so the door never has to be opened– SWEET!). By 9:45 Andy was still not home, and I couldn’t reach him by phone. What if he’d had to drive to another store? And what if they didn’t have propane? He walked in the door about 10 minutes later, new propane tank in hand. “They never did find the keys,” he said, so he indeed had to drive to another Wal Mart. “Do you think the turkey meat is bad now?” he asked.  I told him to keep going, that time-wise it probably hadn’t been long enough to reach the danger zone…

Amazingly, both our birds cooked at the same rate all morning, hitting the same internal temperatures at about the same time and at the right pace.  They were both done before the guests arrived and we got to show them off before carving.  The verdict from all was that they were both good, in different ways.  Mine was juicier, his was smokier, of course, but still pretty juicy.  All in all, it was a perfect Thanksgiving– well…except for the fact that one of my family heirloom stoneware platters got broken and Luke nipped one of our guests on the leg…but luckily I found a replacement for the platter on ebay later that night for only $15, and Luke did not break the skin…and, no one got sick later because that smoked turkey had sat on an “off” grill for an hour, just as Uncool Mom (or should I say “the Bridge Over Troubled Water”) had suspected…

The Unbearable Lateness of Being: Breaking the Tardy Habit

I’ll never forget it.  I was in first grade, and it was the last day of school.  My teacher, Mrs. Cook, was wrapping things up for the day and passing out things for us to take home, like art projects, old papers, etc. “I’m going to pass out the attendance cards for you to take home to your parents,” she announced.  “Some of you have no tardies, and some of you have a few.  SOMEbody in here has been late in arriving to class TWENTY-ONE times! Can you believe it?” We all dropped our jaws.  We couldn’t imagine who that was.  After the white, 3 x 5 cards were distributed, I looked at mine.  In the blank next to the word “Tardies” was a penciled “21”.  The 21-timer was ME.  I was mortified, and even more mortified was my mom, since she drove me to school, sometimes in her nightgown and robe, rushing to get me there (and I lived less than a mile away).  “I had no idea you were late that many times,” Mom said.  “I never heard the bell ring.”  And the teacher had never said anything to me or my parents about it, but had been quietly writing it all down, all year.  So much for helping a kid learn and improve!

Over 40 years later, I’m still late to things probably about 60% of the time, even when I think I’ve carefully planned ahead.  My teen’s rate of being late is even higher, that is, whenever there are not harsh consequences like those imposed at her school.  At home, we’ve had to leave her behind at times when we can’t wait any longer (if you’re a longtime blog reader, you may remember the time she had to bike the 2.5 miles to church after the rest of us had left…). Emmie is much better about being on time, although as I type this she is serving day 3 of a 4-day “lunch detention” for being late to her science class four times.  “Mom,” she says, “I literally walk through the door right as the bell rings and my teacher still counts me tardy!”

Is being habitually late something in our genes, or skills that weren’t taught and passed on through generations? An article at nytimes.com says that some experts believe we can be hard-wired for lateness, something embedded deep in our brains.  I have a feeling that at one point in his life, my dad may have battled lateness because by the time he had me, he was uber-on-time everywhere he went.  For example, if an airline told him to be at the airport two hours before check-in, he’d be there with three hours to spare.  I’ve often thought that planning to the extreme like that might be the only solution for folks like me—just plan to get places way ahead of time, and take a book along.  Only when folks like me try that, stuff always seems to get in the way…

Dad always used to tell me when I was growing up, “You’re going to be late to your own wedding!!”, so when that day finally arrived, I was determined to prove him wrong.  I got to the church with one of my bridesmaids at least three hours before everyone else, so I felt pretty good about that—until Andy pointed out that I was still delayed a few minutes in getting dressed and being ready when he knocked on the Brides’ Room door to take me to the photo shoot (we took pictures a couple hours before the ceremony)…

Is there anything a chronically late person can do? Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out, says on WebMd.com that first you need to figure out what kind of late person you are.  She says there’s a difference between people who are late by varying amounts of time, and those that always run, say, 10 minutes late.  The former is a “technical” reason that might be able to be cleared up with more realistic time expectations; the latter has underlying psychological reasons.  “If you are literally always 10 minutes late,” says Morgenstern, “it’s psychological. You’re arriving exactly when you want. The question is ‘why?'”  The article goes on to say that it could be leftover rebelliousness from your youth, or the inability to get moving unless there is an adrenaline rush to push you. (Hmmm…not sure exactly which camp I fall into there…)  Diana DeLonzor, a former late person and author of Never Be Late Again, says in the nytimes.com article that there’s another type of latecomer, kind of a composite of those mentioned by Morgenstern: “the producer”, who gets an ego boost from getting as much done in as little time as possible. “Many late people tend to be both optimistic and unrealistic,” she said, “and this affects their perception of time. They really believe they can go for a run, pick up their clothes at the dry cleaners, buy groceries and drop off the kids at school in an hour. They remember that single shining day 10 years ago when they really did all those things in 60 minutes flat, and forget all the other times that everything took much, much longer.” (Yep, and probably forget that the street lights don’t usually all turn green like they did on that day…I think I’m a “producer”!)

The WebMD article says that the majority of people who are late fear boredom, and can’t stand the thought of being somewhere early with nothing to do (yeah, that’s me, too, when I don’t have a book or a pen and paper or a working cell phone…)

Both Morgenstern and DeLonzor offer some helpful suggestions, like keeping a written log for a few days of the actual time it takes to do everyday tasks, so you can better estimate time in the future.  Or always having something absorbing and meaningful to do while you wait.  Or making yourself walk out of the door at the time you plan to do so, and not get distracted by answering the phone or doing other last-minute things.  I would offer another hint to go along with that–  to find your keys and gather everything you need to take with you an hour before you need to leave, and put it in the car (the girls and I never plan for this “last minute gathering of stuff” and even if we’re dressed on time, it can really delay things as we rush to grab everything, not to mention we end up forgetting stuff).

The folks at EmpoweringParents.com offer some good suggestions specifically for kids who are chronically late, such as making them pay for lateness (5 minutes off of their computer or video game time for every 5 minutes that they’re late somewhere) or allowing them to suffer the natural consequences of being late, like being benched from playing in a game or getting a tardy slip.
One strategy that has worked around here, the few times I’ve used it, is simply giving a false time about when we’re supposed to arrive somewhere, for example, telling Allison something starts at 5:30 even though it starts at 6. That’s worked wonderfully, although I’m not sure it’s teaching the right coping skills since technically she’s still running late when we get there right on time!

But I really do want to equip my girls to be successful adults, and if I want them to be adults who get places on time, then first and foremost, I have to be that kind of adult.  They need to see me making an effort to change if I’m going to expect them to do the same.  And right now, having dramatically altered my eating and exercise habits for almost five months, dropped two sizes and lost 13 pounds, I’m feeling pretty capable of change! 

So how do I propose to be a more punctual person? Through writing.  I plan to get places 15 minutes ahead of time, and later, write about what happens in a journal.  Both the good stuff, and the crazy stuff that might get in the way.  Mostly for my own use, but because I know that others struggle with this same issue, I’ll post an update on the blog at some point.  And if that doesn’t help me be on time, then I’ll increase the time frame to 30 minutes.  Will I be bored out of my mind as I wait? Doubt it.  Something just tells me that it’s going to be very interesting.  I may read 10 more books in a year as a result. Or make a new friend.  Or pray more.  Or have the most buffed up fingernails in town.

At the very least, I will be on time. I hope my kids notice.

The Last Official Day of Being a Kid

Announced the other day by Emmie, the day before her 13th birthday: “Today is my last official day of being a kid…that’s kind of sad.” I could have said something sage about how “13 is just a number” or “everyone should honor their ‘inner child’ no matter how old they get”, but I didn’t…I didn’t want to minimize the wiseness of her observation, because it’s true in a way.  Plus, the whole concept of a “last official day of being a kid” intrigued me… I thought back to what I might have been doing on mine…was I dreading another awkward day of 7th grade? (Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I pulled up a ’74 calendar.  The day before my 13th birthday was a weekday, a Friday.)  Was I lugging my snare drum case down the long flight of stairs to the jr. high band hall, trying not to hit anyone along the way? Was I looking forward to being the first among my friends to serve that new food called a “taco” at my upcoming slumber party? Did I fall asleep that night listening to Tony Orlando and Dawn on the radio? 

The “last official day of being a kid” ought to be marked with more fanfare than that, maybe by doing lots of “kid things”.  Like eating a popsicle, coloring with crayons and playing with Play Doh. Or singing Sesame Street songs or Eddie Coker tunes as loud as possible. Or watching old videos of “Bananas in Pajamas”, “Arthur”, or “Teletubbies”…Too bad it was raining on Emmie’s “last official day”, or else I would have encouraged her to at least go jump on our backyard trampoline…

It’s definitely a transition time for the mom of that about-to-be-13-year-old as well, especially when it’s the youngest child. Shouldn’t Mom mark it or commemorate it in some way, too? Maybe grab your child’s hand as you walk from the car into the grocery store– unless they’ve long ago told you to stop. Maybe play a certain board game one last time with your child, a game you’re about to give to Goodwill, like Scrabble Jr. or Chutes ‘n Ladders. Or maybe, go on a bike ride together…

Just when I thought Emmie’s “last day of being a kid” would come and go pretty uneventful for both her and me, something unexpected happened just before she was to head to bed.  A wail was heard from the bathroom, where she’d been taking a shower.  And it wasn’t “Dad!” or “Mom!” or the more hip “Hey, Pat!” she’s been taking a liking to lately, but a full blown “MOMMY!!” She ran out of the bathroom, bypassed her hero, Dad, and ran straight upstairs to find me. She was soaking wet, wrapped in a towel, shaking and squealing.  “I cut myself!!!” she cried, “and it won’t stop bleeding!” While I was thrilled she’d come to uncool me for help, I was also thankful, when I saw the blood, that I didn’t live in a country where I might have been forced to choose EMT as my profession. She’d sliced off a one-inch by one-half-inch piece of skin near her ankle while shaving, and the bleeding, raw layer of skin that was now looking back at me had me near-fainting. I felt a shiver run from my head to my feet.  But I remained totally calm, acting like some true first aid pro, having her elevate her leg and foot, grabbing a wad of Kleenex and pressing it hard against the wound, having her keep up the pressure while I rifled through a cabinet looking for First Aid cream and bandages. We used up a lot of Kleenex before I found the right stuff.

She was grateful when I finally made the bleeding stop and she could go to bed feeling better.  I was proud of myself for remembering what to do, and for doing a good job in spite of my aversion to blood.  And yes, I also realized that having “Mommy” bandage up a shaving wound may have been a pretty fitting way to commemorate the transition from 12 to 13.

One Day On Earth 11-11-11: Get out your cameras!

Remember the worldwide video project in which my family participated on 10-10-10? It’s called One Day On Earth, and thousands of people all over the world shot video footage of themselves, or their surroundings, or their kids, or whatever, all on that one day.  The edited result is going to be shown at theatres in February 2012. I shot footage while our family was on vacation in Florida– don’t know if our contribution is going to be included (although the project’s editors did contact me and had me mail them all my raw footage since I had problems uploading all of it to their website) but it was still fun to be a part– mind-blowing might be a better description, if you think about people capturing so many things happening at the same time, miles apart. (To get an early glimpse at the 10-10-10 documentary, click on this link to watch the trailer: http://www.onedayonearth.org/page/motion-picture-trailer. )

Amazingly, there is still room (and time) to be included in the final product.  Today (11-11-11) the folks at One Day On Earth are asking anyone and everyone to pick up a video camera and record life as it’s happening around them until midnight.  To get ideas of what to capture, there are categories listed at www.onedayonearth.org— I know that pregnancy, childbirth, and children are some of the “hot topics”.  Just shoot video, head to onedayonearth.org, and follow the directions for uploading your images.  (Deadline for submissions is 12-11-11.) Remember– even though there are National Geographic-worthy images submitted to this project, such as the amazing, painted participant in a Kosovo wedding ceremony or the flock of pink flamingoes, “everyday” stuff is good to be included, too, from non-professional photographers.  And even though it’s probably not possible for the editors to include everyone’s footage in the final product, everyone who participates is still given a page at their website from which their video can be seen, and included on a worldwide map, a “geo-tagged video archive” that pinpoints every place from which video was submitted, the name of the person who submitted it, and what their video is all about. 

Never before has a project like this been undertaken– how exciting to be a part!  And, what a great educational opportunity for kids.  I can’t wait to take mine to see the film next year, so they can see that we truly do live in an amazing global community.

Friday Freebie: Luxury Sheets

Hi all– sorry I haven’t posted in a week, but I had a birthday and took a “vacation from my desk” instead.  It almost felt like a “real” vacation, because a set of luxury sheets arrived on my doorstep from my friends at Mattress Giant. They asked me to try them out and let you know what I thought, because they’re also giving a sheet set to one of my lucky readers!!

So here’s the scoop: The sheets are called Giant Comfort. They’re 100% polyester but feel like a high thread count cotton– definitely like linens from a really good hotel. They’re lightweight, soft, silky– deserving of their subtitle, “Premium Linen”. The fitted sheet has really deep pockets so, for example, if you get “Queen” size, they should fit a regular or high top Queen. Retail value for the 4-piece set is $39.99.  One winner will receive a set (one flat, one fitted, and two pillow cases) in the size of their choice– just write to me (patricia@uncoolmom.com) and let me know that you want to be in on the drawing. This time, you have until November 28, 2011 to let me know– so I hope to hear from you!

Meanwhile, check out Mattress Giant’s “What Do You Dream About?” Sweepstakes on their Facebook fan page (http://www.facebook.com/MattressGiant#!/MattressGiant?sk=app_28134323652).  They’re giving away a “dream” package, including a “Embody” by Sealy Motivation queen set, sheets, pillows and more (valued at almost $3,000)! In addition to the sweepstakes, they’re asking intriguing questions about dreams (you can join in the discussion if you “Like” the page).  They’re also posting dream resources and  Mattress Giant’s signature “Better Sleep” tips.

Happy sleeping!