The List

November 16, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Living With Intention, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love to cook and there is something especially wonderful about a long weekend dedicated to cooking old family recipes where a whole family’s traditions are summed up in food. In our old lives, for many years, our house was filled with family, lots of them crazy or crabby, but then we moved more than a thousand miles away from them. And it never occurred to any of us to travel back. Neither did I think too many of them, even the ones we liked, would plan expensive flights at what is arguably the ugliest, or anyway bleakest, time in Vermont. The mountains steal the sun sometimes by 4 in the afternoon, always by 4:30. The trees are bare sad skeletons and there is no snow yet lightening everything and giving it the sense of magic and wonder that gets us through. Plus in the old days we had already begun moving away from those crazy meals with trips to the Thanksgiving Parade and smaller gatherings with people who made us laugh. So we planned our first Thanksgiving, alone, just us five, with care. I wanted to make sure no one felt lonely or sad. We cooked all of the favorite foods which ridiculously include two kinds of potato and stuffing besides. But each of the five of us has old favorites and we are divided between that sweet yam souffle and traditional mashed with giblet gravy. Our table was very full. And because we moved up here for a reason we added an afternoon walk in the woods with all our dogs, and finally that old family staple, movie night with Home for the Holidays. No Thanksgiving would be complete without it.

Years earlier we’d had our own dysfunctional mess with relatives misbehaving and the five of us had one by one wound up in our bedroom with my best friend Ches, all of us giggling on the big bed. Eventually we wandered back down, a little shamefaced at to having had such secret fun and found that they had all left, every grandma and aunt and before they sulked off they’d washed the dishes! We figured they’d felt guilty for their misbehavior and without any guilt at all got the turkey back out, made a big batch of turkey salad and settled down to watch Home for the Holidays. We have watched it every year since. This is probably about the tenth year anniversary of watching Holly Hunter and her on screen brother played by Robert Downey Jr put the fun back in dysfunctional. We all know the lines by heart and wait for our own particular favorite scenes to recite.

This year we have some extended family coming, and there will be odd ex partners and their families in a loud Alan Alda movie version of Thanksgiving. But the walk and the movie will not waver. Neither will the food. There will be a new squash casserole on trial, next to the old favorites including pecan and pumpkin pie made with my mom’s famous pie dough recipe. The exes have a favorite carrot recipe that we will add so everybody can share the tastes of their childhood as we clink glasses after our round of thankfuls. We do thankful during dinner. Everyone tells what they are thankful for that year and there is nothing like giving voice to gratitude to really get you counting your blessings. In this year when money no longer seems reliable and everyone is worried about their savings, or worse their job or house, it is especially important to remember all of the stuff we still have. We live in a beautiful place that feeds my soul and we have each other. I am deeply blessed with kids that I not only love but like and who love and like me right back. I have a husband who makes me laugh every single day. The consuming passion of youth has turned into a sweet middle aged heat which is way better than I ever imagined in my twenties. And in our house we have the best critter gang we have ever had. Our dogs and cat and chickens give us gobs of pleasure every single day.

The market is scary. Nobody knows what will happen next. I make our living by raising money, so everyone is a little worried about how long all this will last. But, the big stuff is already here. No matter what happens I hope I will have the sense to stay thankful. When I make my annoying to do lists now, which are frequently fraught with the worries of the markets, I also write a list in the margins of what I am thankful for that day. It is a little patch of grace in an inky sea of worry.

Today’s list looked like this

hot thick coffee with real cream
leaf blowers
Benjamin’s math mid term
Eli’s art teacher
my slippers
Hannah’s idea about the pig
John’s orange shirt
the bells
the price of gas today
my friend Karen’s new puppy
Julia Reed’s Ham Biscuits and Hostess Gowns
this new black cherry nail polish…..

What’s on your list?


  • katiedid

    chocolate chip cookies and whiskey, but not together, and mac makeup and my iphone which makes me happy in ever so many ways
    and my kitty the amazing annie
    and my purple socks

  • jamie

    The little bits of inspiration a friend of mine sends me regularly; the talented skillful team of doctors caring for my friend’s young nephew; diet coke; Sunday afternoons spent painting my nails and listening to a new cd (I want your new color!); sleeping in…

    Any good books lately?

  • molls

    The new Bob Dylan CD,
    flannel sheets
    spicy hot cocoa
    Margaret Atwood
    colored leather gloves
    patterned tights

  • Kate

    My family is getting together for Thanksgiving for the first time in many, many years. When I feel my mom starting to get controlly and scheduling the time we’re going to get one on one with our adult sister whose coming home, I back off and smile to myself. She’s just worried that we won’t like each other anymore or that we’ll mar the beauty that is having all of her children and her mother under her roof for the same night. If I can remember that that’s all she wants is for us to show that we love each other, then I can ignore the rest.

    When we became adults, we made our own traditions and did our own holiday things. With my sister’s divorce, my sobriety (finally), my grandmother’s old age and the lack of hope for grandchildren, my parents are holding onto something and I want to give it to them.

  • library lady

    Before I can think of anything to put on my list for the day, I have to know about Hannah and the pig. Please, God, don’t let Ellen get a pig!!!

  • Casdok

    I lost C yesterday but thankfully i found him!
    (I will blog about it soon!)

  • laurwilk

    I suppose I’m fortunate as my family has never had a dreaded holiday. Ever. I don’t have any crazy aunts or uncles that we prefer not to have around and now that grandma has lost her mind (sadly but truly), she can’t remember to yell at anyone!

    I’m thankful that I have a family who gets along so well. I appreciate that I can look forward to every holiday, spent with all of the people I love the most. And I’m thankful that I know they look forward to it as much as I do!

    And I hope that it stays this way for years to come.

  • painted maypole

    lovely, lovely…

    my visiting grandfather, the doll highchair my daughter is playing with that was made for me by my gradfather’s father, paying less than $30 to fill my gas tank, peanut butter fudge, someone else frying my turkey…

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