A Slip of the Lip

Well, I finally did it.  At work, I confessed to being a vegan.  No time better than the day before Thanksgiving for that, right?

I hadn’t planned on it.  Like so many impromptu disasters, it “just happened.”  I guess I was in a holiday mood when I mosied up to the workstation of one of our secretaries and began a conversation about something totally unrelated to food and diet.  We actually discussed a few different things before she asked me whether I will be cooking the turkey this Thanksgiving.

In retrospect, I should have just laughed and said “Oh, no, I don’t cook.”  I could even have pulled out one of my fabled stories about being able to cook anything, badly, in the microwave.  But no, I had to open my big mouth and say “Oh, I don’t eat meat.”

“You’re a vegetarian?” she asked me, incredulous.  In this day and age, I should think that admitting to be a vegetarian would be somewhat less than shocking and perhaps even just plain boring.

“Even worse than that,” I added.  “I’m a vegan.”

“A vegan?” she responded, “What’s that?

I explained that I don’t eat meat, dairy or any animal products.

“You don’t?!  What do you eat?  Grass?”

Oh, great, here we go again.  I’ve ridden in this rodeo many times before, and it’s never pretty.  As I often do, I responded to this idiocy with some self-deprecating humor.  “Just take a look at me and you can tell that I find plenty to eat.”

I am kicking myself now for not being sufficiently quick-witted to have asked whether she’s ever seen a skinny cow.

After that came other Thanksgiving related questions, including whether I eat mashed potatoes or marshmallows.  I explained about the dairy in mashed potatoes (skipping the part about how great they are prepared with almond milk).

“What’s in marshmallows?” she asked.  “I just bought some little ones to put in my hot chocolate.”

I told her that marshmallows are mostly sugar, held together with gelatin.  That’s when I threw every bit of caution to the winds and explained that gelatin is most commonly made from horses’ hooves.

The poor woman frowned.  “I’m eating horses’ hooves?”  She seemed saddened.  “You mean Jello is made of horses’ hooves, too?”  I assured her that it is possible to purchase gelatin desserts and even marshmallows that are made from vegetable sources, effectively eliminating the giddyap factor.  “They’re usually kind of expensive and I’m not really interested, so I just don’t bother,” I added.

“What about cakes, cookies, candy and chips?”  I could see she was getting alarmed now.  I looked around to see whether anyone else was listening.  I didn’t see anyone in our immediate vicinity, but I’d bet a nickel that ears were perked in numerous nearby cubicles.  “Plain chips are often meat- and dairy-free,” I told the bewildered secretary.  “I don’t eat cakes and cookies.  Fortunately for me, there is some very good non-dairy dark chocolate out there.”

“You don’t eat cakes and cookies!” she cried.  The woman could barely believe what she was hearing, particularly since I am, well, obese.  “I guess you can’t have one of these then,” she remarked, bringing out a little Baggie containing two chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  “This is all I have today because I forgot my lunch at home.  Left my eggs right on the kitchen table.”

“Are those cookies made with butter?” I asked.

“No,” she told me, “but you can’t have flour, right?”

I assured her that I do eat flour.  “Is there an egg in that?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, it does have eggs,” she admitted.

I nearly blurted out something about refined sugars and the dangers of diabetes, but I managed to stop myself just in time.

The poor woman was shaking her head.  Fortunately, we were each put out of our respective miseries at this point by the receipt of a phone call over her wireless headset.  I took the opportunity to make my escape.

I now have four consecutive days off work for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Hopefully, that will be enough time for my department secretary (and all the unseen eavesdroppers) to forget that this little conversation ever happened.

Yeah, right.

Monday should be interesting.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my faithful readers.  I am extremely thankful that you keep coming back to read the drivel that I regularly dispense in this space.  May you enjoy a lovely holiday filled with family, food, love and laughs.

Recommended:  Don’t Fear the Vegan at Your Thanksgiving Table

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One Lovely Blog Award

One Lovely Blog Tree

I’d like to start out this Thanksgiving week by giving thanks to fellow blogger Mindyminix for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award.  This is such an honor, Mindy, and I greatly appreciate your generosity.

Mindy, I should add, is the pride of Missouri, the “Show Me State” and indeed, she has shown us all how this blogging thing is done!  While the murder of Mike Brown by police and the resulting unrest in Ferguson over the summer has largely passed from the public consciousness, I would encourage you, dear readers, to head over to Mindy’s blog and learn about the continued effects of that disaster on Missourians. A tragedy of this caliber is a bit like a death in the family:  After a while, the visitors and the casseroles stop coming and the immediate family is left to suffer alone in its grief while the rest of the world forgets about what happened.

The rules for accepting the One Lovely Blog Award are as follows:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you.
  2. Tell us seven things about yourself.
  3. Post a One Lovely Blog badge in the post or on your blog.
  4. Nominate seven other bloggers you admire.

Seven things about myself:

  1. I was four years old when I wrote my first short story. I would hear adults engage in talk about World War II and watched lots of westerns on TV with my grandpa, so it should come as no surprise that I titled it “Indian Ranger War II.”
  2. My wife and I live in the parsonage of a church. My mother-in-law is the minister.
  3. My wife and I are both iced tea fanatics. We each go through about a gallon per day. I can’t drink mine without lemon juice.
  4. I miss the ocean. Why can’t there be any good jobs in Pismo or Narragansett?
  5. My wife and I have 19 nieces and nephews between us, plus a rapidly mounting number of grands. There are usually one or two of them around here somewhere. They keep us young.
  6. I am a certified Scrabble fanatic. I used to play in highly competitive regional tournaments, but I don’t anymore, primarily due to a lack of money. I have played in an email Scrabble league continuously for well over a decade.  (Want to join?  Ask me how!)  Now, of course, we have cell phones, so I play Words With… uh, well, Strangers.
  7. I’ve been to London. I’ve also been to France. No, you can’t see my underpants.

Blog nominations:

And now, without further ado, I hereby nominate the following delightful blogs for the One Lovely Blog Award (says he, doing a very poor impression of Julie Andrews singing “these are a few of my favorite blogs”):

  1. rachelmankowitz – The ongoing saga of the antics and adventures of rescue dogs Cricket and Butterfly. Although I have never been a dog person, Rachel has demonstrated to me that our canine friends can teach us more than a few lessons about life and love.
  2. Too Many Spiders – I’m so tempted to go wisecracking about the itsy bitsy spider or along came a spider and sat down beside her (I have a two year old grandniece, so sue me), but I’ll just say that Ms. Spider generously shares her wealth of wisdom with us, whether it’s about television or chess or history or religion or life on Staten Island. Oh, and she just recently gave birth to her eighth child. Among the best reads online, in my humble opinion.
  3. Movin’ It With Michelle – Retired from the Army and working in the health professions, Michelle has two daughters, runs marathons and nurtures a deep passion for cooking. When she posts photos of her amazing culinary creations, you will want to lick the screen.
  4. Brooklyn Doodle – Although this blogger hasn’t published many posts lately, I look forward to her next installment. It’s all about a bike ride, a café, a few extra napkins and pulling out a marker for some impromptu drawing. This art teacher creates beautiful artwork on paper napkins.  Well worth checking out.
  5. Drinking Tips for Teens – This Canadian has a sharp wit and a unique perspective on the everyday. And maybe I’m just a teensy bit envious that the man is on National Public Radio.
  6. Troubleface Mom – Another blogger who doesn’t post nearly enough. Perhaps you can leave some comments on her blog to encourage her to write more regularly. I enjoy her applications of her faith to daily life as well as the chronicles of her journey with an autistic son.
  7. Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane Blog – When a blogger has more than 11,000 followers, it’s hard not to sit up and notice. Raising children with a diverse spectrum of disabilities places one precisely at the intersection of the tragic and the comic. Check out her blog and see for yourself.

Now we’re off to a short, three-day workweek preceding the Thanksgiving holiday.  I hope everyone is looking forward to food and family as much as I am.  And here’s a special shout out to my fellow vegans.  This can be a tough holiday spent with our meat-eating brethren.  Don’t forget to post up your stories!

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Thanksgiving Memories

What is your earliest Thanksgiving memory?  Was Thanksgiving a big deal at your house when you were a kid?  It certainly was at ours.  And not always in a good way, I might add.

Thanksgiving holds a place of respect in many Jewish households.  One reason for this is that gratitude is deeply ingrained in Jewish tradition.  Observant Jews like myself (and I am not Orthodox by any means) thank God many times during the day, expressing appreciation for the many gifts He has given us.  We have separate blessings that we say over different types of food, thanking God for the fruit of the trees, the fruit of the ground, the grain of the field, etc.  We say a prayer of thankfulness when we open our eyes in the morning and when we lie down to sleep at night.  And, yes (don’t laugh), when we use the rest room we pray that the Lord has created us with all the proper bodily functions.

So a holiday that centers on thankfulness fits right in with our traditions.  But it is more than that.  As a uniquely American celebration, Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays during the year that all of us can celebrate, regardless of religion or beliefs.  Even atheists are thankful for the gifts in their lives.  Jews of a traditional bent don’t recognize Christmas, Easter or even Halloween (although many Jews living a more modern, integrated lifestyle do), as these celebrations are based in other faiths.  There are other American festivals, of course, such as the summer holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day), when we always barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers or headed to the lake for the day.  But all of these pale in comparison to Thanksgiving.  In some respects, one could say that Turkey Day is the granddaddy of American holidays.  The Pilgrims feasted with the Native Americans in 1621, long before any of the Big Summer Three were a twinkle in the colonists’ eyes.

My favorite thing about Thanksgiving is that it is truly a celebration that we can all enjoy.  There are few of us who aren’t thankful for something, and who doesn’t like stuffing his or her face?

Until I was ten years old, we generally had Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ apartment, 2½ hours away in Connecticut.  After that, they moved to Florida and we did Thanksgiving at home in the New York suburbs (except for once or twice when we were invited to feast at my aunt and uncle’s apartment in The Bronx).

As much as I loved riding to New Haven to visit my grandparents, there were a few hazards associated with celebrating Thanksgiving there.  The sense of jubilation and anticipation that we experienced on the way up there was always tempered with a measure of anxiety.  We never knew which mine we would end up stepping on this time.

You see, Grandma and Grandpa did not have a religious bone in their bodies.  While they were ethnically Jewish, they never prayed, attended synagogue or participated in any of the rituals associated with Jewish holidays.  They were strictly secular.  I, on the other hand, attended a very Orthodox religious elementary school (due to the insistence of my mother), where I learned every detail of every Jewish rule and custom (and that anything enjoyable was probably a sin).

As disgusted as they were with my religious “brainwashing,” my grandparents knew how things stood and made at least a nominal effort to accommodate.  My grandmother would buy a kosher turkey and roast it with potatoes and vegetables.  Dessert was usually an issue.  When the pie or the Pepperidge Farm cake came out, I would insist on seeing the box so that I could read the ingredients.  “Not kosher!” I would indignantly pronounce, pointing out the gelatin or glycerin in the ingredients.  I would then run off crying to another room because I would miss out on dessert.

If it wasn’t that, then my grandparents would start griping about my weight, inevitably engendering an argument with my parents.  Grandma might, for example, attempt to serve me a diet soda, which my parents prohibited me from drinking due to the deadly chemicals contained therein.  For years, my father enjoyed a running joke about my grandparents presenting me with “a case of Patio Diet Cola and a funnel.”

And if it wasn’t that, then my mother would get into it with her mother-in-law.  The two entertained a mutual hatred of each other from the time that my parents began dating as teenagers.  Once voices were raised, my grandfather would feel the necessity to come to his wife’s defense and my father would attempt to intervene and get everyone to “stop it already.”  That was usually about the time we’d head for the door.

Another memorable Thanksgiving occurred when I was in college and my sisters were still in high school.  I would come home for Thanksgiving, of course (I had to, as the dorms were closed).  My mother had taken a job in New England not long before.  My father continued to work in New York.  My sisters were with my mother; my parents commuted back and forth on the weekends.  In Rhode Island, seafood is king.  After all, it is the Ocean State.  The local joke was to refer to fish as “Block Island turkey.”  Although we all convened in New York for Thanksgiving, my mother had to work in Rhode Island on the previous day and had no time to prepare a festive meal.  As we didn’t eat meat in restaurants (because it wasn’t kosher), we ended up enjoying Block Island turkey at a local diner.  My youngest sister, a surly teenager who made a science out of being miserable, announced at dinner that this was a stupid holiday because she really didn’t have anything to be thankful for anyway.  As you may well imagine, that went over like a ton of bricks and put more than a bit of a damper on the occasion.

Not that I was shocked or anything.  I had learned years earlier that it wasn’t Thanksgiving without a family fight.

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A Vegan Does Thanksgiving at Work

leaves

In most of the United States, the leaves are off the trees and winter has set in.  But here in northern California, November is the height of autumn.

Thanksgiving is generally the worst day of the year for vegans.  As if everyone eating turkey weren’t bad enough, most of the so-called trimmings aren’t fit to eat for those of our ilk.  In my case, I am extremely blessed to have a wife who humors my prandial proclivities.  She always prepares something for me in advance, which we carry to our family functions.

But tomorrow is our annual Thanksgiving pot luck up in the penthouse at work, which I anticipate with more than a bit of trepidation.  The turkey and gravy is being provided, with employees bringing the fixings.  I hope I don’t end up having to discuss veganism, but I don’t know that there will be much way around it.

I can just see it now:  “Have some turkey, there’s plenty!”

“Um, no, thanks.”

“Why not?  It’s Thanksgiving!”

“Um, I don’t eat meat.”

“Ohhhh, that explains it.  Well, have some mashed potatoes!”

“Thanks so much, but not right now.”

“Why not?  There’s no meat in that.”

“Milk and butter.”

“You can’t have dairy either?  Oh, you poor thing!”

“Yeah, I’m vegan.”

“Really?  Well, have some green beans.  Have some sweet potato casserole.”

“Bacon.  Dairy.  Sorry.”

“Aren’t you going to eat anything?  At least have some pumpkin pie!”

At which point I bolt for the elevators, heading back to my cubicle to get some work done.  Hopefully, by that point, many of my coworkers and bosses will have seen me, so that I’ll have made an official “appearance.”

I’ve been trying to think of alternatives.  I could bring my lunch with me along with my usual gallon of iced lemon tea in my big handle bag that I pull behind me.  I could bring a sandwich or a plastic container of tofu and vegetables up to the penthouse with me.  Perhaps if I dump the contents onto a paper plate, it will look as if I’ve helped myself from the buffet.

Alternatively, I could hide out in my cubie and hope that no one notices my absence.  The last time I tried this tactic (at another employer), it blew up in my face.  “Your absence was noticed,” my boss informed me frostily the next day.  I was officially “not a team player.”

I suppose I could always take a sick day.  Three-day weekend, anyone?

Update: I did not attend the event, instead opting to hide out in my cubicle with my lunch brought from home and get some work done.  Several of my coworkers did the same.  No one has complained.

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A Vegan’s Guide to Gratitude

I am still a few weeks early for Thanksgiving, but definitely getting into the spirit,  My wife suggested that, for the month of November, I prepare an alphabetical list of things for which I am thankful, and post one letter each day.  I liked the idea, but found myself writing about too many other topics.  As the Thanksgiving holiday tends to be a difficult time for vegans, I decided instead to take this opportunity to compile a list of the some of the vegan foods that I most enjoy and for which I am extremely grateful.

avocado

Avocadoes.  With a name like Uncle Guacamole, this should come as no surprise.  Lately, they have been rather expensive here in California, so they have become more of a treat than a staple.  In addition to using them for guacamole, I like making avocado and tofu sandwiches, to which I add tomato slices, green olives and Dijon mustard.  Delicious!  Oh, and pass the chips, please.  Honorable mention to apples.  I eat one with my lunch at work nearly every day.  The sweet California Fujis and Galas are like candy.

Blueberries and Bananas.  I grew up picking very tart reddish-purple blueberries from the bush in my parents’ backyard.  We also bought them at the supermarket, where they were reasonably priced all summer, thanks to our location about five miles from New Jersey, the blueberry growing capital of the world.  These days, I see tiny packages of blueberries selling for three to six dollars, which is a bit too rich for my blood.  The frozen berries from the supermarket tend to be a bit mushy, so I hold out for the prices to come down on the fresh ones (except when I get a terrible craving).  My favorite way to eat blueberries is with a little almond milk poured over them.  In the absence of blueberries, we are fortunate that bananas are reasonably priced most of the time.  I enjoy sliced bananas in my oatmeal, but mostly I just tear one off the bunch and throw it into my lunch bag.  I am grateful for my afternoon snack!

Cucumbers and Chocolate.  I eat a lot of salads, and they just wouldn’t be the same without cucumbers.  Uncle G has a black thumb, but as a teenager the only things I could successfully grow were beans and cucumbers.  You have to be grateful for something so delicious that comes out of the ground with minimal effort.  As for chocolate, I don’t think any comment is needed.  I am fortunate to have discovered an extremely dark chocolate bar (85% cocoa) that is non-dairy.  Far too bitter or most people, but a hot cup of tea just isn’t the same without it.  Thank you, Trader Joe’s!  Honorable mention to chick peas (more below at hummus and vegetable broth).  Chick peas are a super source of soy-free protein and hence a staple for many vegans, myself included.  I’d have a much more difficult time getting enough protein without them.

Bubbies

Dill Pickles.  There aren’t too many things that my wife and I will both eat, but when it comes to being aficionados of the dill pickle, we are in firm agreement.  They are the perfect accompaniment to almost any meal.  I even dice them and throw them into cooked vegetables for flavoring.  My favorite pickles are Bubbies, which are technically garlic pickles, but do contain dill.  They are more expensive than most brands, so they’re a treat.  Oh, and I recently discovered peanut butter and dill pickle sandwiches.  Before you say “eeeeewwww!” I dare you to try it.  You may be pleasantly surprised.

DiCicco's

Eggplant.  My favorite way to prepare eggplant is to just slice it, douse it with garlic and oregano, pour tomato sauce over it and bake it at 400°F for about 40 minutes.  We don’t even peel it.  Easy peasy.  Although my mother didn’t buy eggplant, I grew up being treated by my Italian food loving Dad to eggplant parmagiana hero sandwiches at the local pizzeria.  It isn’t necessary to douse eggplant in egg and bread crumbs to fry it, however.  My creative wife discovered that it is great diced up and thrown in a pan with olive oil and rice.  I can’t walk through the produce section of the supermarket without checking the price of eggplant.

French Fries.  Some fast food places now claim to use 100% vegetable oil for frying their potatoes, which is a boon for vegans.  The frozen ones from the supermarket are not bad, either.  My favorite, however, is the French fry, salsa and jalapeño burritos from the little taqueria across the street.  I call these “change cup burritos” because they charge me only two bucks each for these, which I typically pay in nickels, dimes and quarters.

Garlic.  After a year of being a vegan, I am finding that a lot of the food I eat (tofu and most vegetables, for example) are more than a bit bland.  Enter the glorious bulb known as Allium sativum.  As I do not use salt for health reasons, I season nearly everything with copious amounts of garlic powder.  I am as grateful for garlic as my readers undoubtedly are that they are not exposed to my dragon breath.

hummus

Hummus.  The white bean variety is not bad, but the type I truly enjoy is made from the garbanzo bean (chick pea).  I use it on sandwiches and to dip raw veggies, crackers and chips.  One of my current favorite dishes is hummus and green olives on toasted sourdough.  The price of store-bought hummus is highway robbery and the homemade kind pales by comparison.  I try to eat it slowly and savor every bite.

Italian Ice.  My favorite frozen dessert is coconut milk “ice cream,” but it is only in stock occasionally at the only area supermarket that carries it (and it’s over $4 for a small one).  Second choice is Italian ice, with my favorite flavor being lemon.  It’s not like the fresh stuff scooped up by our neighborhood bakery in the New York town in which I grew up, but I’ll take what I can get.  I find it interesting that I do not miss “real” ice cream nearly as much as I thought I would when I first ventured down the vegan road.

Jalapeños.  Like garlic, jalapeños are among my go-tos for flavoring my frequently bland food.  Before migrating to California, I wouldn’t touch the things.  I believed that I had a delicate stomach and that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate anything that spicy.  Now, I can’t imagine food without them.  I’ve already waxed poetic over the jalapeño burritos from across the street.  I may be sad when we eventually move from our current location.

Kiwi.  These funny green fruits from New Zealand do not make it onto our grocery list, although I indulge in them regularly thanks to the salad bar at one of my favorite local restaurants.  See Quinoa.  By the way, I first became familiar with the kiwi as a kid when my parents would buy a special dessert from the local bakery when we had guests visiting.  It was called a “tropical fruit pie,” and was actually a custard tart topped with kiwi, pineapple, blueberries and strawberries.  Sweet memories!

Lemon Juice.  I am grateful for lemon juice because I drink about a gallon of iced tea daily, which I find entirely tasteless without a liberal dose of lemon juice.  Also, I couldn’t make a decent batch of guacamole without it.

mixed vegetables

Mixed Vegetables.  Yes, the canned kind.  Okay, don’t laugh.  Sure, they contain a lot of sodium, but the amount can be greatly reduced by draining the liquid and rinsing the contents of the can.  I use these in soup, with rice, over potatoes, or just thrown into a Rubbermaid container and heated in the microwave for lunch.  My favorite part is the tiny lima beans!

Nuts.  Walnuts, pistachios, Brazils, cashews, almonds — I can’t get enough of them.  I keep a jar of mixed nuts stashed in my desk drawer at work.  A handful of nuts is one of my favorite snacks.

olives

Olives.  My favorites are the green manzanillas stuffed with pimentos.  Black olives just seem flavorless to me.  Soy “cream cheese” and olive sandwiches are among my favorite standbys.  Like dill pickles, olives make any meal better.  I am very thankful for olives!

Potatoes.  Thanks to the marvels of the microwave oven, baked potatoes have become one of my mainstays.  Call me weird, but I like them for breakfast!  As for mashed potatoes (prepared with almond milk and vegan margarine), my mother-in-law makes the best.  Honorable mention to pineapple, and I am referring to the chunks in the can.  This is an easy dessert that satisfies my sweet tooth.

Quinoa.  My favorite local salad bar feature quinoa-pineapple-kiwi salad.  What a wonderful combination!

radishes

Radishes.  My grandfather taught me to love radishes.  As a kid, whenever I had lunch at his apartment, a dish of sliced radishes undoubtedly found its way onto the table.  Here in California, the Mexican style is to marinate radishes in lemon juice and douse them with salt.  I, however, eat them raw and whole as a snack.  You never know whether any particular radish will turn out mild or hot.  The hot ones are the best!  Honorable mention to rice, particularly when fried with veggies in a little olive oil.

Salad.  Start with red leaf lettuce, slice up some tomatoes and cucumbers, thrown on some green olives, sunflower nuts and raisins, then douse with olive oil and vinegar.  Juicy and delicious!

tofu

Tofu/Textured Vegetable Protein.  Soy has obtained a bad rap lately, but it remains an important source of protein for many vegans, including this one.  My favorite tofu is the extra firm nigri style that can be sliced and used for sandwiches.  As for TVP, my vegan “hot dogs,” “beef,” “chicken” and Boca Burgers are definitely on my gratitude list!

Vegetable Broth.  I recently discovered that Swanson’s vegetable broth (although not its vegetable “stock”), sold in a box, is vegetarian.  Throw in some garbanzos, black beans, carrots or mixed vegetables, and you have a quick, hot meal in the microwave.

Watermelon.  Although the kind imported from Chile is available all year at inflated prices, we wait until the California grown kind becomes available in the spring.  This is one of the few foods that all of us here can agree on, and it’s always a happy day when we pass the bowls of watermelon chunks around.

All in all, I am very thankful for the bounty of God’s green earth and proud to be a vegan.  I am still learning about ways to maintain a balanced diet, but let me assure any of you who may have thought of going vegan that it is definitely possible and not as difficult as may seem at first.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Speed Blogging

Several weeks ago, I informed my wife that I would not be participating in NaBloPoMo this year.  Last year, I was able to write daily for an entire month because I was unemployed and didn’t have a lot else to do.  You can only prepare so many job application essays before you drive yourself crazy, and NaBloPoMo seemed like a perfect opportunity to improve my writing skills.  I knew that, if nothing else, it would be a “butt in chair” exercise that would get me into the habit of pounding out something every 24 hours, even if I didn’t particularly feel like it and didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to share with my audience.

As expected, a number of my posts took inanity to a new level and no doubt inspired a good deal of eye rolling among my readers.  Fortunately for me, the month of November always presents some ready-made topics, such as the change in the weather, the family foibles surrounding Thanksgiving and the arrival of the holiday season.  I held forth on the challenges of being a vegan on Turkey Day, waxed nostalgic on the occasion of my father’s eightieth birthday and described the river of emotions that resulted from spending time with my one year old grandniece (and hence, Elmo and Abby Cadabby as well) on a nearly daily basis.  NaBloPoMo was also when I began writing about homelessness in earnest, following my first month of living in the church parsonage and seeing the needy arriving regularly at our door in search of succor and sustenance.

It was a great feeling to proudly paste the NaBloPoMo logo at the end of each post and an even greater feeling when December 1 rolled around and I realized that I had risen to the challenge and succeeded.  I felt amply rewarded when A Map of California was featured in the NaBloPoMo section of WordPress’ Recommended Blogs page for months on end.

This year, of course, is different.  After nearly twelve months of unemployment, I was finally hired by state government in mid-September.  I have been blessed with a job I truly enjoy, one of the best bosses I have ever had and a rather interesting daily commute.  As grateful as I am, it doesn’t leave me much free time for writing.  I’ve been doing my best to post once weekly, but even that can be a stretch sometimes.  So writing every day for a month is, as I related to my wife, out of the question.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I regretted my decision.  One of my favorite things about NaBloPoMo is that it makes me feel a part of something big.  Look at all the other bloggers around the world who are pounding away at their keyboards at the same time that I am!  I want to be a member of that club.

I soon realized that there is only one possible way that, with a little luck, I might be able to pull this off.  The idea I came up with is “speed blogging.”  At work, I have an hour lunch break every day.  Now, an hour isn’t much time to think of a good topic, develop a decent thesis and flesh it out with appropriate arguments and witty examples (while eating a soy cream cheese and olive sandwich and a banana).  But I figure that if I keep my posts short and concentrate on my day-to-day experiences rather than on huge issues that require hours of research, I might be able to push myself through.

And so, faithful readers, please wish me good luck as we embark on this adventure together.

Okay, hour’s up.  I have to get back to work now.

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Bridges and Ferries

November has always been one of my favorite months of the year, despite the bad reputation it gets for the bare, leafless trees and the cold winds that serve as harbingers of winter.  To me, November is all about celebrations.

When I flip up the October page of the calendar and stare at glorious November, a goofy grin appears on my face.  The holiday season hath begun!  I feel no compulsion to wait until Black Friday.  I now feel license to put on the holiday music without feeling like an utter goofball.  Granted, I’ve been known to do this in March or August if the mood strikes, but then then it’s a guilty pleasure.  Now I can finally feel appropriate.  And so I revel in the Home Alone soundtrack on my headphones, the precision of the orchestration so incredible that, if I close my eyes, I can see John Williams waving his baton at the horns and strings.

For me, November is a month of anticipation.  As a kid, I would relish the approach of Thanksgiving, an opportunity to stuff myself with abandon.  And right after that, we’d be celebrating my father’s birthday, and you know what that means.  Cake!

Now that I am once again a member of the workforce, November is prized (at least by employees of the State of California) as the only month in which the calendar features three paid holidays.  First, we have the day off for Veterans’ Day on 11/11, then we have not one, but two days off for Thanksgiving.  This represents the only time of year at which I have four consecutive days off without the necessity of burning a vacation day.  That’s just enough time to celebrate with my wife’s family here and then head down to the Central Valley to celebrate with my own family as well.

December may be feted as the premier holiday month, but we state employees have only a single paid holiday then, on Christmas Day.  In every place I’ve worked, there has always been much discussion about the possibility of cadging days off for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.  Some of my employers have allowed staff to leave two or three hours early on those days while being paid for the full day.  A few have even expressed their holiday generosity by granting staff a half-holiday, a full four hours off.  I’ve also worked in 24/7 businesses where such largesse is not possible.  That’s when the jockeying for vacation days begins.  Those with seniority put in for those days at the earliest possible opportunity.  When I was a manager, I would have staff make weak attempts at reserving Christmas Eve off some six months in advance.  I’d have to tell them to see me again in about four months or so.

This year, holiday scheduling turned up as a staff meeting subject back in September.  It’s not the eves of Christmas and New Year’s that are the issues this time around, but the days after those holidays.  The calendar informs me that Christmas and New Year’s each fall on a Thursday.  That means that the corresponding Fridays are regular workdays.  Hence, the mad scramble to lock down vacation days and secure two consecutive four-day weekends.

It seems to me that the logical thing to do in this situation would be to treat Christmas and New Year’s just as we do Thanksgiving:  Give everyone a paid day off on the day after.  Say “happy holidays” with the gift of a pair of long weekends and plenty of time to spend with family and friends.

The French have seen the wisdom of this course of action stretching back decades.  Any time a public holiday falls on a Thursday, the next day is a holiday as well.  They call this maneuver faire le pont (“making the bridge”) and refer to the extra day off as le jour férié (“the ferry day”).

I think the French have the right idea.  We often call upon “bridges” and “ferries” not only as a literal method of making physical crossings between the mainland and the islands, but also as a metaphor for making connections between people in a multicultural, multilingual world.  And as we approach the time of year when we bow our heads in thanks and celebrate the joys of family, I urge that more employers consider creating those bridges and ferries that will give their loyal employees the concentrated time off they need to recharge their batteries and remind themselves why they are working in the first place.

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Christmas in September

wreath

Hey!  All you last minute procrastinators had better get on the stick.  There are only 102 days left until Christmas.

Before you start pummeling me, allow me to assure you that there is evidence aplenty of the impending arrival of Santa.  In fact, word on the street is that the big man has put on mandatory overtime for the elves on account of the lateness of the hour.

I don’t know what it is that has led me to begin humming bell songs.  You know, the ones about jingle bells, silver bells, carol of the bells.  Ding dong.

At first, I thought it was just the festive atmosphere surrounding preparations for my grandniece’s upcoming birthday party that was getting to me.  She’ll be two years old, so this Christmas will be the first time she will really be able to appreciate all the hoopla.  Last December, she was barely a year old and I don’t think she was able to understand too much about what was going on.

I guess it’s probably the snow that did it.  Sure, here in northern California, the mercury has climbed over 100°F daily for weeks and all of us are dripping sweat and wilting like buds that are past their primes.  But I hear the Rocky Mountains had a pretty good snowstorm last week.  Fellow blogger Trouble Face Mom of Calgary, Alberta (yes, that’s Canada) thoroughly entertained me with her tale of how she dealt with three consecutive days of snow.  She was starting to get depressed, considering it’s only September and officially still summer.  So her family took the only logical course of action.  They put up the tree, roasted a turkey and had Christmas.

What really got to me, however, was a visit to Sam’s Club.  We needed to pick up hot dogs and buns for a church function.  But mostly, it was a water run.  You see, water is always on our minds these days.  Between the ongoing drought, the forest fires and the heat wave, some days water is all we think about.  And when we’re not thinkin’ it, we’re drinkin’ it.  The water here is contaminated, so we purify tap water and still have to buy bottled water.  Cases and cases of it.

I did a double take right after pushing a shopping cart into that cavernous warehouse.  There it was, right in front of the checkout registers.  Artificial trees all lit up in red and green and gold.  The regular green kind and the ones with fake white needles that are supposed to look as if they have been snowed upon.  Globular ornaments that looked like miniatures of the big balls from Wipeout.  Flocking.

You read me right.  Flocking, for heaven’s sake.  Faux snow.  In September.

I know, this is California, we need fake snow because we never get any of the genuine item.  I’d be happy to just get a little of our “poor man’s snow.”  You know, that wet stuff that drips from the eaves and causes (gasp) puddles.  I have it on good authority that the proper name of this substance is “rain.”  This is how I know:  There was a sign posted on the local frozen yogurt shop yesterday, offering a 10% discount on all froyo purchased when it is raining.  Believe me, they don’t have to worry about losing so much as a penny in receipts.

So yes, I do realize that we are supposed to have Thanksgiving and Halloween before José Feliciano begins singing “Feliz Navidad.”  The back to school sales are still going on and the stores are just now beginning to pull out the dusty boxes full of cardboard pumpkins and Indian corn.

My father insists that, back in the day, it was against the law to so much as mention the C word before Black Friday.  So you tell me what a ubiquitous box store is doing with the PVC and LED Tannenbaum displays in mid-September.  The least they could do is wait until after Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, don’t you think?

Well, there’s only one possible explanation for this madness.  Clearly, the stores are trying to remind us to get crackin’ before it’s too late.

After all, there are only 102 days left until Christmas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUPGxVCIvrI

Gift of the Magi

Dad
My dad has always been a loner. With a house full of family to celebrate his birthday, I found him sitting out in the back yard, alone with his thoughts.

After five days away, we were very happy to arrive back at home this evening.

I can report seeing a few unexpected things on this trip to California’s Central Valley:

  • More than twenty members of a motorcycle club roaring down Blackstone Avenue in Fresno on Black Friday.  A few cyclists had passengers with them, one of which was a child.   One bike came about an inch from rear-ending a car and likely going flying over the handlebars.  The lead biker was a reckless dude who annoyed the crap out of drivers when he showed off by popping front and rear wheelies in heavy traffic.  Lucky for him that cop didn’t see the guy flip him off.
  • Trader Joe’s with nearly empty bakery shelves.  We had hoped to purchase a challah for Hanukkah Kiddush on Friday, but no dice.  The staff said they received no deliveries “due to a misunderstanding” that had something to do with the store being closed on Thanksgiving Day.  What, they expected the store to be open on Thanksgiving?  Please!
  • Motel 6 with a giant electronic sign out on the road that quoted a price more than ten dollars less than the price actually charged for a room.  A flyer was posted in the office indicating that the electronic sign is broken.  Again, please!  Cover the damned thing up then, will ya?
  • Restaurant Wars!  Many customers were seated on the benches outside Outback Steakhouse waiting for a table to become available.  Meanwhile, employees from Tahoe Joe’s across the street walked over and began handing out coupons for free appetizers, stating that there is no wait at their nice, warm restaurant, so why wait out in the cold here?  Um, do you think there might just be a reason why a couple dozen people were willing to wait patiently out in the cold evening for a table at Outback while its competitor had no wait?  You’d better believe we told the manager what was going on right in front of her nose.

Other things were more expected.  Like my sister arguing with my mother about the former’s cat vomiting in multiple corners of the latter’s pretty pink carpet.  And arguing with my mother about who is permitted to keep her soy milk in which refrigerator.  And arguing with my mother over the choice of restaurant for my father’s birthday dinner.  And bringing up forty year old childhood slights, real and imagined.  That’s my sister for you.

I am glad we all managed to make it for my father’s eightieth birthday.  My mother says he had been dropping hints for the past year about wanting to do something special for this landmark occasion.  Turning eighty really means something to him, she told me.  For example, she says, he likes to mention to grocery clerks that he can still carry his own bags out to the car.  “After all, I’m only eighty.”

My father, on the other hand, denies it all.  He says that celebrating his birthday was nothing but a smokescreen of my mother’s, designed to get the kids and grandkids together for Thanksgiving dinner.

If it weren’t Hanukkah, I’d call it the gift of the magi.

 

Feast and Family

pumpkin pie

MADERA

Well, another Thanksgiving is in the history books.

We took part in the usual feasting and catching up, and I am pleased to report that no fights broke out.  It was good to be together with family.

Quite a variety of food was served, as was necessary considering that among us we had three vegetarians, one vegan (that would be me), three lactose-intolerant, one gluten-free, one diabetic and one kosher.

As my wife does not enjoy turkey, hot dogs were also served.  By the way, she made what I can honestly say was the best guacamole I have ever tasted.  My sister prepared a wonderful tofu, rice and vegetable casserole.  Although I had brought ample amounts of vegan protein with me, I have yet to eat any of it due to the cornucopia of vegan-friendly dishes on the table.  My mother-in-law sent two vegan fruitcakes and my niece made two pumpkin pies, both vegan, one of them with a gluten-free crust.

In summary, despite the considerable variety of eating habits in my family, we all ended up happily stuffed.

I particularly enjoyed catching up with my sister, as we had been out of contact for six years.  She regaled me with stories about the middle school special ed classes she teaches.

These are just a few things I learned about my family today:

  • My niece and her brother, both young adults who still live with their father, are often mistaken for a dating couple.  “Why can’t they understand that siblings can care for each other?” she bemoaned.
  • My sister’s middle school students refer to defecation as “dropping the kids off at the pool.”
  • My other sister is considering taking a temporary position on an Indian reservation in South Dakota.  Or maybe she’ll just go to Colorado.
  • I have one niece who is currently visiting Israel and a nephew who is traveling around Europe.  I had no idea.
  • It is possible to have wireless internet service on the fly way out in the country where my parents live, but only if you pay a subscription fee for a dongle.  And even then, it is decidedly hit or miss.
  • My nephew, who is less than a year out of college and working in Silicon Valley, is being pursued by Google.  How exciting!
  • I seem to be the only one in the family who knows the Hebrew words to the Hanukkah hymn Maos Tzur (Rock of Ages).

What else?  Well, my sister brought her crazy cat with her.  This feline goes by the name of Butternut, likes to jump up to high places from which she is unable to descend, possesses a squeak rather than a proper meow, and has a penchant for leaving kitty vomit on various parts of the carpet throughout the house.

And I also learned that we all have different senses of humor, and that jokes told at table have the unfortunate potential for making some of those in attendance uncomfortable.  I’ll leave it at that.

When last I left them, my nieces and nephews were conducting high-level discussions regarding who will sleep on the couch, who will sleep on two mattresses piled on top of each other, who will sleep on the floor and whether anyone is going to bother to blow up the air mattress.

I am so happy that we are comfortably ensconced at Motel 6.

NaBloPoMo November 2013