My Forever Home

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You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.
– Maya Angelou 

You can’t go home again isn’t just metaphorical for many people.  The first home I ever knew–the married student housing apartments where I lived with my parents until I was four years old–was demolished not long ago to make way for intramural sports fields.  The last home I lived in was burned nearly to the ground, destroying almost everything we owned.

burned down house

At this time of year, hearts turn toward home, and I am no different–but I find myself longing for places that are no longer available.  I was fortunate to live in the same neighborhood for most of my childhood.  My closest cousins and my maternal grandparents lived there too, and my paternal grandmother lived across town.  Holidays followed a predictable, safe pattern:  Thanksgiving lunch at Mima’s and supper at Granny’s, then Christmas morning at Mima’s and Christmas afternoon at Granny’s.  That was the way it was for 22 years, until divorces and deaths intervened.   Until recently, one childhood house remained:  my mother had been living in her mother’s old house.  When she sold it earlier this year, the last link remaining to that childhood stability was gone.

As the oldest in my family of birth and the first one to have a family of my own, providing a home for the holidays has most often fallen to me, and I hope that my children have fond memories of those days even though the places and patterns have shifted over time.  My favorite adult holiday memories took place in the Victorian house where we lived for eight years.  Despite its somewhat decrepit condition, with its large formal spaces it was ideal for entertaining.  It was the house for which we collected not-quite-antique furniture, piece by piece, the one we decorated with portraits of our children and religious icons.  To me it was my dream house, and when we had to move out for financial reasons I was devastated.  No house has really felt like home to me since.

Victorian House

For the two years after that, we were renting a house that never felt comfortable or safe.  Part of that, I think, was because it was not really ours and we weren’t sure how long we would be able to stay there.  When it burned down, destroying everything, it was the completion of the loss that began with our move.

Since that happened four years ago, I feel I have been trying to regain a sense of home.  We are still renting, but we have plans to buy the house we have lived in since just a few weeks after the fire.  I have started gardening again, putting down literal roots.  But I struggle with decorating, acquiring knickknacks, hanging pictures, really committing.

house and garden

Almost everything in the house–right down to the dishes we eat from and the sheets on the beds–was given to us.  We are surrounded by reminders of the love of the people in our various communities every day.

And that’s part of what made me realize that to me, home has come to mean something other than a house.  When I think of home, I think of Knoxville, my hometown, where I have spent all but five years of my life, the place where I was married and where all my babies were born.  Whenever I return from a vacation, my heart feels a little lighter as soon as I cross the Tennessee line.  The road sign that reads Knoxville – 12 miles always lifts my spirits.  And probably the most welcoming sight in the world to me is the Knoxville skyline, with my own parish church at the very front, visible on the interstate as we drive through town.

IC from CP

My roots in this town are deep–my father’s people have lived in this area since the 1700s.  Even though my husband has only lived here 25 years, he has put down roots as well.  I may not know in what house we will be celebrating the holidays five or ten or twenty years from now, but I know the party will be in Knoxville, my forever home.

Home to Me

This post is part of the “Home to Me” blog hop, hosted by Julie Walsh of These Walls. During the two weeks from Friday, November 13 through Thanksgiving Day, more than a dozen bloggers will share about what the concept of “home” means to them. “Home” can been elusive or steady. It can be found in unexpected places. It is sought and cherished and mourned. It is wrapped up in the people we love. As we turn our minds and hearts toward home at the beginning of this holiday season, please visit the following blogs to explore where/what/who is “Home to Me.”

November 13 – Julie @ These Walls

November 14 – Leslie @ Life in Every Limb

November 15 – Ashley @ Narrative Heiress

November 16 – Rita @ Open Window

November 17 – Svenja, guest posting @ These Walls

November 18 – Anna @ The Heart’s Overflow

November 19 – Debbie @ Saints 365

November 20 – Melissa @ Stories My Children Are Tired of Hearing

November 21 – Amanda @ In Earthen Vessels

November 22 – Daja and Kristina @ The Provision Room

November 23 – Emily @ Raising Barnes

November 24 – Annie @ Catholic Wife, Catholic Life

November 25 – Nell @ Whole Parenting Family

November 26 – Geena @ Love the Harringtons

nablopomo

I Fell off the Wagon . . .

The NaBloPoMo wagon, that is.  But, y’all, this week has been brutal.
First there was the all-nighter.  Jake got his paper done.  Emily bagged on us around 3 a.m.  I stayed up and up and up.  For those of you who have heard me rant about helicopter parenting, all I can say is that sometimes even big kids need their mothers, and Jake needed me that night.
Furthermore, any of you who do legal work will no doubt cringe when I mention that I also had discovery requests to fulfill the following day.  So I was working on that the following morning while continuing to help Jake with the paper.  I did not get to finally collapse until close to 4 p.m.  I slept for 17 hours.
This blissful unconsciousness put a serious dent into Thanksgiving prep time, however.  Normally I would have at least shopped for the food on Tuesday.  But that had to wait until Wednesday and I did not get down to serious cooking business until close to 7 p.m.  Brining the bird, cooking the giblets, and preparing the sweet potatoes and the mashed potatoes took until about 2 a.m.  Six hours later I was back up to cover the turkey in bacon and get it into the oven.  Then I moved onto the pies, and in between those major tasks handled all the little details that those of you who have hosted 18 people or so more Thanksgiving dinner won’t need me to explain.
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The fruits of all this labor were delicious, and as they say, a good time was had by all.  But after they all went home, it was back at it for me to clean up until around eleven (well worth it to come downstairs this morning to a clean kitchen instead of a mess).  Whenever I made the mistake of sitting down for a rest I wasn’t sure I could get back up again!  I finally treated myself to a long-anticipated soak in the spa tub and I thought I might just have to spend the night in there.
Mark my words, y’all:  I am NOT doing this again next year!  Next year you are going to be reading a post about how we went to Mass and then next door to the Crown Plaza for their Thanksgiving buffet.  You heard it here first.

The Best Turkey I Ever Made

I don’t know about you, but I always get nervous about roasting the Thanksgiving turkey.  It’s such a big responsibility.  If your casserole doesn’t turn out exactly right, so what?  There are about 100 more casseroles on the table.  But if the turkey is bad?  That’s a Big Deal.
So every year I get out the cookbooks again because I can never remember exactly what I did before.  I’ve achieved fairly good results over the years by submerging the turkey completely in liquid (whatever I have on hand–tons of cans of chicken broth, orange juice, beer, and whatever else it takes to get the thing covered) in the roasting pan.  But it’s so heavy it takes two of us to lift it and it makes the refrigerator shelf sag!   This method helps to keep the turkey moist, and then I solve the dry breast meat problem by soaking cheesecloth in butter and covering the breast with that, and then basting right over it.  This is a combination of a recipe from Gourmet Magazine and the old Joy of Cooking (mine burned in the fire and I have the new one now, which I DESPISE.).
I don’t get excited about cooking turkey not only because it’s stressful but also because it’s kind of boring!  The only adventure is whether it’s going to be done on time and how moist it will be.  There’s not a lot of scope for the imagination–at least not until this year!  Because a couple of weeks ago a Facebook friend posted a picture of a turkey WRAPPED IN BACON.  Yes, you read that right.  I knew immediately that I wanted to try this.  Her picture did not link up to a recipe but when I said I wanted to try it she Googled one for me. (Thanks, Michelle!)  Of course I had to add my own twists to it.  Here’s my recipe.
Bacon Wrapped Turkey
Ingredients:
1 turkey, 20 lbs. (I used the cheapest frozen one I could find, and you would never have been able to tell!)
3 12-oz. boxes of bacon (also the cheapest kind I could find)
1 stick butter, softened by leaving it at room temperature
1 onion
5 stalks of celery
1 can of chicken broth
other liquid for soaking (whatever you want.  I used chicken broth, salted water, and beer.)
sage
garlic
salt
pepper
 
If you are using a frozen turkey, you are supposed to thaw it in the refrigerator, allowing one day per five pounds.  But guess what:  that’s an inexact science at best.  You might want to check sooner than I did–which was the night before I was supposed to cook the thing, and it was frozen as hard as a brick.  Should that happen to you, soak it in cool water in the sink, changing the water frequently.
The night before you are going to cook the turkey, wash it and pat it dry, inside and out.  Put it upright in a stockpot and put in as much liquid as you can.  Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to prepare it.
Put your celery sticks in the bottom of your roasting pan (You won’t need these if you have a really good roasting pan with a rack; I needed them because I was using the cheapie foil kind from the supermarket and I wanted to sit my turkey up a bit.) Pour in your can of broth.  Drain your turkey, dry it off, and put it in the pan.  Loosen its skin as much as you can and rub it with softened butter inside the cavities and over and under the skin.  Season with sage, garlic, salt , and pepper (or whatever else you like!) under and over the skin and in the cavities.  Put the onion inside the turkey and tie up the legs (I cross the “ankles” and tie them together with string wound around like a figure eight.).
Now take your bacon and drape it all over your turkey, making sure it is completely covered.  The bacon will stick because of the butter.

 

 
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  Insert a meat thermometer into the thigh near the body, but don’t let it hit bone.  Tent foil over the turkey.  Put it in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 325.  The purpose of the initial high heat is to seal in the juices.
A 20-lb. turkey is supposed to take 4 hours to cook.  For the purposes of this recipe we will pretend that real life and real turkeys always follow the rules, but you need to be prepared to adjust.  I put my turkey in the oven at 9 and took it out after 2.
You can ignore the turkey for the first 3 hours.  After that take off the foil and let it cook for 30 minutes with its bacon wrap still in place.  Then you are going to have to take it out of the oven to do the next part.  Be very very careful because there will probably be a lot of drippings in your pan.  If you are going to make gravy this will be a good time to get out some drippings so you can have a head start.

 
(Please just ignore how dirty my stovetop is, okay?)
Take off the bacon.  Use a fork–it’s hot!  You can chop it up for use in another recipe, or put it away for later, or feed it to your dog. Baste the turkey and put it back in the oven.  At this point you will want to baste it every 30 minutes or so until it is done.  When is it done?  When the thermometer reads 170.  I actually took it out when it wasn’t quite there because it will continue to cook for a bit after you remove it from the oven.
Let the turkey “rest” for 15 minutes or so before carving.  Here’s where I got a bit of a scare–the outer layer of flesh is going to be pink.  Your turkey IS NOT RAW.  It is slightly smoked from the bacon.
Everyone RAVED over this turkey.  One and all said it was the best one I ever cooked.  The breast meat wasn’t just “not dry”–it was downright juicy and flavorful.  This is how I will be cooking my turkey every year from now on.

Let the Preparations Begin!


That’s my counter, waiting for tomorrow.  We are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time in several years, and I expect to be cooking all day.  I hope to have only the turkey to deal with on Thursday.
When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was so comforting, following the same pattern every single year.  We ate dinner at Mima’s at 2 p.m. and supper at Granny’s later on.  At Mima’s there would be turkey and giblet gravy; at Granny’s there would be ham and dumplings.  (And many other things too, of course!)
But divorce, marriages, kids, and deaths have intervened.  We’ve never really come up with a permanent Thanksgiving plan like we had back then.  Thus added to the stress of preparing for the holiday is the stress of deciding where and how it will happen.
We started hosting the dinner before we even had a house big enough to do it, with a table that filled the entire living room of our ratty apartment.  Once we’d moved to the Victorian house, which had a dining room made for that kind of thing, we were the natural hosts and we filled that role for a long time.  My sister and I took turns a couple of times once she had a house.  But for the past couple of years we have gone out to eat and then met later on for homemade desserts.
But if you are a parent you know that kids thrive on tradition and DEMAND that it be followed.  My kids have never approved of this going out to eat on Thanksgiving business.  So this year I am cooking again.
I’m making the turkey, of course (and I plan to document just how I am doing that for my post tomorrow),  the gravy (sorry, Mima, no giblets in mine!), the dressing (I’d like to try something adventurous but when I’ve added craisins or nuts in the past my family members have disapproved), sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes (something we added for John–we never had them growing up), pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and possibly apple pie if I don’t get burned out before then.  And I’ll also be supplying the tea (VERY sweet), the cranberry sauce (the kind that keeps the shape of the can only, please!), and the sweet pickles and olives (because Mima always had them).
My mother is making the rolls and the green beans.  My sister is making casseroles (she is big on casseroles and invents her own recipes) and her mother-in-law is (I think and hope) bringing a ham (I’m the only big ham fan in the family so we never have it; I hope she will leave me some leftovers!).
I feel like I am whining all the time but I do feel just a little melancholy about not having special china and crystal any more.  We used to set a beautiful Thanksgiving table.  That was John’s contribution and he always did a wonderful job.  He even did fancy things with the napkins.  Rather than even attempt to replicate that I think we will be more casual and do buffet style and sit wherever.  It is easier anyway–I used to get so worn out from serving all those plates that I was just about too tired to eat!
What about you?  What’s on your menu for Thursday? What Thanksgiving food can you just not do without?

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:18
I first encountered that quotation as a child when reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  Corrie and her sister Betsie have been imprisoned in a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their Amsterdam home.  One day Betsie reads this Bible verse and declares that she and Corrie are going to thank God for everything about the situation they find themselves in, like the fact that they have been assigned together, that there was no inspection so that they retained the Bible, even the crowded condition of the barracks which will mean more women with whom to share God’s word.  But when Betsie starts giving thanks for the fleas in the barracks, Corrie objects: “Not even God can make me grateful for a flea!”  Her sister reminds her that the words were “give thanks in ALL circumstances,” not just in pleasant ones, and adds that “fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
Betsie’s faith is justified when the soldiers who routinely rape the women in the other barracks avoid their unit because of the fleas.
I haven’t reached the point yet of thanking God that our house burned down.  Maybe I will someday.  But for now it is enough to recognize some of the very real blessings that would never have come our way otherwise.  Today I am thinking about the blessings of friendship.
I think of a couple at church who were barely acquaintances before and became our friends because they offered us office space to use until we found somewhere else to live and work.  I think of a friend whom I had not talked to in a while, and his wife whom I had met only once, who went above and beyond with gifts and time and financial assistance and concern.  I think of people whom I knew at our kids’ schools, especially football parents, whose kindness and support has bridged my innate shyness to make me feel closer to them.  I think of my new next door neighbor, whom I would never have met if I had not moved here, and the book club she invited me to be a part of, and the many fun evenings I have spent in her company.
And I think of YOU, my dear online friends, especially those in the blogging world.  Because the fire made me blog more–I HAD to write, to process this experience:  I am still processing it, obviously.  And I don’t think I would have become as involved in these online communities if it had not been for the fire.  Being online was a comforting refuge, something familiar and safe when things were strange.
I love this month of Thanksgiving, and the challenge that so many of us strive to meet to post on Facebook each day something to be thankful for.  It can be life-changing to realize that no matter how bad things seem there is always, always something to be thankful for.