I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: November, 2014

A Simple Roast Turkey


Prepared With Complicated Emotions

For those of us with eating issues, Thanksgiving is fraught. I’ve made the long journey from lonely eater, to competitive pie-baking guest, to overwhelmed hostess, to becoming a more loving and thankful person. I have gradually realized that no one wants the turkey with exotic spices; no one wants the healthy version of mashed potatoes; other people want the sweet potatoes with marshmallows even if I don’t. (Surprise, they are now a favorite of mine!) Like the Grinch, I have very slowly realized that it’s not about me, nor the food, nor my ability to control the holiday experience. It’s about everyone being together. And who wants a hostess that is tense and competitive and judgmental? A hostess should be happy and inviting and joyful, like a beloved yoga teacher, making you feel like the most important and most loved person. Yes, I know. Duh. A mundane epiphany. It only took 52 years.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I was going to enjoy the holidays. Making my resolve more concrete, I shared my decision out loud with my husband. He characteristically said in his no-nonsense way, “Good! Our kids love the holidays and you should be proud that we’ve created traditions that make them feel loved and happy. Besides, the more you enjoy the holidays, the more they will want to come home for the holidays.” Ah. There it is. The circle of life. As they grow older, I want them to want to come home. Unlike me, I want them to want to visit their parents.

I dug out the recipes, made my shopping list, even found the notes I had made a year ago of missing items and ways to improve the process. I was calm, organized, and ready. And So Excited for my daughter to come home from college for the week.

Then my father called. My 92-year old mother was back in the E.R. The “rehab” center where she was barely surviving the recovery from a broken hip had rushed her there. She was on Coumadin and her blood was too thin. This was it, according to my father. I better prepare to abandon my family and my Thanksgiving to rush to her side to say good-bye. I was, sadly, somewhat immune to his dire predictions. He’s been predicting her demise for the last ten years or so. I went through a laundry list of self-questioning:

  • Was my father’s dramatic pessimism warranted? Maybe. After all, she is 92 and one of these days his dire prediction is going to come true.
  • Did it make sense for me to abandon my family and my Thanksgiving to rush to her side and to help my father? Probably not. It was snowing and the worst travel day of the year.
  • How would I feel if my mother died before I could see her? Deeply sad.

The range of emotions over the next 48 hours was wide and intense.

  • Guilt that I am not near by and don’t want to be more of a caretaker.
  • Anger that my father can still make me feel like a scolded bad girl who must resort to explanations of duty and responsibility to explain why I don’t visit more. (I’m busy, busy, busy!) As opposed to the truth: I am angry at what you did. (Make peace with it, Sally. It’s part of your journey.)
  • Compassion for my father who is so devoted to caring for my mother that he feels shattered at this latest crisis leading to her further deterioration. Compassion for his loneliness and worry about his increasing confusion.
  • Despair that the care options for our aging parents are so medicalized and impersonal, based on aiding survival, not on facilitating love.

48 hours later, on Wednesday, after the hospital treated her for the Coumadin overdose and discovered that she had a UT infection which they were now treating with antibiotics, my mom perked up. About to hop on a train, because my father just that morning had insisted that I really probably should come say good-bye, I spoke to the nurse who said she was doing better. Feeling jerked around but relieved, my father held the phone up to my mother’s ear and she kind of squeaked in greeting. My heart jumped up to my throat and I was overcome with emotion.  Would that happy squeak be the last sound of maternal love I hear from my mother?

I decided that I was going to enjoy Thanksgiving. I do believe you can change your thoughts and make thoughtful decisions about how you are going to react and make conscious choices about what emotion will prevail. More and more, I am choosing joy and laughter. I am still angry, guilty, sad, confused, anxious. I am also loving, capable, funny, generous, thoughtful, and frequently happy. My daughter is home. My mother is alive. I am thankful. So thankful that, at midlife, I feel fully thankful along with all the emotions that come with a poignant sense of gratitude.

(P.S. It’s now Saturday and I am, sadly, on my way to say good-bye to her.)

Simple Thanksgiving Roast Turkey

  • Brine the (≅13 lb) turkey Thursday morning.
    • Dissolve 1½ cups kosher salt, ½ cup dark brown sugar, 1 container orange juice concentrate in a quart of boiling water.
    • Remove neck, giblets and metal truss from the turkey.  Throw away because the giblets make your husband gag.  Rinse and place turkey in a cooler or bucket.
    • Pour brine mixture, 1 gallon of cold water, 1 gallon of ice cubes to submerge turkey. Add chicken broth if turkey is not submerged. Place container out on back porch where it is 40°.
    • Let soak in brine for 5-6 hours.

Go take a yoga class. Marvel at how beautiful the class is and wonder what it is about the teacher that makes her so popular. Perhaps it is because she is the most welcoming hostess, making each person feel special. Let the revelation sink in. Maybe I too can be a joyful yoga teacher, a welcoming hostess.

Back home to make sides, side by side with my daughter. Imagine Thanksgiving someday at her house where I hope to be a gracious and loving and helpful and proud guest.

After a light lunch, it’s time to deal with the brined turkey.

  • Preheat the oven to 500°. Lug the turkey inside and haul it into the kitchen sink. Pat it dry. Do NOT stuff it. Slather it with canola oil. Think about how you feel about eating turkey and honor your hesitation. Give thanks to the poor turkey for giving its life so you can honor a family and cultural tradition. Place the turkey on a rack inside a roasting pan and place it in the very hot oven for 25 minutes. Do not peek. (Alton Brown taught me this.)

Go watch football with your husband and son for 25 minutes. Wonder why this violent sport is so popular. Acknowledge that you find the familiar sound of whistles blowing on the tv in the background to be nostalgic and comforting. Muse about what Janay Palmer is doing today and how her relationship with Ray Rice will evolve when it is announced that he is being reinstated into the NFL.

  • After 25 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven. Watch the smoke! (Gotta clean the oven!) Turn the temperature down to 350°. Cover the breast with a double layer of foil, cutting out a little hole for the button to pop so you can see it. Place the turkey back in the oven. For 2 hours. Do nothing. REALLY. No basting, no checking, no nothing. (Alton Brown taught me this.)
  • After an hour and 45 minutes, begin peeking at the button to see if it’s popped. It should pop at 2 hours. If it doesn’t pop at 2 hours, take it out anyway and use your own thermometer to check the temperature. I swear it’s done. Do not overcook.

While it is resting, finish your sides and consider making gravy. Have someone else carve it. Serve buffet style, because you are done! How simple was that?  Ask everyone to help with the clean-up.


Image Credit:  Wild Turkey Cock, Hen and Young by John James Audubon


Find Bliss in What You Follow


But Whatever You Do, Don’t Be an English Major!

Right on schedule, a little bit more than halfway through her first semester of college, my daughter is wondering what she wants to be when she grows up. Enrolled in the engineering school, slogging her way through Calculus and Chemistry for Engineers, elbow-to-elbow with “nerds,” she is wondering, “Do I really want to be an engineer?”

College is the transition time where you begin to fully absorb that you may not be a prima ballerina or a number one tennis champion or a talented singer-songwriter with millions of screaming fans or any number of other glorified, popularized, famous and lucky celebrity success stories that get served up as role models. How do you integrate your childhood dreams into a viable career that is fulfilling, soul-satisfying, contributes to the world, and earns you a living?

Since I still wonder what I want to be when I grow up, I have a host of reactions to the smorgasbord of life choices she is now facing. Hope, anxiety, and excitement mingle with some midlife regret and wisdom. What kind of advice and support can I give her? Follow Your Bliss versus Gotta Get A Job? Live for Today versus Plan for Tomorrow? Whatever you do, don’t be an English Major (like me)!

Mainly I stay calm and coach her: “Be patient and be open. You will be surprised at the opportunities engineering will offer you.” Inside, I am less calm. The thoughts swirl:

  • Please don’t go into communications. There are a bazillion girls like you working for nothing in Manhattan.
  • When the apocalypse comes, we will not need more pop rock and fashion critics, we will need engineers!
  • You want to be a healer? Engineers do more to heal and build than celebrity talk show hosts!

(Nobody is more surprised than me, the ultimate humanities/arts girl, that I am championing engineering. Go S.T.E.M for women!)

Really though, if life is uncertain, unfair, and short – how do you want to spend it? When all is said and done, what I want her to be when she grows up is … happy.

I grew up with parents who wanted to encourage me to do or be anything I wanted to be. The fortunate benefit of this philosophy is that I was exposed to many different activities and allowed to try new things and quit things as I tired of them. The downside is that while I became good at many things I never became great. I expected to feel a calling, a life purpose, and that I would follow this path to great success. The reality of earning a living was glossed over.

Very few of us have one specific life purpose. Very few of us are so talented and so disciplined and so well-connected that we rise to the top. Very few of us don’t have to earn a living. We do our children a disservice to hold out a vague promise that they should follow their bliss (if they even know what their bliss is) and the money will come.

Oprah is on tour with many people I follow and adore. (I love you Elizabeth Gilbert!) I am not an Oprah fanatic, but I do appreciate that her charismatic message of responsible self-empowerment is important and transformational, especially for those of us lucky enough to have the resources to transform. I am, however, having trouble with her mantra (intermixed with commercial marketing messages) that “You are the master of your fate!”

Well, yes and no. I believe we have the power to control our attitude towards our fate, which very definitely can affect the choices we make and the direction of our lives. But we do not have control over whether we are born into freedom or wealth or an educated environment. The Nigerian girls (remember them?) are not in control of their fate. My nephew’s girlfriend’s 23-year old friend who died suddenly of an aneurysm last week is not in control of her fate. (God forbid! Can you imagine? Those poor parents.)

The truth is, dear girl, that there is no clear-cut path for you to choose. You must make your own path. Your Own Path. The one that makes you happy. Not me. Not Dad. Not anyone else. It will have many turns and branches along the way. Any path you choose will require some boring and tedious and frustrating and just plain hard tasks along the way. It is your approach to your path that will contribute to your happiness and success.

Perhaps, though, the question should be reframed from “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “What kind of person do you want to be?” When reframed in this way, it becomes more clear that there is no one answer. There is no one direction. Grow up to be you. Wise, honest, and compassionate. The rest will follow. Find bliss in what you follow. Because if you wait for bliss to find you, you will be disappointed.

Oh, and be patient and be open. You will be surprised at the opportunities life will offer you.

Remembering All Souls


For Elizabeth

I was not brought up in any religious tradition, and don’t “belong” to any religion, but I am most familiar, culturally, with Christianity. I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell or an omnipotent God. But I have come to believe there is sacredness in the moments of connection between people and in the rare moments of peace we experience in stillness and in nature.

What happens when we die? Where do our souls go? Why are we here? Without religious tradition and faith, these questions can be troubling, leading to existential angst. These questions can also drive an urgency to live this life with meaning. Because, what if, there is nothing after this life? Better make this one count.

I believe that we are here for those sacred moments of connection and peace. I don’t know what happens when we die, but I know where our souls go. They are part of us who live on.

The daughter of my cousin Elizabeth – Elizabeth, my surrogate sister, the one who was killed by a drunk driver, leaving behind a 10 year old girl – is now grown and got married this weekend. It was a beautiful and joyous and emotional event. With great care, she and her groom planned a ceremony and a party that reflected their open and loving personalities and they included all the people they loved, both alive and dead. The dead ones were there. I felt them.

Elizabeth, Frank, Mary, Melvin, Fran, Earl, Sadie.   Those are the ones from my life that I felt. Present. At the wedding. Imagine if every person brought all their dead loved ones with them. (They did.) It was a big party!

There we all were, living and dead, celebrating the sacred connection of love.

Elizabeth, who I still miss deeply and so acutely at our rare family gatherings, lives on in her daughter and all of us connected to her. I know she is so full of love and pride for her daughter. I can feel it.

If there is no heaven nor hell after life, then surely it is here in this life. And if there is no afterlife, then it is urgent and imperative that we maximize heaven and minimize hell in this life. Love deeply. Those moments of sacred connection are heaven and those moments of sacred connection are the only way to minimize hell. Know that our loved ones’ souls live on in us.

Dear souls, may we find peace.

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