Thanksgiving Blessings!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!
So, today is the big day....Thanksgiving, Turkey Day.....the day of parades, football, family gatherings, pumpkin pie and of course turkey.    Have you ever found yourself longing for those days  gone by...... those holidays that were something out of a Hallmark movie, the ones that seem merely a memory, never to again be a reality?  Now don't get me wrong, Thanksgiving is always celebrated in my family and always involves delicious food, family, at least a little of the parade. Thankfully we skip the football portion in our house.  (Thank God for that!!) We always celebrate our blessings with food and family, but for me Thanksgiving is never quite as special as it was when I was a kid.

From the earliest I can remember, we celebrated holidays at my maternal grandmother and grandfather's house.  They lived in a small cape-cod styled house in Rotterdam.  The house was lovely but my grandmother had a love affair with food - growing food, cooking food, eating food and feeding the flock food - lots of food.  She excelled at all of these which made the tiny kitchen in her cape inadequate in every sense of her imagination.  In fact, I don't think she ever once cooked in that kitchen, at least not as long as I knew her.   Instead they made the entire basement of their home into a living area consisting of a 1950's open-concept kitchen/living area - 1/2 kitchen, 1/2 living room.   The basement also had a cold cellar for storing the summer's harvest.  Here in this 'workable' kitchen, Gram could cook to her heart's content preparing "traditional holiday feasts".

As you can imagine, this pseudo kitchen/dining area was still a basement.  It was not sheet-rocked like finished basements of today.  It was not carpeted or fancy and it definitely lacked bright sunshine and the things home buyers are seeking on those cable tv shows.  It was painted foundation blocks, fluorescent lights and a simple space with long counters, a stove, fridge, sink, and table and chairs on one side and living room furniture and t.v. on the other.    Oh.......and a huge chest freezer on one wall, because everyone knows real cooks need a big freezer, right?    Over the freezer hanging on the wall was a huge immortalized marlin my Gramps caught while deep-sea fishing.  You're probably thinking that this doesn't sound like a very fancy place for this Hallmark Thanksgiving I speak of and you're right, it sure didn't look like a Hallmark movie in decor.   Yet, those are the Thanksgivings that I hold most dear, the memories that make any Thanksgiving since pale in comparison.
Since my grandmother liked (loved) to cook, she also embodied the phrase, "The More, The Merrier" so her house was the place everyone went on Thanksgiving (and Easter too).  My paternal grandparents came, and some aunts and uncles too.  It didn't matter how large the flock, it was easy adding a second table and more chairs.  My grandmother only knew how to cook for a crowd anyway, that's just how she was.  I don't know if that happened after living through the depression where food was sparse, but these days food was never sparse and there was always enough for more. While my grandfather would spend the morning deer hunting, my grandmother would work in the kitchen preparing the 'feast'.....all of it.  We'd arrive mid-day just about the time my Gramps would be returning from the hunt - the one he'd gotten up before dawn for.  Without a nap or a breathe, Gramps would sit down and peel warm roasted chestnuts - not for himself or the cook, but for me, his granddaughter.  He knew I loved them.  I'll always remember that because it always seemed such a generous gesture and always felt like an act of love.  I still love roasted chestnuts and still hate peeling them. Soon everyone would arrive and join us in our basement dining room.
There were no candles or holiday decor.  There were no cloth napkins or maybe not even table cloths.  What there was was a lot of family and enough food to serve a small army.  There was always a big turkey, maybe a ham, and always some Italian side dish.   Of course there was mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, a plethora of vegetables, gravy, cream cheese and olive stuffed celery, and of course dessert.  Everyone would eat till they could burst and when we were done, most of the bowls and platters of food looked nearly untouched.  My Gram would exclaim, "Nobody ate anything!"  Yes, that's how it may have looked, but our bellies knew otherwise.

After dinner some of the guest would retire to the other side of the room and watch some tv, but most sat around the table visiting.  While these holidays were full of family, I was always the only child.  There were no cousins in our immediate family.  So unlike holidays pictured on tv or perhaps your holidays, there were no rambunctious kids running around, it was always only me.  That was ok, because as the only child I'm pretty sure I got a lot of attention from all my adult relatives.  It was also special that most years I got to stay at my grandparents when my folks went home that night.  It was sort of a tradition that I would spend a couple of nights there over the holiday break.  Kids didn't do sleepovers back then, so these occasions were a special privilege since they meant special treats and treasured time with Gram and Gramps.  I can still envision breakfast the next morning - again in the basement.  I remember the smell of coffee brewing and the distinctly delicious taste of toast dipped in my Gram's coffee. I can still smell my Gram frying a sunny-side egg.  Funny how some sensory experiences stay with you.

Somewhere in my teens, my mom took over the Thanksgiving responsibilities.  My mom is also a wonderful cook and our home was always cozy and welcoming - a place where family and friends loved to be.  The same guests would be in attendance, the food as delicious although more appropriately portioned for the size of the crowd......and still a wonderful holiday.  When I got married, not wanting to have to take turns with my family or his, I took over Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Obviously the food was not quite as amazing, the space was more cramped in an apartment, but what I lacked in those areas I tried to make up for in detail.  Over the years the people in attendance has changed.  Relatives have passed, our dad's are gone, aunts and uncles are gone.

Our holidays now consist of immediately family only.  Now that my daughter and her family are in Indiana, our Thanksgiving is down to 5 people, me, John, my mom, my eldest daughter and my son-in-law ...... not exactly a Hallmark card or movie, not exactly the holidays I remember.  While I admit it makes me a little sad to have seen holidays evolve and become so small and understated, I cannot ignore the fact that I have an abundance of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful that unlike many, I have these years - all of my years - of holiday memories.  I'm thankful for all the people who were part of those memories who were a regular presence in my life, not just on holidays.  I'm thankful for my mom who is still in good health and able to enjoy her life independently.  I'm thankful for two beautiful, successful daughters who married wonderful men and are living happy, productive lives.  I'm thankful for my granddaughters who, although no longer present in my day-to-day life, bring me more joy than I thought possible.  I'm thankful for a husband who has stood by me for 36 years of marriage, who is by my side always, regardless of how crazy life becomes, how many photo excursions I drag him on, or how many detours life throws in our path.  I'm thankful to be retired and able to enjoy these years together while we're still young enough to appreciate and enjoy them. blessings are plentiful and today when I serve our roasted chicken instead of turkey, we'll have all the fixin's. And though we'll be missing our Indiana family, our dads, and the previous generation, we'll take a moment and be grateful for each other and our many blessings.  Life may not be what it used to be, but it evolves and I'm hopeful that one day down the road, the circle of life will evolve and I will be the grandparent peeling chestnuts for my grandchildren and the room will be bustling with activity again.  Until then.....I bid you a bountiful Thanksgiving, one that reminds you to be thankful for what you have and not too sad as you remember those who are missing from your dinner table today.  Lastly, I'm thankful for all of you who read my blog and give me the opportunity to share my thoughts, my photos and my stories.  Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!
2016 Post Script:  My Indiana family has moved back to NY this year!!!!  This gives me so much more to be thankful for.  Not only are they back in NY, they have purchased a house right down the street!  Life does evolve and I look forward to a Thanksgiving with the whole family once again!

Part 5 - Getting a Jump on the Holidays - Santa Claus

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What Christmas series would be complete without an appearance by the big guy in the red suit?  I know I can't forget him - especially since I've met him!  That's right, I've met the 'real Santa'!!  In fact I've even blogged about him before.  Would you believe I saw Santa in May??   There wasn't even any snow on the ground and Rudolph wasn't even with him.  He wasn't wearing his red suit, but I recognized him anyway.  Heck, he wasn't wearing a disguise, so it was easy to spot him - even in his shorts and t-shirt......

See what I mean?  How could you miss him?  I could barely believe my eyes and suddenly I was a kid again.  Well, I caught up with Santa again yesterday, but before I fill you in on what he had to say, let me remind you what happened when I met Santa back in May (from the post, "Celebrity at the Ice Cream Stand".)........................  

I've talked in my blog before about photo excursions taking us to unexpected places, and across the paths of unexpected people.  Tonight was one of those occasions.   The clouds had parted and the sun was on its way to setting, so I suggested to John that we take a drive to the river hoping we might catch a pretty sunset.    Although the sky was pretty with wispy clouds which reflected nicely on the river, the sun had dipped behind some heavy, lower cloud cover so it looked as though a sunset wasn't in the cards tonight.  Since we were already out, I suggested a stop for soft ice cream at our favorite snack bar, Devoe's Rainbow Delights.  As we were about to park, I noticed a van next to us..........

Not exactly what you'd expect to see on the 25th of May, nor was the man at the ice cream counter.... 
Naturally I was curious about this Santa look-alike.......heck, maybe he is the "real" Santa.  As you might expect, Santa drew a lot of attention from the evening ice cream crowd.  At one point he went to a van as it was leaving and visited with the passengers inside.  As he was about to finally get back into his vehicle (where Mrs. Claus had been patiently waiting for her celebrity husband to finish greeting his fans), I decided to introduce myself in hopes of getting to know this "Santa Claus".

It seems our Santa was Fred Clark, Sr, otherwise known as the Saratoga Santa.  Fred bears a striking resemblance to the real "Santa", don't you think?

Borrowed from the Internet - Fred Clark, Sr., aka Santa Claus
He might even believe he "is" the real Santa.   After working for 31 yrs in the Saratoga School District, Fred now makes his living lighting up the smiles of children and adults during the holidays - and beyond.  It was clear tonight that it doesn't matter what time of year it is, people, young and old, are excited when they see Santa Claus - especially at their local ice cream bar.  Mr. Claus was gracious and eager to share his stories and photos with us.  He actually had a photo album of himself and various children in his van, as well as business cards - both adult versions and some for kids too! What a delight it was to meet this kind and generous man who spends his days making joy for believers, young and old.  Even though Mr. & Mrs. Claus had come to Devoe's for maple cream ice cream, which was last week's flavor of the week and no longer available, they visited with patrons and posed for pictures and graciously answered questions from the paparazzi (me).   One of the fun facts Santa shared with us was that he is one of 17 children - all born of the "same mother and father."   He was very proud of that and why wouldn't he be?   In a day of disposable marriages, a couple staying together after raising 17 kids is pretty remarkable.  How blessed I am to have happened upon such a special human being!   Once I got home, I googled 'Saratoga Santa'.  It seems Santa is pretty popular around these parts.  Some of you may have even run into him at the Victorian Stroll in Saratoga.  There are hundreds of images of him on the internet, an interview done by Time Warner Cable and articles of his appearances all over the area.  He's done commercials for Mohawk Honda and an upcoming commercial for Hoffman Car Wash.  Santa is available for hire at office parties, nursing home visits, schools, house calls and more.  I can imagine he keeps pretty busy since he's the best looking Santa I've ever seen and trust me, at my age, I've seen a lot.  It might be of interest to note that Saratoga Santa's career began 19 years ago when his wife convinced him to enter a "Santa-Look-Alike contest.   Goes to show, wives always know!  
My only disappointment was that we hadn't run into him there last week when we were there with our granddaughter, Elena.  What a thrill that would have been!!  So next time you're inclined to stay home and veg in your recliner, consider getting out.  You never know who God has planned to be in your path.  It might even be Santa!
Borrowed from the internet - Fred Clark, Sr.
So that was quite a thrill.  I'd kept Santa's business card (of course Santa has a business card, silly), and since I was writing a series of Christmas posts, I decided it might be fun to catch up with the Man of the Hour.

Since this is Santa's busy season after all, I felt pretty lucky to have him return my call last evening.  It seems Santa has polished his boots, laundered his suit, trimmed his whiskers and is already in full gear helping to make things merry all around the Capital Region.  Santa was even featured in the current issue of  "Simply Saratoga" magazine.   Here's a little sneak peak from that.
photo courtesy of "Simply Saratoga"

photo courtesy of Simply Saratoga

 Be sure to pick your copy up today - in the front of most grocery stores!  You'll want to read Santa's full interview.

Are you getting the picture now?  Mr. Clark (Santa) is quite the celebrity.  He even has his picture on a very special "holiday edition" wine bottle at the Saratoga Winery!  If you like a dry, red wine, check the schedule below to visit Santa at the winery in December.
Santa has a very full schedule from now until Christmas Eve, but if you want to meet this fascinating man, he has many public appearances scheduled where you can bring your kids, grandkids and your camera and capture a photo with the best looking and, might I add sweetest, Santa I've ever met.  Although Santa is pretty busy, he did tell me he has a few openings in his weekday schedule if you want to schedule him for a special person or group you know.


Here's Santa's schedule in case you want to say hi:
  • Sun., 11/23, 1:00 at the Glens Falls Parade. Prior to that from 10:30-12:30 inside of the Glens Falls National Bank near Hannaford
  • Sat., 11/29 from 11:30-2:30 at Equinox Valley Nursery in Manchester VT
  • Sat., 11/29 from 3:00-6:00pm at Orvis Retail Store (brand new building) Manchester VT Dogs allowed!
  • Thur., 12/4 from 6:00-9:00pm on the porch of Maestro's on Broadway for the Victorian Stroll
  • Sun., 12/7 from 8:00-10:00 Breakfast with Santa, Hilton Garden (So. Broadway, Saratoga) reservations needed
  • Sun., 12/7 from 1:00-3:00 at Plum Dandy Cookies & Milk, Railroad Place, Saratoga Springs
  • Tues., 12/9 Olive Garden, Upper Glen Street, Glens Falls (check for times)
  • Fri., 12/12 5:30-9:30 WGNA "Night at the North Pole" event at the Best Western on Wolf Rd.  Overnight event......Check link below for more details.
  • Sat., 12/13 from 8:00-10:00 am Breakfast with Santa, Hilton Garden, So. Broadway, Saratoga (reservations required)
  • Sat., 12/13 from 11:00-2:00 at The Saratoga Winery, Rt. 29 Saratoga
  • Sun., 12/14 from 9:30-12:30 Breakfast with Santa at The Docksider Restaurant on Glen Lake (reservations required)
  • Wed., 12/24 from 9:00-11:00 at the Saratoga Hilton, Breakfast with Santa to benefit the Saratoga Warhorse - Check for details and reservations
Thanks for reading my mini series on Getting a Jump on the Holidays!  This can be a very hectic and stressful time of the year.  Let us remember the true reason for the season.  Remember, holidays are about being with the people we love, making memories and celebrating together.  It's not about finding the perfect or most expensive gift.  Once we keep this our focus, we can stop the stress and focus on what this season is really about.   Now go out and find some mistletoe and hug the 'elves' in your life.

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