Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Family Traditions

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it seemed like an appropriate time to share some thoughts about this special holiday.  Let's take a look at some family traditions, which seem to not only vary by family, but by region as well.

Our family Thanksgivings in South Dakota consisted of your basic meal, or at least what we always considered a basic meal. There was turkey, sometimes ham too, Stove Top stuffing (in a separate dish, not inside the turkey), mashed potatoes and gravy, creamstyle corn casserole, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top (or pecans and brown sugar at Grandma's house), Grandpa's homemade lefse (a Norwegian tradition), apple cider with red hots, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and banana cream pie (for me.)

The first Thanksgiving I spent in North Carolina, about 6 years ago, was a traditional "southern" Thanksgiving menu. While everything smelled great, I found myself wondering what a few of the items on the menu actually were. What threw me off the most with this meal was the "giblet gravy," which involved cooking all of the parts of the turkey that my mom had always thrown away - you know, the parts that come inside the little bag inside the turkey? The neck, the heart, the liver, things like that.  People eat those parts in North Carolina. They boil them up with celery, add some chopped boiled eggs, and mix it with the drippings from the turkey and add cornstarch.  And you know what? It's really good!  Collard greens with vinegar are also an addition to the North Carolina Thanksgiving meal, which I have to admit I didn't try until recently. Crowder peas were also a first for me at this Thanksgiving. For those of you who don't know, they taste I think a little like a mixture between a pinto bean and a lentil? They are very good and now one of my favorite beans. Five years ago, I had no idea what they were. Homemade dark chocolate pie was also featured here, which was an amazing end to a great meal.

Marshall's family, originally from Ohio, now their menu is similar to what I was used to in South Dakota, with a few slight changes. The turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans and sweet potatoes we all agree on. Though my family always made StoveTop in a separate pan, Marshall's family makes theirs from a from-scratch recipe passed down from his Grandfather that involves cubing day-old bread, adding celery and seasonings and actually stuffing it into the turkey before you bake it.

After that, it starts to vary a bit. Marshall's Grandma makes homemade cranberry sauce for the turkey - also something I had never had before, but it is really good. I think she puts mandarin oranges in it.  Last Thanksgiving, Marshall and I stayed in North Carolina and made our own Thanksgiving meal. I attempted to make his Grandma's cranberry sauce, and didn't quite nail it. Also included in his family's meal are scalloped oysters, which I'm not sure but I think may have been added to the family holiday menu after Marshall's parents moved to North Carolina 15 years ago and were able to bring fresh oysters up to Ohio when visiting for the holidays.  There is no lefse in Marshall's family, but instead homemade yeast rolls. Dessert includes pecan pie and pumpkin pie for everyone. While my extended family was so large that we lots of times ate holiday meals with paper plates, sometimes running out of silverware before everyone was through the line, Marshall's family eats with his Grandmother's fine china and real silver. Bloody marys also make an appearance at the Ohio Thanksgiving, and glasses of wine for everyone at the table.

This year, we are also going to spend Thanksgiving in North Carolina.  Since our family menus vary just a bit and we can't agree upon what NOT to make, here is what we are planning to make for the two of us:
1. Turkey
2. Stuffing
3. Cranberry Sauce
4. Mashed Potatoes
5. Gravy
6. Sweet potatoes
7. Creamstyle Corn Casserole
8. Green Bean Casserole
9. Scalloped Oysters
10. Lefse (from my Grandpa, fresh from the freezer)
11. Pumpkin pecan pie (we combine them into one pie)

Would anyone like to join us? We'll be having Thanksgiving all week.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween is Not Just for Kids

Today is October 29. In two days, it will be Halloween. I love Halloween. On October 1, I decorated the front windows with black Halloween paper and orange lights. I spent nearly $30 on candy at Wal-Mart for the trick or treaters, which mostly has been eaten by my boyfriend Marshall and I over the past month. Mostly by him, a little by me. Saturday, the trick or treaters will come. I think we need to make one more trip to Wal-Mart for just a bit more candy, because all we have left is Tootsie Rolls, which are actually my personal favorite, but we don't want anyone egging the house or toilet papering the tree because we didn't have any chocolate left to give away.

We have a large pumpkin, grown in Ohio courtesy of Marshall's mom, sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be carved. The dog's faces have been traced on the front from black and white transfers I made in PhotoShop, and it is ready to be carved tomorrow (Friday) night. On the Eve of Halloween, known to many as "Devil's Night" or "Mischief Night", we will be carving our pumpkin.

Some of my favorite memories are from Halloween. As a child, I remember the excitement of getting all dressed up to go out and go trick or treating with my friends. Growing up in a real small town, we got to go trick or treating without our parents at a much younger age than kids get to these days. One year I was a witch, and my mom had a recipe for green face makeup that could also be made into warts. I don't remember what it was made of, but I remember how itchy my face got. I looked cool for awhile, until I itched it so much that it was everywhere but on my face. I still got lots of candy though.

I remember coming home from trick or treating, and dumping out the orange pumpkin bucket with the black smiley face on the front and the black handle. We didn't have green and pink and purple and yellow pumpkin buckets back then, just the standard pumpkin orange. Everyone's bucket was the same. Anyway I remember coming home and dumping my orange bucket out in the middle of the living room floor, while my Dad would come help me to "see what I got." He and my mom would make me pick some candy to keep out that I could eat, but the rest of it had to be put into Ziploc bags and put in the freezer. So I could save it for later. Funny thing is I never remember taking candy back out of the freezer to eat it. I think the bag I got to keep out of the freezer was it -- the rest of my loot went into the freezer for my parents. No wonder all the Snickers bars had to go in the freezer - a perfect midnight snack with ice cream, right Dad?

When I was in college, there were some fun fraternity house Halloween parties that involved costumes and kegs. Once I turned 21, we discovered bars with costume parties, which are also pretty cool. When I lived in Galveston, Texas, my friends and I all went to the bar one year in our costumes. I was a rock star and sprayed that hot pink spray in my hair. I think what everyone loves about Halloween is that for one night, you get to dress like someone you aren't, act like someone you aren't, and just have fun doing it.

When I moved to the Outer Banks, our local bar there, the Sandbar & Grille in Frisco, had an awesome Halloween party each year. One year I was a hippie chick, complete with an authentic 70s dress and a long blonde wig ... the next year I was a saloon girl, complete with a dress that I paid way too much for on Ebay because I HAD to beat the girl who was bidding against me.

Since I have moved to Wilmington, I have gone out to a costume party at the bar one year. Turns out here in Wilmington, no one really wears "costumes" on Halloween night. It seems to be an excuse for the girls to wear as few clothes as possible, and for the guys to look at them. Last year, I put my costume on and answered the door for my trick or treaters and gave them candy. This year, I plan to do the same. I have accumulated several costumes throughout the past few years though, and I'm just not sure yet which one I am going to put on Saturday night before the kids come. The dogs have Halloween necklaces to wear, which they don't know yet but I'm sure they will be very excited about.

So, even though my costume party days of going out on the town seem to have wound down, at least for now, Halloween is still one of my favorite days. An excuse to dress up, not look like yourself, not act like yourself, eat lots of candy, listen to Halloween music, put goofy necklaces on your dogs, and just have a good time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fall at the Beach

So, it seems as though fall officially made its way to the beach. I stepped outside to get the mail one afternoon about 2 weeks ago, and there were leaves in the grass. That night, I stepped out into the backyard with the dogs in my short sleeved shirt, and it was chilly! There are more birds coming to eat out of the bird feeder, the air conditioner is off, the windows are open and it's getting dark earlier in the day.

Fishing is great at the beach in the fall. We haven't caught many fish this summer. A few bluefish, one red drum. Fall normally brings lots of flounder to the table, which are my personal favorite. A friend of ours gave us a great fish dipping sauce recipe for fried fish. Give it a try, let me know how you like it!

Hot Pineapple Fish Sauce
Take about 1/4 cup of pineapple preserves and add 2-3 teaspoons of Texas Pete hot sauce (more or less depending on your preference.) Mix it together, and serve with fried fish.

The fall and winter seasons are my favorite time of year, especially in North Carolina. I grew up in South Dakota, so fall always was kind of a gloomy season because everyone knows what is next - WINTER. Cold, snowy, frigid, miserable South Dakota winter.

Don't get me wrong, it gets chilly in Wilmington in December and January. It gets down to 25 or so at night, the plants all die off, we aren't as lucky as the palm tree loving, fruit eating folks in Florida. But, we rarely get snow. We can still go for walks and don't have to dress like we are traveling to the North Pole. It gets dark at 5:00 p.m. but it's nice to sit by the fireplace and play cards.

Winter in North Carolina is kind of like a long, cozy vacation.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Wonder About Joe

I remember the first time I saw a homeless person. I was young, and we went to Minneapolis, MN for a weekend with a bunch of our family. There was shopping for the women and a Twins' baseball game for the men and kids. As we were walking to the baseball game, I remember my uncle saying, "Okay kids, there are going to be people on the sidewalks asking us for money as we walk by. Just ignore them, don't look at them." So, that is what we did.

Since that day, as I have visited other cities, I always think of my uncle saying that to me. San Diego, Las Vegas, Houston, Denver, Raleigh ... it was always my uncle's voice that I heard in my head, saying "Just ignore them, don't look at them."

In Boulder, Colorado, the homeless people hang out in the downtown square and play Chess and guitar. In Galveston, Texas they sleep under the rocks near the Seawall. Here in Wilmington, NC, most of them live downtown. We have one in our neighborhood though, he lives just down the street. He looks kind of like Santa Claus.

One day last summer, we were coming out of the grocery store with some groceries and some beer. Marshall gave him a beer and told him to have a good day. One other day, it was about 105 degrees outside and I saw him sitting on the sidewalk at the CVS. I gave him $5 and told him to have a good day, and he said, "Thank you ma'am, I feel like a french fry sittin' out here."

This guy, let's call him Joe. Joe doesn't ask for money. He doesn't hold up signs asking for food. He just lives there, somewhere near that intersection, where there is a CVS, a grocery store and a McDonald's. I would imagine people like Marshall and me, who see him out there regularly, give him money just like I did that day last summer.

I saw Joe in the grocery store one day. He was buying a 40-ounce can of beer, a loaf of bread and a package of toilet paper. Good choices, in my opinion. Have you ever wondered, if you had only $5.00 to spend at the grocery store, what would you spend it on?

I wonder about Joe. Has he ever been married? Does he have any children? Where is his family? Why is he homeless? How long has he been homeless? Where does he sleep? Does he have any friends? Where does he bathe? What does he eat and how often does he get to eat? Has he always been in Wilmington? What did he do before he was homeless?

Have you ever seen a homeless person and instead of "just ignoring them" and "not looking at them," actually thought about their story? Maybe told them to have a good day? Maybe slipped them some spare change? Oh, don't get me wrong, there are definitely times when you should take my uncle's advice, but not with the people like our Joe.

I wonder about Joe. Maybe someday I'll ask him about his story. He could have the best story in the world.

* Note: This original post was written on September 1, 2009. On November 11, 2009, I discovered that our Joe passed away about 2 months ago. The local grocery stores hung a flyer on their bulletin boards letting everyone know that Joe had left us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Things Learned on a Cross-Country Trip

In July, my boyfriend and I took a cross country trip from Wilmington, NC to my hometown in South Dakota. We left Wilmington and went north through the West Virginia mountains, making a weekend stopover at Marshall's parents house in east central Ohio. From Ohio, we went to St. Charles, IL to spend a night with my aunt and uncle. On our third day of traveling, we made it to my mom's house. We spent 10 days in South Dakota with my family and friends, attending a family wedding while we were there. Some of my other family members were visiting from Wyoming at the same time and the house was full, so we slept in a camper in my mom's yard. It was like we were camping, but not really.

When it was time to leave my Mom's, the plan was to drive south from South Dakota and stay with a good friend of mine in Kansas for the night, and then head back east. On the way, we realized that I hadn't done my map research like I should have, and going to see her would have actually been close to 6 hours extra driving time by the time we were back on the road the next day. So, we changed our plans a bit and instead of going south from Kansas City, we went east, driving until we were about 2 hours west of St. Louis and camped at a state park in the middle of nowhere. We bought some bug spray and a pizza from the (only) local gas station, and had a good night. Lesson here: It doesn't do much good to bring a tent if you only bring 1 small pillow and 1 blanket.

After our camping adventure in the woods, we got up in the morning and kept driving east. We drove until we got to Knoxville, TN. We tried to rent a cabin in Gatlinburg for the night but had Miss Dakota with us, and turns out that most cabin rentals in the mountains don't really care for furry four-legged friends ... so a Motel 6 in Knoxville it was. The next morning, we drove from Knoxville back to Wilmington in an uneventful last leg of our 48+ hour trip. We unloaded the rental car, cleaned all of the dog hair out of it, and took it back to the airport.

Along the way, a few observations that were made:

I haven’t yet conquered my fear of driving through tunnels. This was discovered on I-77 North in West Virginia.

When they say “Check the rental car for damages before leaving the parking lot with it,” they mean it. We found the broken driver’s door lock 4 hours down the road. (Six hours later when I finally got the Wilmington, NC Hertz office to answer the phone, I was assured it wouldn’t be a problem and it would be noted on my account. Two weeks later, I was lucky enough to turn the car into the same employee I had spoken with on the phone, who not only didn’t charge me for the broken lock, but gave me a $40 credit to my account for the inconvenience.) Tip to travelers: get a AAA membership and rent from Hertz – they offer a great AAA discount AND awesome service.

The county roads in Columbiana County, Ohio are hilly and curvy and make me (really) carsick, even if I sit in the front seat.

Golden retrievers are pretty good bird hunters, even if they haven’t been taught to do so.

The wind power mills in Minnesota are really cool to look at, but we can’t figure out how the power is used after it is taken from the wind. This question may be a good research item for a future blog post.

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin looks like so much fun and it was awfully tempting to pull off and stay for a day or two instead of just driving by.

A ground pig is the same thing as a groundhog.

Some counties in South Dakota have such a problem with pocket gophers, that they offer a $2.00 per animal bounty. To claim your $2.00 per animal, you have to turn the 2 front paws into the county office.

After living in North Carolina and seeing the big ugly scary snakes we have here, I’m not nearly as afraid of the harmless South Dakota garter snakes as I was when I was a child. They didn't make me scream or yell or anything.

Dakota, my 4-year-old golden retriever who has never had puppies, adopted a small gold kitten at my mom’s house and thought it was her baby.

You shouldn’t switch to Captain Morgan and Coke after drinking keg beer all night.

There are more fish to catch in my aunt and uncle’s neighborhood in St. Charles, Illinois than there are in the lakes near my mom’s house in South Dakota.

Pulling over to the shoulder of the road in the middle of a construction zone is allowed during emergencies only. It was an emergency in the middle of Iowa on I-29 when Marshall pulled over to let me jump out of the car with Dakota before she got sick in the rental car.

South Dakota has Michelob Golden Light, and it’s really good.

Even though Wisconsin is known for being the state with good cheese, we managed to drive all the way across it without stopping at a cheese store. We kept thinking we would see another one and would stop then, and were in Minnesota before we knew what happened. I bought Iowa cheese from a South Dakota grocery store instead … sorry Wisconsin Cheese Farmers.

My boyfriend doesn’t like the way I drive. I don’t like the way he drives. Try driving for 2,500 miles that way.

There is a great Sinclair gas station in the middle of Missouri that makes an awesome handmade meat lover’s pizza and it’s only $3.99.

There is a gas station in Kansas City that sells liquor. You can get gas, dinner, a movie and rum all in one stop.

I was in the parking lot of a Krystal Burger in Knoxville, TN but didn’t get to eat there. How unfair is that?

Taco John’s has the best Mexican fast food ever. I love Taco Bell, I do ... but there is no comparison.

South Dakota Video Lottery is kind of fun to play. I won $13 one night and was so excited, you would have thought I won $100.

There’s nothing quite as fun or relaxing as a John Deere wedding on a beautiful farm in South Dakota with family and friends.

One of the most refreshing things is to spend time with old friends and realizing that none of you have changed a bit. I think the best part is how you know everyone's secrets and stories and quirks ... you don't have to get to know them because you've known them since you were all 5 years old.

In South Dakota, it isn’t uncommon to bump into someone you know, even if you are an hour or two from home.

There is an off-ramp in St. Louis that requires good direction skills and 3 U-turns just to get back onto the Interstate. Forget to put a sign up somewhere, Missouri?

When you take a cross country trip with your dog and boyfriend, don't forget to take pictures. I don't even have ONE picture to post with this blog! What was I thinking!

Spending 48+ hours in the same car with the same person is a true test to how much you like each other. I think we passed.

Overall, it was a great trip. Are we going to do it again next summer? Probably not. I think we might fly.

Fishing, Reading and Family Portraits

My boyfriend, Marshall, and I went fishing on the north end of Wrightsville Beach the other day, near the Shell Island Oceanfront Resort. We go to the beach about once a week, sometimes twice, as we live just 15 minutes away. He loves to fish, and I love to read. We normally wait and go at 6:00 p.m., because that gives the beach time to relax from all of the visitors of earlier in the day (and allows us to actually be able to find a parking spot.) Also, the parking meters stop charging at 6:00 p.m. so that’s another bonus.

Anyway, the other day as I was sitting there as the sun was starting to go down, there was a family out there with a photographer getting their family beach portraits taken. This is a popular time of day for families to do this, as it is when the lighting is the best and makes beautiful photos. This family, as most families do when they get beach portraits taken, were wearing all white outfits – everyone matched.

The photographer took shots of them holding hands and walking to the water’s edge … holding hands and walking away from the water ... sitting in the dunes (which you aren’t even supposed to go on the dunes, but for some reason if you are taking family photos then it’s ok.) They proceed to take family photos for 30-40 minutes, until they get to my personal favorite – the photos in the water with their clothes on. With their nice white dress clothes, the family is supposed to wade in the water – ankle deep, knee deep, make it look like they are taking a relaxing stroll on the beach with their feet in the ocean.

Well, the tide was coming up to high tide during this time and some waves were coming in higher than others. As they are taking the knee deep family photo, a wave came and knocked the one woman down. All the way down – she is no longer ankle deep or knee deep in the beautiful ocean, but sitting on her butt in about 3 feet of water. And the photographer is taking pictures of it. And the family is laughing. So was I, because I had given up on trying to read my book because this family was more interesting. The woman gets up and now her white pants are completely wet from her little wave mishap, and the photographer is STILL taking pictures.

This ended their photo shoot. I went back to reading my book, Marshall caught some fish, and then we went home.