Advent: First Sunday

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The theme and, I suppose the objective also, of Advent is waiting in joyful hope. This is often the titles of books marketed to Catholics for their Advent reading. And that is really what it is. Becoming Catholic taught me that the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day, and the season of Advent is a special time in its own right. Last year, I was given a set of four candles for my Advent wreath and this year I have coupled those candles with my daily reflection book, my daily readings, and beginning on Tuesday, the Novena of the Immaculate Conception. However, this Advent, while I am in joyful hope and I am waiting for the birth of Christ, I am also struggling with parts of my faith and parts of my life.

I’ve spent this entire month writing for Nanowrimo, just stream of consciousing my way through my book about my travels to Wales, and I’ve made great progress. I am very pleased. I have almost reached the 50,000 word goal and I anticipate that I will complete it before the 30th.

Nanowrimo Kick-Off at the Library.
(c)2022

My personal update on the Home page explained my accident, and I believe I am in the must get worse before it gets better stage of recovery. My ankle is much better, and I am driving a little, but not far, staying in our small town when I am able. My husband has been doing everything. While I can cook, I can’t do any lifting and standing for a long period of time is difficult. Thanksgiving actually was the least stressful I have ever had. I gave a lot of directions and stirred one dish and added marshmallows to another on my own, but I had to rely on everyone else to do the heavy lifting. There were hardly any of the usual arguments, we put the turkey in the oven around 10:30am, and then everyone was free until about 4:30 when the sides would need to be prepared. I couldn’t believe how well it went.

I was even able to go to church for Thanksgiving mass. I wasn’t sure how it would go; it’s been just over a year since we lost our priest, and while our new priest is a joy, I do not like change. I wondered if we’d keep the traditions that we’ve had, that I’ve gotten used to over the last few years, and I was happy to see that most traditions held.

Our church gives all the parishioners a loaf of bread and a short prayer for our Thanksgiving table. It is one of the things I love about our church – those seemingly little things that are so personal.

Right before Thanksgiving, my husband was driving my daughter home from work when they were rear-ended. Hard. No one was hurt, PBTG, but because of the holiday we won’t know about the car until tomorrow or Tuesday. It needed to be towed from the accident. This is a struggle, and a sadness, and it is hard to get past the awfulness of possibly losing the car, something that was so important to our family. Of course, we are so relieved and grateful that no one was hurt, and it was only materials that may be lost.

Last weekend, I returned from my annual retreat. The theme was Change. And I have gone through so many changes, and many more continue to happen, whether I like it or not. I had to laugh when I found out the theme. I discovered it soon after my first reconciliation with our new priest, and after giving him the litany of things that are bothering me, and frustrating me, he commented, “Boy, you’re going through a lot of changes.” Yes. Yes, I am! In addition to the new priest, my therapist is retiring (soon!) among other things.

And I shouldn’t forget the good changes. I taught for the first time in a long time. This was for adults and it was a writing class. Next semester, I’m teaching two, so that is both exciting and terrifying. This one went well (I think), and I hope the next ones go as well and better (crosses fingers). As with all teachers, I spent more than I made, but such is the life of the classroom. I’ll hope to downsize my affinity (obsession) with handouts and maybe lower my overhead.

I’m hoping that with this Advent, I can slow down. I can focus. I can focus on my faith, and also on how I’m approaching the things in my life. It is a good time to reevaluate and reassess and wonder about the changes that will inevitably be coming, whether I like it or not.

Through it all, I’m trying to keep my perspective and my faith. This is the first day of the Advent journey which will ultimately end with the Birth of Christ. But of course, that is only the beginning, isn’t it?

Some photos that I wanted to share: The first two are works-in-progress sketches on I did on my retreat from things that I saw around me in the dining and the conference rooms. The third photo is the statue of Harriet Tubman and William Seward outside the library where the Nanowrimo Kick-Off was held on November 1st. I was also there when they dedicated the statue. I love history.

Statue of Harriet Tubman and William Seward.
(c)2022

We Give Thanks

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The Thanksgiving holiday is full of disharmony as we come to grips with our historic (and recent) treatment of the Native American peoples who were here before we arrived from Europe.

A few personal thoughts:

Growing up Jewish, this was always my favorite holiday. We didn’t need to explain our religious holidays and we weren’t excluded from the mainstream Christian holidays. This was an American holiday, one that everyone could participate in, both as a harvest holiday and as a day of gratitude. It brought our family together as well as allowing us to be a part of the greater family of our community.

This year comemorates the 400th anniversary of that traditional first Thanksgiving hosted by the Pilgrims who survived that first harsh winter. The basics of that first holiday, a gathering in gratitude brought two different communities together to share what each had. The helped each other and maintained a friendship against great odds. In modern days, we have much to be thankful for. I won’t list mine, but take a moment to reflect on your own blessings.

At mass this morning, we continued a tradition at my parish that I have always loved. Instead of a collection, we bring a bag of non-perishable food to the altar (for our food pantry and Christmas baskets), and at the end of mass, each family is given a small loaf of bread that has been blessed to share at our dinner table. We are called to pray and to break bread.

Give us this day, our daily bread…

(I apologize for the blurry picture) (c)2021

Last year while visiting Niagara Falls, New York, we learned of a nearby monument in Lewiston that commemorates the Tuscarora Indians coming to the rescue of American citizens during the War of 1812. The British invaded from Canada to the north and were mobilizing an attack on the village with their Indian allies. The Tuscarora, being outnumbered gave the appearance of greater numbers and were able to give the Lewiston families time to escape the inevitable horrors of death and watching their loved ones brutally murdered.

This monument is breathtaking in its emotion. The sculpted faces of both the mother and child fleeing and the Tuscarora helping them is so vivid, it tells the story in deeper and more profound ways than reading about it could ever do. I stood in awe of it for several minutes, even though it was pouring rain for much of the time.

Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021
A closer look, Tuscarora Monument, Lewiston, NY. (c)2021

Enjoy the day with family and friends or alone, in peaceful quiet or boisterous noise, with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce or whatever your family traditions call for.

Friday Food. December.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to create in the kitchen, but having quarantine foisting Thanksgiving on us let me make the entire Thanksgiving dinner which I hadn’t done in years. Although to be fair, I do a similar meal for Easter, Rosh Hashanah, and Christmas.

This year we did a few things differently. For several years my sweet potato pie became sweet potato casserole, so I went back to the pie version, and it was really good and brought me back in time. We ate it both as a side dish and a dessert (on different nights).

Another dish I made was a new take on my mother’s candied carrots.

Leeks and Carrots. (c)2020

Here are the basics, but use your imagination.

  • Wash the leeks thoroughly. They are like children in that they have dirt in all the spaces.
  • Melt a stick of butter in a pan. Add the leeks in and saute them for a little bit.
  • Pour in a bag of frozen baby carrots (or cut your own carrots into baby carrot size).
  • Once the carrots are defrosted, add some fresh ground pepper, and then add about 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1-2 cups of orange juice (the amount depends on the size of the pan.
  • Let it come to a boil, then lower to simmer, letting it simmer for about ten to twenty minutes. It can really stay on the low heat until the rest of dinner is ready.
  • Serve it with a slotted spoon so the plate doesn’t get too soupy.

The second dish I made just last week. We had cooked chicken tenders in the fridge and because my son cooked them, there was no spice whatsoever on the tenders.

I cut them each into threes or fours and threw them in a wok on medium, adding about half a small jar of Korean BBQ sauce.

I trimmed the ends off of fresh green beans and broke them in half, and added them to the wok, mixing the chicken and the beans until they were hot and incorporated with the sauce.

This was also a way to heat the cold chicken without the microwave. I spooned them over jasmine rice (although any type of rice that you like is the perfect rice).

Chicken, sauce, and green beans in the wok. Almost finished. (c)2020
Closeup of the serving. (c)2020

One thing I noticed in looking back, I didn’t cook either dish with oil. Oil has its place in the kitchen especially in sauteeing, but I just used the juice for the first one and the Korean sauce for the second.

As the year comes to a close, start the new year with experimenting with your food. In January, I’ll have some basics to share with you – resources that everyone can use and adapt to their own style and family.

The Other Side of Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving today is fraught with its past and the reckoning that is still to come in many ways.

For those of us who grew up in non-Christian households, Thanksgiving was and is the great equalizer. We can all celebrate it without the religious baggage and without not fitting in. We gather as a family, we express our gratitude and our love, and it’s the one day of the year that nearly everyone has the day off, at least until a couple of years ago when retailers began to open on Thanksgiving Day.

There are of course exceptions, but it is a day for everyone.

Of course, that is also not the entire story. From the Native American prospective, settlers coming to the new world caused trauma beyond belief. We are only beginning to open up and discuss and educate ourselves to be inclusive, but also to move forward as a country.

While I believe the original Thanksgiving story despite knowing its clear embelllishments, I think it’s important to distinguish between the Columbus and future expeditions’ theft of land and genocide and that early settlers and Native Indians, as they were known at the time, did work together, and to celebrate the help that the Native Peoples gave to the Pilgrims should be recognized. The Pilgrims, and other Native-friendly settlers wouldn’t have survived the new world without the help of the indigenous people already living here.

Here are two ways to begin educating ourselves:

Native American Tribal Map

Thirty Everyday Phrases that Perpetuate the Oppression of Indigenous Peoples

Travel in the Time of COVID

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Traveling during the covid epidemic offers several differing perspectives and our family seems to have lived through all of them. Should we go? Should we stay home? Stay local? Visit another state? For the better part of last year, we planned our August vacation to Canada. It became apparent that would not be an option. The Canadian border closed in the spring and remains closed.

We couldn’t help but notice that the rest of the country was not exactly cooperating in “flattening the curve”. It didn’t take long to make the decision to remain in New York State. We live here and we felt safe with the covid policies that the state has put into place.

Now that Thanksgiving is upon us, and Christmas not far off, if you are traveling, I hope you will benefit from our experience.

If you’ve decided to stay home, these will hopefully help you the next time you venture out.

Vacationing on COVID-time is *different*.

First, have a plan, have a second plan, and be flexible in all things. We decided on a location we’d only visited for a couple hours last year – Niagara Falls, located in western New York. We would spend one week; it would be an adventure. Customarily, we would change hotels mid-week. We did not. This was a direct result of covid.

We did many things outside: Niagara Falls State Park and the Falls, Broderick Park at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo. Though I prefer indoor dining, we ate outside at restaurants, coffee shops, and ice cream shops. We also visited three monuments that we may not have seen if I wasn’t looking for outdoor things to do.

Masks. You need more than one mask. Ideally, you should have one cloth mask for each day or at least two: one to wear, one to wash (and hang to dry).

Hand Sanitizer. Though you’ll find more hand sanitizer than you can ever imagine everywhere, a travel bottle of hand sanitizer is a must.

Hotels. I was very happy with our hotel. The prices did not seem to be any higher than a regular end of summer week. However, several amenities were not available or drastically changed. The pool and fitness center were closed, but vending machines and ice machines were available. I think they suspended the airport shuttle. We were required to wear masks in the public areas, hallways, elevators, and walking through the lobby. There were hand sanitizer stands next to every elevator on all the floors to use prior to pressing the elevator buttons.

The included free breakfast was a menu to choose items from, and then bring to your room, microwave, and eat there. It usually included a muffin, a fruit, water, milk, or juice, breakfast sandwich, yogurt, and other related items. There was no housekeeping unless you requested it. We did not. We chose to ask for necessary items at the front desk. These included new towels, shampoo, cups, toilet paper. They were extraordinarily nice and very accommodating. Considering the circumstances, I thought they did an excellent job.

Attractions. Many places were closed. Those that were open had restrictions. Masks required, hand sanitizer stations, 25%-50% capacity, 6ft. distancing between groups. Some displays – where placing your face close was necessary in order to see the item – were temporarily out of order. At interactive displays, we were provided with a sanitized mini stylus to use instead of our fingers. We returned them for cleaning when we were finished with the tour.

Due to reduced capacity requirements, several locations issued timed tickets. This combined with lower capacities meant that every day about mid-afternoon tours were sold out for the day, so this required going early, getting your ticket for later in the day and then coming back. Some places preferred that you buy tickets online and show the attendant the ticket on your phone.
Many places used directional arrows on the floor directing so people weren’t intersecting with each other. Many places would not accept cash. The Niagara Falls (NF) State Park as well as the NF Visitor Center only accepted credit/debit cards.

Contact Tracing. Many hotels, attractions, and restaurants asked for our name and phone number for contact tracing.

Restaurants. We felt comfortable at each location we ate at. One place, the Hard Rock Cafe, took our temperature. Due to lower capacity, we were required to wait…outside. If we got up to use the restroom, masks needed to be worn. Some restaurants had no menus and a QR code on the table allowed for viewing the online menu on our phones.

Shopping. Only some places offered samples, like chocolate or ice cream. Fitting rooms were closed as were some public bathrooms. A few places did not take cash.

One of the good things that I noticed was that as crowded as it was, it wasn’t that crowded. There was room to stand and move around on the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which is typically wall-to-wall people.

Because the Underground Railroad Heritage Center limited two at a time in the small gift shop, I was able to have a somewhat lengthy and very educational conversation with the attendant while I waited my turn.

People were both wary and friendly at once. There may have been a glare when you got too close to someone but it turned into a smile and a laugh as we both said “oops, sorry.” It was a delicate dance.

I didn’t know how much we needed to be out of our house. Overall, even with the changes and the restrictions, we still had a great vacation, and it was nice being out and about and almost-kind-of “normal”. Niagara Falls is one of those places that never gets old; we’re thinking about returning next year, although a trip across the border would also be welcomed.

Travel – Road Trip Snacks

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In the US, Thanksgiving is the biggest eating holiday of the year. And still, our kids want to eat on the way to dinner or in the days before while we’re traveling to Grandma’s or wherever you spend your holidays.

1. Pretzels. I personally love cheese doodles, but I never eat them in the car. Too messy. Pretzels are simple, fat-free, and easy to brush off when you get out of the car.

2. Bottle of water. The heat in the car can be very drying. Be prepared for complaints.

3. M&Ms. The candy that melts in your mouth, and not in your hands. (TM) Small, easy to carry, not messy if you don’t let them melt, and honestly, who does?

4. Twizzlers. A punch of sugar without the sticky fingers.

5. Popcorn. Also not messy, easy to brush off and clean up, but be sure to remember that bottle of water!

Travel – Scavenger Hunt

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​Last week, I shared Kids’ Travel Bags for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Today, I am offering some suggestions for one of those items in the bags: the scavenger hunt sheet. It is below the cut, and permission is granted to download and print it for your own use with your family.

One of the things the past seven years of Gishing has taught me is that there are many ways to interpret something. It’s allowed me to rethink my concept of the scavenger hunt for one thing. Rather than collect things only to get rid of them at the end, I’ve really incorporated the idea of re-purposing, finding and documenting, and being a force for good, whether that’s as a Good Samaritan, doing good deeds, or making the world better through my time, talent, and treasure, and of course through civic responsibility. All of those things will be different depending on the hunter’s perspective.

I planned a mini Scavenger hunt for my kids for our most recent vacation. This is not an easy task as they are somewhat spread out in age: 13, 14, and 22, as well as personality and tolerance for this sort of thing.

Some items were be for collection, although not many. Most were photos or videos and journaling. It was a lot of fun, and it kept them busy for our long drive. Hopefully, it will help in your Thanksgiving travels.

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November – Gratitude – Photo/Art

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Traveling to Vermont for Thanksgiving with family. (c)2018

Fireplace on a cold Thanksgiving night. (c)2018


Thanksgiving Dinner. (c)2018