This morning snow is falling. Already the pine trees look like a Christmas card. Most of my adult experiences with snow have been at ski resorts. The snow is there before I am. So I am still surprised at how much snow changes the landscape and how quietly snow falls. Since the next few days will be slightly warmer, this snow is expected to melt. It is too early to know if we will have a white Christmas or a harsh winter. And while I confess that I have done some Christmas shopping and will begin to decorate this afternoon, I find it too soon to concentrate on the next holiday. I am still thinking about Thanksgiving.
As a newcomer to New England, I often think about those early settlers. It is hard to leave home: the familiar landscape, friends, traditions, routines. The first pilgrims to land on our shores found themselves in a hostile environment, a place where they clung to old world practices when they needed innovation. Change is the key to survival. But we—my husband and I—are more like the later settlers: economic refugees hoping for a better life in a new land. Some days we struggle in a new environment, but we are thankful for the opportunity, especially in today’s economy.
This year our Thanksgiving customs were tweaked ever so slightly. That morning I stumbled into the family room around eight a.m., clutching my cup of coffee to find my husband watching Martha Stewart talk about heritage turkeys on the Today show. “Why aren’t we watching the parade?” I yawned. “It doesn’t start for another hour. We’re on east coast time.” We are used to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade as soon as we get up. A local LA station played it over and over again so I could wander in and out and still see the entire parade. I could see most of the parade before I started cooking. Not this year. I had a twenty two pound turkey to stuff into my tiny oven. I was chopping celery when the parade began.
In our California house, the kitchen was off the family room. I could step around the counter to watch a musical number or see a great float. This house has a more traditional floor plan; each room is a separate box. My husband paused the parade so I could run in and see the good musical numbers and bands. On the other hand, for the first time since 1994, I served Thanksgiving dinner in a formal dining room. Our old house had a formal dining room but we used it as an office. We wanted our family computer in a central space downstairs when our daughters were young.
The dining room became the office; the breakfast nook the dining room. We could rearrange the family room furniture and have a large sit down dinner that we could not have had in the ‘formal’ dining area. Now we return to old traditions. Most evenings we sit down to dinner in the dining room.
Our dinner consisted of family traditions. I found the sweet potato recipe in a Redbook magazine article on Thanksgiving in 1979. The magazine featured recipes from Cincinnati and we were living in Dayton. I had to try them. (I still have that magazine.) Walnuts went into the stuffing because when we lived in Ohio, my husband’s aunt mailed me California walnuts from her crop every year. I started making the Shaker scalloped corn recipe the year we bought our first house. It became a favorite of all three daughters. This year my youngest daughter made it. The year of the scalloped corn was also the year that my husband’s cousin told me how to make cranberry sauce using red wine. It was so easy and could be done a day or two ahead. This year I made the sauce with cranberries that the local store had floating in water so that they had to be scooped out into deli containers. My green beans were a new recipe inspired by watching Martha Stewart before the parade. She was making sautéed kale (yuck!) but dressing it with chestnuts sautéed with onions. So I dressed my steamed green beans with a jar of chopped chestnuts, a half cup of chopped onions, a half cup of chopped mushrooms, and fresh thyme sprinkled with salt, pepper, dried sage and rosemary and sautéed in butter and olive oil, adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar after I removed the pan from the heat. These were the best green beans. (If I had been making kale (for which I am not thankful), I would have added bacon to the mix.) Dinner was a mix of family traditions and last minute inspiration.
My husband and I started a new tradition. While the turkey was roasting, we snuck out of the house for a walk around the pond at Fisher Meadows. In our full house, we have so little time for ourselves. We decided to make time. We put the top down on the convertible and cruised down to the park where we meandered along the trail, looking at the geese. Just the two of us. No dogs. No daughters. No parents. No cell phones. I am truly thankful for that hour.
My husband asks me frequently if I want to go back to California. It’s a trick question. I know that he is never going back. No matter how difficult work gets, he loves that he does not drive home on a freeway in bumper to bumper traffic at eight o’clock at night. He loves driving down our driveway to our hidden corner of the world. He loves the forest, the wildlife in the yard, the change in seasons. He likes his tractor. I hope he likes his snowplow. He feels at home here. This is our home now.
Some mornings I miss my friends, my routine, my job teaching. But the snow reminds me that I have embarked on a new adventure. We will have new customs, new traditions. We might even have a white Christmas. In the meantime, I’m ordering a DVD of Christmas in Connecticut. I already have the romance. I already have the comedy. A sleigh ride though would be special. And embracing new customs is the key to survival.