Thanksgiving Day: From The Inside Out

“Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present. Then, as you move around, try new things, and meet new people, you carry that sense of inner peace with you. It’s absolutely true that, “Wherever you go, there you are.” 

-Richard Carlson

To prepare for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to…

Stop trying to make everything perfect!!

Hubby and I have been hosting holiday dinners for over 20 years.  I use to stress and beat myself up over making sure that every little detail was perfect.

Crisp table linen, a visually pleasing spread of desserts, a spotless home, plenty of food, a beautifully set dining table, and then some.

Although I’ve always adored decorating my home for each occasion, cooking ridiculous amounts of food, and having the over-night house guests, sometimes I stressed and fussed over details that no one even noticed… stuff that didn’t matter.  So I did what I could and focused on what mattered most; the meal.

From the time I got up on Thanksgiving Day, I reminded myself to stay present. To be aware of every moment…  my invigorating morning shower… the warm water clashing on my back…. the scent of lavender…Mmm.. a reflection of the sun and the odd-shaped shadow on the bathroom wall.

Being mindful and present supports a lifestyle of wellness. When we exert energy anticipating possibilities that we cannot control, we miss out on the daily pleasures of interacting with people around us. Our loved ones smile, kind gestures, affection, or a call for help.

Routinely focusing on the present takes practice and mental muscle. The more we practice, the better we become at it.  One way to focus is to try to concentrate and engage one or more of your five senses:

  1. What do you smell?
  2. What can you taste?
  3. What do you hear? What kinds of sounds (i.e., leaves crackling under your feet, the sound of running water, a child’s laughter, the distant echoing of an ambulance siren, or in silence the sound of your breath).
  4. What do you see?  Notice the details of colors, shapes, the sky, or a person’s eyes.
  5. What can you feel?  Textures that are hot, cold, soft, hard, etc..

Being comfortable with doing my best, accepting my best and staying current allowed me to make the most of my day with my family. I think I listened more than usual and captured more intimate moments throughout the day.

Our home was packed! Bodies were everywhere.  I concerned myself less with crumbs on the floors and coasters on the table and more on getting to know my little cousins and catching up with the adults I haven’t seen in years.  The noise from the 11 kids running through the house shooting nerf guns, screaming and laughing personified quality family time. I laughed all day.

Vegan Challenge Update

This was my first Vegan Thanksgiving.  Except for four family members, everyone came from at least four or more hours away.  Which meant I did most of the cooking.

The day was undoubtedly a mental test for me. Was I ready to bypass the 5 pounds of baked mac & cheese and the two deep fried turkeys?  My plan to cook additional vegetables for myself and five other Vegans worked well. My two favorite veggies were prepared by my cousin’s husband; roasted brussels sprouts with sweet onions and olive oil and roasted cauliflower and carrots with olive oil, Vidalia onions, and turmeric!!

In addition to the above tasty vegetables, Thanksgiving dinner included, two-deep fried turkeys, honey-ham, baked chicken, broiled salmon, shrimp cocktail, kale/collards with smoked turkey, vegan kale/collards, hot stuffing, mild stuffing, potato salad, baked mac & cheese, black-eyed peas, roasted butternut squash, spaghetti squash, traditional candied sweet potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes (with cinnamon & nutmeg only) , and plain white sweet potatoes with coconut oil.   The list of desserts is too long, but there were plenty.

Here’s my plate!!  Everyone was surprised that I did not cave into the mac & cheese, but I was cool with not eating it and consciously enjoyed every bite of the food on my plate.  It really is amazing what we can do when we set our mind to something.

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It has been over one month since I started my Vegan challenge.  My major hiccup occurred last Saturday on a quick visit to Jersey.  We ate at a fantastic seafood restaurant, Doc’s Oyster House in Atlantic City.  Majority of the menu options is seafood.  The offerings for a salad were of little interest to me… probably because I was beyond starving and I’ve eaten at Doc’s before.  This would probably be the last time I visit this restaurant in a long time, so I ordered the special, which scallops.  The servings are large portions, and I could only eat half my dish.  I took the other half home, and my girlfriend ended up eating it. Although the food was delicious, the entire time, I kept thinking, “I’m eating seafood.”

I did, however, learn a valuable lesson.  Before dining out at specialty restaurants, I should carefully read the menu online and make my selection beforehand.  While writing this post, I went to their website and re-read the menu.  I saw options that I missed when I was in the restaurant.  I don’t know if I missed the items because of the ambiance and the dimmed light or because I got caught up in the moment or I just wasn’t paying attention.  Either case, I know that mistakes happen and I learned from the error so, all is good.

Below are some photos with brief captions from Thanksgiving Day.

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Quiche… pre-Thanksgiving Breakfast from the best bakery,  Sweet Brown Suga!

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These two beauties are my cousins.  They are also Vegan.

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Thanksgiving morning… help from my cousin in the kitchen.

Aunt Miriam & Aunt Clara

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Breakfast and school work.

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Even my little cousins enjoy a variety of fruit.

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An early text from another cousin.  He deep fried two 15 pound turkeys.

Holiday punch in the making…  designated bartender.

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Thank God for relatives who like to cook. She was a big help.

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Every woman can appreciate a man who can cook (healthy) in the kitchen.

Seconds, please!!

Loc inspiration from my favorite cuz! He’s also the Deep Fried Turkey expert.

The buffet line.

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Dining room. Photographer:  Ess.n.cee

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Dining room Photographer:  Ess.n.cee

Punch without the punch (alcohol). Photographer:  Ess.n.cee

Cousins!!  Some met for the first time.

Trying to get everyone to pose was a bit challenging.

This munchkin  Loved my mom’s doll baby and wasn’t trying to give her back.  

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Runway ready!

One of many attempts to get a good pic!  Lol!

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Seriously focused!

LOVE!

Two car fanatics!

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Love, Love, Love!  My daughter and our 84-year-old aunt haven’t seen each other in over 15 years!

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My nephew, his son, and auntie!

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Delivery of the ham and two turkeys in style!

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A toast to family, friendship, and a splendid day!

I hope that you found gratitude in your Thanksgiving Day!

Smooches!

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Thanksgiving Food Prep

Three days from now and around this time (8:27 p.m.), most people will be rubbing their bellies trying to digest dinner. Maybe even contemplating second or third helpings, or another trip to the desert table.

I was not feelin the kitchen after work this evening, but I’ve been on a roll cooking my share of Thanksgiving dinner, so just like I push myself to go to the gym some days, I pushed myself to cook another dish.

This year’s Thanksgiving eve, I just want to chill and don’t want to be slaving in the kitchen. Everything, except the salmon will be cooked in advance.

Here is six pounds of a blend of collard greens and kale. I wanted to cook the greens vegan style, but my peeps wouldn’t have that. But I think for Christmas dinner, I am just going to cook them without the smoked meat.  That stuff is bad for you! :0(

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I cooked them using smoked turkey legs. However, I just couldn’t contribute too much to the clogged arteries, high blood pressure, and added fat. I’m serious! I parboiled the four (4) smoked turkey legs in a handful of fresh garlic cloves and crushed red pepper.

The legs boiled until the skin begin to fall off. I then remove them from the pot and take off the skin, fat, and bones. It’s still unhealthy, but slightly better than with the excess fat.

I layered the greens in the pot with a little of the broth from turkey legs, sweet onions, and this seasoning.

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The outcome is amazing! I compromise this way because I understand that 20+ folks coming for dinner have not interested in eating clean. A small section of the kitchen counter will be dedicated to clean eating.

I am just about done my cooking.

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The garage freezer!

On Saturday, I cooked six pounds of mac and cheese and  B’Dazzle helped me with 15 pounds of yams by peeling them for me. I’m so lucky! He’s an awesome kid and did a super-duper job. :0)

tailor peeling

On my way home today, I was deeply saddened when I saw a long line at the local food bank. The parking lot was full, an attendant directed traffic, and a long line of cars sat along side a busy roadway waiting for their turn to pick up donated food. I haven’t seen it like this before. A recent and sudden surge of casino closings in Atlantic City has many families struggling… struggling to find work… struggling to provide food for the family… struggling to pay rent/mortgage… heat… electricity… etc…

Regardless of where you live, if you are blessed to enjoy the festivities of a holiday dinner or a daily meal, heat, or a warm and safe place to sleep, I urge you to help someone in need. Invite them to dinner or give food, clothing, or whatever it is you can offer. Every bit of help can make a difference to someone in need.

Don’t judge, be kind, and be generous.

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Sweet dreams!


Breaking Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving 2013 was probably the first in umpteen years that I didn’t start my day with a 10 mile run or an intense workout.

Finally the moment arrived when I had to decide which was most important– finishing dinner for our small gathering of 10 or heading to the gym for about an hour a half to work out. LOL!

Honestly, the gym is what I wanted to do more than anything else. But I realized that I’d be more stressed after the gym trying to complete dinner.

Our holiday dinner yesterday was different from any other. Why? The sudden death of my aunt took a lot of my family to Tennessee. My mother is one of nine sisters. Aunt Gatha was the baby. Auntie was hilarious and made my childhood years so colorful.

Traditionally our Thanksgiving and holiday dinners serve 30+ family, friends, and anyone in need of a meal or just a warm loving environment.

So this year we celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with absence of the family matriarchs with a small intimate group of cousins. This was the FIRST time in my 40+ years that we’ve done this.

For different reasons, we’re all consciously watching our waistline. We decided to break Thanksgiving tradition and skip the turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and a few other staple items.

Instead we created out own little seafood fest! Why? Just because and to create new memories. Also, we love seafood. Life is short… Live it well!

The eve of Thanksgiving was so relaxing.  Unaware of my actions, I captured B’Dazzle enjoying some quiet time.

Both ovens are full and the stove top is in full gear.  Just waiting...

Both ovens are full and the stove top is in full gear. Just waiting…

Usually this table is set for the family elders.  My cousins and I got to  eat at the big table this year.

Usually this table is set for the family elders. My cousins and I got to eat at the big table this year.

While dinner was smaller than usual, I still enjoyed the time with my family.  We chatted and laughed about old times and gave thanks for our blessings.

Me and my favorite little cousin Dom. Love her!

Me and my favorite little cousin Dom. Love her!

I am especially grateful for my wonderful, lifelong, and endless blessings.  Being able to open my home to my family, loved ones, and with others who are in need make the holidays all the more special to me.  No Thanksgiving shopping for me!

Be blessed and enjoy the weekend!


My family’s new Thanksgiving tradition

Yesterday’s Thanksgiving dinner was amazing! It wasn’t the dinner and the deserts that made it special. It was the genuine warmth and love shared among 30+ family and friends in our home which made it exceptional.

Dinner included: Oven baked turkey, deep-fried turkey, stuffing, ham, chicken, salmon, seafood pasta salad, spinach salad, plain baked mac & cheese, baked lobster mac & cheese, yams, baked beans, collard greens, kale, cabbage, carrots, green beans, cabbage, corn muffins, and biscuits.

Desserts included: red velvet cake, coconut cake, chocolate cake, pumpkin bread, sweet potato pies, several apple pies, pumpkin pies, lemon meringue pie, coconut macaroons, and a few other items that I can’t remember.

Outrageous right? This is typical for my family and my memories go as far back as early childhood.

Last week, while preparing for festivities of Thanksgiving, I began thinking about how blessed we are (my family). We’ve never experienced wondering if Thanksgiving dinner would take place. With 12 aunts & uncles, and a surplus of cousins, who I’m still getting to know, our blessings are endless.

As I marveled at my blessings, an intense sensation and desire compelled me to seek out an activity that we could do to pause and to give thanks.

So as family and friends arrived, each was given a paper that included a brief statement about Thanksgiving and instructions to respond to the questions below.  All were asked not to sign their name.

What are you thankful for?

Who are you thankful for?

Everyone was instructed to fold the paper and place it in a designated container and were told that the responses would be read later. Since there are usually many of us, for dinner we are scattered throughout the house. The elders sit at the dining room table, the kids at another designated spot, and the rest of us group together and sit wherever. So before dinner we form a huge circle around the kitchen island, hold hands, and say grace.

I decided that right before we blessed the food was an ideal time to read the comments. I started first by making a brief declaration about why I wanted to perform the ritual and asked all to take part. We each took a paper and read the responses to the two questions.

For me, the moment was heartfelt, surprising, and encouraging. I felt gratified to look around the room and see almost everyone reflecting on the comments and the moment.

My day was highlighted by my friend of 37 years who joined us with her two children for dinner. We’ve been friends since we were 9 years old. Those kind of friends are very hard to come by anymore. Soon she’ll be moving out-of-state and I don’t know when we’ll get together again, so it was important to me that we got to spend some time together.

The second highlight was meeting a new family member for the first time. For privacy reasons, I’ll call her Delia. She joined us along with her husband for dinner. Later in the evening, Deli shared her intimate story with me of how she connected with her paternal father, whom she did not know existed.

Delia was a breath of fresh air! She radiated an abundance of CHI that I wanted to feed off. Although Delia could easily have allowed anger and resentment to invade her spirit, she made a conscious decision to embrace the positive and to become acquainted with her new family.

The last person left the house at around 12:30 a.m. Me, hubby, and our daughter finished cleaning up and headed to bed. Although I was exhausted from the long day, I went to sleep smiling as I thought about my awesome Thanksgiving Day.