Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Giving Thanks and Remembering: Happy Thanksgiving to All

In Mexico we say, gracias, thank you. We give thanks for el día de acción de gracias, which is how our Oaxaca friends greet us.  May your day with family and friends be stuffed with turkey, gratitude, peace, laughter and remembrance for those who came before you to give you life, wherever you are.

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I hope whatever you choose to eat — guajolote, turkey, turducken or tofucken — be delicious and abundant. An abundant life is a blessing to appreciate and to help give to others.

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Our mom was buried a week ago in Santa Cruz, California. She died peacefully on November 15, three months before her 100th birthday. Her life was long and meaningful. We are missing her. Today we celebrate and remember.

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Today we will give special thanks for her life and ours.  Listen to I’m standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me by Grammy Award-winning Cantor Doug Cotler. We will share memories, look at photos, play Scrabble — our mom’s favorite game, and how she honed her amazing vocabulary and helped us develop ours.  In the last six months she taught us the word risible and used it frequently. We all laughed.

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I am here with my son, sister, brother and brother-in-law. This last gift from our mother was to bring us together for Thanksgiving, a first for all of us.

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In the past weeks as I was with our mom, helping her, my sister and brother to ease her to end of life, I realized how important it is to be in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead. It was even more meaningful this year as I prepared to make the journey to California knowing what would come.

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As I was with my mother as she made her journey, I realized this was another gift she gave me — how to leave us at peace and with dignity.

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I was raised in a home where science was truth and mysticism was for the ultra-religious. Concrete proof was required to test all beliefs. Things change. I have learned from the Zapotecs who embrace the spirit world and blend it into a continuum of life and death. For me now, the ethereal is more acceptable than the concrete. Someone I knew once said, the dead don’t care. I believe they do. To know that they care is to acknowledge that we cared about and loved them.

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Now, I have a different experience and I’m inclined to believe that our parent’s molecules are mingled with earth and sky, that the soul, the spirit, the essense of their being and those of our ancestors are with me forever. There is much I do not know about life and death.  Life is a mystery and death a destination.

I know that I will visit my mother and she will visit me each year when I build a memory altar with food, copal, candles and a sense of  life as mystery. But this won’t be the only time either.

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I am thinking of creating a Day of the Dead memory and rituals program next year to examine the way Mexico honors and remembers the deceased. I want to contrast this with how we approach death and dying in the El Norte culture. If you like this idea, please let me know!

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Thanksgiving and Frida Kahlo, Hospitals and Recovery

It’s Thanksgiving Day 2014. I’m at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham, North Carolina recovering from knee replacement surgery in a hospital bed that reclines to any position at the touch of a finger. In the past twenty-four hours, Frida Kahlo has often entered my mind.

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Mostly because she did such a miraculous job of hiding her pain and her deformity when medicine at the time did not offer sophisticated drugs or surgical techniques. She adorned herself in jewelry and costumes to focus attention to her upper body.

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Mostly because I want to look “normal” just like she did. Friends will come to visit today with good cheer, turkey and mashed potatoes in hand. My bandaged leg is under a blanket, my lipstick is applied.

Mostly because having surgery is a solitary experience, even surrounded by flowers, accompanied by Facebook, family and friends who are with me in this virtual world. Frida did not have Facebook and WhatsApp to connect her. She had her imagination and insights.

She reached out to connect by looking in the mirror that still hangs above her recovery bed in Casa Azul, paintbrush and canvas in hand, sketchbook and pencil in hand, to express her feelings about life, death, politics and Diego.

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I have my knitting at hand, my dreams rumbling around in my mind and my plans for the new year formulating.

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When I left Mexico City last week to return to North Carolina for this surgery, I kept the image of Frida on her bed with me. Her effigy was draped in an indigo shawl reflected in the mirror above.

My knee will heal and the pain will subside. This is more than a hope. It is knowledge that my care team led by Dr. Rhett Hallows, a Duke orthopedic surgeon, is expert. Afterall, I did interview four surgeons in September!

Today, one day after the procedure, I used day-glow pink, duct-taped crutches  to walk my first three hundred and one steps down the hospital corridor. The goal was three hundred, but my friend Mary Ann said, go on, you can do one more. So, I did.

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I am reclined in my hospital bed ready to welcome visitors. I give thanks for the gift of life as it presents itself each day, each moment a different experience and not as I predicted.

It is a perfect day for giving thanks, to my family and friends, to the strangers who care for me, and to Frida’s memory, a woman who endured hardship and pain. Frida is a model for what it means to transcend, create and live large.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am grateful you are a part of my life.

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Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Study Tour, April or July 2015.

Post-Thanksgiving Gratitude, Wishes, Stuffing and Stuff

To all my friends and readers near and far, to my family whom I adore, Gracias,  Gracias por todos, thank you for everything. Your love, caring, generosity, support, guidance and just being you means everything to me. You are numerous  — my world is big and inclusive. Consider yourself part of life’s blessings in Thanksgiving, today and always. Gracias.

I don’t know why I woke up hungry today, Black Friday. Maybe because I’m thinking about how to best avoid the crush, rush of Internet and store message bombardment to my inbox.  Food is so soothing when faced with the anxiety of impulse shopping because there might be a bargain out there.

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Thanksgiving Day in Santa Cruz, California was a marathon food fest with two giant meals.  The first was at our mother’s retirement community where residents, children, grandchildren and friends attended a lavish buffet.  My sister thinks this was the first time my mother (being germ-cautious at age 97-1/2) kissed her on the mouth.  My sister forgot to put on lipstick. It was a moment of sharing.  Thank goodness this meal began at noon!

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Next up: My brother-in-law brought Ernestina’s mole negro back with him from Oaxaca with the intention of making Thanksgiving turkey mole.   Ernestina is my friend and neighbor who lives down the lane in Teotitlan del Valle.  Thanksgiving2013-16

Her spicy black chocolate sauce, which she served us on All Souls Day before going to the village cemetery, is among the best we’ve ever tasted.  Someday, I will watch her prepare it and share the recipe.  I know she takes her chocolate beans (which she roasts herself) to the molina and adds the secret proportions of sugar, cinnamon, almonds and vanilla to yield a thick, rich paste. I know this because I bumped into her there.

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At 4 p.m. when Barbara and George’s guests arrived, I was at the stove making Chanukah potato latkes (see recipe below), enough for 30 people, although there were eight of us.  B&G have been sharing Thanksgiving with the wine making Ahlgren family for over 25 years.  They arrived with vintage bottles of early 1990’s bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot. We started with champagne, moved on to the wine, and topped off the dinner with a mezcal tasting.  Thank goodness it took me an hour to make the latkes and we didn’t sit down to eat until six o’clock.

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Our menu included homemade applesauce, turkey mole (George grilled the turkey breast, sliced it, and then added it to Ernestina’s mole to simmer for a couple of hours before serving), potato latkes, Shrimp Louie salad, homemade poppyseed cake with lemon curd and vanilla ice cream.

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Oops, can’t forget the Tucson Tamale Company tamales — turkey and cranberry, and sweet potato.  Sister had them shipped frozen, overnight delivery, only waiting to be steamed and served.

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So, for me, Thanksgiving is about making sure we have more than sustenance in our lives.  It says, it is important to live in abundance.  It is valuable to express gratitude to those who love us, care for us, come into our lives if only for a moment. It is our opportunity to reach out to friends and family to share our harvest.  It is a time to appreciate all that we do have and being satisfied.

Which is why it is so strange that Black Friday follows the day after — promoting a yearning for more, the frenzy of acquisition, the quest for stuffing our homes, closets and lives with more stuff.  Certainly the Thanksgiving stuffing should be enough!

Best wishes to you all for a season of peace, abundance and connection.

Norma’s Original Thanksgivvukah Potato Latkes

  • 6 peeled, Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium eggs, scrambled
  • 3 T. matzo meal
  • 1 t. salt (prefer fine ground sea salt)
  • 1/2 t. pepper, fresh ground
  • 2-3 c. olive and safflower oil mixed

Add potatoes to a food processor bowl with the chopping blade inserted.  Pulse 6-8 times until the mixture is a coarse chop, with 1/4″ pieces.  Remove to bowl of water.  Let sit for 5 minutes. Drain to remove the potato starch.  Return to food processor bowl.  Add onion and garlic.  Pulse 2-3 times. Add salt and pepper.  Pulse 2-3 times to stir.  Add matzo meal.  Pulse to stir.  Add eggs.  Pulse to stir.

Pour 1-2 c. oil into fry pan and heat on medium high burner until oil sizzles. Test with flick of water.  If water jumps, oil is ready.    Using a large tablespoon, put 1/4 c. of potato mixture into hot oil for each latke (pancake).  Flip when one side is golden brown.  Continue cooking until both sides well-browned.  Remove.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve hot.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream.  We had a jar of homemade hibiscus flower jam from El Diablo y La Sandia B&B in Oaxaca, which was an extra treat to go with the latkes.