Today in the U.S. is Thanksgiving, a huge holiday that the fortunate will spend with people they love and who have welcomed them into their homes with food and drink and kindness.
We are in suburban Maryland, just outside D.C., with a dear friend and her husband, a fellow journalist who stood in Toronto in September 2011 as our official wedding witness. We’ve visited them many times, but this year were grateful she was able to also welcome a younger friend of ours, a freelancer in D.C. whose mother died a few years ago and whose father lives far away.
We were also grateful recently in Ontario when our friends there welcomed my former sister-in-law to stay the night and dine with us — we live in a one-bedroom apartment, so we can welcome at most two people, (if Jose sleeps on the floor and I get the sofa and the couple get our bed.)
When people have room to spare, (and we always bring gifts and wine and pay for groceries and write thank-you notes!) it’s a blessing.
The opening of one’s home, heart and table are great gifts.
I’ve recently begun following a smart, tough Christian writer and pastor named John Pavlovitz, and his new book, A Bigger Table, brings the same spirit of generosity and openness in a time of deep and bitter social and political division.
I haven’t yet read his book, but I follow him on Twitter and like his voice and his point of view.
Wherever you are today, I hope you’re safe, solvent, healthy, well-loved and well-fed!
My husband, a freelance photo editor, is working at The New York Times today, yesterday and tomorrow.
I can hear my neighbors below me and down the hall laughing and welcoming guests for today’s big celebration.
Tuesday and Thursday are my “fast days”, when I restrict my calorie consumption on those days to 750 calories, my goal to lose at least 30 pounds, ideally 45 or so. I’ve been doing this diligently since June and am seeing progress.
It’s hard, though. I just ate lunch and I’m still really hungry.
The sky outside our windows is a flat, leaden gray.
The town below our windows is eerily silent.
I see all my friends’ posts and photos on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m envying their feasts and fellowship.
But Jose and I are not close to our families; his lives far away from us and mine lives in Canada, which celebrates Thanksgiving there in early October.
So we’re usually invited to share it here with one of our friends and their family.
One year we went to an elegant restaurant instead.
Last year we spent this holiday at a friend’s home near D.C., a long, long table filled with delicious food and lots of her family.
She invited me back this year, but I decided to stay home…and good thing I did, as my right knee, (which is very damaged due to advanced osteoarthritis), collapsed on me on Sunday night, making it impossible to straighten my leg, the pain so intense I almost fainted and/or threw up.
Luckily, I saw my doctor Tuesday morning, who drained fluid from it and injected cortisone. I yelped!
Now I have a cold.
But I’m thankful for so much:
— A safe, warm, dry, bed and a cozy duvet
— The little radio that brings me the world and keeps me company
— My laptop!
— A hard-working healthy husband who is sustaining us through three freelance jobs
— Savings (so we don’t have to panic if I’m ill for a few days)
— Fresh food in the fridge, (which I’ll enjoy tomorrow)
— A gorgeous orange-cranberry bundt cake I made yesterday that turned out really well
— The insurance to be able to see a doctor quickly
— A doctor I know, like and trust
— A safe and reliable car to drive to the doctor
— A husband willing to drive me there (losing two days’ income and work to do so)
— Working Internet (hi there!)
— A working landline (spoke to a Toronto colleague today for 90 minutes about a possible project)
— Paid freelance employment for a new steady client
— General good health
— Dear friends, here in New York, in Toronto and around the world
—– The 16,300 followers of Broadside (thank you!)
— A solid marriage of 16 years; we’re spending this Saturday night with a friend recently widowed after 60 years of marriage
Hoping all my American readers are enjoying a restful holiday with people they love!
With American Thanksgiving looming and the holidays after that, many of us will soon become guests, whether meeting the parents of the one you love, (and maybe hope to marry — no pressure!), reconnecting with friends or with family you might see infrequently and who you don’t know very well.
Being a guest can also mean stepping into a potential minefield of mutually hurt feelings and/or unexpressed frustration.
Some hosts are explicit about their wishes, but many are not.
I’ve stayed with friends many times, some of whom live in fairly tight quarters; no one we know lives in a 4,000 square foot house or a stately mansion.
Fortunately, Jose and I have been invited back many times by the same hosts. (On a blessedly few occasions, it’s been a total shitshow, usually when staying with [sigh] my family.)
Here’s to a lovely holiday season!
Eleven ways to hasten a return invitation:
No political arguments!
The reason you’ve been invited into the sanctuary of someone’s home is to enjoy fun, friendship, fellowship not to engage in ferocious battles or shift them, suddenly, to your opposing worldview. (Or vice versa.)
When political conversation becomes (over)heated, contentious and ad hominem insults are flying — slow down long enough to ask yourself, seriously, what’s the upside? How much anger, even estrangement, is worth it?
(If it’s time to torch a bridge or two, have at it, but make sure there’s gas in your car or a taxi nearby and alternate lodging you can afford.)
Bring Scrabble, cards, Bananagrams, a good book, headphones and music you love, a sketchbook.
Head out for a long, head-clearing, blood-pressure-lowering walk.
Or, as some Americans are choosing to do this year after such a contentious election, just stay home, or at a hotel instead.
When asked for your dietary preferences, remember — it’s not a full-service restaurant
Some people have life-threatening allergies, but others think nothing of imposing their impossibly long list of preferences.
If you insist on ready access to a specific food or drink, bring it with you — rural options can be distant and limited.
Stay quiet until you know your hosts are awake
This seems like basic good manners to me, but friends we recently stayed with at their country house upstate said they’re often awakened with pointedly heavy guests’ foot-steps as early as 8:00 a.m.
This is a couple who work 18-hour days running their own company and I know how weary they are!
Make sure you know how to find and (quietly!) make coffee or tea. Bring your own headphones and reading material.
Be a grown-up and entertain yourself and your kids in (relative) silence until everyone is fully conscious.
Sex? Keep it private and quiet
Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.
An ex-boyfriend of mine had relative bring a sheep (yes, really) to his suburban home from upstate while visiting for Thanksgiving…
If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and from you
Not everyone is used to plenty of high volume shrieking/barking, especially if they don’t have a child or a pet.
People who’ve chosen to “get away” are actually hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off. Promptly clean up every mess and apologize/offer to replace anything your kids/pet damage or break.
Buy groceries, pay for them or split food/drink costs with your host
Ditto for taking your hosts out for a few good meals. Don’t be a mooch.
Bring a gift
Don’t arrive empty-handed: offer a great bottle of wine, some beautiful soap, a lovely coffee table book on a topic you know your hosts will enjoy.
While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach.
Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!
Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week
Sure, you can email, and most hosts probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed.
Help out wherever you can
Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. Your hosts will probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.
Avoid public grooming
I was once hosted by a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife — while both of them flossed their teeth. Not my style.
You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door.
Create lovely shared memories, not regrets you’ll all spend years trying to forget.
Do you enjoy being a guest or host?
What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?
This is the warehouse for NYC’s food bank. As you enjoy your meal today, remember how many cannot, without help.
Today is American Thanksgiving, a day when friends and family gather to celebrate.
Here are some things I’m grateful for:
This blog now has more than 15,900 followers worldwide, and more join every day. It’s a place we continue to have lively, civil, moving conversations about our lives. Those of you, like Ksbeth, Rami, Steve, Charlene, Matthew, Grace and Leah who have been here for years, I’m honored you return here.
I enjoy writing it and hearing from you, and am so glad you make time to visit, read and comment.
As someone who spent the fall of 2011 on crutches, so bad was the pain in my damaged left hip, (since replaced), and who has spent months on end in physical therapy attending to both knees and my right shoulder pre and post-surgery, I’m so grateful to be strong, flexible and healthy.
Without good health, we have nothing.
Jose is a treasure. We met online when I was writing a story about internet dating for Mademoiselle magazine and 200 men replied to the personal profile I put up on one of the sites. He was in the mix. Ironically, we both work in journalism in New York but we would never have met any other way. It’s now 15 years and it feels like minutes.
We’re staying this week with dear friends in suburban Maryland, a four-hour drive from our home. They’ve welcomed us many times and it’s a blessing to know their home is open to us. In a world where work comes and goes too easily, where family can be complicated and moral support gets you through it all, deep and sustained friendship is one of my greatest joys.
Jose and I now both work full-time freelance. That means, every single month, we need to earn multiple thousands of dollars in income to pay all our bills. If we’re ill or tired, we can take time off, but there’s no paid sick leave or vacation. No one pays into a 401k to help save for our retirement now.
Everything is up to us. So having a strong network of people who know and respect our skill and hire us to write, edit, teach and take photographs is key to our ongoing success.
We’ve been careful and frugal. Having a financial safety net allows us to take time off when needed and the creative risks we need to to compete effectively with people decades younger.
We talk constantly about our ideas for work, travel, our home, new projects to work on individually or together, whether our blogs or creating new workshops. I’m grateful for a partner who is fun, funny and full of ideas. I am fortunate to have friends who help me refine mine and who share theirs.
I’m fortunate to have grown up in a home bursting with creative talent. My father, still alive and healthy at 86, was a film-maker and someone who makes art in multiple forms: engraving, etching, oil, lithography and silver. My late stepmother wrote for television and my mother was a journalist and editor. It was simply normal behavior to have tons of ideas, sell them to make a living and know that a percentage would be rejected or not very good. When I took the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking for a story, I scored in the 98th percentile. I guess it rubbed off!
Paris, January 2015
As regular readers of Broadside know, we live to travel, and are gone usually several weeks each year to Canada, other parts of the U.S. and, in better years financially, to foreign lands. This year has been fantastic in that regard, with trips to Maryland, Ontario, Quebec, Maine, London, Paris and Ireland. Because we’re now both freelance, and have friends generously welcoming us into their homes, as long as we have work and wi-fi, there’s no need to stay put in New York. Beyond grateful to be able to keep my passport handy.
We live on the top floor of an apartment building with a spectacular view, facing northwest, of the Hudson River and the opposite shore. Every morning we’re greeted with a fresh bit of beauty, whether the rising sun creating a line of demarcation across the hills, sparking every window into a “ruby moment” as it reflects the sun, or fog so thick we can barely see the trees.
We live and work in a one-bedroom, so we have to be tidy and organized, but love that our balcony is our refuge/office/spare room when the weather is good.
I really enjoy our town, Tarrytown, NY, 25 miles north of Manhattan, a place so pretty films and television shows are made here — a few days ago HBO was filming a show with Sarah Jessica Parker.
We’ve enjoyed many fun versions of this holiday over the years — spent in frigid, dark-by-2pm Stockholm, others with friends in D.C. and N.Y, getting to know them and their relatives better.
Our own families living very far away from us, we’re lucky to be invited to join others’ celebrations.
Wherever you are today, I hope your Thanksgiving is a happy one!
Today is American Thanksgiving, a day for eating too much, family squabbles and friends’ doors lovingly opened to “orphans” and “strays”, those of us whose families are too far away or dead or don’t like us very much.t
It’s my favorite American holiday, and it took me a few years living here to figure out why. It’s the one day no one argues over, the one day that everyone — Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist, Hindu — celebrates with relief that we all made it, relatively unscathed, through another crazy year.
I love how it begins the holiday season, at least for those of us who celebrate Christmas; Canadian Thanksgiving is in early October, which always felt a little early to me.
Every year, newspaper and magazine editors offer a gazillion ways to prepare side dishes. Brine the turkey or roast it? Host, guest or skip the whole shebang? The decisions are all comfortingly familiar.
Jose and I are heading next door to a lovely hotel, in a castle, for our 4:00 meal. No shopping, cooking or cleaning!
Here are some things I’m thankful for this year:
— You! Broadside is growing every day, with an array of readers that astonishes me, men and women of all ages and ethnicities, from Australia (hi Charlene and Nigel!) to Vancouver, my birthplace (hi, Rian!) to India, Indonesia, Spain (hola, JPP!) and dozens of other places. I know your time and attention is a rare resource and I’m honored.
— My husband, Jose. We’re heading into our 13th. year together. We met online, when I was researching a magazine story about on-line dating and he saw my ad and profile, with the headline “Catch Me If You Can.” We’re very different people in many ways, but we laugh our bums off and work like dogs and I’m lucky to have gotten a good husband on my second try.
— The view from our top-floor apartment. We overlook the Hudson River, facing northwest, with a clear blue sky full of jet contrails and military helicopters thudding home to West Point and soaring red-tailed hawks. We see snow and rainstorms sliding across the water and, if we’re up early enough, glittering pink and gold jewels on the opposite riverbank as the rising sun reflects in the windows there. Huge barges glide past every day. On July 4, we can watch six towns’ fireworks at once.
— Our town. Tarrytown, NY, named one of the nation’s ten prettiest recently by a major magazine. I love the 127-year-old Tarrytown Music Hall, its oft-filmed Main Street and Goldberg Hardware, still owned and run by the grand-son of its founder. I’ve lived here since 1989, and now run into friends and neighbors everywhere, from my former physical therapist at the grocery store to my dentist at the gourmet shop to my dance teacher at the cafe.
— My work. Journalism has been my world since I was an undergrad at the University of Toronto, so eager to get started, in my first year there, that I showed up at the weekly campus newspaper before classes even began. Through my work, I’ve had the most extraordinary adventures: I spent eight days in a truck with a French-speaking driver going from Perpignan to Istanbul, met Queen Elizabeth, climbed the rigging of a Tall Ship 100 feet to work on a footrope, visited an Arctic village and a remote Quebec commune, and have interviewed everyone from a female admiral to convicted felons, Olympic athletes and the female cop who kept New York’s mayor alive on 9/11. I have been privileged with others’ trust in order to share powerful, compelling stories.
— Supportive editors and agents. I may finally have found my next agent, and this week will finish up my fourth major feature for The New York Times Sunday business section. I need talented people who believe in my skill, willing to tether their own reputation and limited attention to me, to keep moving forward in this competitive and rapidly-changing industry.
— Good health. My mother, at 76, lives in a distant nursing home in extremely poor health. My father just arrived in Hong Kong, after a 16 hour flight, at 83, ready for his latest adventure. I’m fortunate to live in a safe, clean place with easy access to lovely spots in which to walk, hike, bike, golf, kayak, sail, canoe. I have strength and flexibility and my full faculties. I take none of this for granted.
— A new left hip. On Feb. 6, 2012, I had a new artificial hip implanted, a procedure that still awes and amazes me, and which gave me back my life and mobility after 2.5 years of extreme pain. Thanks to Jose’s job we have excellent health insurance and I found a young surgeon I like and trust.
— Friends. Funny, smart, wise, their love and intelligence sustain me.
No matter how much we look forward to visiting our distant family members, (and many of us do), there’s often a whole pile ‘o unexploded ordnance lying beneath that linen-covered holiday table: resentment, envy, insecurity, fear, doubt.
No matter how much we’d love to ignore them, they often blow up when you least expect them, or want them to. Here are some of the old standbys:
When are you getting married?
You still don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend?
How’s that “freelancing” thing working out for you?
We had such a great time in Paris — how was your summer?
You’re still ABD?
Billy just got a promotion, and a bonus. Did you find a job yet?
It’s so great they’re making plus-size clothes in such pretty colors these days. Love your dress!
Having just survived the latest “helpful” advice from one family member — which left us both shouting in rage (nice) — I know all too well the joys of spending time with relatives who have firm and fixed ideas about how much more effectively or wisely one might behave.
It takes a soul of steel, (not to mention duct tape), to not let old patterns re-emerge, snitty comments get under your skin or ancient feuds simmer to a boil with the addition of alcohol, overeating and too much time in a small space with people you never got along with in the first place, shared genes be damned.
Right now, my mother isn’t speaking to me (I’m her only child); my half-brother insists it’s him or me at Christmas and none of my husband’s relatives (all two of them) could bother attending our recent wedding.
What are you most looking forward to when you gather for Thanksgiving?
I recently turned down three offers to speak to audiences about my new book.
One would have had 3,000 people on-line; another 30 people in a room a 45-minute drive from my home and the third maybe 60 people in another country. None of these people thought it odd, or rude, to ask that I speak without any compensation or any guarantee of book sales. Just “exposure.”
Of course I want to sell lots and lots of my books. I want and need to meet new readers. But with gas at $4 a gallon and my time billable at $150-200 hour, being asked to just give it away really annoys me.
Why exactly am I expected to donate my time, energy and skills?
So now I don’t.
It feels really good to finally start saying no. (It doesn’t have to be rude or have any affect at all. It is, as they say, a complete sentence.)
We’re all trained in the art of nay — or yay — saying. I grew up in a family of people who were/are extremely determined to get their way. People who consider me stubborn and hard-headed, who’ve also met my family of origin, get it.
There was little negotiation, often their way or the highway. So “no” became a fairly useless response, if I wanted to have a family at all.
The first man I married won my heart through his unblinking ability, on Christmas Eve after a toxic little maternal encounter, to say “No” to the whole thing. We left. I would never had mustered up the nerve to tell her enough! Thank heaven he did.
Women are heavily socialized from childhood to make nice, keep everyone happy, givegivegivegivegive (in), no matter our true, private feelings on the matter. The woman who dares to be the first to buck that trend, to ask for a raise, refuse to make team snacks or host Thanksgiving is often vilified for being so….demanding!
It can take years, decades, even a lifetime to locate your spine and keep it as stiff as rebar when needed. Saying no, despite the conflict, anger, frustration and recrimination it can create, (and, oh, it does!) is a powerful choice if all you’ve been saying — reluctantly, resentfully — is yes. (Sigh.)
So much easier to avoid conflict by caving, keeping everyone else happy, wondering when you might finally muster up the nerve to say NO and mean it.
Being invited to someone’s home — as many of us will soon be for the holidays, whether for a party, a meal or a few days — is supposed to be a wonderful thing, a gesture of affection and hospitality. As we all know, it can also lead to sulks, sighs, flounces, shouts or worse.
Herewith a few rules for the host:
Make it fun. Really. Too many people stress themselves out to create Martha Stewart-esque perfection, determined to get it right, or else. I love to entertain in style, with candles and linen napkins, but if my guests aren’t having a good time, there’s not much point. Great music and soft lighting help. Delegate as many tasks as possible and allow plenty of time between the house-cleaning, food shopping, prep and cooking — and your meal or party. A pooped-out host(ess) is no fun!
Offer a wide array of beverage choices. Pellegrino, lots of lime and lemon slices, fresh ice, freshly-squeezed orange juice, V-8 juice and brewed tea make a nice break from sugary sodas or liquor. (Most fruit juices contain way too much sugar for those trying to lose weight.) If you’re serving tea or coffee, it’s great to have half-and-half and skim milk available as well.
Determine food allergies — but set your limits. This is really tricky in an age of vegans, gluten-free adherents and people choosing to follow any number of exotic diets. I once prepared a great salmon dish to have my 25-year-old guests sniff “I don’t eat fish.” Yes, we made them something else, but they haven’t been invited back since.
Be clear about your expectations. If the cat will rush into busy traffic if a door is opened, make that known. If you won’t tolerate anyone else disciplining your children, say so. If the apartment door must be double-bolted upon exiting to be secure, tell your houseguests, preferably a few times.
Write stuff down. If you have guests with you for a while, a written list of tips can’t hurt — where to find the coffee, whether you compost or recycle, the location of the nearest pharmacy or grocery store. Most people hate to snoop or nag, and everyone runs their household a little differently.
Anticipate disaster. If you really don’t want a red wine stain anywhere, don’t serve it. If your best crystal is irreplaceable, don’t put it within anyone’s reach.
Stock your medicine cabinet. No one wants to come unprepared, but emergencies happen — aspirin, Pepto-Bismol, bandages, sanitary supplies, extra razors or toothbrushes are all very much appreciated by needy guests.
Don’t assume your guests know how to (safely) operate any of your technology. Explain clearly anything they might find confusing. This might be anything from your remote to your coffee-maker to your music system.
Let your guests know it’s OK to do their laundry (if it is) and have extra soap on hand. If they’ve been on the road for a while, or have little kids or work out often, it’s a relief to be able to keep up.
Make houseguests truly feel at home. Nice towels, a few new magazines, a box of chocolates, a pitcher of ice water and some pretty fresh flowers in their room will make them feel pampered. If you really don’t want people around, don’t invite them, or limit their stay. They can feel it. Fake or forced hospitality is a misery for everyone.
As the holidays approach, and hosts everywhere hope for the best, a few handy tips:
Don’t kill the cat, (or dog, or fish or parakeet.) I once rented a Parisian apartment, a tiny studio at the top of six (!) flights of stairs. It came with a cat. Within minutes of setting down my suitcase, the cat was gone. Where? I peered six stories down into the courtyard. Nope. Looked every-bloody-where. Asked a neighbor. Kitty had hidden under the duvet covering the sofa. Great. I might have sat on le maudit chat.
Whatever animal(s) come with your host’s home, treat them with kindness and care. Keep doors locked and windows closed when necessary.
Bring loot. It might be lovely soap, fine chocolate, wine, some CDs, a coffee table book. If you arrive empty-handed, be sure to send a gift or flowers within a few days after you leave. With your hand-written thank-you note, mailed. Even if your hosts are loaded and seem to have everything, you can come up with something they would enjoy.
Help out. This means you, missy. Even if you snooze ’til noon, you’re still fully capable of washing dishes, loading and unloading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor or wiping down the kitchen countertops. Not everyone is as haus-frau-y as me, and I do love a little housework, so I do windows, polish silver and even clean out fridges on occasion.
Buy meals. When you and your host(s) go out to eat or drink, pay for them. If you’re on a super-tight budget, do it anyway, at least once. Be thoughtful about their generosity in inviting you into their home. (i.e. you’re not paying to sleep there.)
Bring food and drink. Again, especially if your host(s) are on a budget, this means less of a drain on their scant resources. If you must consume something very specific (and/or expensive) — soy milk, quinoa, spelt, gluten-free bread? — bring it with you.
Sex. Don’t. Really, it’s just not that urgent. If you must, be quiet and tidy and don’t spend all day locked in your room. Whatever little treasures you enjoy at home, stash ’em when not in use. No matter how wildly in love/lust you are, limit the PDA. It can get a little scary.
No public grooming. Ever. Ever. That includes: shaving, flossing, plucking, picking, moisturizing, depilating, coloring, the noisy and disgusting trimming of your nails, filing/painting/unvarnishing your nails. No one needs to see, hear or smell these behaviors, however necessary.
Find a room and shut the door and do it there. Then tidy up.
Respect the space. Even if you think your host(s’) standards of housekeeping, design or cleanliness oddly high or low, it’s their place. If it’s really that dirty or gross, leave. If it’s so anally all-white-don’t-touch-the-sofa you’re scared to relax, ditto.
Ask about preferences and allergies. I almost ruined my friend’s job interview this week by starting to spray (a little) perfume on my wrists. Turns out she is wildly allergic and would have sneezed for hours.
Adjust your schedule. You don’t have to get up at 5:00 a.m. to meditate or jog with your host(s), but it’s their home and their life you’ve come to fit into for a few days or more. If you normally wake up especially late, make sure this isn’t going to pose a problem for them. Find out who needs the bathroom when and for how long. If you get up much earlier or stay up much later than they do, be quiet and considerate of others’ needs for silence and rest.
Staying with a friend or relative can be a lot of fun and a great way to get to know them better, and vice versa.
It can also, quickly and efficiently, forever kill even the best of relationships as people seethe, sulk and wonder whose idea this was exactly.