Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

The Art of Slowly Softening Butter

single mother, adopted childred


I don’t have a microwave, or more correctly, the huge one someone gave me six years ago no longer works. When it first stopped I didn’t believe it and kept pushing the start button. But then I remembered that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. So there it sits, taking up space under the picture Helen and Rose made me last Valentine’s Day. It’s a stretched canvas with their hand prints in bright colors and a list of 10 things they love about me. I must say I like number seven the best:  “We love that you adoted us”. The misspelling somehow turns the Pinterest crafty idea into something real from my daughters. And speaking of real gets me back to the microwave. Call me old (I don’t really mean that) but microwaves just don’t seem right to me. There’s something alien about them and they don’t keep things hot as long, and if you haven’t noticed this, then you’re in some kind of major modern denial.

It’s almost Thanksgiving and along with “my children and animals are alive” I’ve decided to be thankful that my microwave isn’t working. My mother never owned one. It was the same with a clothes dryer.  Even when they became affordable she hung things outside or when bitterly cold down in the basement, claiming that going up and down the stairs kept her young. Hanging out the clothes was often my job when I was young and it was a chore I ranked way above the Saturday morning dusting. I liked putting things in groups—underwear, linen, shorts, blouses, and so on (my idea, not her rule). I liked planning ahead so I would run out of line and pins exactly when I had everything hung.  And I liked to count how many tea towels and pillow cases I could overlap…..huh…I don’t remember if obsessive compulsive was a term back then. Of course, there were no microwaves or computers or cell phones—but we did have cars and I wish Rose would stop asking me that. Later, when it seemed that almost every American household did have a microwave, my mother still didn’t want one. There was a day when I understood where she was coming from:


Butter Softening


Sometimes I forget

to put the butter out.


Too hard to spread

on toast for breakfast,

it can go for a quick melt

in my microwave.


My mother doesn’t have

a microwave.

“Never had one,

never want one.”


And sometimes she forgets

to put the butter out.


She takes a

blue and white saucer

and puts three thin pats on it,

cut from the hard stick,

then gently places

the saucer on top

of her just-poured cup of tea.


The steam slowly

softens the butter,

though not as slowly

as one might think.


And then my mother sits down,

carefully butters her bread,

adds her favorite jam

(homemade black raspberry),

and with tea

sweetened to perfection

( a tablespoon of honey),

quietly eats it.


She proudly showed me her technique

for butter softening one morning,

and together we had toast and tea.


Since then my microwave

sits idle





My microwave hasn’t been so idle lately, prior to the breakdown (it, not me). There was always frozen meat that I forgot to put out the night before and horrible, horrible stuff that Helen insisted on eating for breakfast and then my tea to warm up.

Thanksgiving is in six days and when Helen gets home for her break she will no doubt complain about the non-working microwave and quote the price she paid for the one now in her dorm room. I, however, am doing just fine. If I forget to thaw out the meat then we go vegetarian. Rose, my good eater, can handle that I don’t buy the junkie stuff, and I reheat my tea by using a little metal saucepan on the stove. I did have to learn to put on the timer so I won’t need to turn around 10 miles from home to make sure the house isn’t on fire. And as for the butter on the Thanksgiving dinner rolls, I will likely take it out for softening around the time I run to change the hand towel in the downstairs bathroom. But if not, I’ll get a bowl of hot water and put some pats on top. It will seem quite quaint to my children (not the term they typically use to describe my behavior) but I can imagine a time when they might talk about it with fondness, just as not having a microwave reminds me of a morning of toast and tea with my mother. And I just decided to add that memory to what I’m thankful for.

Thanksgiving, adopted children


Fresh Lenses for Thanksgiving

Our prodigal cat Noel continues to luxuriate in the comforts of our house, including my warm bed at night.  We are rather concerned about certain digestive issues and wonder if these are caused by her excessive appetite or parasites she picked up on her mysterious walkabout.  Meanwhile the mice seem to have become quite savvy about the live trap in the kitchen cupboard and have moved upstairs.  Someone suggested I cut the cats’ food in half to make these lazy felines more likely to hunt, but I wouldn’t last long against their pitiful meows.  Instead, I am considering sitting them in front of an instructional YouTube on how to scare rodents away, with possible bribes of tuna on crackers (for the cats, not the mice).

But the big event this week is a film crew of two college students working on a short documentary for a K-State journalism course.  A friend who’s in the class suggested that her group’s topic be a single mother who quit her job to follow an art career, with me as the main subject.   So I’ve been interviewed about life and art and kids, taped making encaustic birds, and “portrait” shot sitting on the front porch swing staring rather vacantly off into the distance.  They also wanted to include my daughters and Wayne, so filmed us while eating dinner.  I was rather horrified by what they might catch on camera, but in the end it went fairly well.  There was less burping at the table from Helen and Rose didn’t run off screaming when she was told to eat with her mouth closed.  Maybe we will even come across as a pretty nice family.

And that thought leads to a memory of a Thanksgiving dinner 25 years ago.  I had begun to dread those traditional dinners, shared with only my aging parents and rather quiet brother.  But a good friend, Sylvia, was newly separated from her husband and needed a place to go for the holiday.  I worried that she would find the meal less than enjoyable and I would only feel more stressed.  But it turned out very different than I had anticipated.  Instead of obsessing that my father might choke on a turkey bone, I shared his concern that Sylvia get a second helping of mashed potatoes and homemade gravy (complete with giblets).  Instead of bristling at my brother’s teasing remarks, I found myself learning things about his work I’d never known before.  Instead of worrying if my mom was feeling under-appreciated for all the work she’d done that day, I noticed how she sparkled from the compliments of someone new to her cooking.   As I saw my family through another’s eyes, I saw a group of people who were bright and funny and kind and who cared about each other in their own unique way.

When I get to see the finished class video, I will try to view it through the eyes of others.  It may show what’s mainly the best of us, but the best of us is also part of who we are.   It is as much of what our family is as the sibling rivalry and meltdowns (include me here) and days when I wonder what it’s all about.

And perhaps that’s what makes Thanksgiving a valuable day to celebrate.  As we look around the table through the fresh lenses of others, we may surprise ourselves to see a family we want to be a part of.  Yesterday, my brother and I and the girls ate a Dillons “Family Chicken Meal Deal” with my 98 year mother, now in an assisted living home.  As we were leaving, she took my hand and told me what a wonderful family she has.   “Yes,” I found myself replying.  “Yes, we are.”