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How Eating Local Changed Thanksgiving

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How Eating Local Changed Thanksgiving

Seven years into defining my own Thanksgiving with my own family, and I think maybe, I am finally beginning to get it.

As a young kid, I understood that we should be thankful for our food and family. We would attend large gatherings, and I remember once we even hosted one. At least 15 people were on their way to our house. My mom had been preparing the turkey and the sides. I was six years old, and she asked me to help with the salad. I took the bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing out of the refrigerator, saw that it was in the “New & Improved” plastic bottle, remembered the television advertisement in which they claimed the new bottle was unbreakable, and proceeded to demonstrate to my mother by throwing the bottle on the floor, certain it would bounce back.

It didn’t. The plastic shattered. Ranch dressing was everywhere.

As a teenager and young adult, Thanksgiving traditions became more variable. One year we would have Thanksgiving with Dad. The next with Mom. The next with Dad again. We might go out to an uncle’s for dinner, watch the guys chop firewood, and listen to guitar playing late into the night.  Or we would visit Grandma and Grandpa’s and enjoy turkey and trimmings followed by scripture readings.  We might have Thanksgiving at home with just Mom and the kids. And then, there was the year that Dad took us to Seattle and we celebrated Thanksgiving dining on East Indian cuisine.

And as I grew into adulthood, Thanksgiving became more of a holiday to share with a special someone. The first Thanksgiving my husband and I were together, we celebrated the news that we would be expecting our first child. In time, we learned traveling with kids during the holidays usually ended up with someone getting sick in the end. We soon learned to recreate the holiday on our own. We tried to develop our own traditions. The one that seems to remain is the smoking of meats. Whether it be turkey, elk, antelope, or duck. Thanksgiving always seemed to lend the opportunity to share our knowledge and love for smoked meat.

Through graduate school, we opened our home to others who might not be able to be with family. We supplied the meat and guests brought the side dishes.

The unexpected outcome of this agreement was the variety of fantastic ethnic foods that showed up at the table. After all, the international students weren’t ones to travel home for an American holiday. Indonesian desserts such as buttered mochi and agar agar sat next to Estonian dishes such as pickled pumpkin and potatoes with meat gravy. Kimchi and sauerkraut might have easily found their way onto the same plate.  No one left hungry, especially after making the trek in the bitter Wyoming cold to our professor’s house for dessert.

In those years, I gained some of my first experiences with true friendship, as I shared my home, foods, and traditions with others. Many of the bonds I established in graduate school remain strong today.  For that, I am thankful.

After graduating and moving to North Dakota, we truly missed the way relationships had influenced our holiday. We enjoyed our Thanksgivings at home, trying different sides each year. Like squash risotto or sweet potato pie. We’d go around the table, sharing what we were thankful for. Just like we thought we should.

Last year, I felt barely able to think about cooking. I was preoccupied by the loss of my dad. I couldn’t prepare or eat food without thinking of him. At times it felt like his presence in the kitchen with me was overwhelming to say the least. I did the best I could in writing about him and sharing his story.  But the pain was still tremendous.

We managed to have smoked turkey with cheese, crackers, and homemade pickles. It was simple and it worked. We were grateful, but something was amiss.   DSCN7764

This year is better. I feel more grounded and able to let the feeling of gratitude surpass that of grief. I am so grateful for our health. I am grateful for going gluten free and being able to enjoy eating again. I am grateful for so many friendships and professional relationships that have cultivated in the past year. Again, because I have been brave enough to share myself with others. And not just the parts I think they want me to share, but my true self.

It was terrifying, because at a certain point, I realized I wasn’t independent. I couldn’t do it all on my own. My family wasn’t as independent as we thought. Even though we raised chickens and ducks this year and had an amazing garden… we continue to rely on others.

That doesn’t mean we are dependent either. We have not gone to the store today, yesterday, or even last week to buy our Thanksgiving meal. The choices we make as consumers has lead to abundance. We have everything we need. And with that, we feel a sense of thankfulness that extends into the paradigm of “know your farmer, know your food.”

Tonight we will enjoy smoked duck with a sauce made from buffalo berries. We raised the duck ourselves and harvested the berries at the beginning of October. The potatoes and onions we will roast have been in our root cellar since the last farmers market. As have the pumpkins and apples from which we will bake pie. We made the last harvest from our garden at the beginning of November when we picked the brussels sprouts and cabbages. We saved the brussels sprouts just for this occasion. Should the boys want a glass of milk or a dollop of whipped cream on their pie, we have that too, thanks to our cow-share.

We will spend the day as a family. But we won’t be alone. The gratitude in our hearts is because of the interdependence with others. Those who shaped Thanksgivings years ago and those who helped shape this one by producing the food on our table. Without a doubt, we are blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving from Pages of Paradigm.

more being, by less doing

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Yesterday I had a business meeting scheduled to go over and update my resume. I needed help navigating, documenting, and presenting the responsibilities of my previous position. A friend agreed to take the time to help me with this task. I called her about an hour before our meeting and realized what an amazing friend she is.

I was calling to reschedule. Immediately she asks, “Is everything ok?” I actually surprised myself, “Yeah, everything is good!” I wasn’t rescheduling out of procrastination, fear, or some impending crisis. I rescheduled because I wanted to spend time working on Christmas gifts. It might not sound like it, but this was a huge landmark in my recovery. I didn’t force myself to do what I felt like “should” be done. Even more, I allowed myself to do something I wanted to do.

Much of my time has been consumed by doing the things that need to be done. As we all know, there are more of those “things” growing on the list than we can keep up with. But what we don’t always realize is how our perspective forces those things into seeming important. The result is an overload of tension and frustration, leading to a tendency to ignore our own true desires– which in reality might actually be more important. My friend recognized how significant it was for me to shift my priorities. I was making a responsible choice based on my own wants.  The result of my decision continues to unfold as I let go of the drive that pushes me to do and causes me to miss out on being.

I spent the morning packaging and decorating gifts. I had a wonderful time, wrapping jars of homemade preserves in paper bags and ribbon, making cute little bird shaped labels, finishing Christmas cards, and venturing out to deliver the gifts and mail the cards. The joy was in doing, rather than getting done.

Later in the evening, I found myself sitting in the chair by the tree, just thinking. I wasn’t doing anything or thinking about anything in particular. I was just being. And being in the present is a necessary prerequisite of experiencing joy. I’m looking forward to holding onto this wonderful sense of being throughout the weekend and into the Christmas holiday. Nothing is more important than enjoying the time we have and the people we share it with. I wish each of my readers such exquisite moments of joy, peace, and love.

Happy Holidays, from Pages of Paradigm!DSCN7650

for what its worth

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for what its worth

I hadn’t realized it until this weekend, but the holiday shopping season is in full swing. The Brazil family packed into the Pathfinder this weekend and took the quiet drive to Bismarck. It is a road that I have traveled so many times. I directed my husband through the city to the Civic Center, where the Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcase was being held. Suddenly, we were overwhelmed by crowds of people flocking to and from the event, reusable shopping bags in hand, poised and ready to shop local.

Pride of Dakota is a marketing organization that facilitates business growth for North Dakota companies and artisans.

Pride of Dakota is a marketing organization that facilitates business growth for North Dakota companies and artisans.

The idea of a mass crowd suddenly overwhelmed me. How could we enjoy and appreciate the diversity of quality, locally produced goods with crowds and crowds of people!? My worries were eased though when we got into the showcase. The crowd was part of the atmosphere. The people were kind and respectful. Even when my youngest was apt to run off through the crowd, I received understanding looks rather than the scorn I expected.

There was no reason to be crabby, anxious, or overwhelmed. My husband and I each took a kid and split up. I cruised through, observing the atmosphere, buying a few gifts, sampling some goodies, snagging business cards, making mental notes, and feeling rather energized and inspired.

At first I went into my anthropological observation mode, but that was quickly overcome by aesthetic magnetism. Some magnificent pottery caught my eye. I was careful not to linger near these fine hand-crafted items with a two-year-old at my side for long. But I was still impressed.

There was a variety of wineries with their products on sale. There were many North Dakota inspired items such as Cowboy Rope Art, pheasant feather flowers, awesome birdhouses upcycled from weathered wood and doors, delightful photography prints on notecards, and some absolutely phenomenal handcarved spear fishing decoys.

Dakota Sun Gardens is just south of the town I live in.

Dakota Sun Gardens is just south of the town I live in.

The booth for Pysanka featured hand decorated Ukrainian Easter Eggs. I was in absolute awe of the pottery, sculptures, paintings, and jewelry on display at the Northwoods Studio booth. With Northwoods is Jenna Jacobson, a talented young artist I would have loved to visit with. But instead, I had to settle on a quick complement as I dashed after my child who was disappearing into the crowd. Some jewelry in particular stood out at Muvey’s Jewelry. This artist specializes in hand crocheted necklaces. They were so elegant and beautiful, I wish I had a picture to share.

The market for hand-crafted items doesn’t seem to be just a yuppie trend anymore. We all know that the economy is tough these days. It seems that with the dwindling economy comes an increased appreciation for high quality craftsmanship. I see many people becoming more aware of how they spend their money, appreciating the opportunity for their hard earned dollars to go into the local economy, encouraging a growing trend in crafters and artisans.

After finding our fill at the showcase, we had to make a quick run to target, to get those other household type items that we have to rely on. My mind was still in the mode of seeking out the aestetics that moved me. Near the Christmas department, I found my oldest son must have still been in the same mindset as he cheerfully showed me some ornaments.

I admit, they were cute and crafty… looking. Little knitted woodland creatures ready to grace the boughs of a fir tree. Who wouldn’t want these?!

Cute little woodland creatures. Handmade by a loving relative? Not likely, Made in China.

Cute little woodland creatures. Handmade by a loving relative? Not likely, Made in China.

Contradiction overrode impulse this time. What in the world? Why is Target trying to fill in the niche market of hand crafted quality items? They actually had a name for the items, “Contemporary Craft Ornaments.” Does contemporary mean factory made? What does “craft” mean in this context? Who would be benefiting from the $3.00 spent on a imitation home-made gift? No one I know, I am sure.

I do know that something happened in that setting that hasn’t really happened to me in a Target before. I confidently said, “We can make something like that at home.” Now I have a child wants to learn to knit or crochet, and I haven’t the slightest clue how. But I am confident that we could make some version of the paper ornaments on display.

“Paper” ornaments sold at Target for $3.00 each.

I think I remember making something like this in grade school once…

And maybe, with the right materials, we could make something like these yarn wrapped wildlife. I think the fun in doing something like this would surpass the value of $3.00 a piece. Just making the little prototypes I did last night was a rewarding and peaceful endeavor.

This bit of reflection aligns very well with some of my hopes for my future storefront. North Dakota winters are long and cold. I know many folks keep themselves busy through the winter months by crafting unique pieces of art. Some of these folks are knitters, quilters, scrapbookers, jewelry makers, and much more. As for myself, I love drawing and journaling. I’ve been making jewelry for just over a year now, and maybe I have a future in ornament crafting as well.

Unfortunately, I find it difficult to keep inspiration going when there aren’t many places for me to stop in and get supplies, books, advice, or finished products. I either order my supplies online, make d0 with what I have, or wait until I make the drive to Bismarck, Fargo, or Grand Forks. I imagine others must face the same predicament. To help start the conversation, I started a Facebook Group for Crafters & Artists of Central North Dakota. Perhaps by gathering like-minded individuals, we can develop a vision to encourage the flow of creativity in our region.

to teach, to share, to learn, to love

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Dad, with the pig ear's he brought for the holiday feast

Dad, with the pig’s ear he brought for the holiday feast

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I am thinking of my dad today. I think of him everyday really, with varying themes, recollections, humor, and pain. It wasn’t until I was about 19 that my dad and I really seemed to get along well. Since that turning point in our relationship I learned so many things. My dad was a great teacher. While he taught things like karate, dance, and Pilates, the thing that made him a great teacher to me was his enthusiasm to try and share new things.

When he would come to visit, he would teach the boys how to do headstands and how to make bean sprouts. He helped the boys plant trees and examine each other’s ears using his otoscope. We talked about what it was like for me growing up and discovered some of the roots of those teenage power struggles we endured. He’d bring unusual food. For one New Year’s Eve dinner, we made roasted kale and pumpkin spaetzle. We experimented with recipes from Susan Hermann Loomis’s “French Farmhouse Cookbook” for a Confit of Duck Gizzards and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “River Cottage Cookbook”for Crispy Pig’s Ears. He helped us move from Wyoming to North Dakota without hesitation. Then returned a few months later to help cut down some overgrown trees in the yard. He was overjoyed with the arrival of each of his grandsons and so proud at my graduation.

What I learned most from my dad, whether it was about food, physical health, anatomy, spirituality, finance, life changes, or relationships, always had to do with conquering fear—about having confidence and courage to do what feels right, even if the chosen actions might end up raising a few eyebrows along the way.

I will never forget the last conversation we had. I was struggling to tread water with the responsibilities I had as a Vice President at a college. More was being asked of me in terms of administration and leadership, sadly at the expense of engaging with staff and students in the projects I loved. Through the conversation I felt the love and acceptance from him, like a warm and comforting hug and his final words, “Rachel, be happy.” I took a deep breath, sobs choked in my throat as I exhaled a reply of “I’ll try.” Less than a week later, he was gone. No warnings, no signs. Just gone, to walk in the next world.

Again and again, I find myself looking to that moment to help fill in the gaps of the times when I feel like I needed his reassurance and guidance most. Like in February, when we had to plan his funeral, meet with an attorney, discuss inherited IRA rollovers and distributions. Or this spring, when I spent a month going through pain, medical tests, and surgeries to identify that I’ve been suffering from gallbladder attacks for years. Or this summer, when I resigned from my position to focus on my physical and emotional health and I had no idea of what I might do to carry the family through financially. Or the last month, when I began developing a business idea, looked at commercial property, and began to think of myself as an entrepreneur. Or now, as we take the final steps into the holiday season, when we’ll be eating wonderful food, sharing memories, and missing him dearly.

And amid it all, I can say that I have tried to “be happy.” And it hasn’t been easy. But I know who I am, what is important to me, and I am grateful for all I was able to share with my dad.