The Meaninglessness of Dates

“I don’t wait for the calendar to figure out when I should live life.” – Gene Simmons

Dates have always been meaningless in my family.

Dad’s job has never been a typical 9 to 5, taking him out of town for a week or two at a time. The shifts are usually inflexible, which means that Dad has been at work for lots of birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries, and Thanksgivings.

A couple of times he’s been able to surprise us by getting a few days off and driving home in the middle of the night to make a holiday. This has led to humorous incidents, like the time Dad drove home Christmas Eve. Sister and I came running into Mom and Dad’s room to wake them up Christmas Day so we could open presents from Santa, and I was confused to see both Mom and Dad there. My first instinct was to say, “Dad, is that you?” which led Dad, equally confused, to ask “Well, who else would it be?” Needless to say, Mom wasn’t super impressed by my question. We all still laugh over it.

Most of the time, however, Dad’s gone for at least some of the holidays, and so we move around holidays to accommodate his schedule. Thanksgiving with Dad has rarely been on Thanksgiving, and we often end up having two Christmases, one with Dad and one with other family. This is how I’ve grown up, and it’s never bothered me one bit. Holidays have always been viewed as a time for being together and enjoying each other’s company, more so now that I’m studying away from home.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about my family’s view toward holidays. Growing up in a family where holidays are less about a date and more about being together has led me to think of holidays as important occasions that are given a date merely for the sake of making sure we don’t forget about them. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth as well as the gifts we have been given throughout the year, including each other. While traditionally celebrated on the 25th, the calendar need not dictate when we can celebrate these things. I can be thankful for the birth of Jesus any time of the year.

I’m thankful for having grown up in a family where holidays have taken on such a meaning. It’s allowed me to view them as more important and meaningful than certain rituals you do on a certain day. The calendar is arbitrary but the meanings of holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are important and valuable, and changing the date doesn’t discredit the time you get to spend with the people you love.

As we head into Valentine’s Day, I’ve seen how my view of holidays has impacted my view of this one. I won’t be celebrating with the person of my choice, so this is yet another holiday I’ll be moving until another time (the beginning of March, to be exact). I’ll be moving my anniversary up a couple of weeks too, and this isn’t the first time we’ve done some shifting of these holidays. But at the end of the day, it’s not the date that matters. What matters is how you choose to celebrate the meaningful things in life and who you choose to celebrate them with.

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Edmund the Safeway Guy’s Is-This-Really-A-Vegetable Green Bean Casserole

Thanksgiving is one holiday that is full of family traditions.  From the rule that Grandpa is always the one that carves the turkey, to the familiar prayer said yearly, every family has their traditions.

Thanksgiving is almost always held at my aunt and uncle’s house. They prepare the turkey and some of the sides, my family takes care of the pies. My uncle always leads the prayer, and no one is allowed to leave until football is over and we’ve all eaten at least three slices of pie.

There is something really comforting about traditions. In a constantly changing world, it’s nice to be able to hang on to those wonderful, small routines that bring you closer to your loved ones.

Existing traditions are wonderful, but new traditions have their place too. A few years ago, I tried revamping the family’s traditional back-of-the-French-fried-onion-jar green bean casserole recipe for Thanksgiving, and I think we’re all permanent converts.

A new tradition has been started in my family, courtesy of one particularly helpful Safeway butcher, who basically wrote the menu for our Christmas dinner two years ago, and gave us the recipe for this new favorite. (It’s really quite a long story.) I am forever indebted.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, whether you prepare it for next year’s Thanksgiving dinner or for any old dinner at all. It goes great with just about any main course. Trust me, it will forever change your thoughts on the phrase “casserole.”

 

Edmund the Safeway Guy’s Is-This-Really-A-Vegetable Green Bean Casserole

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(The measurements here are to give you a guideline, but you can definitely play around with the proportions.)

 

  • 12 oz. steamer bag green beans (You can definitely use the loose ones in the produce bins, I’m just not sure what the measurement conversion is.)
  • 1 cup of uncooked thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of white/yellow onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes (buy the log/ball of mozzarella, not the cheap bagged stuff. It makes a difference!)
  • French fried onions, to preference

 

Steam the green beans per the bag directions, until tender yet crisp. Transfer to casserole dish.

 

Sauté bacon and onion in a medium pan over medium-high heat until bacon is cooked and onions are translucent. Once cooked, drain off any excess grease (I don’t usually have much), and place back over medium heat. Add cream of mushroom soup, but do not add any additional water or milk. Stir until thoroughly combined and until mixture is warmed.

 

Next, begin slowly adding mozzarella, stirring after each addition. Add mozzarella until the mixture is cheesy, but not crazily cheesy (You can define that point, I’m not here to judge. I usually add around 2/3 of the cheese.

 

Pour mixture over green beans in casserole dish. Top with remaining mozzarella and French fried onions and bake at 350° until French fried onions are browned slightly and cheese is melted.

 

Eat some.

Eat some more.

Try to convince yourself that this can’t be a vegetable.

Find yourself confused at why you don’t top all of your vegetables with bacon, cheese, onions, cream of mushroom soup, and French fried onions.  

Begin making a second batch of sauce to pour over your dinner salad.

Realize that you might be going too far.

Eat some more green bean casserole.

 

Enjoy! Let me know what you think of the recipe, and if you make any modifications you find particularly delicious, share those too!

 

Xoxo,

Taylor

A Reflection on Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving: It’s a time for way too much pie and too little working out, for football and for family, and most importantly, for giving thanks. Heading toward this important (translation: food-related) holiday, I’ve been thinking about what it means to give thanks.

For many of us, I think giving thanks is a process of solitary reflection. Though these utterances of gratitude might be verbalized around the Thanksgiving dinner table, they might not make it much further than that.

I think that there is a lot of value in reflection upon our blessings. It makes us happier, more satisfied, and more willing to accept the negatives of life because we know that for every negative, there are so many more things that make life undeniably fulfilling.

 One challenge I issue to you for this Thanksgiving season (and beyond!) is to start writing in a gratitude journal daily. I recently started writing in a gratitude journal, and I’m amazed at how much I’ve begun to see the effects I just mentioned. Every day, I take time to reflect and write down five things that I am grateful for.

On particularly good days, I’ve had no problem coming up with five. Those days are in themselves something to be grateful for, but I’ve found a lot more value in those days that have been less pleasant. The days that I’ve sat down, thinking there was no way I could fill those five lines, have been an eye-opener. They’ve made me realize that there is always something to be grateful for. It depends on how willing you are to open your eyes and see it.

What is in front of us might be ominous and seemingly insurmountable, but what is in our periphery – friends, family, even the peace found in sitting down with a cup of tea for ten minutes and reading for pleasure – makes it possible for us to handle that which is trying.

 While I think that daily gratefulness is so important for our own well-being, I would like to issue you a second challenge for this Thanksgiving season: take your thanks-giving to those you’re giving thanks for!

Giving thanks in tangible ways directly to those people that we are thankful can be immeasurably powerful. In eighth grade, a teacher asked our class to write a letter to someone who we were thankful for, and we got extra credit if we actually gave it to the person. I wrote one to my Sunday school teacher, who was so very important in shaping my faith, and whose impact on my life is still real for me today, and sent it to him.

Not only did he tell me the letter had so much affected him that it reduced him to tears, but even years later he told me he still had the letter, and referred to it in times of self-doubt. Gratitude is powerful in action.

This personal expression of gratitude doesn’t just have to be for those close to us. I know around our Thanksgiving dinner table, we all mention how thankful we are for our troops. I know we aren’t the only family who feels that way, and I can’t imagine how powerful it would be if even 1% of Americans made that gratitude actionable. A letter to a soldier or a few hours spent volunteering in a veterans’ residence is a beautiful expression of thanks that can even be life-altering for the recipient.

(This gratitude in action does not just affect the recipient in profound ways. It also can permanently increase our happiness. Studies have shown that the “gratitude letter” exercise increases our happiness levels even months after we have delivered the letter. Making others happy by giving thanks for them making us happy makes us more happy. Can’t beat that!)

Whether you’re with friends or family (or both!), home or far away, I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving I’ll be at home, watching football, spending time with family, and thinking of valid excuses for living on pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. Oh, and giving thanks, of course!

 

Xoxo,

Taylor