From Turkey to Reindeer- Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

The day of eating massive amounts of turkey and carbs is behind us, but it is never too late to be thankful for the many blessings in our lives. This weekend, I am pretty dang thankful that the day of gratefulness is behind us.

CLO-ing (that is the official verb for what I do) has given me a whole new respect for holidays- especially those that are ingrained in American culture. Earlier this fall, I had to make peace with Halloween, letting go of my crotchetiness about too-old kids coming to my door to beg sweet treats, and instead got to celebrate with an array of critters and creatures in homemade costumes. Then, came Thanksgiving, a holiday which I have always loved because I can eat an entire meal of nothing  but white foods, which tend to be my favorites. There is turkey (no dark meat for this girl), mashed potatoes, rolls and maybe some Jell-O for a dash of color.  (My parents were firmly in the “eat-what’s-on-your-plate” camp when I was growing up, and since my dad served up the Thanksgiving plates, there always seemed to be an inordinate amount of yams on my plate. No one wants those nasty orange tubes of gunk, but they appeared on the table and my plate every year until I began the “by damn, no yam” protest, which continues to this day.)

In past years, I was able to sail through Thanksgiving with an offering of rolls and juice, but this year, not only was I right in the middle of the action, I *was* the action.  One of my CLO areas of responsibility (out of eight, in case you were wondering) is event planning, and nothing screams “event” like a sit-down, family-style meal for forty-five folks!

So how does one throw Thanksgiving for nearly four-score attendees? Potluck style! I ordered the turkeys from a local bakery, which would cook and deliver them to the consulate right in time for dinner. (At $92 each, USD, they’d better deliver!) To round out the meal though, everyone in the community pitched in with a variety of dishes and desserts. I panicked (internally) for days about whether there would be enough food. It would be a nightmare to plan such a big meal and have everyone go home without being totally full, because really, we say Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, but we all know it is about overeating until our pants are too tight and we want nothing more than a nap on the couch.

My fears were all baseless. On top of the four turkeys, cooked to perfection, we had all manner of potatoes, veggies, breads and casseroles, not to mention apple pie, pumpkin pie, spice cake and cheese cake. Even after sending as much food home as I could with anyone who was willing to take it, we ended up with enough leftovers that on Friday, we had turkey sandwiches in the CLO Lounge at lunch for anyone interested.

This year, the list of things I have to be thankful is longer than ever. Of course, I have a wonderful family and fabulous friends, and the fact that I am able to live on the other side of the world and still be in touch with them on a daily basis is nothing short of a technological wonder.  In a single day, I am able to log into Gmail and send a quick note to a friend, use the Vonage line at the consulate compound to call my parents, Facetime with my nieces and nephews in Idaho and chat with former students about their college classes on Facebook.

I’m also thankful that Thanksgiving is over, as lovely as it was, because I am ready to hit the ground rolling with Christmas party preparations first thing Monday morning! (The consulate tree is half assembled in my office; I’ve got a growing stack of boxes behind my desk that I plan to wrap to go under the half-assembled tree; I’ve got stockings for our marvelous Marines, ready to be hung; and I’ve got a friend lined up to be Santa for the community party in a few weeks.) CLO-ing will be in overdrive for the next few weeks, but since Christmas is the number one holiday of the year, I’m happily ready to jump into the holiday fracas with both boots.

Good-bye turkeys. Hello reindeer!

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Maybe Ostrich *Should* Be on the Table

Remember a month, or maybe six weeks ago, when I was talking about my lack of cooking ability and how it was fine because being a middle child, I’d never have to worry about being in charge of a Thanksgiving dinner? (No? Check it out here.)  I figured it would fall to the older sister or the only boy of the family, leaving me free to wander in and out of the kitchen, sampling as I pleased and then sprawl on the couch to watch my fantasy players mop-up during the holiday games.  Well, it turns out, Thanksgiving is headed my way, with a vengeance!

(On a side note, you hear a lot of complaints about being a middle child, but I figure, if you play your cards right, you’ve got the best of both worlds. Having on older sister who was good at cleaning got me out of many a chore. I’d do mine poorly and soon enough, they’d get passed off to her. At one point, I remember the bathroom being on my list of Saturday chores. I’d go in there with my oh-so-80’s boom box, turn on the radio with the door shut and “get to work.” All I needed to do was spend about twenty minutes and make it seem like work had been done. By splashing cleaning powder around the tub, the room had the smell of detergent, which means I worked. Occasionally leaving a trace of powder was also helpful, as it showed I’d really scrubbed. I’d be sure to run water long enough that it was convincing and then swirl some cleaning fluid around the toilet with the brush, again, keeping up appearances and smells. With that done, it was time to unplug my radio and move to my next Saturday morning chore.  It wasn’t long before the majority of the “real” cleaning jobs were reassigned to my sister, while my list included the ever-so-important chore of vacuuming the hallway and emptying the bottom rack of the dishwasher.

On the other end of the family tree, is my younger brother, who, to be fair, got away with a lot, but because he is a boy, bigger things were pushed his way, skipping right over me.  Time to haul hay? My siblings were the bale-buckers while I drove the truck, only occasionally hitting the gas just a little too hard or braking a bit too suddenly.

So middle children, have heart! Play your in-between role for all it’s worth. It can be done.)

But I digress. Thanksgiving. Yes, I am hosting one this year. And not a small one. Right now, my RSVP count is hovering right around the forty-five people mark. That’s right. I’ve gone from never having a Thanksgiving responsibility, beyond calling dibs on the wishbone, to planning and organizing an event for nearly four dozen adults and children.

With just a week until the big poultry eating day (big-poultry to be eaten or big day on which to eat poultry? You decide!), I’ve put in my meat order and am quickly assessing the tableware needs. Luckily, Chengdu has an American-style bakery in town that is cooking turkeys, so they’ll prepare the four birds, but at a price. Those suckers cost $92 each! That’s US dollar rates, by the way.  When I mentioned this to my mom in an email the other day, she responded by asking if they were possibly ostrich. She has a point. Considering wild turkeys wander across the ridge near my parents’ cabin on a regular basis, it’s a little painful to be paying so much, but that’s the name of the import game. If it were ostrich, I could get away with just one, rather than the four headed our way next week. Maybe I should consider a larger poor-at-flying poultry for next year’s festivities.

The birds are taken care of, decorations are ready to go (thanks to Thad’s recent State-side trip), a work order for the room set-up has been placed and now it is a matter of side dishes and desserts. The Foreign Service, in some ways, reminds me a lot of the Mormon ward I grew up in. We too are a potluck community! Nearly every event, whether it be a gathering at the Marine House, a back-to-school pool party or a Thanksgiving dinner, hinges on the attendees hauling along a dish or two for the crowd. Our current sign-up sheet is filled with holiday classics: green bean casserole, sweet potato pie, cornbread, as well as pumpkin pie to top it all off.

“I can’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner. All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast.” muttered the lovable Charlie Brown in his eponymous Thanksgiving special. He and I are obviously twins, at least when it comes to kitchen-skills. (I have much more hair than him and would never wear a yellow shirt with a giant zigzag across the front. Twins in the kitchen, not in the style department.)  I may not be cooking the entire dinner (I did sign up for my old sit-down-dinner standby- rolls, which will actually be made by my ayi!), but I do have a whole lot of organizing and preparing to do in the next seven days so that the Foreign Service Officers and their families can enjoy a taste of America with a traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Good grief, there’s a lot to get done!

Sanctus by Simon Toyne

Sanctus by Simon Toyne

If “Dan Brown” were a genre, Sanctus would be the latest novel falling into its category.  It falls right in with the formulaic set-up of a religious, conspiracy theory-laced thriller, filled with murdering monks and just a tad (or at this point, a mere hint at) romance.  Sanctus may be following a script made popular with The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, but it has a supernatural twist that also makes it lean its binding towards the shelves of science-fiction. This departure from the realm of purely probable into possibly unearthly kept me churning through chapters as if I were a maiden making butter.

Sanctus opens with a monk from an ancient religious fortress, The Citadel, in the fictional Turkish city of Ruin, taking his own life in a fashion meant to make the world collectively turn its head and look. There is no doubt that he wants to get a message across to those living outside the cloistered life of the mountainous caves he has called home for the previous eight years, but the contents of that message are not easily decipherable.

The leaders of the secretive society are none-to-happy with his “sacrifice” and will do anything to keep the details of their order, and the ancient Sacrament which they protect, a secret. This means dispatching some of their brethren on missions to rid the world of anyone one who has any knowledge of or previous contact Brother Samuel. It also means getting his broken body back from the secular morgue which could possibly learn too much from the sacred scars and brands scattered across his remains. The cloistered sect will stop at nothing to keep their secrets their own.

On the other side of the game, we find a long-lost sister with a connection that is more than just that of a sibling, an entire group, the Mala, dedicated to breaching the walls of The Citadel and forcing the knowledge of the Sacrament into the open, as well as a low-level investigator who is getting more than he bargained for when the case of a suicidal monk landed on his desk.

Simon Toyne’s book touts itself as the first in a trilogy with the second in the series is set to make its debut on April 12, just a few short weeks away. After completing the first book in the span of just a few days, I will definitely pick this next one up and give it a go. These Dan Brown-ish books aren’t known for their great literary prowess or the depth of their characters, but the intrigued weaved throughout the first book has drawn me in and I am ready to fly through the pages of The Key to hopefully find out where the chain of events that started with the revelation of the Sacrament will end up.  Simon Toyne’s religious, slightly sci-fi, conspiracy theory thriller earns:

Bring the Rolls

The time for a reprieve is over if you are a turkey. The rafters of turkeys have been culled. (Yes, rafter is the correct collective noun for turkeys. I checked.) Waddle-bearing heads have been severed from their skinny little bird necks and are now tucked neatly inside the gutted corpses of their previous owners, alongside a baggie containing said bird’s various and sundry innards. All of this is neatly wrapped in tight plastic covers and crammed into overflowing freezers across our great nation, along with bags of cranberries, and a variety of vegetables awaiting their day of glory. Soon kitchen cupboards will house piles of breadcrumbs, drying in preparation for their role as the much coveted stuffing. Shelves will be stacked with pie fixings and crusts, yams, rolls, green bean casserole parts, as well as the goodies that make up the dishes that are unique traditions for each family.

The internet is filled with recipe websites, explaining down to the last detail how to make sure a Thanksgiving meal goes off without a hitch.  As a fan of the starch filled goodness of Turkey Day, with years of practice participating in these annual feasts, I thought I could add my own recipe to the copious amount already floating through cyberspace.

Recipe for a Fabulous Thanksgiving Feast- Michelle Style


1 bag of rolls


1. Show up on or before the designated time for eating

2. Bring a bag (or two) of rolls

3. Haunt the kitchen as final preparations for the meal are made (Be sure to eat tasty pieces of meat right off the turkey as it is being carved and placed on the serving platter)

4. Join in the chaos of putting together a last minute seating chart, sprinkling adults between kids but trying to avoid the major splash zones created by the youngest members of the family

5. Eat. Eat seconds. Against conventional wisdom, eat thirds.

6. “Help” with clean-up by putting a few things into Tupperware containers. Sneak out of the kitchen when everyone else isn’t looking.

7. Lay on the couch/floor/loveseat in a carb-coma.

8. Eat pie, even while your brain says yes and your tummy says no.

9. Repeat step 7.

10. Cheerfully accept your annual advent calendar filled with adorable chocolate figures and a plate full of leftovers and head home, dreaming of the turkey sandwiches which will be lunch tomorrow.

This year we will not be enjoying the abundance provided by several Thanksgiving dinners as we have in Idaho in years past, but our feast will not be without family.  As of tonight, the mouth count for dinner with Thad’s family in Pennsylvania is seventeen. While the family members will be different, I imagine much of my recipe will still be followed.  If nothing else, I know I am yet again assigned to bring rolls.  Apparently, word of my cooking ability has reached Nanny, as not only were rolls allocated to me this year, but she also told Thad that it would be okay if I just stopped at the store and bought them!  Good choice Nanny, good choice!