To all who didn’t gather round the table

It was a small Thanksgiving for the Parlin clan this year.  Only 20 of us made it. With the possibility of 50,it was a small group that gathered.

Sisters Peggy, Mary Jo and Kathy didn’t make it and neither did brother Tim.

And they were missed.

But I figured out today who was really missing and that was Dad.

It’s been 17 years since Dad’s last Thanksgiving and it’s hard not to think of him at this time of year because it was his favorite holiday. No presents to squabble over and no tears shed when the right game or six-gun failed to materialize.

No, Thanksgiving — at least for Dad — is all about taking stock. As he stood poised to carve the turkey, he could look out over the sea of his descendants and pronounce himself well pleased. Having lost his father when he was little, my own dad always craved family and was happiest when surrounded by all of us.

He worried we wouldn’t stay close and have to laugh at that thought, especially at Christmastime when 50 of us crowd into my sister Kathy’s basement, which her husband kindly fixed up for entertaining. It’s beyond understanding how one house could hold our extended clan, but Kathy’s does.

But this Christmas will also be melancholy because it will be the last in Kathy’s basement. Her husband got a job in Texas and Kathy and the kids will be joining him at the end of the school year.

Yes, Parlins will still gather together and cram themselves in wherever they may fit, but it would make Dad sad to see one of his offspring moving so far away.

I can just hear him saying, “I told you to stay close,” and Kathy answering back, “we don’t want to move but we have to.”

So, the turkey was good, Dad, but not as good as when you were carving it. The cinnamon apples were delicious, Mom, and were a reminder of Dad saying, “Rita, another delicious meal.”

I’m looking forward to more delicious meals and no matter how crowded the table, somewhere in the mix, Dad is there, happy that we have all stayed close.


What am I bid?

“One now, two now, bid; one now, two now, bid …”

The sing-song chant of the auctioneer floated across the crisp autumn air on a day with blue skies and a carpet of freshly fallen maple leaves.

Is there any better place to be on a sunny November day than at the auction? I can’t think of a better one.

When there’s a slight bite to the air and the less adventurous stay home, there are bargains to be had. And there’s no sweating as I haul rusty treasures to my trusty Yaris. It should be a trusty truck, but I make do and stuff that Yaris to the gills. It is always surprising how much pops open when I open the hatch at home.

If this November day was perfect, the next day is more like the November we expect in these parts. There’s a cold, misty drizzle that increases to rain throughout the afternoon. But this time, I’m bundled up and headed to Vernon County and the city of Viroqua where there are two auctions, an estate sale and an open house at the flea market.

I make it to everything but the flea market, starting out with the estate sale which is offering half price on its last day. I buy a few things in the house and then strike gold in the garage. “Make a pile,” says the genial lady running things in the garage, “and I’ll make you a deal.”

I pile $14 worth of merchandise on the table, wondering how much lower than $7 I can get her to go.

“I’ll take all this depending on the deal,” I tell her.

“How about $2,” she says.

“That is a deal,” I say with a laugh and gladly fork over two George Washingtons.

Then it’s off to the auction where I find tables, lamps, casters and a very nice pulley before taking my soggy self home.

It was a good day at the auction and the estate sale. I hope Wisconsin offers me a few more chances to hang around outside as the auctioneer chants, “One now, two now, bid …”

Under cover

The car is in the garage.

That is no small feat, considering that just a month ago my garage was set up like a living room complete with carpet.  That was for my vintage sale and I’ve been cleaning up from it ever since.

Today, when I discovered ice on the car’s windshield at 11 a.m., I decided had to finish the job of racking and stacking so the car could reclaim its rightful spot of shelter.

It wasn’t easy, and along the way to muscling my bike onto a bike hook, I actually ripped the entire hook system out of the wall. So the bike is just parked, taking up a tiny bit more space than intended.

In front of that, tables and chairs are stacked to the ceiling. An assortment of garden carts and wagons hold treasures that will go back out to decorate the yard in the spring.

Farewell fall. You may give us a few good days yet. But the furnace is on, the car is in the garage, and the shovel is ready to do its duty.

That’s my definition of winter.


Pepper the pot

I hate pepper.

I dislike many things, but I hate pepper, and pepper seems to be everywhere these days.

I used to just ignore pepper.  My mom didn’t use it when she cooked and I never went for the pepper shaker following the salt shaker.

Yes, it would be more healthy to hate salt, but that’s not how it worked out for me.

My pepper peevishness is escalating because nowadays pepper seems to be everywhere.

The spoon roast I would love to buy and cook at home has been peppered before packaging.  Check that off my list.

The cherry pork tenderloin from Door County I so eagerly anticipated came out of the oven quite a surprise. It had been doused with pepper.

I also don’t like peppers — a vegetable that is nothing like the spice. What, we couldn’t find one more word to differentiate these two things I dislike?

Pepper is pungent and I don’t need more pungency in my life. I need more sweetness.

Guess that means it’s time for chocolate.


What’s hot


I expected to be a better cook by now.

I don’t mean because I’m old and I have a lot of experience. I mean because I’m retired and I have a lot of time.

It turns out, time was never my problem. Paying attention was my problem. And this dates back to elementary school.

I will now confess I cheated on the Iowa Skills Tests. Those are the tests they make kids take to test their IQs. But I didn’t know that at the time.What I did know was that there was a lot of boring stories to read and then they wanted you to answer questions about them.. The instructions always cautioned against answering questions before reading the stories.

Even as a fifth grader, I scoffed at these commandants who would never know if I read the stories or not. So I didn’t read them. Instead, I raced through the questions, picking out the pertinent information I needed from the story.

That’s why I always finished first. And then I got to read whatever I wanted, which was not some lame story on the Iowa Skills Test.

Well, the joke was on them because I always tested off the charts. In fifth grade, my parents were told I was reading at a 12th grade level. Too bad I didn’t have the grades to back that up.

But the worst part of my failure to follow the rules is that it set me up for a lifetime of ignoring directions.

When I was learning to sew, I made my mom or sisters explain patterns which were incomprehensible to me. I guess they explained what a dart was in the directions,  but they were too long and boring to read.

Somehow, in 36 years as a reporter, I managed to write many, many sets of directions for how to do things, mostly on the pages of the home and garden section. I guess you don’t need to follow directions if all you want to do is write directions.

But I think this has carried over into cooking, too. Not only do I sometimes read ahead and miss a step in the directions, I then race out of the kitchen and pick up something I really want to read, like s suspense novel.

Two hours later, I smell supper burning.

I’ve actually developed a taste for burned food and I still prefer to be the one who chooses what I read.