Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Tete-a-tete: Streamlined technology makes it easier to come home for the holidays – unlike when I was in college

Youngest Brother and Younger Sister will soon be coming home from college for Thanksgiving. Along with their dirty laundry, they’ll be bringing something I was never able to bring home for a weekend when I was in college: their computers.

It amazes me how quickly technology has changed. Even though it’s been a little more than a decade since I was a college student, from a technological standpoint, it was essentially a different epoch. Laptops existed but had not yet come into widespread use. I had a decidedly-non-portable desktop PC, as did most of my friends.

Each person who lived on campus had their own landline in their dorm room, the extension for which was listed in the campus phone book. I remember being excited to have a T1 internet connection, as it was so much faster than the dialup connection we had at home.

Facebook was in its nascent stages; YouTube and Twitter did not yet exist. Our main social media platforms were a campus-wide system called FirstClass, AOL Instant Messenger and LiveJournal. No one referred to it as “social media” at the time, however, because the term hadn’t been invented yet. We simply called it what it was for us: procrastination.

Digitalization of entertainment was in its infancy. Overall, if you wanted to enjoy a particular type of entertainment, you needed to have it in tangible form, along with the appropriate equipment to play it. Watching a movie required a TV and a videotape and VCR or a DVD and a DVD player. Listening to music required a CD and a CD player. Reading a book required, well, a book.

As you can imagine, dorm rooms were rather crowded when I was in college, especially if you or your roommate was a bit of a movie buff or a bookworm.

Going home for a holiday weekend was an exercise in decision-making and deprivation. You couldn’t take your computer with you. If you had a computer at home, the internet connection likely wasn’t fast enough to keep in touch with your friends. You had to choose what movies, music and books to bring with you, especially if you had a long distance to travel.

And all Youngest Brother and Younger Sister have to do is grab their laptops or tablets, their smartphones and the respective chargers, and they have all of that and more. I mean, I even had to bring my portable alarm clock home with me. They just set the alarm on their phones.

Even more impressive is that Youngest Brother and Younger Sister’s computers fit in their backpack and purse respectively. Try doing that with a monitor, keyboard, tower, mouse and the tangle of cords needed to connect all the components. And their phones fit in their pockets!

I don’t mean to sound naïve or credulous (Phones! Phones that fit into pockets!), but I do believe we’ve become so comfortable with our current technology that we sometimes forget how incredible – and how fast – these advancements have been.

My college computer had a 1 gigabyte hard drive. A little more than a decade later, my smartphone has a capacity of 13 gigabytes, with additional storage in the cloud. Had you mentioned the iCloud to me back in college, I would’ve assumed it was something that built up in the center of a hurricane.

These developments are mind-blowing, yet we often take them for granted. It’s easy for me to get frustrated with slow or spotty Wi-Fi – until I remember the days when I would wait half an hour to connect to the internet through our phone line, only to be booted off every time someone called our house.

Technology has not always been a servant at my beck and call, doing its utmost to make my life convenient. It wasn’t that long ago that I would change my habits to suit the technology. During my college breaks, I would use the internet at home in the wee hours of the morning when I could be (relatively) sure of an uninterrupted connection.

How very odd to think that my parents would tell us how fortunate we were for not having to walk to school (uphill, both ways) in the freezing cold, and now I’m telling my youngest siblings to appreciate their instantaneous internet connectivity and have patience when their apps are slow to refresh. Hardship is indeed relative.

Overall, I’m pleased that Youngest Brother and Younger Sister don’t have to make the choices I did when coming home for a holiday and can enjoy the benefits of compact, effective technology. But I am anticipating a definite downside to it.

Since they don’t have to cram their luggage with DVDs, books and CDs, they have more room for dirty laundry. The internet has become much faster since I was in college, but it still takes the same amount of time to do a load of laundry. Happy Thanksgiving, Mom and Dad.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Nov. 2, 2017


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Tete-a-tete: Serve up a slice of family traditions, new or old

As children grow up and leave the nest, long-held family holiday traditions change. Sometimes they’re replaced with new traditions, and sometimes the old traditions evolve to accommodate the current shape of family life.

Since their marriage nearly three years ago, Oldest Younger Brother and Sister-in-law have alternated holidays between their families, spending Christmas with one and Thanksgiving with the other. Since they spent Thanksgiving with us in 2015, they celebrated Christmas with us in 2016.

Though we certainly miss their presence on Christmas, their absence on Thanksgiving is considerably more challenging as it affects the logistics of our annual pumpkin pie-making competition. Historically, the four of us siblings split into two teams and compete to see who can make the best pumpkin pie, using the same recipe that Oldest Younger Brother and I have used since childhood.

We aren’t the greatest bakers, though Oldest Younger Brother has shown marked improvement since moving out of the house and learning how to cook for himself. Making the “best” pumpkin pie means not making too many mistakes in measuring out the ingredients and coming up with a result that is generally edible.

Now that Sister-in-law has joined our family, we split up into one team of three and one team of two. But when Oldest Younger Brother and Sister-in-law aren’t with us for Thanksgiving, there’s no fair way to divide the remaining three siblings.

This past Thanksgiving, Dad proposed a novel solution to our dilemma. Instead of us siblings competing, he and Mom would duke it out for best pumpkin pie bragging rights. They agreed that Dad would make the recipe we traditionally ruin – I mean, use – and Mom would make a recipe from one of her cookbooks.

Mom made her pie first, and her efforts quickly began to mirror that of myself and my younger siblings. She somehow managed to cut herself without having anything sharp in the vicinity, with the possible exception of a broken eggshell. It had been a while since Mom last used the mixer, so she had forgotten which direction to turn the dial to shut it off. Regrettably, she chose the wrong direction and pie filling sprayed across the counter.

Dad surveyed the scene and commented, “I made the turkey, and I didn’t use that many dishes.”

“You may have made the turkey, but I made the mess,” Mom cheerfully retorted.

Dad cleaned up the kitchen before starting his pie, for which he used one bowl and no mixer. Mom kept a close eye on him, jokingly criticizing his cooking process: “He’s looking a little messy over there.”

She nudged me. “Don’t have anything to drink before dinner. It might make Dad’s pie look better.”

Dad finished his pie – and both his and Mom’s cleanup – in 15 minutes. Mom’s pie preparation took about half an hour to 45 minutes.

In Mom’s defense, one reason it took her so long to make her pie was because she was simultaneously having a conversation with me, which impacted her ability to focus on what she was doing.

The other factor was Mom’s proclivity for substituting ingredients. Her theory is that if two ingredients are roughly the same color and texture, they are interchangeable. This has led to such occurrences as the Savory Muffin Incident, in which she substituted cilantro for parsley.

Cooking also brings out Mom’s natural creativity, which can lead to her adding ingredients that seem like they’ll mesh well with the rest of the recipe. Given her theory about substitution, this does not always end well.

In the case of the pumpkin pie, she was thinking about adding some additional spices. I ultimately talked her out of it, making the argument that she didn’t want to lose to Dad because she had strayed from the recipe.

Finally, it came time for the moment of truth – which, I must admit, was somewhat anticlimactic. Mom was especially eager to know our thoughts on the pies and which one we preferred, but it was hard to choose.

To my palate, both pies were excellent but similar, with Mom’s tasting a little bit sweeter and Dad’s having a slightly stronger pumpkin flavor. Youngest Brother and Younger Sister didn’t taste much of a difference either. To Mom’s great disappointment, it ended in a draw.

I will confess that my perception of the pies’ flavors may have been affected by the sizable amount of whipped cream I had automatically placed on my slices. After nearly three decades of eating burnt pies with incorrectly measured ingredients, it’s a reflexive act of self-preservation. Without a hefty serving of whipped cream, you might taste the pie, which isn’t always a good thing.

Though Oldest Younger Brother and Sister-in-law are slated to spend Thanksgiving with us this year, it’s hard to say if the pie-making competition will revert to its previous format. Youngest Brother will be a sophomore in college and might study abroad, and Younger Sister will be a college freshman and may or may not come home for the holiday depending on her location. More changes will come over time as spouses, children and job changes continue to enter the picture.

Cherish the traditions you have while you have them and embrace the ways in which they evolve. It might require some adjustment on your part, but the new memories you make and the new adventures you have will be well worth it – especially if they involve your parents mocking each other’s pies.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published Jan. 5, 2017


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Tete-a-tete: When Christmas starts before Thanksgiving (a reflection on temporal discombobulation)

Since mid-November, I’ve felt unusually off-kilter. I feel awkwardly situated, as though I’m in the right place but at the wrong time or vice versa.

This is, I’m afraid, the direct result of having gone to the mall two weeks before Black Friday and discovering that Christmas had already arrived.

The mall itself and all of the stores were completely decorated, with holiday music piping over the speakers and a bored-looking Santa posing for selfies with his assistants because parents with small children had yet to get into the festive mood.

I am accustomed to a certain amount of chronological disorientation due to the nature of my work. I worked in the Telegraph’s newsroom for about ten years, and it was just a fact of life that you never knew what day of the week it was. You’re not only writing articles for the next day’s paper; you’re also working on pieces that will run a few days from now all the way up to a month or more in the future. Concepts like “Tuesday” only exist as deadlines, not actual states of being.

Now that I work for a magazine, it has only magnified my confusion in regards to time. Newspapers typically plan ahead in increments of days and weeks; magazines work several months ahead. I edited the December issues, with all of their Christmas content, back in September. Now that it’s finally December, I’m editing the March issues and mistakenly believing that warmer weather is just around the corner.

This temporal discombobulation is nothing, however, in comparison to the retail world welcoming Christmas before Thanksgiving. Younger Sister and I had ventured out to the mall to pick up Christmas hand soaps for a gift basket for a silent auction, and I must confess that our errand took longer than necessary due to my bewilderment. I simply could not get my mind around what I was seeing, and I kept stopping to gape at decorations and displays.

Entering the bath product store that sold the hand soaps was even more mind-boggling, with special holiday scents and gift sets having already taken the place of the non-seasonal inventory. There were so many Christmas items to choose from that I had to double check with one of the clerks to make sure I hadn’t overlooked any of the options.

The clerk was very helpful, but she looked as overwhelmed as I felt. I asked her how she felt about the premature holiday influx, and she admitted that it was a little disconcerting. But that, she said, is the direction retail is taking—getting the holiday merchandise out to shoppers as soon as possible, even if it means skipping another holiday in the process.

Don’t get me wrong—I adore Christmas. The spiritual significance of the holiday is paramount to me—my family’s Christmas dinner includes a birthday cake for Jesus (though we blow out the candles for Him). I also love the decorations, the lights, the music, and the emphasis on generosity and goodwill towards others that accompany the holiday.

But I also believe that the anticipation of a good thing is part of its enjoyment. Part of the reason that Christmas is special – indeed, that any holiday is special – is because it’s only celebrated for a limited period of time. If the celebration of Christmas was a year-round event, the ornaments and the prevalence of red and green would become a bit tiresome, just as even the hardiest New Englander welcomes a change of season after six months of snow.

Given the economic climate, however, and the fact that brick-and-mortar stores are trying to remain viable in the face of their online competitors, it’s hard to imagine Christmas returning to its normal time frame if these tactics prove successful. As someone who was able to assemble a Christmas gift basket for a silent auction two weeks earlier than anticipated, I must admit the early sales do have a certain usefulness.

So what, then, is the best way to combat the temporal disorientation that results from this bypassing of Thanksgiving?

When I worked in the Telegraph’s newsroom, we had metal racks labeled “Monday,” “Tuesday” and so forth that held the newspapers for that particular day of the week. My coworkers would walk over to the racks to get the day’s paper and, more often than not, freeze in confusion.

And so, I made a little sign that said “Today” and, after double checking the date on my computer, clipped the sign to the appropriate rack. Problem solved, at least in these particular circumstances.

I therefore propose that when stores set up for Christmas before Thanksgiving, they require their staff to wear large pins shaped like turkeys—the animal, that is, not the Thanksgiving dinner staple. That way, every time you interact with a store employee, you will be reminded that even though you’re buying hand soap that smells like gingerbread and candles that smell like holly wreaths, you still need to think about turkey with all the trimmings before you start trimming the tree.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published Dec. 4, 2014.

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