Tag Archive | holidays

Hark the Herald Angels and Demons

The holidays sneaked up on me again this year. When do I have to start getting ready for the holidays to have a handle on things when they arrive? The reality is, I could start putting up decorations in early January and still feel like the holidays were sprung on me the following November.

Christmas is a time of reflection for me. I guess everyone gets nostalgic this time of year, missing times long-passed or even ones that never actually existed. The holidays started for me every fall, when my mother set up a Ping-Pong table in the master bedroom.  That table was ground zero for wrapping Christmas presents. It went up before Thanksgiving and was my signal to start getting excited.

In the days before ready-made bows,  Mama made them herself, twisting flat ribbon into a figure-eight, notching the middle, and tying it off tightly. Then, one at a time, she pulled a loop out, bringing it down and across, until she had a gorgeous, perfect bow. Mama was wonderfully good at this, but I got the impression she hated doing it. She was extra-edgy and short-tempered from the time that Ping-Pong table came out until it went back in the closet under the stairs.

My father was philosophical about Christmas, usually just waiting for it to be over. He enjoyed the once-a-year foods–Mama’s fruit cake, boiled custard, and angel food cake. But no matter how hard we tried, he never seemed to get a gift he really wanted.

“Socks with feet in them,” or “Drawers with seats in them,” followed by, “Just what I wanted,” were his standard comments. Admittedly, buying a gift for him was a nightmare. The man had two of everything he’d ever wanted. Plus, he had an annoying habit of going shopping for himself just before Christmas. It was the only time of the year he did this, and it drove my mother nuts.

Only a couple of times did I please him with my gift. When I was in high school, I managed to find a blacksmith in North San Antonio, no mean feat in the late 1960s, and had him make a wrought-iron sign, “T. W. Wheeler.”  Daddy didn’t say much on Christmas morning, but he did hang it on the ranch gate, an indication of approval. Years later, when he had to sell the ranch, he retrieved the sign and kept it in his home office. Later, as an adult, I gave him a Care Package one Christmas. It contained all his favorites: Marshmallow Circus Peanuts, Saltines to crumble into a glass of cold milk and eat with a spoon, Penguins–chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies– rat cheese (Longhorn style), and chocolate-covered cherries. That gift actually made him grin as he unpacked it.

At least shopping has gotten a lot easier over the years. Bryan is easy to buy for. He likes just about anything I get him. My grown kids want money or gift cards, and my grandchildren cheerfully provide me with detailed lists of EXACTLY what they want and where to get it. And the Internet, bless its little silicon heart, brings everything to my door. No more fighting crowds or doing psycho checks in dark parking lots before getting into my car.

Doing some heavy remembering, letting myself float back through the years, is my way of honoring the season. Instead of turning up at church on the high holy days because I feel I ought to, I use the time to reflect on my behavior on the other 364 days a year. Have I done enough for others? Did I manage to curb my wicked tongue at all this year? Did I hurt someone intentionally or un-? Do I deserve another year of walking this earth? We all have demons to wrestle; mine come decked out in jingle bells and mistletoe.

I hope your holidays are everything you want them to be; I wish for you the ability to determine what that is.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Holidays, y’all!


Pining for Alpine

I just attended my fourth writer’s retreat in Alpine, Texas. I can’t tell you how much good this does for the people who attend. We spend five days living, eating, and breathing writing. I come back feeling re-energized and ready to write.

Far West Texas is my favorite place to be in the hottest part of the summer. It’s always 10 to 12 degrees cooler than here, and it gets downright nippy at night. I get a week in my favorite place, doing my favorite thing, taught by some of the best writers around, and comparing notes with like-minded people. Heaven.

My teacher this year, Mike Hall, an editor at Texas Monthly, is a really nice guy. He was approachable and genuinely interested in helping us take the next step. I got my ego stroked and my confidence built, so much so I’m determined to finish the book I’ve been working on forever. The whole project is a lot clearer than it’s ever been, so maybe 2015 will be my year.

Paisano Hotel, Marfa

Paisano Hotel, Marfa

A big part of the fun on these trips is playing tourist with my husband. Bryan and I visited Marathon, Marfa, and Alpine. We’ve been to each one before, but there’s always something new to see. That’s something people don’t expect from tiny towns sitting in the desert.

Marfa has really grown and has turned into a clean, pretty little town. In addition to becoming quite the art colony and providing Marfa Radio which saves tourists suffering NPR withdrawal, it has two traditional claims to fame: the Presidio County Courthouse, which is one of the prettier members of the Tacky Texas Courthouse Club, and the Paisano Hotel, where the cast of Giant stayed while filming the movie in the mid-1950s. A young friend of mine announced she has never seen Giant but planned to rent it after hearing about it in Marfa.

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa

Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa

“Or you can read the book,” I suggested.

“There’s a book?” she asked wide-eyed.

The exchange made me feel old, but I smiled picturing Edna Ferber watching us, thoroughly disgusted.

Gage Hotel, Marathon

Gage Hotel, Marathon

Marathon Cafe

Marathon Cafe

Next Bryan and I headed for Marathon, pronounced MAR-a-thun. You swallow the last syllable. The one visible place to eat turned out to be a highpoint of the trip. Just the other side of the historic Gage Hotel sat the tiny Marathon Café.

We complimented our waitress, who turned out to be one of the three owners, and the floodgates opened. The residents of Far West Texas have learned to be polite to the tourists but not to get too friendly. We are different; we are The Others. And they never know exactly how we’ll react to open friendliness. I always try to get people to talk to me. It’s half the fun of traveling out there.

We found out the café was owned by three cousins, all older ladies with painful arthritic joints. As is normal there, none of them plan to retire anytime soon. Hard work is ingrained in them from childhood. You work until you get too ill or too dead to continue. A niece did the cooking. She had trained at the Gage Hotel and brought her considerable talents to the tiny family concern. Bryan said his chicken fried steak was excellent, served interestingly on top of the cream gravy. My hamburger quite simply was the best I’ve had in years, and she seemed surprised when I told her so. We will definitely go there again next year.

Sometimes we revisit favorite places, only to find them closed up or reincarnated as something else. Businesses come and go out there with the suddenness of death in the desert. Apparently you’ve got a window to make it or else. There’s always a little feeling of relief when we arrive and find a favorite haunt still standing and still in business.

Our last stop was Alpine. I had just spent a week there and had seen everything in town three times. But we discovered the Museum of the Big Bend on the Sul Ross University campus last year and decided to go back. For one thing, they have a great gift shop, and I always stock up on memorabilia there. The displays don’t change drastically, but one of the blessings of advancing age is short-term memory loss. I see places for the first time over and over.

One of my favorite exhibits is a large topographical representation of the entire area. Plates on each side list points of interest and landmarks. Push the large, red button next to the plate, and a tiny light goes on at the appropriate place on the map. In the vastness of the place it’s easy to get turned around, and I enjoy lighting up the places we’ve just seen.

Black Bear, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

Black Bear, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

Pterosaur, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

Pterosaur, Museum of the Big Bend, Alpine

I like the stuffed black bear, whose relatives are repopulating the area. I also like the life-size replica of a pterosaur, which won’t be back anytime soon, hanging from the ceiling. Between dinosaurs, and later on Comanches and Apaches that gave the settlers many a bad day, Far West Texas has always been a pretty busy place. I prefer the toned-down version of today.

Every time we visit, Bryan and I try to figure out a way to move out there, and every year we realize we can’t. There are down sides to living in such a remote place: medical care is sketchy and usually far away; there is no quick way to get out there or back here from out there; and I’d have to hold auditions to find people to talk to about politics. With kids and grandkids in Central Texas, there’s a lot to stay for.

Still, I think we both started thinking about our next trip out there as we unloaded the car from this one. Far West Texas calls to both of us. As a friend, Joe Nick Patoski, said, “You either get this place or you don’t.” Bryan and I get it.

Five Christmases, a Birthday, a Broken Finger, and a Virus

The title of this post is the answer to the questions:

1) How were your holidays?

2) Why haven’t you posted to your blog in such a long time?

We had five separate Christmas get-togethers. The evening after the first one, I fell in a parking lot and broke my pinky finger. Going with my upbringing (If there is no blood and no bones sticking out, you’re fine!) I continued the holidays wondering vaguely why my finger hurt so much.

The day after actual Christmas, I hosted a 65th birthday party/roast for a friend who has had a rough year. You can’t go wrong with 20 old friends and Threadgill’s comfort food. Then it was off to Longview for the last Christmas and to see our family there.

Every bit of all this was a blast. We had wonderful holidays and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The first day back from the trip it was time, however, to get the finger checked out. Eight days after the fall I found out it had a hairline fracture. No wonder it hurt.

New Years came and went, and two days later I was wrestled to the ground by a virus. It had the earmarks of flu but no fever, so I just had to tough it out for two weeks with over the counter medicine. It ended the day the cedar pollen went through the roof, which landed me back in bed.

Okay, enough already. I am finally well and anxious to get back to my life. And back to my writing. My pinky finger can finally hit Enter without too much pain, and I’m ready to go forward.

One benefit of the illness, I was able to restart my diet. I had turned into an eating machine over the holidays, but that all changed with two weeks in bed. I’m pleased to report my stomach has adjusted to Small Bird Diet II, and I’m on my way to whipping my figure back into shape.

I’ve been fighting the battle of the bulge my whole life. I was a fat baby, child, and teenager. As an adult, my weight roller coastered so much, I collected enough different sizes of clothes to start my own thrift shop. But one of my New Year’s resolutions is to declare war on my body, get control of my weight this year and keep it under control. My other resolution is to cut back to three or four Christmases next year.

So if you haven’t seen or heard from me in a while, now you know why. But I’M BACK! Pull up your socks and tune in for adventures in 2014.

High Resolutions

Christmas is over and it’s time for me to deal with my annual will power outage. We still have to get through New Year’s, but except for blackeyed peas, it’s a non-fattening holiday. It’s no wonder most of my resolutions for the new year pertain to eating, or rather not eating, and losing weight accrued between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I have learned, however, to be realistic in making these resolutions, lest I stack up a pile of failures before the year even gets off the ground. Take it slow, take it easy, open one eye, a tentative toe in the water. Small victories are still posted in the win column. Here is my annual list of resolutions I think I can handle.

I will…

  1. …not buy bigger clothes, especially underwear. Being uncomfortable is great motivation to lose weight.
  2. …not wear baggy clothes, even if the tight ones make me look like the Michelin Man’s girlfriend.
  3. …reacquaint myself with the wonders of kale. Temporarily banished from my kitchen for the holidays, Big K  is back in town.
  4. …show people at least as much patience as I show my dogs.
  5. …call at least one friend per week to catch up, and not just monitor their lives voyeuristically on FaceBook.
  6. …dust something every day.
  7. …work to become a better writer by writing more and better.
  8. …remember to take my reusable bags into the grocery store with me every time.
  9. …check the care label in clothes before I buy them, and put back anything “dry clean only” or “hand wash, dry flat.”
  10. …stop rationalizing why I need to buy a new outfit, eat a doughnut, or watch one more episode of an NCIS marathon.

Some people may think I’ve lowered the bar a bit too much, but I say, “Baby steps, people!” If these resolutions work out this year, I’ll consider upping the ante next year, and the next, and the next. With any luck at all, I’ll pass on before I have to  do anything too strenuous, like climbing Mt. Everest or walking the entire Houston Galleria.

Feel free to use my resolutions or come up with your own. Be realistic, circumspect, and flexible. And by all means, let me know if you come up with some I can use next year.

Happy Holidays and Family Fruitcakes

Christmas at the Zach

After my last blog, a plaintive rage against the negative aspects of the holidays, some of you may think I was born with a heart three sizes too small. I have great memories of the family Christmases of my childhood, and this time of year never fails to trigger my nostalgia.

Funny how my sharpest holiday memories revolve around the women in my family. As far as I could tell, the men were mere observers, invited guests who played little part in the preparations. They were generally affable, long-suffering sorts who lived on the outskirts of our lives. They worked hard, hunted, fished, and tried to stay out of the way of their womenfolk.

Likewise, children were expected to watch from a distance, do odd jobs when asked, and keep out from underfoot. The boys usually headed outside to run around and make noise, but for me and the other girls, the kitchen was a finishing school offering everything we needed to know to take over as the next generation of Southern women.

Firstly, everyone either had a nickname or was addressed with multiple names. Uncle Robert Edwin was Pete and Uncle Charlie was Jock. My cousins, John Howard, Merry Lynn and Janice Kay, remain thus to me, even if they prefer John, Merry, and Janice now. And then there was my Great-aunt Pobo. Her real name was Willie Polk, which she hated. As an adult she legally changed it to Pocahontas P., which she considered an improvement. One of the kids dubbed her Pobo and it stuck.

What is it about the southern latitudes that encourage quirkiness? Maybe it’s the heat and humidity, bringing it out in families the way it brings out mildew on bathroom tile. Movie makers and writers usually just perpetuate Southern stereotypes, with few capturing our essence. A transplanted Mid-westerner, who loved “Steel Magnolias,” was flabbergasted when I told her I was related to or went to school with every woman in that movie.

“Oh, come on,” she said. “What about the Shirley MacLaine character, Ouiser. Who do you know like her?”

“My Great-aunt Pobo and my husband’s Aunt Faynelle,” I answered without hesitation. “Every Southern family has one. Matter of fact, you’re lucky if there’s only one.”

I never knew any Tennessee Williams women. We didn’t have a Blanche Dubois or a Maggie the Cat in my family. They never stood around in their slips–that I knew of. Most of them wore corsets or enough Lycra to make their real shapes anyone’s guess. And they never “depended upon the kindness of strangers.” Most were tempered steel, wrapped in velvet. The rest were just plain steel.

Pobo tended to take out her dentures after eating and lay them on the table. My mother believed in parenting through paranoia, inventing terrifying superstitions for every occasion. My grandmother loved watching professional wrestling on television, waving her fists and yelling things she’d whack me for saying.

Women in my family had timidity bred out of them, and those who married in soon learned. You had to fight to get a word in, the noise level intimidating all but the most determined conversationalists. I never knew anyone in my family who was quiet or shy. If such a throwback existed, she would have gone unnoticed and unfed, fading away from starvation.

These women who filled my childhood are gone now, but I clearly see and hear them in my mind. They are bustling around the kitchen like tugboats in a busy harbor. Cackling laughter drifts through the house, following delicious holiday smells—ham, pickled peaches, mincemeat pie, and my mother’s “blonde” fruitcake. Made in a huge bowl I only saw at Christmas, it was chock-full of nuts and candied fruit, but not a drop of whiskey. Mama was raised Hardshell Methodist, a branch rarely found outside the South.

Above all, I hear their voices rising above the kitchen clatter:

“Did you notice how much weight Clarice has gained?”

“Notice? She looks like she’s being followed!”

“Now, y’all be nice. It’s Christmas!”

“I am being nice. Did I say a word about her hair color? Did I ask if she got it from the Ringling Brothers?”

I have a sudden craving for fruitcake.


Getting Prepositioned

On the edge, under the gun, at wit’s end, around the bend, under pressure, over the top, beside oneself, near panic. When someone asks how you are this time of year, just grab yourself a preposition. A preposition shows location. With a few exceptions, it’s anything you can say about a table: on, under, beside, etc. We also use prepositions to describe the soon-to-be-declared crazy.

This time of year we rush around, finding just the right gifts for our loved ones, deeply engrossed in a buying-wrapping-giving orgy of activity. For me it’s always a time of excess in spending, cooking, and eating. There are no small revels, only small revelers. I spend enough on the big dinner to feed us for a month. We ingest enough calories to supply energy for an alpine forced march. And our post-holiday bills roughly equal the GNP of Uganda. It’s the American way.

Our holiday excess is an art form. Children’s letters to Santa read like inventory sheets for Toys R Us. But we still weep over reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” Christmas episodes, when the kids offer Ma the set of coasters they made for her with their own little hands. She caresses them as if golden—although actually made from buffalo chips–and tearfully declares this the best Christmas ever! There is a credibility gap between our fantasy of Christmas and the reality.

I really try to give what people want, or at least something they need. I only resort to summer sausage and cheese log assortments when buying for complete strangers. (This begs the question, why buy gifts for strangers, but it comes up every year.) I ask for suggestions, make lists, put down alternate ideas, and I buy with care. It makes for fewer surprises, but that’s not always a bad thing.

I pity the family members who have to buy for me. When asked, I always say I can’t think of a thing I need. I really am happy as I am, but that doesn’t help my family. And my tastes are so eclectic, only my daughter will take a flyer on something she thinks I’ll like.  This is why Husband Bryan considers Christmas shopping for me the Seventh Circle of Hell. Ever since the Opal Fiasco, he insists I make a list.

Early in our relationship, he bought me a beautiful opal ring and necklace. I smiled bravely, thanked him profusely, and tried not to feel doomed. You see, my mother, who had a superstition for every occasion, always said wearing opals was bad luck unless it was your birthstone. Although some people thought you could neutralize the curse if the opals were surrounded by diamonds, my mother pooh-poohed that as wishful thinking. To be on the safe side, she advised avoiding barehanded contact with an opal of any kind.

Trying not to look like I was raised by a Tennessee mountain witch (although not far from the truth), I smiled and donned the acursed gemstones. When they didn’t immediately sear my flesh, I thought perhaps I’d dodged a bullet and could wear my gifts in health and safety. This was not to be. After a year of the worst luck I’d had in my entire life, I broke the news to Bryan and permanently deposited his gifts in my jewelry box. He accepted the situation with the grace of a man who knows a no-win situation when he sees one.

From that time on, however, I never received another surprise gift from my husband. He gets my list and googles each gift to make sure it doesn’t come with an associated curse. He’s under the gun because of a wife who is around the bend, and I’m beside myself with holiday angst.  Getting those presents under the tree is a dangerous preposition.

Doin’ the Lighten-Up

What kind of country schedules four major annual holidays within a period of 60 days? Answer: America the Bootiefull. Every year we spend ten months a year trying to recover from and lose weight gained during two consecutive months of seasonal stuffing. Beginning with Halloween and ending with New Years, traditional holiday goodies are more trick than treat, more jowl-ly than jolly.

Actually, even if you don’t eat a lot of holiday goodies, the odds are you’re ingesting thousands more calories than usual for you. This is because holiday foods were invented by people who thought butter, sugar, and eggs constituted their own food group. What other time of the year can you consume a 2” cookie containing more calories than the daily allotment for an NFL linebacker?

Over the years, I’ve become adept at lightening up my mother’s holiday recipes. Believe me, it can be done and without altering the flavor. Most of the ingredients I substitute are empty calories you never miss. For instance, replace eggs with egg substitute, and in some cases, melted butter with reconstituted Butter Buds™. These two changes function beautifully in Mama’s dressing, eliminating a truckload of calories, a blessing because I haven’t figured out how to lighten up the cornbread and dried white bread. Applesauce can be substituted for oil in baked goods, which brings my pumpkin bread into the realm of reason. As I mentioned in my Thanksgiving blog, killer pies can be replaced by manslaughter mini-pies, eliminating much booty-bound fat.

My point is, if you just think about it, you can probably lighten up your family’s traditional recipes, too, and even your crabbiest relatives will never know the difference. It’s unrealistic to expect people to pass up holiday foods in favor of a sensible diet, but you can minimize the impact with a few simple changes. And when you’re finished, you won’t feel so much like that stuffed turkey.

I’m still working on lightening the menu for Christmas and New Year’s Day. I haven’t decided whether our traditional Christmas chili will be a tasty vegetarian version or made with lean bison in lieu of beef. The tamales will certainly be of the vegetarian or chicken variety. (You don’t really want to know what the traditional ones are made from anyway.) And as for my New Year’s blackeyed peas, I can’t do much about those calories, once I eliminate the slab bacon my mother cooked with hers. I’m open to suggestions.

So do your family and yourself a favor this year. Do the lighten-up with those holiday recipes, before your clothes do the tighten-up. You won’t be deprived of the holiday munch-down, and you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.


We Gather Together…Cautiously

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it has evolved over the years into something quite different from the ones I remember from childhood. Those were gatherings of family members who rarely saw each other the rest of the year, after the force-fed camaraderie of November and December. In those days, I was part of a large and cautiously friendly family.

The family backstory is long and complex, and I’m not sure I ever really heard it all or got it straight. And that was just on my mother’s side. My father’s relatives were equally absent most of the year, although at least they had the excuse of living out-of-town. I liked most of my relatives on both sides, but I heard a lot of grumbling from my older siblings. I think they would have preferred to be invited to Gettysburg for holiday dinners with the Eisenhowers. The result is I never learned to be part of any family, even my immediate one.

Lest this turn into bona fide cheap therapy, I’ll move on to talk about the type of Thanksgiving we have engineered to suit our needs, which we will enjoy again this year. We prefer to approach the holidays carefully. Part of the family is on the same basic diet and likes mostly the same foods. That group, which I’ll call Team Kale, will gather on Thanksgiving Day to eat lots of vegetables and lightened traditional foods.

My daughter is part of Team Kale, and every year she and I have our one family tradition moment with the raw dressing. The recipe has exact measurements except for the moistening chicken broth, so every year I add and stir until it looks right. At that point I call my daughter into the kitchen and say, “See, Megan, this is what it’s supposed to look like.”

“Right, Mama, I see” she replies as if answering ritual questions at a seder. I smile, having  fulfilled the tradition, and we don’t discuss dressing again until next year.

Over the next few days, we will visit the rest of our family groups, hopefully as less a part of the problem and more solution-oriented. We’ll visit calmly, with decorum, making tentative forays and returning before dark. It may be odd, but it works for us.

The point is, we have looked into the abyss that is a ridiculously closely-spaced holiday season in America, and we have blinked. Because there are no longer aging grandparents (other than us) to accommodate with a gathering of the clan, we have managed to bring a very Kilgorean sense of order to the chaos.

Christmas will be approached with the same caution. Gift-opening was an orderly business in my childhood home. Everyone sat and watched as one person opened all their presents. Order was determined by age, progressing from the youngest to the oldest. When I married Bryan, he threw this rather Prussian approach out the window, and we adopted his family custom of taking turns opening gifts, which also ensured reactions were seen by all, but in a more happy-go-lucky format.

I’m here to tell you, holidays are complicated, family dynamics are byzantine, and neither is for the faint-hearted. I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving this week. Don’t be concerned if you come to my house and see signs in the yard that say, “Slow—Rough Pavement Ahead,” or “Reduce Speed—Loose Rocks.” It’s just our way of proceeding with caution.

Live Free or Diet

Dieting at any time stinks, but pre-holiday dieting is the worst. You self-deprive to get ready for upcoming orgies of high-calorie delights. I’m currently sacrificing for Thanksgiving (November 21), Christmas (December 25), New Years (January 1), and St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). I just finished up pre-holiday dieting for Juneteenth (June 19), the Fourth of July (July 4), National Left-Handers Day (August 13), Stepfamily Day (September 16), Halloween (October 31), and Guy Fawkes Day (November 5). It’s a never-ending struggle.

I once read a quote by Linda Ronstadt: “The figure my body maintains naturally went out of style the year I was born.” My natural build went out with those plump, pudgy, and poochy Renaissance babes draped over settees, surrounded by dogs and grapes. So I diet, I splurge, and I go back to dieting. That interim splurge is as inevitable as the penitent return to Spartan fare. I know the lapse is inevitable, because no matter how hard I try, I can’t convince myself that kale tastes better than gingerbread pancakes.

Undoubtedly we humans are hard-wired to associate eating with comfort and love. As babies we wolf down mother’s milk or formula and drift off into blissful sleep. As adults we do the same with Thanksgiving dinner, lucky to finish the dishes before we lose consciousness. Eating your fill is the way of life on the savanna; it’s unfortunate it doesn’t translate to the suburbs.

Exercise is key. I blame the development of farming for my problem. When we started gathering more than we hunted, it was all downhill from there. Undeniably, there’s nothing like bulldogging a mastodon to rip a six-pack or levitate a bottom-lift.

I was never very athletic in my youth, and I expected to stay that way as I aged. Unfortunately, my husband had a penchant for forced marches and Hannibalesque mountain crossings on foot. I managed to hang in there for quite a while, but after a trip to Big Bend, transecting the Chisos Mountains, my knees rebelled. A couple of surgeries later, my knees make sounds usually associated with a need for WD-40. My doctor has told me not to do exercises involving walking, and I’m left to ponder the effectiveness of deep finger-bends.

As the days wind down toward Thanksgiving, I’m trying to figure out how to lighten my mother’s recipes, which were developed by women who believed lard was good for you. For one thing, I’m making just enough this year for Thanksgiving Day and one day of leftovers. That will eliminate several days of guzzling what is supposed to be a one-time, special occasion munch-down.

The main challenge is desserts. There’s just no way to cut calories in pie, so I’ve decided to cut the pie, literally. This year we will have miniature pies, little two- and three-bite versions of the traditional Killer Pumpkin Pie and Death-by-Mincemeat. The trick is to eat them the right way. Never pop one in your mouth for a snack. Sit down with it. Give it your full attention. Appreciate the cute factor. Take a small, tentative bite. Concentrate on the kaleidoscope of flavors that burst forth on your tongue—and then disappear.

Truly, if you blink you will miss it, so don’t blink. Savor it, enjoy it, and turn away. The next day you won’t feel as guilty. And you may even convince yourself how uncannily tofu tastes like pumpkin pie. Possible, but not likely.