Our First Thanksgiving

YOU GUYS!

Today we hosted our first Thanksgiving as a family.

We have celebrated Thanksgiving together twice before this, but just at other family Fall in the Parklandmembers’ houses. In fact, I have never personally hosted a Thanksgiving.

We had a wedding on Saturday, out of town, so that threw off general Thanksgiving plans this year and we weren’t quite sure what we were going to do. Within the past couple of weeks wedecided, Hell, why not – let’s host on Thanksgiving Monday.

This is noteworthy not only because I’ve never hosted a Thanksgiving and because we haven’t yet hosted one as a family, but also because our families haven’t met (!). Justan’s mom couldn’t make it as she has moved out of province, but both my parents and Andi’s parents decided they would come – to our surprise. My dad hasn’t even been to this house since Justan and I moved in months ago and we weren’t sure if Andi’s parents would feel comfortable coming to meet the whole crowd.

A fall storm blows inWell, I’m happy to report it was a raging success! There was a small turkey fiasco (the roaster mysteriously shut off halfway through cooking), but Andi averted that crisis with the help of the barbecue. We all pitched in as a team with Andi and I each cooking about half of the meal (though I must say it’s worth noting that Andi rocked the turkey and stuffing), and Justan doing tons of cleaning and other prep.

All in all we served 16 people, including all eight of us from our family, Andi’s parents, my parents, and Andi’s cousin and her kids and au pair. We had turkey, stuffing, two kinds of potatoes, three kinds of salad, yams, buns, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pie, cheesecake, coffee, ice cream and of course lots of wine.

Our dads and Andi’s cousin even talked politics and were amiable about it.

Now all our families have met except Justan’s mom & brother and Andi’s parents!

We are pretty proud and thankful tonight. That is a huge load of stress off of us. And yes, it was all delicious.

It's tough to get even a half-decent photo of this crew, but you get the idea.

It’s tough to get even a half-decent photo of this crew, but you get the idea.

Solstice Celebrations

Happy, happy Solstice to you all. I’ve been excited for weeks about celebrating, officially, for the first time ever this year. Justan and I share the shortest day of the year as our mutual favourite, and of course Neko’s birthday is this week as well, so this time of year always feels special to us. Last year, as we stood outside at 12:30 am to watch the lunar eclipse through our neighbour’s telescope (we had woken Neko up to see it, as it would be her only chance to see a lunar eclipse on Solstice and her birthday), I regretted not having planned more formal or extensive celebrations. I planned out this year’s Solstice celebrations over the following few days, and this year, all the planning was done for me in advance!

I had included plans for a Solstice feast, ice lanterns to be lit at sunset, and a few different craft and activity ideas which we could choose from.

Preparations started earlier this month, with grocery shopping for the feast, and the making of ice lanterns. We found the instructions at Love in the Suburbs.

Gathering materials for the ice lanterns, and Neko standing beside some partially assembled lanterns.

We also made popcorn garlands that we could give to the birds on Solstice.

Then my friend Jen invited us to a Solstice party, where we could make prayer flags to set our intentions for the new year. Her inspiration was this post from Rhythm of the Home.

I spent the week before Solstice preparing any foods I could in advance, and getting the pieces of the prayer flags ready to assemble. I baked the fruit cake, cut out triangles of fabric, chose intentions, chopped onions, and measured spices for mead.

Jen’s party began Solstice, the night of the 20th. We drank sunshine punch and snacked while we painted, cut and sewed. The kids played for hours in the dim house.

Candles, sunshine punch, and prayer flags in progress.

Jen drew, then painted, beautiful Celtic knots on hers with Gaelic words beneath. I wrote my words on in permanent marker (I’m not a perfect crafter, okay…) and sewed up the edges of the flags by hand. My fabric came from a damaged nursing tank; fabric bags from prefold diapers; a clothing swap romper; and an old dress I had bought years ago to make beanbags as party favours for Neko’s third birthday party.

On the morning of the 21st, we lazed in bed for a bit, then Justan made us scrambled eggs (from our hens) while I had a nice, warm bath. We cleaned up around the house a bit, then headed out for a hike near the river to hang the popcorn garlands. It was a beautiful, sunny day (I always picture the Solstice as so dark in my head! But the daylight hours, of course, are just as bright as ever.), but the pathways were icy because we’ve had such variable temperatures recently, and there was a biting wind blowing. We hiked down into the river valley with our popcorn garlands and our warm drinks in hand (hot chocolate for Neko; homemade mocha for daddy; homemade vanilla cafe au lait for mom).

Neko shows off the popcorn garlands we’ve hung for the birds.

In the afternoon, Justan and Neko played Just Dance while I packed for Christmas. Okay, okay – video games are not my idea of something you do on Solstice. But, it was daddy and daughter time, and they had fun. There are worse things.

At sunset, we lit the ice lanterns. They were in kind of rough shape after a full week of thawing and re-freezing, so their candle-spots had largely filled in. I tried to fix this using water, containers, and our freezer, but it only partially worked. They still looked really pretty though. They were lined up right across our front porch, and I kept them lit until we went to bed, to welcome the sun back on the morning of the 22nd. As the sun set, we prepared ourselves for the longest night of the year.

I spent the rest of the afternoon putting the finished touches on the dinner. Our menu was:

I chose the menu to be as local as seasonal as I could, while including foods we don’t eat on a regular basis. I wanted to eat foods that we could have grown ourselves, and I wanted the meal to be special – not something we would have any other time. We ate by candlelight, which was really nice, and Neko loved.

After dinner, we played a co-operative game that we got from Riva’s: The Eco-Store, called Wildcraft. We felt this was appropriately hippy-ish for a Solstice celebration. There was a moment of hysterical giggling when Justan asked me a question about finishing the game and I answered him by shooting back, in a very serious tone, “No, Justan, we each need to gather two buckets of huckleberries before we go back to Grandma’s house!” Justan thought this was hilarious. It may have been the mead, though.

After Neko was in bed, our plan was to play board games, but Justan said he didn’t want to play with just me, because I always beat him. (Note to self: next year, invite friends to join us for board games.)

I finished up the prayer flags and on the 22nd, after the longest night was over, I hung them from the chicken coop in the backyard.

The intentions we set are: transcendence, security, intuition, expansiveness, prosperity, integrity and love.

I’m already taking notes for next year’s Solstice! I will change a few things about the menu – we didn’t love the barley bake, and the recipe for the Mashed Potato casserole made a ridiculously huge amount, even cut down to three portions (it would have fed ten!). I would leave the oven at 500 degree for 14 minutes for the bison before turning it off, as this roast was quite rare. And even though I think fruitcake is perfect for the occasion, maybe next year I’ll make a crisp or something. I also think we could plan more activities for the day – I didn’t, this year, because I didn’t want to pack the day and make it stressful. But next year, maybe a trip to a local pond to skate would be nice. I would like to incorporate friends more, next year.

All in all, it was really lovely to formally observe Solstice for the first time. Tomorrow will be six seconds longer than today, and after that the increase in light will accelerate daily until the summer Solstice, when we’ll be on our second annual Solstice camping trip. I hope that all of you out there are also celebrating the return of the light (or the waning of the light, for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).