Fam­ily to­geth­er­ness: key in­gre­di­ent to any hol­i­day

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - Laura Cata­lano Colum­nist Laura Cata­lano is a free­lance writer whose work has ap­peared in books, mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers. She is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Dig­i­tal First Me­dia, for which she writes news, fea­tures and a monthly col­umn.

I’ve never been ac­com­plished at pulling off an ef­fort­less hol­i­day sea­son. Ev­ery year some­one makes Christ­mas cook­ies and of­fers me some be­fore I’ve even taken down my Hal­loween dec­o­ra­tions.

I feel de­feated by the very ex­pec­ta­tion that I will shop, bake, and put quaint can­dles in the win­dows that I must re­mem­ber to turn on ev­ery night.

I’m typ­i­cally a last minute shop­per, that most ma­ligned and ridiculed of hol­i­day crea­tures who haunts the picked-over aisles of de­part­ment stores the week be­fore Christ­mas. And, when I fi­nally drag my­self home with bags of gifts, I am un­done by the need to wrap them all. The tape and scis­sors re­peat­edly dis­ap­pear be­neath the wrap­ping paper like a pair of fugi­tives I need to hunt down one-handed, while the other hand holds to­gether a crooked fold or choppy seam.

I’m old enough to know this hol­i­day hap­less­ness is no pass­ing phase. It’s per­ma­nent like a scar on my char­ac­ter that I’ve been be­moan­ing for decades but in­ca­pable of cur­ing. I will never bake batches of cook­ies with­out for­get­ting to buy enough sugar. I do not pos­sess the for­ti­tude to be­gin shop­ping for cre­ative, thought­ful gifts in the un­rushed at­mos­phere of Oc­to­ber.

My seasonal in­com­pe­tence be­gins with Thanks­giv­ing. My fam­ily typ­i­cally as­signs me only one or two food items to con­trib­ute: a cran­berry rel­ish which re­quires no cook­ing, and cheese cake. Last year I bought four pack­ages of cream cheese for the cheese cake but never got around to mak­ing it. Those pack­ages haunted my re­frig­er­a­tor for months, sil­ver rec­tan­gles of guilt stacked be­side the but­ter.

And the cran­berry rel­ish? It has four in­gre­di­ents, ar­guably the most cru­cial be­ing a cup of sugar to bal­ance out the tart taste of the cran­ber­ries. Yeah, I for­got to add that. We stirred it in later, but it was still some­what harsh on the taste buds.

But this year, some­thing odd hap­pened. My daugh­ters, both in their 20s, gen­tly eased Thanks­giv­ing right out of my grasp. I can’t say I was un­happy, but it had its com­pli­ca­tions.

Their Thanks­giv­ing coup be­gan with a series of phone calls in Septem­ber that I at first shrugged off. My old­est daugh­ter in­sisted that she and her sis­ter had made a plan that spared us our usual fourhour trip to New York to spend Thanks­giv­ing with grand­par­ents, aunts, un­cles and cousins.

This plan in­volved my younger daugh­ter, Juliet, and her boyfriend pre­par­ing vir­tu­ally all the food ex­cept dessert. They are ac­com­plished am­a­teur chefs who of­ten fix gourmet-style meals for us when they visit, so I didn’t ob­ject to that.

What’s more, with my son in col­lege, my sonin-law work­ing a hol­i­day night shift, and Juliet liv­ing three hours away in Mary­land, it seemed like a trip to New York wasn’t in the cards any­way this year. Our goal was to have the en­tire ex­tended fam­ily at my house for Thanks­giv­ing.

Let me fill you in on a bit of fam­ily his­tory here: while I have had sev­eral Thanks­giv­ing’s at my house, due to a va­ri­ety of fac­tors it’s been a while since I’ve at­tempted to lure every­one here. The pri­mary rea­son is that my par­ents’ house in New York is sim­ply more cen­trally lo­cated for the ex­tended fam­ily.

It quickly be­came ap­par­ent that few of my sib­lings and their chil­dren would be able to make the trip to my house this year. But, my daugh­ters con­tin­ued plot­ting.

And thus it came to be that Juliet and her boyfriend spent hours pon­der­ing recipes, shop­ping for in­gre­di­ents and plan­ning an amaz­ing din­ner that I didn’t have to cook for. “Don’t bother mak­ing your cran­berry rel­ish, I have a new recipe I want to try,” Juliet in­formed me, kindly fail­ing to men­tion my for­got­ten sugar es­capade.

But on the other side were my par­ents, sis­ter and brother who, in their own series of phone calls, set a tone of such sor­row­ful re­gret that I could not es­cape from the guilt at hav­ing evaded their Thanks­giv­ing. And thus I did cook up one thing this Thanks­giv­ing: that is a plan to in­clude every­one.

So I spent Thanks­giv­ing with my im­me­di­ate fam­ily and then, on Fri­day morn­ing, my hus­band, son and I got in the car and drove to New York to see the rest of the fam­ily.

This proves that although I am, as a rule, in­ept at hol­i­day plan­ning, I al­ways re­mem­ber the key in­gre­di­ent to any hol­i­day: fam­ily to­geth­er­ness.

Now, if I can only keep track of the tape and scis­sors, I think I’ll be OK for Christ­mas.

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