Earlier this month, we wanted to go shopping at one of our local antique shops, so Best Friend and I got ourselves together and first headed out for an early lunch.
We stopped by a little grille, nestled in a shopping mall between a seedy-looking thrift store and a storefront mission. This grille has some of the best home cooked meals in our town, and we never had a bad meal there.
The lunch crowd was thinning out, and we were able to sit in a corner booth. Best Friend ordered steak and eggs, and I chose a half tuna sandwich with broccoli soup. We enjoyed our conversation about this and that, we ate our meals, and soon we were ready to head to the counter to pay our bill.
I caught a glimpse of a lady, perhaps in her late 40s-early 50s, who was at the counter paying her bill. By the time we got there, she was gone.
Best Friend took out his debit card.
“It’s paid for,” said the cashier.
“I’m sorry,” replied Best Friend. “What’s that?”
“Your bill is paid for by the lady who was just here. You owe nothing.”
We both were speechless. We were so surprised, so shocked at this, that we didn’t know what else to say, except for, “Wow. You only read about this sort of thing in the newspapers.”
The cashier smiled. We gave her a large tip (for she was our waitress, too), and we went on our merry way.
Some of us – perhaps many of us – go along in life, rolling along, taking what comes and moving right along. Conversely, there are those of us who roll along in our lives, in a prison of our own creation, marinating in the past for no other reason than it is comfortably there.
It is a sad state of mind; I was in that horrid position once upon a time. I would go over and over with the perceived wrongs people might have done to me, reliving the past to no purpose than to be a victim of circumstances.
How silly. And what a waste of priceless time and energy. So very unconstructive, in fact.
I once knew someone who unfailingly brought up to his two brothers the lousy childhood family life they had. It never failed; his stories were always brought up in great detail. Yet, what made his habit interesting was how it affected his brothers. One brother went along and marinated in the negativity with him, the two joyfully vocally knocking down their father and grandfather in so many ways. Now, when this person brought up their lousy childhood to his other brother, that brother would invariably answer, “I don’t remember any of that.”
And that is a short response that says so very much. I cannot imagine that brother not remembering the trauma of their childhood, yet his answer was brilliant. By him making that succinct statement, he perfectly said, “That’s in the past; it isn’t happening now; there is no point in basking in the garbage; isn’t there something better to take about?”
His response is my point that we sometimes thankfully release ourselves from our prisons and further refuse to go down that path again and again.
I see too many people ruminate and marinate in the negative aspects (or imagined negative aspects) of their past and present lives. On and on they go, rolling in the cart of negativity, bringing up things that happened decades ago, things that are not a factor today, things that are feeding perceived victimization, so popular in today’s culture and society.
And for what purpose and to what end? Only they can explain that; it could be attention-grabbing (what I call the Look at Me! Syndrome), it could be to boost themselves up in the eyes of their peers or customers, or to feel sorry for themselves to explain their station in life. Who knows?
What I do know is that it is not fun to be around such people. They are exhausting. They are unconstructive. They are sadly stuck in their own world where they would rather have company in the mire and muck than to free themselves to live an unencumbered life. Of course, there are people who are happy in their own misery, and that is a topic for another time.
As for me, I personally try to live an unfettered life – free from others’ woes and free from my own. There is nothing to be gained by grinding on and on about negativity that is long gone, or even currently happening. Air it out, and be done, I say!
“Be thankful for what you have” is a time-worn cliché, but there is a lot of truth in those words. I add this, too: Please don’t presume others want to hear your pessimistic stories. It is exhausting and unconstructive.
So . . . will you allow negativity to cage you and keep you in the negative cart to roll through life chained to the blackness of pessimism, or will you free yourself and others in the process to bask in the sunshine of unburdened happiness?
The perfectly decorated house. The aromas of cinnamon and pinewood and freshly baked cookies. The constant in-and-out of family and friends and the phone ringing every half hour with good news and heartfelt wishes. The gathering around the baby grand piano singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The constant hugs and kisses, and everyone getting along with nary a cross word.
That is what I named The Hallmark Holiday. And it’s not always the reality. Sure, it’s something pleasant to which to aspire, but don’t think you’re missing out if this isn’t in your world. Much like crypto currencies, it isn’t real.
As for me, sure, I’m not with all the people I’d like to spend the holidays with, since circumstances prevent it – most have passed away, some live in another state and others are living in other countries. I will be spending this holiday season with Best Friend, Rat Terrier, Miss Doxie, and Mademoiselle Kitten, here at The Oasis at Four Queen Palms, and we are grateful for that. So, we are spending our holidays by ourselves, but not.
That brings me to the fact that some people – many people – spend the holidays by themselves; or at least not with the people they would rather be around. Perhaps you will be alone during the holidays. It might be your choice. It might be happenstance. Your holidays might look different from what you think a Hallmark holiday, or a Christmas in Connecticut, is all about.
Yet, the reality is never, ever what the hype tries to sell. Many people – more than you know – are by themselves during the holidays. That is not strange. There is nothing wrong with it. Your holidays might appear much different from the hyped-up “norm” of the perfectly appointed celebrations with perfection nonpareil. Sure, that does paint a pretty picture, but that is rarely the reality.
How you spend your holidays depends on your attitude. No one wants to hear someone’s “poor me” mantra; no one wants to hear gossip about others – you know, the yado-yado-yada. No one wants to hear complaints either. That might take them down a path they don’t want to go, and you yourself might feel all the more miserable. Snap out of it! No one deserves that. Not them, not you. Here are a few of my thoughts to help you actually enjoy this time of year:
Don’t compare your holiday season or life to someone else’s celebrations. That’s them; this is you. What you see in others’ lives isn’t all the truth. Unless you’re them, or unless you live in their homes, you really don’t see, nor know, the entire picture.
Accept and be grateful for what you have.
Remember the true purpose of the holidays. Introspection is key.
Don’t compare your life or your holidays to anyone else’s. You shouldn’t assume that their meadow is greener on their side of the fence. Look at your own. It just might be that your pasture is as, or more, emerald green and luxurious than you ever imagined.
Play a Christmas carol album.
Call someone you know and send some happiness.
Drop a friend a line or two with happy news.
Invite another “solo celebrator” over for supper. Make it a party.
As Irving Berlin wrote in his song, “Count Your Blessing (Instead of Sheep),” written for the 1954 movie, White Christmas:
When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.
There is so much from which to learn, for those 43 words give much food for thought. Even I sometimes fall into the doldrums from time to time, particularly when events and people from outside the walls of The Oasis at Four Queen Palms to enter and upset the pacific atmosphere here. I know that they do not deserve that power, and for the most part, I don’t let their silly nonsense infiltrate. Yet, it isn’t a 100 per cent stoppable guarantee. Life happens; it’s how I handle the garbage that counts. With that said, I discovered a 1913 book by Fannie Dickerson Chase, Good Form and Social Ethics, which also puts forth a cornucopia of points for us that are well worth the time to ponder. Here, I will share some of what she wrote:
Do not be a slave to other people’s opinions. As I see it, don’t be a willow tree in the breeze, bending this way and that, taking other people’s opinions as your own. Don’t fall into the “your opinion is my opinion” mantra. Gosh. To me, and to others, that means you have no thoughts of your own, and we mind as well just be talking to ourselves.
Be quick to forgive. If we are still marinating in something we think another person did to us years ago, let it go, for Pete’s sake! Learn from what happened and stop wallowing in it.
Magnify your joys. The world is, and always will be, filled with grief and ordeals, but it is also filled with good and rewards. To alleviate one’s own bitterness is to remember that other people are experiencing even heavier trials and emotions.
Hear accurately and speak accurately. No one likes to hear misinformation, nor gossip.
Do not be a servant to your moods. By the same token, don’t drag others into your moodiness. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It is not productive, nor becoming.
Do the right thing. Be honorable, keep your promises regardless of how you might feel towards the person to whom you made that promise.
Be slow to discredit another’s word or action. It is best to believe in others until you find absolute substantiation to not believe in them.
Do not be soured and worried by disappointments. Take your disappointments gracefully, for they have been given to you for a greater purpose.
Do not be thoughtless. Lapses of courtesy does not bode well.
Be truthful. If you fib your way through life, one day, people will – and they do! – eventually discover that you’ve been a fraudster.
Be sympathetic. You may not really know the true story about the other person.
These, and the many other points that are made in the book, are words to live by throughout the year. I bring this topic up now during the holiday season to point out that this time of year should be more joyful, more calming, and more twinkling than ever. Yes, the world seems to be careening towards the Dark Side more and more each day, yet we need to maintain the sanity, happiness, joy, and true good in ourselves despite the ugliness. Don’t let the Devil overtake your life.
A light fog hung on the grounds this morning as I looked out my window, the sandhill cranes trilling lively in the distance, the air feeling heavy with rain. I cradled a cup of Earl Grey tea in my hand, as I let random thoughts somersault through my mind. It felt as though this year had sped by, and now here it is, the end of November, with only thirty-three days left before we begin a new year.
As the holiday season began last week, and heads towards a full swing, it struck me as this is a good time to round out the month of November and its supposed focus on thanksgiving.
Drama dared to pop up its ugly head in the past couple of weeks or so; it’s such a crying shame since it has been absent most of this year. Best Friend and I are grateful that we are not in the thick of the theatrical stage acting of that drama, but why, oh why, must it come knocking on the door from time to time?
Thankfulness is a virtue and a very private one. I, for one, have much in the way of thankfulness, but I prefer to keep the specifics private. Not everything needs to be – nor should be – publicized in the public square. I will say that our celebration was just right for us in all aspects.
Packing away the Thanksgiving decorations (as little as there is) is a priority in preparation for decorating The Oasis at Four Queen Palms this year. That’s about as far as it got as of this writing; decorating for Christmas will be in the coming days.
Over the weekend I baked a dark, English style fruitcake, using the recipe from the Antoinette Pope School of Cookbook (1948, by Antoinette and François Pope). This cookbook is my go-to recipe and cooking method guide and has been a staple in my family since the early 1950s. I’ll write more about that in a future essay.
I soaked the fruit in brandy for two days before preparing and baking the cake. This step was a success, and now the cake is packed well in parchment paper and tin foil, aging for the next two weeks in a cool place.
I spend most evenings reading, snuggled in a chair by the fireplace, long into the night. Currently, I am reading Old Times in Dixie Land by Caroline Elizabeth Merrick. It was published in 1901, and it is a fascinating book.
December promises to be a grand month, filled with activities both here at The Oasis at Four Queen Palms and in the outside world. Some of the stores are decorated with lit trees, garland, and greenery. The restaurants are likewise decorated. I’m waiting to see who in our neighborhood will be the first to set up their blow-up penguin or ginormous dinosaur in the front yard, because nothing says “Christmas” like a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex, or a faded fat Santa Claus, or even a smiling Chilly Willy. It is lost on me why Christmas decorations have become – dare I say it? – tacky? Granted, there were plastic snowmen and reindeer in front yards years ago, but now there are twelve-foot vinyl blow-up monstrosities in characters that have nothing to do with Christmas: Star Wars, dragons, dinosaurs, station wagons, Noah’s ark . . . Well, I do get a laugh out of the ridiculousness of it all, so I suppose they have some purpose.
A few neighbors in this area already decorated their houses with clear and colorful twinkling lights, evergreen wreaths with large red ribbons, and red poinsettias on porches.
I’m already planning dinner menus, gathering gifts to wrap, perusing my Christmas card list, and the like. We play Christmas music every day. The jury is still out if a Christmas letter will be on the schedule. I do vacillate on doing one. It does not pay to include one to the people with whom we have regular contact, but the ones we rarely hear from . . . well, is it worth sending a letter? Perhaps not. Perhaps just a note of well wishes for the coming year.
Best Friend has by now bought tickets to the theater. We are greatly looking forward to that, for those nights out mean worthwhile time just for us two.
And as a matter of course, there are the private religious observations to be followed.
Best Friend and I took a small break one evening and shared appetizer plates of heirloom cherry tomatoes with ham and a shrimp platter with hot dipping sauce. I served them on our Fiestaware pumpkin plates. We spent this time watching a Christmas-themed movie, “Father Christmas is Back” with Kelsey Grammar.
I look forward to sharing some of our holiday life during these upcoming weeks, and without the drama.
The day arrived, finally! Today, most of the country is celebrating Thanksgiving, and if you are, I wish you a wonderful and gratitude-filled day.
Best Friend and I already chose a different date to observe our annual day of thanksgiving here at The Oasis of Four Queen Palms. It was a day filled with serenity and balance, good company, excellent wine, and great food. We played old, traditional music (think Sinatra and Bennett) in the background and lit a couple of candles placed snugly in the crystal candle holders. We set the table with our Fiestaware china, in the following colors: Butterscotch, Paprika, Meadow, and Scarlet. These three warm colors and one cool evoked the beauty of the changing of the leaves that is magnificent this time of year. A bouquet of silk autumn leaves in the centerpiece brought it all together.
This year, I veered a bit from our traditional menu fare. Sent away on holiday was the usual fare we have every year and brought in for a premiere showing were several new-to-us foods. But Tom Turkey was still the star of the meal. For reference, I picked up a 15-pound bird for $23.39. that is pretty good, given we will have a lot of leftovers to freeze and bones from which to make turkey soup.
To begin, our first and second courses were a bit quirky; something one wouldn’t think of to serve on Thanksgiving. The cup of Japanese Onion Soup we both had was good, and a suitable choice since it was mostly a light broth. It was simple to make a day ahead. The Apple-Raisin-Walnut Salad with Pumpkin Bread Croutons was crisp and cold, with the fresh Orange-Ginger Dressing being the perfect accompaniment.
The Herb Roasted Tom Turkey was perfectly browned and moist. My Apple-Raisin-Walnut stuffing to go with it turned out moist and crispy, just as we like it. I forgot to buy the raisins, but that did not deter from its mission as a side dish. It still tasted good! Leave it to me to forget to buy the raisins, although my forgetting something is not unheard of.
I prepared the Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine a couple of days in advance, and that was to its advantage, since the flavors melded well. I served this delightful side dish chilled, but I imagine it would taste just as good hot, too.
The Green Bean Gremolata was a new-to-us vegetable recipe. We liked the just-kissed lemony drizzle and the few shavings of Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. For the yellow vegetable, I opted to make Cousin Stanley’s Roasted Squash, just as he made it, roasted to tenderness, and drizzled with a touch of local honey.
For our starch in the potato department, Best Friend had a twice-baked potato, and I opted for one of my own favorites – boiled sweet potatoes. It’s a treat for our dogs, too, sans the butter and pepper!
And what about dessert? This year, instead of my fresh homemade pumpkin pie, I made a small carrot cake, a favorite of Best Friend. I made this just as our own moms did – with fresh grated carrots. Heavenly!
This year’s celebration was successful, and we like the fact that we chose a non-traditional day to observe the annual Thanksgiving Holiday. As I wrote in my previous essay, WELCOME TO THE OASIS, we are not bound to have our annual Thanksgiving on the designated Federal date – every day could and should be one of thankfulness and gratitude.
I hope you had a perfectly marvelous Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it today.
Today is a beautiful autumn day here at The Oasis of Four Queen Palms. Early this morning, I walked out to the terrace to take in the crisp air as the dawn splashed pinks and yellows across the eastern sky. My peach-colored hibiscus still has a good crop of blooms, but most of my other flowering plants are spent for the season.
The approaching Holidays means that life gets a little busier for me, and there is so much to do. Most important in my routine is the deep cleaning of the house. It’s also time to pack away the warm weather things and bring out those for fall and winter. The seasonal decorations will need to come out of storage, sorted through, and put up around the house. The writing of Christmas letters and addressing greeting cards is nigh. And then there is the preparation of menus ranging from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.
Best Friend and I decided that this year, we will observe the annual Thanksgiving celebration on a date not in concert with the Federal holiday. We picked out a day, and it will be ours to savor.
I already chose the colors of our Fiestaware china for that day: Butterscotch, Paprika, Meadow, and Scarlet. These three warm colors and one cool, evoke the beauty of the changing of the leaves that is fabulous this time of year. I plan to arrange a table centerpiece that will include a Fiestaware large disk pitcher in Scarlet, that will hold a bouquet of silk autumn leaves. Of course, lit wax candles in crystal candleholders will also make an appearance.
I believe that eating at home should be a lovely experience, and not only for the Holidays and entertaining otherwise. In fact, all year ‘round, I consistently set a pretty table with delightfully presented meals that one might only enjoy in a good restaurant. My family is important to me, and I show it as best as possible.
And that brings me back to our first celebration of the season.
Best Friend and I picked out the date for our Thanksgiving. With that set, I now have the menu decided upon. Here it is, for your wonderment:
Japanese Onion Soup
Apple Salad with Pumpkin Bread Croutons
Roasted Whole Tom Turkey
Apple-Raisin-Walnut Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine, Green Bean Gremolata, Cousin Stanley’s Roasted Squash, Boiled Sweet Potato, Twice Baked Potato, Homemade Fresh Mushroom Gravy
Homemade Carrot Cake
Mogen David wine
As elegant as this feast might be, the most important factor of the upcoming day for us will be the sincere gratitude we have in so many ways.
Welcome to my essays on life and elegant living at The Oasis at Four Queen Palms.
Upon awakening this morning, I dressed and headed to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of hot black coffee. Before I dressed and left the bedroom, my best friend hurried me to the window to witness the dawn together, where the sun was in the midst of a fiery red and orange rise above the horizon. It was a glorious morning sight, and pity that I did not have film in my camera to capture it for posterity.
A few oohs! and ahhs! were shared between us, a few words of wonderment expressed, whereupon I dressed and headed to the kitchen to make our coffees. I then went on to the terrace to drink my coffee and ponder my thoughts.
There is something to be said about the hazy, lazy days of summer, but what about life after October?
Indeed, once Halloween is over and the decorations and the masquerade costumes go back in storage here at The Oasis of Four Queen Palms, the pages on the calendar seem to invariably flip faster and faster each day. It never fails. In fact, when the calendar turned to November, I put away the few Halloween decorations I have (a ceramic haunted house my aunt and uncle gave me and a Jack O’Lantern from my other aunt). Then, as I was setting up the ancient paper turkey on my cellarette in the foyer and hung the wreath on the front door, I gave a few thoughts about Thanksgiving.
In my thinking and deep ponderings, the act of thanksgiving should be/could be a daily celebration. Sure, it is nice that we have a national holiday dedicated to it, and most working people have the day off. But does it have to be the fourth Thursday in November?
Best Friend and I discussed this very idea recently. Why couldn’t we have Thanksgiving on another day that we determine? After all, we are not going to the little shindig that our neighborhood diner is setting up (Their offering of Cheese Whiz on Ritz crackers, pressed turkey with canned cranberries and instant potatoes turns us off – and the cost per person is unreasonable for microwaved mass-produced food). No family nor friends are making the trek to holiday with anyone, either. So, we decided to forego the November 24th date this year and pick another day to have our own private thanksgiving, with our homemade foods, music of our own choice, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Indeed, this will be a different Thanksgiving holiday, one that for the first time in our lives won’t be on the Federal holiday date. It will be on our own terms.
And that brings me around to a question that a friend and fellow author asked me, paraphrased: “Does it take a recession and wild inflation for people to learn to be thankful for what they have?”
Perhaps. Perhaps it does. You see, I published a few short stories about people living during The Depression and learning what is important and what it means to be appreciative. I chose that time in history because I have a great affection for those times. Not that I was alive then, you see, but there is something about the music, the movies, the fashions, and the history that attracts me to no end. I suppose The Depression slapped a little reality into some people, and those heady days before those rough years were thought to never, ever end. Perhaps they thought prosperity and overabundance would remain forever; but who truly knows? Yet hard times did materialize, and sometimes that’s what it takes for people to realize what is truly important. It does not take a depression, recession, or impossible inflation to make a person’s life difficult, either. Circumstances vary.
And now returning to Thanksgiving 2022: Sure, we can make do with a lovely and lavish meal with enough turkey leftovers to make soup from the bones and Turkey Tetrazzini for the week, et al. Yet, the most important feature of whatever day we pick to celebrate, is but one of 364 days of thanksgiving. And that is what we will do on a day we determine to be our day of annual thanksgiving.
With the upcoming Holidays, I put my writing on pause for the next couple of weeks, which could be a good thing. I’ll have time to think about my books and the plots as I make the preparations for the upcoming observances.
I already prepared four batches of cookie dough and froze them, so they’ll be ready for a quick roll, cut, decorate, and bake for both Thanksgiving and Christmas entertainment. (Did you know that cookie dough can be frozen raw for several months before using?) Right now, I am baking my homemade pumpkin bread which will then be made into croutons for salads to be used over the next couple of weeks, including Thanksgiving dinner.
Yet, there are more tasks to accomplish: I need to finish writing out the Thanksgiving dinner menu, decide upon the Holiday décor, finish writing the Christmas letter and review my Christmas card list for this year, and so much more in the realm of secular entertainment and religious observances.
Yet, although the time might be flying, I am getting projects and tasks done. Writing itself isn’t always the mechanics of sitting down and putting pen to paper. It is an involved process, at least for me, that ideas float around my mind and marinate as I formulate plot outlines and conceive witty phrases. It was like that for me in college (for those twenty-plus page dissertations), and at work (for those technical orders and communications) – and it is always this –> take a short break, do something else, and go back to that paper or project. I haven’t had much good quality time to write lately, although I do have a slew of outlines finished. It seems that every time I sit down to work on my books, Mr. Rat Terrier needs something. No matter that Best Friend might be available to meet His Highness’ needs at the moment. Nope. It is I, and I only, who can fulfill Mr. Rat Terrier’s whims, from a doggie snack to being let out in the yard. Thank the heavens above that Miss Doxie and Mademoiselle Petite Chatte require little in the way of attention.
This introductory chapter is the first of my blog, The Oasis at Four Queen Palms. I plan to write an essay each Monday and Thursday within the realms of lifestyle and experiences. Indeed, I have been writing blogs for well over ten years now in different formats and names (and all but one is defunct), but this is the one that will settle specifically on life here at The Oasis of Four Queen Palms.
Well, time to get back to the kitchen. The pumpkin bread should be just about ready to take out of the oven.