20 Years Later…

Weeks ago I blogged about whether or not to attend my upcoming 20 year high school reunion.  I detailed the specifics and asked readers to weigh in on the issue (via the post SHOULD I STAY or SHOULD I GO?) Thanks to many of you for offering your opinions and encouragement (and even bigger thanks to my folks for getting me a free hotel room), I made the decision to – GO FOR IT!

I spent Thanksgiving Day in Maine with my family, cooking and feasting, and the rest of the weekend traveling to & from Philadelphia for this “once in a lifetime” event.  And as promised, I’m BACK to blog all about it!  WOOT!  I’ll try not to dwell on the drive – which for a normal person would have been grueling but for someone like me (with Meniere’s) was just shy of hellish, and instead focus on the PARTY.  My 20 year high school reunion in a nutshell?  CRAZY FUN.  Truly one of the most unforgettable and surreal experiences of my life (drive included).

Picture yourself traveling back in time… 5 years.. 10 years.. 15, 20… You step into a room filled with former classmates, and…

From the moment I arrived at the reunion, I was transported – not just back to high school, but all the way to childhood.  Greeting me at check-in was a friend I’d known since I was 5, who’d slipped a Van Halen poster into my 6th grade desk to impress me.  There stood friends I’d known for YEARS, people who’d played with me as children, laughed with me as adolescents, and Yes, even dated me as teenagers.  Most of my very best friends were in attendance, all of us reunited under one roof.  And seeing each of their faces, changed after so many years, and yet so fundamentally the same, was worth every bit of the travel agony I had endured.

My 20 year high school reunion was amazing, not just because of the memories it brought back, but because of our collective present.  Teenage insecurity, awkwardness and fear be damned!  Each of us returned to this reunion armed with 20 years of personal growth.  Regardless of career choice, whether married or not, childless or not, rich /poor/ or in between, all of us are now (thankfully) adults.  And at age 38/39, most of us seem to like ourselves.

And you know what?  It shows.  From the get-go I was astounded by just how great everyone looks!  Sure, we’ve all aged, but on the whole we’re far more attractive now than we were in high school.  Why?  Because 20 years later… we’ve grown up.  And not just up; we’ve grown INTO ourselves.  As teens we thought we knew everything, but we spent more time wondering what others were thinking than ever truly thinking.  We worried, we picked, we agonized over minutia.  Time has erased many of those petty concerns, replacing them with understanding and PRIORITIES.  We’ve faced challenges, we’ve made accomplishments and we didn’t need to waste the night trying to prove anything.

Instead we enjoyed each other, and ourselves. We made chit-chat with those we recognized, we delved deep with those we’d truly known, and I for one came away changed. That’s what happens when you reunite.  You can close a chapter on your life with a smile, and without regret. Whether you’ve told someone they were special, or said you were sorry for a past wrong, reunions are an opportunity to explore another side of yourself. A former side, finally at peace with the present.  It was a wonderful night.

Huge thanks to the reunion committee for all their hard work, and to the many people whose photographs I’ve reprinted here — thanks for the memories!

Photos courtesy of Amy Eisman Kaplan, Jill Katz, Shawn Kwon-Chang, and Brian Miller, Chorus Media.
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Max

My dog Max died two weeks ago.  Although his legs had begun to fail, he was otherwise in good health and spirits, and his passing was wholly unexpected.  We’d taken a long walk the day before and he’d been so full of joy!  Rushing ahead, leading the charge, till finally he was so spent he’d practically collapsed.  He woke us early the next morning, about 3:30 am, crashing around downstairs.  My husband rose to let him out, thinking he had to go to the bathroom.  Max went out into the yard and laid down in the grass.  He wouldn’t get up, even after John called him several times.  His breathing was labored, his tongue hung to one side and his lips felt cold. Something was seriously wrong.

John came and got me, and together we went outside and rolled Max onto a blanket and carried his heavy (150 lb.) frame inside.  We placed him gently on the rug, then fetched blankets and pillows for ourselves.  We laid, side by side, as if on a camping trip.  Petting him, speaking to him, sensing – somehow – that this was the end.  Just shy of 4:30 his breathing became almost imperceptible, punctuated only by a few deep gasps. He didn’t seem to be in any pain. John woke the girls in time for them to say goodbye. And then Max was gone.

His swift departure has left a hole in the heart of my family.  Max lived with us his entire life, from 7 weeks to almost 10 years.  He grew up side by side with our daughters, and neither can remember life without him.

We miss him terribly.  But even in death Max remains a steadfast presence in our lives.  I see him when I walk the woods, I feel him beside me at the beach.  Each morning as I rise, I meet him in the hallway where we parted, and every meal I fail to finish I take out to his yard.  2 weeks ago, Max died, and we buried him under the apple tree.  And next year, when flowers bloom from his grave, I will think of him all the more.

A dear neighbor gave us a book of poems to help us through our loss.  Many are consoling, some difficult to even read, but the one which has touched me the most was written by Rudyard Kipling and is entitled Four-Feet.

I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.

Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.

Now I must go by some other round, —
Which I shall never find —
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

My 20-year high school reunion is coming up next month, and I’ve yet to RSVP.  In true blog fashion, I’ve decided to put the question to my readers.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?

BASICS: The reunion is being held over Thanksgiving weekend in Philadelphia.  About a quarter of my HS class has committed to going, and another quarter said “Maybe.”  I am one of them.  Tickets cost $50 – 70 each.

BACKGROUND: I no longer live in Philly, where the reunion is being held.  I presume Thanksgiving weekend was chosen to accommodate travelers who’d be returning to the area to visit family.  Unfortunately my family lives in Atlanta, and my husband and I had planned on celebrating Thanksgiving here in Maine. 

MY HUSBAND: Is supportive of the trip, but financially it would be a burden.  My parents are tied up for the weekend, so we wouldn’t have anyone to watch our kids (or pets) here in Portland.  The reunion would necessitate a hotel stay for two nights, boarding of our pets, as well as a babysitter for our daughters during the event.  It would also mean purchase of reunion tickets, gasoline, food for four, travel expenses.  In sum: NO SMALL CHUNK OF CHANGE.  Add the fact that it’s Thanksgiving Weekend, guaranteeing the roads will be packed.

BUT: A part of me really wants to go.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone from high school.  I had many close friendships and have reconnected with many friends via Facebook.  The reunion should be fun.  They’re having an open bar & food, music, a video montage and even swag bags.  A lot of people have already bought tickets, likely more will attend.  For the sheer pleasure (and curiosity) of seeing what people look like after 20 YEARS (!) part of me says YES!

MY DILEMMA: Attending the reunion is possible, but it’s a big unnecessary expense.  I also suffer from Meniere’s Disease, a condition often exacerbated by travel and stress.  Portland is 7 1/2 hours by car from Philadelphia; a do-able drive, but in traffic it will be longer.  Bottom line: ???

POSSIBLE SOLUTION:  Enjoy Thanksgiving here, then go to the reunion by myself. If I went alone, it would be a much smaller burden, involving less stress and expense – one ticket, one room, food for me, and my husband could stay home and take care of things.  But how much fun would that really be?  How many spouses attend reunions solo?  I’d hazard a guess at very few.  It’s not that I don’t feel comfortable or confident enough to go alone, it’s just.. not ideal. 

SO. SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? I don’t want to ditch my husband for my reunion, but I don’t want to miss it either.  Is it worth the hassle and expense of us going as a family?  Is it better to simply stay home??  Would I have a good time if I went by myself or would I just feel awkward?  Has anyone been in a similar situation?  What do you think?! Give me your 2 cents!

NOTE: My two friends above WILL be at the reunion!

Thanksgiving is ALMOST HERE!

Hello everyone! I hope that you’re enjoying the crisp autumn weather, as the days grow shorter and snowflakes begin dotting the air. As our thoughts turn collectively to turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, I wanted to touch base for a quick run-down of Thanksgiving recipes.

The holidays can be especially hard for those on salt-restricted diets – but they don’t have to be. With a little preparation and ingenuity, these times can be the best – and healthiest – you’ve ever known.

So let’s talk TURKEY. When it comes to the bird, think fresh. Although most free range fresh turkeys are expensive, they’re worth it. Not only will you be getting a bird much lower in sodium, but the animals themselves are also treated much more humanely. WIN-WIN. Whole Foods Markets, as well as many food co-ops, farmer’s markets, and butcher shops are selling fresh birds like hot cakes this time of year. With a little leg work, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to find one. If you haven’t or can’t purchase a fresh bird though, don’t despair! Most supermarkets have a whole array of options. In the past I’ve opted for kosher birds, which tend to be lower in sodium than the standard butterballs. But don’t limit yourself. Roast chicken is a healthy substitute, as are guinea hens, duck and quail. And many butcher shops have fresh birds that have not been treated with the broth/salt injections commonly afforded the processed birds.

Or, if you’d prefer skipping poultry altogether, I highly recommend this fabulous recipe for Roast Pork with Dried Plums.

Not to overlook vegetarians, I have recipes for several meat-free entrees that are sure to please. Vegetarian Holiday Loaf is adapted from a Vegetarian Times recipe of the same name. Vegetarian Lasagne, Zucchini Cakes, and meaty Gorgonzola Portobellos are all delicious, and there are a ton of other vegetarian entrees at THE DAILY DISH.

But – as usual – I’m getting ahead of myself! Why not start at the START with a delicious soup or salad! Soup makes any meal more memorable, and I have recipes for some serious stand-outs. Butternut Squash Soup will have your guests raving. As will the phenomenally gorgeous Beet Soup or Apple Butternut Soup. If greens are more your speed, try this tasty Warm Asparagus Salad or Simple Autumn Salad.

Now, let’s talk sides. No turkey dinner is complete without Cranberry Sauce and Stuffing! Baked apple slices are delicious with fowl, and are a sure hit with kids. Another idea is topping Mashed Sweets with some marshmallows, baking, and serving as an irresistible sweet potato casserole. Or you could try your sweet potatoes roasted, as in Fingers and Sweets. Creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes are FABBBULOUS, as are the always popular Twice-Baked Potatoes. Winter squash is also wonderful this time of year! For an extra showy and delicious meal, I highly recommend both Stuffed Acorn Squash, as well as Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallots.

Since most of us love some bread with our meal, try the simple rolls I made this summer with my daughters. Incredibly easy and delicious – and a great time even if you don’t have children of your own.

And what holiday meal is complete without DESSERT? Pumpkin pie is a must-have at our house. But there are some other absolutely delicious pies to consider as well – Squash and Pear Pie and Sweet Potato Pie are particularly popular this time of the year. I also highly recommend Pears in Wine, which look (and TASTE) divine but are supremely simple to make.

Finally, don’t forget beverages! I recommend a nice chilled white wine to complement the meal, but if you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no reason to feel deprived. Try some sweet milky Chai Tea with dinner or dessert.

Just remember, Thanksgiving is set aside as a day for giving thanks for all of our blessings, enjoying friends and family, and celebrating life. So don’t let your kitchen time stress you out so much you lose perspective. If things burn, flop or turn out just plain ugly, laugh and put your feet up, knowing you tried your best. There was always plenty of cursing around the kitchen while I was growing up, and my mom often sat simmering long after the meal was over. But there’s no reason to sweat the little things. So enjoy yourself, and enjoy a big satisfying meal without having to worry about the aftermath.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!