Picture this:  The next day, there were cookie sprinkles in my bed.

You really can’t make this stuff up.  How did the little multi-colored devils make their way from the kitchen?  Certainly not because I was eating in bed; I was too exhausted by that time to even open my mouth, much less chew. Most likely they were stuck to the paws of the cat, who jumps on the bed to nudge me awake, no small job on this particular morning.

Heaven knows the kitchen floor was a virtual garden of sprinkles, topping a thick carpet of flour, dough crumbs, and what-all. It was all there for the strolling after a worn-out grandmother collapsed in bed before she finished cleaning the floor.  For all I know, the sprinkles were stuck to my own feet.

It was the morning after the annual holiday cookie-baking extravaganza, with grandkids Buddy, Sis, and me.  The kids are competent, trained clean-up staff, but the schedule went awry for this baking session, and I had to hustle them home before they could do their part.  So, I was a clean-up staff of one, surveying the damage.

More evidence of the previous day’s culinary chaos was traveling on four feet. Reaching down on to clip on the dog’s leash for his routine morning stroll, I lightened his load by plucking a small nugget of dried meringue from the fluffy black spikes of hair just above the base of his ear.  Not hard to figure that one out; he knows exactly where to loiter under the island counter to catch whatever falls.

Why is this baking process so messy?  For one thing, we make the dough from scratch and roll it out the old-fashioned way. We follow a recipe in my grandmother’s handwriting that attributes the recipe to her own mother. (That’s right, the great-great-great grandmother of my baking co-conspirators.)

And truly expert bakers may have other thoughts, but in my experience, the answer to all questions about working with scratch dough is more flour, everywhere and always.  Dough getting sticky, or splitting under the pin? Dump more flour on the hands, on the rolling pin, on the dough ball.  When this technique is employed by bakers ages 9 and 11, turning the kitchen floors into a decorator’s “Dusty White” finish is but the work of a moment.

Next comes the decorating phase.  Supplied with red, green, and white icing tubes, a box of edible eyeballs, the whipped egg whites for texture, and four colors of sprinkles, Buddy and Sis set to work on holiday masterpieces.  A highlight for their G-ma is observing their artistic inclinations evolving as they get older.  In a short year, pre-teen Buddy has blown past friendly gingerbread men with smiles and standard icing trim to a tray full of one-eyed cyclops characters and a tenderly crafted skeleton.

While Sis opted for some more traditional formats—striped candy canes, and dotted Christmas trees—the concept of excess does not haunt the vocabulary or the thoughts.  Gentle suggestions about the thickness of icing or the volume of sprinkles were cheerfully yet determinedly unheeded.

Happily, the children have matured into a phase where humor may trump heartache when disaster strikes.  I feared a hardworking young baker’s disappointment when I pulled a tray of his smaller cookies from the oven.  Apparently, decorative eyeballs require a certain dough thickness to maintain shape while cooking.  The little cut-outs were not thick enough, and they emerged looking like a pack of forest creatures that had been slain by a mythical cave monster, their eyes plucked out by vultures.  “Oh, dear,” I mumbled, and before I could utter anything more helpful, Buddy looked over my shoulder at the melted carnage.  Hahahaha, he hooted.  “That looks WEIRD!  Eeewwwww!”

My girlfriends asked maddeningly logical questions about our baking plans when I shared them in advance.  Why not just buy the dough, make it easier?  asked one.  Don’t you want to get a decorating kit with instructions?  queried another.  How great that you let them do them however they want, said a third, kindly, with only a tiny pinch of surprise.

Staring at the next-day sprinkles sparkling on the bed linens, I admit I pondered those questions.  Is doing things the hard way a family trait, I wondered, not for the first time?  Do the cookies really taste better, from scratch—and is that even the point?  Maybe I just wanted to focus on one family tradition, and the memories attached, in this first Christmas since my mother died.   In the company of the children, this one felt so right.

Observing the wreck that remained for remediation, I remembered one more detail.  Sometimes I actually like the sight of a messy kitchen.  Sometimes, it is a vivid, aromatic illustration of shared fellowship, creative outcomes, and more than a few unexpected laughs.  Even if I am left with melted eyeballs stuck like glue to non-stick cookie sheets and meringue-wearing dachshunds.  It’s the best kind of holiday chaos.

Merry Christmas to all. May the chaos reign.






Made a few notes for next time after hosting Thanksgiving for the family.

Things I Forgot For Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Graham crackers for the smores.   Oh, yes, we had the snazzy outdoor firepit, acquired in hopes of extending the space for the crowd out onto the back porch, a welcome dose of fresh air and crackling logs after the three pie varieties had worn off.  I could envision the pastoral, after-dinner sweetness of the scene, even smell the toasting marshmallows.  But not clearly enough to remember the graham crackers.  Spoiler alert:  Ritz served as an adequate substitute, but I’m still embarrassed.
  • A bathroom serving at least 10 guests benefits from more than half of one roll of toilet paper.  Surely the other nine were grateful to the enterprising niece (you know who you are) who located the back supply in the other bath and delivered where needed.  Thanks for having my back, kiddo.
  • Carrots, pickles, and smoked oysters for the relish tray for cocktail hour, meant to mimic what my mother always offered on our first Thanksgiving without her.  I kept thinking the tray looked a little dinky with just olives and pickled okra, but couldn’t quite focus on the solutions awaiting their turn quietly in the cabinet. Where they remain.  Does that stuff last until next year?
  • Actually offering liquor to your guests increases the chances of them actually drinking it.  That fine bottle of bourbon, a gift and popular new brand, went untouched.  When I wondered why to my daughter, she said, “I didn’t know it was there.”

Things I remembered

  • Mom was right.  (But you knew that already, didn’t you?) Years ago, I asked her–with what I thought was appropriate reverence–how to watch the antique lace tablecloth she handed down into my care.  One never knows, in a family, when reverence may be misplaced.  “Put a candlestick or serving dish over the spot and forget it,” she advised, an Olympic gold piece of hostess advice if ever there was one.
  • Pre-adolescent children—an age that has been known to try the patience of the most hallowed of saints–can actually be excellent kitchen meal-prep staff.  They’re like dogs, their mother observed later; they do best with a job.
  • Do not buy a used car from anyone who tells you that making gravy is easy.  It’s a myth, perpetrated by the most gifted cooks in cahoots with purveyors of turkey gizzards.  I know absolutely how tricky it can be, because I watched very carefully while my gifted sister-in-law worked really hard on it.  But not closely enough to do it myself, next time.  (And dang, it was good.)
  • A strategic Leftover Distribution Plan is vital.  Even the most calculating and careful hostess might have too much food—I’m told by a friend.  Check your shelf of disposable containers, maybe check it twice. Stand by to load them with abandon, and don’t let anyone out the front door who doesn’t tote one, preferably two or three.  It can undermine dignity to resort to leaving mashed potatoes anonymously on the doorsteps of unassuming neighbors and tearing up homemade rolls in the backyard for the birds.
  • How our dad laughed when he got really, really tickled.  Which was pretty often, at these gatherings.  Nine years after he left us, I saw and heard him in my brother’s laugh and the familiar, gleeful expression on his face.  It’s a laugh that rings bells and lights candles and melts away grief.  Extra napkins may be required to mop the face.








Thinking about your Thanksgiving toasts? Making a list of all the things you’re grateful for?  I’m adding new entries this year, a cadre of stalwarts who deserve way more credit than they likely ever get.

Friends, I give you the Grocery Workers on Thanksgiving Week.  Will you join me in raising a glass?

Here’s to the lovely woman in the friendly green branded shirt motoring past me on a mission.  Even at that speed, she noticed me frozen in place in front of the canned fish, searching with furrowed brow for smoked oysters.  Brakes applied, she offered assistance, unasked:  “Help you find something, ma’am?”  Of course, the oysters were right in front of me, a fact she kindly neglected to point out.

And raise your glass high to her colleague, similar shirt with hair net, who appeared magically out of nowhere, a retail EMT dashing to the scene of the emergency.  Ignoring the grocery-aisle speed limit in my typical infernal hurry, I tilted the cart just slightly, like a race car on two wheels rounding the final turn.  A six-pack of beer (bottles, naturally) on the lowest cart shelf chose this moment to leap toward freedom, crashing loudly on the floor, each occupant rolling in the direction of its own choosing.  “Are you OK, ma’am?” she inquired kindly, stooping to chase the rollers I hadn’t yet caught.  Oh, yes! I mumbled, mortified.  Just wondering if any of these are going to blast a top and spray me any second now.  She patiently checked each cap as she returned them to captivity in the carton, securely placed in the deep part of the basket.  “They look OK, but get them to check them one more time when you check out,” she advised.  If her look indicated concern about anyone who would shove a cart at that speed, she was too nice to mention it.

Hail and thank-you to the butcher, who volunteered, unsolicited, to check the stock room for the particular bone broth I sought.  If our gravy tomorrow is any good, it’s all down to him.  “How many would you like?” he asked, breaking open the carton of containers.  Are you kidding, I wonder silently, I have no idea, counting on my uber-chef sister-in-law to coach me on gravy.  Like all the greatest cooks, she rarely mentions specific quantities.  “Three!” I chirped, a wild guess, and reached for them.  Yet he wasn’t finished assisting.  “Can I get you a basket for these?”  Who ARE these people, I’m thinking at this point—escapees from a remote monastery populated by saints?

Finally, lift those glasses high for the smiling young man bagging the purchases at checkout.  Efficiently wedging the last bag into the cart, he looked me in the eye and inquired, “Is there anything else I can do for you today, ma’am?”

I stared at him for a splint second and wondered—where does all this COME from? A great retail operation that actually hires and trains for customer service—a business that manages, all news reports to the contrary, to have plenty of staff on the busiest day of the year?  The friendliness endemic in our lovely small town?  The heritage that embraces all celebrations (and the preparations they require) in our beloved American South?  Some combination of all of these things?

Nope, I got it! I assured him, adding, Happy Thanksgiving! with the biggest smile my exhausted self could muster.  And thinking all the while:  You and your friends have already done so much more than you know, restoring my faith, today of all days, that customer service is not really dead, that kindness still exists among strangers, that there’s a chance I’ll actually having decent gravy for my family.

And you don’t know it, I said silently to his back as he turned to push a cart for another customer and I waited for the glass exit door to slide open, but I’ll be toasting all of you tomorrow.

Note:  G-ma receives no benefits from any commercial enterprises associated with her stories.  She is delighted to acknowledge that the story shared here occurred at Publix in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  Cheers to that team!