The Time I Saved Thanksgiving

I know Thanksgiving isn’t for another two days, but I’ve already celebrated twice.

My best friend Brittany is home from Tennessee for Thanksgiving (or actually, pre-Thanksgiving since she’s leaving before the actual holiday), and she’s been getting in as much turkey consumption as possible.

I was first invited to her boyfriend’s Friendsgiving celebration, so I asked what to make (as a terrible cook who experiences extreme anxiety when it comes to potlucks). Brittany told me to bring some stuffing, since that was the only Thanksgiving food group not represented.

No problem.

In fact…the opposite of a problem. Stuffing is such a crowd-pleaser at Thanksgiving. I felt like I had been assigned the turkey, but with much less responsibility.

So I planned to go to Kroger and find the finest almost-but-not-quite-made stuffing that I could. And what do you know! They had marked all Stove Top stuffing boxes 4 for $5. I read the label, and got even more jazzed, because basically all you have to do is add the boxed contents to boiling water. I’ll show up with the stuffing, prepare it in six minutes or less, and instantly become the life of the party.

Thanksgiving is quickly becoming my favorite holiday.

So I arrive at Friendsgiving, excited to see everyone and more excited to contribute to the meal. I set my bag down and pulled out the boxes of stuffing, trying to figure out where I could start preparing it.

But instead of the gratitude I had been expecting, the thrill over the fact that the best dish had finally arrived, I received looks of judgment, disgust, and a very blunt request to please put away my boxes of instant stuffing. I tried to point out that this was brand name instant stuffing, in case anyone missed the label (because, as I’d been shopping at the grocery store earlier, I reasoned that Thanksgiving is not a time for frugality). But no one seemed to care; they made me shamefully put it away in a corner and sit down to eat everyone else’s homemade Thanksgiving dishes that they had worked hard to prepare all day apparently from scratch. [Side note to those who attended this Friendsgiving: there were three different dishes of macaroni and cheese; why didn’t you ask one of them to bring stuffing if you were sooooo concerned about it?]

Fast forward to the next day. Brittany’s family decided to celebrate Thanksgiving the Sunday beforehand, since she would be going back to Tennessee in a couple of days. Again, always afraid to show up empty-handed, I arrived with a bag full of…you guessed it, Stove Top stuffing. You know, the rejected boxes.

Another side note, this time not just to those who attended Friendsgiving: Brittany’s grandma has been working on perfecting her stuffing recipe all year for this occasion. She’s been telling everyone about it, even calling her family members, multiple times, to make sure they remember how hard she’s worked and how good it’s going to taste. So when I walked through the door with armloads of boxed Stove Top instant stuffing, she was less than amused. She thanked me for the thought, but told me that stuffing was covered. “In fact,” she had said, picking my bag up from the kitchen counter, “Let me just get it out of the way.” She proceeded to put my insulting bag of Stove Top in the guest bedroom, tucked tightly into the farthest corner of the house.

Subtle.

Anyway, I continued to enjoy the hors d’oeuvres and company, and tried hard to forget about my unwanted contribution. More people started to arrive, the beer and wine continued to flow, and dinner was quickly coming together.

When all of a sudden.

And, I just want to clarify to everyone at the Hayes family Thanksgiving, everyone reading this, and everyone that was a cop questioning me about the incident: I had NOTHING to do with it.

Brittany’s dad had been busy cooking shrimp all day. He had just finished another batch and brought it to the table of snacks, quickly because apparently they were burning his hands. I’m not sure exactly what happened because LIKE I SAID, I wasn’t involved. But I heard something shatter and when I turned around, I saw him scooping shards of wine glass out of Grandma’s famous cornbread stuffing.

Have you ever witnessed a car accident, train wreck, plane crash, or old woman having her heart broken?

Then you know how we all felt when Grandma discovered that her stuffing had been tainted by a substance toxic to humans and that Thanksgiving 2015 was officially ruined.

If only someone had brought—

“Rachel…why don’t you go grab your…um…”

Grandma, you don’t have to ask twice. I ran into the guest bedroom, and found my bag. I brought all of the boxes out to the kitchen; boil water, add contents…and voila. The stuffing was ready just in time to save Thanksgiving.

This year, we all enjoyed a very hearty and well-balanced Thanksgiving meal, with a completely appropriate amount of macaroni and cheese.

Anyway, I don’t want to dub myself a Thanksgiving hero. But the fact of the matter is, Stove Top rarely comes with shards of glass.

Madame Zola’s Spirit Room

Just a few days ago, my twin brothers took the plunge into official adulthood and turned 30.

My mom, always one to acknowledge big events, secretly invited our whole family to Richmond to surprise my brothers on their birthday. But she wanted to come up with something more exciting than the usual dinner and gifts and cake and ice cream.

So she came up with the idea to try an “Escape Room.” They’ve been popping up everywhere, and who better to try it with than your highly intelligent family?

(Completely unrelated sidenote: they read this blog).

We all met at the Martin’s next to Ravenchase Adventures to surprise the new 30-year-olds. Once they finally arrived and the “Oh, what! I had no idea you would be here!” was over, we all shuttled next door to our Escape Room destination.

We checked in and waited in the lounge for our room to be ready. The room we selected was called Madame Zola’s Spirit Room. Back in the 1892, Madame Zola, communicator of the dead, summoned a spirit of great evil to kill her lover’s mistress. The spirit, however, possessed great power and ended up killing them both. It became our job to free both Madame Zola and the mistress’s souls from the confines of the chamber.

So you know, just another Saturday.

Once we got there, they ushered us into the Room and gave instructions. Basically: try to find an alternative exit other than the one you came through, and don’t destroy our props. Also, there is a Ouija board in the middle of the room commanded by Madame Zola’s spirit that will answer your questions.

Okay good luck!

First, of course, we asked the Ouija board where to find the alternative exit. Tired of the same joke I’m sure, the person controlling the magnetic dial under the table (er, I mean, the spirit of Madam Zola) told us to search for the clues (you idiots).

So we set off. Throughout the allotted hour (which actually only took us 45 minutes because my family is incredibly smart), we solved puzzles, picked up keys, and put together word clues. We discovered that we needed to find five voodoo dolls to put on Satan’s altar (as you do). So we all worked in small teams or individually, unearthing keys to locked boxes and codes to safes to find our voodoo dolls.

Finally, with very little help from Madame Zola (listen, lady, we know that the clues are important), the secret passageway opened up and we were able to get out. My family members, if I haven’t mentioned it before, are very intellectually gifted (just a quick reminder to the aunts and uncles out there, Christmas is not that far away) and we were able to figure it out in a short amount of time.

They said our particular room has a 48% success rate. To be honest, I have a very hard time believing that only 48% of groups were able to decode all of the clues and puzzles that were not-so-secretly hidden. Unless the other 52% imbibed harder on the free cans of Yuengling than we did. Otherwise, I have to admit I think the company may be trying to make people feel smarter than other Escape Room consumers (which, by the way, my family is).

Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns of the Escape Room and would definitely go back. It’s great for families, groups of friends, corporate events, or to show off how smart you are. And they even have rooms suited for double dates (or just four people who enjoy each other’s company platonically).

And the best part is, you don’t have to be as amazingly cunning and clever as my family. Although it certainly helps.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, or “National Novel Writing Month,” is an annual novel writing project that brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world. The goal is for each participant to complete an approximately 50,000-word novel by the end of the month.

I know it sounds a little extreme to crank out a novel in a mere 30 days, but the point is not to complete a work of perfection in this time. It’s just to get procrastinating writers like myself to get all of those ideas floating through their heads onto paper and into a complete rough draft.

Well, my goal when I got home from Europe, aside from finding a job and finally learning how to poach an egg, was to write more.

A coworker (because I found a job, check.) mentioned that she was thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo, and asked that since I’m a writer would I like to participate as well so we could be writing buddies? Well, I don’t think this egg-poaching thing is ever going to happen (HOW do you prevent the whites from falling apart??), so I figured I should keep at least one of my resolutions.

The only problem is, NaNoWriMo started yesterday and I don’t know what to write a novel about.

I have however, in between all of my breaks to drink tea/look out the window/Instagram/stare at a blank screen, started a list of potential plots.

On the Road Again

Legendary American rock star Molly Archer has lived hard and fast on the edge since she got into the music business. A long-time heroin user, she dies instantly at the age of 42 from an overdose. Her teenage daughter Carmen goes on a yearlong trek through the country to Molly’s old haunts, meeting the people who so heavily influenced her mother and trying to understand the mysterious Molly who abandoned her long ago.

Underground Railroad

Five strangers suddenly find themselves trapped in a subway car during the worst hurricane of the decade. With record-breaking winds overhead and a lot of time to kill, they soon realize that they all have more in common than they thought.

The Widower

Charles Miller becomes a widower after his wife of 54 years passes away. Now that he’s living on his own, he finds a smaller and more manageable home in which to reside. Always a logical and no-nonsense kind of man, Charles isn’t bothered by the house’s old age, close proximity to a cemetery, and rumored “hauntings.” But a lot of strange and unexplainable things start to happen, forcing Charles to face some secrets of his past; and he begins to learn that perhaps his wife had some secrets of her own…

Todd the Tadpole Learns to Swim

A tadpole is born to two proud frogs. Learn about the ups and downs of Todd’s journey as he discovers just how hard growing up can be for a tadpole!

Cafeholics Anonymous

“Nobody’s perfect. We all have our vices,” thinks Vivian J., as she shakily reaches for her third cup of coffee that morning. Follow the stories of Vivian J., Mark S., Derrick P., and many other Cafeholic Anonymous members as they share their daily struggles to resist reaching for that hot cup of java. The jitters, alertness, over-productivity, and collapse of all meaningful relationships have inspired cafeholics all over to “Say No to the Joe.”

Piece of Cake

Brenda Byrne has been a professional cake maker for thirty years in her small New England town. Amongst weddings, anniversaries and birthdays, the cake business is booming for Brenda. But when Brenda is asked to bake for the wedding of the mayor’s daughter, Brenda learns that her job isn’t always a piece of cake!

Todd the Tadpole Learns to Jump

A heart-warming sequel to Todd the Tadpole Learns to Swim, devoted fans of Todd can continue to follow his path into froghood.

Pledge of Allegiance

Sugar Lane Summer Camp has been filled with sing-a-longs, s’mores, and silliness every year since anyone can remember. But this summer, a new camp director is in charge; Lieutenant Clint Stuyvesant is a retired military war hero with a lot of ideas of how things are supposed to work. Under Lieutenant Stuyvesant’s dictation, the beloved Sugar Lane becomes more of a boot camp than an enjoyable summer break for kids. In between the 5am wake up calls and physical conditioning routines, can the campers and counselors convince Clint to change his ways?

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

John Ferraro has worked every day of his life since he turned 15. Now the long-time CEO of a huge corporation, he has everything he ever wanted: a huge house, a shiny car, and millions of dollars to boot. But as he nears his upcoming 60th birthday, he starts to wonder if money and success aren’t the only things life is about. When the 8-year-old Sally Madison moves next door, she and John form an unexpected relationship. The bubbly and optimistic Sally shows John that life has so much more meaning than he thought.

Todd the Tadpole Gets Eaten by a Pelican

The series is over!

The Blindside

A girl suddenly goes blind because she’s been STARING AT HER COMPUTER SCREEN TOO LONG BECAUSE SHE CAN’T THINK OF A PLOT FOR THIS NOVEL SHE FOOLISHLY AGREED TO WRITE.

The Girl Who Finally Came Up with a Plot and Wrote a Novel in a Month and It Got Published and Became a National Bestseller

You’ll just have to read this one to find out what it’s about!