Monthly Archives: November 2013

Let’s Talk Turkey – Seven Rules From My Thanksgiving Table

Ah, Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for so many things.

One of them is good writing, like Wall Street Journal writer Jason Gay’s Rules for Thanksgiving Football.

Hilarious stuff, even if you didn’t grow up playing touch football on
Turkey Day (I didn’t) and openly resist being cajoled into playing as an adult (I do).


Personally I’d rather skip the football and stay in the kitchen, preparing the inevitable buffet of ice packs and Advil for when the “athletes” return triumphant (or not).  But Mr. Gay’s writing has inspired me to make my own list of rules.

The dinner table on Thanksgiving Day has been my training ground; it’s what I know and where I can win. Follow my Seven Rules and you’ll emerge unscathed from this Thanksgiving.

1.      Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.

Thanksgiving is a mastication Olympics which requires complex navigation of the obstacle course of family drama.  Don’t go into it cold.

If you’re commuting, spend the drive briefing your family so everyone’s ready.  Identify dangerous territory (your cousin’s divorce) and rough terrain (the last election).  Establish rules of engagement (“You will help with the dishes and not migrate to the living room after dinner!”).  And most important – have an exit strategy.  Doctors with pagers figured this one out years ago.

If you’re hosting, don’t wait until the first overloaded minivan pulls into your driveway to remind everyone to graciously accept the sloppy casserole dishes.  Make sure they know not to gag on the obligatory sip of your uncle’s homemade wine. And don’t let anyone mention your sister’s tattoo in front of Grandma.Face Tattoos For Girls

2.     No Personal Announcements Regarding Foods You Don’t Eat / Can’t Eat / Choose Not to Eat for Political or Other Reasons.

This is not an AA meeting; no one will welcome your standing proudly to declare your allegiance to raw foods or your preference for white meat.  While it may be gossip fodder after you leave, the rest of the table isn’t interested in your Paleolithic diet or what gluten does to your stools.

If you can’t see your way to an honest plate of turkey, stuffing, and gravy (mmm…gravy), shut up and pick at the cranberry sauce.  It’s vegan.

3.     There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Butter.

Or garlic.  Or pie.

This rule obviously speaks for itself.

4.     Keep a Sharp Eye On The Pets.

You aren’t the only one who noticed the olfactory opium that is Roasting Turkey (thanks in no small part to the butter and the garlic).  Your dog has been drooling on the floor all day.  During dinner, you’ll notice him clumsily circumnavigating the table, waiting for someone, anyone, to drop something.


Cats are another story.  They’ve been silently plotting for hours, watching and waiting for the right time to strike.  Don’t underestimate them.  One year my blissfully ignorant family enjoyed a leisurely meal in the dining room in while the cat gorged himself on the carcass, which had been left unattended on the kitchen counter.

Cat – 1.  Turkey Soup – 0.

5.     Regarding the Consumption of Beer, Wine and Spirits – It’s All Good.

Whatever charming little rules you normally live by (no cocktails before 5:00, no liquor on weekdays, no more than one case of beer during a football game), throw them out the window on Thanksgiving.  If you have your hand up a turkey’s butt before the sun is fully up, anything can happen.  Plus, you have relatives coming. Bottom’s up!

6.     Politics and Religion are Fair Game.

Do you really expect everyone will limit conversation to the weather and the smoothness of the gravy, all day long?  At some point, even the richest gossip about The Family Member Who Isn’t There will fizzle out, and someone will quote Fox News.  Someone else will mention Politico.  Go with it.  Make sure there’s plenty of wine.

This rule is not for amateurs.

7.     The TV Stays On.

Yes, it’s dinnertime.  Yes, you’re using the good china.  But the Lions are still on.

This might be the year they win, and do you want to be responsible for making everyone miss it?  Someday posterity will ask your kids, “Do you remember where you were when the Lions won on Thanksgiving?” Do you want them to shuffle their feet, hang their heads in shame, and admit that during that momentous event they were instead listening to Aunt Betty list every ingredient in her grandmother’s stuffing?

I didn’t think so.


If you decide to leave the house and play a little football of your own (say the Lions are down 31-3 with 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter and Matt Stafford just left the field with a concussion), good luck.  Stay safe.  Read more of Jason Gay’s rules.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


This Veteran’s Dirty Little Secret

And so begins the annual Veterans Day marathon of back-slapping patriotic fervor: 24 hours of feel-good stories about veterans and their dedicated service.  Former soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines can reminisce about their good old days on active duty, and the rest of America will nearly burst from grateful appreciation.  But guess what?

I don’t miss it.

I’m glad to be a civilian.  There – I said it.  I did my time, paid my dues, walked down the gangplank for the last time and never looked back.  On this Veterans Day, I’m celebrating by remembering all the reasons I don’t miss being in the Navy.

The Unflattering Uniforms

Two words: Demi Moore.  She’s an ageless beauty who oozes sex appeal from every pore, but do you remember her in A Few Good Men?  She looked like an overgrown school boy with sausage legs.  If she couldn’t make dress whites look good, there was absolutely no hope for the rest of us.

Demi Moore in her whites

Demi Moore in her whites

Me in my whites

Me in my whites









I Am Not a Morning Person

Golden sunrise clouds and rising sun above sea , Atlantic Ocean

A little bit of my spirit died every time I had to get up before the sun.  What is the military obsession with starting everything at zero dark thirty? Early morning ops are apparently considered a selling point (see this US Army ad from 1981). My goal for the rest of my civilian life is to never again watch the sunrise (although I have to admit, they were pretty spectacular over the ocean…).

I Am Not a Middle of the Night Person, Either

Three a.m. is when I like to be sleeping, not sucking down gallons of super-strong coffee while staring at an empty, black sea or an empty, black radar screen (empty because even our sworn nautical enemies aren’t crazy enough to stay up all night).  My watch team and I did more between midnight and 6 am than most people do in a whole day, but apparently that wasn’t a considered a very compelling recruiting message.

Friendship Lights are Not Your Friends

friendship lightsI worked in the electrical division of an aircraft carrier on a Mediterranean deployment, and we had the unenviable task of rigging the friendship lights in every port.  While our shipmates headed out on liberty, we were untangling a thousand feet of electric light strings.  While our shipmates were drinking themselves silly in the nearest bar, we were replacing burned out light bulbs.  While our shipmates enjoyed the pleasures of a good meal, we were trying to get the strings of lights to stay lit on their riggings.  And when our shipmates were sleeping soundly after a wonderful night on the town, I was having anxiety dreams about the lights flickering off.

Good times.

My division rigging the friendship lights in the Med.  Notice the chief supervising with coffee mug in hand.

My division rigging the friendship lights in the Med. Notice chief at left, supervising with coffee mug in hand.

Water, Water, Every Where, Nor Any Drop To Drink

Samuel Taylor Coleridge pegged this one correctly – navy ships never have enough water.  I lived on an impressively complicated and fully-functioning city with a nuclear reactor below and an airport above, but despite being surrounded by the world’s oceans I went six months without ever completely rinsing my hair. In the best of times, the water was strictly rationed and difficult to coax from the nozzles of “navy showers.”  In the worst of times, the water was nonexistent.  Half the time, it inexplicably tasted and smelled like jet fuel. Every time I lose my keys or call one of my kids by the wrong name, I’m blaming the jet fuel.

I know I’m not the only veteran who’s happy to leave certain trappings of military life behind.  Many colleagues who attended the United States Naval Academy (which attracts more than a million tourists annually to its picturesque campus) admit that their favorite view of the school is “the one in my rear view mirror.”

United States Naval Academy

United States Naval Academy

On this Veterans Day, I hope my fellow veterans and former shipmates will join me in celebrating by sleeping in late, taking a LONG hot shower (maybe even a bath!), and drinking a beer while not worrying about burned out light bulbs or anything else.

They are the one thing I will always miss about my good old days on active duty.  Truth be told, I am bursting with grateful appreciation for their friendship and camaraderie.

Happy Veterans Day!

The Other Volunteer Army

Less than 1% of the US population currently serves in the active duty military or in the reserves.  Since the draft was discontinued in 1973, the all-volunteer military has stepped up while the rest of us focus on taking pictures of our food and wondering what Kim Kardashian is up to.

There’s another volunteer army in America that is manned by a dedicated group of heroes who work tirelessly while others sit idly by. It is fiercely and efficiently devoted to its mission.  In fact, this army raises 100% of its own budget and has zero issues with sexual harassment.

It’s your friendly neighborhood Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).

n-SCHOOL-DESKS-large570That’s right – somewhere in the bowels of your local elementary school AT THIS MOMENT, moms and dads are bravely squeezing into tiny seats and bumping their knees on tiny desks while being briefed on their next mission.

As someone who’s served as a volunteer in both the US military AND the PTO at two elementary schools, I can attest that these two armies are more similar than you might imagine.  Here’s how:

Recruiters Will Say Anything

uncle sam

“This job is simple.”  “The silent auction practically runs itself.”  “The volunteers are just waiting until the last minute to sign up.”  Lies – all lies!  Never believe the pitch, because once you sign on the dotted line it is all YOU.  An Army of One, so to speak.  Good luck!

Anyone Can Become a Four-Star General

You gotta love a meritocracy like this.  Your gender, your age, your PhD in quantum physics – none of it matters.  Everyone starts as a foot-soldier (a one hour shift at the ice cream table during the annual picnic) and anyone can become PTO President.  Really, anyone.  Anyone?  Do I see any hands?

You Will LOVE Leave and Liberty

Every once in a while, you get to breathe.  When the annual outdoor carnival (your biggest fundraiser!) has just closed and those menacing clouds never amounted to anything, when the last book fair register is turned off and the cash box turned over to the treasurer – a glass of wine awaits.  Kick back and unleash you inner drunken sailor – you’ve earned it.

group-of-young-women-exercising-in-a-gymPT (Physical Training) is a Must

Ever notice how some PTO’s promote Zumba classes, group yoga, or even boot-camp style workouts?  It’s not just so we’ll look better in our sweatpants;  this work requires muscle.  In my PTO years I have personally helped unload a semi-truck of unassembled playground equipment, moved a piano numerous times, and hauled Christmas trees around a sales lot.  All without spilling my latte.  Ooh-rah!



Specialization is Encouraged

It’s not enough to be a grunt in today’s PTO: we need expertise, and if you have it, you will be heavily recruited.  Our organization is always looking for hospitality specialists who will make those famous crème de menthe brownies for everybake_sale_header function.  If you can draw beyond stick figures and/or know someone who owns a print shop, you’re the new marketing department.  If your garage contains a snow blower or a chain saw, welcome to a career in heavy equipment leasing.  And God help you if you know how to use QuickBooks, because you just became lifetime Treasurer.

Retirement Benefits are Great

You’ll receive 50% of your salary plus continue your health benefits for the rest of your life after 20 years of service.*

Everyone is Replaceable

Like in the real military, attrition is part of life in the PTO.  Kids graduate; parents move on. Difficult as it may be to believe, someone else will run the carwash and write the newsletter, and the earth will keep spinning on its axis.  The school bell will still ring.

Your Community Will Appreciate You and Recognize You With a Holiday and Parade

Actually, no.  This is only for the real military.  If only!

flags at parade

These Troops Deserve the Thanks of a Grateful Nation

IFSo thank a PTO parent today.  Unlike military heroes, they aren’t heavily decorated with medals and ribbons.  They don’t sport chevrons and gold braid.  They can be identified by the bags under their eyes, the venti cups of caffeine in in their hands, and the overflowing bags of school-related supplies spilling from their filthy minivans.

Thanks, fellow PTO parents.  I salute you!



*50% of nothing is nothing.  Anyway, no one has been known to remain sane after 20 years of PTO service.  Retirement will actually cost you more than being on active duty, because without all those parent socials you’ll be stuck buying your own wine.