The day has come and gone and yet I still love Thanksgiving: before, during and after. This is no fleeting affection for the holiday du jour, rather, I simply enjoy every aspect of Thanksgiving. There is the anticipatory build up followed by the indulgent consumption of food, drink and good times. Of course, no entertaining is complete without the self-imposed pressure deadline of trying to ready the house for the arrival of guests. For some, this involves pulling out a few decorations, ironing a tablecloth, and pre-making the stuffing. For us, it was a mad dash to try and complete one of the two rooms we have torn apart in our endless renovation projects. On this front, we failed.
Just weeks before hosting US family and local friends to this year’s Thanksgiving, we introduced chaos. We decided that the 70’s style ceiling in the living room had to go, largely because we needed to better insulate this room and once we removed the wood planks comprising the ceiling, there would be no putting them back again. This decision took us nearly 18 months to make, but once made, we began the project; just a few short weeks before guests arrived.
With no place to put the furniture, we worked around it. Any one who has ripped out a ceiling knows that this is messy work with years of dirt, dust, nests for mice, water damaged insulation, rotten wood and other unidentifiable objects falling down onto the floor, or in our case, the furniture we were working around. We would clear as we went along, but more than once I heard myself saying allowed, “Why didn’t we take seriously the mess this would create and move stuff?” There are no answers.
So next, we started to sand the beams. Dust. Dirt. More dust. Seeing the beauty of the wood of the newly exposed beams was exciting, but we needed to treat them for woodworm. This noxious smelling liquid had us feeling light-headed, even with all the windows opened. And with all the windows open, we were cold. Of course, we didn’t stop there: We had the new boiler installed and the windows in the bedroom replaced. The scaffolding, which was constructed to install the windows, broke our soak-away pipe. And après-pos of nothing, we developed an oil leak to the Aga while all of this work was underway. Another noxious smell, and a tedious project of eliminating said smell, added to our collection of projects. Still, we soldiered on like those original settlers to the new world: hopeful and determined to survive the winter!
As every school child learns in the US, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England in 1620 with 102 passengers on board embarking on a dangerous and miserable 66 days of crossing “the pond”. During their first winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, suffering from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. For those Pilgrims and Puritans who survived to see their first spring, summer and fall in the new world, Thanksgiving was a celebration for being alive and having a reasonably good harvest. This feast was shared with the Native Americans who taught these original settlers how to survive in this new world. This holiday probably has some roots to traditional harvest festivals and religious worship, but today, Thanksgiving is a time to get together with friends and family in a secular celebration around a table of succulent foods.
When I lived in the States, I would make my annual pilgrimage up to Connecticut to spend the weekend with my cousins. Often, there might be as many as twenty people gathered around the table to enjoy traditional Thanksgiving foods. Roger’s first American Thanksgiving – and first time of meeting any of my family — was spent at this table. The countryside in this part of the US is beautiful, the company is always terrific and the food is worth second helpings even when stuffed to the gills! Perhaps more importantly, hosting several guests over a weekend and providing copious amounts of food and drink appear effortlessly on the parts of my cousin-hosts. And the house is never under construction during the festivities!
What were we thinking with our renovation timing? This year’s Thanksgiving at our house – the first we’ve hosted at Crockern – would have sitting around the table the very people for whom I have spent over 20 Thanksgivings? Nothing moves a project along better than a deadline.
Faced with the contents of the living room scattered higgledy-piggledy throughout the house and the time ticking away, we turned to our last resort: We shut the door on the ceiling project room, rearranged the furniture in the rest of the house, and did a big clean. It took days as the dust had drifted throughout and landed on just about every possible surface. Next, we focused on securing food and wine. Turkey is traditional, but we opted for something local and seasonal, and who doesn’t like the idea of buckshot-avoidance while eating? I went shopping for pheasant, local cheeses, and more than a few delectable yummies. Roger headed to the wine shop and stocked up. My cousins, in keeping with the Thanksgiving tradition, arrived with pumpkin pies and the fixin’s for some traditional cranberry sauce. We were set!
In the end, it turned out well. We shut off the back part of the house, placing the construction zone behind closed doors. We chopped and sautéed onions and garlic, set the table and lit the wood burner. The food was a success, the fireplace ablaze with a lovely warm glow, the wine flowed easily, and with our new snazzy boiler and bedroom windows, the house was warm and dry. In another week, we should have the ceiling completed and then begin the big push for the downstairs project (damp proof, build walls, stairs, lay flooring and install a new bathroom). By next year’s Thanksgiving, the back half of the house should be done. One can only hope, and then be thankful!