Little Details

Finding balance

Dec. 2, 2010

By Katherine Bielawa Stamper

It’s 5:15 a.m. on Black Friday. Leftovers from our Thanksgiving meal are packed away in an overstuffed fridge. Remnants from a puff pastry and seitan “roast,” cranberry-orange relish, sweet potatoes and myriad other side dishes jostle for position.

A not-too-sweet pumpkin pie, a signature dish my husband and daughter make from scratch, invites indulgence, but not at this early hour. An apple pie from Adams Apple Orchard & Farm Market teases from the corner. I give in, for just a sliver.

Carrying a sense of gratitude seems important as we enter the wonderful and frenetic holiday season. Resting beside me on the kitchen table is a stack of store advertisements, thicker than the daily newspaper.

Slogans leap from the page, proclaiming, “Happy ThanksSAVING Days,” “Our Lowest Prices Ever,” “Over 500 Door Busters,” “Open Friday at 3 am,” “Over 300 Door Busters,” “Over 599 Door Busters,” “Be the Santa,” “Hurry in! While supplies last,” “5-11 am Deals,” “Your first stop 4 am Friday!” “We’ll pass out tickets up to two hours before 5 am store opening,” “Line up early — get ‘em before they’re gone,” “Holiday on Wheels,” “Shop early, shop late, save big, ALL DAY” and “Save money. Live better.”

Somehow, I’m not moved to rush to the stores. I’m not inclined to buy, Buy, BUY on Black Friday. Gifts I like to give are holiday treats — homemade cookies, truffles and deep, dark, Guinness-infused gingerbread. If inspired, I might also write a holiday story. Packages are sent to family residing in faraway states, reflecting recipes from our Vermont kitchen. Nieces and nephews receive savings bonds and delectable Lake Champlain Chocolates. At home, we aim for experiential gifts as much as possible.

I reflect on the 13 people, ranging in age from 9 to 79, who graced our Thanksgiving table. We indulged each other’s company amid the sweet and savory flavors of the season. Bathed in candlelight while inhabiting mismatched, somewhat rickety chairs, our potluck celebration accommodated carnivore, vegetarian, gluten-free and kosher constituencies. We brought to the table interests in teaching, history, music, social work and even dentistry.

Dinner parties at our house include a small Adirondack basket passed from guest to guest. Each person retrieves a slip of paper containing a question to read aloud and answer. Questions are often geared toward a specific theme. At Thanksgiving, we focus on gratitude.

I share a sampling of our questions:

• Tell about a time you felt really grateful.

• Share a funny Thanksgiving memory.

• Tell about a kindness someone recently showed toward you.

• Tell about a kindness you bestowed upon someone else.

• Take us to a holiday meal from your childhood.

• If you could invite a famous person to our Thanksgiving table, who would it be? What would you ask him or her?

• Tell about a special teacher who went out of her or his way to be kind to you.

• Tell about a trip you’ve taken for which you will forever feel great gratitude.

• Share a memory about something your parents did for you for which you are grateful.

Somehow, dinner tastes even better when we engage each other in conversation, sharing stories from our lives. Connections are made across plates of food when we chime in with a, “that reminds me of the time ….” This activity insures that each voice is heard, young and old, bold and less bold.

Our table reflected gratitude for grandchildren who spend time with their grandparents, grandmothers who teach grandsons to make lasagna, a long-saved-for family trip to England, the occasional humor that crops up at Passover Seders and a wonderful teacher at Williston Central School named Julie Longchamp.

Shopping is a part of the holiday season. Soon enough, I’ll enter the fray for, hopefully, short, well-planned buying. I understand that consumption fuels our economy, preserving jobs.

Life is about balance. Share your bounty. Share your food. Share your stories.

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston. Reader comments are welcome at or