We’re Thankful for All the Thanksgivings

It’s been many moons since we were banished to sit at the kids table. We have some 40+ years of Thanksgiving dinners under our belts (literally and figuratively!) and looking back over the years, we’ve realized that celebrating the holiday has as many different variations as a good Thanksgiving dinner.

Just married!

When you are newlyweds in an apartment with a tiny kitchen, no one expects you to host. Instead, they expect you to spend the holiday with your family. But now there’s two families. On the same day.

Since you’ve only been together for a few years, it’s easy to remember that last year you went to his parents, so this year you’re going to yours. You can change it up and go to one family for Thanksgiving and the other for Hanukkah, but given the Jewish calendar and the way holidays migrate, this doesn’t always work. Remember Thanksgivukkah? It was 2013 when Hanukkah started November 26? Now what?

 

We’ve both been married for many, many years – way past the paper or plastic anniversary (no, paper or plastic is something else…) We’ve had holidays upon holidays to keep track of, and it’s no wonder we can’t remember where we were last Thanksgiving. We can’t even remember what we did last Thursday. The memories of where went last year or what we did the year before run together like the gravy into the mashed potatoes. Was last Thanksgiving the holiday when Susan’s in-laws came? Did we go to Sharon’s house last year or was that two years ago? Remember the year the turkey wasn’t cooked through? When was that? 

You’re the grown-ups now

A few years later, you have a house and you offer to host. Your children are very young and your parents aren’t very old, and you have lots of energy and enthusiasm. You invite the whole mishpachah – favorite cousins, a great-grandparent, your sister’s in-laws. This means you buy a folding plastic table and borrow some chairs. You do such a good job that you end up doing it again year after year.

In those days, we cooked everything from scratch. We would wake up at 7 a.m. to get the 28 lb. turkey in the oven. We did organic. We did farmers market order ahead. We did kosher with pin feathers. We did frozen that had to thaw for days.

We wanted to try new recipes. We were younger and had more energy. We fell for the Food Network postings that promise a new twist on old favorites – mashed parsnips instead of potatoes, stuffing with exotic mushrooms, sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin. We proudly displayed the hand-crayoned Pilgrim hat and made Native American corn pudding because the recipe came home from school with our kids. And there was always plenty of desserts.

Guests, not hosts!

Then there are the years you get to be guests, not hosts! A cousin in Brooklyn invited Joyce’s family for the holiday one year. She was so happy to be invited somewhere that she didn’t even mind the shlep up the NJ Turnpike with 2 million other people. It was not only a great dinner but a new Thanksgiving tradition was born that included the latest James Bond movie and a fabulous Lebanese restaurant.

Ellen’s sister has hosted many years, too. One year she rented tables and chairs for 27 people; each table had their own bowl of mashed potatoes and stuffing. It was a great idea to sit in smaller groups. We didn’t have to shout to the other end of the room. (Well, we shouted anyway but that’s our family.) 

When a friend invites us to their home we’re grateful to be part of their family’s gathering. After years of hosting, you truly appreciate all the work involved and the gift it is to be a guest.

The kids’ college years

And then you’re hosting again: You’re so happy that the kids came home, although they are out all weekend catching up with their friends. The crowd swells to include a roommate or two who couldn’t get home for the holidays. All the relatives are excited to see the kids, too. As you look around the table, you realize that you’re the older generation now.

We know better than to try new recipes. If the kids are coming home, they want their favorites – and we want them to enjoy being at home and come back! So we shop and cook and cook and shop until we get everything right. Their favorite mac and cheese recipe. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. Mashed white potatoes and turkey gravy. Chocolate babka just because they like it. Key lime pie even though it’s fall. We try to remember to buy some of that craft beer the boys like and put clean sheets on the extra bed in the spare bedroom.

The off years

Post college, some of the kids are working in other cities and decide not to venture home on the busiest travel day of the year. Siblings and cousins have scattered, and some parents are no longer with us.

Now we peruse the holiday ads. Whole Foods has great sides. A local fancy restaurant has the whole feast for only $125. That’s a deal we are seriously considering. Who would know if we dumped these takeout Brussels sprouts into a fancy serving bowl and passed them around? Instead of opening up the table to its full length, we keep it small so the crowd doesn’t look sparse. It’s easier with a small group, but we miss the tumult.

The COVID years

We’d like to forget the Covid years. The first year, when we were alone and wiping off the groceries and washing everything in sight. The next year, when Zoom was still a novelty, eating separately in our own home, watching family members eat alone in their kitchen. Last year, Ellen’s sister risked hosting a group and we were glad to be with family. She opened the windows so we were freezing but felt the healthy breeze blow through. This year we’re vaxxed and boosted and over it all. 

All grown up

We’re at the age where our kids live on their own, and we’ll basically do anything to be together. We’ll fly them home, even if it’s just for Thursday (because they have to work Friday). We’ll make the holiday dinner again, or at least their favorite parts, whenever they can arrive. 

Then there’s the ultimate delight of being a guest in your child’s home. Joyce is thrilled to be flying to her son’s home in Oklahoma – to sit at his table with his friends and her hubby and daughter and eat the meal her son cooked. She plans to marvel and kvell at how the little boy who once lived on tater tots and chicken nuggets can whip up a delicious gourmet Thanksgiving feast.

We’re so happy to be back celebrating holidays with family and friends, gathering with only half a thought about how many people are in the room. We’re thankful for our husbands and our children, their partners and a new grandbaby. Our parents, our sisters,  good friends and good health!  

Happy Thanksgiving!!

 

 

 

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You Can Call Me Bubbe… or Grandmom or Nana or Gigi

Grandparents’ Day is this Sunday, September 11. And if you’re hoping to be a grandmother soon or in the future, you have a lot of questions. When can I give the baby a taste of vanilla ice cream? Why can’t the crib have bumpers? Are they really considering the name Hudson? But your most pressing question might be: What will the baby call me? We’re moms and we can’t wait to be called any version of Grandmom – or Bubbe or Nonna. 

Some women are comfortable with being called Grandmother. The name doesn’t define them. While they love their gray hair, they also love wearing yoga pants and can do hot yoga. They’re hot Grandmas.  

Some women may think they are too young and fashionable to ever be called “Grandmother” and prefer a kicky nickname. Singer and celebrity chef Patti LaBelle has two Grammys – and two grandchildren, Gia and Leyla, who don’t call her Grammy! LaBelle chose the moniker “Glamom, which fits her glamorous persona – designer clothes, coiffed hair and always fabulous nails. But even if you request a glamorous name, LaBelle says, it doesn’t always work out. Her granddaughters call her “Gamma.”  

In 2019, we wrote Stuff Every Grandmother Should Know (Quirk Press/Random House). In truth, we knew bubkes about being a grandmother, but we  benefitted from having terrific grandmothers. We did a lot of research and interviews – and had fun making up the rules and giving advice.

When it comes to names, the majority of grandmothers pick old favorites like Nana, Grandmom, Grandma and Grammy, while 41% go by a personalized nickname, often a variation of their given name. They want a name that’s modern, personal and a reflection of their personality. For these women, fun-to-say monikers do the trick. We have a friend whose mom is “Big Sal” to the grandkids. Her given name is Sally, but she likes her chosen Grandmom name because to her it implies big celebrations, big presents and big fun with Big Sal.  

Some savvy grandmoms wait for the child to pronounce their name. They think the baby will magically come up with something memorable. And sometimes they do. A babbling baby can make the name game easier. That’s why there are so many variations of easy-to-pronounce syllables like Gigi, Mimi, BeeBee, Baba and such. 

The easy combination of Nana and Grandma led one child to create “Nama.” A toddler who couldn’t pronounce the letter “n” uttered his Grandmom Jean’s name as “Jeat,” and through 10 grandchildren and 30 years it has stuck.

Grandmom Jeat swimming in the bay

 

 

 

 

 

But what if there’s more than one grandmother? If your new grandchild is lucky enough to have two grandmothers, the family needs to come up with two names. What if both want the same name? And if you’re part of a stepfamily or a blended family, there could be a gaggle of grandmothers in the picture who are all looking for nicknames. 

You could add your given name to your status  – Grandmom Sharon, Grandmom Kathy – to avoid confusion. We know a family where both sides wanted to be called “Bubbe,” so the kids had to add an appendage. They took their cue from geography: 25 years ago, our extended in-law’s kids had a beloved Bubbe New York and Bubbe Bethesda.  

Bubbe Bethesda with her son, David

Using a nickname or variation of a given name can also be a good idea for stepchildren who are reluctant to use a form of “mother” or “mom.” You can take the lead – especially if the children are older – and suggest to them, “Call me Susan, if you’d like.”   

Where you live might influence your name choice. The Southern states, for example, have their own set of unique names for grandmothers – Meemaw, Lovey, and Mawmaw are all popular. In our neck of the woods around Philadelphia, you might meet Grandmom Sophie or Grandmom  Pearl but not many Meemaws.

Joyce with Grandmom Sophie, her mother’s mother.

Joyce celebrating her 4th birthday with Grandmom Pearl, her Dad’s mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 




Some families take their cue from their family’s ethnic background. We know a blond Ya-Ya (Greek) who lives at the beach, an Oma (German) who bakes cookies, and a Nonna (Italian) who has a little dog.

Although Joyce’s mother-in-law was known as Grandmom Mitzi, she was the epitome of a Bubbe. When we were writing our Dictionary of Jewish Words, she was our go-to expert on Yiddish words like  farmisht, farchadat, and fapitzed (which she often was!)

1991: Grandmom Mitzi with Ben and Samantha, Joyce’s children.

Even if the kids christen you a crazy name like Big Moo-Moo, it won’t matter in the long run because it’ll be Big Moo-Moo who teaches them to bake thumbprint cookies and bodysurf a wave in the ocean. And tells them the story of the time their mom climbed a tree and couldn’t get down. 

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Taking Yiddish On the Road

We get a thrill when we spot a Yiddish word out on the highway.

After all, we’re logophiles (lovers of words). When we were writing the Dictionary of Jewish Words, we scoured deli menus, synagogue bulletins, book glossaries and more to collect Jewish words. 

These days, Yiddish words are so much a part of American culture. Even Scrabble lets us put down shlep and chutzpah. Yiddish words are everywhere – on TV newscasts, in court decisions, and in newspaper headlines. And everyone calls themselves a maven: There are style mavens, food mavens, tech mavens and word mavens. (Oops, that’s us! But we really are word mavens!)  

No wonder we’ve been spotting lots of Yiddish vanity plates lately.

Having a license plate on your car is required, but paying extra for one that describes your personality is optional. That’s why they’re called “vanity plates.” You have to be someone special to want a car that complains “OY-VAY” every time someone is behind you.

In the U.S., 31 states require a matching license plate on the front and back of your car. So if you pick a Yiddish word for your vanity plate, you’re really making a statement. Other drivers will know who you are coming and going. Hopefully, you’re not SHMUTZ, BUBKES or PUPIK – even though all three are descriptive, short Yiddish words that would fit nicely on a license plate.

Lots of the Yiddish words we love – all the “F” ones like fapitzed, farbissen, farblondjet, farchadat, farkakteh, farklempt, and farmisht – are way too long for a license plate. They’re generally not complimentary either.  

When we’re driving, we admit to occasionally getting all mixed up trying to manage our phone and Google maps at the same time – we’re tsedrayte. But even if we could squeeze those nine letters on our license plate, would we want to admit it?

There’s no one right way to spell a word that didn’t start out as English. The process of changing letters from one language into similar-sounding characters of another language is called transliteration – and it’s not an exact science. When you go from Yiddish to English, there are a few ways you can do it. Which means that if someone beat you to the personalized Bubby plate, you can always go for Bubbe or Bubbie. And if you really procrastinated, you could be forced to go with Bubbiee. There’s someone in California who’s glad there’s more than one way to transliterate Grandmother. 

In many states, the Department of Transportation has a website where you can check if the vanity plate you want is available. We checked in Texas – there should be lots of Yiddish  plates available there, right? We found that this one is up for grabs:

Macher is Yiddish for an operator, a big wheel. It makes us wonder: How big is big in the big state of Texas? We don’t have 100 head of cattle on our ranch or own 60 acres with an oil well.

If one of us puts SHMOOZE on her car and the other puts MAVENS-2, cruising down the highway side by side we’d be “Shmoozing With the Word Mavens!” That’s hard to resist.

 

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