Welcome to the jail, cell

With the family gathering for the holidays, I thought it only polite to alert them that they could be doing jail time. OK, so maybe the family won’t be doing jail time, but their cell phones might.

I got a jail in the mail. Seriously. It’s a little jail cell, a 10-inch cube. It’s plastic with two lock buttons, jail bars and everything. It even has bunk beds and four upright chairs. My jail came in a box from Foresters, an international financial services provider.

It’s an adorable jail and you should get one, too, but Foresters doesn’t sell them. They send them out to media types to promote the idea of enhancing family well-being by committing to putting down your cell phone for at least an hour at every family gathering. It’s a good idea. A sound investment. They’ll see a big return on this one. Bull market all the way. Sorry, sometimes I can’t stop.

Foresters also commissioned a Harris poll, which found that people were most annoyed by family members using devices at Christmas and Thanksgiving. I didn’t think those findings were all that disturbing considering how many people find family members themselves annoying at Christmas and Thanksgiving.

So now that I’ve got a little jail, if someone is rude with a cell phone during the holidays, I will confiscate the device (wish me luck), deposit it in the jail and hit the lockdown button which says, “We find you guilty of disruptions, interruptions and distractions. Lock it up!”

I like it. And yet, I look at my little jail and all I can think of is Johnny Cash and “Folsom Prison Blues.” I suddenly have an urge to wear black.

I hear the train a comin’
It’s rolling round the bend
And I ain’t seen a landline since I don’t know when
I’m stuck in cell phone prison, and tones keep beepin’ on

Yes, this will be the holiday season of “You do the crime, you do the time.”

You have the right to put your device on mute. Any text you send can and will be held against you. You have a right to a recharging station; if you cannot find a recharging station, one will be provided for you.

Of course, with jail comes the inevitable jail break. You don’t need a file in a cake to bust out of this one, more like a stir stick in a Starbucks. Actually, you just snap the lid off the jail and the contraption starts yelling, “Alert! Alert! Breakout in progress!”

The peculiar thing is, in our family the younger generation is pretty good about detaching from devices. It is my media-driven husband and myself who are sometimes reminded by preschool-age grandchildren (coached, of course) that cell phones are inappropriate during family time.

I think I know who’s going to be doing time. At least we won’t be alone.

I hear that ring tone wailing, I hang my head and cry.

Could be a case of thanks but no thanks

I wish my gratitude wasn’t dependent on your misery, but sometimes it is. I’m sorry about that, especially with this being the season of giving thanks and all.

The other day I woke up in a foul mood. I fluffed my pillow with an enthusiasm that bordered on violence. Facing the same old, same old, sitting in the same chair, staring at the same computer seemed like, oh, I don’t know, work.

And then I remembered a friend who has been without a job for nearly a year and I found myself thankful.

Not long after that I saw your car in a parking lot. It had a big dent in the front and the grill was messed up. My car is getting old and dinged these days, but it’s not as bad as yours, so I was thankful.

Sometimes I wish our son lived closer so we could see his family more often. And then I ran into a friend whose daughter lives in London. Ours kids at least live on the same continent that we do, so I was thankful.

There you have it: Thanksgiving relativity—thanksgiving predicated on the notion that it can always be worse.

It’s like that saying, “I wept because I had no shoes and then I met a man with no feet.”

That’s all fine and good for the man with no shoes (he’s feeling pretty good about himself now), but where does that leave the man with no feet? What’s he supposed to do?

A verse in the Old Testament (Psalms 22:3) says God inhabits the praises of his people. If that is true, I wonder where he is living these days. Our praises often seem a bit tenuous.

When our thankfulness is based on having something better, easier or slightly more comfortable than someone else, it’s not gratitude as much as it is an unspoken competition.

While it is always a source of comfort that things haven’t gotten as bad as they could, and probably will, that is not the essence of thankfulness.

What if the Pilgrims had that attitude at the first Thanksgiving?

They would have been quietly giving thanks that they had better clothing than their guests. “This smock may be worn slick and threadbare, but at least my thighs are covered.”

The Indians could have been giving thanks that they didn’t have to eat those bland dishes the Pilgrims kept trotting out. “No wonder they put them on a boat and sent them out to sea.”

The celebrants at the first Thanksgiving didn’t need a measuring stick of comparison to give thanks. They trusted the faithfulness of God all the while living the rhythm of plenty and want, life and death, joy and sorrow. Shortly after that first Thanksgiving marked by abundance, the Pilgrims fell on hard times and suffered again. Yet they continually marked their calendars with days of thanksgiving. They accepted their reality, both the suffering and the ease, and continued to be thankful.

Not a bad model to follow.

Thanksgiving requires a lot of dough

One of my favorite high-end cookware catalogs suggests that in order to cook a turkey this Thanksgiving, I should drop a bundle on a Bluetooth thermometer. It can monitor two temperatures at once, courtesy of a smart phone app. (Don’t test turkey temps and drive!)

If I want to be a truly state-of-the-art cook, I will also need a new blender. Yes, a blender. They’re more important than you think you know, and if it was up to me, I would make sure that everyone had one. Thankfully it is easy to get your hands on one these days, as places like Kitchen Habit have reviewed the best blenders that are currently on the market. This would particularly be useful to people who don’t know which ones to buy. But I know exactly which blender I want. It isn’t just any blender, but a 2-horsepower blender. To pulverize what? The driveway? It says particles are 50 percent smaller than particles pulverized in other blenders. Good to know. Nothing ruins a meal faster than a particle in the 65th percentile.

I might also want to take out a small loan to buy a new set of steak knives before Thanksgiving. They are sharp-looking knives, but listen, if you need steak knives for your Thanksgiving turkey, you’ve got bigger problems than dull knives.

I might also want to drop a couple of Ben Franklins on a technically advanced skillet with ultra-even heating. I might. Or I might just keep seasoning my cast iron skillet. It has such ultra-even heating that even the handle gets red hot.

Home Retail, parent to a chain of do-it-yourself stores in Great Britain, recently announced they will close a quarter of their stores, in part due to the rise of a generation “less skilled in DIY projects.”

We’re all a little less skilled in the basics with each passing generation.

Contemplating the wizardry that would put my Thanksgiving feast on the fast track to smart phone apps, more electrical cords and multiple credit card swipes, I realized some of the best holiday meals I’ve ever had were created by cooks often working without so much as a cookbook.

They learned by doing and I learned by watching.

Sauté chopped onions and diced celery in a pan of butter. A pinch of this, a pinch of that, a dash of salt and sprinkle of pepper. Dry your bread crumbs the night before. A little broth, not too much.

Gravy? Stand back. Once that woman gets to whisking, there’s gonna be a whole lot of shaking going on.

There is something marvelous about tapping the vein of DIY resourcefulness. It makes you feel more human, less mechanized, less controlled, less at the mercy of a digital readout and 2-year warranty.

Knowing how to do a few things with your own hands, independent of expensive gadgetry, is satisfying. Maybe it’s learning to test a bird for doneness by wiggling the drumsticks, cutting butter into flour for a piecrust, sticking a tomato plant in the ground or growing rosemary on a windowsill.

Creating something, making something, enjoying the fruit of our labor and learning the art of improvise when things go wrong, are among our last remaining links to that original band of Pilgrims. They were the ultimate in resourcefulness.

That said, as highly as I esteem resourcefulness, I have been known to buy a box of Bob Evans’ potatoes, microwave them, sprinkle them with parsley and pass them off as my own. I like to think of it as resourcefulness of a modern sort.

Why we all need an aerial view

I recently came across an aerial photograph of my grandparents’ Nebraska farm taken in the 1960s. True to memory, the centerpiece was the big white house with the wraparound porch. Just as I remembered, a narrow ribbon of sidewalk led from the house past the chicken coop, the garage with the door that slid from side to side, the tool shed, the small milk house with the big sink and giant refrigerated tank, directly to the barn.

The black and white picture confirmed my piecemeal Farmmemories and put them together in a larger frame. The farm wasn’t as big as I remembered. It was bigger.

There were giant silos beyond the ground I normally wandered, a hog barn, a shelter for the tractor and the combine, and other structures as well. There was more to the farm than I saw as a kid kicking rocks down the lane.

That simple but sometimes startling reminder-that it is easy to fixate on the parts and lose sight of the whole-may be the most wonderful thing about flying. Actually, these days, it is probably the only wonderful thing about flying.

The plane takes off, the city below grows smaller and grayer, the vehicles and roads lose definition and a giant quilt, shades of green, brown and gold with pools of blue, unfolds below.

So peaceful. And beautiful. Why did I get so worked up about what he did? So vast. Can I even remember what it was that he did? Sheer magnificence. Why does life always seem so hurried?

When you gain perspective, the big things take their rightful places and simple pleasures seem more worthy of pursuit.

It’s good to be reminded.

One morning on that farm, my youngest uncle who still lived at home and was probably in high school at the time, let me ride with him on horseback to round up the cows for milking. We rode beyond the familiar and came to the ridge of the canyon. It was amazing terrain with deep plunging crevices. If the horse stumbled, we’d plummet to the bottom and never make it back out.

That canyon was so unlike the more familiar stretches of rolling hills and surrounding prairie that years later I sometimes wondered if I had imagined it.

I hadn’t. It’s in the aerial. But the small canyon with its ravines didn’t stand alone. Nothing ever does. It eased at both ends giving way to gentle slopes. There would have been several ways out. There often are.

It’s good to be reminded.

Looking at the old photo, I see the work boots that plodded down that sidewalk a thousand times to the dairy barn before daybreak and again in late afternoon, small legs that whipped through the grass, climbed fences and chased barn cats. So many cousins, wild and rambunctious, having fun. As for all the aunts and uncles, many of them are gone now. Only shadows remain.

Perspective compels us to take it all in-the breadth, the depth, the joy and the sorrow. The landforms, the water, the fields and the canyon with the steep ravines, are fixed points. We are the ones forever changing and moving, swiftly passing through.