Happy Valentine’s Day

I know most of you are coupled, or otherwise romantically involved, since that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. But whether you are happily married or, like me, a die-hard single (or anywhere in between), here are some useful tips and interesting facts about what is still my favorite holiday.

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I want to send Valentine’s greetings especially to my family: my parents, my siblings, my niece and nephew (niblings?), my cousins and my aunts. Also, to my friends and neighbors, my Facebook friends, my friends overseas, and everyone who reads and follows Going Forward.

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Hug someone you love today!

Thanksgiving for one

I haven’t been “home” for Thanksgiving (to spend it with my family) for 10 years now. When I was in graduate school, I didn’t have a long enough break between classes to make the trip worthwhile, especially so close to Christmas. It’s not easy driving 9 hours one way alone, then turning around and doing it again two days later. I can’t make myself do it twice in one month, so I have always saved my travel ducats for Christmas with my family and spent Turkey Day by myself since 2002.

This means that every year, I get to do an awkward little dance with a friend, neighbor or co-worker who politely inquires about my plans for the day. “Oh, I’ll just be hanging out with the dogs, probably clean up the yard, maybe catch up on my reading,” I say, and their faces register shock and horror, followed immediately by a heartfelt invitation for me to join their family for dinner. “You must,” they plead, as if it were a matter of life and death that I share that meal with somebody. I always extricate myself as gently as possible, thanking them profusely for their generosity and concern while assuring them that I’ll be just fine, thanks.

If I can’t spend the weekend with my own family, I don’t want to shoehorn myself into somebody else’s family celebration (or drama). I did that only one time, my second year of college when I was 19 years old and alone (and very lonely) in a big city far from home. I don’t remember why I couldn’t go home to my parents’ house that year, but at any rate, I ended up spending the holiday with the family of a friend I had met at camp the summer before. Our acquaintance was shallow to say the least, but she lived in a nearby town only an hour or so away by bus, and at that time, I wholeheartedly shared the general conviction that being with anybody and their family was better than being alone on Thanksgiving, which was just about the worst thing a person could be.

So I got on the bus and went to her house, where she was the only person I knew in a crowd of smiling but unfamiliar faces. She had a brand-new boyfriend, though, and they were so consumed with each other the entire day that I was completely forgotten and ignored by everyone there. I might as well have been invisible for all the attention I got, and I felt myself shrivel inside over the course of the day. The unfamiliar food they served soon made me sick to my stomach, and when I got on the Greyhound to head back to my cold single dorm room in the city, I vowed that I would never again be anybody’s holiday charity case. My first year here in my adopted state, I made a plan for how to celebrate Thanksgiving for one, and it hasn’t missed yet.

  1. Arrange entertainment–books, movies, excursions to the river, whatever sounds like fun–to fill big chunks of the time between Wednesday night and Sunday night.
  2. Schedule at least one project or activity to complete during those four days, such as sorting out a closet, completing a school assignment, or cleaning up the yard for the winter. This provides a goal for the holiday and makes one feel productive.
  3. Plan a special meal that requires shopping and cooking. Being a single person alone is no excuse to settle for eating leftovers, a frozen pizza or cheap take-out on Thanksgiving. I am a pretty good cook–at least, I like my own cooking, and that’s all that matters. 😉

For the last couple of years, I’ve made Rustic Skillet Herb Stuffing, which I think is just about the best thing ever. I make it just the way the recipe says, except (there’s always an exception) I leave out the mushrooms and add cooked turkey sausage instead so that it’s a full-course meal in one pot.

I had to get creative this year because the tubes of Jennie-O turkey breakfast sausage and plain ground turkey are right next to each other in the case, and I thought I had reached for the sausage but somehow grabbed the plain instead and there was no way in hell I was going back to the grocery store today. So I looked up a couple of sausage recipes online and then did what all good cooks do: improvised with what I had on hand. I tossed in sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt, pepper, a dash of red pepper and paprika, and a spoonful of brown sugar, which turned that plain ground turkey into the best darn sausage I’ve ever tasted, thank you very much!

This recipe looks really easy at first glance, but I should warn you that all the veggie chopping takes one not-exactly-adept cook about an hour.

stuffing makings

Stuff that must be chopped: 1 loaf of bread, two kinds of onions, celery, four kinds of fresh herbs, and garlic. Plenty of prep!

If you decide to make it, don’t be tempted to substitute dried herbs for the fresh, or it won’t even be worth your while. The fresh herbs are what make this dish special. I baked it in a 5-quart Dutch oven, half an hour with the lid on and half an hour with the lid off. It was perfect. Along with a bottle of wine and a small pumpkin pie, I had everything I needed for a satisfying feast. I also didn’t have to worry about taking care of or pleasing anyone else, navigating any tricky social waters, or disappointing anyone by what I did or did not do. There’s really a glorious freedom in being single that is often overlooked and unappreciated at this time of year, but I try to keep the benefits of it always in sight.

Don’t get me wrong: If I had my druthers, I’d spend Thanksgiving with my entire family this year and every year, but until the logistics turn in favor of that happening, I’m quite happy with my solo celebration. Here in my house with my dogs, I actually am “home” for the holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you were happy at home with your loved ones today, too.