The familiar soft sizzle of lefse hitting the hot skillet grabs my attention. I stand outside of my parents’ trailer under a shade canopy. The sun’s rays still reach my legs below my knees as I take my turn at the propane stove. My mom forms walnut-sized balls of dough and Sarah learns how to roll the lefse out to an even thickness and correct size.

My mouth waters in anticipation. For the first time ever, we prepare our traditional Thanksgiving feast outside. The temperature hovers around 90, and we’ve put off starting the main ingredient of a Bonlie-Strawn-Ojeda Thanksgiving until the shade canopy covers the stove (attached to the trailer).

I hear Sarah and Mom chatting about Sarah’s wedding plans, and the deeper voices of Pedro and my dad as they fill sand bags. The shovel slices through the sandy dirt and clinks on the rim of the chimney pipe inside the bag. I look over my shoulder and see Dad climb to the top of the wall and start tamping another sand bag in place. He’s building a modern-day adobe structure (sandbag bricks held together with cement) around a shipping container.

Dad working on a holiday is a familiar occurrence in our family. We don’t watch parades or football games, or have a friendly game of ball in the back yard. A holiday provides the perfect time to work together. No two holidays ever look the same. Maybe one or two out of a hundred looks like something from a magazine (those hosted by my little sister, perhaps).

Of Bees and the Familiar

When my turn to roll out the lefse comes around, I get distracted by the bees. We’ve never had to contend with honeybees on Thanksgiving before. But then, we’ve never prepared lefse outside, either. We’ve cooked it over a wood stove the year we had no electricity due to an ice storm. One year we cooked it over a camping stove inside the shell of an unfinished house.

My first attempts at solo lefse making ended up with a flour-covered kitchen and an exasperated husband. He vowed that we would never try it again (but of course we did, it’s a tradition). On years when we celebrate a holiday without an expert lefse maker (I don’t consider myself an expert yet), I end up calling my mom on Thanksgiving Eve for the recipe. I no longer coat the kitchen in flour, though.

We happened to spend one Christmas at Epcot Center in Florida. When we went into a Norwegian bakery, we bought some lefse. It tasted ok, but lacked the familiar taste and texture of Mom’s recipe. Norwegians from Norway might look askance at the way we eat lefse: lightly buttered with stuffing, fake turkey, and cranberry sauce rolled up inside it. Amalgamations happen as new traditions get added to the family heritage.

Which brings me back to the bees. Evidently, the worker bee out scouting that day failed fourth-grade spelling. Instead of collecting flower pollen, it busily collected flour ‘pollen.’ Within fifteen minutes, four more workers joined in, busily collecting flour on their legs to carry back to the queen bee. At first, we couldn’t believe it, but then I started filming them in slow motion as they busily gathered flour. I got moved to ball-making duty because I kept shirking my rolling duties.

Familiar Comes from Family

By the time we finished making the lefse, the sun had started its nightly show of color. I set up my phone camera on time lapse to record the sunset, and went back to help prepare the rest of the feast.

Even though we seldom spend our holidays with our entire family, the lefse remains a constant (for Thanksgiving, at least). We might not have Norman Rockwell or Martha Stewart spreads on fine china. Our meals don’t turn out Pinterest-worthy. When others talk about the dread holiday dinner-table fights, I feel perplexed. I’ll take my work-bee style, give thanks anywhere family gatherings over anything a magazine can serve up. Familiar, comfortable, ever-changing, family-filled—that’s what Thanksgiving means to me.

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