A Well-Oiled Machine

We had a nice four-day weekend. Hectic and busy, but ’tis the season, right? This, despite The Cold From Hell.

Tuesday, Tara said she was getting sick. Despite ingesting copious amounts of Vitamin C, echinacea, and oregano oil (god, she’s such a hippie!), there was no staving off the inevitable. By Wednesday it had turned into a full-blown cold. Shitty timing, given that we were hosting, but there was nothing she could do about it except soldier on. This will, in all likelihood, be our last T-giving in the PNW, so we wanted to go out in style.

It didn’t feel much like Thanksgiving though, thanks to a high temperature in the mid-60s. But if you think that was crazy, Rapid City hit the mid-70s! I’m religiously following their weather now, so I know what to expect this year. 75 at the end of November is basically unheard of. It sure never happened when we lived there in the 1980s.

Fortunately, everything went off without a hitch. We’re used to hosting Thanksgiving, so even after taking last year off, we had it all down to a science. We were like a well-oiled machine, Tara and I, and had everything timed just right: the rolls were coming out of the oven just as the turkey was ready to go in; the green bean casserole and glazed carrots went in when the turkey came out; and so forth and so on. We had two ice-filled coolers for the wine sitting on the back deck.

They were barely big enough. Let’s just say we emptied a lot of bottles between the eight adults.

My aunt Nancy, uncle Steve, and cousin Mandy were the first to arrive, shortly before 2:00. They were followed by my parents, then my cousin Shannon and her kids, Sasha and Soren. That’s a lot of bodies to cram into a tiny apartment, but we made it all work. We laughed, shared stories, and reminisced, and mostly didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that this was our last T-Day here.

I have to say, we outdid ourselves once again. All the food was fantastic. The turkey was perfectly moist and tender, and best of all, did not explode. I found a recipe for a sugar-free cranberry sauce made with Stevia that was every bit as good as the “real” stuff. And everybody raved over the pumpkin cobbler – so much so that the pie went mostly untouched. But our smartest move was using Chinet paper plates and plastic utensils. I’d seen photos of my friends’ elaborate place settings and centerpieces, and while they were fancy and beautiful, I’ll take the easier cleanup any time. Besides, Thanksgiving has never been a let’s-get-all-decked-up holiday for us. I wore sweats, slippers, and a t-shirt, for crying out loud. Are you really surprised, given that I got married in a tuxedo t-shirt and flip-flops?

The last of our guests departed around 6:30, and we were finally able to kick back. Hosting is a lot of work, which maybe explains why the day wasn’t as bittersweet as I’d feared it might be. Yes, we’ll be 1,200 miles away next year, and it’ll probably be just the two of us. Hell, we might just end up tucked into a booth at Perkins, digging into a turkey loaf or something. That doesn’t sound half bad to me right now.

Even though Tara was still sick, we left Friday for an overnight adventure in eastern Oregon. Last year we’d talked about visiting the Painted Hills over the same weekend, but bad weather and a lack of daylight convinced us to change our minds. We still had the same lack of daylight to contend with – the sun sets by 4:30 this time of year – but the weather was decent at least, and we are running out of time to do these things, so we went for it. Tara later admitted that, had she known she’d still be feeling as under the weather as she was, she probably would have called off the trip, but by the time Friday morning rolled around it was too late to cancel our motel reservation in Pendleton, so we headed out shortly after 8:00.

What can I say about the Painted Hills? Honestly, words do not do them justice. So you get pictures instead.

The different colored layers of sediment are made up of ash and the remnants of a deciduous forest that was buried in a lava flow eons ago.

Almost looks like the surface of another planet, huh?

We spent a couple of hours wandering around there before taking off for Pendleton. Which, it turns out, was another four hours away, and because we left late in the afternoon, most of the drive was in the dark. Over winding mountain roads slick with a thin sheen of ice. But it was an adventure! We saw wild turkeys and a shoe tree and listened to music and podcasts. Still, I breathed a sigh of relief when we reached our destination. Friday was a long driving day! We checked into our cheap but rustic motel room and then headed downtown for a bite to eat. Pendleton is odd: everything closes super early. Our original choice, a promising-sounding dive bar, shut down at 9:00. On a Friday night, no less! We found another place and settled into a booth, only to be informed that the cook had gone home so all they had available was bar food. We did not feel like potato skins or chicken wings, so we ended up at a Mexican restaurant around the corner that the folks at the place-without-a-cook recommended. The food was very good and we each got a margarita. We were back in our room and fast asleep 90 minutes later. Not exactly tearing it up like I’d imagined. Oh, well!

Saturday morning we checked out of our room, grabbed breakfast at a Western-themed spot called The Saddle (everything in Pendleton is Western-themed, btw; not surprising given their rodeo heritage) and then drove around Pendleton for a little while before continuing on to Palouse Falls in Washington, another two-hour drive.

Imagine driving through endless miles of gently rolling farmland for hours and then coming upon a dramatic waterfall cutting through a steep canyon, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. That’s Palouse Falls. It was surprising in its scope and very dramatic, especially after seeing nothing but empty fields and a whole lot of cows for what felt like forever. Turns out Palouse Falls is the state’s official waterfall. Who knew!

By now it was mid-afternoon and home was still a five-hour drive away, so we reluctantly hit the road. When we crossed back into Oregon and connected with I-84, I pointed out that Pendleton was a hell of a lot closer than home, 52 miles versus 182, and tried to talk Tara into going back on the spur of the moment for a second night. She was tempted, and if not for her cold, would have been down. I was just having too much fun and didn’t want our trip to end! It began raining, and was full-on dark before 5:00, making for a bit of a white-knuckle drive. We got home around 6:30, heated up Thanksgiving leftovers, and kicked back with “This Is Us.”

Today I busied myself packing up our harvest decorations, hauling them all down to the garage, and bringing up another half dozen bins full of Christmas stuff. Tara mostly rested. I’d meant to decorate, but after making a million trips up and down three flights of stairs, plus walking to the store in the cold rain, I just didn’t have the energy. So I wrote a blog post instead.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

11 thoughts on “A Well-Oiled Machine

  1. Wow Mark, I can’t believe how warm it was on Thanksgiving Day?! That’s what it was like on Christmas day two years ago here in Philly. Never had I experienced such a warm and humid Christmas day – 78 degrees!!! Thankfully, this year we had a sunny, but very cold Thanksgiving Day. It was in the mid-30’s.

    Glad to hear that everything went well with your dinner hosting. What a FABULOUS group photograph! LOVE the turkey hats – ha!

    You pictures of the Painted Hills are AWESOME! They literally look painting!

    “Almost looks like the surface of another planet, huh?”

    Sure does!

    Palouse Falls is incredible! What a beautiful capture.

    I did the same thing Thanksgiving night. While sipping a glass of red wine, I took down my Christmas decorations and tree, and made everything look festive.

    Isn’t it something how fast the holidays are flying by?

    Have a great week, my friend!


  2. It figures. When we’re warm, you’re usually cold – and vice-versa. And in a few weeks, we’ll probably switch places. Glad you had a great Thanksgiving! Yes, this whole year is flying by. Hard to believe we only have one more month until 2018.

    Have a great week, my friend!


  3. Those hills absolutely look like an alien landscape. I would love to explore it sometime.

    I’m glad you had a lovely Thanksgiving, even if it was on the bittersweet side.


    1. I hit the post button too soon! I hope Tara feels better soon and keeps her cold to herself. Colds over the holidays are never fun. Then again there are very few times they are fun come to think of it… still…feel better.


      1. Why, thank you! I’ll pass that along. She’s now on Day 9 but on the mend…finally. I never did catch it myself, but I’ve always had a pretty good immune system and rarely get sick. Instead, I usually end up in the hospital for days on end. Go big or go home, right?

        Liked by 1 person

Add Your Two Cents!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: