So, I was getting ready to can tomatoes and make pesto the other day when I realized it’s basically Thanksgiving.  Last I looked up, we were celebrating Labor Day weekend in our hometown (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) with many of our closest high school friends and their families.   As we gathered in the basement of my in-law’s house and attempted to get pictures of all the children in one place (we gave up on them all smiling), it was one of those moments that you realize is, truly, once in a lifetime.  To have everyone there — in the place where we gathered after basketball games in high school and on weekend visits during college — with our babies and children instantly having fun and getting in trouble the way their parents did … well, that’s the stuff movies are made of.

The very next weekend, flooding from Tropical Storm Lee devastated our hometown.  The basement where we gathered just a few days before was inundated with four feet of water (and it never had a drop of water in it previously).  The toys that all of our kids played with were covered in river mud and sewage.  The bedroom that my husband grew up in was destroyed.  The bar that we stood at and drank beers at as 20 year olds, and now 40 year olds, was gone.  It was total destruction for the town that we grew up in and love so much. Whenever I pack my children’s things before we go there, I invariably ask them what they want in their suitcase to take “home.” We may leave our hometowns, but they definitely don’t leave us.

In the next month, we decided to start an online news source, The Bloomsburg Daily, to capture the stories of the Bloomsburg flood. No one knew what was happening there and we felt that needed to be changed.  A terrific team of volunteers from Bloomsburg (and beyond) came together and now our weeks are spent having virtual editorial meetings, conducting interviews, planning photo shoots, and creating videos for the Flood of Silence Project. Our reasoning was simple: Some can hang drywall. We can tell the stories and create information to help a community heal.

My life has been consumed with Bloomsburg — until last week.  If the floods brought total physical destruction to our home, the events of the previous week have brought total emotional destruction to our adopted home:  State College, Pennsylvania. It is obviously the story that everyone is talking about — Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator of the football team, is accused of sexually abusing at least 8 children, with more potentially coming forward.  Two university administrators have been charged with perjury.   President Graham Spanier and legendary Head Coach, Joe Paterno, have resigned or been fired.  And the Nittany Nation is rocked to its core.

I came to Penn State as a freshman and received a Master’s Degree here many years later.  My husband and I moved here over ten years ago so I could pursue my Ph.D.  Both of our children were born here.  It is now our home.  And we are horrified that members of the institution that we all know and love so deeply could have been involved in this at any level.  Just as the flood waters swept away the foundations of so many homes in Bloomsburg, those affiliated with Penn State feel like the foundation of everything we thought we knew to be true has been taken out from underneath us.

We are sad and angry and confused.  We are crying uncontrollably at times.  We are walking with our heads held low, wondering how this could have gone on at such a great institution.  We are watching the national media report on our small town and the people in it (who we usually only see at the grocery store), and we are incredulous.  We are listening to the hateful remarks about who we are as an institution — judged by the horrific action and inaction of a handful of people — and trying to defend our honor. We are trying to explain how we can be both outraged by the possible inaction of Joe Paterno and so incredibly sad that he is no longer part of our institution.  We are a community, and being in the middle of that community is much more nuanced and difficult than reporting on it from above and outside.

But everything we thought to be true about ourselves is in question.  We are questioning everyone that we thought was a “good man” or a “great person” or had the “utmost integrity.”  We are saying we would do better in a similar situation, yet most of us do not or else the cases of the 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who are sexually abused would be reported — and the majority of cases are not.

We feel the need to mourn what has been lost, for the victims primarily, but also for the collateral damage in our community.  We need to mourn, but then we need to stop crying, strip out the mud soaked drywall and insulation, cut out the rotten 2x4s, spray down the mold, and slowly start the process of rebuilding.  It will take time and it will take effort.  But it can be done for emotional destruction just as it is done for physical destruction.  It probably won’t be as straightforward, but we will do it because we are a community.

So, this Thanksgiving I want to give thanks for home.  Wherever it is, whatever we call it, however destroyed it is, or however complex the problems may be.  Whether it is our original home, our birth home, or our adopted home.  Whether it is the smallest of towns, or the largest of cities.  It is the place in which we feel most loved and safe and comfortable.  It is the foundation for everything we do.  And after being faced with losing big parts of not one, but two, of my homes, I realize it is worth fighting for. We must hold our heads high, rip out the damage, and get ready to rebuild.

A tremendous group, Proud to Be a Penn Stater, has come together to raise money for  Please give if you can.  If there is any good to come out of this, it is that the Penn State community can bring tremendous light to a horrible, and often ignored, crime.

Portuguese Stuffing

This is my in-laws’ famous recipe for the stuffing that is always served at their Thanksgiving table.  It has both Italian and Portuguese roots and is a highly spicy and seasoned dressing.  Don’t let the bottle of vinegar scare you off — it is used to slowly saturate the stuffing and most of it burns off, leaving just the spicy tang behind.  This stuffing is generally not baked inside the turkey, but instead in a shallow pan, allowing it to become brown and prevent a mushy mess. The key is making sure you don’t skimp on the seasoning.  My husband is our official taste tester and always says it needs more spice and more vinegar.  I’m not sure if it’s an acquired taste, as I learned to love it instantly — covered in gravy and occasionally mixed with a bite of cranberry, but I do know that most people who try it fall in love.

Makes a 9×13 pan

1 lb. Hot Italian Sausage
2-3 large onions, chopped
3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 or 7 celery ribs (with greens attached, if possible), chopped
1 or 2 bunches of parsley, chopped
Italian Seasoning (about 3 T total)
Dried Fennel Seeds (about 2 T total)
Red Pepper Flakes (about 1 T total)
16 oz. Apple Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 loaves of Italian Bread, cut or torn into one inch cubes, and sprinkled with a bit of water
Olive Oil

1.  Remove sausage from casing and cook in a very large non-stick saute pan over medium heat, breaking the sausage up into small clumps.  When the sausage is browned nicely and cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

2.  Remove some of the fat that the sausage rendered, leaving about 2 tablespoons of drippings behind.  (Alternately, if your sausage was very lean, add some olive oil to make about 2 tablespoons of fat.) Sauté the onions, garlic, and celery with about 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, 1 t salt, freshly ground pepper, 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel seeds, and 1/2 t red pepper flakes.  Cook for about 8 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add about 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar, let it absorb and reduce for a minute or two. Remove mixture from pan and place in a very large bowl.

3.  Add drained sausage pieces and bread cubes to the onion mixture in the large bowl.  Season with additional salt and pepper.

4.  In the very large non-stick sauté pan, heat a 2-3 T of olive oil over medium heat.  Take about 1/2 of the stuffing mixture and add to pan.  (I can usually split this recipe into two batches, as I have a VERY large sauté pan, but you might need to do do three batches.) Sauté the stuffing mixture in olive oil, stirring frequently, to allow it to begin to brown.  Add approximately 1 t Italian Seasoning, 1 t fennel, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 2-3 T parsley, and about 6 T vinegar.  Continue to stir and brown, for about 20 minutes until the mixture is darkened and heavily seasoned.  As you cook, re-season with additional italian seasoning, fennel, red pepper flakes, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Toward the end of the 20 minutes, add in a generous pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Repeat with remaining stuffing and add to a 9×13 pan as each batch is finished.  (This seasoning and frying process seems complex, but it’s really not.  In order to make the entire batch, I generally use about 3 T total of Italian Seasoning, 2 T total of fennel, and 1 T total of red pepper flakes.  And I generally go through a 16 oz. bottle of apple cider vinegar.  This seems weird, but as you fry the stuffing, it soaks into the bread and burns off, so you are not left with too much of an intense vinegar flavor. And whenever I ask my husband if it is nearing the correct flavor, he always indicates that I need “one more round” of all the spices, salt and pepper, and vinegar. It’s zesty for sure!)

5.  When you are finished browning all of the stuffing on top of the stove, add several handfuls of additional chopped fresh parsley to the stuffing mixture.  At this point, you can either refrigerate it (can even make it a day or two ahead if you like) or bake it immediately.  I then generally bake at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, covered for about 20 minutes, and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.  (You just want to reheat it thoroughly and brown it more on top.)

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