Sunday, December 27, 2015

Year's End

A writing friend of mine, Laurel Siena, shared an end-of-the-year tradition that her family celebrates as Christmas approaches. Each member spends the day looking back upon his or her individual heartaches and failures, committing them to symbols, objects and writing. Some are shared, some not. "But all of them are baggage--the things of the past that serve no purpose in our future," she says. And so they sit around a solemn fire in the evening and burn them. The next day, "with clean hearts, we will begin to decorate our new living tree...." What a marevelous tradition.

I have another friend, Dick Richards, who used to turn off his phone and spend the last day of the year in reflection. In his words, he did an annual inventory of his life. Where had his personal values carried him through, and where had his character flaws brought him up short? Where did he need to improve, and what  or who did he need to let go? After he completed hs inventory, he brought out the written inventories he'd done over 40+ years and read through them. (You can see why he took the entire day and into the night.) He said the ritual allowed him to see how he was growing into the man that God created him to be. It was a lifelong process and he focused on the journey rather than any destination of having "arrived." He died April 29, 2009, at the age of 82, but his tradition is carried on. 

On a personal note, I need to let go of atttidues and behaviors that no longer serve me. I need to adopt this idea of reflecting and letting go, so I plan to put pen to paper and inventory my assets and shortcomings. Once I've cleared my head, heart and soul, I plan to start 2016 with a new tradition. I'm going to buy an empty mason jar, and throughout the year, I'm going to write down on little pieces of paper  the good things that happen to me--my daily blessings. I got the idea from Danette May, but I'm making it my own. Then on my next birthday (New Year's Eve), I'm going to open my "blessings in a jar" and read all about my amazing year.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The power of personal story

I’m working with my friend Pat LaPointe to develop a workshop curriculum for women writers, tentatively titled Life in Transition. The project has caused me to reflect on the power of words, especially the power of personal story.

Christina Baldwin, author, journal keeper, and teacher, states in her book Storycatcher: “Writing organizes the mind and the actions that lead from the mind. Over time, the decisions and choices we make in the rush of the moment are informed by the self-knowledge our story gives us. We learn that if we practiced articulating our story, if we have honored the path to this moment of writing it down, the choices we make are congruent with who we are. That is one of the primary promises of story—we live it twice: once in the experience, and again in the recording and reflecting upon our experience.”

Think about your family: who was the brightest, who was the troublemaker, the quiet one, the stubborn one, the peacemaker, the artist, the nurturer, the lost one? As children, we’re under the dominion of adults who begin to shape us by telling us we have our grandmother’s eyes, our dad’s curly hair, our uncle’s temperament… the list goes on. But as we grow into adolescence, we begin to differentiate ourselves from our family’s view of us. We try on various personas out of curiosity to see if there’s a better fit. 

I have a friend who was painfully shy as a girl, but when she got to high school, she decided she was going to shed that role and abandon her shell. She joined every school club she could fit into her schedule, and from a secure cocoon, she emerged a social butterfly. How cool is that? The point is, our fates are not necessarily determined by the dictates of our familly.  

It is written that God gives us free will, so we are (at least) co-creators of our life’s plotline. We have choices regarding the outcome of the twists and turns of our lives. Paying attention to the choices we have in life gives us the ability to be intentional and to live out loud.

A woman’s life has four distinct transitional points: girlhood, adolescence, womanhood, and elderhood. Menses heralds adolescence, and menopause announces elderhood. Each stage impacts our story, for our roles change as we leave one stage and enter another. Do we have any say in how our story develops? Of course we do. Each of us is the author of her life story. 

Pat and I are developing a program that gives you an outline of what your personal story may look like—but while our journeys may be similar, the details are unique to each of us, and it’s in the details that a story’s richness is found. In a journal, it is raw and unleashed and instructive. When it is shared, it is powerful, both for the writer and the reader/listener.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Share your story

America is known for its excess, and no other time is it more obvious than during the holidays. We're slammed with ads for Star Wars toys, Chi pets, dozens of style choices in boots, sweaters, jewelry, and cars, domestic and foreign.

Sit down and make a list of the gifts you received and gave to your beloved over the last 5 years. Some may be able to remember what you got and gave last year, but I bet you'll not remember much more than a year or two back. Never mind that the gifts probably cost a great deal of time and money.

I have a better idea this year. Consider giving your family/friends the gift of story... specifically the story of a Christmas past filled with memories you made with your beloved(s). My OWL (Older Women's Legacy) writers did that this year and shared them with each other at our annual holiday luncheon at Beverly Barissi's home before mailing them. The stories were printed on holiday-themed paper that you can get at a stationery store or online.

The stories were simple and heart-warming. Stories about sleighing downhill on snow-packed hills back East, about Grandmother's gingerbread cookies, about baby Jesus and Midnight Mass, about Christmas tamales, about heirloom and homemade decorations, about military brothers and sister coming home for the holidays, about the love and fellowship.

Sit quietly and let your mind wander to the holidays of your youth and the traditions you embraced. What sounds, sights, and aromas do you recall? What did the Christmas of past  feel like? what did it taste like? As these memories drift through your mind, let one experience grow in focus. Concentrate on the details, the joy, and let your senses flood through your pen or computer keyboard.

When you are finished, print your story on holiday paper... and share so others may re-live the memory as well. Merry, merry memories to all my friends and family!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Holiday Cooking

‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations, family traditions and making memories.
One of the most sacred customs is home cooking. Turkeys are the focal point for many family tables, but how the turkey is prepared depends on regional traditions—from deep fried turkeys with cornbread dressing to roasted turkey with oyster stuffing and every variation imaginable. The side dishes vary a bit also, but traditional recipes and menu selections run as deeply as family roots. 

Some of my favorite family stories come from my younger brother’s adherence to our mother’s choice of meal preparation. When Mark married Michelle, an ardent healthy eating homemaker, he introduced Michelle’s young son to at least two menu items he’d never experienced: white bread and beef. As Mark remembers, Kolby loved the purity of the white bread over wheat, and when the youngster tasted beef for the first time, he opined: “This is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten!”

In contrast, Mark is not as adventurous in his eating habits and resists changes to his diet. As I indicated before, he is faithful to the food he grew up with. Take, for instance, the first time Michelle cooked for Thanksgiving. She bought a free-range turkey, organic cranberries, and fresh green beans from the Farmer’s Market, among other things. Mark was mortified. “Where’d you get this stuff? Our turkey needs to be a Butterball! And this cranberry relish is all wrong. We have to have Ocean Spray cranberry sauce. And Del Monte canned beans, honey, you should have gotten Del Monte—and the string beans, not the fancy French cut.” (Oh the trials and errors we go through as newly married.)

I cooked for Thanksgiving this year. Yes, I cooked a Butterball turkey, made green bean casserole (made with Del Monte green beans, Campbell’s, cream of mushroom soup and French’s fried onion rings), along with Mother’s recipe for cornbread stuffing, Del Monte canned corn, fruit salad, and dinner rolls (with real butter not margarine). The pumpkin and pecan pies were “homemade” from HEB, but tasted as well or better than I could have done. I cooked for my man, my son and a neighbor. Afterwards Ronnie asked: “How did you know how to cook all this?” Why, from my momma, of course.

Since then I have asked my colleagues at work how they made their family holiday meal and I was so surprised to hear the younger ones (ages 30s and 40s) don’t have recipes. If they don’t go to their mother’s house, they buy the cooked turkeys and all the trimmings from grocery stores—or they take the family out to a restaurant or hotel. Okay, I Admit, I’ve done the same, but I do know how to do it myself and these friends are saying they do not.

I’m saddened. The holidays are times for family gatherings, and mealtime is the best part of it because everyone is at the same table and talking with each other… assuming the TV trays in front of the big screen and the smart phones are banned. I feel the tradition may be endangered, and that is not a good thing for us as a people.

I believe the importance of Thanksgiving and Christmas and other December family celebrations ought to be embraced and cherished. It is a time for us to reacquaint ourselves with one another in our immediate family and/or our family of choice, along with our extended family. We do this best over a beautiful meal prepared by loving hands.

I will yield to the idea that the holiday menu does not necessarily have to be rigidly followed, from mother to daughter ad infinitum, and that even favorite sons should be more open to the gifts of their wives. Michelle eased Mark away from his questionable tastes by replacing the traditional dinner of his childhood with a delicious one fit for his manly tastes, and now a tradition in their home. Among other things, it includes a prime rib roast instead of a Butterball turkey.

As for my family here in Navasota, my guys will joyfully eat anything I prepare, but I know their favorites so I think, for Christmas, I’ll prepare the first thing I ever learned to cook as a young girl in Texas: chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and cream gravy. Oh, and canned green beans and corn… you know which brand.