Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015: A Brief Retrospective

On Friday, I said, "Everything I brought with me stinks--either like frying bacon or frying onions or a campfire or sweat.  It's gonna be a long car trip tomorrow."

In short, it was a great Thanksgiving.  And yes, the car trip on either side was long, but the chance to spend 3 days with my extended family made it worth it.

And I compose a lot in my head in the car.  I have come home with an idea for a new linked short story collection.  It's tied to the idea I explored in this blog post: "I have a vision of a novel with 3 characters, all female, all who have gone to the same, small liberal arts college and respond in different ways.  In my writing, I have transformed my undergraduate school, Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina, to Crabapple College in Crabapple, South Carolina."

On Tuesday, as I drove through north, the season speeding up, I thought of expanding this vision to 8 characters, the Crabapple 8, who were student activists in the 80's, who responded to those times in different ways, and who are living very different lives today.  The short story I've been working on is part of that idea.  More on this project as it evolves--if I say too much now, I worry that I won't actually write anything.

Let me reflect on some ways that Thanksgiving 2015 was especially wonderful.  Having an idea for a short story collection would be wonderful enough, but here are some other elements too:

--On our way up, we left very early, at 3:35 a.m.  The moon was almost full, and I loved driving along the almost empty highway watching the moon make its slow progress across the sky.  Yesterday, on the way back, we saw a wonderful sunrise across the mountains of North Carolina.

--Everyone was in a good mood.  Some years, some of us are irritable, and admittedly, there's a lot to make someone irritable:  rambunctious children, meal prep, meal clean up, whiney children, irritable family members, whiney family members, differing political and religious views, and did I mention how rambunctious the children can be?  But this year, our good moods persisted well into Friday.

--Instead of going to a movie, we set up movie night with a projector.  We watched Inside Out, which was as good as I had heard it was.  It was so much fun that we had another movie night on Friday.

--We had a campfire with s'mores.  No one got burned, no one got too sticky, the fire burned brightly but was easy to have die down when we were through.

--We had an active time:  lots of walks/runs, lots of playground time, lots of football games and one soccer game--we didn't have enough people for soccer to work, and one of the kids is a soccer expert, so it was less fun.  But football seemed doable from the smallest 3 year old to the older folks like me.  Even if we didn't understand the rules (me), we could follow directions and have fun.

--I had fun times with my cousin's 6 year old girl--tea parties and crafts of all sorts and trying to teach her to crochet and quilt.  It's still a bit early, but the interest is there--note to self for future!

--We were able to keep the meals simple.  We ate variations of turkey and ham dinners, and we didn't go to great efforts to have different meals, which would have required more prep work and more clean up.  We rent a house at a church camp with an adequate kitchen, but it has no dishwasher and a small oven and a temperamental microwave.  It was nice to agree to being a bit more laid back about food.

--The house hasn't been updated much since about 1968, which makes it perfect for kids and crafts and rambunctiousness.

--This is our fourth Thanksgiving after my grandmother's death.  I had always worried that we might not make the effort to get together when she wasn't there to motivate us.  But we have been more determined than ever.  I have this vision of gathering into our elderly years, with a hope that the grown up little ones will be joining us with their little ones.

--And to sum up:  words that you wouldn't have heard at the Pilgrims' feast centuries ago:  "These are the veggie sticks that I put up my nose."  We all laughed.  No one got chastised.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Poetry Saturday: Let the Holiday Baking Begin!

In my thinking about a saner Advent and holiday season, I never give up on the idea of holiday baking.  I may not do much of it, but it's been an important part of my holidays since I was old enough to mix sugar into butter.

In the spirit of holiday baking, here's an unpublished poem, which I'd give a different title if I revisit it ever:

Advent Calendar

Orion, that winter visitor, reminds us of our frosty
obligations. Now is the time to prepare.
We dig in the cupboards for the cookie cutters,
creatures enough to create a healthy genetic
mix for the holiday planet we will create.

We remember anew the joy of the well-seasoned
skillet, so versatile as we fry the meat
and cook a well-crusted cornbread.
We strive for abundance, to be prepared
for the unexpected visitor, the waylaid
traveler who might arrive without gifts.

We rediscover the joy of bread baked
fresh in the morning. We afford
the extra splurges that festivity demands:
exotic nuts, dense pastes, sweet icings,
breads heavy with butter and spices.

We could not maintain this pace
all year, but for a month, we pretend
we can handle the additional load.
We try to ignore the yearnings from the stomach’s
pit, the one that wonders why every day
can’t be filled with goodies cooling on the hearth,
a household bathed in the fragrance of baking bread,
the comfort of cake.

For a recipe for a great and fairly easy holiday bread, see this blog post.

For my favorite holiday cookie recipe, go here--the cookies can be made thinner, like sugar cookies, or thicker, like a tea cake.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thinking about our Holiday Gifts and the Vision of the Future that They Support

Today is Black Friday, the day that many of us will go shopping.  But before we spend our hard-earned money, or worse, whip out our credit cards, let's take a minute to think about who we support with these gifts.  What vision of the world are we supporting/creating with our holiday gift purchases?

Here are some ideas:

--Why give gifts at all? I understand the appeal of shopping for children, but maybe this year is the one where we should think about why we give gifts to grown-ups, many of whom are perfectly capable of buying those items for themselves.

--Could this be the year that everyone makes their holiday gifts? I know, it's too late for most of us to knit a sweater or to make anything elaborate. But why not write a poem for the ones you love? Why not begin to write the family history? Why not make a sketch or two? Make some cookies: eat some and box some up for presents.

--Have this year be the year of found presents. Give an interesting stone or shell that you found at the beach. Make an arrangement of twigs and dried leaves.

--Or, if you're not surrounded by nature, declare that this will be the year of regifting. Go ahead and be open about it from the beginning. Give the film enthusiast all those DVDs you no longer watch. Sort through all your baking pans and cookie cutters and give a few to your favorite chef. Are you really going to read all your books again? Give them away to people who might enjoy them.

--If you have people on your list who insist on presents that they can open, presents that are brand new and purchased especially for them, see if you can find a way for your gift-giving dollars to support local artisans or local merchants.

 --Don't forget that those gift-giving dollars can support the literary culture that writers want to keep thriving. Give your gift recipient a book, especially one published by a small press, or a subscription to a literary journal.

--And don't forget about the other arts communities that could use our support.  Give tickets to the theatre or the orchestra.

--Or use your gift-giving dollars to support farmers and/or artisans from less-developed nations. The organization SERVV does wonderful work and offers beautiful gift possibilities.  Go here for more information.

----Instead of buying stuff, donate to charities. I'm lucky enough to be able to buy just about everything I need, albeit my needs are fairly simple. I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. I would prefer that people give money to the needy than to buy more stuff for me. Chances are good that lots of people on your gift list feel the same way.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Gratitudes

I have always said that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  I love that there's no gift giving tradition to leave us all in some variation of anxious and/or disappointed.  I love that the food can be towards the healthy edge of the spectrum.

But most of all, I love a holiday that revolves around gratitude.

Let me now make a list of all the things for which I am most grateful in the past year:

--At my midlife point of losing friends and not just because they move to a new town, I am grateful for the family and friends who are still here.

--I am grateful that my family continues to enjoy spending time together.  I had wondered if we might drift away from each other after the death of my grandmother, but we have not.

--I am grateful for the publishing successes of the past year, particularly my chapbook acceptance and my inclusion in this book that celebrates the Annunciation.  But more than that, I am profoundly grateful for my various creative communities.

--I am grateful for my various jobs and volunteer work--how wonderful to be fed in so many ways.

--I am grateful that my spouse has returned to teaching and that he likes it.

Let me not get so lost in my luckiness that I forget those who can't be so grateful.  Let me continue to yearn for and to work for a world where we all have enough to inspire gratitude.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Creativity Prompts for Thanksgiving

Many of us will have some extra time around Thanksgiving.  Some of us will go shopping, while other will do much cooking and cleaning.  Some of us will travel long distances.

Along the way, could we plan some time for creativity?

Here are some prompts to inspire you:

--Do you remember tracing your hand and turning it into a turkey?  You probably haven't done that since elementary school.  Do it again now.

--Write down your memories of Thanksgivings past.  Help your older relatives write their memories too.

Or tape the conversations.  Save them using a variety of mediums.

--Write some gratitude haikus.  I use the word "haiku" loosely.  Write three line poems with syllables of 5, 7, and 5 per line.

--Imagine you could invite your favorite literary characters or historical figures to your Thanksgiving table.  What would they talk about?

Imagine it's a potluck dinner.  What will they bring?

----What will the first Thanksgiving on a distant planet be like?  Write or draw the scene.

 --Create a Thanksgiving scene, the way that Christians create a manger scene for Christmas.  Use the materials you have on hand.

--A question to inspire gratitude:  Should you live to be 102 years old, what will you miss most?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Strategizing for a Calmer Holiday Season

Soon, we will leave Thanksgiving behind.  Before we get too deeply into the coming holidays, let's take some time to plan for how we're going to have a meaningful season, how we're going to resist the consumerist, capitalist madness of a whirlwind that tends to sweep us all along.

Let's strategize. How can we avoid a hectic season? How can we invite more contemplation and quiet into December?

--Make a budget now. Just days from now, the Christmas shopping season begins for those of us brave enough to go into stores, if it hasn't already started. Before you go shopping, make sure you know how much you can spend. It's easy to get caught up in the shrill cycle of good deals and fierce desires. Don't buy so much that you'll still be paying off those credit cards in July. Nothing is worth that.

--Instead of buying stuff, buy experiences. Most of us have too much stuff. Why not give someone a meal out or a movie? Give the gift of your time.

--Instead of buying stuff, donate to charities. I'm lucky enough to be able to buy just about everything I need (and my needs are fairly simple). I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. I would prefer that people give money to the needy than to buy more stuff for me. Chances are good that lots of people on your gift list feel the same way.

--Plan your social calendar now. And keep it simple. Choose only one or two events per week-end. Declare that you won't go out on school nights. You can't do everything, and you'll only feel irritable if you try. What's most important to you and the ones you love?

--Purge the traditions that have ceased to have meaning. This one is tough. For example, I often find myself bored and irritable as I sit through The Nutcracker. I always think I'll love that ballet, probably because I loved it as a child. I don't love it as an adult. Why spend the money and time? Of course, if everyone else in the family adored it and wanted to go, it might be worth it. But now is a good time to have a frank discussion, before we're caught up in the sentimental sweep of December.

--Streamline some of the traditions. Do you really need to bake every kind of cookie that you remember from past holidays? Maybe you and your friends could have a cookie swap. Or get together to bake cookies together. Have a wonderful afternoon of cookie dough and wine and leave with enough cookies to get you through the holiday. For years, I did a cookie bake/swap with friends, which grew into a dinner swap, which we'd still be doing today, if I hadn't moved 700 miles away. Consider other ways to make the holiday meals simpler. Maybe this is the year to simplify the holiday card tradition. Ask yourself which events mean something to you and which you're attending because you always have.

--Take time to help the needy, and bring your children along. Some of my favorite holiday memories involve helping others. My Girl Scout troop used to go caroling at nursing homes. The church of my adolescence assembled gift baskets for homeless women. The words of Isaiah are knitted into every fiber of my being: "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1: 17). My parents, along with social institutions like church and school, modeled the good behavior of working for social justice. It's stuck with me. This season is a great time to train the next generation in the habits of social justice and charitable work.

--Maybe today, as we begin to prepare for Thanksgiving, we can think about how we'll have some meditative time during the upcoming season of before Christmas.  Will we have an Advent wreath?  Will we start the day with a devotional or meditation time?  Will we listen to calming music during our commute time?

It's important to remember that even with all the best plans, we may find ourselves overscheduled and cranky.  Plan now to forgive yourself for those times.  Plan now for how you'll get back on track.  Plan now to get yourself back to the waiting and watching state that should be our Advent mindset.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Quilting (and Other Creativities) Sunday

Yesterday at church, we quilted for several hours.  People came and went and came back, and we got 2 quilt tops knotted to 2 quilt backs.  We started one and finished it during the morning, and we finished knotting the one that we started back in September.  I also sewed together 2 quilt backs for later quilts.

I tend to forget how much we get done when we do these events.  At the last event in September, we got much of a quilt top finished and about half of a quilt top knotted to a back.
I try not to think about how many quilts we could make if we had more time.  We have the time that we have.

I spent the afternoon finishing up my manuscript materials to get the packet sent to Finishing Line Press.  It's good to have that done. 

Of course, it's not done until I get it in the mail.  I should be able to get that done today.  Then I will truly feel better.

Soon it will be time to think about getting the house into shape for our December guests, but not today.  Today is the time to get ready for Thanksgiving.  The guests of December will be here soon enough.