Happy New Year – surely it has to be better than last year! I did my usual tradition of fixing mochi rice cakes for breakfast, considered by the Japanese a good luck food to start the year off right, if you don’t choke on the super-gooey things. For the first time I also fixed “toshikoshi” soba soup late on New Year’s Eve. Eating soba requires biting (breaking) the long soba noodles, symbolizing the breaking away from the old year. Yes, be gone 2020!
Of course I did the “o-souji” the last days of December. This is the “big clean” of the house to sweep away the old dirt —and get ready for the new! In Japanese Shinto belief, osouji is for deep cleaning the house to welcome the spirit of the new year. This is not just vacuuming and dusting, but cleaning everything that is not part of the normal cleaning routine—curtains, blinds, top of fridge, ceiling fan blades, light fixtures. It’s exhausting! It can also include getting rid of things you don’t use or are tired of. I don’t remember my mother doing much of this, but she did insist on changing the bedsheets on New Year’s Eve day. Osouji also symbolizes putting the past “dirt” behind you to start your life afresh.
While these New Year traditions won’t change anything, they do bring hope and the awareness that a fresh start is possible. During these especially trying and difficult times, this new year brings hope for good health as well as good luck, hope for a miracle that people will behave nicer and with respect for others, hope for the US to not be torn apart (even further) by poisonous politics. Wishful thinking, I know, but I’d be willing to eat more mochi rice cakes and keep finding things to clean if that would help. And I’ll be praying.
This year I debated about baking Christmas cookies. Usually I bake traditional favorites and take them along on a visit to family in another state, with some cookies going to my church’s cookie sale. Not this year of COVID19. However, I decided to bake anyway. What is Christmas without homemade cookies! Especially ones traditional to the holiday.
So I baked my usual big batch of extra-gingery gingerbread bears and reindeer. I made my famous extra-strong rumballs, which my co-workers look forward to. I made my famous extra-buttery peanut brittle that my dad loves. Note the adding of extras to make extra tasty. Finally I made eggnog butter cookies, which date back to my early childhood – an “old family recipe” from the Chicago Tribune. I even found the original clipping in one of my mom’s cookbooks, a 3-ring binder of recipes she had saved. I use some of the same cookie cutters I used as a child, and I even use my mom’s old wooden cutting board. Treasured cookies, treasured cookie cutters, a wooden board with a patina of memories.
This year I trusted UPS (vs USPS) to mail cookies to my family. Despite being overloaded by shipments they came through like they had flying reindeer! Only a couple broken cookies. The rest of the huge batch of gingerbread went into the freezer to be enjoyed for the next many months, defrosted and dipped in hot tea – yum! I froze a little of the eggnog cookie dough to roll out and bake for our Christmas.
While this holiday season will be a lot different for most of us, the Christmas spirit can still shine. Decorate, bake, cook as a treat for yourself. We can actually relax and enjoy the season of lights and tasty goodies. Listen to carols, snuggle on the sofa to watch Christmas movies. No traveling or visiting can mean having quiet time to become extra aware of the meaning of Christmas. Extra can be good.
November is National Life Writing Month. While many writers are participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), you can start writing your own life stories and/or those of your family’s. Thanksgiving is a time for family gatherings, but this year those gatherings will either be a lot smaller or done online, thanks to the rampant COVID-19. Whenever or however you are with family, that’s a good time to share stories. Maybe you’re lucky to have an elder grandparent or two to go way back in time – they are reservoirs of lived history and the culture of the times.
My dad and stepmom downsized this month from a big home to a little senior community apartment—thanks to hours of exhausting and dusty help from my sister and stepbrother. I was there a summer ago to at least start them off, seeing how things would have to (literally) go sooner or later. The trauma of dealing with a homestead jammed full of stuff got my sister and I to start to downsize ourselves, to avoid leaving our kids with a mess. Ha! That’s going slowly but surely, though.
My older daughter and her husband are flying in the week of Thanksgiving to visit his and then our family. We haven’t seen them in over a year but I will try not to get too close to them and will have disinfectant wipes on hand. I will, however, get my two girls together to point out some of my things that have stories attached to them, so those stories don’t get lost and so my girls can let me know which things they would like to inherit. Their great-grandma Grace’s beautiful rose china or some of her miscellaneous pretty cups and saucers? Antique furniture and kitchen items from when we lived in the UK? Can I sell any Japanese items at the next Japanese Festival?
Don’t wait until too late to pass down the stories—of your things as well as life. Life is difficult now, but we have many blessings and stories to appreciate.
While looking at some of the blogs I follow, I discovered Sharon Lippincott wrote about saving the stories of things! Check out what you can do: Stories Instead of Stuff