Christmas in the time of COVID19

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.

Merry Christmas to all!

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Life writing and the stories of things

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

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Writing characters as evil

Avoid writing one-dimensional characters. That is an important piece of advice for writers. No one is all good—or all bad. One-dimensional characters are unrealistic and shallow. You want complex characters to make the story interesting. For memoir writers, don’t write yourself or others as perfect and therefore unrelatable, predictable, boring. At the other end of the spectrum, painting someone who wronged you as all bad can backfire—revenge writing can make you look bad yourself. Complaining relentlessly about some completely terrible person makes for tedious reading, and we know there are two sides, two perspectives to every story. We don’t want caricatures, we want to read about real people who have been affected by their past experiences, who have learned thought and behavior patterns, who are complicit in relationships. What is the whole story?

During this turbulent and stressful year of COVID-19, protests and rioting, divisive leadership, and contentious elections, many of us have discovered some shockingly unpleasant truths about our friends and acquaintances. This year has brought out the worst in people. How can they believe that?! How can they think like that?! How rude, how disgusting! We had no idea that some of our friends were such awful people. But are they? We thought most of them were just fine before, or we would not be friends with them in the first place.

While we are an extremely divided people these days, we have to remember that the characters of our friends, our family members—and most everyone, including ourselves—are neither all good nor all bad. I hope we can still see the goodness that resides even in people we strongly disagree with, even if we have discovered they have “evil” within. I hope we don’t put friends or family members into their own little boxes and check them off. If we do not see the humanity in each other, we will surely destroy our country. No amount of flag waving will save us.

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