Family on (a belated) Friday: The Best Thanksgiving Ever!

I was too busy enjoying our family to do a post on Friday… and even today I’m only going to share some photos. What a joy to have all my kids and grands together for a few days! After a big feast on Thanksgiving Day, we spent Friday watching the ducks at the Peabody, lunch at the Rendezvous, and then hanging outdoor Christmas lights. ENJOY….

hanging balls

tree lights

train

2 tables

Pops table

Susu table

Writing on Wednesday: 5 Q&A with Corey Mesler

Corey Mesler

Corey Mesler

I’m a few minutes late getting in my Wednesday post. In lieu of an original post today (my excuse being I have a house full of children and grandchildren visiting from Denver for Thanksgiving) I’m going to encourage my writing friends to read this short interview with my friend Corey Mesler, published in the Pine Hills Review, literary magazine of the College of St. Rose’s MFA in Creative Writing program.
Why?

Mainly because Corey is such a damn fine writer—and he’s the author of eight novels, three books of short stories, three full-length collections of poetry, as well as numerous chapbooks of poetry and prose.

 

But also because he has a great sense of humor, which comes through not only in his writing, but even in his responses to an interview.

He just makes me happy and makes me want to be a better writer.

We had a great time at the Memphis zoo with all our kids and grands today, and then to Starry Nights at Shelby Farms and the petting zoo and camel rides! I hope everyone has a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. 

Pops Susu kids zoo

fam at zoo

 

hump day

Grace Jason camel

gabby kevin kangaroo

Anna rabbit

Grace kangaroo

 

Mental Health Monday: Healthy Christmas Ideas for Your Family

Norma Flora Cox

Norma Flora Cox

Today I welcome my new friend, Norma Flora Cox, who is contributing a guest post. (Read more about Flora at the end of her article.)

“Healthy Christmas Ideas For Your Family”

For most people Christmas is a care free season and all that is in your mind is merry making. Whether you are going on a vacation or spending the holiday with family at home, healthy living should still be a concern. Despite it being a happy season you should ensure that you and your family maintain all your healthy habits. It might not seem serious or perhaps you may be giving yourself a break from your normal lifestyle to enjoy Christmas. However, what you do during those few days or week might have a negative for your health. With that in mind it is important to make your Christmas as healthy as possible.

Here are few healthy Christmas ideas for you and your family

girl w giftActive Christmas Holiday

• If you are planning to go on a holiday for Christmas, there are ways you can do it in a healthy way. For example going skiing in the mountains.

• Skiing is not only very fun, but it is also very physically engaging, giving your body much needed exercise. If skiing is not your thing, then there are plenty other physical and fun activities you and your family can do on the vacation.

• If you plan to travel outside your own country if you live in Europe, it is important to apply for your e111 European Health Insurance card. This will be your medical insurance when you are in another European member nation. Remember that accidents can happen anytime and so it is necessary to take precautions when on holiday.

• Instead of lazing around for the entire Christmas you and your family can organize competitive sporting activities. Christmas brings together people that haven’t been together for a long time the sporting activities would be fun; they will help keep fit your family and it is also a good bonding session.

healthy treeHealthy Christmas eating

• Just because it is Christmas it does not mean you are free to eat all the junk you have been refraining yourself from all year long. There are plenty of healthy foods that you and your family can enjoy.

• During your Christmas dinner you can still eat your turkey or pork. However, you should prepare it in a healthier way. For example, just by removing the skin you make your turkey healthier without altering the taste. Baking or roasting it would also be healthier compared to frying it.

• For healthy Christmas meals ensure that all the meals are accompanied by plenty of vegetables. You can make your vegetables more interesting by preparing them in a different way or cooking different vegetables that your family is not used to.

• For desert, you should try and keep it as natural as possible. A mixture of tropical fruits, would do just fine. If you’re creative enough in the kitchen you can be able to transform simple fruits into an interesting desert. Avoid sweets that contain any processed sugar as they are not very healthy.

• If you do not take alcohol then you should not take during the Christmas. However, if the temptation becomes too much one glass of white wine will not do much damage.

You should make sure you enjoy your Christmas to the fullest, but do it in a healthy way.

 

A little more about Flora:

Flora, a passionate blogger who shares her thoughts on various topics she came across. Certified as a Masters in Finance, she frequently analyzes the financial aspects which she comes across and shares her knowledge in various blogs. Presently she is working for Ni number

Thanks so much for contributing this wonderful article, Flora!  I hope to have at least two more guest posts for future Mental Health Monday slots… there are only 4 Mondays left ’til Christmas, so send me your submissions SOON at sjcushman@gmail.com.

Family on Friday: The BEST Cornbread Dressing EVER!

done6 days before Thanksgiving… a good time to start preparations. Especially if you’re expecting a crowd. For the first time in many years, we’ll have all our children and grandchildren together AT OUR HOUSE for Thanksgiving. I’m so excited, but with 9-10 people around for a week (and 12 on Thanksgiving day) I’m planning ahead. Like today. I just spent all morning making the dressing. And this is not just ANY dressing. It’s my Aunt Barbara Jo’s “Best Dressing Ever,” and it’s worth the labor. Here’s what you do: (this recipe makes two casserole pans, but I doubled it to make four)

cornbreadMake 2 (cast iron) skillets of cornbread, using the recipe on Martha White’s Hot Rise cornmeal. Crumble the cornbread up WYH (WITH YOUR HANDS.) (Watch for WYH throughout the instructions.)

Boil a hen or whole fryer with a white onion.

Boil 6 eggs and chop them up.

pep farm and cbreadChop up 2 batches of green onions and one batch of celery.

Mix the crumbled cornbread with 1 large bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing mix and the chopped eggs, green onions and celery, WYH. (I use a large plastic “bucket” like you’d use to serve wine or beer on ice.)

Add sage, salt and pepper to taste.

Add 6 raw eggs (beaten) and continue to mix, WYH.

mixing it upShred the meat off the chicken and add it to the mix, again mixing it up WYH.

Spread the mix into two casserole containers (I use disposable aluminum ones because we serve our plates from the kitchen) and pour the chicken broth from the pot over them.

Cover with aluminum foil and FREEZE.

On Thanksgiving day, add one can of chicken broth to each pan (because some drying out happens with freezing) and bake 45 minutes to one hour at 400 degrees. You can cook the dressing from a frozen state if you add another 30 minutes or so.

Since we’re having Honey Baked Ham rather than turkey, I’m using canned turkey gravy to serve with the dressing. It turns out to be more of a casserole than a side dish, with all that chicken in it.

thanksgivingWhew. Glad that’s done. Now I can look forward to playing with my granddaughters next week and not spending as much time in the kitchen. If you try the recipe (see photo) be sure and ADD THE PULLED CHICKEN, as I don’t think I put that part in the recipe, which was published in our church’s cookbook many years ago. Also, the recipe calls for 4 raw eggs but I use 6.

Dressing RecipeIf you’re also hosting on Christmas, make an extra pan for the freezer.

Enjoy your family and friends!

 

 

Writing on Wednesday: Another Pair of Eyes

eyesTwo weeks ago I did a post about the struggle I was having with the editor who was helping me with revisions on my novel, Cherry Bomb. If you missed the post, you might want to read it before continuing. It’s here: “The Voice of the Narrator.”

After discussing the situation with a few trusted writer-friends, I decided to email the agent who asked me to work with the editor and let her know about my frustration. It’s a fine line to walk between holding onto yourself and your vision for the book (it’s YOUR book, after all) and keeping the agent’s interest. I was nervous that she would no longer be interested in representing me (we don’t have a contract yet), but instead, here’s what she said:

Dear Susan,

Because (Editor’s Name) doesn’t seem to be a good fit now with what you want to do with your book, and what also we felt was needed, I am going to send your book to another editor.  

(Initial Editor) has bowed out of the project and I think given that you both had different POV’s,  it is a good idea to make a change.

I am going to send your book to an editor who specializes in biography and memoir, history, women and literary fiction.  I think another pair of eyes is just what we need at this point.

As I have said before, I think that your book has an excellent storyline and you have chosen a clever technique using three narratives, which also makes it a more difficult book to write.  I would suggest either beefing up Neema’s point of view or take this out, as she is a weak third character.  Your book is also rather rushed, especially at the end, both of which points we have made previously.

I am sorry that it didn’t work out with (First Editor), Susan, and will be back in touch regarding a timeline for the overview with this new editor.

Warm wishes

(Agent)

I was thrilled to get this email—to learn that the agent still believes in my book. And I’m looking forward to receiving an overview from a new editor. This is a long process and it takes patience, but this feels like a step in the right direction.

Another pair of eyes. Yes.

I’m writing this post as we are about to leave New Orleans, where I’ve spent a fabulous four days with my friends, NancyKay Wessman and Susan Marquez. Here we are enjoying last night’s reception for the meeting NancyKay was attending. I love this city!

10368373_10205090547171861_2666942416931304481_o

Mental Health Monday: How Can You Be SHOPPING?

girl clothesLast Monday I said that one of the themes I would be following in my Monday posts leading up to Christmas is almsgiving: reaching out to others. Our parish in Memphis is putting together emergency kits to send to those suffering in Syria, Armenia and Iraq. They need baby kits, school kits and hygiene kits.

I put together several infant kits. Shopping for those babies brought me great joy in the midst of shopping for my own granddaughters. But of course that’s only one of many ways we can help our fellow man during this season.

infant kits

I’m in New Orleans for a few days, and tonight as I was walking down Decatur Street, a young woman sitting on the curb near The Christmas Shop started yelling at everyone that passed by. She was talking about people who are suffering in Malaysia, and how we could be so selfish as to be SHOPPING while they are suffering? A group of women walking in front of me were carrying shopping bags. I hadn’t bought anything that night, but I had done some Christmas shopping the day before. I almost stopped to talk with the young woman, but I decided she was so angry she wouldn’t listen. What I wanted to say was that helping people who are suffering and shopping for ourselves or others aren’t mutually exclusive activities. I wanted to tell her that you can do both.

adoptafamilyWhen our children were young, we decided to involve them in a hands-on almsgiving activity. I don’t think we were motivated by guilt—by the amount of gifts we would be giving our own children for Christmas—but by a desire to lead them into the practice of helping others. We “adopted” a family to help. It was a single mom with two young children. Their apartment had just burned down and they had nothing. We shopped for clothes and toys and food and took it to them in person.  I’ll never forget the children’s shy happiness and the mother’s tears of gratitude.

I tell this story to say that it’s not JUST sending money and other helpful items overseas (even to Malaysia) but it’s also helping the person right in front of you. In your own city, or even the person begging alms on the street. The Christmas season is a great time to re-up our efforts to see these people as our brothers and sisters all throughout the year.

Christmas Giving Header copy

Our parish has also supported the MIFA (Memphis Inter-Faith Association) Christmas Store for many years—donating new toys for needy families.

But if you’re looking for a specific charity to support locally or nationally or internationally, there are plenty to choose from. Here are just a few I’ve found.

Top 5 Christmas Charity Projects: Click the link to read more about them.

More ideas are described here at All Things Christmas.

If you’d like to share a link to one you are supporting, please leave it in a comment here on my Facebook thread. Thanks for reading!

Faith on Friday: Circling Our Tents

caed09097eb36b6d80376a87ed71bcbbMy friend—the talented writer Karissa Knox Sorrell from Nashville—has a terrific blog where she often “rants” about issues of faith and spirituality. Karissa is a convert to Orthodox Christianity, like me. Her post yesterday, “A Tent in the Wilderness,” was all about various ways Christians often try to squeeze our faith into boxes and then spend lots of (negative) energy defending what’s inside of them. I share some of Karissa’s frustrations about this practice. As she says:

The Christian faith has been reduced to argument, to fact and certainty, to proofs and defenses. I can’t wade through it all anymore. We’ve tried to contain God inside all of our human semantics and projections, but he is too big for that. I long to sense him away from all the theologizing and theorizing. I want to know him simply, naturally, without fuss and pomp.

How does she plan to pursue that? By seeking God in what she calls the “wilderness” or the “wasteland.”

Her words remind me of a story I recently read again. It’s attributed to Carl Jung though I think variations of this tale have been spun by others. The story is about, as Sally Thomason says in her book, The Living Spirit of the Crone, “how the ineffable spirit of the divine is too often lost by established religions.”

fsbdev3_008375The story goes that a small group of people discover a spring of life-restoring water in a forest. They quickly tell others about its miraculous power, and so more and more people begin to gather around it on a regular basis. Then they pile rocks around it to protect it from “outsiders” and eventually build a large edifice and only welcome like-minded people. Eventually they begin to consider outsiders as enemies. They are so busy protecting the spring that they fail to notice that it has dried up. Jung’s story goes on to describe another group of people in a different part of the forest who make a similar discovery.

Karissa’s post has a similar thrust:

The problem is that for every tent up on a mountainside, there’s a tent in the valley, claiming that its place is better.

In order to escape this spirit of exclusivity, Karissa writes about heading to the “wilderness” or the “wasteland.” I’m not quite ready to join Karissa in those places, and I have to wonder whether others might follow her there and she would be faced with another group circling their tents. But I do appreciate her “rants.”

Writing on Wednesday: God’s World

red tree moffatsWatching the leaves turn from verdant greens to vibrant yellows and oranges and reds reminds me of death. Not death is a morbid way, but in the trick that nature plays every year when she shows us her autumnal brilliance. This morning when I went outside I found myself smiling wistfully at the last blooms of my rose bushes and the bright blossoms in the pots I must bring inside from my porch soon. But then the first blasts of fall’s colors took my breath away. And yes, I thought about the fact that the beauty of the leaves comes from their death. A mild sadness swept over me, and I found myself talking to the trees (after looking around to be sure none of my neighbors were watching) and saying to them, “Death becomes you.”

Hemingway agrees:

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”—Earnest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

Rilke also embraces that autumnal death:

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”—Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Cezanne

But Millay greeted autumn with a passion that inspires me:

“God’s World”—Edna St. Vincent Millay, from Renaissance and Other Poems.

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
    Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
    Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
        But never knew I this;
        Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

 

our front yrd

 

red on blue 2yellow red

 

Mental Health Monday: Christmas is Coming!

keep calm ChristmasChristmas is coming. Six weeks from this Thursday. How do I know this? Yesterday I was shopping at Macy’s and there was Christmas music playing. Yes. Before Thanksgiving. This really bothers some people, but I love it. I also love all the red boxes and bows and glittery things throughout the store. I found myself humming along with the music and smiling at people more.

Preparing for Christmas brings joy and excitement to some, but fear and anxiety for many. Sometimes the anxiety comes from personal or family “issues.” But often it’s simply a case of feeling overwhelmed by our “to do” lists.  I’ve decided to dedicate my Mental Health Monday posts from now until Christmas to helping us all have a more peaceful and joyful time preparing for this holiday.

christmas_countdown_calendar_2014Organizedhome.com has a Christmas Countdown that some folks might find helpful. But for some reason it started on October 26 (what’s up with that?) and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like they’re already behind before getting started! You can even print off a countdown calendar, but again, I’d adjust it to start this week, which is still six weeks before Christmas. The point is to get organized any way you can. Me? I make lists:

Tasks:

Make airline reservations if you’re traveling for Christmas (we’ll be in Denver with grandkids!)

Make lists for menus and grocery shopping if you’re hosting (I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year.)

Design/order Christmas cards. (almost finished)

Address & mail cards.

Make Christmas gift list for friends & family (ask the kids for ideas for the grandkids early—especially if you’re shipping out of town.)

Shop early and ship early to avoid higher shipping costs.

Ship directly from mail order sources—look for free shipping whenever possible. (I have gifts for grands shipped to Denver, along with gift wrapping ordered online. Once we get there, I enjoy wrapping the gifts.)

SYBIL_MACBETHIf you’re a spiritual person, you’re probably trying to figure out how to do all the “busy” things while still keeping focused on the “reason for the season”—the birth of Jesus Christ. When our kids were young, we used things like a movable Nativity set (to move Mary and Joseph closer to Bethlehem each day leading up to Christmas) and Advent calendars to build anticipation. My friend, Sybil MacBeth, has a terrific new interactive book which will launch this coming Thursday night at the Booksellers at Laurelwood (Memphis). It’s called The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Extremist.

I’m working on themes for the next six Mondays. (If you’ve got ideas or want to submit a guest post, please email me at sjcushman@gmail.com.) Here are some themes I’m tossing around:

Almsgiving—reaching out to the poor, homeless, or others in need

Parties—opportunities to celebrate the season

Food—ideas for easy holiday cooking

Fasting—the counterpoint to feasting (my least favorite part of the season, and yet….)

Prayer/Church Services—our experiences in the Orthodox Church (and I’d love to hear from other church traditions)

Family traditions—stockings, hiding the Christmas pickle, Secret Santas, and more

This week’s theme? Keep Calm and take it one day at a time. ENJOY the season!

Faith on Friday: Ripening, Eldering, and Falling Upward

Father Richard Rohr

Father Richard Rohr

My friend Emma Connolly just sent me a link to Father Richard Rohr’s blog. Rohr is a Franciscan priest and Christian mystic. He has a series of meditations called, “Ripening.” She sent it in response to a follow up conversation we were having about the gathering at my house recently featuring Sally Thomason and her book, The Spirit of the Living Crone: Turning Aging Inside Out.

Emma knew I was struggling with this whole “second half of life” thing. My struggle has to do with the way I spent the first half. When one doesn’t mature “on schedule” (for any number of reasons) it’s more difficult to transition inward for the second half. We’re often still focused on getting our egos fed, rather than settling into a more inward-focused life.

Rohr talks about this transition in his daily meditation from yesterday, “Eldering.” Here’s a sample:

We live in a society with elderly people, but very few elders. That’s not because they’re bad people, but there haven’t been guides from the first half to the second half of life, so most of us stay innocently in the first half. True second half of life people are wonderful mirrors. They no longer need to be mirrored themselves so they can do it for others (2 Corinthians 3:18). They are not crying, “Notice me! I’m important.”

I’ve met only a few true elders in my life. I lost one of them in 2008. A wise and compassionate “mirror,” Urania became a “yia yia” to me (and many others) in our church and in the community. As I’ve written earlier, I met another wise and compassionate elder a few months ago when we moved into our current house. Sally lives right across the street, and she is a wonderful mirror. As Rohr says:

Elders have a wider, long distance lens. They are patient with first half of life folks who are still ego-driven, because they know they were there once, too. Healthy cultures have been guided by such wise seniors (“senators”) who naturally live a generative existence in service of the common good. They “live simply so that others can simply live,” as Gandhi said.

fallingupwardThose two quotes are from Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. I’m ordering it today. (You can listen to Rohr talk about his book in this video.)

In another post, “A Clear Trajectory,” Rohr talks about what he calls “ripening”:

… we see there is a clear direction and staging to maturity and therefore to human life…. We live inside of some kind of coherence and purpose, a believer might say.

Unless we can somehow chart this trajectory, we have no way to discern growth or maturity, and no ability to discern what might be a full, fuller, or fullest human response. Neither do we have any criteria for discerning an immature, regressive, or even sick response.

elders-hands2I’m actively looking for this trajectory for this stage of my life. In her book, Sally calls it a “map.” As I continue to work on the goals I set for myself about ten years ago (to pursue my art, and especially to write and publish books) I’m trying to re-shape those goals—and the driving energy behind them—into age-appropriate pursuits. I’m trying to grow up, but my ego is clinging to some of those first-half mindsets. Rohr’s wisdom is helping:

If I am to believe the novels, myths, poems, and people that I have studied in my life, old age is almost never described as an apex of achievement, hardly ever sitting atop a summit with the raised arms of a victorious athlete. It is something else—usually something other than what was initially imagined, or even hoped for. Let’s call it a slow ripening.

A slow ripening. Maybe I can do that. Maybe I can develop a wider, more long-distance lens and become more patient with myself. It sure helps to have elders.

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