In my post on Monday about the 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference, I mentioned Lee Gutkind’s remarks about the sacrifices a writer often makes for his work. He spoke candidly about “the things you miss.” And how great the cost might be—in his case, the loss of a marriage. For the author, Jessica Handler, it meant the loss of friends who don’t give you a wide enough berth for your labors.
Lee and Jessica’s words resonated strongly with me, especially because they were spoken on Sunday morning. It was May 5. To most of the hundred or so people at the conference, May 5 was just an ordinary Sunday. But for the millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide, it was the highest Holy day of the year. It was Pascha. It was our Easter. (See some beautiful photographs of Orthodox Christians celebrating Pascha in many countries here.)
When Neil, Kathy and I began planning the conference, the date was set for March. But there were no rooms at the Inn. The Inn at Ole Miss is the only on-campus housing, and many of our conference-goers would be flying in from around the country and wouldn’t have a car to get from a hotel room to the campus each day. So we began moving the conference a week or so later. And later. Until we found a weekend that worked for the faculty we had invited and also a weekend when there would be plenty of rooms at the Inn. The only date available was May 5.
My heart sank when I realized it was Pascha. I had missed Pascha last year, because I was in Denver where my daughter was having a baby and I didn’t want to drive alone in the middle of the night to and from the service. It was inconceivable that I would miss Pascha two years in a row, but I did.
MISSING PASCHA is a big deal. Having been through 40 days of Great Lent, and having begun the journey towards Pascha with the services of Holy Week the previous Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings (Bridegroom Matins), I made the decision to skip Holy Unction on Wednesday night. I would be leaving for Oxford on Thursday morning, and it didn’t feel right to participate in the sacrament designed to prepare one for communion at the most holy of all feasts if one wasn’t going to even be present at the table.
As I picked up Julie Schoerke from the Memphis airport and drove her down to Oxford (she was on our faculty) we chatted about our families and our careers, but not about religion. Not about church.
As the conference began and as I got caught up in the events of the weekend, I didn’t think about what I was missing. Well, except every night when I crawled into bed and allowed my thoughts to wander away from the microcosm of the literary world of Oxford and the wonderful writers and agents and editors and publishers who were gathered there. In bed at night, I would imagine what my brothers and sisters at St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis had done that day.
I pictured them on Holy Thursday, (and I missed making Greek Easter Soup and dying eggs red!) as they partook of the Body and Blood of Christ in remembrance of the Last Supper. I watched them in my mind’s eye as they processed around the church with the priest holding the cross with the image of Christ crucified, and as they read the Passion Gospels. I found myself singing the Lamentations with them as they decorated the bier with flowers and walked through Christ’s death and burial together on Holy Friday:
Every generation to Thy tomb comes bearing their praise…
And then when a friend from church posted this picture of my husband, Father Basil Cushman,(AKA Dr. William Cushman for those who don’t know his other identity) joyously tossing bay leaves and rose petals into the air during the Holy Saturday service, my heart began to break. And all the people sang out:
“The dead shall arise!”
At the sight of that photograph the cost—the sacrifice of missing Pascha for this writing conference—began to feel like a huge loss.
In the Orthodox Church we have our Paschal service late on Saturday night. It usually begins around 11:30 p.m. so that it will be after midnight when the priest knocks on the front doors of the church (with the entire congregation behind him, having followed him in a procession outside) and cries out with a loud voice:
“Open your gates you princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in!”
And the people listen quietly for the voice that replies from inside the church:
“Who is the King of Glory?”
Everyone tries to guess the identity of “the voice” each year—usually one of our deacons. And then the priest replies:
“The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in war!”
Once inside the church, more triumphant hymns are sung—including many versions of “Christ is Risen From the Dead”—and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. The solea is filled with large baskets of food, decorated with fresh flowers. These will be blessed by the priest at the end of the service and then taken downstairs to be shared by all into the wee hours of the morning as the celebration continues. What was I doing while this was going on?
I was at one of the “after parties” held in the room adjoining mine at The Inn at Ole Miss. Sharing stories and laughter with fellow writers from other places. But the reality of what I was missing had grabbed my heart and would not let go.
On Sunday morning I drove Dinty Moore and Deborah Grosvenor from Oxford to the airport in Memphis to catch their flights home. The conversation was about publishing and writing, and yes, bits about our personal lives. And what a treat it was to have that time with these professionals in the industry.
But as soon as I dropped them off I raced to the home of my ten-year-old Goddaughter, Sophie, for the annual Pascha brunch her parents host. I embraced my husband and friends and enjoyed mimosas and good food and conversation. The Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff game was on the television and some folks were watching and cheering them on. Others were out on the patio by the swimming pool, soaking up the sunshine after many days of rain. I kept my sunglasses on, even inside the house. Everyone seemed to be bathed in a light that I had missed. I wasn’t glowing.
At 3 p.m. I drove to the church for Agape Vespers—the final service of Pascha. The Gospel is read in as many languages as we have parishioners who can speak them—this year it was eleven, I think. The floor is still covered in bay leaves and rose petals and the doors to the altar are flung open, and will remain so during all of Bright Week. At the end of the service, as people were filing out to head downstairs for the Easter egg hunt and the barbeque (catered by Corky’s) the choir sang several joyous Paschal hymns. I stood by the front pew, singing along with them and weeping with joy, but also with sadness for what I had missed.
As they were finishing up, I stepped up to Margaret Elliott, our wonderful choir director, and I said, “Are you taking requests?” The choir members who heard me smiled and exchanged looks with me and each other. Before she could answer I continued, “I missed Pascha and I really want to hear “The Angel Cried.” And so they sang it once again and I sang along and wept harder. (Listen to this amazing hymn here.)
Every time I hear “The Angel Cried,” I think of Mary Allison Callaway, my precious Goddaughter who was killed by a drunk driver when she was only twenty, back in 1998. The words of this hymn are on her grave just outside of Jackson, Mississippi. Every time I visit (which is fairly often, as she is buried only a few feet away from my father and my brother) I stand by her grave and sing this song at the top of my lungs. I’m headed down to Jackson tomorrow to visit my mother and to attend a baby shower for my niece. But first thing, as I drive into town, I will stop at the cemetery and celebrate Christ’s resurrection at the tombs of these three people I love and miss. Although I’ve been in a bit of a spiritual crisis for the past three years or so (and continue in the struggle), I think the angels will join me as I sing at the cemetery tomorrow. It will be my own little Pascha.
I’m in Oxford co-directing the 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference through Sunday, which is a joy, but which also means I’m missing The services of Holy Week leading up to Pascha, and Pascha itself.
Here’s my post about Holy Friday from five years ago:
Have a great weekend, and check back next week for more on the conference!
On New Year’s Day, Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of Saint Basil the Great. (January 1 is his Feast Day.) Since he’s my husband’s patron saint, we’ve always tried to participate in this feast every year, both at our parish—Saint John in Memphis—and in our home. One way we do that is by baking “vasilopita”—or Saint Basil bread. (pronounced vah-see-LO-pee-tah)
This age old tradition commenced in the fourth century, when Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins.
In some parishes the priest will bless the St. Basil bread (like in this video) during the Liturgy for the Feast. The families who bring the bread can take it home and enjoy it, or share it during the “coffee hour” after the Liturgy. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of the bread will have good luck for the new year. Here’s another video, this one of Greek children singing Saint Basil’s Carol, and more about the tradition of the vasilopita.
Father Basil will be leading Great Vespers for the Feast of Saint Basil tonight at St. John at 6 p.m., and we’ll have a “finger food potluck” after the liturgy. A couple of us will be making vasilopita and it will be fun to see who gets the piece with the coin inside. (sorry, no gold coin… usually a silver dollar or maybe even a quarter) And hopefully we’ll have enough voices to make a joyful noise caroling in the New Year.
Saint Basil’s Carol
At the Beginning of the brand new year,
Into the church to pray we all processed;
Holding high aloft the fragrant stalks of basil,
May our New Year’s Day be blessed.
We sing of Basil, the holy saint,
His liturgy we still perform to this date,
Theologian, write and monastic founder
Truly he is Basil the Great!
So come and sit with us and eat and drink.
Come share our love and joy and holiday cheer;
Let our hearts be glad, and let us toast St. Basil,
May he pray for us in the New Year!
Let our hearts be glad, and let us toast St. Basil,
May he pray for us in the New Year!
“Pops” and I are in Denver, staying at our son, Jason’s house, for Christmas. We’ve reflected a bit on Christmas past, with Jason and with our daughter, Beth. They both live in Denver with their spouses and children. While we hope our (grown) children will only remember the joyous aspects of family holidays, I know that the stress often pushes every family’s dysfunctional trigger points. I chatted with our oldest son, Jon, about this a few days ago. He’s in Memphis (in our house) for the holidays, so we’re visiting with him before and after Christmas this year. These “winter dialogues” have served to remind me that I couldn’t figure out how to make Christmas “perfect,” so I gave up and settled for reality, with all its messiness but also the richness of our broken humanity reaching out and trying to love.
About ten years ago, I spent six months participating in a Twelve-Steps group. As Christmas approached that year, the intensity at those meetings grew. Members shared war stories from the past, as well as their plans for “surviving” the holidays. Most of the folks in the group had family members who were alcoholics or drug addicts, but I think some of their stories would apply to “sober” families as well. After all, people are people. We are all messy. But also wondrously made.
My favorite “survival tip” was shared by a woman who was an artist. She painted a sign and hung it by her front door before her relatives began arriving for the holidays. It said, “Check your baggage at the door or don’t come in.” If only it were that simple. If only we could all check our emotional baggage outside our homes and the homes of our loved ones. But we are broken creatures, and so we muddle through the best we can.
I subscribe to yourdailypoem.com, from which I receive a poem in my email box every day. Most days I take time to read this poem, as faithfully (and sometimes moreso) than saying my Morning Prayers. As the poet and memoirist, Mary Karr, says, in her wonderful essay, “Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer,” which is included in her book of poetry, Sinners Welcome:
“In this state–what Dickinson called ‘sumptuous destitution’–prayer was a slow spin on a hot spit, but poetry could still draw me out of myself, easing my loneliness as it had since earliest childhood. Poets were my first priests, and poetry itself my first altar…. the first source of awe for me, partly because of how it could ease my sense of isolation: it was a line thrown from a seemingly glorious Other to my drear-minded self.”
That line was thrown this morning to me from the poet, Joseph Robert Mills, and his poem, “A Winter Dialogue.” If you’re having winter dialogues with your extended family this Christmas, I hope his words will bless you, as they have blessed me today. As I write this, I’m sitting at my son’s breakfast table, watching the sun peak through the clouds. Jason has gone to the Honey Baked Ham store to beat the crowds. Everyone else is asleep, although I hear my granddaughters stirring upstairs. We are all eagerly awaiting Christmas Day, with whatever it brings. I imagine we will all have what Mills calls “a protective touch, and a willingness to be touched.” I hope his words will bless you as they blessed me.
A Winter Dialogue
By Joseph Robert Mills
We decide to take a break from the eating, drinking,
and arguing — our traditional holiday pastimes —
to walk around the ice-encased neighborhood.
In the hallway, we sort through the piles of coats,
hats, and gloves, pulling out what we think we need,
and when I get to the door my father calls me back
to drape a scarf around my neck. In my forties,
I don’t like scarves anymore than when I was six,
but, now, having kids, I recognize what his fingers
are trying to say as they adjust the wool, and, I hope,
he recognizes what I’m trying to say by not moving.
It’s not much, but since neither of us needs anything
the other can buy, we try to exchange what we can,
a protective touch and a willingness to be touched.
On Wednesday I drove down to Jackson (Mississippi) where I was meeting my oldest son, Jonathan. He had driven up from Savannah on his way to spend the holidays in Memphis. We had a lovely lunch with my nieces, Aubrey Leigh and Chelsea, at Bon Ami. I don’t think Jon had seen his cousins in about four years. (These are my brother’s daughters.) Aubrey Leigh has a son and another child on the way. She’s an attorney. Chelsea has an MBA. They both live and work in Jackson. It was great visiting with them. I couldn’t help but think about how much Chelsea looks like my mother when she was young. They are all three beautiful women. And my brother, Mike, was a handsome guy.
After lunch Jon and I headed over to Lakeland Nursing Home. He hadn’t seen Granny Effie in four years, either. In 2008, all of my children went with us to visit her. She still pretty much knew who everyone was, although it was her first time to meet Jason’s wife, See, who was pregnant with Grace.
The annual Christmas Party was happening, and I took Mom a new sweater, slippers, and a Christmas necklace and bracelet. I warned Jon that Mom wouldn’t know him, but that she was usually cheerful and happy to see anyone.
But when Jon and I arrived, Mom was asleep, sitting up in her wheelchair, in her room. In her nightgown. Her lunch tray was in front of her, and her fingers were stuck in her mashed potatoes. She’s almost always dressed and somewhere out in the hall when I arrive. It was about 1:30 p.m.
I called the nurse to come into the room with me, and we couldn’t wake Mom up. The nurse had tried to feed her a few minutes earlier. Now she wouldn’t open her eyes. She would respond verbally, briefly, and then fall back asleep. I cleaned the potatoes off her fingers and rolled her away from the lunch tray. I put her new slippers on her feet, and put her Christmas jewelry on her. She still wouldn’t open her eyes.
So, I stroked her hair and kissed her and held her hand. Jon gave her a kiss and told her Merry Christmas. She never saw him, which makes my heart sad. It’s not that she would have remembered that he was there, but I wish they had at least made eye contact.
The nurse said Mom was on meds for flu-like symptoms, as well as pain meds for back pain. She had a fall a couple of weeks ago, and is scheduled for an MRI next week. (The x-rays after her fall didn’t show anything broken, but this is to follow up.) She’s also on Haldol for agitation, which happens often with Alzheimer’s.
UPDATE: On Thursday, a nurse called to say that Mom had “flu-like symptoms” and it would be best if no one visited her for the next 14 days due to the possibility of spreading the flu. I told her we had already visited on Wednesday (kissed her, etc.) so it was too late…. *sigh*
It was sad to see her like this, but at least she’s not in pain. Mom always made Christmas a special time at our house, and I wish I could have made our visit special this week. All I can do is pray that the plaques and tangles in her brain aren’t making her sad, and that her back isn’t seriously injured from her fall.
Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you.
[NOTE: I'm having technical difficulties and WordPress won't let me add photos to this post, so I'll post them on Facebook.... If it gets fixed, I'll add them here later.]
It’s only eleven days until Christmas. I hope you’re finding joy in the season, but if you’re weary from the curve balls life has been throwing you (or even from the festive activities and preparations for the holidays) I hope you’ll be refreshed by these gifts today.
(By the way, notice that this detail of an icon of the Nativity isn’t finished… it seemed appropriate to a post about restoring the image.)
When Cairns writes, “We almost see our long estrangement overcome,” I think of the Orthodox hymn of the Forefeast of Nativity that goes,
“Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!”
God became man to restore us to the way He meant for us to be all along. He created us to be like Him. But we blew it, very quickly, it seems. It’s impossible for me to wrap my head around these theological tenets, so instead, I try expose myself to things I can more readily respond to—like poetry. Art. Music. Writing.
About this time last year, I took inspiration from Cairns’ ekphrastic poem, “Nativity.” I love the way he describes the Mother of God’s response to seeing her newborn child, Jesus, at His birth (as he reflects on the icon of the Nativity—see detail).
She cups His perfect head
and kisses Him, that even here the radiant
compass of affection
is announced, that even here our several
histories converge and slip,
just briefly, out of time.
From a different source, I love to listen to Sting’s, “Gabriel’s Message.” (That’s a a flugelhorn, with its warm, dark, bluesy sound. Don’t you love it?)
And from last year’s CMA Country Christmas, Rascal Flatts singing, “Mary Did You Know?”
What’s inspiring you this Nativity season?
Whaaaaat? No Writing on Wednesday post? Well I was going to write about the next section in On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner (see last Wednesday’s post for Part I) today. The section on “The Writer’s Training and Education.”
But that was before. Before I flew to Denver to visit my grandchildren. I’m staying at my son, Jason’s house, for a couple of days. Jason and his wife, See, have two girls, Grace (3) and Anna (2). I brought them 4 puzzles as pre-Christmas happies. So far I think we’ve worked those puzzles about 10 times each! (Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Dora Explora, and Dinosaurs.)
Okay, maybe I’ll share a few words for my writing buddies. Since I did NOT get an MFA in creative writing (one of the options Gardner writes about in this sectioin) I’ll only mention a few things he shares about writing workshops.
I’ve participated in about a dozen of those, including the Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop in Oxford, every June since 2007. And I’ve organized a couple of writing workshops, like the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference (with Neil White and Kathy Rhodes), and the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop. Neil, Kathy and I are working on plans for the 2013 Oxford Conference, May 2-5. More on that later.
Why does the beginning or emerging writer need to attend workshops? Gardner says, “a writer needs social and psychological support” and that a workshop “fills you with nervous energy, makes you want to leave the party and go home and write.” But what does Gardner say a good workshop actually does? And how do you know if you have a good workshop leader?
“In a good workshop, the teacher establishes a general atmosphere of helpfulness rather than competitiveness or viciousness…. Good workshop criticism is like good criticism anywhere…. In a good fiction workshop one recognizes that even if a work seems bad at first glance, the writer sat writing and thinking about I for a fair amount of time and deserves a generous response.”
I always leave a workshop with that nervous energy, and inspiration. The workshop leaders and my fellow workshoppers usually help me believe in myself, which is essential for the arduous and lonely work of a writer.
So, how should one approach the learning environment at a workshop? Gardner says:
“What the beginner needs to learn is how to think like a novelist. What he does not need is a teacher who imposes his own solution, like an algebra teacher who tells you the answer without showing how he got there, because it is a process that the young writer must learn: problems in novels, unlike problems in algebra, may have any number of solutions…. Basically what teachers need to teach students is not how to fix a particular story but how to figure out what is wrong with the story and how to think about alternative ways of fixing it.”
This has definitely been my experience in the fiction and creative nonfiction workshops I’ve attended. And also my experience working with a freelance editor this past summer on my novel. So, I highly recommend writing workshops for those of you who are working on a novel, a short story, an essay, a memoir, or any kind of writing. While I’m waiting to hear back from literary agents on my novel, Cherry Bomb, I’m starting another novel, and continuing to pen essays, so I hope to submit some of my new work to workshops next May and June. Hope to see some of my readers there!
Tomorrow I’ll head over to my daughter, Beth’s apartment, to hang out with Beth and her husband, Kevin, and their (7-month-old) daughter, Gabby for a couple of days. Then on Friday, “Pops” is flying in to join us for the weekend. I’ve got lots of fun plans, including “Cocktails and Canvases” (we’re having sangria and painting peacock feathers!) with my daughter and daughter-in-law on Saturday (and some Christmas shopping for clothes for their girls) and “Disney on Ice” with See and her girls on Sunday. I’ll post pictures some time next week.
And next week’s Writing on Wednesday post will be about Part III of Gardner’s book, “Publication and Survival,” so stay tuned. Don’t you love the holidays?
I’m home for one day between trips (one 2012 final event for Circling Faith, this past Saturday at Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia (see picture at right) and tomorrow I’m off to Denver to visit kids and grands) with little time for blogging, so this will be short. I wanted to share my recent adventures in air travel, since many folks will be doing this during the holidays. (And I’ve got another trip in December after this one.)
But first, at midnight last Thursday night—the night before I would be flying to Atlanta—I got a phone call from Lakeland Nursing Home in Jackson (Mississippi) where my mother is a resident. My heart always skips a beat when I see their name on my caller ID, and especially at midnight. Mom had gotten out of bed unassisted and fallen on the floor in her room. She didn’t seem to be in pain, but they still had to call the ambulance to take her to the emergency room at St. Dominics Hospital. For the next few hours, I slept restlessly, waiting for them to call me back. My mind was spinning—would I have to cancel my flight to Atlanta and my plans to join Wendy Reed and Barbara Brown Taylor for our reading in Athens? Would I need to drive to Jackson? Finally around 5:30 a.m. they called back to say Mom was back at Lakeland. X-rays showed nothing was broken. She didn’t even have any bruises or bumps. And of course, she had already forgotten what happened.
Sleep-deprived, I got up, finished packing and headed to the airport. The plane was full to overflowing. (I’m thinking lots of folks were headed to Atlanta for the Alabama-Georgia SEC final game.) So, the airport personnel at the gate asked us over and over to please check our carry-on bags, that there would NOT be room for all of them on the plane, and it would delay the flight if we don’t. Of course I was first in line to check mine, and I noticed a few others checking theirs. But once we boarded, the fun began. One woman in particular, caused most of our delay. She had two carry-ons. One was obviously too large, and yet she insisted on carrying it down the aisle of the plane, where she discovered it wouldn’t fit in the overhead bins. There were dozens of people standing behind her, trying to get to their seats. So, she had to stand in the back of the plane until everyone boarded, then take her bag to the front to check it. She continued to argue that she didn’t want to check it, although there was no place it would fit. A baby was crying. A cat (yes) was meowing loudly. The air vent above my seat was broken and it was hot on the crowded plane. But finally we were off.
(BTW… I had a wonderful weekend with my sister-in-law, Cathy, and her family in Atlanta. She drove me to Athens on Saturday for my reading at Avid Bookshop. We enjoyed touring the University of Georgia campus (where all three of her kids went to school) and downtown Athens. Brunch at NONA (New Orleans style) and dinner at The Last Resort, after our event at Avid Bookshops. Terrific weekend! I’ll post lots of pictures on Facebook later today.)
So… on the return trip on Sunday, I go to the Sky Club to relax and have a drink before the flight. I’m happy to discover that I’ve been upgraded to First Class, which will make my flight more pleasant. But the attendant in the Sky Club fails to tell me, when I show her my boarding pass, that the gate has been changed. So, I walk out of the Sky Club, which is near Gate 16, and walk 14 gates away to Gate 30, only to find out the flight has been moved to
Gate 4. Hurrying 26 gates back through the crowds in the other direction, I make it in time and get seated. No luggage drama this time. But after the flight attendant gives their demonstration, the captain comes on and says there’s a small mechanical difficulty. Twenty minutes later he says we can’t fly this plane, to please de-board the plane and they would tell us which gate to go to for another flight. Dozens of weary travelers crowd around the gate waiting for instructions. Finally they tell us which gate to go to, and we go rushing en mass to our new destination. But another group of travelers pass us by, singing Christmas carols! It wasn’t a professional flash mob group, (like this one in Denver last year) but their joyful spirits sure did lift mine, and I found myself singing along with them, “jingle all the way!”
Waiting in line at my new gate, I looked around at my fellow passengers, and wondered if they were traveling for business or pleasure here at the beginning of the holiday season. I’m sure it was a mix.
We boarded the plane, taking the exact same seats we had on the previous plane. I sat down beside my previous seat partner, and we exchanged a greeting, and watched the familiar faces going down the aisle beside us. One man smiled at us and said, “Déjà vu, right?”
My travel partner didn’t miss a beat. “Groundhog Day!”
And we all laughed.
The flight was only an hour late getting into Memphis. I missed the Harbor Town Christmas Parade, but got to see our neighbors mingling around the big lighted tree at Christmas Tree Park, just around the corner from our house, where their children posed with Santa for pictures and their parents enjoyed food and drinks. Bill and I decided to eat at our neighborhood bar & grill, Tug’s. I had had enough excitement for the day.
Enjoy your travels during the holidays. Take time to sing. And to laugh.
I know today is Cyber Monday, and believe me, I’ve done half my Christmas shopping online, and will get a few more items online today. But I just found out that yesterday was Charity Sunday.
Don’t worry if you didn’t know this, either. Our almsgiving during the holidays shouldn’t be limited to one day, but it’s great to have a day to remind us that giving to those in need is more important than how perfectly we decorate our homes, get our custom-made Christmas cards out on time, host the perfect holiday party, and give the most creative gifts to friends and family. All of those things are wonderful, but only if we can do them without neglecting (1) those in need, (2) our families, and (3) our physical and mental health.
On Small Business Saturday, my friend Teresa Waters, delivered the 15 bags of praline pecans I ordered from her this year, which benefit the Memphis Interfaith Hospitality Network, an emergency shelter serving homeless shelters in the Memphis/Shelby County area. It’s nice when almsgiving can “double” as gift-giving, since I now have 15 gifts to give to others on my list.
But most of the time, charity doesn’t have a kickback. ““Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress…” (James 1:27) I think that can also include the homeless, the sick and suffering, the hungry, those in nursing homes.
Our church, St. John Orthodox, offers many opportunities for our parishioners to participate in almsgiving (year-round) including Thanksgiving baskets, for which we donated the food, assembled and delivered to needy recipients. We also collect new toys for the MIFA (Memphis Inter Faith Association) Christmas store. And blankets and other items for the homeless, which again, we assemble and deliver. One night during the holidays we will sing Christmas carols at a local nursing home. This is one of my favorite events. Although my mother is in a nursing home in a different state, somehow I feel like I’m singing to her when we do this. (I hope to be at the Christmas party at her nursing home in a couple of weeks.) I’m sure there are endless other opportunities (not just during the Christmas season) and I hope we will all keep our eyes open and make these a priority.
I never leave the house on Black Friday. But today I’m going to make an exception. My Goddaughter, Sophie, is dancing some scenes from “The Nutcracker” at the Peabody Hotel this afternoon. Shouldn’t be too many crazy shoppers hanging out there, right? And watching ballet is one of the activities I suggested during the holidays in my Mental Health Monday post, “Fighting the Holiday Blues with Music, Art, Food, Friends, and Writing.”
Okay, I understand that you need to do your Christmas shopping. And sales are good for your budget. But look at the bigger picture—support those small businesses and cottage industries, some of which are owned by your friends and neighbors. And to remind everyone about this alternative shopping experience, sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday… it’s Small Business Saturday. If you’ve got an American Express card, enroll it here to receive a $25 credit to your account when you spend $25. Sweet.
Here’s an article by Karen Mills, SBA Administrator, explaining more about Small Business Saturday.
Burke’s Books’ Holiday Gifts Ideas – Memphis’ oldest independent book store. Browsing their shelves and chatting with their wonderful staff is as far from the madding crowd of Black Friday as one can get.
Buy from friends who are selling their art or food items. Especially if they are giving part of the proceeds to a good cause—like Teresa Waters, who is selling pecans to help support the Memphis Interfaith Hospitality Network (MIHN). It’s an emergency shelter serving homeless families in Memphis/Shelby County. I just ordered 15 pounds of praline pecans from her to give as gifts this year.
Last year I purchased a dozen or more boxes of my friend, Fran Tylavsky’s, homemade chocolate bourbon balls. You can order ahead from her business, Frantic Chocolates, or find them for sale at several local sites, including Miss Cordelia’s Grocery (here in Harbor Town) or the Trolley Stop Market.
Our friends, Chris and Anna-Sarah Farha, have a great cottage industry product, Kentucky Chili. Visit their Facebook page for more information. I know it’s available a number of places in Memphis, including Miss Cordelia’s Grocery in Harbor Town.
Down in Madison, Mississippi, my friend Jonni Webb has a terrific pottery business. It’s not too late to order for Christmas. If you’re in the Jackson area, her work is sold at several local small businesses, including Beemon Drugs, Everyday Gourmet, Green Oak Nursery & Florist, Inside Out, and St. Andrew’s Bookstore. Her work is also sold in about 25 other cities throughout Mississippi and other states. Last year I gave a dozen or more of her “stick’em ups” as Christmas gifts. Check out her Itty Bitty Bud flower holders with magnets, and other great gifts.
In Oxford, Mississippi, my friend, Neil White, owns a small publishing company called Nautilus Publishing Company. They’ve got lots of great coffee table books for sale this Christmas. Got a big football fan on your gift list? Give him Mississippi’s 100 Greatest Football Players. For your Memphis friends, there’s this compilation of over 200 famous Memphians. And for fans of the late, great Barry Hannah, there’s A Short Ride: Remembering Barry Hannah. And some of their books are available in a number of independent book stores, so just ask for them when you drop in during the holidays. If you’re in the Jackson area, stop by Lemuria Books Monday, November 26, for a reading and signing for A Short Ride.
So, if you’re enjoying being off work today, stay home and address Christmas cards, read a good book, listen to some good music, (can music save your very soul?) get your Christmas decorations down from the attic, or just relax and get ready to shop tomorrow—on Small Business Saturday. Have a great weekend!