I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

Gone by the Wayside

December 28th, 2008

Remember the little extra things you used to do? Remember that special care that was applied to everyday tasks? I was reminded of my own past while rushing to wrap a present last week. A voice in my head reminded me that, back in the day, I would dedicate the time to clear a proper workspace, cut the paper straight, carefully crease all the corners, use minimal exposed tape, dig out a matching ribbon and bow, and make the present look downright beautiful. The result was a package pretty enough to double as a decoration while it waited under the Christmas tree. This mindful energy was transferred to the recipient on exchange day as he would stop and admire the present before tearing into it.

Another reminder of extra care gone by came a few hours later. The family pulled out a board game to play. Inside the box, my Nana had written notes about two past family matches on special days complete with scorecards to show the winners. She had noted witness of a clever scenario experienced during a particularly close game. You see, she loved strategy.  She paid attention to the way one rule would effect the outcome. And she loved her family.  She paid attention to who was with her, when, and recorded their winning glory in history.

Both these examples reminded me that it only a takes a few minutes of our attention to exalt everyday experiences. Whether it be the task of wrapping a present or that of putting a game away, proper attention can only be paid if we slow down and listen to the voice when it prods, "I used to be better about this." We must teach ourselves that slowing down can produce fulfilling results, and therefore it is worth our time to give care to our tasks again.  

Is there something you used to do that has gone by the wayside during these hurried times?  Do you wish you paid more attention? How can we teach ourselves to slow down?  

Answers From the Past.

December 20th, 2008

Life is easier when you know who you are. And there is truth to the advice "understand your ancestors to understand yourself."

I glazed over this wisdom for years. I only knew that my bloodline included a combination of Pennsylvania Dutch and Hungarian. Maybe it's because I've reached mid-life or that my career is taking a major turn or simply because my 93-year-old Pennsylvania Dutch Nana just died, but I suddenly found myself wondering how my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors created their own nationality.

My husband is Irish and German. That's pretty clearcut. His ancestors came from Ireland and Germany. Where did my ancestors come from?  Pennsylvania? Like most people today, I found the answer on the Internet.

My family came to Pennsylvania where they settled with others who spoke their language and shared their beliefs. I may never fully understand what differentiates the PA Dutch from thousands of other German immigrants, but I did find that their virtues and characteristics survived 10 generations.

As I was reading the stories of 200 years ago, my eyes grew wide. It was as if the words on the page were written explicitly about me. The character of these people mirrored my own personal beliefs that, until now, had no basis for existence. For example, I could never understand the depth of my sympathetic compassion for the plight of the American Indian. I've never known an American Indian. My family never expressed opinions on the subject. Then I learned about my great ancestor's compassion for both Indians and slaves, and I found comfort in knowing that I was never alone.

Admittedly, most of what I discovered confirmed what I already thought I knew. My fathers were Pennsylvania farmers, at the mercy of the land and weather. Isolated by a peculiar language, they survived with their own skills and superstitions. They were, and I am, stubborn, non-aggressive, devout, self-sufficient and open to every shade of religious expression. We talk funny sometimes, but we are industrious. We waste nothing and make full use of opportunity. So many of my own idiosyncrasies were spelled out on this cyberpage entitled "Character of the PA Dutch."

It's true that our genetic makeup becomes more complex with each generational ingredient. Yet, I would guess that you too relate to one ingredient more than the others. I picked the PA Dutch track, party because I despise the dish called Hungarian Ghoulash. Seriously, I owe it to father to also research his line. In the meantime, my prominent family nationality was the simplest place to start.

If you are struggling with something in your head, it might be advantageous to spend an evening researching the characteristics and basic historical struggles of your ancestors.  Knowing your roots can simplify the answer to the age-old "who am I?" question.

Do you know where you come from?  How has the knowledge helped you in your daily life?

Note: Here are two top resources found during my search.  I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information on these pages:

PA Dutch Culture Website

A Free Genealogy Search Site
Try searching for your grandparent's name and resident city first via Google or other engine.  I came into this site through a Google search, and did not have to register.

Keeping Time.

December 15th, 2008

I'm not going to get much sleep this week.  How do I know?  I looked at my calendar.

It's important to review our calendars at the beginning of each week to remind ourselves of upcoming commitments. The transition from whimsical weekend schedules to deadline-filled weekday timetables is made easier when we know where we are going. I already know my days this week will start early and end late, so I want to be careful not to commit to anything else unless absolutely necessary.

Additionally, my appointment-keeping tool is a simple one. It's a generic, spiral-bound, Staples model that lies flat when I open it and shows me a picture of my entire month.  It takes no batteries.  I don't have to synchronize it with anything.  I can erase or scratch out commitments when they change.  It's as flat as a tablet of paper and fits easily into my totebag.  It serves my needs perfectly.

What kind of calendar do you like to use?  Are you able to get a clear picture of your week ahead?  Are you going to get enough sleep this holiday season?

A Secret Santa.

December 10th, 2008

I think I have already received the best holiday gift for 2008.

I acquired it through a Secret Santa Gift Exchange between wonderful friends.  We each contributed and then selected, switched, fought over, and clutched one anonymous gift. When the hostess determined the game was complete, we tore open our surprise. Of the 12 people in the room, I was lucky enough to have "won" the best gift of the pile.

I overheard the contributor later downplay the item by describing how inexpensive it was. She quietly explained to an envious audience that the costs involved were minimal. I think the total came to about $2.

Why then was my gift so special? Because it was a piece of the giver. She had contributed a small, personally hand-painted picture of three Santas. Lori is humble, yet her art is esteemed by the few who know about it. I nearly cried when I opened my surprise. 

Our talents are not always as tangible as a painting. But they are our individual gift. When we share this gift with a friend or loved one, we give a piece of ourselves. There was a second handmade piece in the exchange, and I expect that the recipient cherishes her's too.

So how do we wrap up a piece of ourselves when our talents are not so easily transferred into a beautiful painting?  Your thoughts, please?