When Tradition Gets Tossed Out the Window


Last year’s tree

I like traditions.  It’s the passing down of culture, stories, special moments from one generation to the next.  Holidays are a time where traditions are focused on most.  Holiday baking, present wrapping, trimming the tree, decorating the house inside and out, singing carols, watching old Christmas movies and stop animation movies, traveling to be with family, waking up early Christmas morning to open presents, Christmas breakfast, and Christmas dinner.

A friend of mine passed away back in 1998.  She had battled health problems for many years and I counted myself fortunate to have seen her just a few months before her passing.  She flew out to surprise me for our wedding reception.  In truth, she was the first person I cooked for with food restrictions when she first got sick.  I wrote down everything she couldn’t have and then dreamed up everything else she could have.  She was a great woman who left this world just a few days before Christmas.

I had difficulty getting excited about Christmas for a while after that.  I did the decorating and did the shopping, but I never felt the absolute glee in all the preparations through the years.

As soon as I started looking forward to Christmas again, Papa passed away just a couple of weeks before Christmas in 20o4.  I was in the middle of wrapping presents to take with us to spend what we all felt would be our last Christmas with him.  Papa, ever the jokester, decided he didn’t want a sober Christmas and went to be with Granny instead.  I can’t blame him.  I would have chosen to be with her, too.

We all still spent Christmas together and since Papa wasn’t around to keep booze away from, we all got a bit toasted.  In his honor of course.  He would have wanted it.

Somehow in the midst of preparations at the home of my grandparents, knowing I would never step in it again, and trying to enjoy being with my family, all I could hear was my mother saying things like, “We have to have the spiral cut ham.” “We have to have Dad’s egg nog.” “We have to make chili.”  I believe my aunties told her if she wanted it, she had to take care of it.  All I remember was thinking, “Are you serious?” and then wanting to smack her.  Instead, I had Chaz fix me another drink and I went back to watching movies with my siblings and cousins.

This was the moment where I decided that even though I have all these traditions from both sides of my family passed down to me, they really don’t mean a thing if I’m not enjoying time with my family.  It doesn’t matter that for the last few years I haven’t trimmed the tree.  It doesn’t matter that I’m spending less time trying to make the perfect bow and instead wrapping simply.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t converted all the holiday recipes and that I haven’t had Granny’s Pecan Rolls for breakfast on Christmas in years.  What matters is that I get to spend the day with Chaz doing whatever we feel like doing.  What matters is that I cook what I want to cook and it doesn’t have to be the same thing every year.  What matters is I spend less time worrying and thinking about tradition than I do worrying about the time I have on special occasions.

Auntie in JFK Plaza, Philadelphia, PA

Auntie in JFK Plaza, Philadelphia, PA

This may seem huge to some of you who may stick to tradition every year, but at heart, as much as I love tradition, I like breaking them and making new traditions.  If Chaz and I had a real wedding ceremony there wouldn’t have been tradition.  No matching bridesmaids dresses.   No wearing white (I look awful if I’m all in white).  No grand churches.  No wedding march.  No being given away (it was the 20th century for goodness sakes).  When I was sick before the hypothyroid diagnosis, I went without throwing my yearly New Years Party, a tradition from Granny and Papa I had followed for years.  Even if we didn’t have people over because I was just too sick to entertain, I did make the traditional pot of chili.  I think that is one tradition I never stopped no matter what.  New Years day is chili.  I haven’t done the party in years because of work and even though I’m gone from that fun box store, I won’t be partying this year because I’m just too sick to entertain again.  Chili will be made.

No, the tradition frenzy is no longer in my life.  When I feel it start to come on I remind myself about what is really important about the holidays.  It is why I redeemed some miles and flew to Allentown, PA last month to spend a couple of days with one of my aunties.  I had to take advantage of any opportunity to spend time with any family members no matter how sick and exhausted I was.  This year is no different from any other and with all the losses in my life I’m holding on to my time with Chaz even more.   I have a heavier heart today because of another loss.  I’m imagining how two of my friends are going to manage their first Christmases without their wives.  I’m imagining how my auntie, uncle, and cousin are going to celebrate their first Christmas without Jonathan.  I’m wishing for my younger years of spending Christmas with either Granny and Papa or Grandma and Grandpa, but thankful for the years I had with them.

I’m thankful I regained control of my life and I’m taking back my health, yet again.

I’m thankful my doctor diagnosed me before I wound up in the hospital because I kept pushing and pushing myself.

I’m thankful for Chaz, who has been extremely supportive of me doing what I need to do for myself.

I’m thankful for my family and friends who have become family.

I’m thankful for you.

It is time to just be.

The Power of Words in the Midst of Tragedy

Bearded Iris at Krohn Conservatory

Bearded Iris at Krohn Conservatory

I’ve been quiet.

I’ve been sitting.

I’ve been thinking.

I am not reacting.  I am choosing every word carefully.  I am not commenting on the events.  I am addressing everything after.

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary was a tragedy.  What has happened after is tragic.

I was determined not to watch or address anything Friday.  I attempted to stay off social media for the day.  I kept the TV off any station airing news.

Frankly, news anchors and reporters piss me off when tragedy happens.  People’s over-reactions to tragic events on social media piss me off.

Being pissed off at this time in my life needs to be avoided as much as possible so my body will heal.

Then one comment I happened to see when I finally went on to Facebook to share some good news about Dr. Cuz (she has a book coming out next month) sent me into a tizzy.  One of my friends decided to make a comment on my status about staying off social media and that watching so much media coverage is not healthy.  His comment, “it seems to me this is not about on this is not about mental health this is about parents about their failure to teach citizenship inappropriate behavioral responses to frustration.”

First off, I nearly raged.  Nearly took everything within arms reach and threw it.

Nothing makes me mad more than assigning blame to someone other than the person actually responsible.  It makes me even more mad when it becomes about those with mental illness (or suspected as it was at the time) and their parents.

Those of you who are personal friends and those of you who have followed me for a while know I used to work in the mental health field with kids.  Mostly teenagers.  I worked for a non-profit agency with a psychiatric residential program, and in the later years of my career there, a community based services program.  The one thing that we all taught the kids across the board was taking responsibility for the choices they make.  Yes, it is natural to get mad, but the choice they make in how to manage that feeling could be appropriate or inappropriate.  Yes, you got punched in the mouth, but walking away to talk to one of the adults is preferable to punching back.

It wasn’t easy work.  I was hit, kicked, bit, scratched, spat upon, and had my hair pulled.  I spent hours physically restraining kids from hurting themselves or someone else.  I spent even more hours talking to the kids, connecting with them, teaching them through words and action.

I worked with the parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  I validated their feelings in their difficult times and situations.

Through the years we experienced losses of kids who left and were in accidents.  Then, in 2005, it really hit home.  A young man we worked with years before shot an officer in the early morning when confronted by the officer, then shot and killed himself.  The officer did not survive.  This turned our world upside down at work.  Somehow the media got wind that he was treated at our facility, instead of mentioning that it was years before, the media made it sound like we had just discharged him.  Because the media can say what they want.

I watched the news when I got home that night against my better judgment.  They twisted everything.  Everything.  And because they feel the need to insert opinion rather than just reporting fact, one of the anchors ended with, “I hate seeing when kids go down this road.”

I screamed.  At the top of my lungs.  “YOU DIDN’T SEE HIM GO DOWN THIS ROAD!  WE DID!  YOU SAW HIM AT THE END OF THE ROAD!”

I broke.  All the losses I experienced in the year before this finally took its toll.  I wound up taking time off to process all of it.  From losing my last living great-grandparent, to losing Granny and Papa, to this unfathomable mess I was feeling at the time.

Fast forward 3 more years.  I left the agency earlier in the year and wasn’t working at the time.  I got a call from one of my friends still working at the agency.  One of my kids, a kid I worked with in his home and with his grandmother, had been shot and killed along with the man he was with when they broke into an elderly couple’s home and attempted to rob them.  I immediately went online looking for a report of what happened.

I shouldn’t have.

When I got to the end of the online article I kept reading on in the reader comments.  Someone had the audacity to blame his parents.  His parents weren’t to blame.  They didn’t raise him.  His grandmother did.  She did everything she could to raise him and his brothers to make good choices.  That included calling me over a year after services were ended because she felt like he was in need of them again.  She was in no way to blame.  No.  Way.  He made his own choice.  He choice to attempt to rob that couple with someone else.  He chose it.  And while my heart broke for his grandmother and brothers and for the loss of his wonderful smile, I knew he was responsible.

I sat with parents and grandparents in the waiting rooms of psychiatric hospitals for hours waiting for intake assessments.  For those whom it was the first hospitalization, I assured them it would be all right.  I checked in on the kids while in the hospital as often as I could.  You cannot blame a parent for a choice their child makes when you’ve seen the pain in their eyes as the doors closed to the hospital and they are walking away from their baby.  You cannot blame a parent for their child’s choices when you’ve been in their home in the midst of a full-blown explosion and the child is throwing balls, shoes, and ashtrays at every adult in the room.  You cannot blame a parent when you see the tears rolling down their cheeks as their child is sitting in the back of a police car in handcuffs.

I cannot stand that the media has decided to peg Friday’s shooter as someone with Autism (and this isn’t the first time someone in the media has done that without confirmation).  I cannot stand that instead of waiting for confirmation from authorities, they decided to do their own digging and pegged the wrong person, which in turn sent people to his Facebook page leaving all kinds of nasty messages.  (Is this really what our world has come to?  Attacking people like that on Facebook?  I wonder what Miss Manners would say about that.)   I cannot stand that people are polarizing in the midst of tragedy.  I cannot stand that the media is interviewing the children.  I cannot stand that the media will air on-site reports for hours on end because they can and because they know people will watch.  I cannot stand people who are slinging around opinions without any base in fact.

This is not about gun control.  The right to bear arms is one of our rights under the Second Amendment.  We can choose to exercise this right or not.  If we do exercise this right, it is our responsibility to have adequate training in the use of whatever firearm we choose.  It is also our responsibility to keep said firearm stored safely and properly.

This is not about prayer in schools.  Courts may uphold no organized group prayers in school.  But, every individual in a school can pray on their own.  Courts and schools can’t take that from an individual.

This is about families and individuals who cannot get mental health services because funding gets cut at every turn when budgets get smaller and no politician wants to take a pay cut.

This is about the media who take tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary and air continually for hours and sensationalize everything.

This is about all of us building a community and helping each other rather than tearing each other down.



Review: The Everything Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cookbook & Giveaway

No luck finding Carrie's book at my local book sellers, but I did find it at a little cookbook shop in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market

No luck finding Carrie’s book at my local book sellers, but I did find it at a little cookbook shop in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market

This giveaway is now closed.  Congratulations to the winner, Michelle P.! 

Those of you who know me well know how much I love to say, “Yes!” when a fellow blogger friend emails me and asks if I want to do some recipe testing for their cookbook they are working on.  I get excited for my friends who are venturing into writing a cookbook for the first time or working on another one.  Yes, I love supporting other people’s dreams.

For some reason I did not take pictures throughout my recipe testing for Carrie Forbes’s (Ginger Lemon Girl) The Everything Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cookbook.  Call it brain fog. I did take some after making more of the recipes once I had a copy of the e-book.

Carrie shares why using the size slow cooker recommended for recipes is important.  I learned this the hard way and is why I have more than one now.  She also shares how to care for your slow cooker.  Stuff no one ever tells you!

Here are some of the recipes I tested before publication & made once I had the book (in no particular order):

  • Breakfast Quinoa with Fruit
  • Millet Porridge with Apples and Pecans
  • Pear Clafoutis
  •  Amish Apple Butter
  • Sweet and Sour Mini Hot Dog Snackers
  • Homemade Ketchup
  • Vegetable Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings
  • Chinese Congee
  • Slow Cooker Pork Posole
  • Cincinnati Chili
  • Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya
  • Chicken Pesto Polenta
  • Mango Duck Breast
  • Tarragon Chicken

I shared the Amish Apple Butter with some friends because I had so much and they loved it.  All the recipes are simple to make and easily made dairy-free.  I stuck with using nutritional yeast, soy-free Earth Balance spread, and dairy-free milks when making recipes that called for dairy.  Anything that called for cream cheese I have not tried.  If you make the Pear Clafoutis in a larger slow cooker, make sure you adjust your cooking time!  This was the lesson I learned the hard way.  I made it in my 7 quart cooker and it burned a little because I did not adjust the cooking time.   And if you make the Sweet and Sour Mini Hot Dog Snackers…be prepared to do several “quality control” checks while they cook.  My favorite from the book is the Chicken Pesto Polenta.  Easy to make even if you are making your own pesto.

She has a chapter just for Holiday dishes that you can make in your slow cooker.  Have you ever used your slow cooker for holiday cooking?  Saves space in the oven and saves you time from constantly going into the kitchen taking things out and putting things in the oven.  I highly recommend it.

Breakfast Quinoa with Fruit

Breakfast Quinoa with Fruit

Sausage & Shrimp Jambalaya

Sausage & Shrimp Jambalaya

Amish Apple Butter

Amish Apple Butter

Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

Are you drooling yet?  I hope so.

I am giving away one The Everything Gluten-Free Slow Cooker Cookbook provided by Carrie.  Deadline to enter is 7pm Eastern Time, Friday, December 14, 2012.  Giveaway is open to those living in the Continental U.S. only.

To enter leave a comment in the comments below with how you would like slow cooking to help you out in the kitchen.  There are no wrong answers and the winner will be selected by a randomizer.

For extra entries:

  • Follow Hunter’s Lyonesse on Facebook
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  • Follow Ginger Lemon Girl on Facebook
  • Follow Ginger Lemon Girl on Twitter
  • Leave a comment in the comment section for each follow for up to four extra entries.