Monday, May 6, 2013

Traditions - Love them or leave them....

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”  ~  W. Somerset Maughan

There is no sight more welcome than flowering branches, beds of daffodils and tulips, and trees bursting forth with bright green leaves after a season of rest.  From the time I was young mother, springtime has been the time for certain traditions for which my children have grown accustomed.  Traditions originating from very fond memories of cooking and baking projects during the Easter season with my mother and sisters.

For many years we have made divinity and peanut butter candy in the spring to share with neighbors, family and friends.  Some years we have found success, other years we have cooked up one batch of failure after another.  Notes are continually made of what worked well and what didn’t.  Humor seems to be the one required ingredient in our recipe for family fun and tradition.  If we remember the humor, it does not matter if our candies are the best ever or the worst flop.  Regardless of outcome or level of hilarity, the activity has been considered a success.  Success, that is measured only by the anticipation of my children to try once again to make our candy confections the next year.  It makes me smile that a few failures over time have not clouded their enthusiasm.  To be honest, the past few years our candies have actually turned out pretty well and sometimes we are not even sure why.  I spent several years as a caterer, but a candy maker - I am not.  That is an art that I have never acquired. 

Of all that life has to offer, there is not much in all its fullness that brings me more joy than gathering together in the kitchen with the warm smells of candy making and baking; working side by side as family and friends to create something that is not only delicious, but beautiful as well.  Ideas flow about how to make variations on old favorites and everyone gets involved with the process resulting in a completely different finished product from the candies that came before. 

My husband and I were traveling during the Easter season this year and my oldest daughter had an Easter dinner for other “Easter orphans.”  She sent us photos of her creations that she made and served.  This particular cake has always been one of our traditional family favorites.  The cake, as she presented it, made such a lasting impression on me because she took an old family favorite and gave it a wonderful and creative splash of her own personality.  My daughter is a florist and she views the world in a colorful and beautiful way. She took this multi-generational tradition and made it her own.  This has given me pause to consider the importance of tradition in my life and the sense of belonging that having traditions brings to me and my family.

Not everyone in the world shares my fondness for traditions.  The internet is full of negative thoughts on the subject.  To consider anything traditional would be taking on all the trappings of suffocation and lack of original thought.  Many assert that a free thinker would never consider any traditions from family, culture or society.  In the connotation of being completely bound by the traditions of others, the above quote by Maughan, "tradition is a guide and not a jailer," would definitely be considered a “jailer.” 

Yet in all fairness, America was born out of the notion that moving forward would be without the trappings and restrictions of previous old world traditions.  Much of the world’s progress has been due to the courage to deviate from previous and established ways.  A recent trip to Nepal illustrated to me, a culture so bound by tradition that there has been very little progress over hundreds of years.

Yet agreeing with all the above, I can’t help but feel slightly betrayed by complete and utter disregard for traditions.  I feel a great need to defend and champion ideas that have been passed down and entrusted to us by those who came before.  It is through traditions that we have a sense of belonging to a family, community and culture.  We feel rooted and grounded by those nurturing feelings of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.  Throwing traditions to the wind is a decisive maneuver to prefer to "reinvent the wheel" in most situations.  There must be some kind of balance; and I guess that is what we all need to decide for ourselves – just how and where that line between what we hold onto and where we let go for personal and societal growth and progress.

“A love of tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril; but the new view must come, the world must roll forward.”  ~  Winston Churchill

My daughter’s beautiful cake was the perfect balance of taking hold of the old, the familiar, the cherished and making it her own.  Tradition can be a guide; it can illuminate the way for us to carry on giving us the ballast of family ties and support to keep us centered.  However, it need not bind us and tether us to the past or to a present that does not allow for progress or positive change.  We continually hear of individuals that so desperately want to belong to something that they cohort with groups, gangs and individuals that bring much destruction into their lives.

My heart is grateful for the traditions of my ancestors and my family.  My sense of self is grounded by the lessons learned from their experiences and their lives.  I cherish the traditions of my faith and the instruction to learn and test for myself the teachings offered.  My life is rich because of the traditions my husband and I have adopted and passed on to our children and even richer watching them save, alter and create traditions for themselves to enhance their own lives and relationships.  Sure, there are some traditions and family patterns we chose to leave behind, but many things we chose to love and invite to linger.

Italian Cream Cake

2 c. sugar

½ c. shortening

1 c. buttermilk

2 c.  coconut

1 t. vanilla

½ c. butter

5 eggs, separated

1 t. soda

1 c. chopped pecans

2 c. flour

In a mixing bowl, cream together the sugar, shortening and butter.  Add egg yolks one at a time mixing thoroughly between each one.  Add soda to buttermilk.  Add buttermilk mixture and flour alternately to the creamed sugar mixture.  Fold in vanilla, pecans and coconut.  Also fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.  Pour into 3 layer cake pans with waxed paper liner, greased and floured.  Bake 325 degrees for 25-30 min.



4 – 5 cups powdered sugar

½ c. butter

1 8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 t. vanilla

Blend together and beat until smooth and good spreading consistency. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

LESS is so much more!!!!

“No man has a right to monopolize more than he can enjoy.”

~ Percy Blythe Shelley

Occasionally, we learn lessons over a period of time.  As more information is gathered, digested and pondered, there is a progression of thought that brings us to some type of logical conclusion and from time to time, an epiphany.  This type of progressive lesson began for me in the second half of 2012.  As long summer days gave way to the chill of fall, it became necessary to transition my summer wardrobe from my cramped closet to accommodate cooler temperatures and the emergence of winter.   
In pulling things from tightly packed racks, I realized there were items that had been completely overlooked during the summer because they were buried behind the sheer volume of “things” and could not be seen.  (I am giving the impression that my closet is large, which it is not.) However, the way it was originally designed created a fair amount of dead space in the corners making it difficult to see what was there.  About the same time I started this project, I ran across the quote by Percy Shelley in a magazine.  How much can one really enjoy and what does enjoy really mean?  Does enjoy mean to like, or is it deeper; such as things we use over and over and over because they are dear to us?  These questions took root and floated around in my mind for days.  Simplicity rang true to my senses reminding me it is probably impossible to thoroughly “enjoy things” that cannot even be seen.

Making things visible seemed like a reasonable place to start.  It was at that moment that my “Less is More” campaign of the past year or so transitioned to “If I Can’t See It, I Don’t Need It.”  Without hesitation, I pulled two clothing rods from my closet and decided that even with less space to hang my clothes, I probably couldn’t wear all the things on the two rods that remained.  Only things that I “really like” and that “really fit” could go into my newly downsized closet.  The rest was donated to various charities. 

A similar dilemma existed with a bulging bin of scarves, a pile of shoes and a box of tangled costume jewelry.  How can I enjoy things or remember to wear things I cannot even see?  My jewelry was soon organized onto a framed piece of corkboard and bracelets and necklaces were hung on a board mounted with drawer pulls from my favorite store, Anthropology.  I could see every pair of earrings and every necklace.  Scarves were sorted, folded and stacked in a shoe organizer.  Suddenly I could see every single thing that was in my closet.  A sense of pride was felt with my streamlined and organized space.  I now felt like I was on my way to following Shelley’s challenge to not monopolize more than I can enjoy.  What began as a closet organizaation endeavor (or so I thought), took a sharp turn to the right. 


Recently I took a trip to Nepal to participate in a dental humanitarian project in the rural Lamjung district.  After our initial arrival into Kathmandu, we spent a few days recovering from some long flights before heading into the villages.  My husband and I walked the streets in the very early morning because we were still wrestling with another time zone.  On the dusty streets of Kathmandu, before the city woke to the crazy chaos of vendors, traffic and noise, I noticed a young boy sorting through garbage with his bare hands.  He was pulling out all the organic garbage; watermelon rinds, pieces of tomato, bread scraps, etc.  Third world countries have many elements that assault our sensitivities and this was one of them.  I could not get this little boy off my mind and will forever remember those beautiful big, brown eyes and that precious brown little hand sorting through the wet garbage from the streets. 

The next morning I saw the same little boy with his parents once again sorting not only wet and smelly, organic garbage but cardboard, glass, etc. and placing it on a large cart.  My hope is that there is a sorting system in Kathmandu providing some kind of revenue for this sweet family.  The alternative is too heartbreaking to even consider.  Regardless of the reason for collecting and sorting the garbage, this young boy was actively participating in the very survival of his family.  Suddenly my “If I Can’t See It, I Don’t Need It” mantra seemed incredibly selfish and unreasonable.  What do I give to those in need?  Do I only toss away my scraps?    I have so much that I hold onto that I don’t need, wear or use.  What am I waiting for?  I have kept countless things for a variety of reasons that someone could have been using.  Countless things have never or hardly been worn or used.  Instead they have been hanging in that black hole in my closet or tucked away in a box taking space season after season. 

Paring down my possessions to things I can “see”, is merely justification to keep far more of those possessions than I can really “enjoy.”  Suddenly I had a new definition for the word "enjoy."  To be allowed to have as much as can be enjoyed is really quite generous.  To have more, borders on gluttony.  Therein lies the challenge for a society with abundance and a people whose habits include acquisition of personal possessions and consumption of goods. 

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.  ~  Franklin D. Roosevelt

Working with some of God’s most humble children, gave me clarity in the way I live my life, accumulate things I have convinced myself I need and cast off the things I don’t. My pockets, my closets, my pantries are deep in many respects both literally and figuratively. There is much that I can give and donate to those who, as Shelley suggested would love the opportunity to thoroughly "enjoy" them. 
photo credit - House Beautiful Magazine