Monthly Archives: December 2013

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“In the summertime we didn’t have shoes to wear,

But in the wintertime we’d all get a brand new pair,

From a mail-order catalog, money made from sellin’ a hog,

Daddy always managed to get the money somewhere.”

– “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn

With it being Christmastime, I’ve been reflecting on the inundation of the marketing and greed of the season. It might always baffle me as to how we as a society continue to be enamored with the acquisition of goods, when so little is actually required to be happy in this life. I think little children best illustrate this when they play with their new toys for all of a day or two, then move onto the next new and exciting thing, constantly shifting focus and rarely settling in on one thing that they truly find essential to their happiness. At some point, a child can only have so many dolls, Legos, games, etc. before all of these toys start to look the same and lose the excitement they once may have had. And so it goes with the holiday gift rush every year. There’s always a new item that everyone MUST HAVE, but if you were to interview those people in say, February or March, I’m going to bet that a good percentage of them have lost interest in that item and have moved on.

The lesson here is that familiar adage: The best things in life aren’t things / The best things in life are free

When I was listening to the audiobook of “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” I took note of how Loretta Lynn describes her life in the hills of Kentucky, with very little by way of possessions, but with very much by way of love and experiencing life.

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Growing up in a home without electricity or running water, Loretta’s childhood was unlike that of many Americans today (though it wasn’t all too uncommon for people of that age in that geographical location). Her life was simple. She took care of family and neighbors, she learned the lessons she needed to take care of herself and a family someday, and she found happiness and entertainment when with others. For fun there was music, story-telling, and community events. Her father was a miner, working extremely hard to provide what he could for his family. She learned the value of an honest day’s work, as well as that of a dollar.

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Loretta married young, worked hard to keep up with her children and the house while her husband was working, and to this day still maintains her simple view on what is necessary in the world. Though her career has made her a lot of money, and the house she lives in is very beautiful, she has kept true to her roots as a Kentucky coal miner’s daughter.

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I admire Loretta’s work, her songwriting and career, and her dedication to what is important in her life. Listening to this book helped me to see my life differently, re-evaluating what I deem as essential. I’d like to think that Loretta’s story helped me stay true to my own roots of simplicity. My parents did the best they could for us, as any good parent does, but we did not live extravagant lives…and I couldn’t be more grateful for that! Knowing I was raised in an honest home where we didn’t put on airs to be people we weren’t, or fluff our feathers in front of everyone trying to show off how great we were, or whatnot, is a big deal to me. It’s kept me simple today. Nothing physical means much to me. I don’t need a fancy car (mine is from 2000). I don’t need a fancy home (I have a 1 bedroom apartment). I don’t need fancy clothes (in fact, I refuse to wear clothes with name brands that show). I don’t need any of that stuff. What I do need is people in my life who I can depend on, who I love, and who love me back. I need my faith, some good books, some music, and a few flowers to grow. These things are what make me happy.

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The book “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” (as well as the movie, with Sissy Spacek), is a great reminder of what life looked like in a simpler time, and shows just what is necessary for a good life. In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, and the cool down period afterward (which we are currently in), it is a great time to reflect on what is important to us, what we need to be happy, and perhaps – what we could do without.

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Coal Miner’s Daughter

School of Essential Ingredients

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I loved the first Erica Bauermeister book I read – “Joy for Beginners” – so I was excited to start up on my second book of hers – “School of Essential Ingredients.” It was definitely delightful, just as I had hoped.

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The story (mostly) takes place at a restaurant run by a very intuitive woman named Lillian. She hosts a cooking class for the community, which many types of people find themselves attending for various reasons. Some are aspiring chefs, some are eager home-cooks, some are desperate home-cooks, and some are there because the classes were given as a gift and they feel obligated to attend. However, due to Lillian’s welcoming nature, everyone finds themselves (either sooner or later) engrossed in the challenges and victories in each lesson.

In the very beginning of the book, Lillian opens with the first lesson, which is to prepare crab….live crab. Most everyone in the class is a bit squeamish about having to kill the crab before cooking it. I could relate to this. I can’t even kill the fish I catch! However, Lillian presents it in a way that both makes you think and spurs you onward to overcoming your fear/hesitancy. She explains that all cooking is an interruption in the process of life – that even the fruits and vegetables we prepare were alive at the time of picking and are now in the process of dying in some way. She also says that to only eat meat that has been previously prepared for us is a bit dishonest, as if to trick ourselves into believing that the way that the meat got to our hands was a tidy little process, just like the container it’s packaged in. When we are honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the process is messy, just as life is messy, we can see the importance (though not necessarily the requirement for every meat dish we prepare!) of taking the journey through from the life to the death, to the rebirth of the product (be it animal, fruit, vegetable, etc.) as a delicious dish meant to nourish, nurture, and provide joy.

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As each lesson is carried out, the students begin to learn more about themselves, one another, and the way that the ingredients can open up a healing, transformative, and eye-opening door into living life with purpose. The process is beautiful and inspiring as a reader. It makes you want to grab new ingredients, prepare new dishes, and learn to see life anew. The way the author describes everything – from an ingredient to a setting to a person to the scent wafting through the air – is palpable and enriching. I felt I was living alongside these characters, experiencing their joys and struggles, and seeing the world change through their eyes.

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When the story was ending, I actually got a little sad to be leaving these folks behind. I had grown to know them and would miss them. I also would miss the way that the writing inspired me to see my world differently, and to enjoy each thing in a new and different way. So, when I discovered that Erica Bauermeister has a third book – which is actually a sequel to this book – I was thrilled! Better yet, it was at my local library in their audiobook collection! I downloaded it and am currently working my way through it at my cleaning job. I am loving being back in the world of Lillian, the friends she (and I…haha) made in the cooking class, and most of all, in the way she views the world. I am sort of sad to finish this book (even though I’m not even halfway through!). I’m tempted to listen to the whole collection over again.

I’m also considering looking into taking a cooking class. I think it’d be so much fun, plus I’d love to learn some of the techniques and concepts that I *sort of* know, but kind of have made up as I went along. Also, I’d love to learn to use ingredients I rarely use/never use. I’m very open-minded when it comes to trying new foods and cuisines, so I think that a cooking class would be a very enriching experience for me. Now I have only to find one locally…

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Favorite Childhood Christmas Books

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Since the pre-Christmas season is upon us, I decided to write up a little post on my favorite Christmas books from my childhood. There are loads of options out there today for kids, which I think is awesome. When I taught first grade, I couldn’t wait to read new books to my students (and they couldn’t wait to hear them!). Growing up, though, the selection was quite a bit less, consisting largely of Golden Books. My mom found a book that Current offered for a short time called “A Story a Day ‘Til Christmas.” We have two volumes of it (I’m not sure how many they made – not many!), and we read and re-read from those books every Christmas. I still enjoy pulling them out and reading the stories over again with my mom. Some memories are worth re-creating.

Anyway, I decided to do a short blurb about each of the books I treasured as a child. Perhaps this could inspire some of you to think back on what brought you to the joy and wonder of the season when you were young – and maybe recreate some of those memories today.

#1: A Story A Day ‘Til Christmas

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This book (and the other volumes like it) contains, as would be expected, a story for each day until Christmas – like an Advent calendar of sorts. Some of the stories were classics, while others were a little more recent (meaning possibly unpublished elsewhere). Each night before bed when we’d read the next story, I’d be excited to see what the characters would be like, how the story would end, and what my opinion of the story might be. I loved these books as a kid, and I still love them today. It’s sad that they’re only available through rare books websites – books like this should be more widely accessible!

#2: The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry

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This is sort of a cheat (another to follow in #3), because this story was one actually contained within the compilation book I wrote about as #1 (above). I wanted to separate it out, though, because it was one of my favorite stories to read from that book. This story, a classic, tells of a couple who show their love for one another in very self-sacrificing ways, which only lends itself to an even deeper love between them. It’s a beautiful story, and even as a young child who didn’t really understand the complexities of the message, I knew there was something special and touching about it. Definitely worth a read (or two, or three…).

#3: The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen

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As I mentioned earlier, this story was also included in the compilation book mentioned in #1 (above). But, as with book #2, it’s so good that I had to mention it separately. It’s a sad story, which confused me as a child, when every other Christmas story I’d read had a happy ending that involved winning a contest, or reconnecting with family, or getting the longed-for item for Christmas, or what-have-you. But this story was different, and perhaps that’s why it drew me in. A tale of a little girl who freezes to death trying to sell matches on the street, it’s most certainly not one to warm the heart at first glance. But there’s a deeper story, involving a grandmother’s love, and the promise of heaven, and it is these things that make this story worth noting. It, too, is a classic, and for very good reason. I found that they have made the story into a few movie versions – might have to check those out.

#4: The Story of Holly & Ivy, by Rumer Godden

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This one was another favorite of mine, but was rarely read due to its length and my lack of attention span. 🙂 I do love the story, though. It’s one of a little orphan girl who wishes for someone to love her, especially at Christmas. This story shows how important we are to one another, and how something small (or big!) can change someone’s life. Definitely worth checking out!!

#5: The Christmas Tree That Grew, by Phyllis Krasilovsky

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Boy, did I love this book. There were a few mystifying parts about it that made me enjoy it every time my mom and I read it. The first was a silly thing, but in my little world everyone lived in single-family homes. So, I found the idea of an apartment building, housing family on top of family, to be an extraordinary concept! All of those people in the same place – separate yet together. It was fascinating to me. (Now, living in an apartment, reality has set in and it’s really not all that exciting after all. Haha.) As the tree grows, the family on the bottom floor has to cut a hole through the ceiling to let it continue to grow. This allows for the person/family in the apartment above them to enjoy the tree, too. The book continues like this, for three or four floors (my memory is rusty on this one). The joy that the tree brings to each neighbor (despite the fact that when it’s removed they’ll have a huge hole in their ceiling/floor…) is remarkable, and filled me with wonder as a little girl. And hey, who said that children’s books needed to be realistic anyway?

#6: The Biggest, Most Beautiful Christmas Tree, by Amye Rosenberg

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This book is terrific because of the characters. When I was preparing to write this post I was racking my brain for titles, and couldn’t come up with the name of this book. But I remembered one character – a chipmunk named Nutley – and thus was able to locate the book via Google. The story is about some woodland creatures who are always passed over by Santa, and they are sad and confused. They decide to make themselves more noticeable so that he will surely find them this year. As they make their decorations and trim the tree, you can’t help but get excited along with them, hoping Santa will finally come this year. It’s a fun little book – not a “moral to the story” type, but a sweet, happy story. Perfect for snuggling up and reading with kids.

#7: Merry Christmas Mom and Dad, by Mercer Mayer

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Ok, let me go on record as saying the I LOVE LITTLE CRITTER. Mercer Mayer’s books are extraordinary, and timeless. I can still pick this book up and enjoy it – possibly even more than I did as a kid now that I can catch a different level of humor in it. In the story, Little Critter is beyond excited for Christmas to happen, and, in his usual way, has sort of left a trail of minor destruction behind him while creating gifts, wrapping the presents, and waking mom and dad on Christmas morning. The whole Little Critter series is terrific, but this is one of my favorites in it since I felt I could relate so much as a kid.

#8: The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore

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I had to end on the classic of all classics. This is actually the cover of one of the copies we had of this poem. I remember this book being in my hands like it was yesterday (when it was actually more like 20 years ago). My mom and dad said that I had this poem memorized far before I could read it, and that they actually recorded me reciting it on an audiotape once upon a time (no one knows where that tape went, which is a shame). I loved this poem, and still can recite most of it. Of all traditional Christmas books, this is the most essential to read year, after year, after year.

So there you have it. My favorite childhood Christmas books. There’s one that I couldn’t remember the name of and though I tried various terms in my Google search, came up empty-handed. If I get a chance to search through the collection at my parents’ house, I’ll put it up later. I can remember the story, but not the title or author. Agh. HOWEVER, I did enjoy compiling this list and taking this little stroll down memory lane. Reading truly speaks to my heart, and looking over these books has a particular magic of its own. I sincerely hope all of you have similar memories of Christmas books you read as a child!!