Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Traditions

Growing up we never had a regular Thanksgiving tradition. We always celebrated the holiday, but the activity changed from year to year. My parents were divorced, and some years were "mom" years, some years were "dad" years. And even then, nobody in my family had a regular tradition - a huge family gathering, to mark the holiday. Even the food changed from year-to-year. There was something about this lack of stability, on this one particular holiday, that always bothered me.

One of the first things I did after getting married was start my own Thanksgiving tradition. Three month's newly wed and I had everyone over for mom, my dad and stepmother, my sister, my half-sister. (Thanksfully, everyone gets along and this is a stress-free event as far as family relations goes.) Over the years, the families have grown - my mom is remarried, my sisters are married with children. Some years my husband's out-of-town family has attended (his brother was a regular for a number of years). We've had "stray" friends with no place else to go, family members with an occassional free holiday (this year my aunt attended). Most amazing, since my father's death a few years ago, my stepmother has remarried (creating what my husband likes to call my "staircase family" - step steps) and her husband attends. Last year, all three of his children and their families took our total up to 24 for the year!

Even with just our core group, we are up to 16, requiring 3 tables:

I love my Thanksgiving holiday. It's the tradition I created. It's "MY" holiday.

Have you posted about your Thanksgiving? Add a link here, I'd love to come read. Or do you have a unique Thanksgiving recipe you'd like to share, put it in here. What's a Thanksgiving post without a discussion of food?

Everyone has a Turkey recipe they love. It's the side dishes that make a tradition, IMO. Here's my recipe for Brussel Sprouts (a vegetable I otherwise hate, but love in this recipe - who can hate anything cooked in butter and cream!):

Brussel Sprouts with Marjoram & Pine Nuts:

3 Tbsp butter
½ cup pine nuts
1 ½ lbs fresh brussel sprouts, halved (or 1 ½ lbs frozen,
thawed, halved)
1 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
2 shallots
1 Tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
1/3 cup whipping cream

· Melt 1 Tbsp butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add nuts & stir until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer nuts to small bowl.
· Melt 1 Tbsp butter in same skillet over medium heat. Add sprouts & stir 1 minute.
· Add broth. Cover and simmer until sprouts are almost tender, about 7 minutes.
· Uncover & simmer until broth evaporates, about 5 minutes.
· Using wooden spoon, push sprouts to side of skillet. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in center of same skillet. Add shallots, sauté until tender, about 2 minutes.
· Stir in marjoram, then cream. Simmer until sprouts are covered with cream, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes.
· Season with salt & pepper.
· Transfer brussel sprouts to platter. Mix in ½ pine nuts. Sprinkle with remaining nuts.

(Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill. Stir over medium heat to re-warm.)


Monday, November 24, 2008

What I Didn't Do Yesterday

I did not write yesterday.

I did not do the Thanksgiving grocery shopping. I did not clean the house, or do the laundry. I didn't even rake the leaves.

I did not spend time with my children, or my husband.

I did not critique queries in Writer's Exercises on the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum. I did not critique chapters for my critique group.

I didn't work.

I did not watch TV, or make Christmas cards, or finish that baby quilt.

What did I do?

Almost a year ago, a friend of mine lost her husband. Loosing a spouse must be difficult at any age, but as a young adult, I can't imagine the pain. For me, the hardest part would be the lost moments - those memories never made. The unrealized opportunities - because there just wasn't enough time.

It's been a difficult year for my friend, and emotions are still raw. But healing is a step by step process, and yesterday she took another big step. Three of us spent the day yesterday (and well into the evening) making a memory quilt. The quilt is made up of cut-up sections of her husband's pants and shirts, and while the process of cutting up the cloths to create the pieces was a tearful one, the process of sewing them together to form something new was a moment of healing.

So how did I spend my time yesterday? Just exactly the
right way.

Monday, November 3, 2008


How do your characters react to change? How do they face the unexpected? How long does it take them to adjust, and how hard do they fight the change along the way?

I ask this now because the software is in flux over at the Books And Writer's Community today, and there is no telling at present if the changes are permanent or the accident of some programmer who forgot to drink his morning coffee and accidentally pushed the RED nuclear detonation button.

My observation of people is that, on the whole, people react better to change when (1) they expect it and (2) they have some say in what's going to happen - even if their suggestions aren't taken, people like to feel that they've been heard.

Changes are threatening. They move people out of their comfort zones. Unexpected changes, especially, tend to throw people off. People like the world to be predictable – no matter how unrealistic this desire.

Some people adapt smoothly, some with anger, some with rejection of the new status quo. Most people come around eventually, if they are invested enough in whatever it was that changed.

Change is certainly something that often gets our characters off their duffs. It is a change in the status quo, or a threat of some sort, that spurs characters into action at the beginning of the story. It's the Call to Adventure.

What change spurs your character into action? How hard does your character fight against that call? What actions do they take to Refuse the Call? Certainly, if the change or call is insignificant enough, characters may just turn their back. Look at your story. Is the call something that might really spur the character into action? Or are they just moving along because you want them to?

Is your character someone who embraces change? This presents a different sort of challenge as a writer. If your character is someone who rushes off to join every new fad, try every new product, explore every new avenue, then how do you create the tension and conflict necessary to move them through your story? What changes are threatening enough for them to Refuse the Call? Or, if they don't refuse but go rushing in headlong, what is important enough about that goal to make them fail to hesitate and consider the risks? Or how do you show your readers how foolhardy that headlong rush is, and create tension that way? How do you make the character believable?

So, take a few minutes today to consider your reactions to change and how your own emotions related to change relate to your characters. Are they like you or different? How hard do they fight against change? And how, in the end, do they ultimately embrace the change and move into their adventure?

Good luck!