Turn on the television this time of year, and you can instantly see how rampant commercialism threatens to steal the heart of Christmas. But instead of feeling disheartened, I've decided to "take back" Christmas by reinstituting some old-fashioned holiday traditions in my home this year.
Here are a few ideas that I've come across in my quest to get back to the basics:Have a taffy pull.
How many kids today would actually know what this is? I have to admit that when a woman told me it was a favorite holiday tradition in her family, I had to google it. Apparently, you can use honey, or mollasses, or corn syrup in the recipe. Click here to learn how to stage your own taffy pull. Play old-fashioned games.
Charades, checkers, chess. These traditional family games will slow down Father Time during the holidays and help you focus on what matters most - spending quality time with your family. One of the great "robbers" of Christmas joy is the busyness that overtakes us this time of year. Sitting down and playing a simple game of chess by the fire will make those precious minutes last longer.Bake homemade bread dough ornaments.
Remember these? What you'll need: 4 cups flour, 2 cups water, 2 cups salt. Mix ingredients into a ball; roll it out on parchment paper; cut with cookie cutters; make a hole at the top with a toothpick; and bake on parchment paper at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. After they cool, paint and varnish with clear fingernail polish. Tie a ribbon, and they're ready to hang!Go caroling!
Why not be the first person on your block in the past 30 or 40 years to organize a Christmas caroling outing? I remember going caroling with my high school choir, and this is still one of my favorite holiday memories. All it takes is a handful of willing partipants, a row of lit houses, and a few old-fashioned carols in your back pocket. What better way to share holiday joy? Nursing homes are also a great caroling destination.String cranberry and popcorn garland.
What you'll need: cranberries, popcorn (let sit overnight), strong string, and a needle (ask at a craft store about ones that are safe for children). I sprayed mine with hairspray to keep it from aging, and to keep the mice away while in storage (we've had ours for 6 years!).Make homemade cookie and candy baskets.
Pull out the cookbooks and select a few cookie and candy recipes; pick up all the ingredients at the store; and then designate a "cookie baking" day with family and friends. This is the perfect day to put on some Christmas music, make a pot of hot cocoa, and don the apron that hangs in your pantry the rest of the year. When all of the goodies are made, you might choose to place them in baskets or bags and deliver them to neighbors who are spending the holidays alone. Of course, don't forget to keep a handful for your own holiday nibbling!Read the Christmas story and other holiday classics aloud.
Remember sitting around the dining room table or in the living room listening to your mother or father read the Christmas story? If not, it's something that you could start with your own family. In our family, this has always been a Christmas Eve tradition. We light a few candles, snuggle together on the couch, and read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas followed by the story of Christ's birth. For me, it wouldn't feel like Christmas without this quiet, reflective time as a family to soak in the reason for the season.
There are history museums where pieces of history are displayed in modern, sheet-rocked buildings with A/C and automatic doors. And then there are house museums, where artifacts are shown in small, 19th-century rooms where they might have been found in the first place, in someone's home or business in the center of a quaint New England village.
I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to spend the better part of a week perusing the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. But for a quick afternoon trip into the past, you can't beat the house museum down the road.
And we're lucky in New England, cause there are lots of them. But most are only open through early- to mid-October, so you'd better hurry and put on your driving gloves. It's time to discover the golden nuggets of local history hidden on the Main Streets and side-streets throughout Vermont.
The "Historic House Museums in Vermont" website, put together by the Victorian Preservation Assocation, is an excellent tool for planning your tour: http://www.vpa.org/museumsvm.html.
A friend of mine took up flying when he was nearing 70. He is now an active volunteer for Angel Flights, flying critically ill men, women and children to far-away hospitals for treatment.
A 98-year-old woman I know spends hours of otherwise idle time sketching pictures of flowers and landscapes with a ball-point pen on white type paper — and making collages from magazine cut-outs. She also picked up the accordian for the first time in her 70s — and now entertains "seniors" at local senior centers. Incidentally, she learned how to boogie-board around the same time.
I met a man the other day in his mid 80s who has been diligently writing his life story and piecing together his family geneology through online research.
Adopting new hobbies and seeking opportunities to learn something new is part of the magic formula for living a long, healthy life. It seems to be a key component, in fact. According to an online article "Hobbies Keep Centenarians Sharp,"
these pastimes help keep our minds sharp and agile.
If you've always wanted to learn to play the piano or speak German, stop thinking of it as an indulgence for tomorrow. More likely, it's a health tonic for today.
Remember the Jetsons? I was certain that by the time I had kids of my own, we'd all own flying cars and have robot housekeepers. Rosie would be such a great addition to my household.
I wonder how accurately we imagine the world of tomorrow?
At the end of most life-story interviews, I like to take some time to pass along thoughts, hopes, wishes to the future — distant and not-so-distant. What are your hopes for your grandchildren? What concerns do you have about the world that your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will inherit?
Too bad most of us don't have our great-grandparents' answers to these questions. It would be interesting to hear what they envisioned about the world that awaited their great-great-grandchildren — the youth of today.
On her site, Brainpickings.com
, Maria Popover has dug up six visions of the future
, left to us from the past. They cover topics from travel, clothing, architecture, technology and communications — even snippets from Walt Disney's program "Tomorrowland." Fascinating stuff. Be sure to watch the "Clothing of the Future" video clip from the 1930s ….
I think that we often struggle — during the all-too-frantic holiday season — to find ways to show our love and appreciation to friends and family. We shop for meaningful gifts, host parties, bake pies and cookies.
But it's the "personalized attention" that somehow goes missing.
That's what Thanksgiving is for. It's time to slow down and reflect on the blessings in our lives.
This year, I'm vowing to use the spirit of Thanksgiving as inspiration to do some much-needed thank-you card writing — to show my gratitude for those friends and family members who enrich my life.
Not for anything specific. Just a few notes to say, "Thank you for being who you are — and for all that you've brought to my life."
I'm thinking that a goal of five notes is realistic. Maybe ten. But truly, what better time of the year to send a thank-you note than on Thanksgiving?
I've heard recently from a number of historical societies in my area enthusiastic about beginning an oral-history program in their communities. They all share the same concern - that the men and women who can bring the history of their town to life through the sharing of personal experience are aging rapidly.
Time is of the essence when it comes to capturing these personalities and their stories for current and future generations.
Thinking of starting a community oral-history program? Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Determine your objective.
What do you hope to learn? What are the gaps in your "known history" that personal recollections can help fill?
2. Agree upon key subject categories.
What are the primary topics in your community history that you'd like to cover? Examples might be: the local lumbering industry, churches, schooling, farming, retail, etc.
3. Make your list.
Who do you want to talk with? There will be those in your community who will be of interest for several possible reasons: they're natives to the area, they've led exceptionally fascinating lives, they can shed some light on one or some of the categories chosen in Step 2.
4. Prioritize your list.
Who do you want to talk with FIRST? You will want to consider age, health, and availability.
5. Buy your equipment.
You will need a digital recorder and microphones, to start. There are some good resources to help you find the right equipment for your needs. Transom.org
is a good place to get started.
6. Find committed interviewers.
Who will be conducting the interviews? A group of 3-5 interviewers is ideal. Then you can divide and conquer, after everyone has agreed upon an interview protocol and process.
7. Agree upon a protocol and process!
There are a number of things that should be considered before stepping out into the field - how to present your program to the community, connecting/communicating with potential interviewees, the interview process, and archival procedures.
I offer a two-hour Interviewing Workshop designed specifically to help community oral-history programs get off the ground and running. If you're interested, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-371-9777. I'd love to help you begin this exciting process.
So, the family picnic at the lake or annual 4th of July cookout at Uncle Marvin's is over … and we hunker down through another 12 months of silence in our extended families, as hectic schedules and incompatible time zones make correspondence virtually impossible.
But there's hope. Many families have turned to the ease of electronic newsletter programs to keep the conversation rolling throughout the year. The e-newsletter programs that are available today are extremely affordable (most are FREE!), easy to use, and customizable.
Here's what you need to do to get started:1. Announce your intentions.
Tell your family members about your plan. You may be surprised who might step up to the plate to help with your newsletter endeavor. "Many hands make light work," as they say.2. Begin collecting email addresses.
At your next family gathering, pass around a sheet of paper asking for everyone's current contact information (might as well update your address book, while you're at it). Then start an email chain to collect email addresses from those family members with whom you may not be in direct contact.3. Come up with a plan.
Who will receive your newsletter and how often do you plan on sending it? Monthly? Quarterly? Biannually? Then decide what categories of news you'd like to include. Special announcements (births, marriages, graduations)? Family history tidbits? Family recipes? 4. Select an e-newsletter service.
There are a number of great programs available. A couple to consider: www.mailchimp.com
.5. Follow the directions, and you're off and running!
M newsletter program will walk you through a simple step-by-step process to getting started. And once you've selected your design and loaded your contacts, the next issues will be a snap!
Thanks to the Veterans History Project, initiated by the U.S. Congress in 2000, over 2,400 collections (which include written memoirs, oral interviews, letters, diaries, photos, and scrapbooks) have been digitized and archived in the Library of Congress.
If you or a loved one are a veteran and are interested in taking part in this nationwide effort to preserve our veterans' stories, a step-by-step guide
will walk you through the process.
Uncovering the details
I was recently talking with a woman whose daughter had given her a blank journal, asking her to write about her life. "I'm happy to do it," she said. "But what does she want to know?"
The more I hear this question, the less it surprises me. We often feel that it's only the "big events" in our lives that are worth recounting. But it's the everyday details of "life back then" that are most intriguing to the next generation.
A six-year-old boy may want to know what games or sports his grandfather played. Whereas, a teenage girl may be curious about the music her grandmother enjoyed, or what she remembers about her "dating days." Personally, I became very interested in my grandmother's motherhood experience in my early thirties, when I had children of my own.
Digging below the surface
Most adult children and grandchildren whom I meet want to hear about the happenings in their parent or grandparent's life, but they also want to know how those life events affected and shaped them.
How did it feel to have your first child while Granddad was away at war? What did you love about painting when you were a teenager, and why did you give it up?
We know that our loved one's story is worth hearing. But we don't always give much thought to what it is we want to know. Before you ask your parent or grandmother to start sharing, you'll want to take some time to consider what blanks you'd like to be filled.
Finding the questions
A helpful (albeit, emotional) exercise is to fast-forward 10, 15 , or 20 years when your loved one is no longer a phone call away. What do you think you might want to know about his or her life? Imagine being able to step back in time and talk with that person. What are the answers that you might seek?
With just a few simple questions, you have the opportunity to create that time machine today. You'll thank yourself later.
If we're lucky, we'll celebrate dozens of Mother's Days with the wonderful women who brought us into this world. But while we may do a good job of lavishing attention upon them every May, how often do we invite our moms to share their "motherhood experiences" with us?
I've spoken with moms whose "little munchkins" are now senior citizens, but that doesn't mean that these 60+ year-old adults are no longer their "babies." After so many years and a blur of Mother's Days, we often neglect to provide a space of sharing and celebration for this ageless connection between moms and their children. And I can't think of a better way to do this than by opening the door to those beautiful stories and memories … just by asking a simple question or two.
And what better story to begin with than the moment it all began? Most questions in a life-story interview are customized to the individual, but there are a few standard ones that I always like to throw out. "Are there any special stories that you recall hearing about your birth?" is a favorite. Although I'm often met with a blank stare, I keep asking the question … because every now and then, I see a light switch on in those searching eyes, and a really amazing story surfaces --- surprising and delighting both of us!
So with Mother's Day just a month away, I encourage you to take some time to really hone-in on what this special day is all about.
Ask your mom to share with you, for example, her memories around your birth --- finding out that she was expecting, planning for your arrival, going to the hospital (or staying home), and adjusting to life with a newborn. Then move on to other questions about early motherhood ---managing household responsibilities, sending the kids to school, and spending time together as a family.
Here are some sample questions to get you started:
- What were your early surprises about motherhood?
- What were your dreams for your children?
- What was your husband like as a parent?
- Describe a typical day with your kids when they were young.
- How did your relationship with your spouse change after having kids?
- How did you discipline your children?
- How did financial circumstances affect your family life?
- What did you learn from your children?
Or make a point to share some of your own early-parenthood memories with your children. You'll be amazed at the sweet remembrances that will come flooding back … and how much fun the storytelling will be for moms and kids of all ages.