Cultivating Friendships

  Some people say blood is thicker than water.  Family is important, that much is certain.  One thing about family, however, is that it cannot be chosen.  You are born or adopted into a family, it is not your choice. With family, it is chosen for you & it is an amazing thing, but even more astounding is when you can make choices regarding with whom you’d like to spend your time.  Some people use the word “friend” loosely.  They use the term to describe any acquaintance with whom they come into contact.  Real friendships, however, are those that are intentional & in which you invest your time and energy.  Your meeting may be coincidental, but a long-lasting friendship will need more than a chance meeting.  It will require time, care and consideration in order to grow.

Just as soil needs to be cultivated or loosened in order to grow plants, so also do we.  We need to be able to be relaxed in order to focus our attention on another individual.  If you are extremely stressed, you may need a friend to lean on, but that is not the time to try to make new friends.   You’ll be unable to focus on their needs.  Because friendship is reciprocal, you can use a stressful situation to deepen a relationship, but do not begin a new one in that way.  If you do, your relationship may continue to follow the same pattern of one friend always advising and the other friend always needing advice.  Instead, start your friendship when things are relatively normal and stable.

Set aside time to talk.  Whether it is on the phone or writing back and forth, you’ll need to communicate if you want to get to know someone better.  Be sure that that communication involves asking many questions of the other person and showing interest in what they have to say.  Even if they have interests that are directly opposite to your own, you can still be interested in them.  Ask questions like, “Why do you like football so much?” or “Why is orchestral music your favorite type?”  Once you know a little bit more about the subject, you’ll be able to ask more directed questions and perhaps eventually be able to dialogue somewhat intelligently on that particular subject.  If you do not know anything about the subject, do not act as if you do, but rather admit that you do not.  There is no shame in not knowing about something.  It simply means that you’ve not been exposed to the subject material yet.   If you know nothing about something that they are passionate about, just be honest.  In reality, they’d probably be very excited to share their passion with someone else. 

Make an appointment to get together to do something you’d both enjoy.  While it is true that friendships can be maintained long-distance, most relationships can benefit through some quality time spent together.  If you live a great distance from one another, make arrangements to meet in the middle at an inexpensive location to spend the weekend.  Or, take turns hosting the other person.  Whichever way your choose to work it out, be sure that your costs are split evenly and that the activities are things that you’ll both enjoy.  If it ends up being a good experience, you’re more likely to repeat it.  If it is boring or annoying for one of the parties, they’ll not want a repeat & you’re sure to grow apart.

Help one another grow.  If you recognize certain destructive behaviors in a friend, find out from them if they’re willing to talk about it with you.  Sometimes this is a good thing to discover at the beginning of a friendship so you know whether they will be a life-time friend that will help you grow into a deeper person or more of an acquaintance.  Start a conversation by saying, “I tend to be very direct with my friends if I notice that something is off or if it seems like they are making choices that may harm them.  Will it annoy you or offend you if I do that with you?”  Also let them know that you would expect them to do the same with you if they notice things that are not good.  This lets them have an option of deciding that they would not like to be that close & also prepares them for a more direct approach in the future so that you will not need to tiptoe around difficult subjects.  Often, people are uncomfortable with this type of honesty, especially if they’re dealing with addictions.  It is always better to be aware of this before you invest loads of energy and time with a person.  If they will end up resenting you for the perceived interference, you do not want to begin.

Pay attention to how your friend shows that they care.  If they complement you with words often, they probably appreciate words.  If you shower them with gifts and never say positive words they may not perceive it as care.  If they like you to spend time with them & instead you send notes all the time, they may not consider you a caring person.  People often will show you how they want to be treated by how they treat you.  Pay attention & care for them in the way they need to be cared for.

Friendships are sometimes difficult, but are always worth it in the end!  Keep up the good fight!




Traditional Christmas Fare

In many countries and cultures throughout the world, celebrations of major holidays revolve around loads of particular foods that are only made during that celebration.   In America, the celebration of the Christmas holiday is traditionally centered on a full host of different kinds of food. Because our cultural fingerprint has changed over time, some of the foods that were traditional for a certain subset of Americans living in a certain place has changed as they’ve accepted traditional foods from other cultures that they come into contact with.  The melting pot mentality can clearly be seen as you look over historical records of holiday foods.


As more people eked a place out of the woods for their families, they also began keeping more domesticated animals.  Eventually the ground was prepared enough to be able to have gardens that produced enough that could be prepared for larger feasts.  In the South, you’d notice that pumpkins, sweet potatoes and lemon pies became more standard fare.  In the North, you would find far more apple & pear desserts along with breads and stuffings made from the products obtained through extensive wheat fields.  Wild turkeys were often on the menu throughout the US because their range covers nearly the entire nation.  Rabbits were another common meat fare that everyone loved.

Early in our nation’s history, holiday meals were heavily dependent upon the foods that were readily available.  Venison, wild fowl and berries and nuts gathered from the forest were a large part of the fair for those who lived further inland.  For those on the coast, oysters or oyster stew, fish, ducks and geese were more common.  But if you look at the westward movement in our country, and agricultural expansion, traditions and cookbooks changed over time.

In modern times, our tables are often determined by foods that are the most readily available from processing plants, since most of us are not willing to go out and get our own foods from the land.  Turkeys and hams are often very abundant.  As food from other cultures becomes readily available at the market, many people choose to change traditions and add in things like spring rolls or tamales for their Christmas meal.

One of my most memorable Christmas meals was when the food that was brought to the table had all been raised, grown, foraged or hunted by those in attendance.  Some brought hams from a hog they’d raised & the sweetest sweet corn I’ve ever tasted.  Someone else brought a venison roast and a small amount of wild turkey & grouse.  There were pumpkin pies made from pumpkins from the garden.  Apple & pecan pies from trees in someone else’s yard.  Crackers held jalapeño/raspberry jam that was prepared by someone who had both of those things at their place.  Asparagus canned from summer, carrots and potatoes dug in the late fall.  All of the offerings were labors of love & it was not even an intentional sharing of goods, it just happened that each person had been successful in their hunting, farming and gathering that year and desired to share it with those they loved.  Perhaps the only thing that were not produced from scratch were the wheat that the bread was made from, the butter and the cheese.

While this is a nostalgic memory for me, I fully realize that this will not happen every year in the modern times in which we live.  This year while you are celebrating, consider looking at the things you already have in abundance.  Of course, we all love to have certain things on the table for the holidays, but over the full scope of history, the meals were more representative of the fare that was readily available rather than one specific dish.  The main consideration when sitting down to your holiday meal is to be thankful for those you eat with and thankful for the food you enjoy.  If those two elements are in place, it really doesn’t matter what adorns the table.  It will be a meal to remember!

Pass Down The Good

Family history is something that can really go either way.  Sometimes people are awfully proud of the roots that they come from.  Others can be deeply ashamed.  It has little to do with money or prestige, for there are certainly times when those with both attributes have mistreated others to the point that the family name is blemished beyond repair, & conversely there are times when those with humble beginnings go on to do great things.  If there is something  to be learned from all of the family histories that are passed down verbally & in print, it is that many things are lost in just a few short generations.

The bad will be passed down, as well, and that may be necessary as a warning against morals gone askew.  Health problems also need to be discussed.  But the focus of family histories should be the good things that have gone before.  Take time to talk about these good things with those in your family (whether related by genetics or adoption). It's perhaps even more important for those who have been adopted to know the new family tree that they've been grafted into.  In most cases, the good far outweighs the bad but the stories have been lost by lack of people ready to tell them.  If your grandmother could throw bales just as fast as the men in your family, tell about her.  It may inspire a girl who feels ashamed of her size or strength.  If your grandfather was compassionate with animals & could cure almost anything that ailed them, tell about him.  It may inspire a young man who is struggling with not being great in sports.  If your family tends to be generous to a fault, discuss it as a good thing & that you'd rather be generous than miserly any day of the week.
Having a knowledge of your family history can give you roots from which to grow.  When times get tough, you can look back and say, “I'm a (insert family name here) and we do NOT give up,” or any other such attribute that is looked upon as good in a particular family.  For children who come from humble beginnings, this is perhaps even more important.  Knowing that your family once had money, but it was given away during the depression, or knowing that your family was known for being the best at raising horses in a 4 state area can give children something to aspire to.  Inspiration is necessary for everyone.  Having the bar set high is not a bad thing.  Of course we must not use it as a source of pressure or comparison, but knowing that they have come from greatness helps those of younger generations to know that they, too, can rise to greatness, even if it doesn't happen to be in the family business.

  We all know that we pass on to the next generation far more by genetics & nature than we ever pass on through intention, nurture or education.  Let those things that we pass on be looked upon in the kindest light that they can be looked upon.  The people of yesteryear were just like us.  Trying their best to make it in difficult times, & doing their best to raise another generation with hope instead of bitterness of heart.  Perhaps they succeeded, or perhaps they left a void in that area.  If they did, we can certainly begin to fill the void & begin good stories to be passed down.  Let our stories be those that will inspire a younger generation & give them hope for a better future & a stronger family line for years to come.

The Importance of Family In Difficult Times

I know, I know.  Family can be difficult.  It is a very familiar thing to hear others complain about second only to weather & spouses.  People complain that their mother or father just doesn't understand, that their in-laws need to mind their own business & that even their grandparents should keep their thoughts to themselves.  All of those things are probably true for most families.  We could all learn to be more understanding, keep our thoughts to ourselves & mind our own business.  But, if you can step back from the situation for a few minutes and ask yourself whether the things they are doing are really coming from a good heart, & because they care about you, you might just let some of those things go. It's a difficult thing to let go of offense, but it could just save your life in the future.  Here's what I mean.

Your sister is constantly nagging you about how you spend your money, or how you discipline your kids.  She makes comments about doing certain things differently.  She has a “fix-it” mentality when you're looking for someone to vent to or to talk with.  Let it go.  Do you know why?  Heaven forbid you come into a crisis financially in a few years time & need some solid advice & someone to keep you motivated to affect change.  If you've burned your bridges, she'll no longer be there.  She'll probably also be willing to help out with your kids while you focus on what you need to.

How about a parent who is constantly at you about going traveling so much?   If you go through a painful divorce, those things will no longer matter.  They'll have your back in the situation & probably help you in more ways than you can count.

And that brother that has always bothered you because he's had his act together since he was four?  He might be the solid rock that holds the family together when a loved one dies.

  Now, I realize that not every family is a fairy-tale universe.  There are genuinely harmful & hurtful family members & in such cases, you need to set up boundaries.  What I AM saying, however, is not to burn bridges unnecessarily with people who are simply irritating you at the moment.  There is a huge trend right now to cut people out of our lives because they just don't understand or because we do not agree politically or because they are “haters” (which in some cases just means that they've questioned some of the choices we have made in life & it makes us uncomfortable).  Those people with different strengths than we have often annoy us because we wish we were as competent in that particular area.   But, we also need to realize that disagreeing with others does not indicate hate.  In some cases, it means that they care about us enough to enter into difficult topics with us.   They want to help us, even if we're unwilling to accept that help.

Yes, family can be annoying.  They can be infuriating.  They can be pompous.  They can also be selfless.  They can be soft when the world around is hard.  They can hold you up when you're falling down.  They can be there when everyone else has abandoned us.  They've known you since you were little & know that your path has not been an easy one.  So cherish that.  Hang onto that.  Accept that.  And then, be the kind of family that you want them to be to you.  Change & acceptance has to start somewhere, let it be with you.



Pass On What You Know

  There is a long held belief that wisdom comes with age.  While I'm not sure it comes just with the passing of time, it may be true that it comes with a multitude of life experiences.  Life experiences come in many forms, through difficulty and triumph, in good times & bad.  The ones that seem to stick with us longer are generally the ones that were harder to learn.  After going through so much effort to learn what we have learned, it would be a tragedy for that knowledge to pass on with us.  While we cannot give another person the actual experience, we can give them the next best thing...the gift of story.  Throughout centuries, people have shared their history, their experience, & their knowledge through story.  It is important for us to continue this tradition, especially in the modern age when there is a temptation for people to think that knowledge is mostly gained through technology.

Think through some of the most important lessons that you've learned in your life.  Prioritize them. What is number one?  Was it learning to stand up for yourself when others were against you?  Was it learning how to deal with the loss of a loved one?  Was it learning how to deal with a child that seemed against you for a time?  If you have 3 or 4 experiences that jump into your mind, write them down.

Next, consider the people that you are surrounded with that may benefit from the knowledge you have to offer.  Family would be an obvious choice for this, as it will be more meaningful for them to know about your experiences if you've been close to them.  If you do not have family that is close geographically or emotionally, think about others that surround your life.  Choose one person to whom you will tell one story in the next couple of weeks.

Think through the details of your story & decide which details to leave out.  We can get bogged down in the details while telling the story.  Try to keep it interesting, but short.  If the person is intrigued, they will ask for more details.  If you are undecided, try writing it out, or recording it as you tell it, then play it back again.  Most smartphones have the option to record your voice.

If there is genuinely no one that you would feel comfortable sharing with, consider writing it out or recording it for future generations to benefit from after you are gone.  Some parts of our story may shed light for our families on our behaviours, & why we feel so strongly about certain subjects.  Oftentimes the things about which we feel strongly are imprinted in us because of a difficult situation.  Maybe you feel strongly about women's rights because we've felt inequality or worse.  Maybe you've dealt with a deep sadness after a child's birth.  Those things may not seem like things to pass on to children, but it can shed light on many things.  Deep sadness after childbirth can help your grand-daughter know that postpartum depression might be genetic, & to seek help as soon as possible.   Maybe you've been prone to drink too much & cause problems for your spouse or others.  This can help future generations in your family to fit together pieces of family health history & to know what to look for so that they can avoid similar pitfalls.

While you are passing on tough lessons learned, also be sure to share light stories of beautiful times in your life.  Share about your courtship with your spouse, about your first car or your favorite car, share the secret of your recipes, share where you've stashed meaningful letters & mementos.  Though they are your experiences & your stories, they eventually become a part of your family's collective history when you share them.  When we have shared history, we also have a very important part of emotional stability...a sense of belonging.    Give that as a gift to those you love, you won't regret it!

Begin Your Family Genealogy

Genealogical research can be one of the biggest, most time consuming & deeply rewarding things anyone will ever do.  Even so, have you noticed how many of us do not pursue this worthy endeavor?  Many times, at funerals, I have heard these words, “someone should have written down all he/she knew about the family, no one else knows the things she knew,” and yet somehow we allow time to pass without taking action on thoughts about genealogy.  Why?  Most of the time it is simply because we do not know where to begin.  So, how does one get started on the path to recording your family's history?

  1. Start with what you know. It doesn't have to be a large amount of information. Begin with the names you know, and dates if you have them.  Include your own immediate family & sketch in anyone in the extended family that you know a little about at this time.  It does not have to be complex.
  2. Write it down! Even if you don't have a fancy chart & you only use a steno notebook, begin the process of writing everything down that you know.  You'll be glad that you have a place to jot down notes as you speak with other family members.
  3. Call to chat. Call family members that might have information.  Keep your notebook handy.  It is very likely that you'll hear stories that you've never heard before & you'll want to write furiously or record your conversation for another time to be written down.  You can find out much more than names and dates through these conversations & you might even find some key family medical history that will aid those who are still alive.
  4. Go online. Once you feel you've exhausted all of the avenues you can think of for finding information from those you know, begin the search online.  There are many helpful websites that can get you going in the right direction.  Sometimes there are already groups started on social medias that involve members of your extended family.  They might have information that you are struggling to piece together.
  5. Consider traveling to places where your ancestors lived, especially if they have genealogical centers nearby that might house information on your family. This may require an extended amount of time, so plan accordingly.
  6. Don't give up! You never know when you'll discover a key piece of information! Do not get discouraged because it is slow going.
  7. Pass it on. After you've done all that you can do researching information, gathering photographs and making connections, be sure to pass the lot on to someone from a younger generation who might be interested in it so that it will not be so difficult to gather in the future.  Some families have entire books written and printed with all the information so that it will not be lost.  However you decide to do it, make sure that the information is not lost easily.

Enjoy knowing that you are contributing to the knowledge that many generations that follow will need in order to know themselves better.  Knowing their family and where they come from is an important thing for most people to have good roots that will give them a sense of stability and belonging in this high paced & ever changing world.