Thursday, December 6, 2012

The "It's not Christmas if we don't __" list

My daughter Joanna and I were talking before Thanksgiving about a list that everybody seems to have, on which there are items without which it's just not Thanksgiving dinner.

For me, the list for Thanksgiving includes turkey, stuffing, cranberry, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. I note with some dismay that with the exception of the turkey, they're all high in carbs. I eat a fair amount of turkey throughout the year, actually, because I love the taste of it.

I think there's a similar list for Christmas, and it's not just about food but about experiences as well. This morning I'm wondering what's on my list of must-have Christmas experiences this year, because I've moved this year, moved in with my honey, and sharing Christmas with a man I love for the first time in about a dozen or so years.

There was a time when my "it's not Christmas if we don't" list included a rather lengthy list of movies and TV shows I had to watch: all the traditional stuff you've undoubtedly seen yourself, like the claymation movies Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, the animated Charlie Brown Christmas, The Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Velveteen Rabbit, and the live-action movies like It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Holiday Inn, The Night They Saved Christmas (a very guilty pleasure, since it's not a very good movie) and the original version of The Bishop's Wife.

I think the list was lengthy because Christmas was a hard time for me emotionally as a kid, and I clung to those movies to tell myself what Christmas "should" be like. The family should be happy in each other's happy and not criticize each other, and they should tell each other how much they care. They should glow, basically.

Over the years, I think thanks to lots of Shadow Work processes that have helped me connect with parts of myself and connect with other people more deeply, my must-watch list has shrunk down to almost nothing. I'd like to share The Bishop's Wife with Paul if he hasn't seen it, and it's been so long since I watched Charlie Brown Christmas that it would be a welcome treat.

I think what's on my list this year are, first, finding out what's on Paul's list and doing as much of it as possible; listening to and creating as much music as possible; spending at least a little time staring into a fire (even if it's Radiant Fireplace 2 on the DVD player) and talking about Christmases past; at least a little time looking at Christmas lights in the neighborhood; and time spent with Joanna and her fiance James. Gifts aren't very important to me, either to give or to receive, and I'll be involved in much more gift-giving this year than I've been in a while, but that's okay. I prefer to tell somebody I love them on a regular basis and consider it more effective than gift-giving.

The music has become something of a challenge, because I worship at a Quaker meeting where there's a minimum of music, and much of the music there is of my own prompting. I think most of my Quaker friends don't have music high on their own must-have lists. I've been listening to Handel's Messiah for several weeks, as I often do at this time of year, and singing along. I probably won't make it to the Harris Theater's Do-It-Yourself (singalong) Messiah this year as I did last year, but I highly recommend it.

Clearly, listening to, and singing along with, The Messiah is on my must-have list for Christmas. Didn't think of that earlier! I also look for chances to sing my other favorite Christmas pieces like "O Holy Night."

Last Christmas my favorite musical event was the 11 PM service at the First Congregational Church here in Evanston, where James's mother, harpist Marcia Labella, has been part of a music ensemble that plays during interludes and Marcia plays a harp solo. (She is so skilled.) It was a great experience, with a really loud organ playing favorite Christmas hymns and carols at a good volume, and led by an excellent choir on the chancel that was singing some excellent harmony. Sadly, it looks like Paul and I will miss attending that this year, but for a happy reason, that Paul's son and his family from Atlanta will be in the Kankakee area, so we'll spend Christmas Eve down there.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A few movies seen recently

I rent movies from Netflix and from the Evanston Library, and Paul and I generally see several films that are new to us each week.

A recent favorite was Moliere, a fictional story about a period in the playwright's life when nobody knows where he was or what he was doing. It was so well done that I was completely swept away. The story is primarily a love story and a drama but there's a good deal of humor in it as well. Fabrice Luchini plays a clueless nobleman who's trying to worm his way into a beautiful courtesan's good opinion, and he pays Moliere to write something that will impress her. The costumes and sets are spectacular. Highly recommended.

On the strength of Luchini's performance, we rented The Women on the Sixth Floor, which is a little film, enjoyable fluff, not very realistic but fun to watch.

Clash wasn't quite so good; it's a martial arts film purportedly filmed in Vietnam, but the plot and acting aren't  quite up to par. Perhaps the best thing about the film was that even the toughest characters revealed some vulnerability. The silliest thing about the film is that the fighters pummel each other for 10-15 minutes at a stretch with not much effect.

Watching Black Robe wasn't a hopeful or cheerful experience, but the cinematography is unbelievably beautiful and the story compelling. I expected a lot more gore than I saw, after having been warned that the film was hard to watch, and I think the real reason it's hard to watch is that it's the story of missionaries who are on such an arrogant, pointless errand.

Last night we watched The Owl and the Sparrow directed by Stephane Gauger, about whom I'd like to know more, as he's clearly American but fluent in Vietnamese.  We listened to part of the director's commentary last night and hope to listen to the remainder tonight. The hand-held camera work is a little jarring at first, but it does have the impact Gauger was looking for, of placing the viewer right into the movie. After about an hour of the film I realized I was watching the movie, I'd become unaware of anything but the characters. It's a very sweet story of a little girl on her own on the streets of Saigon who plays matchmaker between two lonely people.

Yogi Tea's Cold Season tea

When I lived in Colorado, I discovered Cold Season tea, made by Yogi Tea, which to my amazement cleared up nasal congestion when I had a cold and generally left me feeling better.

Yesterday Paul came down with a cold, and I made him a cup of this tea, with some honey added, and it had the same kind of near-miraculous effect. He had a second cup late in the evening and another cup this morning, and I haven't heard him sneeze since dinnertime last night.

Here it is for sale at the Yogi Tea website, and here it is for sale at Amazon, where you can buy it in bulk and (I think even) using Amazon's Subscribe & Save feature.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lincoln the movie

Paul and I saw Lincoln on the day it opened here in Evanston. It was excellent, and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance was on some other plane, really extraordinary, one of those once-in-a-lifetime portrayals that I'll never forget.

I've read a good deal of and about Lincoln during my life, and one of my favorite fantasies is of going back in time to meet him. In most ways, going back to the 1860s would be the worst kind of nightmare because as a woman I'd most likely be ignored, I would be surrounded by people with very different values, and I would never see my loved ones again. But I'd love to meet Lincoln just to satisfy my curiosity about what he was like. I think it was Shelby Foote who said that Lincoln is the American Saint, and I think it's true, and I'm glad to say that some of his foibles are on view in the movie.

Day-Lewis seems to inhabit Lincoln's body, to convey with convincing truth Lincoln's body language and physical presence. I read in TIME that Day-Lewis attempted to duplicate Lincoln's unusual walk (he placed his whole foot on the ground rather than beginning with his heel), and that's noticeable. In one scene that seems to be my most vivid memory from the film, he's standing in front of a window with one hand crossed behind his back holding onto his other elbow. Something in that stance seems absolutely right and also manages to convey a kind of vulnerability that is so appealing and, I suspect, also dead right. That vulnerability means to me that if I were to go back in time and meet Lincoln I'd most likely start weeping the moment I saw him. And he'd make a joke about his ugliness having that kind of effect on me.

Two other moments: one in which Lincoln is talking with someone, and his irritation at what they're saying builds to the point where he winces and his cheek muscles flex; and another in which Lincoln has awakened his secretary, John Hay, and gives Hay's knee a hard shake to emphasize a point.

Of the movies I've seen that were directed by Steven Spielberg, I think I've disliked more than I've liked. Loved Raiders of the Lost Ark years ago. Didn't enjoy Jaws or Jurassic Park because I don't enjoy being scared or upset but consider them well made. Was mesmerized and haunted by Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Liked E.T. okay, liked Minority Report a lot, hated Close Encounters when it came out but have since come to appreciate it. Don't remember 1941 or The Blues Brothers well enough to say what I thought of them but haven't seen them since, which says something. Hated the sequels to Raiders, hated Hook with a passion, disliked Empire of the Sun, and most recently considered the hours watching War Horse and The Adventures of TinTin a waste of time.

So I was skeptical in the extreme that I'd like a film Spielberg made about Lincoln and am happy to be proved wrong and relieved that a take on Lincoln with so much money behind it is a pretty good look at the man.

At times the Lincoln's dialogue is hard to follow but for the best of reasons, that it appears to have been plucked from the time. Spielberg captured several iconic moments familiar to anyone who has studied Lincoln: seated in a chair with his son on his lap and orating for his second inaugural. I thought ending the movie with a recap of the second inaugural address was an odd choice, as John Wilkes Booth was standing just a short distance away, but I can understand why he'd want to end with "with malice toward none, with charity toward all." I'm feeling much more charitable toward Steven Spielberg than I would've imagined.

Casein-free recipes

My partner Paul is allergic to casein, a protein present in milk and cheese. I've developed these casein-free recipes to supply two of his favorite foods, cornbread and chocolate eclair pie. The cornbread recipe is adapted from one I found online, and the eclair pie is adapted from a recipe from our friend Betty Hoos of Glenview. (Her original uses whipped cream in addition to milk and butter.)


Dry ingredients:
1-3/4 cups cornmeal
1/4 cup soy flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Remaining ingredients:
1 can creamed corn  (make sure it contains no milk)
1 egg, beaten, or 1/4 cup Eggbeaters
3/4 cup soy milk (plain or Vanilla)

Grease an 8"x8" pan and preheat oven to 350. Blend the dry ingredients well. Add the corn, egg and soy milk, and blend well. Pour into pan and cook for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out dry. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Total calories 3230. Divided into 16 equal pieces, 202 calories each.


1 box (14.4 oz?) graham crackers
1 large package (6 oz.?) Jello vanilla cook & serve pudding
3 cups soy milk (plain or Vanilla)
1 jar (7 oz?) marshmallow fluff
1/2 tsp Healthy Balance margarine
Chocolate icing:
   1/4 cup melted Healthy Balance margarine
   1/3 cup cocoa
   1-1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
   2-1/2 tbsp soy milk
   1/2 tsp vanilla

Make the pudding with the 3 cups of soy milk, following directions on the package. When finished, remove from heat and stir in the marshmallow fluff until blended. Allow pudding fluff mixture to sit while you grease the bottom and sides of a 9" x 13" pan with margarine. Cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of graham crackers; you will most likely need to cut several crackers vertically. Pour half the pudding fluff mixture over the graham crackers. Cover the mixture with a second layer of graham crackers; if possible, start from the opposite end as before so that the layers are staggered. Pour the other half of pudding fluff mixture over the second layer of graham crackers, and cover with a third layer. You should end up with about 2 leftover graham crackers. Make the icing from the ingredients listed, if necessary adding a tiny bit more soy milk to achieve spreading consistency, and spread the icing evenly to completely cover the crackers. Refrigerate at least a few hours before serving, can be made the day before.

Friday, November 23, 2012

An incredible testimonial

Just received this testimonial to Practically Shameless in an email from a woman I knew in Colorado.

"Just a note to let you know I'm reading your book now. I know, I know, one I should have read long ago but I'm pretty sure it's the kind of book you read when the time's right.

I want you to know that I'm so glad you wrote this! I'm going through a healing journey now (not a fan of that phrase but it's apt, isn't it?). I've been reading Brené Brown's work on shame and took your book off my shelf to read it for more insight on the topic.

It's incredibly profound for me and revealing a lot about what's not working in my life. Your story and experience is so similar to mine it's...I don't know  what, shocking, incredible, amazing...or perhaps we all have a similar inner critic. 

It's very painful but also helpful to understand some of my behaviors and thought patterns. I'm getting a lot of insight to be able to do more work to let go of what's not working and step toward a brighter future. Now I understand the desire to connect accompanied by the desire to isolate.

Thank you for your courage and compassion in telling your story. Seeing how you turned your life around helps us know it's possible for us. I know it's helped a lot of people and I'm glad I'm one of them. 

Grateful for you and proud of your work."


I've been wanting to do more blogging for a while now, and to write more in general, and one of the things in my way is complexity.

In the process of writing Practically Shameless, I simplified some of the concepts we use in Shadow Work in order to explain them clearly enough to a reader who had never heard of Carl Jung or archetypes before. I believed at the time, and still believe, that simplifying is required of every writer on personal growth, because human beings are so complex that there's no hope of conveying the whole of our emotional or spiritual experience. Instead, one idea has to be plucked -- the word "wrenched" may be better -- from our experience and written of separately from the rest, to avoid the narrative becoming like a stream of consciousness.

I often think about writing some of my own reflections on the Enneagram, and maybe I'll do so, just the random thoughts that go by without trying to be comprehensive.

So, when I've thought of something to write about recently, I've thought to myself, That's too complex to explain, how could I take just one bit of it and write about that?

But there have been other things in the way as well. I may still be dealing with some burnout, and not so much burnout from writing but burnout from working with my mother. For about 28 months I saw my mother virtually every day, and my brother Cliff began to jokingly refer to my work with her as the longest therapy session in history, because that's really what it was. I was trying to help her in any way I could. I wasn't able to help her much, in the end, because she was bipolar, and she was well-defended in her disorder and even seemed to take some pride in it. If I helped her at all, it was to help her die. A part of her really wanted her life to end, while another part wanted to keep living. I helped the part of her that wanted to die, because I could see how wretched she was, and how resistant to any kind of change, and how unlikely it was that she would ever feel better.

But enough about Mom, I'm burned out writing about her, too. Most of the essays I've written in the past two years have been about eldercare, dying, and death, and I'm tired of it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A testimonial to "Practically Shameless"

In an email exchange this morning, I heard from a former therapist who had just finished reading my book, Practically Shameless. It's one of the nicest testimonials I've ever received. Here are excerpts without the personal references.

"Funny, I'm just finishing reading your book today. I ripped thru it in 2 days (and I have an 18 month old!) and am about to do the Risk Manager exercise. I came up with about a thousand things I could be when I'm Practically Shameless. So, excited and grateful you wrote the book. Love your writing style. Thank you! . . . good luck to you whatever direction you're heading. You've left inspiration in your wake."