A Slice of Life: Tuesday, Feb. 23
– Nan Russell: Heart stories
– A Dad’s Point of View: Stick with the rules, even when it’s hard
– The Dinner Diva: Spice it up
Nan Russell: Heart stories
The picture sits on my desk. I’m not sure why I like it near me, but I do. Accidently discovered in a tattered box in a shed at my mother’s house, my great, great grandfather’s picture brings more questions than answers.
I always knew he came to America in the 1800s with three brothers. But I never knew why he left Germany. I never knew his dreams or aspirations, what kind of man he was, or what his life was like. I don’t even know his name. And while genealogical research can fill in some gaps, it will never reveal the untold stories of his heart.
It makes me wonder. Will my great-great-grandchildren look at my picture and not know my name, or anything about my life, my passions, my struggles, my dreams? Or will they have heard stories along the way and know that their great-great-grandmother followed her dreams to move back to Montana and become a writer, passionately loved their great-great-grandfather, and wished future generations a world filled with tolerance, trust, love and peace.
I learned the importance of telling heart-stories from a colleague years ago. He drew me aside one day to tell me how much he respected my work. But he confessed, “I’m not sure I can trust you because I don’t know your heart. You never share your stories.” His words stuck with me. Stories told from the heart weave a tapestry for trust and understanding. Just as fables and fairy tales help us learn about the world as children, life stories help us learn about our humanity and connection as adults.
But real connection can’t come without deep, conscious listening. In the months before Alzheimer’s took his words away, my father relentlessly told and re-told stories of his Big Band era experiences. His eyes lit up when he pointed to pictures of himself playing the clarinet and sax on stage. His passionate retelling of those stories was a gift.
Sure, I’d heard them many times before, but I’d missed the man behind them. This time when I listened with my heart, I got it. These were not just stories about my father’s life; these were stories about his soul.
Music was my father’s gift to the world and the way he best communicated. When he could no longer speak, his music was there a while longer to tell us the love in his heart. I will tell his stories to his great granddaughters so as they grow up, they will come to know this gentle man as a soul filled with music.
Stories told from the heart can touch a heart. In the scheme of things, they’re a profound gift. And if we quiet our mind enough to listen from our heart, that gift can touch the soul.
A Dad’s Point of View: Stick with the rules, even when it’s hard
Nobody promised that being a parent would be easy nor were we assured that we’d get kids that were easy to handle. If you’re like most of us, you face regular challenges to your authority, your rules, and the way you expect your kids to behave. As with much in life, there’s room for compromise, but with parenting I suggest that sticking with your rules defines your values and teaches your children valuable lessons. The first rule must be that you tell the truth.
It’s a simple idea to tell the truth, but not always so simple to execute in real-life family situations. For instance, what do your kids really hear when you say something like, “If you do this fill-in-the-blank thing, you’re gonna be grounded” with stern parental authority. Most kids will interpret that to mean, “Well, I sure hope you won’t do that, but I’ll forgive you when you do because I love you so much and want to be your best friend.” The result? You haven’t told the truth or stood by your word. The kids then know they can manipulate you.
The impact of vacillating on our children is drastic and very harmful. I cannot emphasize enough how much we are role models for our children and how much they learn from our behavior. Our kids watch every move we make and if we waffle on a rule or a threat, then they learn to work that to their benefit. I’ll offer a personal example that has been hard on our family.
My older son turned 16 in November and he still hasn’t been allowed to get his driver’s permit, let alone his license. At 15½ he was legally allowed to get his permit, but the reason he hasn’t is that when he was about 14, I set a rule that he had to have a “B” average for the privilege of driving. No excuses, no blaming his teachers, no “I’m so close” – he had to bring home a “B” average.
As I explained to him, part of my rationale was that insurance rates are significantly lower for kids with a “B” average. And, since he can’t get his license until six months after getting his permit, regardless of his age upon getting his permit here in California, he has delayed the process substantially with his “B-minus” grade level!
The irony is that by not wavering on this rule, it has made its implementation almost easy and without any challenges from him. He has acknowledged his own screw-ups with schoolwork and putting off homework assignments, and lazy studying for exams. It has put him in the embarrassing position, among his friends, of not having a permit while so many others have gotten theirs. And, since he now has a girlfriend, it’s doubly embarrassing, as she’s gotten her permit, and a “B” average, even though her birthday is six months after his.
I feel bad for him. You bet. Will I ease up on my rule? Maybe. But, the maybe includes a compromise that is in essence a version of my original rule. We discussed allowing him to get his permit now, with the “B-minus” average, BUT he won’t be allowed to get his license unless he then makes up the difference with a high enough “B” average next semester that the aggregate is a total of a “B” average.
The advantage to him and us if he accepted the revised “rule” is that the six-month countdown can begin and if he makes the grades, he can potentially get his license sooner. It would ease my chauffeur responsibilities if he could drive and I’d love that. The irony is that he’d then have to do even better next semester and, consequently, he was not sure whether to take this offer.
After presenting him with that option, he chose to stick with the present rule, feeling that he had a better chance at getting the required “B” average, starting fresh this next semester rather than having to get a higher average and get his permit now. That is an interesting choice, but it was his and he’s also learning delayed gratification and his own responsibility in what has happened and he’s not blaming us. It’s a win-win for us parents and maybe a valuable lesson for this particular teen.
The result is that Will knows that I mean business, and that I’m open to compromise, but only if there’s equal balance within any new agreement. I’ve kept my credibility and can even be sympathetic to his sadness at not having his permit, let alone his license several months after his 16th birthday. The rule is not “me” and he doesn’t fully tie me to the rule, which is the beauty of it.
So, stick with your rules even if you see the pain and discomfort it causes your children. They learn more from this sort of “pain” than when you give in and spoil them. They learn to trust and respect you and maybe, just maybe, they might take those rules seriously, too.
The Dinner Diva: Spice it up
Cooking with herbs and spices make all the difference in the world to the end product, your meal. But if you’ve never learned how to use the mountain of spices available, sometimes you need a little guidance. Never fear, the Dinner Diva is here! Do yourself a favor and copy this list and stick it to your fridge.
The Dinner Diva Spice Primer is guaranteed to get you cooking in no time!
1. Bay Leaf – Used in stews, soup and great with pot roast. Go easy. Bay leaves are strong, especially California bay leaves, which are the kind most grocery stores stock. I use 1/2 a leaf in my stews.
2. Basil – Ah, the taste of summer. Who can resist fresh basil and tomatoes from the garden tossed with olive oil and garlic on a plate full of pasta? Dried, it’s wonderful in soups, pasta dishes and chicken.
3. Dill – It’s not just for pickles. Try some dill sprinkled on fish, chicken or even in a light cream soup.
4. Garlic – Nectar of the gods, well, bulb of the gods anyway. Garlic has a way of making the most ordinary food gourmet. Try sprinkling garlic powder (not garlic salt) into a prepared box of white cheddar macaroni and cheese. Surprise! It’s pretty good. Fresh though, is best. Squeeze it from a garlic press into almost anything. Don’t use with chocolate though.
5. Ginger – Sprinkle it in your stir-fry, try it on baked chicken breasts with a little soy sauce and garlic. For fun, get it fresh (it’s that alien-looking root mass in the produce department) and freeze it. It will keep almost indefinitely when frozen. To use, hack off a piece, peel it and grate into your recipe.
6. Nutmeg – I love nutmeg. If you can find nutmeg nuts and the itty, bitty grater that comes with it, buy it. Once you’ve had freshly grated nutmeg, the powdered stuff in the jar is beneath you. Obviously an ingredient in baking, it’s also good grated on sautéed squash, green beans, and carrots.
7. Oregano – A staple in Italian cooking, it’s also good in stews and salad dressings.
8. Rosemary – This beautiful plant grows wild in my garden and provides an intoxicating aroma to meats, stews and root veggies. Try some crumbled in your carrots for a change of pace.
9. Tarragon – An almost licorice flavor, this delicate herb takes front and center in vinaigrettes, as a delicious sprinkle on the top of baked or poached poultry and fish.
10. Thyme – Make time for thyme! It’s strong and adds a hint of character to an otherwise pretty standard dish. Use it with chicken, soups and beef.
Even though I’m not numbering these last two, I need to give a shout out to plain old salt and pepper. But not just the stuff in the blue cylinder with the little girl on the label or the familiar pepper sitting in the red and white can; I’m talking about sea salt and freshly ground pepper. You can buy both ready to go with their own grinders anywhere. Once you’ve used this kind of salt and pepper, you’ll never go back to the old stuff. It’s that much better.
And while this is an abbreviated list of spices, it’s a good start. I’ve skipped a lot of them because they are used so infrequently or just take up room on the Lazy Susan. Feel free to add or subtract ones you know you won’t use or you know you need!