Enjoying creativity

I love creative expression. I may not like the art itself, but I love the creative impulse behind it, and for that reason, I love it.

For the same reason, I love live performances (music, theatre, dance–anything). A live performance is in the moment and is completely unique. You will never see that performance again, even if you go to the same concert or play several times. I don’t care if the performers make mistakes–that’s part of the performance. I don’t care if the performance isn’t stellar. The experience matters most to me.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

A few years ago, I met a fellow editor at a free outdoor music performance at the Lagunitas Brewing Company‘s outdoor concert area. The musicians were enthusiastic and clearly having a good time, but they were HORRIBLE. Not just one performer, but ALL of them.

To say they stank is to malign the work “stank.” They were so unbelievably bad, I went from my initial surprised disbelief to amusement.

Maybe the artists were relying on the copious amounts of beer flowing to keep the audience inebriated enough not to notice. Or care. Or maybe every last musician was just having an off night. A really off night.

And yet.

I enjoyed it all. I enjoyed the company of my fellow editor. I enjoyed the music for what it was. I enjoyed the musicians’ enthusiasm. I enjoy watching the lines of people waiting for beer. I enjoyed the cold dampness of the grassy hill we sat on. I enjoyed the summer air as it cooled slightly from the day’s heat to a perfect warm/cool touch–too gentle to call a breeze–on my arms and cheeks. I enjoyed the feeling of being among a crowd of people all having a good time. I enjoyed the truly delicious meal I bought beforehand at one of the food trucks Lagunitas brought in for the evening.

The experiences I had there are indelible. They’re part of my life now. I don’t regret anything–not the time spent, or the longish drive and the hassle with finding parking, not the long, unrelenting assault on my ears. I don’t care about any of that. It was all good, all enjoyable.

(Re)wiring our brains with joy

When my daughter was 10, I separated from her father. He claimed the television for himself, and I was fine with that. I’d lived more years without a television than with, and while I can enjoy watching TV, I’ve seldom found anything worth watching. So I was now without a TV and chose to remain that way.

My daughter was at a bit of a loss. Although she enjoyed reading, her interest hadn’t taken off, and we’d had a TV in the house since she was 4. So she’d had easy entertainment that required no effort from her.

What do you do without a TV?

Now here we were, TV-less. I started getting interesting crafts to try–unpainted ceramics that to paint, or modeling clay, and other such things. She and I spent many, many, MANY happy hours crafting together.

When she turned 11, I taught her how to do counted cross-stitch, and she picked up that skill quickly. She became even better than I am, and I’d been embroidering since I was 8 and doing counted cross-stitch since I was in my mid-thirties.

I’d been entering her various craft projects in the local county fair since she was in third grade. That summer, I entered her first cross-stitch project in the county fair. Not only did she get first place for her age group, one of the judges wrote on her ribbon card that she could have entered her project in the adult’s division, it was that good. (Tip to parents: County fairs are a lot of fun, and it can be a lot of fun for you and your child to enter your kid’s work in it.)

Years passed and I gradually got away from doing much counted cross-stitch, and my daughter dropped it entirely.

2019: craft night starts

In 2019, my daughter and I talked about what we could do together that would be fun. I reminded her of our hours spent crafting when she was 10 to when she was about 13.

She had forgotten about those times, but instantly suggested we spend one night a week crafting together. I loved the idea, and bought more counted cross-stitch supplies (most of my old stash was and still is packed for moving), and also bought some fabric.

And then we began. It was a fun thing to do together. We’d listen to books, getting through a number of old favorites from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and finding a few other decent books to listen to.

One craft leads to another

We’re still crafting together, and both of us have branched out into other creative pursuits. I used to sew all my own clothes (and some nice things for my daughter when she was young), so I started sewing again–not just clothes, but other fun and useful things.

Cover for my latest cookbook, Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart. A row of orange California Poppies are arrayed below the book's title
Cover for my latest cookbook, Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart

I also finished the second volume in my cookbook series: Recipes Your Mother Knew By Heart. (I’ve written hundreds of software manuals, and I will say that writing a cookbook was harder than any of them. Jon Rioux, one of the authors whose book I’m managing, concurs.)

Late in 2020, my daughter found she loves making wire-wrapped jewelry, and she’s really good at it. I dug out my old watercolor supplies and started to get back into that, experimenting with incorporating my interest in the Elder Futhark runes with watercolors.

Crafting is good for you

Our purposes for the crafting night were manifold: spend time together, give us something to help ease anxiety and build calm, do something–anything–creative. I had read that needlework, handwork, creative activities of any kind help the brain. For example, did you know that World War I soldiers suffering from what they called shellshock were taught to embroider to help them recover?

I recently read Anna Mason’s blog post, “How making art can build your inner strengths.” Her statements bear out my experiences:

“Over the last 20 years or so there has been an explosion in neuroscience research which has proven that the brain’s evolved for learning, and is therefore constantly changing and growing in response to the experiences we have. … Experiencing, and taking in, positive emotions repeatedly has been shown to change the brain, and therefore our lives, in brilliant ways. … [P]ositive emotions are actually the building blocks of creating love, wellbeing and health: … they are the means, not the end.”

Give your creativity wings

My point in sharing our experiences in this blog post is to give encouragement and hope to those who might be engulfed in grief by the way our lives have changed because of COVID-19. None of us, no matter how much we try to hide our heads in the sand of denial, can’t ignore the millions of deaths worldwide, with over 650,000 in the USA alone. (Remember grief has many facets, including anger and denial.)

Shining the light of comprehension and awareness on your grief–however you’re experiencing it–can only help you.

Aside from taking responsibility for your own health and limiting your exposure, it might seem there’s not much you can do, and that can be overwhelming. But there are many things you can do.

What can you do?

In addition to reminding yourself to be kind (to yourself and others), and to make allowances (for yourself and others), and to try your best to understand those more fearful and overwhelmed than you, you can also find something to do that brings you joy.

So give yourself permission to pursue your own creativity. One bit of advice: When you start a new creative venture, do your best not to judge or criticize yourself. Our inner critics can be ferocious. Don’t let them stop you. Don’t compare your work with anyone else’s, not even your own standards. Comparison is the thief of joy, and it can bring your creative activities to a halt if you don’t nip it in the bud immediately.

Many of us suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s marginally better than being a poster child for the Dunning-Kruger effect. Do your best to focus on what you have accomplished, not on how you think everyone else must be better than you.

And don’t let well-meaning, nay-saying friends stop you either.

Instead, encourage yourself and keep at it. Eventually, if the creative thing you’re doing brings you joy and you keep at it, you’ll become better at it. Or you may find something else to play with. Either way, you will have spent time doing something good for you.

Assume good of others

Part of rewiring your brain is to assume good intentions. I recently watched Therapist Reacts to Brave. If you haven’t watched any of the Therapist Reacts To series, I highly recommend those videos. They’re a lot of fun. Their formula is a movie director and a counselor watch a movie together. They comment on the movie throughout, and then at one point, the counselor takes a few minutes to draw some relationship wisdom from the movie. Not just romantic relationships, but all manner of human relationships.

In Therapist Reacts to Brave, at the dispensing wisdom stage, the therapist says

[M]y biggest takeaway from Brave is: assume good intentions. Very often, we do the opposite. Someone’s doing something we don’t like. What they’re saying or doing is hurting us or impeding us, and we assume that this person is now the villain of the story. And most people–not everybody–most people want to do the right thing. Most people … want to act with integrity and conscience. Most people want to feel safe, respected, and loved. And what ends up happening is our efforts to feel safe, respected, and loved, or our efforts to do right by other people, go awry. … [W]hen we don’t see the good intentions in others, … they get defensive and they’re not going to hear us. … They’re just going to hear, “Oh, you’re telling me that I’m the bad guy, and now I need to defend myself.”

Wild Parrots (a poem)

In 1998, I once saw three wild parrots flying swiftly and with purpose in formation over Stevens Creek Boulevard, a busy multi-laned road in Cupertino, California (in the heart of Silicon Valley). Houses stretched for miles in all directions. It was a magical sight. The only conclusion I could draw was that they or their parents had escaped from captivity and that a colony of parrots was thriving there in the interstices of the urban environment. I wrote this poem in response.

I was recently reminded of this sight and my poem by seeing an Atlas Obscura article (with photos) about the wild parrot colonies in San Franciso, California.

Wild Parrots

I have seen the wild parrots swift in flight
A graceless bird on land transformed on wing
A triad’s focused flight; a burst of green
A glimpse of other worlds, secret, unseen.

When wild parrots fly, the world turns green
And ordinary thoughts take magic flight
The air glows from within; supernal light
Indelibly inscribes this wild sight.

I blink; the birds are gone; did they exist?
Was this strange sight a message or a tryst
arranged to bring me hope by beings unseen?
Is magic in the world, and is it green?

(Copyright 1998 by Marina Michaels; all rights reserved.)

Announcing Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart!

Many of you are already familiar with Delectable Desserts, the first volume in my cookbook series, Delicious Connections. (And thank you so much for buying that book, and for the five-star reviews on Amazon!)

Delectable Desserts has 108 time-tested, reliable desserts you can make and enjoy, including my all-time favorite cookie, Snow-Covered Gingersnaps, a recipe that has been in the family for generations.

I’ve now finally completed the second volume of my cookbook series, Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart. Like Delectable Desserts, Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart is packed with recipes I’ve made over and over again. So you know the recipes work, and you know people love them.

As with Delectable Desserts, Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart is about connecting with others through delicious food.

This time, however, you get a lot more than 108 recipes. Not counting recipe variations, you’ll find a solid 255 recipes, nearly half of which are originals (invented by family, friends, and me). I would be honored and delighted if you were to buy it! Both cookbooks are available internationally on Amazon, so if you’re in the UK, for example, you can buy it from Amazon.co.UK.

Cover image for Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart. Clean white background with a blue gingham border at the top and bottom. Below the title is an array of California poppies.
The cover of Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart.

If you’re searching for my book (either in the US or internationally), if you can’t find it by the title, search for the ISBN numbers for each book (and include ISBN in your search): “ISBN 978-1-600380228” for Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart; “ISBN 978-1600380075” for Delectable Desserts.

(Note: If you find a book named Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart, published in 2011 but with a completely orange cover, that was an earlier version of both cookbooks. I did that version as my final project in one of my InDesign classes. It has a different ISBN number, so if you search for the ISBN numbers I just gave, you’ll find the right version.)

Many gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian recipes included

Because my daughter is gluten-sensitive, many of our favorite recipes are gluten-free. You can find those indexed under “gluten-free recipes.” For example, here’s a photo of the Flourless Chocolate Cake you’ll find on page 149. Look at that dark chocolate ganache oozing down the side. That moist lusciousness inside. And the recipe is super simple!

An image of a one-layer flourless chocolate cake with freshly made ganache covering the top and oozing down the sides.
An image of a flourless chocolate cake covered with dark chocolate ganache and with a slice taken out showing how moist the cake is inside.

I’ve also included a large number of our favorite vegetarian (lacto-ovo) and vegan recipes. Even the heartiest, most dedicated meat-eater enjoys every one of those recipes.

The long-promised perfect baklava recipe

You may remember that when I announced Delectable Desserts, I promised I’d include a favorite baklava recipe in Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart. Here’s a photo of that recipe (page 132 in the book)! A few months ago, a member of a Facebook group I belong to asked for baklava recipes. She had never made baklava, and wanted to try it. I shared my baklava recipe and asked her if she would be so kind as to give feedback when she made it. She reported that thanks to my instructions, the baklava came out perfectly.

A panful of baklava

As a bonus, I include another favorite baklava recipe, Brandy Pecan Fig Baklava (page 135), in Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart.

I could say a lot more about this cookbook! I’m so happy about it. It was a lot of work and I struggled to complete it through corrupted files, three hard drive failures, and the worldwide grief that the COVID situation has brought about.

Choose love

I’ve been lax about talking with Metatron in recent years, though I’ve talked with a number of other inhabitants of the spirit realm about a number of topics, including layered realities. More on that another time.

In 1996, when Metatron starting talking with me, one of the topics he spoke about, and spoke about repeatedly over many years, was what I translated as a world shift. Some people call it the ascension, but that’s not what I was seeing.

Metatron told me that the world shift is the world moving into the fifth dimension, in which an infinite number of earths exist. He said it wasn’t 2012, as so many had said, but was 2020.

As part of the process of this world shift, as we moved through time to 2020, people would be gently given the information and help they need to make a simple choice: the choice between love and fear. Those who choose love will go to their worlds. Those who choose fear will go to their worlds. No punishment, just a sorting.

Metatron said it would be gentle because what would be the point of bringing people into a more loving world in a way that causes fear?

Help for moving out of denial

Every year, I’ve been told what each year’s theme is–that is, what the overall choices laid before humanity were that year, and what the energies coming into the planet would be supporting. I don’t remember the themes, though they’re recorded somewhere. I remember that 2018’s theme was about owning your power–accepting that you have the right to be yourself, and that no one else has the right to control you.

In 2019, my spirit friends told me that in 2019 and 2020, energies were being provided to this planet to help everyone move out of the fear and denial they are in. I experienced that myself in 2019 and 2020 about some personal events, and it felt amazing and wonderful and a huge release to have the scales fall from my eyes and see what had been under my nose the entire time.

(I haven’t asked yet what 2021’s theme is.)

I mentioned this to some people, and even said it on Facebook, not that Facebook is anything more than an ephemeral social platform. Still, I know that messages will be seen by those who need it, even if they aren’t ready for it. Never underestimate the power of planting a seed. (Not saying I’m the only one planting seeds–many of us are planting seeds of love, hope, faith, and truth.)

But I didn’t realize until 2020 how much we all need to move out of denial. Even now, I see people not only still in denial, but digging more deeply into it. I see people hugging their fears to their chest, afraid to let go of their fears of the other. Afraid to trust that maybe, just maybe, there isn’t a huge conspiracy to make them even smaller and more helpless than they already feel.

And on the topic of conspiracies, I once asked my spirit friends about that–is there a global conspiracy to try to control everyone? The answer surprised me. “Yes,”  I was told, “but a higher spiritual power is in place.” Basically, there’s no need to worry.

Fear and free will

Because of free will, we can choose to stay in fear. Choose to think people who don’t look like us or think like us or believe as we do are somehow less. Are somehow an “other” that doesn’t deserve our respect.

Or we can choose to believe, as I do, that everyone–every single living being on this planet and in this universe–is a spark of love, a spark of good, a spark of the divine at their core.

Now, I hardly ever tell people that I’ve encountered beings that I will call demons, for lack of a better word. I don’t talk about it because some people will just flat not believe me, and I used to care more about what people thought.

I used to be terrified of demons. They do their best to terrify, and when they know you’re scared, they can and will do things to you.

But then I discovered something. Even demons have a spark of the divine in them. And they are the way they are because they started making choices long ago to follow a dark path. To turn away from love. Away from compassion. Away from accepting their fellow beings. Instead, they chose fear.

But that choice is reversible. If you can choose fear, you can choose its opposite, love.

After that realization, when I encountered demons, I wasn’t afraid. When I spoke with them, I approached them with compassion and understanding. And you know what? It touched them. I’ve been able to convince many of them to turn around, to stop walking that dark path, to turn their faces toward love and away from fear, and to start the long journey back home.

The path to redemption

And it is a long journey. There’s a path to walk. Demons and other evil creatures have a clear path toward redemption, just as we all do. You can’t jump from being as nearly pure evil as any living thing is capable of and suddenly find yourself immersed in a different world. You have to walk back, one step at a time.

So demons and other beings are given jobs to do, jobs of support and help, and as they work through their challenges and purify themselves of the dross of their evil choices, they graduate from one type of job to another. I have a lot of information on that, but that’s not tonight’s topic.

Human choices and free will

A few years ago, a woman came to me for help. She was full-on possessed: weird voices, barking grunts and shouts, twisting her neck at weird angles, the whole enchilada. Not just by one demon, but by legions of demons possessing and controlling her.

I convinced those legions to leave by talking calmly and compassionately to them of love and fear, and about the infinite justice and mercy of the divine, and how even they, after everything they had done, would be received with love were they to choose to come back from the hell they’d banished themselves to, and how that was their choice and no one was going to make them do anything they didn’t want.

So they left.

However, the woman herself did not want to let go of the biggest demon, and he was quite content to continue possessing her. If she had said “no” to him, he could not have remained, but she’d decided long ago that she wasn’t capable of dealing with life without him in charge.

She was in denial about her own abilities. She was in denial about how she wasn’t a victim but had instead made choices that led to her choosing to open her soul’s door to possession. I wasn’t as convincing with her as I was with the legions, which I find bemusing.

Choosing to stay in denial?

Circling back to the 2019/2020 being years supportive of moving out of denial, I see people making the choice to stay in denial. They have the facts right in front of them, from multiple, credible sources, and they choose not to accept those facts. That’s their right. No one can, nor should anyone, force them to see the truth.

Someone once told me that denial stands for “don’t even know I am lying.” One form of denial is denying the truth when it’s sitting across the table having breakfast with you. That’s possibly the most insidious. Another form is when someone says you did something, and you deny it and refuse to accept all responsibility for the harm done and, if you’re far enough gone, blame someone else.

But.

When someone’s actions lead to harming others, they need to learn about consequences.

Heaven is open to everyone

In all my years of being a psychic, including talking with the dearly (and not-so-dearly) departed, I have never seen any of the folks I talk to in the afterlife residing in anything resembling hell.

Instead, I see what I will call heaven. There I see infinite compassion, love, justice, and mercy.

Heaven is a place of many expressions. It looks like our physical world, but is more responsive to our thoughts, intentions, and desires. Do you want to go golfing? You can instantly be on an infinite golf course. Want to lift a stein in an Austrian inn with friends and family? Done. You’re there. Want to visit the redwoods, then go skiing? All yours. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “In my father’s house are many mansions.”

Everyone is there. Everyone. But if, when you were alive, you lived irresponsibly, harmed others without owning your actions, you are sent to a special school in heaven, isolated from the rest of heaven. The closest word I can come to that special school is purgatory: it’s inside heaven, but is a place where you learn to be responsible. You learn the consequences of your actions, and you learn how you’ve harmed others through your irresponsibility. The lessons and teachers are loving and gentle, and of those people in that school that I’ve been allowed to talk with, they’ve all been content to be there. Those people are in that school as a consequence of their behavior in the living world. They didn’t choose to learn when in a living body, and now they are learning in the afterlife.

With the help coming into our planet at this time, we all have an incredible opportunity to keep moving away from fear and toward love. We have tons of spiritual help to make that choice.

Don’t blow this opportunity. Don’t end up after you leave your body in the school of responsibility. Choose to move out of your fear. Choose to stop lying to yourself and move out of denial. Choose to accept yourself and your fellow human beings now, while alive and in a body. Choose to be responsible for yourself and your experiences.

Choose love.

Some tips on giving gifts

December is a good time to talk about a few gift-giving principles, with some illustrative stories. First, the principles:

  1. When you give a gift, truly give it. Let it go. Don’t hover over the gift forever after and be invested in what the receiver does with it. That’s not a gift, that’s an obligation.
  2. Give gifts that are ready to use. Don’t give gifts that need repair or assembly unless you know the person will love doing that work.
  3. Give gifts the receiver will like, not gifts that you would like. Sometimes your taste and the receiver’s will intersect, but not always.
  4. Give gifts within your means, but don’t be cheap about it. You’ve heard, “It’s the thought that counts.” True. But if you’re using that as an excuse to give a cheap gift (cheap isn’t the same as inexpensive–cheap means you are cutting corners), then the thought is “you aren’t worth my time and thoughtfulness.” Give gifts within your means, yes, but don’t give gifts that are insulting. (Unless you want to insult someone. Then by all means, go ahead.)
  5. Give gifts because you want to give gifts, not out of obligation. Especially, don’t try to buy someone’s approval with a gift. Any approval you get that way isn’t true approval; it’s manipulation.

1. Truly give gifts

Some people give gifts, then expect to be able to dictate how and when and whether the receiver uses it. Please don’t be that person.

Here”s a story that illustrates this principle.

The broody hen

A friend once gave me some lovely wine glasses she’d purchased in Italy and had schlepped all over Europe. When she gave them to me, she explained how much trouble she’d gone through to take care of them and to get them to me intact.

But she couldn’t stop nagging me about them. “Are they still intact? Are you using them? Are you enjoying them?” For YEARS.

I finally decided I didn’t like living with a gift that would someday, inevitably, break. Then I’d have to face my friend’s huge disappointment that I hadn’t taken better care of them. (Which, as a side note, was ironic, because when she smashed a vintage mixing bowl my mother had given me, she blithely told me, without apology, that “everything glass gets broken eventually.”)

Anyway, when I divorced, I let my soon-to-be-ex husband take the wine glasses. The feeling of relief I felt on seeing the last of those wine glasses was very telling.

My friend was disappointed and upset, and I told her then that her constant hovering and nervousness over the wine glasses had made them an obligation and a burden.

Now, those were lovely wine glasses, and it did mean a lot to me that my friend had taken such care to bring them to me.

But it wasn’t a gift; it was a loan.

If you act as though you have the right to dictate anything about what the receiver does with a gift, you haven’t actually given anything.

As a side corollary, if you give your child a gift, that is now your child’s property and you have no right to take it away, dictate its use, etc. I have so much I can say about that, but I’ll reserve it for now. This post isn’t about child-rearing.

2. Give gifts that are ready to use

This story falls into both #1 and #2 on the list.

When my mother was alive, she had a habit of giving me “gifts,” often broken, then stealing them and giving them to someone else once I repaired them.

For example, she gave me a shabby, painted wooden rocking chair, saying I could keep it if I refinished it (an odd thing to say in any case). I stripped the paint and refinished the rocking chair. Then she stole it from me and proudly presented it to my oldest brother and his wife as a gift from her.

Another time, she told me that I could have her antique Lane cedar chest, which had been her hope chest, if I retrieved it from her friends’ house and refinished it. I called her friends and found they’d been storing it outside. As you might imagine, the finish was in terrible shape. I hauled it home, stripped it, and refinished it with tung oil. Those of you who have worked with tung oil know it’s a lovely finish, but takes a long time and a lot of work to do right.

It was gorgeous once I’d finished it. A few years later, she asked for it back. Uncharacteristically for me, I refused, and because it was so large, she couldn’t steal it, but she did keep asking for it.

I’d like to think no one else in the world does this kind of thing, but because I have some friends who give me gifts that “just need a small repair” (though at least they never take them back), I know my mother wasn’t unique.

Don’t be like that. Don’t give someone a gift that needs work–repair, assembly, whatever–unless you know absolutely for sure that the receiver will welcome having to do that work. Otherwise, all you’re doing is giving them an obligation and something to feel guilty about.

And for all that’s holy, don’t ask for the gift back, and don’t steal it back. I feel I shouldn’t have to say this, and yet, my experience shows that some people do this kind of thing. (Granted, my mother was a narcissist–and I don’t say that to mean someone who thought a lot of themselves, I say that meaning a genuine, clinically narcissistic person, so she was a bit of an outlier.)

3. Give gifts the receiver will like

I love handmade gifts. I love to make them, I love to give them, I love to receive them. Anything from home-canned preserves to my absolutely fabulous snow-covered gingersnaps, to embroidered art–I love it all, I cherish it when I get it, and I love to give such items as gifts.

But others have different preferences. I’ve given embroidered projects that I spent tens of hours on, only to have the receiver be less than thrilled. (I tell a pertinent story about one such gift when I discuss #5.) Or I’ve given a book I love, only to have it just not be the receiver’s cup of tea.

About the only handmade gift I’ve given that has met with unanimous and consistent approval is a batch of my snow-covered gingersnaps. The recipe has been in the family for several generations and has been a life-long favorite for good reason–the cookies are flat-out amazingly delicious. (You can find the recipe on page 86 of my desserts cookbook.)

So when choosing gifts, take a moment to ask yourself if the person you’re giving the gift to will truly enjoy it. If you suspect they won’t, but you can’t think of what they might like, consult with someone who knows them.

4. Give good-quality gifts that are within your means

There’s no excuse for giving cheap gifts. But “cheap” has nothing with value, and “good quality” doesn’t always mean “expensive.” You can be dirt poor and still be able to give something thoughtful and tasteful. For example,

  • You can create great gifts with very inexpensive supplies. (Though homemade gifts might not welcome by everyone–see #3.) Does your friend like to grow things? Buy some inexpensive waterproof paints and terra-cotta flowerpots and paint the flowerpots. Does your friend have a baby or a cat or dog? Knit or crochet a baby blanket. Don’t worry about artistic merit–homemade is always charming, and we crafty people tend to see all the flaws in our own creations. Nobody else will see them. The Internet (or your local library) can be a great resource for finding do-it-yourself projects at all skill levels. (Though unfortunately, a number of DIY video people fake it and you’ll never be able to get the results they claim they got.)
  • Shop at thrift stores. Some of them have great finds for just a few dollars. (If you’re local to Sonoma County, check out Pick of the Litter, my favorite thrift shop. They have some top-notch items. And as a bonus, Forgotten Felines runs it.)
  • You can give gifts of your time. For example, if you have friends with a small child, offer to babysit for them so they can have a night off. Or maybe a friend needs help or even just your company doing chores or running errands. Or just needs someone to spend some time with them.

If you have money, some people welcome it (including me), but some people see money as a gift that says “I can’t be bothered to pick out something I think you’ll like.” So just be aware that some people get insulted if you give them money.

5. Give gifts because you want to

You should never give anyone gifts because you feel obligated or are attempting to buy someone’s approval. That’s the opposite of the idea behind giving gifts. Only give gifts because you truly want to.

The money snob

Here’s an example of giving gifts out of obligation. When I was in my early 20s, I dated a young man who came from an upper-middle class family. Money was the only yardstick by which his mother measured anything. If it was expensive, or if a person had money, they were good in her eyes. Otherwise, forget about her having any respect for you.

Since I came from a dirt-poor family, you can imagine what she thought of me, let along that I was dating her son. It didn’t matter that I came from a highly educated family or that I was on the Dean’s list almost every quarter (being on the Dean’s list means I earned straight As) at a private Jesuit university. (I was putting myself through by earning scholarships, getting grants and loans, and working 20 hours a week during the school year and full-time in the summer.) All that mattered to her was that I didn’t have money and I didn’t come from money.

The young man was hugely tense about giving his mother gifts. He said that he always had to give her something from Gump’s in San Francisco. (Gump’s is–or at least was–the kind of place where, if you had to ask how much an item was, you couldn’t afford it.) It didn’t matter what the gift was, or how graceless–if it was from Gump’s, it was acceptable to her–barely.

The one Christmas the young man and I were together, I couldn’t afford anything from Gumps, so I spent tens of hours hand-embroidering a lovely winter scene. The finished piece was about 2′ by 3′ (yes, that’s feet.) I framed it in a wide, solid-oak frame.

When his mother unwrapped it, she wrinkled her nose and said in a tone that said it all, “Oh. It’s handmade.” (In the same voice she might have used for, “Oh, It’s human excrement.”) She then said, “I guess we can hang it in the den.” (Nobody ever went into the den.)

That gave me some inkling of what her son was going through. He had failed out of the same university I was attending, and worked at a pizza parlor, and she constantly reminded him of what a disappointment he was.

The point here is that although her son was giving her gifts because he wanted to, he was also giving her gifts he couldn’t afford because he was trying to buy her approval. No one should ever be in that position. If your family doesn’t love and accept you as you are, they aren’t family.

Announcing my Delectable Desserts cookbook!

You can now purchase Delectable Desserts from Amazon. It’s available in print and Kindle. This book is volume 1 in a series of cookbooks; the series is called Delicious Connections. Update July 9, 2021: I’ve changed the cover, and the second volume, Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart, is now in print!

The cover of Delectable Desserts. Plain white cover with a blue gingham border at the top and bottom. Below the title is a spray of borage, which is a lovely periwinkle blue.
The cover of Delectable Desserts, updated to coordinate with the cover of Recipes Your Mother Knew by Heart.

I love so many things about this cookbook, starting with the fact that I’m finally putting into print a lifetime’s collection of recipes, some old, some rare, some original, all good.

I started cooking and baking at a young age, learning from my mother. She was one of those gifted cooks who could just put ingredients together without a recipe. She could also take a refrigerator full of leftovers and convert them into an entirely new meal, and no one would know the meal started as leftovers.

Over the years, I’ve collected recipes from everywhere. If a recipe worked, I kept it, and kept making it, refining ingredients and processes so the recipe took less time and effort and produced tastier results.

What’s inside?

Delectable Desserts contains 108 of the best of the best of our favorite dessert recipes. (Volume 2 is our favorites across the spectrum of eating: breakfasts, appetizers, main dishes, vegetarian dishes, preserves, spice blends, and much, much more. I’ll also include more dessert recipes, such as a favorite baklava recipe.)

A panful of baklava

For each recipe, I include a note (called a headnote in the recipe-printing trade) in which a tell a small story about the recipe, give some tips, include a line or two of the history (for example, did you know cheesecake dates back to the ancient Greeks at least?), and so on.

A few of the recipes are my own originals. Some are from my mother, from whom I could only get a recipe by watching her cook and writing down the ingredients and steps. Some were handed down through generations of my family. For example, the Snow-Covered Gingersnaps: everyone I’ve ever baked them for has always wanted more. You can find the recipe on page 86 of my cookbook).

Baking from scratch

My mother didn’t cotton to those new-fangled kitchen appliances, so if we were going to make something, we stirred, kneaded, or whipped it by hand. Because I grew up baking and cooking that way, I didn’t join the kitchen appliance revolution until quite late. (I got my first food processor in 2015.)

So for the most part, each recipe’s instructions don’t specify a tool. You can, of course, use any kitchen appliance you want, but if you’re off the grid and are craving a dessert, and all you have is a wood stove and some mixing bowls and spoons, you can still make most of these recipes. (Preppers might like to hear this!)

There’s a lot packed into this cookbook, all presented clearly and succinctly.

Some things I love about my cookbook

Some things I love about my cookbook:

  • I designed it myself, so I had complete control over things like how big the type is, and what to index.
  • I made the type large, with one recipe per page. No tiny fonts!
  • I researched readable fonts, especially for people with dyslexia, and chose a font that is highly readable.
  • I put the ingredients in the order in which you use them in the recipe, and made the steps in each recipe clear and separate. You won’t find any two-step recipes in which each “step” includes a bunch of instructions. I know why publishers do that, but it’s frustrating (and wasteful!) to find you missed a step in that huge paragraph of instructions that cookbook had.
  • I included several useful tables, such as this table of oven temperature equivalents.
A table of oven temperature equivalents: Fahrenheit, Celsius, gas mark, and old-fashioned "slow, warm, hot"
Lots of us have very old cookbooks that specify cooking in a “warm oven.” Whatever does that mean? This table to the rescue!
  • And this table that you never knew you needed on egg weights in different countries.
A table of official egg sizes and weights in different countries.
Cooks rejoice! Here’s a table of official international egg weights for you. AU = Australia, CA = Canada, EU = European Union, NZ = New Zealand, and US = United States.

More table goodness

It wasn’t economically feasible to print the book in color, so the book is in black and white. If you’re interested, add a comment to this post and I’ll post some of the other useful tables in color. I have tables on

  • baking pan sizes (in US inches and cups capacity and metric centimeter and milliliter capacity)
  • egg sizes (if a recipe calls for 3 large eggs, how many medium eggs do you need to use? Or goose eggs, for that matter?)
  • common ingredient weights in different measuring systems
  • US terms and their UK equivalents
  • buttercream frosting types and what distinguishes them from each other

Plus useful information on freezing eggs, and index entries for every recipe that uses just egg whites or egg yolks.

More to come

Also if you’re interested, I can start posting my photos of things I’ve made from my recipes. I’m very definitely not a food photographer, so my photos are as homemade as my desserts, but not in the good way that a homemade dessert is.

A photo of a bowl of apple-berry-oatmeal crisp
My delicious, gluten-free Apple-Berry Crisp (page 122). I am not a pro when it comes to food photography.

If you buy my cookbook and you like (or love) it, would you be so kind as to post an Amazon review on it? Good, bad, or indifferent–I pay attention to reviews and will do my best to improve as needed.

Thank you!

What does it mean to be a friend?

 

In my early twenties, I hung out with a group of people whose company I greatly enjoyed. They were educated, interesting, creative, and fun. I invited them over for dinner parties, costume parties, just-get-together parties, and to spend time by the pool at the apartment complex where I lived.

Sometimes I would hear that Bob (I’m not using real names here) had had a dinner party and hadn’t invited me. Or that Mary had had a get-together, again without inviting me. Fair enough, I thought. Sometimes you only have so much room at your place, or you only want to be with certain people.

But as time passed and I heard about more and more of these occasions, I realized that it wasn’t just sometimes, it was all the time. And it wasn’t different people being left out, it was only me.

On this realization, I started thinking about what friendship means to me.

  • Does it need to be mutual? Yes. If I consider myself your friend, but you don’t want my friendship, then I’m not showing friendship by sticking around. (Though I can still be your friend from afar.)
  • Does it mean we accept each other as we are, with all the quirks and imperfections we human beings have? Yes. I know I’m different. Some people “get” me, and some don’t. My friends accept me as I am, just as I accept them.
  • Does it mean you spend time together? Yes. What’s the point of friendship if you don’t communicate with each other? If they’re far away, you can text, email, telephone, or Skype.

So I did an experiment. I stopped calling, stopped writing (this was pre-text, pre-email days), and stopped inviting anyone from that group over to my apartment. I was interested in seeing if anyone would reach out to me the same way I’d been reaching out to them.

Weeks passed, then months. After about six months, one of them sent me a card saying that she noticed I hadn’t been in contact with any of them, and asked if everything was okay. I never heard from anyone else. So, with the exception of the woman who wrote the card (she and I are still in touch decades later), I made the experiment permanent and dropped everyone else in that group from my mental list of friends.

Mind you, this was no harm, no foul. Although my feelings were hurt, I didn’t blame them. I just accepted that I didn’t have the relationship with them that I wanted, and I didn’t want the relationship they wanted with me. We weren’t friends; I was a useful and accommodating acquaintance who made no demands on them. This realization was a big step for me, the first in a long series of lessons in which I was learning that it serves no one to be convenient for others and let them take from you without reciprocity.

Over the years, I’ve continued to think about what friendship means, and what I want from a friendship, and what I have to offer in a friendship. For example, in addition to the items I listed above, I’ve come up with the following core values. Other people will have different values and priorities, so each person’s list of what they want and what they believe they have to offer will be unique.

  • Friends share similar ideas about what’s important. While lots of fun, nothing that is physical is important: not our technology, not our belongings, nor our outward appearances, material wealth, gender, ability, or anything else like that. Instead, what matters is the human inside. For me, honesty and integrity are hugely important, so I want friends who are honest and have integrity, and I feel quite strongly that friends deserve the same from me. I also value compassion and a generally positive outlook on life.
  • Friends help each other become better people. If I’m on a wrong path, I want my friends to care enough about me to say something, and I hope they’re open to the same from me. (Though if they’re not, that’s okay too. We’re all where we are.)
  • Friends share their life styles to a certain extent. For example, I love live music, and I want to share that enjoyment with my friends. I enjoy reading books and watching movies and talking about them afterward. I’m not into drugs, and although I don’t judge people for using them, there’s a whole lifestyle, way of thinking, and approach to life that goes along with using drugs, so I want friends who don’t use drugs.
  • Friends treat each other with courtesy and respect, and honor their commitments with each other. A friend of mine spent months planning an elaborate, themed party. She told all her friends well in advance, with frequent “save the date” notifications. Then, a short while before the day, one of her friends decided to host a party on the same day. Most of my friend’s friends ditched her in favor of the other person’s party. When I commented on how hurtful that must have been, and how it’s bad etiquette to not stick to a commitment, my friend’s roommate said, “Nobody does that. You just go to the party you want to go to.” (Privately, I thought, “You just don’t have hang out with the right kind of people,” but I didn’t say that out loud.)
  • Friends deserve the benefit of the doubt. If a third party tells me bad things about a friend, I don’t blindly accept it. If I have any doubt, I ask my friend about it and give them a chance to set the record straight. I’ve been on the receiving end of not being given the benefit of the doubt, and it’s hard. Though it’s revealing to find out who’s willing to believe bad things about you and who isn’t.

My concepts of friendship continue to evolve. What about you? How do you feel about friendship? What do you value in your friends?