The Christmas Gang

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There is an ancient British tradition called Ganging, from the Anglo-Saxon word gangen, meaning ‘to go.’ For fifteen hundred years, in what evolved from a solemn prayer ritual, village folk would gather to go ‘beat the boundary.’ They walked all around the parish to impress upon the youngsters’ memories the place they called home. Their elders dunked them in dividing streams, knocked their heads against bordering trees, and made them climb over the roofs of houses built across the line so they would never forget.

Our family has a gentler holiday tradition, a celebration as much as a reminder. Our Christmas tree is nothing like those featured in House Beautiful. It’s topped with a Star of David, as we also celebrate Hanukkah. The oldest ornament, a cellulose umbrella, decorated my great grandmother’s tree. We carefully hang Grandma Rhea’s handmade ornaments, dioramas inside blown eggs dressed in velvet. My children’s contributions are made of Popsicle sticks, glitter, and clothespins. The marshmallow snowman has grown sticky and yellow, with a tiny bite taken on the sly from its backside, but it makes me smile, and bookmarks an era.

I hang up the key to the house where I grew up, and recall my childhood, running barefoot through the back alleys of Detroit. The little Polish dancer wears the same costume my dashing husband wore performing with his dance group Polanie. The glass pen celebrates the year my first book was published. A tiny guitar marks the year my husband broke his leg and, instead of sulking on the couch, taught himself to play guitar. It hangs near Eli’s tiny oboe, and Bea’s violin and clarinet. A small glass bottle contains ash from Mt. St. Helens, collected from my pants cuff in 1980, when I was caught bird watching in Eastern Washington during the eruption.

Each Christmas, we carefully remove our ornaments from their tissue paper cocoons. As we hang them on the tree, we retell the stories. It’s like a crazy quilt, where scraps of colorful memories are pieced together and, voila! E pluribus unum! From the contributions of individuals we have compiled a portrait of one family, and from the many generations we have pieced together one history.

Ganging, or beating the boundary, is a tradition that teaches children their limits and sets rigid boundaries. Instead of knocking our children’s heads against a tree, let’s invite them to help create an empowering communal story among the branches of the family tree, free of boundaries and limitations, celebrating their lives, so full of possibility.

©2017Naomi Baltuck

The Egg Chain

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My mother would sooner have gargled with toilet water than sit me down and explain the Facts of Life.  But I had four older sisters, and the Trickle Down Theory of Knowledge worked for me.  By age fifteen I thought I knew everything I needed to know, more or less, about the birds and the bees.   I was wrong.   One day a question popped into my head, and wouldn’t go away.   I went to my Grandpa Gus, who was a farmer, and asked him the question that was burning a hole in my brain.

“Grandpa, how can chickens lay an egg a day?   There just isn’t that much room.  Where does she keep all those eggs, and wouldn’t it be very uncomfortable?”

“Here’s how it works, Slivers,” he said.  (My Grandpa always called me ‘Slivers;’ I was a skinny little thing in those days.)  He reached for a pencil and sketched what he called “The Egg Chain,” a string of eggs like so many beads, graduating in size from tiny to AA large.  Only one is a full-sized egg; the others are smaller, but growing.  They are all connected and nurtured by a single egg sack.  Each day when the hen lays a mature egg, its little brothers and sisters move up one spot on the chain.  The next in line has one more day in the batter’s circle before stepping up to the plate.

My book ideas grow in the same way.   They say “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” but it works for me.  I have a mental vision of my own writer’s egg chain, with all my chicks in a row, a half a dozen books-in-progress.  The first on the egg chain is the story I am currently hatching, next comes the story I plan to tackle once that one is brought to market, and so on.

Ideas for future writing projects are added, upon conception, to the end of this writer’s egg chain.  They are not so well developed as the big one, but are nurtured daily, perhaps by a conversation, a chance meeting on the street, a news story, during quiet time in the garden, or through purposeful brainstorming.  Each one is a little nest egg, with its own file in my computer, in which I save all my pertaining notes on plot and character.

Every writer should have her own egg chain.  Why?  Because already having a work in progress is an excellent way to avoid Empty Nest Syndrome once you send off your manuscript.   If you have Writer’s Block, you can work on another project guilt-free, because you’re still working on The Chain Gang.  And you never have to worry about all your eggs being in one basket.   So let’s get cracking.

 

Do you throw all your eggs into one basket, or prefer to plan several projects ahead?  

Photo by Carlos Porto
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=345

Berry Picking, Blogging, and a Piece of the Pie

Do I have to?  I don’t want to put on my shoes, and it’s freakin’ cold outside, and now even doing last night’s dishes is starting to look good.  But if I don’t get my butt out into my garden every other day or so, especially now that it’s wet and cold, those ripe red raspberries will grow moldy and drop off the vine into the dirt.  And because I am the daughter of a Depression Baby who ate tuna salad that was green and fuzzy rather than let it go to waste, those fallen berries haunt me like fuzzy green ghostlets.  Waning daylight pokes at me like a sharp stick before I finally get my fanny out the door.

Once I get going, I always wonder what took me so long.   Sure, a spider might drop down in my face, but I try not to scream—it scares the neighbors–and toss the whole bowl of berries into the air like juicy fireworks—all those perfectly good berries hitting the dirt would send my poor mother spinning.

But I can’t hear the robins singing from my armchair, and I enjoy listening to the neighbors calling their kids in for supper.  And while my hands are busy, my thoughts carry me to unexpected places.  This evening I spent a little while with my Grandpa Gus, remembering how he would turn us loose in his garden to fill our bellies with sun-warmed berries.  For the grownup me, the icing on the Forced March Out to the Garden Cake was a colander brimming with raspberries, which turned out to be the filling for the pie.

In the garden I had a quiet moment to reflect upon the writing life.  If you’ve been a writer for more than fifteen minutes, you’ve already heard that if you want a piece of the pie, you need to establish a social media platform.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, other ones of which I’ve never heard so I can’t even spell them, and a blog.  Kristen Lamb, the social media expert for writers tells us to blog at least once a week, ARGH!  But three posts would be better.  TRIPLE ARRRGGGHHH!

I was born an old dog, and new tricks don’t come easy.  My long suffering husband had to drag me to the computer (what is that thing and why are you making me touch it?), tie me to a chair, and force me to learn how to use it.  This happened only about a hundred times before I was willing to trade in my quill for a Mac.  Now writing equals cut and paste, and I use my quill for dusting the keyboard.  Then came e-mail.  (Why bother with that when I can’t keep up with snail mail, and it probably won’t catch on anyway!? )  But you can’t hold back the tide with a teaspoon.  E-mail and the internet were keepers, too; without them I couldn’t run a business, network professionally, or find nearly so many fascinating ways to procrastinate.

I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with the raspberry harvest this year.  If I can do that, I reckon I can learn one more new trick, and keep up with the blogging.  So here I go.

Copyright 2011 Naomi Baltuck