Tag: tradition

Why New Years Are Special

happy-new-year-1097521_640Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day seems to be one of those holidays that people overlook. Sure, it’s a day off work for many of us, but other than that, it’s pretty much bowl games and hangover cures.

Not for me.

There is no other holiday better suited for wishing a happy one to not just family and friends, but to everyone we meet.

The best part about a new year is that it applies to everyone. It’s not a religious holiday. It’s not even a national holiday. This is the only holiday that every single person in the world marks. It’s the best time of year to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. And couldn’t we all benefit from more things that bring us together rather than divide us?

Pepperoni and onions in sauce. Photo via B. Smith.

For my family, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are marked with tradition. We attend a vigil mass for the Solemnity of Mary on New Year’s Eve, followed by pepperoni sandwiches (thick cut pepperoni and sliced onions slowly simmered in tomato sauce until the onions are tender and the onions and meat have flavored the sauce) for dinner. When my kids were young, the pepperoni was a bit spicy for them, so we added hotdogs to the tradition. At midnight, after a toast with Asti Spumante (and several phone calls to family) we eat bagna cauda (tuna and anchovies simmered in olive oil and butter… with copious amounts of garlic) with bread and veggies. After a late night, we get up and tear down all the Christmas decorations. (Yes, I know it’s still the Christmas season in the church, but that’s what we do.) Then we watch football until the traditional dinner of pork roast in sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, green beans, and applesauce. Again we toast in the new year, and then we wind down with Christmas cookies, tiramisu, and coffee. Any cookies left will become a cookie torte the next day.

Tradition is so important to us.

beach

Not tradition, but not a bad way to spend a holiday, either.

And this year we barely managed half of what we usually do. We were just coming back from a week at the beach (also not part of our usual tradition, but it was my in-laws’ 50th anniversary, so we took the party south), and the drive took a lot out of us. Bagna cauda and undecorating didn’t happen until the 2nd. Tiramisu and torte didn’t happen at all. And I fell asleep during football, so I guess that was a wash, too.

But that’s okay.

The most important part of tradition isn’t what the activity is, but who you do the activity with.

We weren’t with extended family this year. Haven’t been for several years, actually, as we just live too far away now and school and work resume right after the holiday. But we were with each other. And while our activities shifted or just didn’t happen at all, we were together. And that’s what matters most.

So if you know me, you know family time is important to me. And if you know my writing, you know family and tradition are important to my characters. Out and About just released in December, with more family drama for the Kellers. Book three of the series is already in process. Mind Control will be coming out a few months from now, with more Italian tradition from the Notaros and the Brotherhood. I’m so excited about both of these series, and I hope you are, too. I’m pretty sure the Kellers enjoyed a cocktail party with a few close friends and the Notaros and the Brotherhood definitely had pepperoni sandwiches and bagna cauda. Now they are all ready to see what 2016 will bring.

I’m ready, too. I’m looking forward to all the possibilities 2016 offers. So, I’m happy to wish you all—heck, I’m wishing the entire world—a happy, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous new year.

Do you have any expectations for 2016? Let’s talk about it below.

The 238th Great Anniversary Festival

2nd US President

Official Presidential Portrait of John Adams (by John Trumbull, circa 1792)  via wiki commons http://www.whitehouseresearch.org/assetbank-whha/action/viewHome

Here in the United States of America, many of us are coming back to work after a three day weekend. We just celebrated our country’s 238th birthday. The day before the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Second Continental Congress, John Adams wrote his wife a letter in which he said about that day, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

It is of little matter today that Adams was referring to July 2, the day the declaration was signed, and we celebrate on July 4, the day the declaration was made public to the masses. What is important is that 238 years later, we do celebrate as he envisioned: with parades and picnics, games and fireworks. Continue reading

Finding the Good in the Sad

by Staci Troilo

First, an announcement. Soon you will have to type the address: http://stacitroilo.wordpress.com to access my site. This will only be temporary while I am in the process of switching over to a new host. Please make note of this change. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, and I hope it won’t be a lengthy one. Now, on to this week’s post.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. For Catholics, it’s the day the Passion is read at Mass. As a kid, I always had such trouble just listening to that gospel reading, let alone participating in it. Then when I was an adult, I watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Now I really have trouble getting through that gospel. It really makes me feel completely…well, unworthy is the only word that comes to mind, but it really doesn’t come close.

But I have other, happier associations with Palm Sunday, too. For one thing, I was born on Palm Sunday. Not on the thirteenth, but on a Palm Sunday, waaaay back in 1971. I don’t remember that day, but I’m pretty happy about it, nonetheless.

Palm Sunday crossesBut my favorite memories of Palm Sundays gone by are the tying of the palm crosses. When I was little, my grandfather would come to our house and take all of our palm fronds and tie them into crosses for us. We would then have one for our bedrooms for a whole year, until the following year, when we would get a new one to replace it. (Most churches collect old palm before Lent starts and burn it for the ashes that they use for Ash Wednesday.) I remember him teaching me that the palm was special—it was blessed by the priest—so if I dropped it, I had to kiss it. As he tied the crosses, I scrambled to pick up any little pieces that fell and put them in a pile to be buried or burned. He taught me that was the only way to properly dispose of the blessed palm. He taught me so many things.

I loved being his little helper.

When I got a little older, he taught me how to make the crosses myself. It took me a few years to finally memorize the process, because there weren’t that many to tie. It’s not that complicated once you get it, but you don’t have many to learn with. It starts with a series of folds to anchor the knot in the center, then there are a series of loops to make the post and the cross pieces. Finally, a set of two tiny loops hold the middle together. I finally mastered it in 1985. No one else in my family ever took the time to learn it.

My grandfather died in February of 1986. He never tied another cross. I still have the last one we made together. It’s pretty delicate, but I don’t want to let it go.

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I do have children, and I’m trying to teach them how to tie the crosses. I think it’s important to pass the traditions along while I’m still here to enjoy sharing my time with them. I’ve already taught my niece, I even taught my husband, and my kids are learning. My son actually did really well this year. My daughter isn’t doing too badly, but she actually is more interested in tying crowns of thorns. She saw one on television once, and has been doing her own version ever since. Maybe she’ll start her own tradition of tying crowns of thorns with her kids. It doesn’t matter to me. Right now, at least we’re all together, at Mass and afterward, as a family.

The gospel is such a tragic—albeit necessary—part of Palm Sunday. It’s nice to have some good memories to add to the day as well.

For Writers:
Fiction is nothing without conflict. Is there something in your WIP that has a negative connotation? Can you think of a way to add an activity and put a positive spin on it?

For Everybody:
Are you having this issue in your WIP? Did you do anything for Palm Sunday? Let’s talk about it.

Times Change — Embracing New Traditions

fourth of july

Backyard Fireworks

We celebrated Independence Day this past week. In addition to the swimming and the picnic food, we set off fireworks. That’s one of my son’s favorite things to do. I think it has something to do with the power of the explosives and the exhilaration the display causes everyone who’s watching. The ones we set off this year were pretty good, for backyard fireworks.

labradors

Excited Casey and
Scared Max

My family enjoyed them. One of my dogs did. The other was frightened, to the point he made himself sick. Maybe next year he’ll adapt better and enjoy the show like his brother does.

My nephew, when he was young, called it a “spectacular extravaganza in the sky.” It’s cuter if you hear it coming from the lispy voice of a two year old. He’s twenty-five now, but I’m pretty sure he still likes fireworks. I don’t know anyone (my youngest dog excluded) who doesn’t like them.

Festa di Italia

Vandergrift Festival

Growing up, Independence Day was spent at the local festival in my hometown. There were food stands, game booths, and live bands for days. Fireworks started around 9:00 on the fourth and lasted for about an hour, culminating in a grand finale that left us all breathless. Most people stayed at the festival to watch the show, but my family always went to my grandparents’ house. Their backyard faced the field where the fireworks were set off.

Those are some of my fondest memories of childhood.

There were the years when I was very young and quite frightened that the embers would land on me. I stood on the porch under the roof and peaked out at the ones that were above my head. There were the years when I was older and stood as close to the field I could, eagerly anticipating the next explosion, and the next, and the next.

We stopped going when my grandfather passed away. My grandmother’s heart wasn’t in it anymore, and if she wasn’t celebrating, it seemed wrong to enjoy the show without her.

As the years went on, I started dating the boy who became my husband. We’d watch the fireworks from his parents’ backyard. It always left me nostalgic for my younger years, but it was nice being with the boy I loved.

Samantha/Seth toddlers

My Kids as Toddlers Ready for Summer Fun with Family

When we were married and had kids, we’d bring them to the festival and then to my in-laws’ house. They had a blast, and so did we. But time marches on, and things change. We moved away, and getting back for the festival became harder and harder. Finally we stopped going home for the festival, and now we live so far away and our kids’ schedules are so full, we couldn’t go home if we wanted to.

Not that it matters.

My town stopped having the Fourth of July Festival years ago, choosing instead to have only the church festival in August.

What’s the point of this story, you ask?

It’s so you understand that time marches on. Things change, people change, and you should embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Before long, loved ones will be gone, events will have changed or ceased to exist, and you might have to start your own traditions just to have any connection with your past. And connections with your past forge the person you are today.

backyard fireworks tradition

My grown son preparing our fireworks display.
Traditions change, but the emotions behind them remain.

My husband and I do what we can to keep family traditions alive for our kids—even when we have to change things to keep the traditions alive. Do you still keep old traditions alive for your family? Why don’t you share some traditions in the comments section below?

And writers, in addition to the family matters discussed above, consider how to apply these principles to your WIPs. Do you have family traditions that you can work into your characters’ lives? Have those traditions changed over the years? If so, for the better or worse? How do these traditions impact your characters? Don’t forget to include setting, senses, and character reactions. Maybe you could discuss a tradition you’re incorporating into your WIP in the comments section.

Traditions Gone by the Wayside

This is the time of year when I get cravings for weird things. It might be because it’s Lent and I give up a lot of indulgent foods, or it might be because of the time of year it is. For example, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and that means Shamrock Shakes. Usually those coincided with Lent, so unless they were released before Lent started (like this year), we’d need to not have given up sweets for Lent or freeze them until after Easter. When I moved to Arkansas, I was horrified to learn that they had never heard of Shamrock Shakes. Last year, McDonald’s had a new release here… Shamrock Shakes! However, they were “test marketing” them in limited quantities, so they were virtually impossible to come by. Finally, this year, the stars aligned. McDonald’s released Shamrock Shakes in mass quantities before Lent in Arkansas. One craving averted.

sausageThere are some cravings, though, that I’ll never get to satisfy again. Right after Christmas when I was young, my whole family would gather in my grandparents’ basement to make sausage and sopresatta. It was hard work—it took the whole day—and took a lot of preparation before that, but boy was it worth it. (Squeamish readers may want to skip ahead.)

Sheep intestine had to be soaked in ice water and citrus for days to be cleaned and deodorized. Pork shoulder had to be ground, and we didn’t have a motorized crank; it was all done by hand. Pounds and pounds were fed through the feed tube, and once coarsely ground, became the basis for the sausage and sopresatta mixtures. Seasonings were stirred into the meat by hand, requiring the men to dig into big bowls up to their elbows. Peppers were added to the sopresatta mix. Finally the mixtures were pushed back into the extruder and into the intestine casing.

The sausage was hung in my grandparents’ fruit cellar—the coldest place in the house, or cooked right away for us to eat with homemade bread and, if we were lucky, a sip of wine. The sopresatta had to be pressed until it cured completely. It took six to eight weeks to dry out. This is the time of year we’d be eating the homemade salami, and at this time every year, I get a craving for it. The stuff you buy in the stores just isn’t the same, and frankly, living in Arkansas, any kind of Italian food is hard to come by, let alone the stuff prepared the way we’re used to.

The hardest part for me, though, is saying goodbye to the memories. I was too young to actually be a part of the sausage-making process, but I remember sitting on the stool in the basement, watching my grandparents, my parents, my aunt, uncle and cousins work. I remember playing with my young cousins while the adults toiled. My grandmother only had a two-bedroom home, so the house was tiny, and filling it with that many people trying to accomplish a difficult task with a bunch of kids underfoot should have brought conflict and strife, but it didn’t. There was laughter and love and fun. Sometimes there was music, but more often than not when the music ended, people were so busy goofing around that they forgot to turn it back on. At the end of the day, the sausage and sopresatta was made for the year, but the memories were made for a lifetime.

My grandfather is gone now. My parents and aunt and uncle no longer make the sausage—it’s too much work for them. My siblings and my cousins didn’t carry the tradition on. We’ve all drifted apart—me farthest of all, nearly one thousand miles—and simply didn’t manage to keep the tradition alive. Even if we managed to start it up again, it just wouldn’t be the same without my grandfather managing the process. My husband and I tried to make some sausage a few years ago, but it just wasn’t right. Times change and traditions fall by the wayside.

So this year, I finally got my Shamrock Shake, but I won’t be having any sopresatta. At least, not any of my grandfather’s homemade sopresatta. Some traditions just can’t be replicated. We should try to enjoy what time we have with our families while we have them. You never know when those times will be nothing but treasured memories.

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