Here Comes the Jackpot Question in Advance

Maybe it's much 
Too early in the game
Ooh, but I thought 
I'd ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year's
New Year's eve?

Wonder whose arms 

Will hold you good and tight
When it's exactly 
Twelve o'clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year's eve

Maybe I'm crazy to suppose

I'd ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations
You received

Ooh, but in case 

I stand one little chance
Here comes 
The jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Year's
New Year's Eve?

           ~ 1947 lyrics by Fred Loesser

Lena Horne, Barbara Streiseand, Barry Manilow, Diana Krall, Bette Midler, Rod Stewart, Harry Connick Jr., Zooey Deschenal and even the Head and the Heart sing it.  But Ella Fitzgerald is the one who sings it, in my humble opinion, the very best.  You can listen to her croon it right here.

Four years ago, what I was doing on New Year's Eve was eloping with Christian to the Seattle Courthouse.  The heavens were cooperating and it was a cold, clear night and an actual blue moon rose over the city, that rare event when we get an extra full moon in a calendar year.  My sister came to be my witness and Christian's old friend Dave was his.  After the quick ceremony we had a festive dinner at Tavolata, the restaurant where we had our first date.  We felt like everyone out in the world celebrating the New Year was joining in our party.  It was a giddy and magical night.  Ever since then, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" has been our song and each time I hear it I feel we are starting our lives afresh.

In addition to celebrating my wedding anniversary, I love the tradition of New Year's Eve to begin a brand new year, full of promise and hope.  The gift of possibility is a potent thing.  Now if only we can all remember to hold on to that feeling every day of the year, like Emily Dickinson wrote, "I dwell in possibility..."  

I wish all of you a year full of beautiful possibilities. May your lives brightly shine this New Year and throughout 2014!


A Christmas Memory...Or Two

The seeds of Shine Memoirs were planted many years ago when I had my first memoir piece published in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper with others from my grade school. Those few paragraphs now trigger happy sensory memories from my childhood Christmases in South Dakota: frozen hands from skating at McKennan Park, watching our breath as we sang carols, gingerly placing our delicate angel on the top of the tree, the taste of my grandmother's caramels and my mom's candy cane sugar cookies, the scent of cloves stuck in oranges, the purring of a kitten Santa brought one year and the gasp of realization that particular holiday my parents wrapped up a bib [typo above] and a rattle to tell my brother and I we had a new sibling on the way.

To be transported by words to another child's Christmas from an author with a considerably better literary pedigree than my grade-school self, I also wanted to share an excerpt from Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory.  Re-reading this story each year is one of my cherished holiday traditions and it never fails to delight me.

"Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar. 

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "Oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!" 

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other's best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880's, when she was still a child. She is still a child. 

"I knew it before I got out of bed," she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. "The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they've gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We've thirty cakes to bake." 

It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: "It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat." 

                                                   ~ Truman Capote, opening paragraphs from A Christmas Memory

For those who associate Capote only with Breakfast at Tiffany's or In Cold Blood, you may be surprised to learn that he also wrote this heartwarming biographical sketch.  You can read the full story in many holiday anthologies, but a favorite of mine is Caroline Kennedy's A Family Christmas.  You can also listen to Truman himself narrate it on this television version from 1966.  May it kickstart some happy childhood Christmas memories for you. 


A Holiday Gift Guide for Budding, Expert or Want-To-Be Memoirists

As the holiday festivities continue, I hope you are enjoying plenty of homemade cookies, favorite carols and bright lights. We finally had a chance to decorate our tree last night. I was a little disappointed Xavier had no interest in this new activity as every waking moment he is obsessed with his trains. Regardless, I delight in finding just the right place for each ornament while I say to Christian, "Remember when we found this one on our trip to...." or "Remember so-and-so gave us this one?" I have a few strong opinions about Christmas decorating:  (1) I only like white lights on our tree and on our house, (2) I don't want too many ornaments on the tree so each year many decorations don't make the cut and (3) I consider holiday books to be decorations to be placed around and under the tree to show off their covers (friends tease that I like to "play bookstore"). While wrapping gifts, I was thinking about ways to remember Christmas Past, enjoy Christmas Present and continue traditions for Christmas Yet To Come and I thought perhaps I need a new special Christmas journal, which brings me to my holiday gift list...

To help you check off presents for your favorite people, here are a few suggestions for books to collect stories and memories. With regular use, these are gifts that will become invaluable over time. Don't forget to give yourself one or two!

1. Every Day:  A Five Year Memoir by Mr. Boddington's Studio. This little book will be stuffed into my own stocking this year. I love the idea of one-line-a-day journals and I plan to keep this by my bedside to end each day with a quick entry. A perfect way to distill a day into memory. I know busy friends who aren't big journalers have found them an easy way to document their lives. And the best part is, it isn't overwhelming to keep up.

2. 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers' Grotto with an introduction by Po Bronson. A cheap and fun mini-writing workshop to get to know yourself better. Including prompts such as "How do you feel about love these days" and "Name the trees that stood in the neighborhood where you grew up."

3. Listography by Lisa Nola. This is a fun and whimsical series for the list-junkies on your list. Yes, you should get one for yourself too. Choose from such editions as Film, Travel, Parenthood, Friends, Love, Music or the Original.

4. My Prudent Advice: Lessons for My Daughter by Jaime Morrison Curtis.  I gave this book to my sister to write about herself in a way that will be a keepsake for her daughter Mabel. A slim and attractive option, with topics such as "On Your Beginnings," "On Politics, "On Pain" and my favorite "On Seeing Beauty Everywhere." 

5. Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal For Girls And Their Moms by Meredith and Sophie Jacobs. Written by a mother-daughter duo who have keeping a journal together for years, this book has some fun and meaningful conversation-starters for an ongoing heart-to-heart. It includes a page for each to write their thoughts on the same topics to laugh, grow closer and understand each other better. Recommended for middle school or high school age daughters especially.

6. Memories For My Grandchild: A Grandmother's Keepsake Journal by Lena Tabori. This is the book I've given to all three of Xavier's Grandmothers:  his MorMor, his Grandmar and his Abu respectively. It is a beautiful book covering the major milestones in life, as well as space to paste photographs. It may be overwhelming for some people, so be sure to suggest grandmothers take their time and enjoy it in little chunks. I can't wait to visit these books in the years to come as each woman fills them up with her personality and life stories. (Note: there are books on the market for Grandfather's but I haven't found one I really love yet.)

7. My Quotable Kid:  A Parents' Journal of Unforgettable Quotes from Chronicle Books. A great gift for new parents or parents of young children. Kids say the cutest things and when reading back over all the silly-sweet phrases you were sure you would never forget, you will be happy you wrote them down. Trust me.

8. Blank Journals. Quite possibly the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Here in Seattle, Elliott Bay Book Company is my go-to for beautiful journals like this one hand bound by Watermark Bindery. Go to your favorite local bookstore and peruse the options of blank notebooks, leather-bound volumes and handmade journals to fit the personality of the giftee. A blank journal is a delicious thing to hold in your hands and offers vital space to create, remember, rage, list, dream and play. You should probably have a new one for yourself for the New Year too. Go on, you've been good this year, haven't you?