Advent!

December 1st! ❤🎄🌟 Christmas construction has begun! We have transitioned from the orange celebrations to the red ones – amping up energy, light, beauty, and joy. Christmas Spirit essential oil blend is back in our daily rotation. Our mantra for the month is “Breathe in, the light and love of the season. Breathe out, embody the light and love of the season.” 

Today is not only the beginning of December; it is also the beginning of Advent. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin, “to come,” and is observed throughout the four Sundays leading to Christmas. It has been observed since the fifth century with themes of watchfulness, preparation, and hope. Advent is a season of light and love.

By the end of the day today we will have placed our wreaths and candles in the windows of our home; set up our manger; prepared our advent wreath; found a special stone to add around our advent wreath; read together Day 1 of our St. Nicholas stories; and reflected on our first week of advent verse.

The light of hope. The first light of advent is the light of stone. Stones that lie in crystals, sea shells, and bones. 

For our Advent verse we combine each of a Rudolph Steiner’s Advent verses with one of the four Advent themes. For this week it is stones and hope.

Our elf, Fred Woodchomp, also returned today. Fred moves around the house at night and leaves little notes to be found the next morning. His notes are focused around seasonal reminders and holiday preparations as well as the advent verse for each week. He gives the girls tasks to accomplish such as stories to read aloud, actions to take for animals, loved ones, and strangers, etc. so that we are continually focusing on the meaning of the season. Fred stays with us until Epiphany and helps fill the season with peace, kindness, light, and love for all. Last year Fred asked the girls to take a minute each day to write something nice about each other and tie it to the strings on their bedroom doors. The next morning the girls woke up to find the notes they wrote to each other and a candy cane. I was please to see that he continued asking them to do this again this year. Two sisters, 4 years apart in age, can sometimes forget to see how special each other are. It is important for each of them to take some time to sit and reflect on their relationship as well. It helps  them grow stronger together.

With all of the focus on doing and hurrying and obligation that the holiday season can bring, Advent reminds our family to slow down and be intentional about the things we choose to do that will fill our lives with the spirit of the season. We don’t try to fill our days with obligation and busy-ness. We focus on what is meaningful for us and that which brings hope, joy, peace, and love to our family and others. We focus on savoring each moment and day. On filling ourselves with the light and love of the season, and turning that love and light back out into the universe for others. Plus, its a great opportunity to grab a fuzzy blanket, something warm to drink, and a book to read together or just have a chat as we gather together in the evening in front of a glowing fire.

Light gives hope and beauty.

How do you kick off this season of light and love? 

Intention + Patience + Intuition = The Making of Cacao Bitters

I am so excited about this post. I know it doesn’t look like much from the picture but it represents a new learning and growth point for me. I love herbs. I love growing them and using them in cooking, body products, beverages, and all sorts of other ways to support wellness. I am always reading and growing in my herbal knowledge. But, I play it safe in my making. I make things that don’t require me to stretch beyond my comfort and knowledge boundaries. I’m not sure what keeps me from really experimenting. Fear, I suppose, is at the root of it.  Of getting it wrong. Of it not working or not tasting good. I don’t have that fear in any other cooking but there it is, rearing it’s ugly head in herbal preparations.

One herbal preparation that has interested me for so long is bitters. I have used them for making, as my oldest would say, “adult beverages.” A friend of our family brought us back the biggest bottle of Angostura bitters from Trinidad that I have ever seen. The size of the bottle was amazing. How could one person or family use it all? I knew there had to be more to why bitters are so integral in other cultures. 

Italians, for example, have Aperol and Campari, both of which I have loved for years as an aperitif. It wasn’t until I began learning more about bitters that I realized that Aperol and Campari begin as herbal bitters – with the base ingredient being Gentiana latea (gentian) root. The history of bitters goes all the way back to the master formula created more than two thousand years ago. Mithridates, king of Pontus, an ancient kingdom on the southern shores of the Black Sea, developed the first recorded bitters formula in the Western world. China has a much older, well-documented history of the use of bitters. In Central America bitters evolved from blending cacao with other additives.  

Bitters supports digestion of food. They are touted with being able to soothe the walls of the GI, ease cramping in the intestine, relieve gas, relieve an upset stomach, They can have a calming effect on the nervous system. They can be created to support the cardiovascular system, skin, digestive system, and that is just the beginning. As I began to learn more and more about the cultural and wellness reasons bitters are so highly valued I began to be intrigued by how they are made.  

I finally decided to take the leap. The making of bitters is one aspect of herbalism that I had never explored. But bitters kept speaking to me and peaking my interest so I decided it was time to listen to the messages and give it a go. After all, making bitters seems to be a great way to meld traditional knowledge with modern needs and the research and creativity available to us. I wonder if there is an ancestral memory that has had bitters calling to me. But that’s for another post. 🙂 

As I mentioned in my 7 July 2019 post, I am having a love affair with cacao right now. I love the rich flavor and the thousands of years of history that comes with it. So when I came upon Guido Masé’s Cacao Bitters recipe that he shared in The Herbal Academy, I had to try it. Now I have a lovely after-dinner bitters that I can use in drinks or on its own with a little hot water and honey. I love the fact that it is not a quick-make. It takes intention. Patience. Time. First, I made the tinctures with each of the herbal ingredients. This required each of them to sit and rest for anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks before they could be combined to form the bitters. In the end, the combination of cacao, damiana, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, cayenne, and raw honey relaxes my mind and spirit and is lovely for closing out a meal.  

I’m so glad I jumped into making bitters. I put fear to the side and decided to trust my herbal knowledge and techniques, and my intuition. The result is I am having so much fun exploring different combinations of herbs. I have lots of plans for experimenting with formulating my own blends, and can’t wait to see what I create.  

For more on bitters check out:

Herbal Academy:  

Book:

DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor by Guido MasĂŠ and Jovial King 

Instagram: @urbanmoonshine

Darkness and Martinmas

I love the time from Michaelmas (9/29) to Candlemas (2/2). But it hasn’t always been that way. Daylight becomes shorter during this time, with darkness greeting us as we head to and from school each day. I use to dread this time of the year. I would wrestle with the inner turmoil of loving winter and detesting darkness. The darkness and the cold made me feel trapped, sluggish, and unmotivated. The only part I enjoyed was after swim practice I would walk outside and my hair would freeze. I would smile and laugh about it. Within minutes of being back inside my hair would return to the wet mess it was.
As our children arrived in our lives my perception of this time of the year began to change. It wasn’t just because our oldest was born during the darkest of winter. Rather, it was because I decided to love the darkness and celebrate it as a time of renewal and reflection. To accept that the darkness could actually snuggle me through the winter to the light of spring.
I decided to bring light – the stars and the sun – inside. Twinkle lights. Candles. Fires in the fireplace. I began to see light all around me, and I began to understand that I may choose to bring and be light as well. Now, as a family we journey towards the deepest darkest days of the year and have steps along the way which help us to know that the light will once again return and to know that we can be and bring light as well. Our family will mark this time of the year with:

  • Michaelmas
  • Halloween
  • Dia De Los Muertos
  • Martinmas
  • Thanksgiving
  • Advent
  • St. Nicholas Day
  • Santa Lucia Day
  • Winter Solstice
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • The 12 days of Christmas
  • New Year’s Day
  • Epiphany
  • Candlemas

Today is Martinmas, the middle point between Michaelmas and Christmas Day. We will reflect on the story of St. Martin, celebrate with our lanterns, and enjoy a Martinmas Spice Cake. As the legend goes, while serving in the army at Amiens, Martin met a poor man at the city gate. The man was half-naked and cold. Martin drew his sword, cut his warm coat in two, and gave one-half to the man. The following night, Christ appeared to Martin, dressed in the piece of coat that Martin had given away. Martin recognized the divine light in the poor man of Amiens and gave it the protection of his coat. Our lanterns give protection to our own little “flame” that began to shine at Michaelmas, so that we may carry it safely through the darkness. It may only be a small and fragile light – but every light brings relief to darkness. (pages 163-164, All Year Round by Ann Druitt).
Light is infused into each of the celebrations we honor at this time of the year. Whether its as candles or lanterns or rings all are designed to help us see our own inner light and how it is powerful enough to drive away darkness. We are reminded that light brings love and the more the world is flooded with light and love the more we are able to conquer darkness where ever we find it. Just imagine the impact if we bring all of our little lights together and shine bright as one.
I strive to learn
To learn to give
To give my heart
To all I see.
I see that I
With heart aflame,
Aflame with Love,
Can light the world!
-verse for ending main lesson written by Rudolf Copple (waldorfpublications.org, blog 14 Dec 2015)
How do you bring light into this time of darkness?

World Chocolate Day

Today is World Chocolate Day. I usually don’t post on Sunday but I couldn’t bring myself to miss World Chocolate Day – I ❤ cacao! Raw, organic, non-gmo, sustainably sourced, fairly traded cacao is my favorite!
My love of herbs extends beyond what grows wild or in gardens where I live. I am intellectually curious about cacao and herbs such as maca, mucuna, ashwagandha, shatavari. These have been cultivated for thousands of years for medicinal, therapeutic, and wellness purposes. I am fascinated about the wisdom surrounding their use.
The benefits of cacao I repeatedly see mentioned are:
  • many times more antioxidants than berries
  • highest plant based source of iron
  • helps improve neurotransmitter function
  • one of the highest sources of magnesium
  • lots of calcium
  • enhances good vibes
Along the way, I came upon Gabrielle Brick. Gabrielle is a holistic nutrition specialist and life coach who is deeply committed to helping people “discover how to create powerful elixirs that will do everything from balance hormones, boost your immune system and create sustainable energy.” Her recipes use cacao and the herbs listed above among others. I tried her Cacao Elixir and now play with a base recipe depending on what my body needs each day.
For today, World Chocolate Day, it seemed appropriate to go straight up chocolate – no bananas, berries, spinach, or spirulina; no greens powder; just a double dose of cacao:
  • cacao paste
  • cacao powder
  • maca
  • mucuna
  • ashwagandha
  • sea salt
  • warm water
  • almond milk

I love how I feel after drinking my cacao each day.

How are you celebrating World Chocolate Day?

For more information on Gabrielle Brick, she can be found:

on her website and blog

on Instagram

Daily Routine and Chia Pudding

I love routine.
I love daily rhythms.
As an educator I knew from the moment that my girls arrived in this world that they would need daily rhythms. We built daily rhythms into each day for them. When they went to pre-school they attended our local Waldorf school where rhythm was purposefully built into the structure of the day. Time to breathe in. Time to breathe out. Time for connection. Time for expansion.
What I discovered along the way is how important those rhythms are to my daily life. I need them. Too little sleep. Too much stress. Too little energy. Too little patience. This primed me for being snappy and short with those I love more than everything. The result was little resilience for each day’s happenings.

I needed to build quiet into my day. I needed to build calm into my mornings. Once I realized this need, I began to create a rhythm for my day that now provides me with the opportunity to breathe in and breathe out. To contract and to expand. To bookend my day with light.
Here is my morning routine:

  • Wake up
  • Walk with the dog
  • Hot water with lemon and cayenne pepper
  • Morning yoga
  • Meditate
  • Do all of the things to get the day ready……….
  • Then breakfast: Matcha tea and Chia Pudding Bowl

    sunde.glade 2019

Chia pudding is one of the secrets to making this daily rhythm work for me. Sunday night I whip up 1/2 cup of chia seeds and 2 cups coconut milk. It makes enough for the work week. Each morning I just scoop out some chia pudding and add in whatever I am in the mood for that day. In the picture above it was peanut butter, homemade strawberry jam, blueberries, walnuts, hemp seeds, and coconut. Other add-ins can be homemade granola, banana, kiwi, apple, raspberries, chocolate chips, pecans, almond butter, honestly, the list is endless.

Not only is chia pudding super easy and yummy but it is also packed with goodness. Chia seeds are packed with:
  • Omega 3’s
  • Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron
  • Antioxidants
  • Essential Fatty Acids
  • Protein
  • Vitamin A, B, D, E
My chia pudding bowl and matcha tea prepare me for the day. I have the energy to tackle whatever comes my way. With my daily routine, my mind and heart are prepared for anything and everything.

Brain Science and Herbal Self-study

Ever since @herbsandloreapothecary posted last week about herbal self-study I have been reflecting on how I came to love and use herbs. When I was little our neighbor, Mrs. H, had an amazing perennial garden centered around a bicentennial tree. I developed a love for forget-me-nots, Virginia bluebells, and hosta from her. From my parents came a love of honeysuckles, pussy willows, hydrangeas, azaleas, and tomatoes. Developing a garden for birds, squirrels, rabbits, bees, hummingbirds, and other animal friends was always central to a garden’s magic.

But herbs came to me on their own. My entry herb was rosemary. I was enticed by the smell, the essential oil, all its uses, and the lore. My wedding bouquet was even red roses and rosemary. Once I discovered books about herbs, the love was sealed.

First, I found The Potted Herb by Abbie Zabar. The second was a Christmas 1994 present from my parents – The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices, and Flavorings: A Cook’s Compendium by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. And, that was all it took.

I discovered ways to use rosemary in cooking, cleaning, body lotions, and so much more. Over the years new herbs have entered my life. And, so have new books such as Make Your Place by Raleigh Briggs. With each new herb I began to understand it and how to integrate it into my life.

What I have realized is that I only know one side of herbs, their energetic side. I’ve never really taken the time to stop and truly study them. To get to know them in a deep and rich way. To look closely at their structure – their petals, leaves, stems, roots, seeds, etc. To see their parts individually as well as part of a collective. To be able to distinguish them at a family level. To look with intention to understand.

I also believe it is important to continuously learn. Primarily because it is fun but also to keep my brain strong and young. Harvard Medical School, 12 ways to keep your brain young, (16 January 2018) suggests that challenging your brain with mental exercise stimulates new connections between nerve cells and builds up your brain.

Just like I exercise to keep my body healthy, strong, and fit, now it’s time to focus on exercising my brain. I am embarking on an herbal self-study and making it a priority just like physical fitness. Daily focus every day. My intention is to learn more about these herbs that I love. To learn all of their sides and develop a deep and rich understanding of them.

You can follow along on my Instagram feed or Herbs and Lore’s Instagram feed.

For the full Harvard Medical School article: visit Harvard Health Publishing.

Unplug, go analog?

I have been quiet in this space lately because I have been thinking about digital media, specifically my email, social media, texting and how my interactions with all of it have changed over the past three decades. It’s been on my mind since September but with the transition to Spring it has taken the forefront.

I remember my first email account. It was 1988 and I was provided with a college account as the Sports Information Director for a small liberal arts college. The email could only be used for internal communications across campus. It was helpful, the flow and speed of information amongst the college community felt effortless.

Fast forward to 1995 when I received an educators email through a local university. It opened up a world of communication. I could communicate with colleagues in other states and time zones. It let us tap into each other’s wisdom, insights, and ideas whenever it was convenient for each of us, regardless of time of day. Within several years our school system provided email accounts to all of the employees. By 2000 email was a part of every day life and routine. My daily world had changed. And, I liked it.

It was exciting. I like feeling connected to people far away. Being able to have the New York Times and BBC News at my fingertips makes keeping up with world events easier. I have access to libraries and museums around the world. And, so much music is available. Inspiration comes in the form of online essays, posts, pictures……..

When I reflect now, email was just the beginning. Email laid the path for the acceptance of all of the digital changes to come. Over time engaging with the internet and social media became regularized. As it all became more a part of my every day life it changed for me. It was emerging as an obligation. No longer a tool to enhance communication but rather a tether to expectations.

I have pondered and reflected on technology and digital media and the way I interact with it. I have learned that my tendency toward ritual and rhythm make it very easy for me to succumb to the pull of available technology. I realized I reach for my phone while waiting in lines, at red lights, on elevators, in carpool. All those little moments that occur throughout the day, where I could revel in the found time to think, breathe, notice, I fill with technology.

I know that when I am engaged with nature or creating I feel better. I sleep better. I learn better. I interact with people better. I think clearer. But my ritual, habit, dare I say addiction, to this technology interrupts my overall well-being.

I researched and read about technology’s impact on health and well-being. Just take sleep. We need 6-8 hours of deep, restful sleep, in order for our bodies to reset and recuperate from the day. While we sleep our bodies go to work repairing our cells, setting our circadian rhythm, balancing our hormones, making sure our systems are ready for the hard work of protecting our memory and immune system, and decreasing our risk of certain health conditions.

My work days are long – 6:30am – 4:30 pm and sometimes longer – and are often very stress-filled. When I feel over worked and over stressed my cortisol levels are high. When my cortisol levels are high while I sleep, my body can’t repair and actually sleep. “High evening cortisol makes you feel like you don’t need rest, at the time when you actually need it most. You can have trouble falling asleep or sleeping deeply. This depletes your adrenals, which heal at night. Depleting your adrenals can cause neurotransmitter levels to decline, including serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. The lack of sleep makes it harder to sleep because of stress and high cortisol, and it becomes an endless cycle” (https://www.saragottfriedmd.com/7-faqs-on-cortisol/).

Layer on top of that, the blue light of my devices. That light suppresses melatonin, the hormone that needs to rise for optimal sleep, and the light disrupts circadian cycles. So when I am checking my phone, “just one more time” before bed, I am making it even harder for my body to do its work.

And so, the Vernal Equinox and Supermoon emerged as an opportunity to reflect even deeper and to listen to my inner voice that has just been waiting to be heard. I am radically choosing my self and my family over the obligations of digital media. It’s time for me to adjust my interactions with digital media and to create new habits. Still in the digital world but not tethered to it. A digital detox. A digital cleanse. A digital sabbatical. A digital time-out. Whatever label fits.

Here are my goals:
1. Technology-free within an hour before bed time.
2. Technology-free within an hour of awakening in the morning.
3. Technology-free Sundays.

Time to relax. Play. Unwind. Notice. Be present. Interact. Be Bored. Create.

Light is everywhere – even in the strangest of places.

I was listening to Scarlet Begonias by the Grateful Dead this morning. I caught myself smiling. My pulse and breathing slowed. I was immediately transported to a road trip in 1982 when I first heard this song. Driving down Route 213 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, car windows open, the warm summer breeze blowing through the car. Farm fields all around. Sun shining bright. I was reminded how something as simple as a song or a lyric can alter my entire mood and perspective. “Once in a while you get shown the light In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

The Grateful Dead was speaking about the yogic path long before I ever learned about Bhakti yoga, asana, svadhyaya (self study), and mantras! February has always been a hard month for me. Dark. Slow. Emotional. Things that challenge my stability and balance seem to happen in this month. That might be an overstatement but it has always felt that way. I have always looked forward to the end of February and the beginning of March. This year was different. I found the light in all sorts of places. As I set an intention at the beginning of the month to relax into February, to accept myself and what happens as what is, I found light and lightness. When difficult things occurred, I named it, claimed it, and tried to set it free back out into the universe. I connected deeper to making to let my creativity have a means of expression. I opened my awareness to the daily practice of paying attention, morning meditation and chanting of mantras that speak to my mind and heart. And, each time I found light, I found myself finding it more often. February was a great month. I found it refreshing and invigorating. As February ends and March begins I take the following lessons with me:

  • Be. Here. Now. -Ram Das
  • It’s not about how much I do. It’s about showing up and paying attention.
  • Each moment, and my response to it, is a choice.
  • Bring it always back to the breath.
  • Relax into my heart and I will see the light.

Light is everywhere – even in the strangest of places.

Food choices are so much more than food choices

I have deep memories of growing up that involve food. My mom cooked every night. We were not a family that journeyed to McDonald’s or Burger King. Nor did we experience boxed macaroni and cheese or Twinkies or Lunchables. My mother was never more excited than when her Southern Living or Gourmet magazine came.

I remember when I has about 10 years old my family went for a Sunday drive and we discovered a roadside farmer’s stand. That began a weekly habit of driving every weekend to Beverly and Donald Burton’s farm to pick up fruits and vegetables.

Around that time the “egg-man,” as we called him, began to deliver farm fresh eggs directly to our house on Saturdays.

Labor Day weekend meant canning tomatoes. A couple of weeks later was applesauce. We always had some of Nannie’s (my dad’s aunt) hot pepper sauce around. As I grew up and began to figure out my own life I carried these traditions with me and added to them (canning and freezing of more fruits and veggies; making vanilla, mustard, breads, pasta; having a root cellar).

I became a vegetarian during my last year of college. This began without any intentionality whatsoever. The college I attended did not serve the most appetizing options in meat. So, I stopped eating it. After I graduated, I couldn’t afford to buy it, as I was making $2000 a year in my first job (1988) and $75 a week in my second job (1989), so I continued to not eat it. During this time I began to read and learn more and more about our food system’s impact on our environment – both physical (Earth) and human (body).

What I learned was astonishing, and it made me angry. How could we be destroying our own bodies as well as our planet? From manufacturing to marketing, our perceptions of food are shaped by what we see around us. The big food companies have figured this out and use it to their advantage. Sugar, salt, fat are the cornerstone of the mass production of food. This trio ensures flavor as well as preservation for long shipping distances. I read about companies efforts to find the “bliss point” and to enhance the “mouthfeel” so that consumers will purchase their products. And, how they appeal to our desire for ease and immediacy. The result is an epidemic of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity.

Then, there is the impact of factory farming: pharmaceutical drugs administered to farm animals, downstream water contamination from leaching waste pits, environmental racism in the location of factory farms, more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation industry, ocean dead zones, rainforest destruction, mercury contamination of fish, and so much more. To me this just seemed to contradict ahimsa at every turn – respect for all living things and not causing harm to others.

From everything I learned I came to understand that the most powerful way I could combat this manipulation, harm, and destruction was to choose not to engage in it as much as possible.

Our family has supported a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) program, and the egg man continued to deliver to our house until he passed away in 2008 or so. We still travel to the Burton’s farm on weekends, and for the past 14-years we have supported a farm that delivers dairy, eggs, fruits, veggies, our Thanksgiving turkey, and so much more directly to our house. We are fortunate that our local farmer’s market is open all year. Our girls have had the experience of knowing where their fruits, veggies, eggs, dairy, and cheese come from. They have met the farmers and walked the fields, and they have met the cows and fed the calves.

February 22nd was National Community Supported Agriculture Day. Community Supported Agriculture is a term that was first coined in the 1980s. Since then CSAs and the philosophy behind CSAs has spread across the country. From CSA Day’s website:

“CSA stands for “community supported agriculture,” which is a direct-to-customer business model for farmers. In the traditional CSA model, people pay for a season’s worth of produce (a membership), sometimes months in advance. The CSA member then receives a box of fruits and vegetables every week throughout the harvesting season. This is great for the farmers because they get the revenue when they most need it to get ready for the growing season.”

If you are interested in Community Supported Agriculture or farmer’s markets this is the perfect time to check them out as CSAs are taking new sign-ups and farmer’s markets are preparing to open in March and April, depending on location and if they are not all-year round. For more information visit:

Local Harvest – CSA
Local Harvest – Farmer’s Markets

Collecting Stories

How did it all begin? I was not a kid who grew up hearing family stories passed down through the years or who had heirlooms throughout the house that connected to people from prior generations. I grew up in the same town that my mother did so her family was close by but we rarely saw them. My father’s mother and sister were in a state on the other side of the country so on one hand I can count the number of times I saw them. I never even saw a picture of my father’s dad until 2000. The fact that I fell in love with family history and stories is remarkable. What is even more remarkable is that once I started asking questions and expressing interest, people started sharing. People came out of the wood work to connect with me, to help me, to share what they remembered.

It all started in grade 07. In those days Home Economics and Industrial Arts were required courses for graduation – sewing, cooking, and family studies one half of the academic year and woodworking, metal shop, and drafting the other half. It was in the family studies class that I created my first family tree that would set the rest in motion.

All we had to do was go back to our grandparents on both sides of our family. I ended up placing hand-drawn images with color codes for eye and hair color, height and weight, place and date of birth/marriage/death, and any additional information I discovered. It was multiple poster boards long when it was finished. I over-achieved on the project but what it really did was ignite my curiosity. I held on to that project for years until it finally fell apart from old age.

When my father became sick I felt compelled to return to that project. I felt compelled to know and understand more. Compelled isn’t a strong enough word. I was drawn to it by something deep within me. When I look back, in the beginning I was trying to hold on as tight as I could to my dad, then I was trying to ensure he would not be forgotten, and then I finally realized I was attempting to reconnect with ancestral memories that had long been forgotten from time and neglect. None of us exists in complete independence. We are all linked by our ancestry and our place on this amazing planet. I was seeking connection to my ancestors and to the universe. This compulsion led me to uncover generations going back further than I ever imagined. It is not just about bringing back names but also their stories. I still have more people and their stories to uncover but the stories that have already emerged connect our family experiences to colonists, soldiers, immigrants, reformers, politicians, reverends, doctors, dentists, blacksmiths, farmers, and more. These are people who are connected to the events that are memorialized in the narrative of United States history as well as the history of other countries. As I have discovered their stories, I have rediscovered this history in a deeply personal way. I have become the custodian of their memories, recipes, stories, and experiences with one charge – to keep it and them alive.

I have also come to understand the importance of making the time to honor my ancestors as a means of connecting with others and the greater energies of the universe. It is about connection. Empowerment. Healing. Resolution. At various points in my life I have been drawn to the tradition of the ofrenda and with each time I have grown deeper in my understanding of it. Dating back to ancient Mesoamerica, the purpose of the ofrenda is to remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones in the family, and to keep their memory and stories alive. It is a celebration of life, not death. It is joyful, not sorrowful. It is a welcoming of the spirits, a chance for them to sit and visit a while.

And so, I have uncovered more family members than I had ever hoped to find. People have been placed in my path to introduce me to long forgotten family members who I would have found through the long trail of research but whose stories I may never have heard. I would like to believe that this is because the spirits have recognized that they are welcome here. That if their stories are shared with me I will help them continue to be remembered.

Our girls are beginning to understand the importance of remembering loved ones so that they continue to live on in their new lives that come from death. Photos of our ancestors now live on a family tree in our dining room, and we are beginning to add tokens at the top of the tree that represent each of us. Our ancestors are with us at every meal, they are with us every day. I’m counting on our girls to keep the stories alive.

If you are interested in beginning to collect your family history and stories, just START:

Simply write down all the names you know, their relationship to you, and any dates you know about their lives: mother, father, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, etc.

Talk to your relatives to find out what they know and what they remember about family members. Ask about their dreams, their loves, their challenges, their victories, their strengths, their weaknesses, their joys, etc.

Audio or video record your conversations with your relatives, and make notes at the same time. This will enable you to refer back to the recordings and notes as you dig deeper into your family history and to share the recordings with future generations.

Render a family tree diagram from the information you have gathered.

Travel to places you know where your family members lived – this may be visiting a house or a town or a country. You never know what new information will come from seeing the house, town, or cemetery.

For more information on rendering a family tree diagram, visit the National Genealogical Society for free charts and templates.