Death Books – It can’t be as morbid as it sounds

My mom died a year ago yesterday. After my dad died I struggled with the tensions and conflict between death and life. After my mom died last year I noticed that my  relationship with death has evolved dramatically since my dad’s death in 1997. I am now able to look at death and see it for what it is, part of the entire circle of breath. Part of the journey. I no longer see death as an end. A void. I no longer fear it. I respect it. I no longer run from it.  I see it as something to sit with and be transformed by.

When my mother passed away last year, I realized I was now the oldest living female in our family. That was when I started thinking of myself as not becoming older but becoming elder. Elder like the old medicine woman or the old wise woman or the woman who is the keeper of the family knowledge, stories, and special potions. I learned that I was at an age that in many traditions, including yogic and Nahuatl for example, is seen as a time of rebirthing with all of the wisdom that one has from the past. And, it seemed to feel right.

As I comtemplated this emerging role for myself, I reflected on all of the knowledge I had acquired from the elder women in my life and family. With a desire to not have it all be forgotten, and a desire to ensure that all will be okay when it is my turn to exit, I commenced upon the creation of our family Death Book. It really is not as morbid as it sounds.

In the early years of married life I had begun making seasonal menus and companion grocery lists for each week. It was a means to survival. Organization in the world of a growing family with young children. The menus streamlined costs, shopping time (the lists were efficient), and reduced the need for the question, “What’s for dinner?”


These seasonal menus and shopping lists became the foundation of our family Death Book. The book contains 7 sections:

VOLUME 1:

  • Family Recipes 

VOLUME 2:

  • DIY Seasonings
  • Sauces & Extracts
  • Beverages
  • Breakfast & Brunch
  • Appetizers
  • Soups & Stews
  • Dinner
  • Slow Cooker
  • Sides
  • Salads 
  • Dressings

VOLUME 3:

  • Breads
  • Bars
  • Muffins
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Muffins
  • Pies
  • Snacks
  • Other Sweets

VOLUME 4:

  • Canning
  • Freezing
  • Fermentation
  • Culinary Gifts
  • Body Care
  • Cleaning
  • Essential Oils
  • Around the House
  • Family Remedies
  • Other


VOLUME 5:

  • Cleaning Plan

VOLUME 6:

  • Holiday Traditions

VOLUME 7:

  • Emergency Preparedness

These recipes and the information provided are all time tested and treasured by our family. They are the ones that I hope my girls will take with them and continue with their families some day. In fact, I have already found them using the book when they are in the making mood and decide to make drop biscuits, cookies, or room sprays. Volume 4 is particularly special to me as it contains the magic – how to make candles, how to can strawberry preserves, how to make deodorant, what to do for a sore throat, and so much more. These are the actions that are easily lost over time. I hope that by compiling all of this into one book my girls can pass forward some of these special aspects of our family. By doing so we will continue to live on. 

Since I embarked on the Death Book I have discovered that others have done similar things. Check out:

Heather Bruggeman – Heather blogs at Beauty that Moves. Her approach was to create individual family binders filled with recipes. As she says on her IG, “if something were to happen to me, they’ll know how to keep this ship sailing. (Though I’m sure they’d find their way just fine without these.)” She can be found on IG at https://www.instagram.com/heather_bruggeman/ 

Melissa Coleman  – Melissa blogs at The Faux Martha and has released a book The Minimalist Kitchen. Her new book grew out of an attempt to organize her kitchen in a manner that works for her. The process she implemented grew into her book containing all of her kitchen ingredients and her families favorite recipes.

Daily strokes of effort

I play the flute. I have since I was 10 years old. Classically trained straight through college. I still have memories of practicing for hours. I loved it and had time for it back then so it was welcomed.

But as life does, time begins a cycle of ebb and flow, and I began to find it difficult to “make the time” to play. It had always been one of my main releases. One of my main go-tos in order to decompress and get lost in another world. Without those types of venues the weight of the every day world can be daunting.

I have always assumed that I needed the same amount of time to play as I did when I was 18 years old. I was wrong. It wasn’t until a wonderful vocal music teacher said to me, “It is important that they touch their instrument daily. 15 minutes. That’s so much more important than practicing for 2-hours a day.”

William James said it too: Daily strokes of effort.

We now know from neuroscience that the brain maintains its plasticity and malleability throughout our lives so we are able to create new habits whether we are 22 or 72. And, that’s what playing my flute is all about – creating a new habit. Or in my case, re-creating a habit. We as humans are drawn to things that are easy and convenient. What the music teacher and William James have in common is the reminder to make it easy. To quote, Shawn Achor, I needed to “put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance.” I needed to lower the energy needed to start playing my flute so that I would start playing my flute.

In this spirit, I now have a flute stand. My flute and music now have a place of honor by a window and are always ready and waiting for me. I feel drawn to it every day, and am delighted in the reconnection I am making to the creation of music. As I was preparing to play yesterday it occurred to me that it is the same with any small changes in one’s daily life. Set the intention. Take a baby step forward. If thinking about it is all that can happen today, okay. Tomorrow go one step further. After a while it becomes a purposeful, intentional practice.

For more information on Shawn Achor’s research related to positive psychology check out his book: The Happiness Advantage.

Get Up, Wake Up – Things my dog has taught me

Last year we adopted a 2.5 year old purebred bullmastiff named Winston and our world changed. I love big dogs. My last dog was 140 pound female mastiff-lab mix – a true gentle giant. There is nothing better than wrapping your arms around a great big dog when your spirit needs to be lifted. But, that’s not what my dog has taught me. 

I love sleeping. The whole act of being in bed. Diffuser on. Crisp flat sheet. Cozy duffet. Pillows. It’s perfection. And so, I love to sleep. Always have. Long leisurely wake-ups are my favorite. When I can take my time, stretch a bit, see the trees out of the window while still reclining. It’s just lovely.

I arrive at work around 6:45 am so I am accustomed to getting up at 5am. I can remember when I was doing my student teaching 30+ years ago that my cooperating teacher, Bob, awoke at 5am every morning. He explained that the opportunity to sit with his wife, drink coffee, and read the paper before heading off to teach helped settle him into the day.  That seemed so foreign to 21-year old me. Until Winston’s arrival I would get up every morning at 5am, and one day I realized that Bob was right. There is all of the family craziness I have to attend to – lunch boxes, laundry, dishwasher, etc. – and I enjoy getting up early and taking care of all of that before anyone else is awake. Plus, I have my own time to ground and set intention for the day through yoga and meditation. 

When Winston arrived everything changed. We have been walking every morning at 4am. It sounds crazy even typing those words. My focus has been get up, then wake up. After all, I don’t want to upset my giant puppy. I get up, get dressed, and we go. At 4am for a 1.5 mile walk. In all weather. During this time, when we are walking in the dark, alone, he reminds me of the necessity of slow intentional living. The importance of slowing down, making time for things that matter, not rushing from place to place.  The opportunity to listen to the sounds that most people miss, especially the owls, as I slowly begin to wake up I can hear them in the treetops. The opportunity to see the one deer that every year crosses our path. Only one deer. Only one time each year. But always in the 4 o’clock hour. The opportunity to turn into my heart and listen. To be transformed just by being open. To breathe in the new day and exhale into the universe light, peace, and love. When we get home, and I am awake in mind, body, and spirit, I can begin my morning routine: yoga, meditation, getting myself ready, and preparing the house and kids stuff for the day. It makes for a better start to the day and I find I am better equipped to manage what the day brings my way. Winston, on the other hand, goes back to sleep until the girls get up.

For more information on the American Bullmastiff Association Rescue Service visit: http://bullmastiff.us/rescue/