Adventures of the Heart
Mary Zalmanek
Issue 26 - The Season for Family Traditions

Quote of the Month

"Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas." - Peg Bracken

Christmas Present

It's official.  Now the experts agree with what the rest of us have known for some time.  The US is in a recession.  

This holiday season is shaping up differently from those in recent memory. Some of our friends are foregoing the traditional lavish gift exchange to get together for a potluck dinner instead.  Everyone in my book club has agreed to donate $10 each to a local charity rather than bringing white elephant gifts to our Christmas party.  Re-gifting is encouraged for my Toastmasters gift exchange. 

I, for one, am excited about this change.  I have enough stuff.  We've come to believe the best way to prove our love this time of year is by spending money, lots of money.  Maybe the best way to celebrate the season is to give to worthy causes and spend quality time with our loved ones.

The Season for Family Traditions

In January 2001, Irith died of breast cancer, three years after her husband died of lymphoma.  Now their children were orphans. It had been Irith's wish that Nathan, 26, become the legal guardian of his youngest sister Mariel, 12, and they remain together as a family with their middle sister Samantha, 16, in Seattle.  Irith's sister, Yella, supported the decision and vowed that her nieces and nephew would always know the love of family.

Yella kept in touch, providing long-distance love and support.  Four years after Irith's death, Yella and her husband Tom wanted to gather their two adult children and nieces and nephew at their home for the holidays.  Flying them to Colorado exhausted her budget. Airline tickets would be their gifts, with little money left over for material goods. Yella is a talented singer.  Not surprisingly, she asked them to share gifts of performance - music and poetry.

Yella was raised Jewish; her husband's family celebrated Christmas.  Their own celebrations were a mixture of both. 

They had also raised their children to be charitable. Once when daughter Katey was a teenager, she went Christmas shopping.  She had $26 to buy gifts for her entire family. A needy man asked her for some spare change.  Katey said she initially turned away, but then something touched her. She gave him her whole holiday budget, with nothing left to give her family except the story of what happened, how the incident had transformed her.  

In that spirit of giving, the family gathered.  Yella searched her home for meaningful items she could re-gift. She found things the kids would recognize from their childhood: their mother's artwork and Hanukah menorah, a mezuzah that had hung on a door jamb to bless their grandmother's house, and jewelry that had belonged to their grandmother.

Mariel inherited her mother's love of poetry, so Yella bought her a book of her mother's favorite poems.  They reminisced about a road trip Yella and Irith had taken years earlier.  The kids were piled into the back seat.  In the front seat, Irith read the entire book to Yella as she drove.  Today Mariel writes poetry and performs in poetry slams.

That year at Christmas, Mariel gave Yella a poem she'd written about her mother, along with a candle.  "Light it when you miss my mom," Mariel said.  Samantha gave everyone hand-made jewelry.  Nathan wrote a song for Yella entitled "My Lala," the name he'd always called her, and recorded it on a CD along with 14 other songs he'd written. 

Irith's offspring have grown into fine adults.  Nathan teaches middle school, Samantha is in an all-girl alternative rock band in Nashville, and Mariel is in college.  They continue to gather at Lala's house for family celebrations.

"When you are the poorest is when your heart is the most generous," Yella Werder said. "When you can't afford to buy things, then you give of yourself."  

More Christmas Memories

Here's a story my friend and fellow Toastmaster Jon Walsh recently shared with me:

"Six years ago my two cousins (ages 13 and 15) and my aunt decided to come to Colorado Springs for Christmas.  My aunt and uncle are both older working professionals and never really took the time for traditional holiday family get-togethers.  Another aunt and my mother were also coming for Christmas, so my wife Holly and I decided we should do something special for Christmas Eve.  We came up with having each family member share or perform something for the group.  In mid-November we told everyone to prepare something to present to the group for 5-10 minutes.  They were also told that if they chose not to prepare something that they would be stared at silently for 5-10 minutes.  Everyone participated.

"Holly had been learning to play the guitar that year so she played a couple of songs.  I read a short story that I'd written.  My mom shared some childhood stories with the group.  My aunt dusted off and read some poetry she'd written when she was young.  My other aunt told us about growing up in China.  And my cousins were the show-stoppers of the evening by singing a pop song while performing an elaborately choreographed dance routine they had practiced for weeks. 

"We all were together again this past summer for a wedding, and my cousins mentioned that Christmas as their favorite family Christmas."

Celebrating With Food

Here's the second installment of the Celebrating with Food section on my website.  Whether you're feeling festive or frugal this month, there's something for everyone.

Romantic Recipes - perfect dinner for two
      Lavender pepper steak

Crowd Pleasers - guaranteed to surprise and delight
Grape Balls of Ginger (and Almonds)

Costa Rican Cooking - a frugal and nutritious recipe for black beans and rice
    -  Gallo Pinto

    -  Rum Cake

Marital Advice

Do you have a good marriage?  What makes it so good?  Are you willing to share your advice?

Michelle Patrick is writing a book filled with advice on staying happily married.  If you'd like to be a part of her book, email her at She'll send you a short interview form to complete. The form asks for one piece of advice from the husband and one piece of advice from the wife. Forms that are returned and only completed by one spouse will not be used.

Your first name, last initial and number of years married will be published along with your advice.  Her deadline is December 31.

Saving Money this Season

Do you want to save money on your holiday shopping?  Until December 17, you can get free shipping for The Art of the Spark and Romance Bingo. There are numerous suggestions for romantic and fun Christmas traditions.

In the spirit of sharing, re-gift your copy of The Art of the Spark to another loving couple.

Until Next Time

If you enjoyed this free newsletter, please forward it to friends. I care about peopleand how they celebrate. If you have any stories you'd like to share, please send them to me at

Wishing you a lifetime of romantic adventure,

Mary Zalmanek

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