Cooking Up a Story

Food.  We all need it to live.  Whether we survive on fast food or dine out at luxurious restaurants where the maitre d’ knows your name, cook all our own meals from scratch or from pre-packaged boxes, grow most of the ingredients we eat or prefer rare imports, improvise our own recipes or follow the instructions religiously, food is the fuel we need to survive.  But it is also the glue that binds us together as families and friends and shapes our ethnic, regional, and national identities.  Our foodways, the customs and traditions surrounding why and how we make certain foods, are part of what make us who we are as individuals.  The recipes might be passed down from one generation to another or shared between friends but it is really the stories behind the recipes that allow the dishes to feed our souls as well as our bodies.

 Linda Murray Berzok understands how deeply meaningful recipes can be when the stories they represent are uncovered.   She inherited her mother’s recipe collection.  Her mother wrote copious notes on her recipes, suggesting changes for the next time she prepared it based on its most recent incarnation.  She noted her menus of meals prepared for special occasions and critiqued restaurant meals.  Her mother’s recipe collection was essentially a diary, documenting her connections with family and friends through stories, one meal at a time.  A food historian, Linda parlayed the inspiration of her mother’s recipe collection into a book of such stories.  Storied Dishes: What Our Family Recipes Tell Us About Who We Are and Where We’ve Been, edited by Linda, brings together essays from a variety of contributors, each providing the story behind one particular recipe.  Linda provides no theorization.  Each story and recipe is allowed to stand on its own, shaped in its sharing by the proclivities and interests of the individual contributor, though broadly categorized thematically as “ Our Foremothers,” “Lost Times and Places,” “Restoring Balance,” “Life Lessons,” “Bonding Together,” and “Coming into Our Own.”


Though it is certainly a cookbook , it is the stories that provide the bulk and heart of the book.  I found dishes that I definitely want to prepare, some because of how the food relates to my own tastes and family background but others largely because I loved the story behind the recipe so much.  Reading this book, your own stories of learning to cook, learning and passing on grandmother’s recipes, and traditional family meals will start bubbling up inside you.  I urge you to write them down or shape them to tell and pass them on – with recipe!  And use this book to inspire you.  You won’t regret it.  This is food that feeds the soul.

And if you need further inspiration, check these out:

Storyteller Dolores Hydock‘s marvelous tale of food and family “It’s Not the Food, It’s the Fellowship,” a recorded version of which can be found on her CD In-laws and Outlaws.









Kitchen Table Stories: A Story Circle Network Anthology of Stories and Recipes edited by M. Jane Ross, which not only includes stories and recipes but writing prompts sprinkled throughout.

Rain Is Blind

Lately as the winter rains have blown in with a welcome chill and cloud cover, I have been thinking of the wisdom in this story, which I came across last month on a placard in the Tohono O’odham garden during an afternoon stroll at the Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, Arizona.  The summer rains did not arrive to bring relief to the Phoenix area during the monsoon season this year.  Instead we were visited by haboobs, dust storms brought by a dry angry wind. I am grateful that Rain has agreed to travel with Wind once again.

The Tohono O’odham say Rain is blind.  Wind is his constant companion and guide.  One day, tired of Wind’s constant blowing, the people drove Wind from their land.  But with Wind, went Rain.  Soon the land became parched from lack of rain.  People, animals, and plants shriveled up from thirst and no new seeds would take root.

Hummingbird tied some feathers to a stick to make a wind detector and flew in search of Wind.  She found him living in a cave by a river, with Rain by his side.  Hummingbird pleaded with them both to return and give relief to the people.  They agreed on the condition that the people sing to them.  The people made wine out of saguaro fruit and sang songs of welcome and appreciation.  Wind guided Rain back to the land once more.  The Tohono O’odham people sing these traditional songs and drink the saguaro wine each year to honor and thank Rain and his companion Wind for bringing life to their desert homeland.

Traditional tale of the Tohono O’odham people of the Sonora Desert.  Retold by Elizabeth Matson.  Any errors or inaccuracies (and the gender tweak) are mine.

Playing, not Practising, Flute

I am not a flutist, yet I have a flute and I play it, play it for no purpose and for no ears save God’s and my own.  That being so, there is no need for artistry or skill and I can sing my tune without fear of correction or disapproval, let alone of another showing me how it should be done.  If accomplished play is a good thing, and it is, it is perhaps also true that the way to skill is the end of joyous freedom….  Even when the tune turns out rich and running, there is the sound of the bird in it, clean and selfless, I don’t want to learn to play the flute; I prefer it this way.  Beyond my incapacity to get far there is the fear of my small joy being driven away by concern for doing it well and turning a natural act into a performance.

~ Matthew Kelty, Flute Solo

I came across this quotation in an article in the current issue of Parabola magazine (Winter 2011-2012).  The article, “In Praise of the Useless Life:  Prayer as Creativity and Play” by Brother Paul Quenon, likened this type of playing on the flute for fun, not for performance or perfection of skill, as a type of prayer.  Allowing ourselves to do something not for the accomplishment of a product or a skill but simply for the pleasure of it, for being in the moment, is something rare and sweet in our society.  It is indeed a sort of prayer or meditation or being-ness that I wish to cultivate and honor as an owner of a flute but not a flutist.

In my family, I was early on, dubbed the “non-musical” child, taking after my mother rather than my father in my lack of skills.  It’s funny in a way that I took that label so much to heart since I certainly was exposed to and encouraged to try out various instruments to make music.  I remember as a child singing endlessly to myself little songs that I made up.  No doubt they were tuneless and dull but I still remember the joy of simply amusing myself with my tunes as I played.  I took piano lessons for a short while at the YMCA, inspired I’m sure by my grandmother whose worsening arthritis had not yet completely stilled her playing when I was very young.   We did not own a piano, however, just an electric plastic organ, which I was not much inspired to practise on.  The sound and the experience were just not the same.  When my younger brother started to show some skill as a classical guitarist, my father encouraged me, as a pre-teen, to listen to an orchestra playing and pick out the instrument I most enjoyed, promising that he would get me that instrument so I could learn to play it.  I listened carefully to a classical music concert in the auditorium of my Senior Public School.  It was the soaring notes of the flute that won my heart.  Soon enough I was the proud owner of a flute and taking weekend lessons.  Concerts for the family showing off my latest lesson did not go well, however.  My father, a talented musician and longtime lover of classical music, knew how my poor renditions ought to have sounded and tried to correct me.  I know now he was only trying to help me become a better flutist but the constant interruptions and corrections soon squashed the joy out of playing for me.  And the label of being “non-musical” stuck as I carried into adulthood a self-consciousness about singing out loud and channeled my music spontaneity entirely into dancing.

A couple of years ago, however, a flute again captured my heart.  This time it was the haunting notes of a cedar flute, sometimes known as a Native American flute, played outside in a desert garden at night.  I was so captured by the sound that I purchased a simple cedar flute, determined to learn to play it.  It took me about a month to actually manage to reproduce the beautiful tones I held in memory and not a breathy sigh or piercing squeal.  After a few weeks of just having fun making my flute sing random notes, I started working through a book to learn how to play.  Sometime after that I put the flute down and haven’t picked it up for over a year.  Although other things in my life clamouring for my attention certainly contributed to my flute gathering dust, when I read the quotation above I realized a great part of it was switching from playing to practising the flute.  It had no longer become fun.  It was instead heavy with the pressure of perfection and expectations of failure.

I picked up my flute again the other night.  It’s been so long it took me several tries to find the correct way to blow to get the flute to speak to me again in its beautiful haunting voice.  Now I know, I do not wish to become a flutist, to make  use of my flute to perfect a skill and perform in public.  I merely wish to play and listen to its voice, to make a sort of prayer.  This is the song that has been inside me.  It is time to honour it and give it voice.

The Faery Godmother of Contemporary Fantasy Needs Our Help

Terri Windling was the model for Brian Froud's "Something Rich and Strange." Photo of the print on my wall.

Terri Windling is the Faery Godmother of Contemporary Fantasy.  As an editor, she has nourished the careers of many outstanding writers (Charles de Lint, Delia Sherman, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Ellen Kushner, and Midori Snyder to name a few) and is largely responsible for starting the urban fantasy genre back in the 1980s and 1990s.  She is also an artist and writer in her own right.  Her novel The Wood Wife remains one of my all-time favorite books.  I first encountered Terri Windling in the 1980s as an editor of The Fairy Tale Series, fantasy novels by different writers that retold classic fairy tales.  She is the first editor I became aware of as a reader.  I would seek out and read any book she edited whether I was already familiar with the author or not.  I found many new favorites that way.   Thoroughly versed in fairy tale studies, her essays introducing the books provided  rich insight into the folklore motifs and symbols and the mythic archetypes that inspired the contemporary retellings and contributed to my own pursuit of a folklore degree.  Her legendary anthologies of fairy tale re-tellings (edited with Ellen Datlow) inspired much of my own writing and storytelling.  The book I’m currently reading is The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, one of their more recent mythic anthologies.  Terri’s The Drawing Board (blog) provides a wealth of inspiration and suggestions for great reading, viewing, and listening for anyone with an interest in fairy tales,  fantasy, and the creative life in general.

"The Fox Wife" by Terri Windling. Photo of print on my wall.

Terri Windling, the Faery Godmother of Contemporary Fantasy, is in need of a fairy godmother herself.  Serious health and legal issues have put her in crisis.  Many of the artists, writers, and fans whose lives Terri has touched are giving back at magick4terri where an auction to benefit Terri is being held until December 15.  Fine collections of books (many edited by Terri), artwork, postcards from Ellen Kushner, a chance to be a character in Holly Black’s new novel, a story written for you by Cassandra Clare, and so much more are being offered.  Please check it out, find a unique gift for yourself or someone you love, and give a little magick back to the Faery Godmother of Contemporary Fantasy.

National Storytelling Festival 2011

Every year in early October, the tiny town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, nestled at the foot of the Appalachians, sends out the siren’s call of stories into the (generally) crisp fall air.  Storytellers and storylovers come en masse to spend three blissful days under tents telling and listening to stories at the National Storytelling Festival.  For something like twelve years Coat&Boots has answered that siren’s call with (almost) annual pilgrimages to the mecca of Story.

Clare Muireann Murphy

This year the “Did you hear?!” teller at the Festival was the International New Voice, Clare Muireann Murphy.  This young Irish teller, whose name means Clear Bright Sea Warrior of the Long Dark Hair, enchanted audiences with her folktales and myths of Ireland.  Coat&Boots had the great pleasure of hearing her the very first hour on Friday morning, warming us up as she said for the full power of Irish myth with a few (slightly more) gentle fairy tales (though the fairies of Ireland are not to be mistaken as the child-friendly Tinkerbell type by any means).  After that, Coat&Boots was smitten and promptly sought out her performances over all others for the rest of the Festival, a true story groupie.  And very glad i am that i did  for, unlike the other tellers, she has no recordings for sale (though you can get a small taste for her in the Lyons sponsored video here).  Though it is the CDs that often provide the bread-and-butter for professional tellers, it seems rather fitting that Clare (who tours constantly) can only be consumed in person and in-the-moment.  That is, after all, the true power and pleasure of storytelling.   Clare is a full-bodied teller whose lyrical voice and juicy choice of words (and the lovely Irish accent doesn’t hurt at all!) bring a story raring to life.  She is truly a vessel for stories.  She gives her whole self over to the story and lets it pour out of her without standing its in way.   She has a penchant for wearing these lovely simple solid coloured shawls.  This mere accent to a wardrobe becomes transformed on occasion in her performances to the scarf covering the head of an old woman, a bag carried, even a hump on a back.  As a teller representing Ireland at the American festival,  Clare focused on Irish tales but that is by no means the extent of her repertoire.  One of last stories  i heard her tell at the Festival was a heart-gripping tale from Mozambique featuring Death who is thirsty for stories.

That Clare Murphy was the “Did you hear?!” at the Festival was all the more amazing as she told nothing but traditional folk tales and myths.  Despite the National Storytelling Festival’s roots in the 1970s storytelling revival and traditional storytelling, the nationally known tellers who grace its tents have come, over the years, to tell primarily personal and original tales.  For the tellers, in part, telling original and personal stories helps preserve their livelihood, making it easier to preserve their copyright and establish their unique voice.  But, Coat&Boots suspects this trend is also a reflection of the popular American taste for the realistic, light-weight, and funny.  Coat&Boots loves stories in all their variations, personal, historical, original, and traditional, but has to admit that the traditional tales warm the cockles of her heart and soul like no others.  And this year, Coat&Boots overheard several comments by storylisteners who generally do not care for fairy tales (if you can imagine!) who unexpectedly found themselves falling under their (and especially Clare’s) spell.

Other stand-out stories and performances at the Festival this year  for Coat&Boots were Bill Harley, Megan Hicks, and Dolores Hydock.  Bill Harley, always an enjoyable performer, best known for his original stories and songs for children, followed Clare that first hour and was inspired to tell a traditional tale he heard from Duncan Williamson, Jack and the Singing Leaves, which he told with his trademark humour.  Megan Hicks, whom Coat&Boots had only heard tell historical tales before (and she did tell her powerful Civil War tale, What’s So Civil About That War?) delighted with an hour-long session of fairy tales, including both some of my personal favourites (Molly Whuppie and The Twelve Dancing Princesses) and bright new (to me) little-known ones (Davy Hated Fish!).  Dolores Hydock blew us all away with her new hour-long one-woman performance of her second medieval love story, Eglamore and Cristobel, told in character as an old crone with the accompaniment of medieval music by PanHarmonium.

Check out the all of these tellers and  more at the National Storytelling Festival and at local storytelling venues around the country.  And, if you ever get the chance, be sure to go out of your way to hear and experience the stories of Clare Murphy!

At The Table: Barbara Marx Hubbard

It is vital to be bold enough to follow the compass of joy, to find, to contact whatever most attracts you.  ~ Barbara Marx Hubbard

An ongoing dreamwork project for Coat & Boots has been researching and learning from the life stories of some (s)heroes to spark my own inner shero.  So far Coat & Boots has been well-occupied with the first person on the initial brainstormed list and has posted twice already on Eleanor Roosevelt and her life-script.  Though the initial list was, somewhat arbitrarily, limited to no longer living (s)heroes, it seems that others have started knocking on the door.  Barbara Marx Hubbard, for one, has invited herself to the table.

Indeed, Barbara embarked on a similar project for herself in her thirties.  As a housewife and mother in the 1960s, Barbara longed for a deeper understanding of her own life’s purpose and turned to books by some great thinkers.  The “major thinkers who saved [her] life” included Betty Friedan The Feminine Mystique), Abraham Maslow (Toward a Psychology of Being), and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man).

Maslow’s work on self-actualizing people who find their vocations by

1.  … find[ing] someone they admire and wish to emulate who, in turn, recognizes who they really are.

2.  … hav[ing] peak or mystical experiences that transcend the self-conscious mind and help them make the transition from Deficiency-Need Motivation to Growth-Need Motivation.  That is, to be attracted by intrinsic vales rather than pushed from behind by necessity. [The Mother of Invention, p. 231]

certainly motivated Barbara to connect both with her Higher Self and with others who inspired her.  And Coat & Boots finds lots of positive reinforcement for the At The Table project as well.  After reading his work, Barbara actually contacted Maslow and invited him over for lunch — and he accepted!  Reaching out and contacting the people who inspire her is  something that Barbara truly believes in.  She has contacted others and others have contacted her, stimulating memorable conversations, partnerships, and personal growth.  Coat & Boots now realizes that this is a distinct disadvantage in limiting the At The Table guests to those who are no longer with us.  The guest list is now liberated!

Barbara recognizes the power of life stories to act as a beacon for others’ on their life journeys.  The folks she invited to her table gave her plenty of food for thought and conversational motivation.  Now in her nineties, she embraces her own role as an Elder, using her life as a model for others.  As she puts it,

I want to be a demonstration of conscious evolution, using my own presence and life story as a way to activate the evolutionary impulse in millions of people who are ready and longing for deeper life purpose and resonant community.  I especially want to serve women who are shifting in their very nature from one biosocial role to the next.  I can be a model for the emerging co-creative woman, and “elder from the future,” to offer a hand to those who are now rising in leadership for our world. [in The Mother of Invention, p. 269]

Thank you, Barbara Marx Hubbard, for bringing your wisdom and Conscious Evolution to the table.

We hold these truths to be self-evident,

All people are born creative

Endowed by our creator with the unalienable right and responsibility

To express our creativity

For the good of our selves, our families, and the whole community.

~ Barbara Marx Hubbard

Recommended Books:

Hubbard, Barbara Marx. Conscious Evolution: Awakening the Power of Our Social Potential.

Walsch, Neale Donald. The Mother of Invention: The Legacy of Barbara Marx Hubbard and the Future of YOU.




Coat & Boots have been walking down some interesting lanes lately.  What has been particularly interesting is that all these various lanes seem to be heading towards the same place and I am gratified to find that this is a place of hope.  One of the lanes has been The Mother of Invention, Neale Donald Walsch’s “biography” of Barbara Marx Hubbard.  Barbara is a visionary and a futurist who has spent most of her ninety-some years preparing herself and others for humanity’s next evolutionary shift, which she believes to be inevitable and imminent as our planet becomes embroiled in economic and environmental crises.

On a more personal level, I am especially intrigued by Barbara’s concept of regenopause.  Regenopause is Barbara’s re-visioning of menopause.  In her view, The Change is more than the physical halt of the menses and its associated symptoms; it is an opportunity for a spiritual transformation.

Here’s how she describes it:

After menopause, we have no more eggs.  We are the egg!  We are giving birth to our own feminine self.  If we uncover and say yes to our spiritually motivated vocation, there is a pause in the aging process when we literally begin to regenerate.  We don’t age as before, and we’re flooded with new energy and vitality. [The Mother of Invention, p. 94]

Women who choose regenopause are representative of an element of the new female of the species in Barbara’s evolutionary theory.  In Barbara’s own life, at age fifty, during menopause, she heard an inner voice:

Barbara, would you like to die?  I was startled.  The voice was tempting, seductive.  Well,  I thought, it might be nice … but I’m not finished yet.

The voice continued:  Would you like to get cancer, or would you like to rejuvenate?  Cancer is the body’s panicked effort to grow without a plan.  Rejuvenation happens when you discover the deeper plan for your life and say yes. [The Mother of Invention, p. 172]

It should be no surprise that Barbara chose yes.  And I think that is the choice that  Coat & Boots made when our woman of middling age chose to put them on and walk out the door to see where they would take her.

And just so you don’t think men are left out of this … Barbara also re-visioned the male midlife crisis into midlife croesus.

Men can go through their own kind of “menopause,” you know … .  Yet a man, too , can regenerate himself when he realizes that during the second half of his life, he need not be a male in crisis, his most powerful days behind him, but a wealthy man in the highest sense of the word: rich with achievements yet to come mountains yet to climb, dragons yet to slay, and a planet yet to save.  All he has to do is tap into the wealth of his own essential self, his own gathered wisdom, and his own ability to renew himself and his world. [The Mother of Invention, p. 94]

Further Explorations:

Walsch, Neale Donald. The Mother of Invention: The Legacy of Barbara Marx Hubbard and the Future of YOU. Carlsbad, California: Hay House, Inc., 2011.

Foundation for Conscious Evolution




Story: “Courage” or Eleanor Roosevelt’s Lifescript

Eleanor was born in 1884 to New York high society blue-bloods.  Her mother was reputed to be the most beautiful woman in New York and Eleanor felt at a visceral level at an early age that her ugliness was a deep disappointment to her mother.  She adored her adventure-loving father but his drinking problem kept him absent for long periods of time until it resulted in his early death.  Eleanor was sent with her brother to be raised by her grandmother.  Though her grandmother still had her grown children at home, they were so unruly and wild that she determined raise her grandchildren in a far stricter manner, believing it was wiser to say “no” rather than “yes” to any request or desire they might have.

As a child, Eleanor was scared of everything …  the dark, large bodies of water, strangers, rooms full of people, not being accepted.  The only time she was brave was in her imagination.  Her fantasies were full of adventures with her father, traveling around the world.

After her drunken uncles spent an afternoon shooting loaded pistols out of an upper story window at family members on the lawn below, Eleanor’s grandmother decided it was not a proper place for a young lady to be raised.  She sent Eleanor to a French school in England.  Speaking French in class was no hardship for Eleanor as she had been raised by French nannies.  The headmistress of this school insisted that her students think for themselves.  If a paper was handed in that merely parroted her own opinions and ideas, the headmistress would stand at the front of the room dramatically tearing the paper to bits.  “Why were you given minds if not to use them?”   Eleanor thrived in this environment.  She tried out for the field hockey team even though she had never seen the game.  She spent vacations traveling with the headmistress who became a friend as well as mentor.  Eleanor learned to enjoy the unexpected adventure and relish trying the unknown.  It was Eleanor’s first experience of really testing her limits and facing her fears.  Though it wasn’t until mid-life that she once again found her wings, this experience helped set the stage.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library

Returning to New York, Eleanor suffered through her coming out as a debutante while catching the eye of her 5th cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Unfortunately, the charismatic out-going Franklin was also a mama’s boy.  Sarah Roosevelt was not in favor of the marriage but when it became inevitable, she essentially inserted herself right into the middle of it.  She had a townhouse house built for the new couple with an adjoining house for herself and interconnecting doors on several floors.  Eleanor soon learned that you never knew when Sarah might appear.  Between having babies (Eleanor had six children, five of whom lived to adulthood) and Sarah, Eleanor’s recently learned skills of assertiveness and boldness went undercover for a number of years.

It was two unfortunate events that proved to be catalysts for Eleanor’s personal growth.  When Franklin came home sick from a business trip, Eleanor unpacked his bags for him and discovered a packet of ribbon-tied love letters.  Franklin had been conducting an affair with Eleanor’s personal secretary.  Eleanor was prepared to give him a divorce but Sarah wouldn’t hear of it.  Such a scandal would ruin any  chance Franklin had at a political career.  In agreeing to stay, Eleanor laid out some ground rules.  Heavy furniture blocked the adjoining doors between the houses and her bedroom door was forever closed to Franklin.  In this declaration of personal space, Eleanor started to rediscover herself and, while no longer intimate, began a true partnership with Franklin.

When polio struck Franklin, Eleanor was forced out of her shell yet again,  becoming an active participant in her husband’s political goals.    As a young woman, Eleanor had no particular interest in woman’s suffrage.   That a woman should have  a different political opinion from her husband had never occurred to her.  But after women won the vote and her husband entered politics, she discovered the power of the vote in addressing social problems.  After her husband was elected President, Eleanor completely transformed the role of First Lady, in part because she, by necessity, had to serve as her husband’s eyes and ears since polio prevented him from traveling a great deal.  Initially terrified of the prospect, she learned to be a keen observer and reporter, to speak in public, to publicly set an example (flying with black pilots), test the waters, and speak her mind against public opinion (Japanese internment).    She learned to be flexible, to accept criticism where warranted and ignore it where it was not, and, most of all, to reach beyond her own fears and limits to learn from and serve others.  Her greatest teachers were other people she met.  She’d entice them into conversation to learn about their passions and expand her own knowledge.

When her husband died, Eleanor became the US delegate to the United Nations and helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  When she died in 1962, the nation’s flags were at half-mast, the first time that honor had ever been accorded to a woman.

Eleanor was an ugly duckling who didn’t discover she was really a swan but rather transformed herself into an eagle.



At The Table: Eleanor Roosevelt

Do one thing every day that scares you.  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

The first guest I am inviting to my table is Eleanor Roosevelt.  Having recently finished reading Noelle Hancock’s memoir, My Year with Eleanor (my Goodreads review), Eleanor was already on my mind as a shero.  The quality that I wish to ingest with Eleanor Roosevelt is Courage. 

Out of a job and facing her 30th birthday, Noelle Hancock took Eleanor Roosevelt’s motto to do something that scares you every day to heart to try to find her own courage again.  From speaking up for herself in everyday encounters to taking trapeze lessons, Noelle pushed against the limits of her fears every day for a year while reading books by and about Eleanor Roosevelt.

While I am not planning on embarking on a similar year-long resolution, I honor Noelle Hancock’s use of Eleanor’s life-script as a story to inspire her own heroic imagination.  Eleanor is the perfect guest to start with as she very much understood that overcome fears and embracing courage is a heroic process.

Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier.  We do not have to become heroes overnight.  Just one step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it as not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.   ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor also embraced the project approach to teaching.   When she taught at Todhunter, the school she partially owned, she encouraged her students to “[r]ead any life you like.  Get any pictures you can.  Visit the museum … write about their present day descendents … make a book with pictures. ”  Good advice for my At The Table Lesson Plan.

For a woman who began life afraid of almost everything, Eleanor accomplished amazing things by conquering her fear and taking an active compassionate interest in others and the world around her.  American women won the right to vote when she was already a wife and mother.  She went on to completely break the mold on the role and duties of the First Lady; truly becoming her husband’s eyes and ears as she traveled the country and beyond on his behalf.  Initially terrified of public speaking and drawing attention to herself, she became an adept speaker and wrote numerous newspaper columns and books, drawing on her own life story and experiences to help others.  After her husband’s death, she became the first US delegate to the United Nations and was instrumental in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  When she died in 1962, the nation’s flags flew at half-mast, the first time that honor had ever been accorded to a woman.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Recommended Books:

Fleming, Candace.  Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Remarkable Life.

Freedman, Russell. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery.

Hancock, Noelle.  My Year with Eleanor.

Roosevelt, Eleanor.  The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Roosevelt, Eleanor.  You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life.

There are some remarkable period video clips of Eleanor on YouTube as well.

Heroic Lesson Planning

A dream gave me some insight on one way to find inspirational stories of (s)heroes and a project to undertake.

I’m teaching in a small town high school.  I’m a new teacher, still trying to find my feet.  I’m working on my lessons plans.  I want to do a semester-long project where the teens invite a guest for the end of the semester appearance while working on a proposal, Powerpoint presentation, and research related to the guest all semester.  I will take care of the guests.

Here is an opportunity to consciously create my own life’s lesson plans.  For me, in this dream, a teacher is someone who constructs a learning environment.  Teens bring excitement and energy to exploring and embarking on their own fast-approaching adult journeys in a world still full of a multitude of bright opportunities.  The experts are people whose life scripts are heroic and inspirational.  The experts embody qualities that I wish to develop.  The dream suggests that the enthusiastic energy of the teens will take care of the selection, research, and presentation of the experts.  As the teacher, I will need to care for the experts and integrate their expertise or life scripts into my own life script.

So the question the dream prompts is Who will I invite to the table?

Here are the first six names and the qualities or aspects I felt they represented for me that came as my answer to that question:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt (Courage)
  • Georgia O’Keeffe (Art)
  • Joseph Campbell (Big Story)
  • Carl Jung (Inner Journey)
  • Beatrix Potter (Homesteading)
  • Ruth Faison Shaw (Teacher)

My only stipulation to myself as I swiftly compiled my list was not to include  living individuals.  Though a separate list of living (s)heroes might be another great exercise, especially for networking, I decided that for my current lesson plan purposes I wanted individuals whose whole life scripts could be examined and studied.  Clearly these are all individuals with whom I already have some familiarity.  My project now is to start reading and researching with the identified quality in mind for the life script or heroic story I can integrate into my own life.

Who would you invite to the table?

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