Redefine.

If you came here, years ago, for weekly stories about food and family or for the weekly menu and cooking ideas, then you’ll be pleased to know there’s a bit of that in today’s post, at the end.

If you came here, years ago, and stuck it out to wander around with me on different approaches to writing, posting, exploring, and general inquiry, then welcome back; you’ll feel right at home.

Today’s idea: Words are like clothes.

Here’s the backstory.

My mother came to visit me for fall break during my freshman year of college. We spent most of the week in New York, visiting her old haunts and my new ones. We visited museums, landmarks, parks, and restaurants.

And we shopped.

My mother had frequented New York during her 20s when she worked first for a Memphis radio station and then for the National Cotton Council as publicity tour manager for the Maid of Cotton. (I know, it’s hard to digest all of those anachronisms in one sentence.)

Style and fashion were important to my mother, and being in her second favorite city (behind Paris), shopping for clothes helped her reconnect with an important part of herself.

Style and fashion were important to me, too, though in different ways and for different reasons. In my post-adolescent years, before college, I’d combed through hundreds of issues of Vogue, Bazaar, and Women’s Wear Daily that my mother stored on shelves in her sewing room. I played with drawing and designing, mastering sewing skills in the process.

But attending an all-girls school in the conservative, preppy South, I dressed mostly within the conventions of my environment.

When I headed to college, that world of styled self-expression opened up for me, as it has done and will do for countless other people making the journey from teenager years to young adulthood.

Shopping with my mother, that fall break of freshman year, I bought clothes I’d never have worn just six months earlier.

When I came home for Christmas break and made the rounds to see friends and family, a few people commented, “You’ve changed.”

What was actually happening, as any psychologist or parent of now-grown children would easily recognize, was that I was in the final phase of Ericksson’s fifth state of psycho-social development, “Identity versus Confusion.” The key virtue, or human value, that either does or doesn’t solidify during this stage is, using Ericksson’s terminology, Fidelity.

In overly simple terms, Ericksson’s model suggests that all humans follow an eight-stage process of growth and development, starting in infancy and continuing through old age/death. With nurturing, positive support during each successive stage, a person will establish a foundation (virtue) on which the next stage can build.

The eight stages in Erikson’s model are:

Approximate AgeVirtuePsycho-Social CrisisSignificant RelationshipExistential Question
0-2HopeBasic Trust vs. MistrustMotherCan I Trust the World?
2-4WillAutonomy vs. Shame and DoubtParentsIs It OK to Be Me?
4-5PurposeInitiative vs. GuiltFamilyIt is OK for Me to Do, Move, and Act?
5-12CompetenceIndustry vs. InferiorityNeighbors, SchoolCan I Make It in the World of People and Things?
12-19FidelityIdentity vs. Role ConfusionPeers, Role Model(s)Who Am I? What Can I Be?
19-40LoveIntimacy vs. IsolationFriends, PartnersCan I Love?
40-64CareGenerativity vs. StagnationHousehold, Workmates and ColleaguesCan I Make My Life Count?
64-DeathWisdomEgo Integrity vs. DespairPeople in Personal Sphere of Care and InfluenceIs It OK to Have Been Me?
Erik Erikson’s Model of Psycho-Social Development (Interested in learning more? Here’s a good overview: https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/erikson-stages#summary-chart)

That process of trying on different clothes, and hairstyles? Trying on things like writing the number “7” in European style, with a slash through it? Affected ways of speaking? During adolescence, including late adolescence (late teens), all of that experimentation is part of the work of growing up.

Having parents and supportive adults who understand, encourage, and nurture that exploration helps a teenager grow into the next phase of development in which they will form the intimate relationships – friends, lovers, partners – that are essential to living in a connected community.

It’s why I’m eternally thankful to have had a mother who understood what was happening and who never once – not one time – questioned me in a way that would have resulted in my being ashamed of trying on what was certainly, in retrospect, a ridiculous-looking style. When I say, now, that I aspire to give people (my children, friends, colleagues, clients) the dignity of their own process, I draw on this specific experience with my mother, during my late adolescence.

What does all of this have to do with “words are like clothes,” work-life balance, Independence/Interdependence, and that promise to include food/cooking/weekly menu content?

Well, in reverse order:

Cooking, preparing and sharing meals, and writing about all of that, are essential to who I am as a person. Cooking is one of the ways I enjoy expressing myself and being creative. Preparing and sharing meals is one of the ways I enjoy connecting with other people who matter to me. Writing about that experience is another way I enjoy connecting with people, including myself.

It’s Hope, Will, Purpose, Competence, Fidelity, Love, and Care, all in one bucket.

When I was in 4th grade, making weekend pancake brunch for my parents, it was Hope, Will, Purpose, and Competence. All of those things can be simultaneously true for me and not true for you, and we can still be friends, colleagues, and even family.

With me so far?

The key to that intersection of (tension between) Independence and Interdependence is the growth from Fidelity to Love to Care. Fidelity, built on a foundation of Hope, Will, Purpose, and Competence, is the essence of Independence. It’s the core, immutable set of values that are underneath everything that comes after, even if the words used to describe those core values evolves over time. Interdependence is Love and Care on top of that five-layer foundation that is sealed with Fidelity. I can be true to me (“Fidelity”) and in relationship with you (“Love” and “Care”) even if your values are not identical to mine.

(You can see where this is going now, can’t you?)

When work (the time spent trading talents and individual contributions in exchange for money or other reward) presents a moment of divided loyalty (“do I get to the family event on time or complete an important work project?”), it is often a challenge to a core value (Fidelity). The ability to recognize and name both the value and the conflict will most often enable balanced resolution.

Note: It’s easier to write or say that statement than to put it into practice.

And here’s where the “words are like clothes” idea comes into play.

Wearing different styles of clothing over the years didn’t (doesn’t, hasn’t, won’t) change who I am as a person. I enjoy wearing different styles and trying on different looks because I’m curious. Curiosity and creativity are core values for me. As I’ve tried on different looks and styles over many years, I’ve kept what worked and felt comfortable, discarding the rest.

Trying on different words to describe my core values and ideas, likewise, is a way of exploring and refining. The words I use to define who I am as a person, what’s important to me in the world, and how I interact with other people are evolving. Put differently: How I define myself is evolving, but my core being is unchanged.

As those of you who’ve been along for this 10+ year blogging expedition can attest, the ideas I write about — creativity, family, motherhood, relationships, identity, growth — are boringly consistent. The specific words, conventions, structures, and approaches are experiments and exploration. Practicing writing in this way, free from any constraint other than my own, at the time, is exactly that: practice. It’s a way of redefining, and refining, the way I see and interact with the world.

The question, then, for you is this: What’s true for you, and how are you continuing to explore, refine, and redefine it?


Some Dinner Ideas for Early August

market harvest june 2014

Green Cabbage-Feta Slaw | Grilled Chicken

This is an easy slaw that I make often, and that I’ve posted before, I think. Top with sliced grilled chicken and maybe some grilled bread:

Green Cabbage Slaw

  • 1 head green cabbage, shredded
  • 1 bunch green scallions, shredded
  • 1 small white onion, sliced into thin half rounds
  • 1 package Feta cheese (solid or crumbled)
  • Vinegar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

In a large glass bowl combine cabbage, scallions, onion and Feta.  In a glass measuring cup mix vinegar (I use apple cider) and vegetable oil, about 1:2 (1/4 c. vinegar to 1/2 c. oil, for example).  Add sugar and salt (about 1 tsp. each), then black pepper to taste (I like a hefty dose of fresh, coarsely ground mixed peppercorns).  Since cabbage sizes can vary, the amount of dressing you’ll need will also vary; you’ll need enough to coat the greens, but not so much that they’re drowning.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes; it will improve with time, and the cabbage will soften after a day.

Tomato Sandwiches

A tomato sandwich is the essence of summer to me. There’s no wrong way to make a tomato sandwich. You can go fancy, with basil mayonnaise or strips of bacon if you want. I like the base model, however: thick tomato slices with a bit of salt and pepper, layered between two slices of white bread (I like sourdough or potato bread), each coated with Duke’s mayonnaise. You can serve with chips or green salad. Or you can serve two sandwiches per person and call it good. (Yes, this is my preference. How did you know?)

Roasted Potato Salad | Grilled Sausage

Cut small red or fingerling potatoes into bite-sized chunks, toss with olive oil and salt, spread on a baking sheet and roast at 370-400 degrees until the edges are crisp (20-25 minutes). Let them cool, then toss in a bowl with onion (scallions or a small yellow onion, thinly sliced) and either vinaigrette (you know I like Brianna’s) or mayonnaise. Season with salt, pepper and herbs, to taste. Serve with some simple grilled sausages and hearty mustard.

blackberries june 2014

Greens with Fruit, Cheese & Nuts

It’s impossible to list all of the combinations for this type of salad – it’s truly a mix-what-you-like endeavor. If you need some suggestions for combinations, Mark Bittman’s are the easiest to follow. I let the fruit (either dried or fresh) macerate for an hour or so in the dressing before tossing everything together. Serve with a hearty, whole-grain country bread.