Blog Post #54 – MAMSAM Brown Bag presentation
Yesterday I was honored to be invited to speak about my cookbook, MAKE A MEAL + SHARE A MEAL at the Brush, CO Museum Brown Bag. Thanks to all who attending the ‘standing room only’ presentation. For those of you unable to join me, here is what I shared:
© Shari Howard McMinn 3.1.19
Death, Cooking, and Writing – The Birth of My Cookbook
Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. My presentation will have 4 parts.
First, I’ll read an excerpt from my cookbook; next I’ll share with you our rough seasons of life which – compounded – left me void of my usual creativity and zest for life; then how I found a passion to move on positively through writing, and finally what my cookbook really is about.
Part I. I’ll read aloud an excerpt from, MAKE A MEAL + SHARE A MEAL; An Easy Cookbook for Large Batch Family Meals with Leftovers to Freeze or Share with Those in Need:
this is page 38, in the Chicken Main Dishes chapter, a funny farm story.
(Shari read aloud)
Part II. Our Rough Seasons
- Some background: my family began with my husband, stepson, and me; then we added 5 more birth children, and finally 5 more children through adoption. My husband and I always co-parented and worked together in our family economy. After I retired from my career as a commercial interior designer, I was more of a homemaker and homeschool mom than anything else for 25 years and I loved it! The days were long, we lived modestly, and I did most things from scratch including gardening and cooking 3 meals a day plus snack.
- Tragedy struck early on when our otherwise healthy infant, Abby Joanne McMinn, died suddenly. Thankfully, I’m strong and resilient due to my own Mom and Dad’s attentive and nurturing parenting which provided me with a safe and stable childhood, along with their modeling of a loving, joyful marriage, and a hard-work, charitable lifestyle. I knew I had to protect my marriage from crumbling under the stress of our baby’s death, and keep my other children moving forward appropriately in their grief. To help myself cope, and encourage the rest of my family, I wrote my first book about Abby’s short life and how important it was to all of us. It was a book of remembrance just for our family and closest friends. I printed 25 copies at home and hand-bound them with fabric covered cardboard and lace. Writing it was healing and helped ease the loss. After a long few years of finding our new normal, we decided to move from our home in the city to a farm in the country we purchased for a fresh start. By God’s grace, we survived and began to thrive again.
- The loss of our baby prompted us to begin the process of adoption from child welfare once we were settled on our farm south of Fort Morgan, eventually adopting two sets of siblings over a period of 5 years. Our 5 adopted children came with trauma experiences from their early childhoods which caused hardship for them as well as for us as their new family, some more so than others. Delayed physically, mentally, and emotionally, our adopted children were double, even triple the parenting work and worry compared to our birth children who were just typical, well-adjusted, joyful children enjoying country life and our homeschool lifestyle. It was barely above managed chaos most of the time with 11 children, but it was just what we were supposed to be doing as a family and it was an awesome life despite the arduousness of it.
- Then, unexpectedly, almost 6 years ago the Lord called my husband, Cary, home to heaven. Again, thanks to my parents providing me with a nurtured, stable childhood, my resiliency took over, and trusting in the Lord to lead me, we held tightly together as a now single-parent family. In time, we triumphed over the loss of our beloved husband and father. Again, part of my healing was writing our five-generation family memoir, Stretched Yet Unbroken, A Family Knit Together Continues Their Faith. By God’s grace, we began to thrive again.
- My beloved daughter Destiny, a victim of childhood physical abuse and emotional neglect carried a lot of unhealed baggage; she took the death of her adopted father very hard. In her view, I became the enemy and he became the perfect parent on the pedestal. Although Destiny and I had many wonderful times together with family, farm, and 4H activities, during this rough season, her Reactive Attachment Disorder kicked into high gear and I was often the target of her anger though I loved her dearly and continued to meet her every need. She was beautiful, outgoing, intelligent, caring – the best person in the room on her best days, yet sadly the worst in the room on her worst days
- We gave her a great upbringing with endless love, the blessing of a stable family, a quality homeschool education, ability to learn and practice life skills, experience enrichment opportunities, and she came to know Christ as her Savior; yet she was angry and bitter much of the time for all the losses she had suffered in her life – none of which were her doing.
- She was transitioning from a dependent teen at home to an independent young woman living on her own – doing well with MCC classes, work, and life; ultimately, she wanted to pursue her big dream of a career as a fashion designer – I have no doubt she could have lived that dream had God granted her more days, but it wasn’t His plan.
- An unexpected phone call from one of her estranged birth family members sent her drowning into a deep pit of trauma revisited because she was not emotionally ready to reconnect; she reverted back in time to her 2-year-old toddler survivor brain instincts – fight, flee, or freeze reactions versus logical, reasonable, loving relationship choices.
- She ran away multiple times, ended up living on the street, chose the wrong friends, and made dangerous choices that would lead to her death
- Fort Morgan police called me one Sunday afternoon as I was driving home from church to discuss a missing person’s report filed on Destiny just 1 month before her 19th birthday; 2 weeks later her lifeless body was found; killed by the blunt force of a machete and dumped for weather to decay and the insects to devour; I wasn’t even allowed to identify her remains as they were so unrecognizable; it took dental records to confirm the corpse was that of my beloved daughter
- Within a month, 2 young men were accused of her murder which was part of a drug related crime; court proceedings have dragged on for nearly two years; this March 22nd will be the final sentencing hearing
- Both accused have pled guilty; one has been sentenced to 24 years; hopefully the second will be sentenced for the maximum allowed by his plea of 30 years; tragically, evil is destroying the youth and families of our Mayberry-like community – similar to much of our nation
- My grief has been profound and beyond words; again I had to remain the glue holding my family together; yet my sadness was devastating, mind-numbing; I had guilt at not being able to save her; anger that she would make intentional decisions so thoughtlessly which would devastate our family so immensely; and frustration that within my own capable human ability, I couldn’t fix it or make it right; I had to place the whole sordid mess in God’s hands and trust that He once again would walk with me through another even darker journey
- I turned to my writing as therapy and began my next book, DEATH: WHERE IS THY STING? Preparation for and Recovery from the Loss of Our Loved Ones; yet the topic was too depressing at the time and I was too weighed down with painful grief to get past the chapter outline and writing the forward
- Meanwhile, the overwhelming duty of daily care for my other children, to the legacy of my husband, and my unconditional love beyond her grave for my hard-to-love Destiny, caused me to seek justice, to not give-in or give-up
- I believe America has the best justice system in the world yet still it is excruciatingly frustrating and unfair; there is no true justice or restitution for the victim’s family of such a heinous crime; the death of a child means you lose all their future you had dreamed of and hoped for with them – that cannot be replaced or repaid; even an eye-for-an-eye can not satisfy the loss
- Totally at the end of myself last April 29, 2018, what would have been Destiny’s 19th birthday, I cried out to God in silence, “What can I do to recover from so great a tragedy?” I knew I couldn’t run away but I wanted to – never to return; yet I loved my family enough to stay and make things right the best I could and knew to do
Part III. Finding a passion to move forward positively
- God responded to my cry when He revealed to me the idea of a cookbook – to write it as therapy as my other books were, and in Destiny’s honor; to have a passion for something that would return my joy and productivity
- Destiny was a foodie; she loved to plant it, grow it, harvest it, prepare it, eat it! She could eat more than anyone I knew – 2 and 3 helpings at every meal yet never was overweight due to a high metabolism and love of exercise!
- Destiny had a big, generous heart and loved to help others; she always wanted to share food with those in need whether it was a person begging on the street, a foster family raising other orphans, or single moms we knew; she cared deeply for the downtrodden, the needy, the homeless, those without means or family support – as she once was herself
- The Lord prompted me to remember all the meals my family loved to eat which I had prepared without recipes but from years of experience – my own creation or adaptations of my mother’s, mother-in-law’s, grandmothers’, even great-grandmothers’ recipes that were our family’s favorites
- He reminded me that my home cooking experience over31+ years included 3 meals a day plus snack = 250,000 plates of food! x $4/plate average =$1M of research and development budget!
- I started by writing down those every day, frugal, easy to make recipes on my laptop computer one Sunday afternoon in early May 2018, and finished recording them all in one week; then I began to write the in-between-recipe sections; I wanted to write about things which would bring laughter, and create the desire for readers to share nutritious, hand-prepared meals with their family, friends, and strangers in order to build relationships – something we all need more of in this day and age of fast-paced living and isolating technology
- I began to test each recipe to quantify ingredients the very next weekend; making 2-3 recipes nearly every day for two months; I took photos on my I-phone as I cooked in my humble farm kitchen; all summer long, I packaged and shared the leftovers as extra meals to bless our church families in return for their feedback so I could fine-tune the recipes and packaging ideas for the meal sharing instructions included in my cookbook
- When I shared my project idea and photos on FB, friends asked me if they could trial the recipes, so I shared the draft manuscript with a few via email; more than a dozen provided feedback on recipes and endorsements on the rough draft by Labor Day
- My adult son, Zane, a true renaissance man with varied knowledge and skills including graphic design and editing, agreed to help me get my photos and manuscript into a publishable book using his typesetting and artistic talents; just when I thought I was finished, he encouraged me to add a few more recipes – groaning and moaning, I agreed and am so glad I did!
- We had an edited manuscript in mid-September; Zane had designed the exciting cover and beautiful interior by mid-October; he finalized the typesetting by mid-November; he and I learned to self-publish on Amazon/KDP to upload and have the cookbook for sale by Thanksgiving!
Part IV. What my cookbook is really about
- It was such a fun project! It was only by the Lord’s leading that we envisioned it, produced it, and published it amidst all our other life responsibilities. By God’s grace, I got my joy and zest for life back and our family once again has gone from merely surviving to abundantly thriving
- MAKE A MEAL + SHARE A MEAL was a meaningful project and is now an inspiring book that encourages others to love people through preparing and sharing life’s most basic necessity – food; a simple, social, fundamental way to love one’s family, church, and community
I’d like to take a minute to show you the interior features of my cookbook
(Shari show tabbed pages and briefly explain)
- God gave me the ability, the drive, the skills developed over 60 years of living, learning, working; I pray He uses my story of finding a passion with productivity as a means for others to recover from devastating grief; to change lives and encourage others who may be suffering, struggling with similar or different situations; I give Him the glory and continue to praise Him in the good and the bad of life
- My kids and I lived through the horrible, bleak, dark, overwhelming 2-year rough season of my daughter’s murder and our search for justice; now I can tell about it; God walked with us through the valley of the shadow of death and now lifts us up as on wings of eagles to continue soaring.
- Each of us goes through tragedies in life; dark places where we can shut-down and never recover from; but I encourage others to do what I did – find a passion for something positive, follow-through with it, and conquer the dark with the light of Christ, sharing yourself with others to lift them up, too
- Thank you for coming today! I’m happy to answer questions and then sign books for you