The Common Good
March-April 1997

Celebrations Large and Small

by Carey Burkett | March-April 1997

Yesterday I learned that a friend will be moving far away.

Yesterday I learned that a friend will be moving far away. And my thoughts have turned to planning a good-bye party, i.e. what kind of food we should fix and eat together our last time. This train of thought is totally appropriate in her case, as Katie herself always seemed to whip up wonderful celebrations at the drop of a hat.

She would welcome a friend home from a summer trip with a three-salad luncheon. Her solution to post-Christmas blues? An Epiphany potluck. Birthdays at her house meant balloons, candles, a banner, and favorite foods. To her notion, a hard day’s work deserved tea, scones, and strawberry jam in the afternoon. A surprise picnic would emerge from cloth bags when you thought we were all just going for a swim at the river.

Not a bad way to keep the everyday miracle of being alive at the forefront of your mind. Truly, most things, large or small, are worth celebrating. Even having family supper together should not be taken lightly—there is no guarantee that you will all be together again tomorrow.

Marking small accomplishments, as well as milestones and rites of passage, is an important tool in overcoming discouragement. For celebrants, a little pause in the daily grind brings welcome refreshment. So much of our work and home lives can seem like an endless battle with entropy—the stack of unanswered letters and bills overflows its folder; you just replaced the car battery and now the radiator needs flushing; the missing buttons are no sooner sewn back on their respective shirts when you notice your favorite socks are getting holes in the heels; audacious bugs leave spit marks on the newly washed curtains (not to mention the curtain rod bracket that keeps losing a nail, sending the same clean curtains down onto the floor).

Food preparation, especially, can feel like a treadmill. One meal is barely over when you have to think about the next one. Clean dishes rest in the cupboard briefly only to go back out on the table to get dirty again. Hungry, full. Dirty, clean. Fixed, broken. The cycle rolls along, over and over.

UNLESS YOU ascribe to the buy-your-way-out-of-trouble (from hunger to broken appliances) attitude of Madison Avenue, fighting entropy is part of life. But a little party once in awhile—something just a bit different from the normal routine—can remind you how important those daily ordinary efforts actually are. That reminder then gives strength for the next round.

Belief, conviction, self-discipline can keep us going. But moments of gratitude and pleasure can make the journey more joyful. Medical scientists have proven the health benefits of "looking forward" to something. Our immune systems are physically bolstered by pleasurable moments, no matter how small.

So consider designing a few mini-celebrations in the next weeks and months to come. They don’t need to be fancy or expensive, just gatherings with plenty of laughter and good munchies.

Katie’s birthday is this Friday. We’re going to have a Chinese meal (this won’t be the good-bye party yet), and these eggs rolls will be the first course:

Chinese Egg Rolls

• 1 pkg. egg roll wrappers (available in many ordinary grocery stores)
• 1 lb. spicy "hot" ground pork (optional if you want vegetarian egg rolls)
• 1 large onion, chopped finely
• 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
• 2 stalks celery, diced
• 3 scallions, sliced into rounds (use both green and white portions)
• 6-10 mushrooms, chopped (any variety)
• 2 slices fresh ginger root (found in the produce section)
• small can bamboo shoots (optional)
• 3 T. soy sauce
• 1 1/2 T. sherry wine
• 2 T. oil
• 2 T. cornstarch
• 1 tsp. salt

Put 1 T. oil in hot skillet. Stir in shredded cabbage, celery, and regular onion. Add 1/2 tsp. salt. Keep stirring until vegetables are soft and translucent. Tip out into a big bowl.

Put remaining oil in skillet. Add ginger root slices and stir in pork. Cook until pork loses its pink color. Drain excess fat. Add chopped green onion, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots. (If omitting pork, put ginger root in skillet with these vegetables.) Cook for one minute.

Add this mixture to vegetables in big bowl. Also add sherry, soy sauce, corn starch. Mix well, then drain off excess liquid using a sieve. Remove ginger root slices. Allow to cool to lukewarm. (Filling can be made ahead several days. Allow to come back to room temperature before using.)

Place two rounded tablespoons filling on each egg roll skin. Wrap, then seal edges with a little water. Heat one inch vegetable oil in a deep skillet until a bread cube dropped in fries a nice golden brown. Deep fry egg rolls a few at a time, turning as each side becomes golden brown. Serve immediately, accompanied by the following sauce:

• 2 T. cider vinegar
• 2 T. soy sauce
• 4 tsp. brown sugar
• 2 tsp. commercial hoi sin sauce (optional)

Stir together in small bowl.

CAREY BURKETT is an organic vegetable farmer in Hallettsville, Texas.

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