Let's talk about Stories and Storytelling
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March 2021 (Volume 11 - Issue #3)

Hello and happy Saturday, <<Name>> !  No matter how long winter seems to linger, every year Spring arrives. My daffodils and tulips begin pushing their way through the dirt. The time changes (we Spring Forward this weekend) and my personal 1st Day of Spring (St. Patrick's Day) arrives.

I am so excited to be here  with you as we transition to the Spring of 2021.  Whether you're a new friend or have been around since the beginning, I want you to know how grateful I am for this space in your in-box.

“Stories live in your blood and bones,
follow the seasons and
light candles on the darkest night-
every storyteller knows
she or he is also a teacher.”

--Patti Davis


Saint Patrick’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays.

In a lot of ways, I see Saint Patrick’s Day as the start of spring. Folks wear lots of green after months of St Patricks Daywintry colors. I love seeing folks be light-hearted instead of so focused on being serious. Especially after the last year we've had.

A ripe opportunity to reflect on blessings and good things rather than the tragedies of our lives and the world.

And honor of what’s worth remembering instead of a constant focus on what’s wrong or what we want to forget.

I also see St. Patrick's Day as an invitation to connect, too. JB’s family is Irish and those roots go deep. They say the Irish have always been great storytellers, and I see that trait in his family for sure – that flair for storytelling.

That’s one of the reasons I chose “stories” and “storytelling” as the theme for March.

Storytelling as a concept has begun to be co-opted by corporations for the commercial way for which stories sell, yet at the core of that is the reminder that everyone has a story. Some stories are full of drama, some stories are full of lessons, some stories are filled with simple moments that connect to reading storiessomething larger.

I like the reminder that each person has a story and often, what we see on the surface is the very tip of the iceberg.

I think that’s why I’ve enjoyed doing some genealogy for JB. In digging up the links to great-great grandparents and their families, you see more than a name and begin to see more of a life story emerge.

It’s exciting, too, to get a flesh and blood feeling of people instead of a flat name on a chart. Like the discovery that JB’s great-great grandfather went to college in Ireland before the Famine hit. I wonder how rare it was for a man to be that well educated during the time period?

I learned this story after connecting to some distant cousins of JB's. And one of the great-great had recorded stories about this man from his granddaughters before they passed in the 70's. They said he was a kind and loving man who was both a Saint and  Poet.

And that struck me: it describes JB in many ways and  mimics the stories of JB's father.

One of my challenges to you this month is to go to a person you love and ask them for a story about their life.

Maybe it's your Grandmother or Beloved Aunt. Or maybe it's the story of another relative - a daughters-in-law or cousin, for example. See if learning the story of, say, their first year in college or a favorite childhood memory helps you connect more deeply with them.

Or maybe you ask a family member to tell you a memory of someone that has passed. JB's family always has good stories about JB's father, who passed away twenty years ago.

When we explore the stories of those who came before us, it invites us to claim our own pieces of our story.

And that, my dear, is indeed important and holy work. Because if you're struggling to feel whole or happy, claiming and owning every part of your story is a path to healing. 

(In fact, Research showed that writing (and re-writing) our own story led to being happier about our life.)

In order to do this as a path to healing, we must be willing to befriend our shadows. Yes, I am talking about the painful parts. Feelings of shame, sadness, and anger. We must make peace with the times we made poor choices or were betrayed. Rather than pretend the bad stuff didn’t happen to us, you choose the path of healing by owning your story.

Yes, I know, it’s easy to focus on the things we do “wrong”. Or we obsess over one single unhappy event in our life and believe that it defines us. The key to owning your story is to make the decision that our past no longer has the power to define our present or our future.

When we refuse to gloss over the ways we are brave and the recognize the plethora of ways we are sunriseamazing, then that painful chapter of our story gets to be a part of our healing.

Owning your story is making the choice to heal the wounds of the past, to honor our scars, and find within our lives the traces of light, grace, love, beauty, bravery and forgiveness. You are opening the way to live a happier life.

While this is something that I believe can be done with a paper and pen, I also know the value of working through pieces of your story with a coach or therapist. So, if you find you need a little help, don't hesitate to find the help you need.

There's something super powerful, too, about telling our stories to others. Because our stories need to be witnessed.

Earlier this month, Beth Knight interviewed me for her blog series "52 Women". We spoke for almost two hours, she took notes, and then shared my story.

Though I share pieces of my own story here, in blog posts, and on social media, it's been a long time since I looked at my story from an outside perspective like this. And I found it a very valuable exercise.

So, another way to explore your story is to set up a lunch or coffee date with a friend (even if it's over Zoom) and have her interview you while she takes notes. And then do the same for her another day. To share your story and be witnessed is such a blessing. And then, you can bless her back with the beauty of her own story.

Last, but not least, I want to remind you to be cautious with the stories you tell yourself about, well, yourself.

As I mentioned earlier, owning your story is about healing the wounds of the past so that you can move forward.

But if you are constantly telling yourself negative stories - like ones where you are never organized, never pretty enough, never smart enough - your own stories will bring you down.

Though I don't necessarily do "affirmations" I do know that telling yourself positive things about yourself is valuable.

It's why an exercise I've done with some clients in the past is to make a list of at least 100 things they've done well in their lives. If you tell yourself negative stories, then I'd encourage you to make a similar list. Dive into your own life and remind yourself of your wonderfulness. Record your wins and the laughter.

Explore your story - claim it and own it. Just don't forget that it's super important to claim the good ones my journal and coffeethat shine the light on your positive traits.

As I wrap this month's newsletter, I want to just express how fascinated I always am by the stories that people share. 

The stories that create a life – in all its glory and tragedy. Whether it’s done in a coaching session or an email. Whether it’s an Instagram post or a conversation with a stranger at the grocery store. Whether it’s in a handwritten letter or a blog post.

These stories matter because each person matters. Yes, even in the sea of all this humanity around us, each person and their story holds value and importance.

I am grateful for the stories of those that I love, both in my daily life and through the many connections we make.  Be they be long passed away or present today. And I think that’s why that openness to the stories of living a life drive me to do THIS – this work I have been called to do.

Never forget that stories connect us and allow us to love others and ourselves more deeply.

Sending you oodles of sunshine, budding trees, and the unfolding of a beautiful story about yourself.

Love, Debra


What's floating my boat?
To say that the start to 2021 is still feeling a bit challenging  on a mental and emotional level is an understatement. Yet, one thing I've learned is that the smallest of things can keep us afloat - or pull us up out of the deep end.

That's what I aim to share with you here each month. The stuff that's seems small but is making a powerful difference in the quality of my daily life. This month, here's some favorite ways I am practicing self-care.

How I explore my own story

I'm sure it's no surprise to you that journaling is how I explore my own story. The blank pages are just the journalinvitation I need to explore my thoughts and emotions while recording what's happening in my world.

Back in 2016, I began using Leuchtturm1917 notebooks. When I purchased my first one, I fell in love. Not only was it was serviceable, it was deliciously decadent. The A5 size journal fits into my purse with ease, but it was all kinds of delightful in the details: index at the front, numbered pages, two bookmarks, a pocket, and sewn in pages so it lays flat.

The journals also come with labels that can then be used for storage and reference. This has been especially helpful when working my next book.

I keep two journals going at all times. One is more of a bullet journal/diary format while the other is a pure journal.

You can purchase the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks at Goulet Pen Company, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. I prefer the Medium (A5) Notebooks with Dotted Grid. They also come lined.

I am also super picky about the pens I use: Uni-Ball 207 Gel pens in their BLX line, which is a black ink that has been lightly tinted with a color. I buy them either from Office Depot or Amazon.

How I'm making things easier on myself

Down below, I'm sharing all kinds of ways to grill chicken...and one of the biggest challenges of grilling tempschicken is not over cooking it and not under cooking it.

Here's a chart from the FDA on Food Safety temperatures.

Last summer, I finally purchased a digital meat thermometer and it revolutionized my grilling and other cooking time. 

No more pulling meat off the grill, slicing into it and discovering it wasn't cooked through, and having to put it back ON the grill. 

This is the digital thermometer I use and it's super affordable ($10). I do have a basic digital thermometer, too, but this is much faster and easier to read.

I used to only think about meat thermometers when I made turkey on Thanksgiving but never did I imagine how much easier it would make cooking things. 

In fact, I've been thinking about ordering a second one so that I have one upstairs in the kitchen and one downstairs where the grill is.
Here's what I'm cooking on repeat....
This past week, we were blessed with weather in the 60’s. And one of the first things I thought about was “hooray, it’s grilling weather!” Cooking on the grill is an easy way to cook once and eat multiple times, which, if you’ve been around me for long, you know is one of my favorite ways to eat well without my little grillspending all your time in the kitchen.

Another huge bonus of cooking once for multiple meals when using the grill is that that is you can more easily cook multiple different flavors by simply switching up how you prepare your meat. Which means no one gets tired of “leftovers”. And because the grill surface is larger than your average pan, it’s super simple to keep the different flavors separate from each other.

So, as the weather warms for many of us, I wanted to share some of my favorite marinades. While I use these for (usually) for chicken breasts, most of these will translate well to lean pork (chops or loin).

They key to grilling lean meat without it drying out AND infusing it with a lot of flavor begins with your marinade. You need oil to lock in moisture and you need an acid to help penetrate the meat to infuse the flavor. My oil of preference is inexpensive grocery store olive oil (my go-to these days is the Cold-Processed Mediterranean Blend from Whole Foods which is under $8 for 33.8 ounces (right over a quart).

And for safety plus maintaining the quality of your meat, you should marinade for a minimum of two hours but no more than twelve hours. And, of course, discard the marinade after you’re finished.

I prefer to use the gallon sized bags that have a “slide lock”. Not only are these an easy way to clean up, especially if you’re making more than one flavor of meat, you can massage the meat in the bag without spilling it for a better distribution of flavor. Win/Win!

The other thing I love about the bags is that you can fold the top down and they can “sit” open on the counter as you assemble your marinade.

When you cook chicken breasts whole, you want to ensure they cook evenly. So, if some of the chicken breasts are thicker than others, here’s how to fix that.  Place  your chicken breasts between two pieces of waxed paper and smash the thick part. I have an old meat tenderizer mallet that was my grandmothers that I use. But you can use a rolling pin or other such item to smash it. (Plus it’s a great stress reliever!)

Last, but not least, I prefer to lightly spice the chicken breasts with powdered garlic and sage, which I lightly rub into the meat before placing it in the marinade. Feel free to add any favorite spices of your own, too. If you don’t want to use your hand, use the back of a spoon to rub the dried spices into the meat.

Now that I’ve shared that, here’s some of my favorite flavor combinations.

First of all, one of the easiest marinades is bottled salad dressing.

That’s because it’s already a perfect balance of one part acid and two parts oil PLUS flavor you probably how toalready like. Some of my favorite dressings to use are from Primal Kitchen because they don’t contain soy: Greek, Green Goddess, Sesame Ginger, and Italian.

Half of a bottle is good for two chicken breasts and the whole bottle for more than two.

Hawaiian Chicken.

6 ounces (3/4 cup) of pineapple juice (this is the amount in a whole can of those little 6-packs of juice), 1/2 cup of olive or avocado oil (or other neutral oil), 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (I use Braggs). You can sub rice vinegar or red wine vinegar, 20 to 30 turns of your pepper mill,  1 tablespoon of minced garlic (I use the Gourmet Garden tubes found in the produce section), 1 teaspoon of ginger (again, I use the Gourmet Garden tubes but you can use fresh grated garlic or even dry powdered garlic. If you use dry, you only need 1/2 teaspoon), 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, AND if you like a little spice, add 1 teaspoon chili powder.

Margarita Chicken.

In a zipper bag, combine the juice of two limes with ½ cup of orange juice. Add ½ cup tequila, ¼ cup of triple sec, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon garlic (powdered of the kind in a tube), ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, and two dozen grinds of fresh pepper.  Then add about ½ cup of olive oil, and whisk as you go.

To combine, close the bag after squeezing most of the air out. Knead the bag and then add your chicken after combined.

Bourbon Sweet & Spicy

Begin by combining, in a zip lock bag (or non-reactionary container – meaning not metal) combine: juice of one lemon, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons bourbon or whiskey, a giant glob of spicy brown mustard, 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper, half cup of olive oil, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, and two teaspoons chili powder.
Buttermilk Chicken

Begin by adding 1 cup of good buttermilk (I prefer Marburger Farm’s) to your zipper bag. Then add ½ cup olive oil along with 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon dried Italian Seasonings, 1 tablespoon garlic (powdered of the kind in a tube), 1 teaspoon celery seeds, and about 20 grinds of fresh pepper.

The Easiest Mexican Chicken

Begin with a cup of plain whole milk yogurt (I’m fond of Maple Hill Whole Milk Yogurt) then ½ cup of olive oil. Next, add a tablespoon of dried oregano (or fresh cilantro if you’re a fan). Here’s where the easy part comes in: add  ½ cup of your favorite salsa or other prepared “Mexican Food” flavoring. Sometimes I’ll use a pouch from Frontera (Green Chili Enchilada Sauce, Key Lime Shrimp, Chicken Taco Chili, etc.) or even ½ can of Rotel tomatoes. You could also add a packet of taco seasonings to the yogurt along with the olive oil.

Basil Pesto Chicken

Last, but not least, is Basil Pesto Chicken. To a Ziplock bag, add ½ of a container of store-made basil pesto along with ½ cup of olive oil plus a tablespoon of lemon juice. Then add a tablespoon of dried Italian Seasonings and a tablespoon of garlic powder.

Wow. That’s seven ideas for you. And you may be asking…what now?

First of all, when cooking your chicken you want to place it on a grill that's been oiled and heated. I use yum!PAM for Grilling or spray Avocado Oil which can stand up to high heat. After your grates have been sprayed, then turn on the heat and let it preheat to about 450. Chicken needs to cook for about 8 minutes per side. And double check that the thickest part of the breast is cooked to around 165.

On the night that I cook, we have chicken fresh off the grill with either a salad, on a bun for a sandwich, or alongside something super easy like coleslaw, sweet potatoes I’ve roasted in the crockpot, or cabbage I’ve cooked on the grill.

Cooked chicken breasts keep in the fridge for three days. They can be diced and warmed up in a pan with a splash of olive oil and them combined with veggies (grape tomatoes, broccoli, squash, spinach, etc.) and then combine them with pasta or rice.

You can also freeze chicken breasts. I wrap them individually with waxed paper and then place it in a sandwich bag. These will keep for four months!
Have you chosen Your Word for 2021?  It's something I've been doing since 2005 and has been a great influence and support on my personal development over the years. Yes, even those years that I have tried to ignore my word, just the act of choosing a Word is like a prayer. 

One thing I wanted to do in the year ahead is to serve as a cheerleader, companion, and champion for you - and Your Word - for 2021. In my experience our words work their own special magic whether we check in with them or not, but keeping them in mind certainly helps boost their ability to serve us. 

Here's some ways to play and connect in this month:

  • Ask yourself: What ways is my WORD inviting me to explore my story? Grab a sheet of paper, your journal, or open a blank document on your computer to explore the answers to this question.
  • How can my WORD be a jumping off point to explore the story of someone I love?  Sometimes, we need ice breakers when we want to ask someone a story about themselves. So begin by sharing the Word you've chosen to guide you this year...and then ask them to help YOU explore other aspects of your chosen word by telling a story of their own life. For example, perhaps you chose "Nourish" as your word, so ask them how they nourish themselves in our current times. Or if you chose "Brave", ask your friend or loved one about  a story of their own bravery.  After your chat, spend some time with your own journal and reflect how two different people connected with the same word as a piece of each person's story.
  • Use your WORD as a jumping off point to catalog victories in your life. Write your word at the top of your journal page (or a blank document on  your computer) and begin jotting down the stories of your own life that connect with your WORD. If it's easier, do this by decade: when I was 10 years old, I was BRAVE by learning to jump off the high dive....or when I was a teenager, I learned how reading a book outside made me feel NOURISHED. Be sure and record recent victories, too.

PS - If you haven't yet chosen a word, there's still time.  I'll never forget what happened to me in 2010. That year, I didn't even commit to a Word - FAITH - until March. I took leap after leap after leap of Faith that year, and my life has never been the same. It gave me the courage to trust my intuition and step out of my comfort zone. If you haven't yet downloaded A Touchstone For Your 2021 Journey: The In-Depth Guide to Revealing Your Word of the Year you can get the details here.
Interested in Working with Me? Book a Discovery Session
Quotes on This Month's Theme to Save and Share
The Story You Tell Yourself
Owning Your Story
Memories and Stories
Discover the Stars
Debra Smouse - Photo by Winter Wolf Studios


I'm grateful you're here.

I'm Debra Smouse - a writer, lover of books, drinker of coffee, ENTJ, and life coach on a mission to help you create a daily life that is loving and nourishing. 

This love note arrives in your in-box the 2nd Saturday of each month. And my deepest hope is that it gives you practical tips for ways to choose yourself. And helps you discover the magic in the most ordinary of moments. 

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