Thursday, November 24, 2022

The healing power of gratitude and Thanksgiving.... #GiveThanks

We get to be with three of the six kids today for Thanksgiving...
 

Looking for the light in the shadows of our blessings...
                   
Balboa Island... Once upon a time, a young Wyoming boy asked a San Diego girl to a family reunion here. I said yes, even though he was a friend. He was majoring in chemistry and loved to climb mountains. I was a tennis-playing English major who loved to swim on the beach and eat Mexican food. I saw his family, who like my own family, loved one another and decided to become part of the clan. I feel blessed that almost 40 years ago on a Thanksgiving weekend I said yes to marrying him. 


We can all give thanks for the beauties of the earth and the majesty of the heavens that give us an inkling of the vastness of eternity.

We can give thanks for the gift of life, for our amazing bodies and minds, that allow us to grow and learn.

We can give thanks for art, literature, and music that nurture our souls.

We can give thanks for the opportunity to repent, start over, make amends and build character.

We can give thanks to our families, friends, and loved ones.

We can give thanks for the opportunity to help, cherish and serve one another, which makes life so much more meaningful.

We can even give thanks for our trials; from which we learn things we would not know otherwise.

Most of all, we can give thanks unto God, the Father of our spirits, which makes us all brothers and sisters — one great global family. --Russell M. Nelson

Some statues of David and Libby Maidenburg on a bench overlooking the harbor at Balboa Island. This is what it says on the bench to everyone who walks by, "Married for 63 years, never went to bed angry. We love and miss you, from 3 your children, 8 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren."


One of my good friends, Minka, replies each time someone asks how she is doing, "I am grateful." Afterward, she might reveal a challenge she is going through, but her first emotional response is gratitude. She has lived through the dangers of a civil war in Nigeria. Later, she raised three successful boys as a single mom. As a highly educated African engineer, she has experienced prejudice and betrayal as she has lived in several countries. A few years ago she beat her dismal cancer diagnosis. Indeed, there have been tough times, but she always says, "I am grateful." She reminds me, not even on Thanksgiving, to be grateful.

This is the first Thanksgiving I have been in my own country since we were ex-pats for nine years. My heart is a little more tender and mellow as I reflect upon my blessings this season. For the past almost four months I have had the unique time to travel in America to see those family members and friends who we could not see for a long time--due to not being able to leave China. We have missed the weddings of children, and the birth of our first grandchild. There have been delays, deaths, illness, and overcoming some despair--just like everyone else in this world. Yet, underlying it all, I have been eased and comforted by remembering layers of a life of blessings. Seeing recently familiar landscapes and houses or being with loved ones has humbly reminded me that I have been a very blessed passenger on this journey of life. I never was really alone, after all. 

The gentle strokes of light of a sunset on a painting, each one, have made a beautiful landscape if I choose to appreciate it. Sometimes, I admit, I do not always see the light or full panoramic perspective. After all, to see the gleaming brightness, we must view the contrast between dark and light, and experience the tension to understand the light when it comes. Yet, in six decades of living, remembering, and acknowledging blessings, I have learned: gratitude fills our souls with light-filled healing. New hope is born when we see the good and are grateful. Peace and comfort grow, as we grant ourselves and others gratitude. Being grateful elevates our joy--even when we accept the shadows. 

 In a 2015 NYT article before his death of cancer, author and neurologist Oliver Sacks powerfully wrote about the gift of gratitude at the end of his life, "I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and I have given something in return." To me, that is a beautiful life--one that has known and acknowledged blessings.

In our world of FOMO or (Fear of Missing Out), I don't want to not be aware of a lifetime of blessings, the people who cheered and loved me, and a God who accepts and gives me gifts I am sometimes blind to. I have learned the happiest people are grateful--not a chirpy, superficial optimism, but a person who knows how to obtain wisdom and peace almost anytime they desire. How? They remember to count their blessings, write a thank you card, call or tell a person thank you, and take the time to ponder stacked blessings in the closet. Whatever faith we espouse, we know more peace when we express our thanks to a God who is always giving blessings--even when we are oblivious. 

Happy Thanksgiving one and all wherever you live in this world. 


  

Friday, November 4, 2022

Our long road trip: traversing across America The Beautiful...


"There are those we come across, whom we barely know, who offer you a word, a sentence, give you a minute, a half hour, and change the course of your life."  --Victor Hugo

"Your travels should take you through the great heartland of Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas. And you must get off the interstates. You must ride the side roads where the small towns are..." --David McCullough

 

About a month ago we dropped in to see our favorite Cardinal fan in St. Louis--89-year-old Dorothy, a widow whose husband had passed away long ago. When she opened the door to see us, she said, "I didn't think I would live long enough to see you again, but here you are back from China." We visited our old friend of almost 30 years and heard about her love of her faith, family, and baseball. So grateful we stopped by to see the woman who was everyone's grandma because we learned she passed away yesterday. 

 One of the best things about raising our kids in Mid-West America is that we could travel in any direction to discover the amazing cultures, traditions, and history of this country. Often, as parents, we would gather them for a long road trip to see family--stopping along the way-- to visit towns and places I only dreamed of seeing as a sometimes restless San Diego kid. Growing up, I longed to see Gettysburg, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone, the Freedom Trail, Emily Dickinson's house, the Sequoias, or the small Icelandic immigrant hamlet my father was born in North Dakota--pretty much anywhere I could roam. My parents had taught me to love history and I wanted to connect and share with my kids through places I/we had always wanted to see. Many summers we/I crisscrossed the country with them--driving up to 8,000 miles. It sounds wild and crazy, but most of the time we loved it. 😁

Fast forward a few years, (I have been an ex-pat for about ten years--living in six countries--one of them twice) in my life, and it was time to come home after an eight-year span. The sojourning of the world was (most of the time) spectacular and eased my nomadic urge, but I did not feel I understood my own country anymore. I wanted to come home, but it was a little like Rip Van Winkle waking up to a new world. Political upheaval, inflation, and global tensions to just name a few. 

Since we could not see loved ones because of living in China for several years, we decided to venture across America and be with our children, family, and other loved ones along the way.  We are racking up the miles as we wander west to east, north to south, and then circle back. The result? Again and again, I am wonderstruck with my own country, the shores that gave me my first roots. This journey has catapulted me into not only different states but different worlds. I am constantly asking myself as I hear stories who were strangers a few moments before, "Could they be my friend?" Each time it is an unequivocal yes. 

I have met people of different races, faiths, and who have changed their gender. While some have little education, others are professors at elite universities. More than I would want to say are down on their luck. I know now because I am older and a little wiser: all of us have bruises and wounds that are invisible. Also, I more emphatically know that a little encouragement or a smile can begin to ease some suffering because someone has done that for me. Repeatedly, continuously, I have been amazed at the beauty of people--all kinds of people.

Also, on this trip, I have been teary-eyed with the wide open skies against the cornfields as a luminous amber sunset spreads across the sky in the Mid-West. I forgot how beautiful they are. Some tears trickled as we gazed in wonderment at Acadia National Park's craggy shorelines with glowing, golden autumn maples in the background. Conversely, I am also worried about the great water veins of our country, the Mississippi and Colorado Rivers that are experiencing never before seen droughts--all the climate warming that is playing havoc with our world. Just like we need to be aware of others, we need to take care of our landscape, our holy spaces and places.

Lush and breathtaking landscapes nourish our souls. We return from beholding the splendor of places and astonishingly realize, those scenes can magically, sometimes automatically, transfer to discerning more magnificence in people. Since we have glimpsed the stunning marvel of nature, our hearts are widened. Our pulses slow down and we make more space for beauty--to not only be transfixed by terrain but be astonished at the splendor of people in unexpected places. 

In these election times, I can't help but think our politicians would benefit from not only crossing physical borders but boundaries that block new understandings of people. The truth is we don't have to travel far. We just have to trek to another part of the town we live in to expand our sometimes static perceptions. Mostly, I have decided it starts with conversing with people who don't share the same borders--to stop and understand their topography or map of the world. 

Here are a few of the people who make America better. I found myself wanting to be a little more like each of them. Some I have known for many years, and others who I only passed through their life for a few moments:

       Here is the house of Harriet Tubman where she lived at the end of her life. It is located at 180 South Street in Auburn, NY, and is an independent non-profit established by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. For about 35 years this pastor has helped to renovate the adjoining buildings and acreage, manage, coordinate, and give tours at this sight. He has a flair for drama, and his tour was like a dramatical one-man reading show--complete with voice inflections and quoting Harriet's favorite sayings. To me, he conveyed a complete commitment to unveiling and teaching about who Harriet Tubman was as a person. Her life became alive to me as we celebrate her 200th birthday this year. I am grateful for someone who saw a void that needed to be filled and poised himself to do it. 

When you meet a perfect stranger at a Kansas City farm produce auction, and then get invited to go fishing with him a few days later--having the most heavenly day. 

We were neighbors with this amazing bunch in Doha. They showed me how to be an ex-pat, and now live in NH on a six-acre farm out of town. L. runs the town, as she always does, with being on the school board and a PTO president of the middle school, plus lots of volunteering for those who need help with food, heating, and clothes. And they both teach a church religion class, all the time feeding their old wood stove to keep warm. 

Pictured is the director of the Louisa May Alcott house in Concord, MA--one of my favorite places. We were lucky that day to have her as a tour guide. For almost 50 years she has been associated with the LMA house and now directs it. We all wished we could have camped out in our sleeping bags for a week as she energetically told the stories of the Transcendental time in Concord with the Hawthornes, Emersons, Alcotts, and Thoreaus. History is life. What a repository of stories she had packed in. 

One of our favorite old places to go when we lived in the east long ago was Waterford, VT. This is Eddie's Bakery--a most congenial, happy place where the best apple cider doughnuts are made. 

Boston, MA  I am always inspired by people who raise others' children. This is what this woman did. She changed the entire trajectory of a family. 

Syracuse, NY.  I met this Cambodian woman at church who delivered a baby in a refugee camp I worked at in Thailand 41 years ago. So wonderful to see her come to a new country and flourish. I loved hearing her story. 


Port Huron, MI. As we walked along the shore of Lake Heron, this woman struck up a conversation with us about how wonderful it is to walk beside the water and collect rocks and fossils. She even gave one to Elias. Her vivaciousness and enthusiasm for the world were infectious. We were better because she talked to us.  


                                          A family hike in Ithaca, NY. Love these people...



                            Bangor, Maine   This family was with us in Tianjin, China during Covid. They lived in China for 25 years. We used to pass dumplings and bread to one another in Covid times when we were in quarantine through the fence. As a trained school counselor, she sat down and counseled me on how to adjust back to the US again since they came back a year earlier than us. 

 

                    Cooperstown, NY haunted tour at The Farm Museum. We did not have tickets for this highly anticipated event, and they still let us come in. 

 

                         Boston, MA  Long ago in NYC Deb was our neighbor. She helped me deliver three of my children and helped us when Joseph was mugged. 


                  When in St. Louis during baseball season, always go to a Cardinals game with CB. Long ago Joseph delivered her eighteen-year-old triplets. Her tanacity as a single parent of triplets always inspires me. 






















Saturday, May 7, 2022

Happy Mother's Day and a love letter to mothering...

"I know I must have been loved like that, even if I can't remember it. I know my mother must have loved to comb my shiny hair and rub that Johnson's baby lotion up and down my arms and wrap me up and hold and hold me all night long...so I'd have enough love in me to know what love was when I saw it or felt it again."   --Cynthia Rylant in Missing May

      The day our son, Elias, was born... Little did we know, he would change our lives for the better when he would be diagnosed with autism three years later...

Happy Mother's Day to all! On this Mother's Day, I am spending it in London with my first grandchild--a  new season of wonder and awe in the journey of life. Observing my own child become a parent, I am filled with memories of who I was when I became a mother long ago. Of course, there was anticipation, fears, apprehensions. But perhaps more than anything, there was a willingness to plunge deeply into unknown territory--to give this unchartered work everything I had. Deeply, I knew it was a new sphere of understanding how to love outside of myself--in a way I had never known. 

Suddenly, with unexpected abruptness, I was content to be enclosed in a new world with my little daughter. Outside of our cloistered circle, the world outside continued to rustle and beckon. But I remember being content to stay wrapped in this newly formed cocoon with her and my husband. There was nothing I would not do for this new little babe. As I looked out of my New York City 24th story view and heard the noise and rustling of the city, I wanted to crowd out the world for a while. Of course, I knew this exquisitely beautiful cocoon of time would not last long. There was so much newly-mint joy in that space of time. I suppose that is why we had six more children. 😀

Every child is a journey. They come with their own passport of where they will eventually go. Each of them has an unmistakable and individual divine nature that comes to imprint on your soul. Sooner or later you learn they were never yours to tightly hold on to and sequester. In fact, they cannot be endlessly protected; we are not our children's shield of safety. They were meant to fly away from the sheltered haven we tried to lovingly build for them. Yet, I have learned they will migrate back for you to hold and love again-- teaching us new things of their own journeys.

A few years ago, I met the mayor of a small village in Normandy, France. He was an older gentleman who was painting on a hillside overlooking his village. As we spoke to him, he told us a story I have always remembered: During WWII, his parents who were part of the French Resistance Movement, were caught and imprisoned in a camp. His mother, who was pregnant with him, was later delivered there by a very kind, compassionate doctor. On that night, she begged the doctor to save her baby's life and bring him clandestinely outside the camp to freedom. The doctor, knowing full well the parents could never see the child again, agreed. He knew of their impending death sentences. That night, in the dark, under a long trench coat, he swaddled the child under his cloak. He risked his life for a baby whose parents would never know their child.

A few minutes later, our French friend took us to see a picture of the mayor's parents. As I looked into their faces--so young, hopeful, and beautiful, I was and continue to be moved by their story. A young mother, knowing her fate and wanting to keep this child safe from the world gave him up to an unknown stranger--a doctor who happened to be on call that day in a prison camp. Perhaps I am further moved by the story because my own husband has delivered about 25,000 children and I know he would have gladly done the same deed on that night long ago in the early 1940s in France. But as I said, mothering takes you to places, both literal and figurative, you never thought you would or could go.

Here are a few thoughts on mothering I have had over the years:

--Give yourself a break. Mothering, especially in the first years, can be almost all-encompassing. When you daily try to fill the needs of little ones, carve moments to reset. And that means giving yourself permission to take a nap. That was always my own mother's healing balm of advice. Recalibrate. Rest. Relax. Every. Day.

--Reach out. Recently I heard of a young mother I know who has been having a difficult time because of the pandemic. Lift, encourage, and say a kind word. People so desperately need affirmations. We don't know the wounds or the current state of mental health of others, but we can connect and help out. Today when I was walking into Herrod's Department store in London, not one, but two security men opened the door for me as I pushed my grandson's stroller through the door. They smiled, nodded, and just made me feel better. We might think it is a small and inconsequential act, but kind acts have a long shelf life. 

--Build on your interests, both former ones before children, but also be brave and bold to learn new things. Everything you know and love can be shared with your children. Hold onto those passions you have always cherished so you can inspire your loved ones. Those are some of the tender gifts they will always remember and connect to. Books, nature, swimming, tennis, music, art, and cooking are some of my interests. For example, I love art museums. When we lived in Baltimore, we would sometimes trek down to the National Gallery. By the time one of my daughters was seven, she could give family and friends an amazing tour. Blog on My Cello Love Story

--Gather. Become a part of a community of mothers who help one another. Many parents do not live by their families. It does not matter if women are much older or younger than one another. In my younger years, I had sage counsel from women who I looked to for advice. Now I am older, I try to do the same for others. We can always learn from one another--even if we initially think people are not in the same "stage of life" we are in. Learn from unlikely sources who can teach you how to think in different ways and give you new perspectives. I will always remember what my Muslim neighbor told me when I first moved to Qatar, "Don't make boundaries with me, Maryan." She said it lovingly, and I knew she meant it. I learned so much from a mother who wore a burka. My life would be so different if I had not been her friend. Learn from others who are different than you. Blog on Spilling Love and Celebrating International Women's Day

--Have fun! Be creative. Give lots of hugs. Have a fun game, art, and/or music nights. Laugh a lot and go out and see the stars or a sunset or a firefly.  Carve holy moments of time. I remember celebrating St. Patrick's Day with a friend. We all went on a picnic with our kids and dyed our hair that day. As we tromped through a park in Los Angeles, we sang and told stories with our green hair. We came home exhilarated, breathless with happiness to be outside laughing and frolicking with our children.

--You can do harder things than you realize because you have learned to love with no bounds. Being a mother of a child with autism has stretched and blessed me. Blog on My Autism Mountain Having a young baby die taught me to be outside of my skin. Blog on Traveling Through Time in a Day

Some of my South African friends in China. The little girl told me, "You have taught me how to be brave and kind" on the last night before I left China. I teared up and told her I would try to live up to her estimation of me. Children's words, so pure and unfiltered, spark me to be better.

                                                                  A mother in India who I met


             A Cambodian mother who I often visited in the refugee camps when I worked there in Thailand and the Philippines in the 1980s. She was so grateful to be in a refugee camp and to have boxes for furniture and a hammock for several of her children to sleep in. At least now she knew they were safe from Pol Pot's genocide.

                                      A very special single mom with her triplets who my husband delivered 18 years ago. They have been like family to us. 

One of my best friends, Yoyo, in Tianjin, China with her son. She told me, "I think my children choose me to be their mom before they came down to be on earth with me."

                                       A grandmother with her grandson at Ikea in Tianjin, China

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Rare intersection of Ramadan, Passover, and Easter 2022 fall simultaneously together....

                                     
Another of Michaelangelo's Pieta in Milan

Easter is the day that changed everything. --Dieter F. Uchdorf

The exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being in every era, every year, and in every day. --Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

The fact that the Muslim holy days coincide over time with various holy days of Christians and Jews should remind us that we are all siblings in humanity and must work together for good. --Abdassamad El Yazidi

I wrote this blog during the weekend when Easter, Passover, and Ramadan intersected--reminding us that we are siblings in humanity. Of course, like much of the world, I was deeply saddened to hear of the violence in Jerusalem that weekend. I never finished it. But now tomorrow is the end of Ramadan.  

On April 2, here in China, I looked up at the barely-bowed moon, missing my Muslim friends. The small crescent moon that was barely visible, I knew, was the beginning of Ramadan all over the world. I thought of my friends' fasting and memories of iftar feasts with friends from Jordan, Palestine, Sudan, Egypt, and other Middle East countries when I lived in Qatar. A few days later, I reflected on the upcoming Easter Holy Week--the Passion Week, which is commemorated as Jesus Christ's last week of his life. Also, long ago, I lived near Jerusalem, where I witnessed the Palm Sunday procession and going to the tomb of Jesus. During that time, I was invited by a Jewish family to be with them during their Passover--a time when Jews remember the deliverance of God to end their slavery in Egypt. Often, Passover and Easter are at the same time. However, this week, in a beautiful intersection of religious calendars, believers of these three world religions are going on spiritual journeys to be restored, heal, and feel peace. This convergence of holidays emerges every 33 years.

Ramadan

In my five and half years living in the Middle East, one of my favorite times of the year is the holy month of Ramadan. A blog I wrote when I was in Qatar about Ramadan It is a time for a regeneration of spirit--to read the Quran, fast (both food and water), pray more duaas (prayers) that plead to Allah to be a better, devout person. Prayers at this time show more intention to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others, express feelings of joy and gratitude, and think about those who are unfortunate. Ramadan's purpose is to both isolate oneself to reflect upon how to improve, but also to build more community-bonding experiences, as well. 

During the daylight hours from when the sun rises until sunset, the streets are quiet, almost empty. Most commercial businesses do not open until after the sunset--signifying the time to end their fast. Many attend the mosque before they end their fast. Perhaps the reason I enjoyed the month of Ramadan so much was that all around me people conveyed a peace that was visibly transformative to an outsider looking in. Conversations were elevated. My Muslim friends spoke more about their feelings for those who are suffering and poor. They not only abstained from food and water during the day but there was a restraint and reining in of anger, arguing, swearing, and gossip. Negative emotions are consciously and purposefully controlled. 

Before Ramadan began and during the month, they evaluate their lives and with those who, perhaps, they needed to forgive. Relationships were intentionally strengthened. They carved necessary time in their abstaining from food and drink to truly ponder their life and to reach out to family, friends, and those who were suffering. As my dear friend and neighbor said, "I need to rebuild myself during Ramadan. A blog I wrote about a Non-Muslim's perspective on Islam

                           I always like to see the shoes outside the mosque before prayer time. 

                                                        Prayer time at the mosque

                                                        One of the main mosques in Doha

Passover

Passover is a holiday, for the most part, celebrated at home.  Home during Passover is a place of remembering, gathering, singing, eating, and storytelling. Sedar means setting up the sedar table full of ritual foods and objects, saving chairs for Elijah, and sometimes those who are forgotten in our lives. The longest part of the sedar is "maggid," which means storytelling. Passover comes directly from the Torah and commemorates the story of the ancient Hebrews' exodus from slavery.

Passover reminds me that miracles happen and that God can deliver us in unexpected and astonishing ways. In a way, we are all running from being a captive or slave to something, and we all need deliverance. Exodus prompts us to remember and to tell the stories of our miracles to our families for generations to come. 

                        The Wilderness of Egypt near where the Hebrews escaped                                   

Easter  

Easter traditionally was the center of an entire season of the Christian calendar. During Lent, Christians prepared themselves spiritually for Holy Week, which focused on Christ's final week of mortality. They considered it a time of penitence--a time to seek forgiveness. Beginning at Lent (usually about 40 days before Easter), the common penance was fasting. Lent was patterned after the 40 days Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness. Easter Sunday, always comes between March 21 and April 25, on the first Sunday after the first full moon, following the northern spring equinox. 

As a Christian, I believe that the gospel did not end with Jesus' burial. The Easter message is that the "good news" of Easter is there is no death. We go on living because Christ rose from the grave. On the first day of the week when Jesus was resurrected, the most memorable Sunday in history, Jesus emerged alive from the tomb and appeared to Mary. And it brings hope to all of humanity.  

With the world in a commotion of pain, angst, and struggle, Easter brings hope. As John Updike said in a poem "May we not mock God with metaphor" and Gerard Manley Hopkins said, "May easter in us." Hopkins made Easter be easter--a verb--a change, a transformation. 


                   A favorite painting by Caravaggio of Thomas touching Christ's wounds


"If Jesus defeated death one morning in Jerusalem, then suddenly every revitalization, every new birth, every repaired relationship, every ascent from despair, every joy after grief, every recovery from addiction, every coral reef regeneration, every achievement of justice, every rediscovery of beauty, every miracle, every found hope becomes a sign of what Jesus did in history, and of a promised future where all things will be made new."    --Tish Harrison Warren

So today when Ramadan is ending this year, hopefully in even small, ordinary ways, these three religions can remember they are "siblings of humanity." All three faiths remind us that hope and deliverance are what we are all yearning and searching for. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

China: Lantern Day

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.  --Albert Camus



After Chinese New Year, there is another holiday to celebrate the coming of spring: Lantern Day. On that night, the streets are lit up with lanterns, people watch dragon dances, and eat round sticky balls that are shaped like a full moon.  In each lantern, there is supposedly a riddle that begs to be answered. Fireworks light up the sky. This has been the traditional Valentine's Day for 1,500 years in China. 

Anciently, there was a curfew on the streets of China, but on Lantern Day, young men and women could roam the streets with lanterns hanging from posts and homes to honor their romantic love. They did not have a curfew on this night. Hopefully, they could find their love wandering on that night. Here is a poem from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) from poet Xin Qiji called The Lantern Festival Night,

But in the crowd once and again, 

I look for her in vain. 

When all at once I turn my head, 

I find her there where lantern light is dimly shed.


                      
           Lanterns are everywhere and most people are carrying them as they walk around. A shining radiance and the feeling of warmth are everywhere. Everyone is happy because spring has begun. Here are some pictures on the streets at Lantern Day--a day of luminosity and romantic love. 


                              























 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The ongoing restoration in all of us...

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to build that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on, you know that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably. You see He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of... You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage, but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.    --C.S. Lewis

                        Our old house in St. Louis, MO--that took so many years to restore 

On account that my grandmother lived in an old house, I was always drawn to the possibilities of making what was once dysfunctional or dilapidated become useful and extraordinary again. I loved every crevice of her house as a child. It was not only a beautiful, stately old home, but it had layers of family history where I could almost hear the whispers. There always seemed to be a new, intriguing corner to discover. But it was usually in an ongoing restoration process. In her mind, she was constantly thinking about how to blend the old and new together--for the best effect and beauty.

        My grandmother's old home that I tried to duplicate--more the feeling than the structure...

Consequently, when it came time for us to buy a home, I voted for the old house that had "potential." In my mind, an old home could become what my grandmother's house had been to me--endlessly fascinating and beloved. Long ago when no one wanted to buy our future St. Louis home because it lacked AC, I saw the bones of something wonderful. And I was right. 

Shortly before we moved to the Middle East, we remodeled the last bathroom in that dear St. Louis house. The long overhaul process of remodeling for many years was long, arduous, and painful. Did I mention expensive? Walls were pushed out. A new stairway was made, and an old one was removed. We built a bathroom and bedroom in the basement for my father-in-law who came to live with us. I kept thinking, "Is this house ever going to be the way I want it?" But it did. Ironically, we unexpectedly moved a few months later when it was supposedly done. We all laughed at the timing, but the lesson is not lost on me. 

Lately, over here in China, we still work on projects. Our projects in China are smaller but equally ambitious. Every day our creativity is challenged as we work on various art projects. We have gessoed some paintings--meaning put on a special covering to coat the old parts we no longer like or not applicable to our current art journey. My son who has autism and I paint a lot together. You could say we have learned how to "do art" together. But sometimes we don't want the old canvases anymore. They take up room, and we know they can be remade, redone, restored, renewed. 

               Elias is busy completely revamping an old picture into a new one--and we can do that with ourselves too. Blending the old and new is a loving act of ongoing restoration.

Even the world starts anew again every spring. The verdant life that has been invisible to the surface comes again to the surface each year. Depending on your timing and where you are, spring can almost be a Northern Lights experience that does not fade away quickly. With all our senses, spring can explode in our life in all the colors that we forgot existed. The monochromatic, dormant life we knew only weeks before is transformed into a vivid explosion of color.   

The process of becoming, changing, and restoring is hard, painful work. Yet, there are many reasons not to give up on ourselves or others. Soon just like the brilliant, bright tulips are undetectable when they are bulbs in the ground, we will see the restoring in ourselves and/or others. Just like my house. All the right bones are there for the extraordinary to happen. Spring is coming soon...

                       Bright tulips by Diane Antone

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

China: Year of the Tiger 2022

Every child must wear a tiger hat on their first Chinese New Year. Our grandchild wearing his tiger hat.

Last night at midnight, fireworks signaled a change in the world for about two billion people. The year of the slow and steady ox faded out, and in jumped the audacious, confident tiger. 2022 is set to be a year of having courage and adventures, so the story says. Not only do the 1.4 people in China celebrate, but all around Asia, Southeast Asia, and Asians who live around the world. Fireworks and firecrackers were popping last night to celebrate the new year's entrance, and to ensure they scare any bad spirits away for the next year. 

The tiger is the third animal in the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese legend goes that the early Jade Emperor stated that the first twelve animals that arrived at the palace would be able to be in the Chinese zodiac. The rat hitched a ride with the ox, who agreed to sing to the plugging, agreeable ox. At the last minute, the rat slid off of his nose and won the race to be the first animal to start the zodiac. The competitive tiger came in third. Next year will be the rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. So what animal are you?

This is my sixth Chinese Year living in Asia. Like everyone else, we cleaned our house. Anciently, they believed clean houses steered away bad spirits. We put up paper cuts on the windows and doors--with greetings and wishes for prosperity and long life. We made dumplings with friends and will have a week of visiting with friends and making more dumplings. I have seen many a dragon dance and heard the pans clanging to keep the bad spirits away. 

I talked with a friend who grew up in a village in Henan province in the 1980s and '90s about what it was like during Chinese New Year for her. She lived in a very small village (about 2,000 people) where many people were related to her or were good family friends. A few days before the Chinese New Year, they would kill a pig for the filling of the dumplings. There were no refrigerators at the time in the village, but it was cold enough to keep it chilled. She watched her mom remove the intestines and other internal parts to prepare for the New Year's meals. The first sound she remembers hearing early in the morning on New Year's Eve day is her mother pounding the meat for the dumplings. 

It would take her mother several hours in the early morning to chop the meat to get it ready for the dumpling filling. At about noon, many of the family would gather to roll the dough and spoon the savory meat and vegetable filling into the round dough. Sometimes her mother would make several different kinds of fillings--depending on the harvest that year. Scallions, leeks, cabbage, garlic, fennel, and even carrots are mixed with meats or eggs. Everyone sits around for hours making the crescent nuggets. They are shaped like golden nuggets that were formally used for currency and are synonymous with hopeful prosperity for the year. Those hours of pinching dough around the specially made dumplings is an awaited time all year. Gossip, jokes, stories, and laughs are shared as everyone makes dumplings together. Oftentimes, a coin would be placed in a few dumplings. Whoever found the dumpling with the coin, would be considered lucky for the next year. My blog is called The Delectable Dumpling if you want to know more about dumplings... 😆

That night before dinner, the young children receive new clothes to wear. Historically, this was the only time the children would receive new clothes. They excitedly await the time when their parents will give them a red envelope with some pocket money for candy or treats. As they get older and if the parents can afford it, they give them more money for their education. But before the meal starts, the children, all dressed in their new clothes, bow before their parents and tell them they are grateful for them and what good parents they are. Kneeling down before their parents, they thank them for bringing them life and the blessings they give them. Traditionally, they would play games, do skits, and puppet shows. But for the last several decades, China puts on a huge entertainment show that goes for four to five hours that is broadcast all over China. The gala show has the largest audience of any entertainment in the world. In 2020, 1.2 billion people tuned in. 

The next day, she remembers waking up early with the parents to ride their bikes to the temple to give the ancestors their share of dumplings. Our friend said she would carry the bowl of dumplings or some bread as she peddled along in the early morning chill darkness of the village. But they were not the only ones riding their bicycles. Almost everyone in the village would be there too to pay their respect to the dead. Afterward, on this first day of Chinese New Year, her father would go to visit his parents and bring his family. He too would bow before his parents, in order of birth, to tell his parents of his gratitude for them. Our friend would wear her new clothes to visit her grandparents, and they would also give her a red envelope with money. 

The next day is for the wife to visit her parents. The wife will go back to her home and bring her family to show her respect for her parents and see her family members. The following days are for visiting extended family and family friends. Everyone always has nuts, candy, and fruit to share with the visitors.

More than anything Chinese New Year--no matter the zodiac animal--is about family ties and gathering for reunions. That is my favorite part--to watch the families gather, and to know they have been doing this for thousands of years. 

                    

     A grandfather getting his grandchild covered to go on a scooter ride outside. The red banners stay up for several months after New Year. This is a hall in our apartment building.

                     

               The little girl has her new clothes for the Chinese New Year in front of our door...

                                                  Joseph found the coin in his dumpling last night.


                                                           Making dumplings with friends


                                                     Choosing the coins for the dumplings...


                                                               Kneading the dumpling dough

      Some banners of slogans and wishes adorn many shops and houses. 
They are not taken down for many months, and sometimes ...
stay up all year long...









                                                     Ready to go and make some dumplings?