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?