As Little As 99 Cents

“Impact a life for as little 99 cents” caught my eyes.  Colorful images of smiling but obviously poor children filled the brochure that had arrived in my mailbox.  Flipping through the pages I was invited to “choose how to transform a life.”  I was urged to donate money that could provide clothing, a cow, a sewing machine, clean water, books– an endless list of possibilities– which would “give a family what it needs to break the cycle of poverty.”  Each potential gift had a corresponding number listed for easy recording on the paper order form or the organization’s website.

 

Giving — made simple, convenient and fast.

To me, it seemed uncomfortably similar to all the advertisements that slick marketing companies were using to boost retail sales during this holiday season.

Anger, a sense of injustice, and sadness settled on my heart.

Why? I’m not sure.

Is it because these days I am being bombarded by pre- and post- Black Friday sales, Cyber-Monday sales, Giving Tuesday opportunities, Christmas sales with so much emphasis on money and materialism?  Is it the assumption that I could help to improve the life of someone in poverty for as little as 99 cents?  Is it because it seems like a great bargain and I should take advantage of this opportunity while the sale lasts?

Something just does not seem right to me.  I do want to encourage giving to great causes but somehow putting a low price on a project that involves a person seems to lessen the value and dignity of that individual.  And I know that to truly help someone in need demands time, love, and sacrifice.

Am I willing to do that?  Sure would be easier to pick out a gift or two and fill out the form.  But I have a hard time imagining Jesus doing that.   In fact, from His life, He did quite the opposite.  Do I dare to think and do differently?

Unplanned Season of Green

The end of August approaches and autumn hints appear: the sound of crickets at night, the slight coolness in the morning, the shortening of daylight, the back-to-school sales, the small flocks of birds hovering about, the lines of mum plants full of buds readying for purchase,  and the beauty of late summer blooms.

One can see that subtle change of color on tree leaves and corn stalks.  Yet, it’s hard to detect this year.  Green is the dominant color.  Green — at the end of the summer. It’s been wet and everything has kept growing.

People’s lawns are green.  Trees and bushes and weeds are thick with large leaves and new growth.  My outdoor hardy hibiscus didn’t flower as much or as long, expending too much energy into leaves and stalks and enjoying too much shade from neighboring trees that grew in feet and density. My coleus have taken off.  Flowers and sweet potato vines in my backyard flower bed have created a dense mosaic of color attracting equally colorful butterflies, bees and even goldfinches and an occasional hummingbird.  I even have to trim back the vines that threaten to suffocate plants underneath.

I could not have known this past spring that I would still be enjoying  springlike green at the end of summer.

This past spring I could not have prepared for the unplanned and painful end of a part-time job that allowed the beginning of a full-time job this fall.

I could not have predicted the sharp and quick decline of my sister’s health and her passing.

I could not have seen how plodding through the Old Testament (sacred scriptures that Jews and Muslims also revere which I find awesome) has given me a deeper love and understanding of who God is and how He really cares for me as individual but also that He cares for the vulnerable.

I could not have planned the surprised discovery of miniature eclipse shadows in  front of my home as I endeavored to experience the partial solar eclipse without traveling or special equipment.

In the spring I had already planned a trip to Canada for this month, but I could have not anticipated all the fun, blessings, surprises, insights, and memories with a variety of people those ten days had provided.

I know we “should”  plan and prepare, and I do. But I think is very much part of our western culture and not necessarily the correct way at times.

I remind myself continually that I need to hold my agenda and to-do lists and my “five-year plans” loosely.   I really do not know what tomorrow will bring let alone years ahead.  But I know that I can hold tightly to God who is just and good and perfect even though I really do not know what is going on or understand what He is doing (or not doing).

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll see green this winter.

 

 

Plastic Tubs of Memories

Basements have never been a part of my overseas homes so having one as part of my present rental feels extravagant.  A concrete floor, plastic draped ceiling and cement blocked walls make up the environment for the washer and dryer (another item I never had before), my bike, various gardening items and shovels, and a number of big plastic tubs.  These plain tubs are labeled with dates or words. They consist of memories from my six decades of life.  Other tangible memories can be found in my office’s filing cabinet, perhaps the most significant being letters I wrote by hand from overseas to my mother and are now in my possession.  Digital photos and emails are also floating around in cyberspace somewhere or stored on an external hard drive. But the tubs are the most obvious because they are tangible, labeled and rather organized.

I have downsized considerably over the years, so it amuses me to see the tubs and consider: That’s my life.   Baby Clothes (that looked like they were never used), Photos, Slides, Yearbooks, Journals, Diaries, Artwork, Report Cards, Diplomas,  Sympathy Cards, Birthday Cards, and more.

On-sale-at-Walmart plastic tubs with hand-written labels on equally cheap note paper.  Generally organized by years or categories.

But life isn’t like that.  And so, memories aren’t either. My life and memories don’t fit into organized plastic tubs with labels.

These summery days I hear the locusts screeching as the summer heat of the day cranks up and I’m transported to the hot days in northern China where the cicadas were so loud and shrill that they would practically hurt my ears.

The humid weather and bursts of rain from towering thunderheads remind me of the weather of Hong Kong and life with perspiration and typhoons and wet feet.

My backyard zinnias in the USA here are huge and thriving, and I am reminded of the pathetic zinnias I tried growing in a small plot of dry, poor soil in my one China apartment complex, and then the thrill I and the neighbors had when miniscule  flowers appeared on fragile, spindly stems.

When I go to buy fruit and vegetables at the farm stands nearby here I still struggle paying so much knowing that years ago I would pay a fraction of the cost for the same or similar produce overseas.

About a year ago I had a Chinese friend come for a visit, and in a trip to Canada next week I may be able to see a Chinese friend there.  My worlds merge and separate.

Memories fly from place to place, from year to year, from person to person, intertwining, backtracking, looking ahead, analyzing, comparing, and enjoying.  The memories don’t just stay in a box.  Perhaps it’s a reflection about how my mind work– how our brains are wired! A memory jumps to another, smells, sights and sounds activate a series of memories that race back and forth and trigger other memories and even create new ones.  It’s no wonder that my dreams are filled with a  combination of people and places and situations that could not possibly happen  in real life.

Plastic tubs of memories. 

I visualize how true memories could be stored–  tubs labeled by dates but then strings would link people, events, photos, journals found in the tubs. They could be strings of different colors perhaps symbolizing emotions or importance.  This tangled mess of colored strings emerging and entering plastic tubs would discourage any suggestion of organization, but perhaps then this would be the picture of what memories really are–all so intricately connected in very complicated ways, yet mysteriously beautiful and intriguing.

Three Years Back

Three years ago I was in the midst of packing and repacking bags as I came down to the last days of my China life. Thankfully I was able to leave many household items for the new resident of my apartment — an expatriate teacher who would need everything.  Nevertheless, my cherished house plants needed to find new homes, and I continued the emotional interactions of good-byes and last talks and meals with friends. My checklist shrank and grew as I would tick off a finished task but then add a new one.

Settling into life in the USA after decades overseas would be hard.  I knew it would be and was forewarned.  And I could make a quite a long list why it is so difficult and continues to be so.

But, today I thought, why don’t I reflect on, for lack of a better descriptor, the good things I have encountered these past three years back in the USA?  So, I will do my best to keep my naturally melancholy heart less vocal and my pessimistic thinking less obvious , and will not try to give into the temptation to add a cynical remark.

Family:   Within these last three years,  I have been at the bedside of my mother and now recently my sister when they gave their last breaths.  Many overseas workers don’t have that sacred honor of spending the last days and hours with a loved one on earth.

I also have had that deep joy of holding two  great nephews soon after their birth.  This delight I don’t take lightly as I am reminded that many years ago I had to wait over two years to meet their mother, my niece,  who I never held as a baby.  She didn’t come on time, so I had to board my plane without being able to see her as a newborn.  However, looking back, perhaps God knew it would have been harder for me to see her, hold her and then leave right away.

Nature:  Clean air and blue skies with the changing panorama of clouds, multitudes of flowers with every hue and shape, green woods full of trees and wildlife, streams that wind and water, and the rolling fields of corn, wheat and/or soybeans will always touch my soul in a deep way.   I now nurture my own flower garden outside, experimenting with species and colors, cursing the beetles and worms, and pleading for rain, and am awed how plants grow and flourish, bloom and die.  Houseplants sustain the green within my home and during the winter months,  they hint of hope for life ’til springtime.

Convenience:  I can drive around most of the time without much care of the weather.  My car is conveniently steps away from my apartment’s front door.  I have room in my car, trunk, and can fill it without thinking how I’m going to get it on my bike.  Shopping carts are available, and I can push the cart right to my car and unload.  When driving, I can expect most people to follow the laws.

I can make an appointment by phone call for the doctor, dentist, beautician, and am expected to be there.  I can get service at a bank or the post office or grocery store after lining up, and many places will even up another line/cash register/window to keep people from waiting.

I blend in quite well around here, so I actually seem quite invisible.

I am expected to pay the price of the item or produce at the farm market as labeled.

Different Worldview:  I have a different outlook on life that has been shaped from living as a foreigner in a different culture.   I know what it’s like to be a minority.  I have a belief system that has been become more sensitive and attuned to what real truth is based on what God’s Word –the Bible– says and not only what my upbringing and culture has taught me.

And as I writing this, I’m realizing, the list may not end.   These past three years have been HARD but there has been a lot of GOOD, a lot of GOOD.  And I smile.

 

 

Writing Again

A writer’s block: “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing” appears on my phone’s screen when Googling its definition.   I have done some writing these past few months: a few draft posts sit on this website and homework assignments were done for an online course.  But writing here is of a different genre and  how to proceed stumps me.  So, perhaps I need to start somewhere, and thus, I begin with a list.

Things that happened these past few months I could write I about if I choose to do so:

  • a cool gorgeous spring that has produced lush, green plants, trees, and flowers and even blooms from plants that didn’t do much last year
  • a third-time experiment on my flower beds –moving perennials around and picking different colors for annuals  (and finally knowing the difference)
  • an unexpected and unplanned end of a part-time job which taught me much in many areas
  • a continual understanding of Gerontology (“the scientific study of old age, the process of aging, and the particular problems of old people”) and dementia with the desire to get a job in this field
  • the soon completion of 3 years back in the USA and still wondering what my place and role is here
  • the realization that my life will always have to be one of trust and faith in the One who says He loves me and who knows what will happen even though I can’t seem to figure things out
  • the insights, life lessons and questions I have as I take my time pondering verses in the Pentateuch and other parts of the Bible
  • the amazement of new birth and life with the arrival of my second great-nephew and the fun of a 2 1/2 year old exploring life and language
  • the finality and sadness of death with the departure to heaven of my sister, Janice, whose burial was yesterday

So, I desire to begin writing again, and just maybe this will get me going.

 

Sitting Among Pots of Meat

“There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted . . .”

What?? You have to be kidding.  But that’s what they said.  The whole community of Israelites had just left Egypt where they were slaves.  God sent Moses to lead His people out of captivity and eventually to Canaan– “The Promised Land.”  He used ten supernatural plagues to show His power and to convince, or rather force,  Pharaoh to let His people go.  God also miraculously parted a huge body of water to allow His people to flee from Pharaoh’s army, and then destroyed that army with the same water.  Anyone familiar with the Bible know of these stories.  The people then sang, danced and praised God for his power and deliverance from their enemies.

But 2 1/2 months after these events the people are complaining that they have nothing to eat in the desert and they wished they had died in Egypt.  And they actually recalled that they sat around pots of meat and ate all the food they wanted in that land.

Did they forget they were slaves?

They actually sat around? What slaves would have the time or freedom to sit around?  In fact, the Pharaoh thought they were lazy when they talked of worshipping their God and then increased their workload.

They had pots of meat? I may be wrong but I’m guessing in ancient times, only the wealthy could afford large portions of meat.   Poor people may be able to afford a little meat and maybe only for special occasions.  But slaves?  The ones on the bottom of the social ladder?  I can’t imagine they tasted much meat at all.

And they ate all the food they wanted?  I doubt that. I just don’t think they had a lot of food.  Or owned much of anything. They were slaves!

So why did they say this? I’ve been thinking about it and wondering. . .  is it because their former life seemed so much easier than what they were facing now?  Perhaps they forgot that they did not have meat and unlimited food.  But they did have stability, security, predictability in many ways.

They probably had a roof over their heads, and every day was a long work day with maybe a few breaks for rest and nourishment if they were fortunate.  They knew the routine.  They knew the people around them.  They knew it would be like this for the rest of their lives.  It was the life of a slave. It was predictable.

But now they were no longer slaves.  They were free!  And they had a new life. But they weren’t so sure it was a better life.

It was an unknown life.  With an unknown future.

They saw incredible miracles and yet they didn’t really know this God who sent all kinds of plagues on their enemies, killed babies and soldiers, and provided a dry path in the middle of the sea and deliverance from slavery.

He was leading them by a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day. And the human leaders, actually two brothers,  that this God had picked out, seemed very unsuitable and had questionable backgrounds. Moses was not eloquent, was easily angered and as a youth he was a prince, then an exiled murderer, and finally  ended up for decades as a shepherd among foreigners.

And now here they were all in the middle of desert with no water, food and an unknown destination.

All at once, the life they knew of a slave morphed into an imaginary pampered life they had never experienced.  It seemed so much better than the present.

And it seemed so much easier than this life of unknown they were now facing.

And it seemed simpler than trying to have faith in a God they didn’t really know and were afraid to know.

I shake my head in amazement and puzzlement.  Yet I stop and think.  Wait, a minute,  I, too, do the same.  I would rather stay in a place or situation I know, or long for the past or the life I once knew, then to move on in faith.  It’s human to feel that way. But the fact is, my past life is gone. And it is not as perfect or painless as I may remember.  And so I must realize that God wishes for me to move ahead in faith, a step at a time, and to know and experience Him in deeper and different ways than before.  And not to complain or dwell in the past that never really happened. I can’t say it’s easy, but then who said life would be easy?

 

Plastic Eggs and Horse Baskets

About an hour given to shop at the superstore.  Who knows when the last time she was in a store with so many choices.  At 90+ you don’t go running around much, especially if you’re in a wheelchair.  With a gift card in hand and a glance to my watch, I figured that we had about 60 minutes to look around, buy some items, get checked out and then meet the others .  I was not a shopper but thankfully I was familiar with the store and knew generally where things were.

However, I realized quickly that I would not be following my normal procedure:  I would not be zooming the aisles with my cart in an attempt to get my stuff and get out as soon as possible and onto more important things on my to-do list.  This time was different. I was working and my responsibility was meeting the needs of the lady in my care.

We hardly got a few feet when before us was a whole section of Easter items.  Yes, a few St. Patrick things were there too since March had not quite arrived yet. But Easter had arrived in the marketing world, two months in advance.

I have looked at decorations before when picking out a few things to brighten up my sister’s room at her nursing home.  But I generally avoided the section. I preferred more natural decorations or none for the holidays.

But this time was different.  I stopped and looked and discovered new joys.   With her awes and smiles I also had to chuckle and marvel at the variety of things I did not know as a kid. I’m not sure who was more amused, my elderly friend or myself.  I saw plastic eggs of every shape and color. And we both laughed at the football and baseball shaped ones.  The artificial grass I thought only existed in pastel colors surprised me with rainbow and psychedelic colors.   Marshmallow chicks I thought were only found in pink or yellow could be a punch flavored red.  And the baskets!  I was thrilled to pick up a horse one that I would have loved as a kid.  We were both tickled by the insanely cute stuffed animals and we both loved the rocking lamb.  Memories of Easter past came flooding in.  For the elderly lady with me, she thought of candy baskets for her children and grandchildren and spring wreathes for her front door. I thought of Easter baskets full of candy hid in our home and hard-boiled eggs we would paint for egg hunts.

It was only for a short time and only among three aisles.  But I was reminded how I need to stop and cherish and share memories with others, to take the time to connect in a deep way and to enjoy simple pleasures.  To stop and “smell the roses,” they say.  To take the time to look, laugh, smell, feel, taste, and remember.  Plastic eggs and stuffed horse baskets are seasonable and perishable.  They will some day be discarded or broken.  But the imperishable items — friendships, people, memories — are the most treasured and priceless and timeless.

Reflections at 60


I turned 60 today.  So after 6 decades of life,  I think I’ve learned a few things  But I’m still learning. One of my favorite Chinese sayings (now that I’m “older”) is “one is never too old to learn” 老到学, 老到活.  So here are a few things I have learned or am learning…

I am not the center of the world.  It’s easy to think that way since I am single and live alone.  But it’s simply not true.

The most precious gifts cannot be bought.  These include people, nature, laughter, music, fun, creativity, health, community, peace and more.  Not possessions, power, entertainment, assets, etc.

People will live forever and are always more important than things.

I will take nothing with me when I die.  I was with both my father and then my mother when they breathed their last breath.  I’ll never forget the sacredness of the moment but also the stark reality that they were gone. Even the shells of their bodies were left behind as their souls left.  They took nothing with them.   So when I get possession focused, I remind myself of this.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful supernatural avenues for peace. Yet it is sadly under-used.  It’s not about the denial of wrongs but it’s about confronting the wrongs, confessing, reconciling, healing and moving on.

Hope is one of the most driving forces in humans’ hearts. When one believes that some day wrongs will be righted, life will be easier, joy will come, fulfillment will come, the game will be won,  there is a reason for all the hard things of life, then one can face anything.  But if there is no hope, one dies.  Maybe not outwardly, but inwardly.

Good health– mental, physical, emotional and spiritual –needs to be a serious goal in my life.  Modern science cannot fix everything.  Sleep and relaxation needs to be a part of that– hard for those of us who like to keep busy.

Fun and relaxation are part of life.  They should never be my goal in life but they are a healthy component of life. And I need not to feel guilty sitting down with a good book or pencil and sketchpad or walking through the woods or sitting down with a friend and chatting over a cup of coffee.

Life is about being not doing. This is hard!  I realize that I’m so performance driven.   How well I do something should not shape my identity. And what I do outwardly needs to be coming from who I am.

As a follower of Jesus and a child of God I want to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God.”  I want a heart that is like His heart which cares for those who are unreconciled to Him and for those who are marginalized in society.   I want to know Him and make Him known.

I wonder in ten years what changes I will make to this list… if I’m still around.

 

Alzheimer’s: 5 Things I’ve Learned (Thus Far)

How could my paternal grandmother take off from an isolated nursing home perched on a hill in the countryside and begin walking to an unknown destination that lingered only in her memory?  Why didn’t she ask someone to take her?  Why didn’t she even say something to someone?  Secured areas in retirement facilities and an understanding of Alzheimer’s did not exist decades ago.  I remember the questions I had and the fear as well.  Years later when my grandmother was confined in bed at the home I did not want to see her.  I knew she would not know me and in all honesty I did not want to see her either.  Years later my uncle,  my mother’s brother-in-law,  came to dinner with my aunt and another aunt and uncle. He also had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his lively personality was muffled by the confusion of the neural connections in his brain.  However unexpectedly  from a moment of a clear memory he joked about the possibility of salt in the sugar bowl which my mother had accidentally mixed up for a meal years earlier.  His words  brought tears to my aunt’s eyes and left a deep impression on my heart. I hardly knew anything about the disease at that time, yet I know now how those moments of connectedness comfort  grieving hearts, the hearts of those who watch helplessly as their loved one slowly slips away from them.

Relatives on both sides of me have grappled and are grappling with Alzheimer’s; the closest one being my mother who passed away the spring of 2015.   Possibly my sister also has it but it’s hard to determine since she’s been mentally handicapped since birth and suffers with a personality disorder.  Presently I have a part-time job that has allowed me to receive more training about dementia and also interact with those who have it.  I am finding out that oftentimes people with dementia and their families are ostracized and are found on the fringes of society.   Perhaps some of this is due to ignorance and misunderstanding of the disease.

So here are a few things I have learned — in a summary form.

1. Dementia is a group of SYMPTOMS which includes forgetfulness. Alzheimer’s  (AD) is a DISEASE that is the main cause of dementia.  And there is no cure.  Early on-set Alzheimer’s  seems to be more hereditary  (that is occurring before 65 years old) than the disease that strikes older people.

2.  Signs of AD— Simply stated: it is NOT forgetting where one’s car keys are, it’s forgetting what they are used for  or placing them in an illogical place.  Think — bizarre, strange, or unusual.  My mother would perhaps forget a name or call me by my sister’s name, and that’s okay.  Many of us mix up names. However when she would question if I was her daughter or forget I wasn’t married and had no children, that was more alarming.    There are also other telltale signs:  the inability to make change when paying for something and or to draw the face of a clock.  Handling numbers, banking, scheduling, etc. may become more difficult.  Be aware that someone else may be helping them out more in these areas than before (especially a spouse). We realized later that our sister who sometimes lived with our mother would remind her of times, days, appointments and even the right road to take.

3. Stages —  Material about Alzheimer’s will explain the stages and some are in great detail.  All kinds of resources are available online.  However the disease will affect different parts of the brain in each person, so not every stage would look exactly the same for each person.  My mother was a lively talker until she had a massive stroke.  However, the “conversation” rarely made sense even though to her it seemed to.  Once and a while she would say a sentence or phrase that was understood.  She also used Pennsylvania Dutch words which was her first language.  She eventually let others feed her when she stopped doing it herself,  but sometimes she would still talk away in between mouthfuls.  However, other AD folk may not talk at all or only a few words,  but continue to feed themselves or respond to music or a movie.

4. TriggersStrong emotions of anger, fear, sadness even laughter will erupt and sometimes it’s hard to know what the triggers are. Many times the negative ones are linked to needs not being met. But how does one figure that out? One tries to address the need whether it’s a physical need or an emotional or social need. During the earlier stages the AD person often is frustrated and scared about the cognitive abilities they are losing.  Looking back I saw many struggles my mother was having early in the disease and we did offer help and suggestions.  However, she was a stubborn and proud woman and a survivor in many ways.  Of course she didn’t want our help and got quite angry about it at times.  She finally did allow me to help her balance her checkbook– a monthly task she did flawlessly for decades.   I knew so little of AD then but now I might have done more… but then again maybe she would not have allowed me.

5.  Help Needed— Someone cannot handle the needs of an AD loved one alone.  Even during the early stages one needs family and close friends to be aware of the concern and to begin to help. Sadly many go into denial of a problem or they hide it from the very ones who may help and care.  Tests can be made to verify if something cognitively or physically is wrong. Dementia symptoms do not mean one has Alzheimer’s; a curable cause could be the problem. More and more training, support groups and resources are available for those facing Alzheimer’s.  Someone should never face it alone nor be ostracized in any way.

Churches and those who call themselves followers of Jesus should be aware of the growing number of those whose lives have been touched with Alzheimer’s.  Not only do the those who come down with the disease need love, care and encouragement but also the care-takers and their loved ones do.  These lives will never be the same.  They need community and empathy, not just sympathy or pity or prayers.

Those facing AD in the eyes and bodies of their loved ones need to cherish the moments of connection– the shared words, laughter, jokes, music, photos, and meals.  And then they should be allowed to share those moments with others who would listen and not fear or judge…  and cry and grieve … together.

Contented and Thankful–Memories Past

My first Thanksgiving away from family. Wearing summery clothing, the tropical air surrounded me as I sat on the floor with a plate full of traditional food in front of me–turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes,– the whole works. The table was not big enough for all of us so I made my chair my table as did some of the others.  I was surrounded by new friends and living in a new world totally different from what I had ever experienced. It was the first of countless holidays that would be different from what I grew up with.  I had signed up to teach in a small Christian school on the island of Puerto Rico after graduating from college in 1980. One of the teacher’s family lived in the capital and had us over for Thanksgiving. Sitting in front of my feast and tasting many familiar foods  I felt content.  I missed being with my family but I realized my colleagues also missed their families and somehow that soothed our hearts and bonded us together.  We decided to accept each others’ friendships (and food) that day as beautiful substitutes which would create new holiday memories.  We ate, laughed and talked.  No, we could not tell stories from past celebrations which we never shared, but we could talk of the present and… enjoy and be content with that.

Never again did I share a Thanksgiving with those same people but that day began a list of  many unique and special holidays which followed…

–My last Thanksgiving as a family, before I headed to Asia in 1983.  It was an early Christmas for me too at my brother and his wife’s first home.  But also it turned out to be the last time our whole family was all together before our parents divorced and thanksgivingbegan separate lives.

–Thanksgiving celebrations in Hong Kong with teammates making delicious dinners in tiny kitchens with even tinier toaster size ovens and large Chinese woks.   Also the fun of sharing American traditional Thanksgiving foods with local Chinese friends who would bravely taste the new foods.   Mashed potatoes were always a great hit.

Then as I headed to Mainland China the celebrations continued.  Finding the right foods we cherished for our American  Thanksgiving meals even in the capital during the early ’90s was one of many challenges.  When they were found and not too costly, transporting the goods without a car became quite an adventure. Bikes were the most common transportation mode those days since buses were often too crowded and taxis were hard to find. Small kitchens provided both amusement and frustration as we would juggle a limited assortment of pots and pans on one or two burner stoves and in toaster ovens, all the time fearing the fuse would blow or the electric wires and sockets would melt.

But oh the fun!   The meals those days were more international and creative.  We Americans got to introduce one of our favorite holidays with other expatriates.  An early one I remember while living in a filthy dorm for foreign students was spearheaded by an Aussie couple who wanted to make a traditional American Thanksgiving. (The husband enjoyed cooking!).  Others joined in and we had a wonderful meal but I’m thinking we must have had chicken instead of turkey.   The next year or so as a teacher I joined other foreign friends for a huge potluck meal in a small apartment.  That one included chicken from a western restaurant that had recently opened  as well as all kinds of hot dishes and desserts — some locally bought, others shared from care packages sent from the States.  (I remember sharing about Thanksgiving with my Chinese students then but I don’t remember sharing food with them at that time; Christmas cookie making was an easier tradition to do with them.)

There was also another well-remembered Thanksgiving celebration shared  with a Finnish-Dutch couple and an Chinese-Australian lady.  Another American gal and I figured out how to make two stuffed chickens with our little ovens. I can still remember vividly the two of us standing in front of a table with a cookbook opened for directions  (years before Google), two small raw chickens in front of us and  then realizing we didn’t have a string or thick thread to sew up the chickens after stuffing them.   We refused to waste our precious dental floss (probably impossible to buy there at that time), so instead my friend went to the front desk of the building (housing for foreigners on campus)  and got some string from the gal in charge.  Neither of us had ever done anything like this before and were delighted that some time later the chickens turned out cooked and delicious from our little ovens.  Also for that meal we could not decide what pies to make.  Her husband loved all kinds of pies.  So we ended up with: pecan, pseudo-pumpkin, coconut cream, chocolate cream, banana cream, and apple.  I made the apple and pumpkin pie (out of sweet potatoes) and she did the rest with ingredients she had gathered or had been given.  I think we all felt a bit guilty with all the desserts  (basically a pie a person),  but it was a memory we will always have… and never repeat.

Not all Thanksgivings overseas were great. I remember living in one city when Thanksgiving was approaching and having no invitation for dinner that evening.  And I was not new and also there were a lot of Americans around. Perhaps an oversight of others but still it was really hard.  I’d rather not think about it but it has made me more aware of those who may not have a place to go on Thanksgiving.

So now I’m back in the USA and I have had a place to go these last three years.  My sister-in-law’s family has invited me over and I have enjoyed a truly delicious traditional meal– American all the way.  There’s even the Macy’s Parade on TV and American football.  So even though I miss the international atmosphere, the mixture of various backgrounds and unshared histories and  even the adventure of finding foods  and making them (although for me personally to make a turkey would be quite challenging),  I  am learning that even here and now God wants me to be thankful and content. And I am.  But I can’t help but think about what future Thanksgivings may be like.