Category Archives: Life

Zhongguo and Meiguo

My brain is all over the place lately, which makes sitting down to write a challenge. When I’m like this, reading is usually the best way to get myself settled. It seems kind of like a seasonal thing for me; the dramatic shifts between winter and spring and fall and winter appear to unsettle me somehow. I grew up in Florida, so it doesn’t seem like such an odd thing, if I think about it. It takes time for the body to adjust to the new. Although after twelve years, you’d think I’d have it by now…

I just finished reading Simon Winchester’s book, The Man Who Loved China, and I have found myself wondering about all kinds of things that came up in the writing.  (I highly recommend the book.) One thing that I was pondering today was the–seemingly human?–behavior of changing the name of a country so that it fits your own country’s language. For example, in the English-speaking world, we call China, well, China. But in China it is called Zhongguo, and America is Meiguo.  The Finnish call their country Suomi, but in English it is Finland. This seems to be more common than not, which puzzles me a bit.

I think it might have particularly stuck in my mind because last Saturday we had friends (a father and his daughter) over for dinner, and the teenager half of the friends goes to a school with quite a few Chinese exchange students. She mentioned that most of them choose “American” names for their time here. I questioned this, and my husband suggested that it was pretty normal teenage behavior: they want to fit in rather than stick out. He then recounted a story of this first job, busing tables at a Chinese restaurant. When the owner introduced himself, he gave his Chinese name and then said, “But you can call me Vince!”  His name in Chinese was difficult for Americans, so he made it easier for them.

Admittedly, the idea of having a different name for a different place is kind of appealing. When we travel or move to a new location, it’s an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, and a new name can be part of that. But I think more often than not, and this is a totally unscientific opinion, people change their names because it’s harder for the people of the new country to pronounce foreign names. And this seems like kind of a shame to me. Names are important; they’re a big part of who we are, whether or not we think very much about it. It feels…almost disrespectful, I guess…that we might not take the time to learn how to say someone’s name in his or her own language.

I’m probably over-thinking this, as I often do with things I wonder about.

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Look out for each other

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I am thinking a lot about perception and kindness today. I had some time this afternoon to be busy with my hands and let my mind wander while I was getting seed-starting trays ready to go (outside! in the sun!). It’s one of the things I love about gardening or making a recipe that I know by heart; while my hands are engaged in mechanical tasks, my brain explores all kinds of ideas. I often wind up with answers to questions I’ve been asking.

But today, my brain probably went to kindness because we had Easter brunch at our neighbors’, and then later in the day, when I’d dropped Larry off at the airport, one of those neighbors knew I’d be mopey and came by to chat over a beer on the patio. She even brought the beer! I got to thinking about how in all the places I’ve lived, I’ve most felt the recipient of sincere, invested kindness here. That’s not to say that people in the other places weren’t kind–of course they were. But in this small town, people look out for each other in a way I’ve never experienced elsewhere.

This line of thought led me to the idea of perception, and how whether or not something is actually true matters less than whether or not we perceive it to be true. I have a pretty good memory, but who’s to say I’m not forgetting a place that was just as or more kind than here?  Whether I am or not makes no real difference, because my perception is that kindness is in steady and plentiful supply here, (for which I am eternally grateful).

The idea that perception is usually more important than reality led me to wondering about so many of the awful things in the news lately. I can be a bit Pollyanna sometimes, and so I got to thinking that perhaps if we all chose to perceive each other as equals and worthy and valuable, maybe whether it was really true wouldn’t matter. We’d act on our perceptions, and the Golden Rule of “Treat others as you wish to be treated” would be so much more achievable.

Pollyanna or not, I’m going to work much harder at perceiving everyone around me, even the man running up the back of my legs with his shopping cart or the woman tail-gaiting me down the mountain, as worthy and valuable. If nothing else, I think it will make me feel better.

Which brought me back to kindness. There was a meme going around some time ago that was something to the effect of, “Kindness is like compost. Spread that sh*t around.” And suddenly, I’d come full-circle to that gardening work I was doing with my hands.

Jumbled wire

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Since Larry and I bought our house in the North Country, we’ve logged a lot of miles on 93 and 89 north. For most of the ride, the view is of trees and rock faces and fields, but every so often there are glimpses of New England towns, old farmhouses, and two-lane country roads that turn a bend and disappear into the trees.

Some of the farmhouses that we pass are oldoldold, and one of my favorite things to do is imagine who built them. I wonder about who has lived in them over the years, and what life was like in them before electricity, plumbing, and phone lines reached these out-of-the-way places.  I like to picture the kids trudging out in the morning to milk the cows before school, then coming in to a warm breakfast and a lunch pail all ready for them.

Obviously, my memories are heavily influenced by Little House on the Prairie and Caddie Woodlawn

The land we walked with our neighbor on Sunday used to be part of the farm that our house is on, and it was amazing to learn that an always wet area on the north side of a trail used to be a spring house, and the barbed wire we see occasionally was used to hold in cows. It’s particularly amazing because when you look at the land behind our house, it’s all wooded. It’s sometimes hard to imagine all of that space cleared and used as pasture. I often wonder why whoever stopped farming decided it was time to end it. I used to wonder when, but apparently it was sometime just before the 1960s, which means that the woods have had over 50 years to fill back in.

There’s something comforting, but at the same time hollow-feeling, about the fact that in such a short time, nature has all but erased what humans did there. The only pieces left of the spring house are some jumbled wire and a small pile of rotting wood. It’s enough to get the imagination fired up, though.

(The photo of the original-renovated-barn is a few years old. We don’t have any snow right now; in fact, the grass looks like it’s starting to green. Almost all of the trees in the photo are from within the last 50 years.)

Enduring good

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“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.”

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

It is easy to watch the news or scroll through Facebook or read the paper–however we get our news–and think that humanity is just plain doomed. And in a sense, we are. As of right now, no one gets to live forever, so we all carry our own little seed of doom around with us. Humans are bad for the planet and we’re bad for each other. According to the news, the only thing we’re particularly good at is destruction.  There is truth here, but it certainly isn’t the whole truth.

Someone shared this Estes quote with me today, and it was like being handed one of those enormous bundles of balloons that I always wished for as a child. If it could carry kids away on adventures in cartoons and storybooks, I wanted it, too. How cool would it be to soar over Mt. Everest without having to climb it…?  I haven’t yet had the opportunity to actually attach myself to a huge bunch of balloons and float away, but hopeful words like this make my brain and heart feel like they are holding tight to those strings.

When I think about all of the problems faced in just my little tiny dot of a town on the map of the world, I am overwhelmed. When I think about the problems faced in schools, in the environment, in our current political climate, in international relations…well, I’m pretty sure my mental overload meter is on red. It is too easy for me to look at the big picture, and think about how powerless I am in the face of it. Estes’s quote reminds me that I don’t have to focus on the entire Metropolitan Museum of Art, but can choose a wing to get to know.

In Estes’s quote, I hear echoes of Mother Theresa. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” We can contribute to the accumulation of acts and tip the scales toward enduring good.

 

The beautiful in the ordinary

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My friend Lee Ann has days she refers to as “pink stone days.” They are days that are magical, either because of the beautiful in the ordinary, or because they are extraordinary.

I don’t have a name for those kinds of days, but I may need to come up with one. I’ve had two of them this weekend, and it has been magical. Both yesterday and today, the sun was out bright and warm. Yesterday, we had lunch on the patio with friends, and then later walked over to check out their maple sap boiling operation (and got a half gallon of maple syrup! Tapped from the woods just to the northwest of our house!) and go out to dinner. The maple house was built by the neighbor by hand, including the wood burners under his pans. It is a beautiful building, and amazing to see the ingenuity that has gone into the set-up.

Today, we did some outdoor work, took a nice hike with the dogs, had a beer with a friend, and then we were invited by him to walk his land–over 80 acres of wooded hills and vales, with a cold, clear stream running through it.

The walk alone would have been magical, but our friend also narrated what we were seeing. Larry and I have come to rural living late in life, and don’t have the knowledge of the woods and the area around us that many of our neighbors do. When they’re willing to share that knowledge, we are willing students. We learned that where our house sits was probably once under the waters of Lake Champlain, and the ridge above and behind our house was an island. We saw a bear den, coyote den, porcupine tree, (the mound of porcupine poop around its base was about two feet tall at its highest point…needless to say, I’ve never seen anything like it) and deer skeleton that was relatively recently left by the coyotes.

We learned how to approximate the age of a deer by looking at its teeth, and to tell if a skull was male or female. He thought this one might be an approximately six to eight year old female. Her fur was scattered across an area about 25 feet long to the south of the skeleton, and our friend was able to paint us a picture of what the capture, kill, and aftermath might have looked like. It sounds gruesome, but when it is in this kind of setting, where wildlife lives a wild life, it just seems natural (if a little sad).

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There is no doubt in my mind that when I can spend time outside in the sunshine, I am a happier person. To have the opportunity to be with friends and our dogs, learn new things, relax with a few beers on the patio, and enjoy each others company made this a “surrounded by the beautiful in the ordinary” kind of weekend.

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You wish you were this sexy…

On the list of topics for my blog, I’d have to say that my upper lip has not always been high up there. But since it’s about three times its normal size right now, it’s kind of the center of my attention.

This isn’t the first time this has happened; December and January saw some inflating, though not quite as impressive as today’s. The first time, I was picking up groceries at a local drop for a Wholeshare group I belong to and then taking the dogs for a walk.  I popped a mint into my mouth, and it seemed that within seconds, it felt like a knot formed at the center of my lip and then the left side swelled up. I thought it might be the mint, so I stayed away from them, and then a few days later, the same thing happened. This time there was a variation, and the right side of the lip swelled. A few weeks later, the whole lip.  Still no mints, so I decided that wasn’t it and started eating them again.

I went through the rest of January, all of February, and nine days in March without it happening, so I was surprised when I felt that knot forming again this morning. It happened right after licking the spoon I used to measure out walnut oil into my salad dressing, so maybe it’s walnuts? I can’t remember if I had been eating them the first few times.  I hope it’s not that. Think of all those plant-based omega-3’s I’ll miss out on if I’m allergic to walnuts! (Of course, that’s my first concern. It has nothing to do with all of the brownies with walnuts that I’ll have to miss out on…)

As far as allergic reactions go–or whatever this is; I’m not convinced it’s an allergy–this doesn’t seem too bad. It’s not painful, just mildly uncomfortable. The worst part is having to go out in public, but given the fact that a lot of the public seems hell-bent on nominating The-Toupee-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for president, I might not mind interacting with them a bit less right now. The swelling lasts less than 24 hours, and an enforced day at home…well, the punishment doesn’t seem so bad.

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Wouldn’t you know, though? This doozy (it’s the worst one so far) happened the same day that I get to see my husband for the first time in almost two weeks. Oh well, some women pay for lips like this, right? I can tell him I’m testing it out before I pay to get both of them done.

Repurpose

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Despite the cookie-cutter set-up of each show, (which is true of all of the reality shows on television) I find I have been completely sucked in by “Fixer Upper” on HGTV. Joanna and Chip make me laugh, and the houses they re-do are just beautiful when completed. If Larry and I ever win the lottery, I’m going to see if I can convince them to come renovate our garage.

One of the things I like so much about the show is how they try to repurpose as many materials as they can. The table in the picture is from a shop I was in with friends this past Saturday, and I loved the use of old doors. I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with the two doors against the wall, but I think turning lovely old doors and table legs into new pieces always looks so pretty.

I wish I had more confidence about my ability to do those kinds of things. If I could just get the mind-set of, “If it doesn’t work, take it apart and start over,” it would help.  It’s funny, because that’s how I approach gardening and cooking, and I approached lesson-planning that way. I just haven’t been able to extend that to things that require a hammer, nails, and paint.  Maybe I need to add it to the list of things to tackle.