Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adventures in Marriage

One of the things Mom and I bonded with before she died was our marriages to men who were from other cultures. Besides our green eyes and fair skin, this was one of the few things we had in common. My Hawaiian father has a few eccentricities that can only be explained by his Hawaiian-ness. My mom had a few stories as they both had to make some compromises in their early years of marriage as they not only dealt with their divergent backgrounds, but also the cross cultural communication. When I got old enough to notice this theme in our family, it was no longer a big deal to them, but they settled into a oneness that transcended their differences.

When I married Dennis, who had originated in Quebec, Canada, I took the cultural difference factor for granted during our engagement. Dennis is a naturalized citizen and lived in the states as a young boy before his father settled in New Richmond, a village on the Gaspe Peninsula at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, where generations of LeBlancs flourished since the late 1600's. After living with his mom for one year in Maine and graduating from an American high school, my husband went into U.S. military service and graduated with two American bachelors degrees (in four years).I looked up relating cross culturally in our old marriage preparation books and notes. It never came up. And no one who mentored us or counseled us during our engagement ever broached the subject.

Soon after marriage, though, I noticed that Dennis was weird. He didn't know some things that I took for granted about the history and culture of the United States. And some things I grew up learning from my mom, seemed to be new to Dennis. A visit to his parents' home in Quebec a few months after we married explained every thing. Due to lack of funds and time, I didn't get to meet his family during our engagement and they weren't able to cross the country to Washington state for our wedding, so this vital information about his background was regulated to the phone up till then. The only thing I observed was they had thick French accents, and his beautiful step-mom, who was English and learned French later, sounded like Maureen O'Hara. During this visit, I realized that my husband was more French Canadian than he let on, and even though he didn't have brown skin and come from an island off the North American continent, he was just as culturally different to me as Dad was to Mom's German American midwestern background. As I walked around New Richmond and went to family gatherings, I stuck out as much as my white mother did on the backroads of the island of Maui in '60's before the tourists took over.

I had to make some adjustments to Dennis that were bigger than I realized. I took french classes at the local community college. I broadened my reading to include Canadian history and politics. I learned about the sessionist movement in Quebec, which echoed the one in Hawaii. And Mom helped me by advising me to embrace Dennis in his French Canadian heritage and ways that were so different than he and I both knew. Hearing her stories about trying to relate to Dad's family helped me in trying to relate to my in-law's. And the fact that my father only had one or two family members attend the wedding assauged my grief that I didn't get to see Den's family at ours.

And as I think about this, I appreciate my mother all the more as I remember that her parents were both German American first generation citizens born in the states as my great-grandparents on both sides immigrated roughly in the same decade around the turn of the century and settled and farmed in the Dakotas. There was no one there to comfort Mom with stories about resolving conflicts that arise from being raised in two dissimiliar worlds, or teach her how to appreciate a totally different perspective that arises from a another culture, like she comforted me.

When we first married, our pastor in California was fond of making the comment that marriage was hard enough without making it harder by marrying someone from a different culture or race. He even said this in front of our congregation at farewell for an elder and his wife from South America (as a college student, they met in Argentina because his parents were missionaries and he was raised there all his life--like all missionary kids, he was more Argentinian than American and spoke Spanish fluently). Although he was right about that, he missed the bigger picture. I think that over time, the rough edges of the differences smooth out, and a oneness occurs that would be unimaginable at the beginning. The oil and vinegar does eventually blend into something much better than if tasted separately, albeit there is much shaking involved. For Dennis and me, as well as the elder and his wife, we have an emulsifier like lecithin (food science alert) that keeps salad dressings from separating. Our emulsifier is our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, we have much in common. When we learned that in our relationship, it spills over into other areas of our lives.

While on our Memorial weekend experience with the Korean students, I overheard my husband share with a young man that his approach to something he isn't used to in another culture is that it isn't wrong or bad, just different. And different is actually quite nice sometimes. Hmmm, how did he learn that?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Please Meet...

Laura Story Elvington. She is one of the worship leaders at Perimeter Church in Duluth, GA and the writer who was inspired by the Book of Job and penned my favorite hymn "Indescribable" recorded by Chris Rice. Enjoy the video about this gifted woman and her CD "Great God Who Saves".

Monday, May 25, 2009

Let Me Introduce You To...

Saugatuck Spice Merchants. I encouraged HyeSun to ditch the husband and the kids at the park for half an hour and escape with me to the best little culinary experience in the United States. The staff was wonderful ly informative and the products were amazing--just like the last time I was there four years ago, and HyeSun and I bonded over Bamboo rice, purple sticky rice and green tea, as well as cocoa nibs and coffee BBQ rubs. Run, do not walk, to the nearest store. Fortunately, there is one in Ann Arbor.

The experience was much different than at American Spoon. The staff there tended to just replenish the tasting spoons and crackers, they didn't engage with any of the customers about what made their products special. Worse than that, they seemed to be annoyed by all the customers who dropped in the store to sample their wares. It was as though we owed them something. As well-known as they seem to be, (there have been some rave reviews on their website/mail order business), I've seen the same snobby attitude from all their salespeople in other stores around the state. I have purchased some items, but not many. While I liked what I bought, I haven't felt enthusiastic about the company nor anyone representing it. Not enough to tell a good mother and wife to abandon her children for a few precious minutes with a grumpy husband.

But I did purchase items at both places. My friend, HyeSun, with a more discriminating palate than I, bought only at one, where the clerk did not treat her as an inconvenience and actually smiled at her. The other place had two people stand there behind the counter, making catty remarks. One of them noted my company's logo on my hat and wondered where in town I could possibly be working. I told her I was from out of town, but my store is reasonably busy. She made some comment about how tough that was, and I said, no. It wasn't. I've done it for 10 years. I just happen to be good at what I do and I also happen to like people. The other clerk just turned around with his back to me.

And I nearly said....that I sell a hell of a lot more in two hours than you could possibly sell all week, I bet but I think I said enough already.

Cross Cultural Adventures in Michigan

We spent Memorial weekend with four 20-something International students from Korea as well as a Korean doctorate scholar and his family. There were several levels of English comprehension on their part and only one level of Korean competence on ours (zero). A couple from our church offered the use of their cabin by Lake Michigan, and we brought our golden retriever, Ginger, who doesn't understand Korean either.

The young students haven't been here long, and so everything is new to them. SanGuon and his family have been in Michigan for four years and have never had a chance to do something like this before. We had the pleasure of learning new things about Korea, a few Korean phrases and customs, as well as learning to do everything together. We also delighted in eating traditional Korean dishes--there was community cooking everyday.

We also saw things through a different perspective as we introduced some American customs, games, and helped with English along the way. When I mentioned that many places had Native American names in Michigan, their first response was to ask where were these people. The second question that always follows is to usually ask what the name of Saugatauk or Michigan means. We couldn't answer those questions, to our embarrassment. We take too much for granted.

What surprised us was their sensitivity to the fact that we were the minority. Technically, we were the hosts but they often went out of their way to make us feel at home around them. One mentioned to me while we were out to visit a resort town, that she noticed that nearly everyone was white wherever we went with them over the weekend. I took that for granted, too. In a university setting, there is more diversity. But it seems that the further west you went, or north, for that matter, the more homogeneously white it became. I never saw it like that before.

In most ways, the weekend was what we expected it to be--fun, relaxing and an opportunity to get to know each other better. SanGuon and his energetic wife, HyeSun, are wondering if they are meant to have a collegiate ministry back home, and this was a good opportunity to see if it would be a good fit for them as a couple (I think they were amazing). HyeSun will a board member of the International student fellowship's planning committee this year. SanGuon meets with Korean male students every week for a bible study. So, Dennis and I are excited that SanGuon and HyeSun are considering how to serve God in a deeper way for His Great Commission.

And for us, we benefitted in learning more about cross-cultural relationships and communication, and we are also considering how to serve God in a deeper way in this capacity. And it's just plain fun for us to hear a Korean equivalent to "Wow" every once in awhile to something we see and experience every day.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It Was Twelve!

Teach Me To Dance

While we lived in California, I was involved with PWOC, a military wives' Christian fellowship. One of the older women taught us how to dance the Jewish style group dance during our worship time. I've since forgotten unti I watched the last scene of Zorba the Greek.

Zorba and the younger man just lost everything in a disasterous attempt to re-start an abandoned mine that the young man inherited. As they survey the damage in shock, the young man asks Zorba to teach him to dance. Basically, he is really asking the older man how to live. How to have joy that trancends circumstances. And Zorba is more than happy to teach him.

In our focus to fulfill the Great Commission, it's more than just teaching bible facts and principles. It also involves living those truths everyday, and how God's truth shapes our hearts. Are we truly living? In a time of seeing economic realities we never imagined a year ago, are we willing to learn how to dance?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More Pink Martini

In English:

My room is a cage

The sun streams through the window,

the bellhops are at my door like

those little soldiers who want to take me away.


I don't want to work,

I don't want to lunch

I only want to forget and so I smoke.

Long ago I knew the smell of love,

a million roses didn't smell as sweet.

Now a single flower in my way makes me sick.


I am not proud of this life that wants to kill me.

It's magnificent to be sympatico

but I have never known this.


In the English version, something is obviously missing. And the Pink Martini video isn't much help in retrieving what is lost in translation, but it is fun in an "Animal Crackers" sort of way.

It does reminds me what some students may go through when they are learning English as a Second Language.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Coffee Girl

The Coffee Girl is located in Astoria, Oregon (I've been there visiting my brother and his family). Enjoy the video, music by Pink Martini. My coworker called me "Hey, Coffee Girl!" yesterday, and it reminded me of this place.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

About Last Night...

Last night, I led a discussion for our small group on Jerry Bridge's "The Pursuit of Holiness". It was a lively time, and everyone had something to share about chapter 8. It was unique for me, because I don't usually lead bible study for men and women together. I did it a few times a while back about 12 years ago, but the feedback about my style was that I was too "touchy feely". The guys wanted to discuss weightier theology and I kept bringing it back to how the passage applied to real life. The women and I were ready to declare civil war and secede from the union.

The only way, I figured out, to have a mixed group discussion is if men were allowed to contribute as men and if women were allowed to be women, and we all agreed to learn from the other. But I wasn't going to be persuaded to lead such a group again. Until last night. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it was decidedly different than leading an all women's group. I had a feeling, though, that everyone was holding back because they were in mixed company, especially when I dropped the bomb "Have you ever gone through re-training yourself to break disobedience in your life and what was it like for you?"

The crickets were chirping loudly in the background.

I have the opportunity to lead chapter 9's discussion and I've decided to include a new group dynamic where we do break into men's and women's smaller groups with questions for each group. I think that when it comes to talking about sin, we feel better being with others that we feel would understand us. The goal is to encourage each other to a deeper obedience and a closer walk with God.

I have more to share about women in church leadership, but maybe later.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ground Zero

When I was a kid, my bike was my ticket to freedom every summer. I rode it to the library, to the pool and to the store. Or just around town. Now I'm in my mid-40's, and I'm still riding my bike to the library, to the pool and to the store.

Yesterday, I rode my mountain bike to the YMCA about 2 miles away and swam a half mile, then rode my bike back home. It took me about an hour and 15 minutes, including the shower and talking with Vicki in the hallway, a customer at the 'Bucks. It was a perfect spring early evening with a temperature around 70 and sunshine. Too nice not to be outside.

During my ride home, I discovered the heady scent of the blooming crabapple trees, including the one growing under highway 96 that no one sees. Since it was the dinner rush hour, I smelled the french fries at the Wendy's, navigated around the traffic jam around KFC and sailed past the steak house, Applebees and Pizza Hut and took a right at the liquor store where there was another traffic jam. I peddled past the old homes on Miller Road, noticed which ones are slowly disintergrating and others that are being kept up.

I wonder how my neighborhood is enduring the economic storm right now, and it seems some are doing better than others. I usually drive by these places every day, but a bike ride is slow enough to reveal the details that are often missed. Some of the older houses are always looking pristine and some are always dumps, but there are a lot that hit around the middle. These were frequently showing a few signs of lack of maintainence like a coat of paint, mulch, broken gutter, or weeds for a garden. But the old bungalows were still presentable, and sooner or later the much needed chore got attended to. But now the homes are not aging well. The economic realities are more apparent, people don't have the time or the money to for the annual coat of paint to keep up appearences even casually.

At work, I meet a lot of people and I have noticed a change in them as well. The worried wife who shared with me about her husband not rebounding from getting laid off last October. The professional who used to come in everyday dressed in a suit now in his sweats. The stay at home mom who used to come in everyday for her elaborate customized drink only comes in a few times a week. And not as many high schoolers either--I gather that their weekly allowances for blended coffee drinks are getting cut back as well.

And then I'm reminded that I live in ground zero of our country's economic crisis, that most of it is basically in my back yard. Only it has been a subtle downslide. There isn't a big difference all at once, like maybe California. It's always been bad around here. I am very thankful that we have jobs, but I also am aware that things could eventually change from just getting by to not getting along at all. If I am not affected directly, then I expect to be affected indirectly.

I was at the grocery store last week and opened a door in the refridgerated section to get a carton of eggs. When I turned back to my cart, the lady standing behind me told me that she was disappointed in me. I looked around and realized that the tall, stern black woman was reprimanding me. She asked me why I thought she was saying that. I had no idea. She said that I turned my back to my purse sitting in my grocery cart, and asked me if I had any idea how often purses get snatched in this particular store. I didn't. She said it happened every day, and in fact it happened to her a few days ago and showed me how she now keeps her purse attached to her shoulder. I made some foolish rationalizations and she put me straight. These are hard times and my one dollar bill is someone else's million dollars. I felt like an idiot but I thanked her for being my guardian angel. She smiled and told me that she knows that God put her on the earth to bless others. I agreed that she was certainly a blessing.

She shook me up and I began to notice bands of young men slip by me down the crowded aisles. I realized that they might not be shopping for groceries, but for victims. I hated to view people distrustfully like that, but my angel had reminded me that hard times force people to make bad choices. Although this is my neighborhood and my store, I am too comfortable.

The financial downturn in the rest of the country happened almost overnight, but the problems in Michigan did not. I am not expecting things to be getting better within a year or even five years. I do expect that things to get much worse, no matter how much help from the stimulus package our state accepts. Meanwhile, I will move a little slower, act a little kinder and keep my eyes wide open as well as my purse firmly on my shoulder.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Most of the Time

I boughtBob Dylan's "Tell Tale Signs" CD a few months ago. It mostly consists of alternate versions of songs already recorded, or songs left out of recordings. This is my favorite alternate version of "Most of the Time". The version that originally came out on the album "Oh, Mercy" in the 1980's had a frantic pace and annoying drum beat that was ubequitious in that era's music. This version is stripped down and slower, probably was considered old-fashioned at the time. Yet, it vindicates the fact that good music well crafted is always current. Creativity is showcased by simplicity.

While I was in high school in the '70's a visiting poet showed us what ingenuity was. He took a classmate's typical poem about a teenage break-up and by stating the opposite of every line, created a different angle and feeling of poignant anguish. Dylan does the same with "Most of the Time", by taking an event common to every human being and giving it a twist. This song addresses what to do to move on when our hearts are still stuck in the past more than we'd like to admit. Doctor Dylan's prescription is denial and a lot of it. And we all know how well that works.

Most Of The Time

Most of the time
I'm clear focused all around,
Most of the time
I can keep both feet on the ground,
I can follow the path,
I can read the signs,
Stay right with it,
when the road unwinds,
I can handle whatever I stumble upon,
I don't even notice she's gone,
Most of the time.

Most of the time
It's well understood,
Most of the time
I wouldn't change it if I could,
I can't make it all match up,
I can hold my own,
I can deal with the situation right down to the bone,
I can survive,
I can endure
And I don't even think about her
Most of the time.

Most of the time
My head is on straight,
Most of the time
I'm strong enough not to hate.
I don't build up illusion 'till it makes me sick,
I ain't afraid of confusion no matter how thick
I can smile in the face of mankind.
Don't even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time.

Most of the time
She ain't even in my mind,
I wouldn't know her if I saw her
She's that far behind.
Most of the time
I can't even be sure
If she was ever with me
Or if I was with her.
Most of the time
I'm halfway content,
Most of the time
I know exactly where I went,
I don't cheat on myself,
I don't run and hide,
Hide from the feelings, that are buried inside,
I don't compromised and I don't pretend,
I don't even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

It's All Free

Fresh from the library:

"Scarpetta" by Patricia Cornwell


"Sabrina" the original movie featuring William Holden, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn

"The Burmese Harp" directed by Kon Ichikawa

"Heart Health" by Mayo Clinic

"Basic Breaststroke Swimming Technique"

This will last me at least a week. And it won't cost a dime (as long as I get it all back on time).

Saturday, May 02, 2009

How Cooking Changed My Life

I love cooking, but if you knew me while growing up, you wouldn't have guessed that I would ever learn how to use a can opener. Mom gave me simple jobs in the kitchen and I would turn them into disasters, largely because I existed mentally in another world. In order to cook, one has to be present, focused and attentive. Daydreamers don't function well in food preparation. But if you gave me an hour, I could toss a great salad back then. My mother was no dummy, she needed all the help she could get and that became my role in getting dinner together as long as she planned ahead for me. Later, she got me into creating marinated salads with cauliflower, broccoli, grape tomatoes, olives and a bottle of italian dressing. I guess I was able manage because I could cut stuff forever and not have to heat, bake or boil anything.

And then I went off to college intending to be a pharmacist, which I later discovered involves chemistry which involves lab exercises which basically are recipes in disguise. A recipe, like the ones that Grandma kept in a little box, are basically chemistry experiments involving food. It wasn't long before I switched from drugs to food science and developed a bit more in being able to keep my mind from drifting off into the sixth dimension. Again, I never intended to cook. I was more interested in how gluten functions in bread, how proteins are structured and crystallization of sugars. None of that helped me in the common process of making dinner. That was actually harder than trying to pass Food Engineering 465.

I lived with a friend who helped me with my inability to learn basic theories of feeding myself and others. We started with menu planning, grocery shopping within a budget, and execution of cooking. We then started to take turns each week planning and cooking. Since neither of us had a lot of money, I couldn't afford to waste food because I couldn't concentrate and ended up burning the mac and cheese. And despite our limited resources, we practiced hospitality and I really stretched in learning how to be generous despite my circumstances. Especially when the friend I invited from the dorm brought along eight other friends almost at last minute.

All through this time, I never enjoyed cooking. It demanded a whole different orientation for me in living in the present. For many months, it didn't look like I was going to make it. Especially when I only 10 bucks in my checking account to feed my friend and me both for the week, and my fingernails were separating from their beds because I lacked enough nutritional protein, and I had lost 15 pounds because I couldn't afford gas to put in my car and walked to and from campus which involved climbing some mighty big inclines amoung the Palouse hills. Never enough carbs. I was savvy to know that I was operating under some serious calorie deficiencies. I had to look at this cooking thing from a standpoint of survival and I had to operate on a more intelligent level. I needed more money and more ideas on how to stretch it. So I took a second job and learned about deals from the grocery sales ads in the local paper. And I made friends with the produce clerk who told me about the shelf of goods priced on Monday to go quickly every week.

By the end of the year, my parents came for a visit and were amazed at my transformation. To this day, I don't know what exactly they saw that was such a big deal, but they saw it right away. When they drove up to the house, I was mowing the lawn. I already made some lunch for them, including a potato salad from scratch and had coffee waiting in the coffee pot. My mom mentioned the potato salad a few months before she died a few years ago, that it was the best she ever had. I vaguely remember it, and that I had thrown it together from veggies that were about to go bad and that I had no recipe to work from and had to improvise. But what I remember from that day is that I had survived, I made it through my first year out of the dorms alive. I was able to feed myself, and others, too. Even though lunch was a hit, like several meals I prepared for others, I still didn't enjoy cooking.

That came later, as I made the connection between showing love to others by making food for them as well as the creative process--putting my daydreaming self to good use. I became a research assistant for a big famous garlic processor and developed recipes to showcase their products as ingredients for other food processors. I cooked for my mom and her friends who all knew me as the daydreamer teenager who couldn't boil water.