Thursday, December 29, 2011


“You can use your fingers to pick that up, Abuela.” I tried to intercept my 100-year-old grandmother's attempt to scoop up a Ritz cracker with tuna onto her spoon.

“It's OK to use your fingers to eat it. The spoon won't work very well.” Seeming not to hear me, my Abuela (grandmother in Spanish) continued to slide the cracker around the plate on the tip of her spoon, intent on her task. Finally I had to gently remove the spoon from her hand and place the cracker between her thumb and forefinger. “It's much easier this way! You can just eat it with your fingers.”

She looked at me a bit blankly, smiling weakly. But she quietly ate the cracker and tuna. Yet not more than twenty seconds later, she was once again chasing another cracker around the plate with her spoon.

Sighing, I tried to keep my voice cheerful. “You can just pick that up with your fingers, Abuela. It's much easier to eat it with your fingers.” This process was repeated at least six times – once for every cracker on her plate.

After about cracker number four, I was ready to confiscate the spoon AND the crackers. This was going to be a long meal.

Multiple strokes over the last few years and creeping dementia cause Abuela to revert to child-like behavior at times. When I'm getting frustrated with having to remind her something for the umpteenth time, I think about all she's lived through in the last century. Raising five children in Cuba, Spain and Morocco. Serving in missions with her husband on three continents. A faithful wife for over 60 years until my grandpa went to be with Jesus in 2004. A grandmother of seventeen, and a great-grandmother of eighteen.

How many nights has Abuela rocked her children and grandchildren to sleep on her lap? How many lives has she touched with her organ and accordion music in church services, or with her services as a capable secretary and accountant, or by her gentle smiles and encouraging words, or with her biscuits and roast beef and rhubarb pies cooked with love? My grandmother is a remarkable woman, and it's a privilege to care for her in the sunset years of her life. And if she wants to use her spoon to try to pick up her Ritz crackers, why shouldn't she? At 100 years old, she's earned the right to eat her crackers and tuna however she wants to!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


In 5th grade I wanted to be a cheerleader. Kimberly, who lived down the street, would come over to my house after school and teach me cheers in our backyard. We'd practice the jumps on our big trampoline. Clapping and stomping with the beat, I'd yell out the chants in my best cheerleader voice.
"BE a-GRESS-ive! BE - BE a-GRESS-ive! B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E!"
Cheerleaders seemed so cool - with their cute flouncy skirts and big pom-poms. But I was too self-conscious to tryout for the squad. I was sure I would fail. I couldn't do the splits, for one thing, and I knew that was a requirement. So I nursed my secret dream behind the closed door of my bedroom, where no one could see me or make fun of me. And I kept practicing the one or two cheers I learned from Kimberly - just in case one day I was good enough to make the cheerleading squad.
"BOOM! We're dynamite! BOOM! We're dynamite! We're tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick BOOM dynamite!"
Though I never got to wear the flouncy skirt and shake the pom-poms on a cheerleading squad, I've come to realize that I AM a cheerleader. I love to encourage people who are struggling, to cheer on those who are doing good work, and to give someone an emotional boost when needed. By cheering for you, I'm saying that I am part of the team too. I'm saying that we're in this together. I'm saying that I believe that God is doing a good work in you, and He won't stop until He's finished!
And not only am I cheering for you, but Jesus is cheering for you (Rom 8:34)! The angels in heaven are cheering for you (Luke 15:7)! Abraham, Moses, Esther, Ruth, and Paul are all cheering for you (Heb 12:1)! What an amazing cheering section that is!
Who can YOU cheer on today?
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses... let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." Hebrews 12:1

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wai Guo Ren

"Wai guo ren! Wai guo ren!" The little boy pointed at me across the lobby of the Shanghai hotel.

Catching his eye, I smiled and waved. This prompted the boy to investigate the strange foreigner at closer range.

Coming closer, with his patient grandfather in tow, the boy continued to talk loudly about the foreigner, asking his grandfather what she was doing there.
Only a few feet from me now, he continued to state the obvious to his grandfather. "Wai guo ren!"

"Wai guo ren?" I acted surprised and turned to look over my shoulder. "Nali?" (Where?)

The boy's jaw dropped, as he pointed at me, "Ni shi wai guo ren!" (You are the foreigner!)

"I'm not a foreigner," I stated in Mandarin. "I'm Chinese! Don't I look Chinese?"

Now the boy was really confused. He looked at me for a moment, studying my blue eyes, brown curly hair, pale white skin with freckles, and "tall nose" (as they call Western noses in China). After a minute he nodded with satisfaction.

"Yes, you look Chinese," he finally admitted. Then turning accusingly to his grandfather, the boy said, "And YOU said she was a foreigner!"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wisdom From Pooh

A few weeks ago I ventured into the depths of the attic of our old house, the one I lived in since I was nine years old. During my moves across the ocean and back again over the last several years, boxes labeled "Michelle's Stuff" (a.k.a. miscellaneous things that didn't fit in my suitcases) waited for me in the attic. One of those boxes had "Michelle's Books" scrawled in black marker on the side. It's a small collection, actually, of beloved books that I couldn't bear to give away but couldn't take with me to Asia or Europe. Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." Helen Keller's autobiography - "The Story of My Life." Corrie ten Boom's "A Prisoner And Yet..." And "The House At Pooh Corner" by A.A. Milne.

Adventures of Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Rabbit have been my nightly entertainment this week. I love the way A.A. Milne uses language and the way he captures the feeling of childhood. I love Pooh's poems about snow and fir-cones and honey-pots. And I must confess, I cried at the end of the book when Christopher Robin says goodbye to Pooh - "Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred." It just doesn't seem right that Christopher Robin has to grow up and leave all his friends and adventures in Pooh Corner. But I suppose we all have to grow up sometime. Even Pooh-bear, who is, after all, a bear of very little brain, seems to understand and accept this somehow.

Here are some of my favorite moments from "The House At Pooh Corner."

On Being Clever:
"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."

On Writing Poetry:
"But it isn't Easy," said Pooh to himself, as he looked at what had once been Owl's House. "Because Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you."

One day, when Pooh was walking towards this bridge, he was trying to make up a piece of poetry about fir-cones, because there they were, lying about on each side of him, and he felt singy. So he picked a fir-cone up, and looked at it, and said to himself, "This is a very good fir-cone, and something ought to rhyme to it."

(Rabbit to Pooh, after Pooh has sung him a song)
"Did you make that song up?"
"Well, I sort of made it up," said Pooh. "It isn't Brain," he went on humbly, "because You Know Why, Rabbit; but it comes to me sometimes."
"Ah!" said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went and fetched them.

(As Pooh is finishing reciting his new poem about Tigger)
But whatever his weight in pounds, shillings, and ounces
He always seems bigger because of his bounces.

"And that's the whole poem," he said. "Do you like it, Piglet?"
"All except the shillings," said Piglet. "I don't think they ought to be there."
"They wanted to come in after the pounds," explained Pooh, "so I let them. It is the best way to write poetry, letting things come."
"Oh, I didn't know," said Piglet.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Suggestions for Cooking

Last night I was attempting to cook rice noodles for dinner. The dry, brittle sticks of "rice vermicelli" as they're sometimes called have various means of preparation depending on the type of noodle. Some noodles need to be soaked in warm water before cooking. Some should be dropped into boiling water briefly.

The instructions on my particular package of rice noodles weren't very helpful, but they were quite humorous! I particularly like the title - "Suggestions for Cooking." No exact measurements or precise directions in Asian cooking - only suggestions! Notice, also, the very specific ingredients such as "condiments, etc." Here, for your reading enjoyment, are the word-for-word instructions on the bag of rice noodles.

Suggestions for Cooking

1. Frying: Pour some oil in a pan and heat. Saut'e pork shreddings, shrimps, dried mushrooms, condiments, etc. Add proper broth and bring it to the boil. Then put in rice vermicelli and stir up until done.

2. Boiling: Fry the sub-ingredients in a pan to half done. Add much broth and bring it to the boil. Then put in rice vermicellit and boil until done.

3. Deep-frying: Put rice vermicelli in boiling oil and stir up until done. It is savoury and crisp when used to help down congee or assorted with other dishes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dictionary of "Grandma-isms"

My Italian grandmother, Rosina Ianelli Currie, had such a positive outlook on life. Anything was possible. Anything was fixable. And every ailment or problem or trial in life could be managed with the help of a heaping plate of lasagna and her famous "meatless meatballs." Even though Grandma Currie's in heaven now, I can still see the twinkle in her eye and hear her infectious laugh when I remember some of her favorite sayings.

- "The cat's pajamas" (Her name for any dish that was made with whatever you could find in the fridge)

- "A hop, skip, and a jump" (Something that's not very far away)

- "You gotta use your coconut!" (You have to use your brain)

- "You gotta be smarter than the average bear"

- "That's because of the good Italian blood in you!" (When any of her grandkids did something noteworthy)

- "It's not your fault. You can't help it that you're not Italian." (With a sigh and a shake of her head to my dad, who, though not born Italian, at least was vindicated by marrying an Italian!)

- "Did you know I'm FBI? Full Blooded Italian!" (With a secretive air to wide-eyed kids in her church. She would often wear a pin that said the same thing)

- "Two things improve with age. Wine and Italians!" (A magnet on her refrigerator that she loved pointing out to guests.)

- "Now, we gotta use our coconuts and out-smart these squirrels!" (To her grandkids as we plotted ways to keep the squirrels from eating her birdseed)

- "I've got a brain-wave!" (When she came up with another brilliant idea.)

A Woman's Work is Never Done

Sticking with one task and finishing it completely is nearly impossible for me to do. I feel like I'm just easily distracted. But my mom tells me that I have great "mom sense" - that built-in alertness to the needs of people around me, that compulsive need to pick something up someone has dropped and put it away (even when clothes fall off their hangers in large department stores), that ability to do several things at once, which is God's way of preparing me for motherhood one day.

Today after lunch I wanted to wipe the crumbs and spills off the table. I went to the kitchen to get a damp cloth, but there were no clean cloths in the drawer. So I decided to check in the laundry room, where I saw that the load of clothes I had washed earlier this morning was done. Since it's a sunny day, I wanted to hang them outside on the clothesline to dry, but there was no available laundry basket to carry them in. So I searched the house for a laundry basket, putting away the salad dressing and salt and pepper shakers from lunch and hanging up a stray sweater as I went.

The missing laundry basket was upstairs, but it was full of clean, folded clothes. As I put away the clothes, I found an unopened letter addressed to me from my insurance company, which I set on my desk to read later. Then I took the empty laundry basket downstairs, filled it with the wet clothes, and took them outside to hang on the line. I had to first take down and bring in the dry clothes from a previous load, then hang up the next batch.

When that was finished I decided to wash the rest of the dirty clothes in the laundry room, treating a stain on one of my shirts as I loaded the washer. There weren't quite enough clothes to fill the machine, so I thought I'd go check my room to see if there were any stray items I could add.

As I passed through the kitchen on my way upstairs again, I noticed the crumbs on the table from lunch. Almost an hour after I started, I still hadn't cleared the table, which is what I had set out to do in the first place!