Always Something

“Always something,” Dear Husband’s grandma used to say.

On December 18, I was baking treats for my party on the 19th.  Everything else was ready, and I was just making an orange torte with ground almonds instead of flour, and some no flour brownies.  It was fairly late in the evening.  That torte needed to bake 55 to 65 minutes, so I set the timer for the 55 minutes and checked.  The outer edges seemed done, but the middle was still liquid.  I set the timer for 15 more minutes and checked again.  Not only was the middle not done, it was actually cold.  The oven had stopped working.

I used my electric roaster pan to finish baking that, followed by the brownies.  The next day the party was great fun for all the 15 ladies who attended and the treats were much appreciated.

The next Monday we tried to figure out if the oven could be repaired, but learned that it would be best to get a new stove.  So on the 23rd, we shopped online, and then went to a local store and purchased a new stove, which will not be delivered until this week, January 6.

Then we celebrated Christmas with our daughter who borrowed the roaster pan and still has it.  I didn’t realize how much I rely on the oven, and how much I enjoy baking muffins, cakes, pies, brownies, and roasting vegetables and meat.  My sister said I avoided the holiday weight gain.

On December 31the clothes dryer quit working, and the washing machine control knob broke.  These machines are at least 20 years old, and possibly 30—we don’t remember exactly when we bought them.  Parts are no longer available.   So we have shopped for new ones, and today ordered them.  They will be delivered on the same truck with the stove.  If we think of our daily pay as substitute teachers, we can say that these three appliances cost about 22 days’ work.

So, we are grateful that we are able to work, and are able to live in our own house and have all these modern appliances for daily life.

We’ll be ready for the next challenge, because we know, there’s always something.


A grey Sunday

Today the sky is cloudy and grey and the temperature is hovering below freezing.  Not a pleasant day to be outdoors.

I started the day by going to church as is my habit, where I heard an inspiring message that included the Scripture, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”  We must always be ready to die, and thus be ready to live.  The speaker focused on fire: the fires of the judgment of God, the fires of persecution of the faithful, the fire of God himself who inspires us to live courageously in service to God.  The speaker proclaimed that we can all be saved from the fires by trusting in God.

After lunch I wanted to take a walk, but not outside, so I drove to the mall and walked and walked around and around, stopping sometimes in stores, just looking at things, then walking briskly again. It’s a relatively safe place to walk, the lights are bright, and there is music.  My dear husband prefers to watch football on tv for his Sunday afternoon pastime.

I stopped by the library after the walk and picked out several books to read in the next weeks.  I don’t have a reading plan these days, but my choices are not entirely random either.  I prefer mysteries, and I go for authors I trust.

It is already dark and time for supper, after which we hope to watch Downton Abbey.   And that will conclude our Sunday.  Tomorrow’s another day in which I will ponder how to apply my heart to wisdom.



What is humor?

Last night I read a list of 100 jokes by 100 comedians.  I got to number 20 before I laughed at one.  I don’t remember what that one was.  Of the whole 100, I laughed at maybe 6 jokes.  In this list were some jokes that were 50 years old.  Maybe they were funny then, but not now?  What makes something funny?  Are jokes culture bound?  Is there any humor that is universal?

I think that humor requires the highest level of language learning.  You have to understand the various meanings of the words to know why this particular play of words is funny.  But, you also have to be aware of current events and social norms to “get” the joke.  Then, whether you think the joke is funny or not depends on your own moral standards, which are somewhat dependent on your own culture.

Here is the best joke from that whole list, and I don’t remember the comedian who told it.

“In past decades, we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, and Steve Jobs.  Now we have no cash, no hope, and no jobs.  Please don’t let Kevin Bacon die.”

Funny to you, or not?  What are your thoughts?


No one knows what the new year will bring, but we always wish for happiness.  The Romans named the month “January” after the god Janus, who looked both forward and back.  I don’t remember, did he have two heads?  I think so.  It’s the time to evaluate the past year and make plans, hopes, dreams, resolutions, for the next year.  I hope to have a peaceful, quiet year staying home.  Perhaps others will travel to visit us this year.  I hope to have a productive garden.  I hope to improve my life by getting hearing aids, but they are quite expensive.  I’ve seen that we could make another trip to China just for tourism and stay a few weeks, for less than the cost of these hearing instruments.  It’s a perspective that invites the question, so popular in our ESL texts, “Would you rather…?”  I also hope to improve my life by having cataract surgery.  This will not cost much, since insurance will pay for it.  I hope to write more, more often, and I hope to finish a writing project and attempt to sell it.

Those are my thoughts for today, January 1, 2016.  What are yours?


On our journey home, Seattle was our first stop.  An early spring had started, and I saw daffodils everywhere.  The weather was balmy, especially after Fuling where it was quite chilly.  When we arrived home in early  March, there was still a foot of snow on the ground and it was severely cold.  We put the wool comforter on the bed!  Spring arrived gradually.  My first daffodil bloomed on Good Friday, followed a few days later by seven or eight more for an Easter Sunday display.  I have hundreds of bulbs in my garden and enjoyed all of them in succession.  Now they are finished and the peonies are beginning.  But we took a quick trip to Michigan to celebrate a class reunion, and we found that the tulips and lilacs were in full bloom.  So, we enjoyed a triple spring.

I am just now beginning to feel that I have arrived home.  School is almost finished here.  We have been substitute teaching since March.  We’ve enjoyed some family events and parties and have gotten our garden started.  We’ve eaten lettuce and spinach already.  The peas are climbing their trellis, but no pods yet.   Strawberries have many blossoms, but no fruit yet.  I watch carefully for the first berry.

Life is more than food, but food is still basic to life.  Growing your own is quite satisfying.   What’s in your garden?   Leave a reply.

I’m off for a while

We’re watching the superbowl tomorrow, with live streaming.  Isn’t that amazing?   After that  we’ll be leaving for our travels toward home.  We’ve been cleaning and packing and getting rid of things, or shall we say “passing them on.”  I gave a lot of my “art supplies” and “teaching materials” to another teacher.   So, now, just packing up the last things, wiping out the refrigerator, which always froze the food, and we’re set to jet.

I told my dear husband that I wasn’t going to clean the refrigerator and would happily pay the building monitor, also known as the “Ai yi” and “the spy” the 100 rmb to clean the apt.  He said that he would do it.  I have in the past paid $30.00 per hour for cleaning, so I’m fine with $15, but he is not, so he can do the task.
I got my last manicure yesterday.  I so wish I had learned enough language to talk with these girls who take care of me, but I didn’t.  I had someone write something out for me two weeks ago, and I gave the main girl this note, an artificial rose, and a pkg of cookies.   She was surprised to see me another time yesterday and called someone over to translate.  I got through to them that although my nails still looked good from 2 weeks ago, that I wanted them to look great for the next 3 weeks, until I get home.   So, she did the deluxe thing.   I’ve seldom done manicures in my “real life” but here I found it to be an indulgence that made life more bearable.  I’ll have to get a job to keep up the habit when I get home.

I can hardly wait to see you, my friends and family, and I’m sad to leave you, my new friends.  May we all meet again, preferably at my house, where we can sit near the garden and eat fresh strawberries right off the plant.


We’re winding down here and preparing to go home. The Junior 2 exam is this afternoon, so classes for them have been cancelled this week. We’re all supposed to go around the classrooms to monitor the exam, then we have our last faculty meeting of this term. Our colleagues are looking forward to the long break for their travels. It’s bittersweet, as always, to leave one place and go on to another.
I feel that I failed in many ways, yet for a few students I made a small difference in their lives. I told all my students, “I do not care at all about exams. I care that you will be able to speak English.” Only a few could even begin to understand what I meant.  We have a few classes left with the Seniors and I plan to review the exams we did last week. Then we turn in our grades, and that’s the end of this chapter.
We’ll be going to another city in China to visit friends we’ve known for ten years. It seems so long when you say, “A decade” and yet it seems like yesterday that we met them. After that we go back to our own country, visiting friends and relatives on the way. We hope to be home by early March, in time to start the garden season.
We’re always “on the way” somewhere. We’ve been “on the way” our whole lives. I so remember wanting to be tall enough to ride certain rides at the Katy Road Kiddy Land in Huston, Texas. But our family moved a different way before I achieved that height. I remember wanting so much to be able to throw and catch a softball, not to mention to bat one. I was always the last one chosen for a team at recess, and often my name was not spoken, I just went to the team who had the last choice. I remember reading a study done at Pacific University school of Optometry that said the best athletes had the best vision. I could have saved them the trouble by the time I was ten years old. But they had to find their own way to understand why some kids just can’t play ball.
In my mind, I’m still about 35 and it’s hard to believe that three of my “children” are past that already, and the fourth is rapidly reaching that milestone. It’s been hard to believe that our colleagues here are of an age to be our grandchildren, yet they invite us to go out with them for dinner and drinks afterward.
We’re always on the way home, from our travels, our adventures, our work, our play. We’re on the way home from earth to heaven, by way of the one who said, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life.” We cannot know how much longer our travels are on this way, but we know for certain that we are on the way home.

The Christmas “Story”

“Ridiculous romantic fiction,” said the student who calls herself “Martini” because she wants to sound “sophisticated”, in response to our lesson on Christmas, a national holiday in USA.
“Many people agree with you,” I said, and left it at that.
As I pondered the remark though, I wonder what really is romantic about the story? Thousands of people are ordered by the occupying foreign government to make a journey to an ancestral town. How romantic. Taxes: romantic. The town is full of people there for the census and taxation, so there are no open lodgings, hotels, inns, houses of relatives. No place to stay after walking 60 miles. How romantic. A young couple is given shelter in a barn with the animals. Warm, yes, dry, yes, shelter, yes, but romantic? Days and days go by, the young woman is ready to give birth. No midwife available, no doctor, no nurse, no clean place. How romantic. Was the birth easy? No one knows, but most women would not use the adjective “easy” for giving birth, nor would they call it a romantic event. After a few hours perhaps, while the young mother wanted to rest, a group of shepherds came in from the fields where they had been camping out for days and wanted to see the new baby. How very romantic.
I suppose our student was referring to the idea of the virgin birth. I agree it is an amazing part of the story, but romantic? Perhaps she referred to the angels mentioned in the story? In the Bible, whenever angels are mentioned as appearing, the first words they speak are “Fear NOT,” and the people are almost always terrified. So I would not call that element “romantic” either. I think our student does not understand the word “romantic” in either a common or a literary sense.
As to the word “fiction” there is no question that a man named Jesus, of Nazareth, was born, lived and was tortured and brutally executed in Israel, at a certain time in history. In fact, there is more attestation for his life, than there is for Julius Caesar, according to the scholars who count such things. (Josh McDowell: Evidence That Demands a Verdict)
History has been divided by his life, BC: before Christ, and AD: Anno Domini, In the year of our Lord. Western civilization has been built on the teachings of this particular man. Art, music, and literature have all been influenced by his life.
The significance of his life; whether he was who he said he was; whether he physically rose from the dead; these ideas are open to debate, have been debated for millennia, and will be debated until the end of time. These students who plan to enter the “Western world” for their higher education need to be at least acquainted with the parameters of the debate. In the universities of the United States or Europe this student will be “right at home” with her attitudes. But I hope she will find the intellectual honesty to enter the debate with full research.

Merry Christmas!

Today is Christmas Day. Our young colleagues from UK organized a “Secret Santa” gift exchange. Early in December we drew names from a bag, and the name we drew was the person for whom we bought a gift. We were to wrap it up, but not put our name on it. The person who received the gift had to guess who had given it. After lunch today we had our time of opening gifts. We enjoyed each other, the gifts, and the celebration of this part of Christmas. Hannah, the person who organized this said, “We have to have something to keep up our spirits while we are all far from home.” Hannah was the giver of my gift. She gave me a small diary, called “The Way of Love” which has the famous poem about love that starts with “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal.” The cover is black matte finish, almost like leather, and the front pieces and back pieces inside are embossed paper. The pages are blank, but Hannah has written that this is my “thought for the day” book. She has started off with a page for each day of January, 1-15, “quotes to keep me going.” Then, “the rest is up to you.”
In four months Hannah has noticed my mind and heart and has given a gift that “speaks” to my innermost self. She has given me a way to stay focused on writing every day, and a way to remember her and our time together here in China. She has given me the gift of listening.
Although we deeply miss our families, friends, and celebrations at home, we are grateful for this Christmas in China with our new friends. May you also enjoy the deep blessings of Christmas, in whatever circumstances you find yourself this year. The greatest gift of Christmas is the love of God, incarnate in Jesus, The Christ.

What do you know about Christmas?

“Have you heard about Christmas?” I ask my students while introducing my St. Nicholas lesson. In the first four classes, the dumb stare was popular. In the fifth class, a few people said a few words such as “Santa, gifts, Christmas tree.” Then in class 6, everyone said, “OF COURSE!” So I asked “Tell me what you know.” A few students were able to say a sentence or two, “Eat turkey.” “Apples.” (I don’t know why the Chinese think apples are so important as a gift at Christmas, but they do.) “I know about the star on top of the tree.” “People give gifts.” Then, my “star” student stood up. I usually call on him after everyone else has had a chance. I will quote him as I remember his words, perhaps not exactly.
“The God wanted to come to earth, so he spoke to this girl named Maria and told her she would have a baby. She was engaged to a guy Joseph who was very angry when he found out she was pregnant and he wanted to —how shall I say this? ( I said, divorce) something like that, yes. But God talked to him in a dream and said, ‘This is ok. This baby is mine.’ So, they went to Bethlehem and the baby was born there. Then the king was jealous, because people said the baby was a king, so he killed all the babies in that area, so Joseph and Maria had to escape and the baby was ok. Now the calendar used to be only 365 days, they didn’t know about leap year when we have an extra day. So when the king of the Church in Rome (the Pope, I said) yes, his name was Gregory, he changed the calendar to allow for the leap year, so this is why December 25 is Christmas day.”
The young man had his mouth open ready to go on, but as I was probably the only person in the room who had any idea what he was talking about, I said “Thank you, Nate, excellent,” and went on with my presentation about St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, 270—353 AD. Nate had set us up for the calendar part AD and BC, so that went more smoothly than in the other classes.

I ask you, dear reader, do you know a 13 year old child who could give such an account? How about that calendar note, though? And how about IN A SECOND LANGUAGE? Would that I could be so effective a teacher as Nate’s previous teachers have been. I am honored to be his teacher now.