The university where I work has exchange students. Many of them are from China.

Since I started working in the school’s library, I’ve tried to make anyone walking into the library welcomed. I greet everyone who walks into the building, even those with head phones who don’t always hear me.

I prefer to call people by their given name. I was taken aback the first time I asked one of the Chinese students her name and she replied, “My American name is Peggy.” I didn’t want an “American” name. I wanted her name. I wanted her to feel welcome and didn’t think calling her a name she had newly learned was the way to do it.

Last Monday was the Chinese New Year – the year of the monkey. I decided there was another way to make the Chinese students feel welcome. Somewhere, in the back of my brain, were the words to wish them “Happy New Year!”

What were they? What were they? Ah, ha! Gung hey fah choy.

Okay, okay. how many years of dust had I just removed. I was ready.

A Chinese female came into the library. I said, “Hello,” followed quickly by “Gong hey fat choy.”

She looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language, which of course I was, but it was foreign to her, too.

In English, I tried to explain what I was attempting to wish her a Happy New Year. Our lack of a common tongue plus the unconventional circumstances proved unsolvable. (If we had been talking about school topics, I believe we would have communicated well enough to understand each other.)

She went into the wing to study. I turned to my computer. I asked Google for the Chinese words for “Happy New Year.”

Two options were presented. “Gong xi fa cai’ was Mandarin but “Gong hey fat choy” is Cantonese. Next to the English pronunciation were the Chinese characters to write. I printed the page and went to see the student whom I had puzzled.

I showed her the characters and she smiled with recognition before explaining that what I had tried to say was not “Happy New Year” but something like “I wish money come to you.” I’m not sure she got my humor when I replied, “That works.”

About a half hour later another exchange student came in who I knew better (and longer) than the first.

I explained the confusion I had caused earlier saying, “Gung hey fah choy.” Dan Dan looked puzzled. She asked, “Where did I learn that?”

I quickly dispelled any thought of explaining Stan Freburg, LaChoy (un)Chinese Chop Suey or a TV commercial. That would not be sublime, or ridiculous.

I turned my computer screen so that Dan Dan could see what I had found through Google.

For the second time that evening, I heard the translation of “wishing money comes to you.” This time we both agreed that that could be a good wish for a new year.

Dan Dan did teach me the proper way to express my good wishes, “Cing nyen kwai le.”

I practiced several times so Dan Dan could correct me if necessary. I wrote the phrase down so I would have it for next year.

My plan is to properly greet the year of the rooster in 2017. If I get it right, I promise not to crow.

When did cooking become audible? I don’t just mean repeating to myself an ingredient that I’m searching for in overstuffed cupboards.

For a several reasons, I don’t cook often. My husband has done most of the cooking for a long time. Occasionally, a recipe or an event will prod me into action. Lately, I have been trying to replicate macaroni and cheese like I used to eat in high school.

Lunch in high school cost $1.50 and consisted of an entree, three sides and a beverage. On Fridays the menu included a creamy macaroni and cheese that I heartily endorsed by asking for an entree portion accompanied by three sides of the delectable pasta dish. If my milk could have been replaced by my favorite food, I’m sure that I would have done that, too.

I hadn’t thought about this ritual until I recently met a friend at Tim Horton’s and decided to try, what has become for me, of late, an unusual side dish. Macaroni and cheese.

I was in lust again. It seemed the perfect clone for what I’d had half a century ago during my much thinner days.

Since that fateful stop, I’ve been perusing cookbooks and the internet to find a plausible clone for the elusive recipe.

A few weeks ago, I found a candidate in a usually reliable source, a new America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.

Some of the ingredients had to be purchased fresh from the grocery, others were already found on my cupboard shelves.

Fortunately, the largest saucepan was not buried in the unending corner cupboard. I easily pulled it out, filled it with water, reached above the stove for salt, sprinkled some into the pan’s water, replaced the salt and turned on the stove.

Step two, getting a casserole dish large enough for all the macaroni. “Large enough” in our kitchen means that it is under a stack of like, but smaller, vessels. “Unh!” was audible as I thought, “When did these get so heavy?” taking a pile of casseroles out of a lower cupboard onto a stool then separating those I didn’t need to return them to the low shelf.

Step three, reaching the food processor on top of the upper cupboards. Fortunately, the device was placed up there so that it hung over the edge. It still was a stretch to balance it down. The bread-ends I needed to pulse were on the third shelf of the frig, at the back. The perfect spot to torment my back. Before I found all the slices I needed, my back said, “Enough!”  resulting in a very loud moaning from my mouth, Uh, uh, uh!” This was the first sound that resulted in an, “Are you okay, Mom?” from Son in the dining room. I assured him that I was.

It is time for a pause to let the reader know, the kitchen is very closed off from the rest of the house, only a single door opening into the dining room. Usually the person (Husband) in the kitchen talking to others in the house — Son in dining room and me in living room —cannot be understood. So it was notable that my predicaments were obvious.

The fourth step was easy, developing the roux into a creamy cheese sauce. No audibles here.

The penultimate step required Panko crumbs which were on the highest shelf over a counter. “I didn’t used to have trouble reaching that shelf. Am I shrinking?” came out as a very loud, “Unh” as I stretched to tipple the bottom of the can in my direction. Again, from the dining room, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, hon. I was just trying to reach the bread crumbs.”

“Did you get them?”

“Yes. I did. Thanks.” Although I noticed he didn’t get up from his computer to check.

The layout of the kitchen is wanting (one of the reasons I don’t cook in there.). One of the things it “wants” is space. Especially in front of the oven. One can not stand in front of the oven and open the oven door. Well, if one is paper thin, it could be done, but no one in our household meets that requirement.

This means dishes put in the oven are done so from the left side. To eliminate any more audio clues, I calmly called, “Help.”

Husband answered, “What do you need?” I could tell that he was walking towards the kitchen.

He put the macaroni and cheese in the oven and returned to remove it 20 minutes later.

The result was a creamy but anemic looking (pale yellow vs vibrant) dish. We all were disappointed with the results. The disappointment was not just because of the taste. It was also because of the quantity.

We’re going to be eating the leftovers for weeks.

“Unh!”

There is nothing as reliable as my Aunt Pat. Nothing.

She has known me, obviously, for my entire life. Both she and her sister Nancy have, more than once, written or stated, “I remember the night you were born…” It was during a really bad snow storm about two weeks before Christmas, so I think it was as much the weather as the birth of the first of my generation on both sides of my family.

I have become conditioned over 65 years to expect a card from Pat whenever I have a momentous occasion. I still have the holy card she sent me for my First Holy Communion in 1958. She signed and dated the back.

A few weeks ago, I did not get a birthday card from Aunt Pat. I didn’t know how to handle this. I was worried.

The lack of birthday card may not be noticed by many. I’ll bet those people were not born in December. People born in December are often short changed in the birthday department, so any observance of our entrance into the world is greatly appreciated and remembered.

Pat is an octogenarian – maybe she decided enough. Maybe she was sick. Was she getting forgetful? Pinching pennies and given up on what might be considered an extravagance – after all I was the first of 25 cousins who have given to another generation who has started the next generation. How long could she keep cards coming for so many.

Adding to my concern was the fact that she also had not commented about the past blog or two that I had sent her. I could always count on an e-mail comment once she’d read my latest.

Pat, a nun, has a very close friend, Noreen. Pre-Vatican Two, the nuns always traveled in pairs. Noreen was the one who usually traveled with Pat, to the point we consider Noreen part of our family. (I’d be willing to bet that Pat has a second family in Noreen’s.)

Noreen did respond to one of my blogs so I took the opportunity to respond to her response: “Is Pat okay?”

Within a few minutes her succinct response, “Of course.”

No questioning why I would ask. Hmmm. Should wouldn’t tell me a story. I should relax, but I was still curious.

All my concerns were calmed on Christmas Eve. I opened the mail finding a Christmas card from Aunt Pat and inside the Christmas card was a piece of mail stamped, addressed to me but with a notification at the bottom, “Return to Sender – undeliverable as addressed.”

I examined it. The address had the correct number and street but was missing the direction. There is a duplicate for our address on the west side of town. In the 20 years we have lived here, we have often gotten mail addressed for West or with no direction at all.

In fact, the week before, we had gotten mail that said WEST but used our 9-digit zip code. The opposite side of town would have a completely different 9-digit zip.

Pat’s address had the entire 9-digit zip.

I was flabbergasted. In a town of under 12,000 people, where I lived in the same house for 20 years, the post office couldn’t make two attempts to attempt delivery? If they followed the 9-digit zip code they would have gotten it correct the first time.

I ended up calling Pat on the phone to let her know how I had been worried about her, but that having received the mail that day, I now knew all was right with the world again.

(I also told her I was going to use this situation as blog fodder.)

Since I talked, to Pat, I visited with cousins and before relating this story asked, “Each year, who do you KNOW you’re going to get a birthday card from?”

No one had to think for very long – “Aunt Pat.”

So, now, Pat, the pressure is really on. We are all expecting your cards.

Have you noticed? We’re being invaded.

Originally I thought it might have had to do with the seemingly inexhaustible hot air generated by too many political candidates. But that couldn’t be true because the invaders disappear during the daylight, reappearing after dark while the presidential candidates blow hard twenty-four hours a day.

If I search during the day, I find are puddles of material on front lawns where an identifiable shape existed the night before. The misshapen forms rarely are solo. They seem to travel in groups. There must be comfort in numbers.

A flashlight is not needed to locate marauders after sunset. As if  a traveling theater company, the evening’s skirmishers know how to spotlight their conflicts.

Even without snow, the red of their uniform fails to camouflage. Perhaps they are Martians (from the Red Planet) where the hue would conceal.

This army is nondiscriminating. The troops display a variety of skin colors: white, brown, green and flesh colors. No height requirements can be observed, although the taller, seems to be the better.

They also are presenting themselves in identifiable shapes – Mickey Mouse, the Grinch, snowmen, Santa Claus, Snoopy.

We did discover a vulnerability. They all turned into limp shapes on lawns with yesterday high winds and tornado warnings. But they are back in full force today.

I’ve also just realized they are keeping their distance. They are not advancing. They are always in the same yards.

Maybe they are here to enforce peace and goodwill to humans.

It should would be wonderful if someone (or thing) could.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Peoples names are important to me. They really are. Combine that with a life-long disorder in which newly introduced names whiz through one ear and out the other has made for some interesting scenes in my CDO-structured life (OCD in alphabetical order).

 

I have battled my infirmity (and increasingly overcrowded mental file) by abiding hints of how to remember names (envisioning, tagging, etc.). I thought I had things well in hand (or head).

Recently, I attended a retreat weekend. I was the sole attendee at the 11 previous retreats. Since I had met most of the people, I was expected to remind others of names. I also anointed myself the personification of our motto “no one is a stranger for long.” This meant making sure first-timers were welcome and felt included.

Early in the weekend, I had found a friend in the lobby of our hotel. Eric explained that he was waiting for a friend to arrive. I sat in the only other chair and chatted until the man, a newbie, came.

Eric introduced us. I don’t recall if I repeated the man’s name, but I left the two knowing I would see them at dinner that night.

We were eating at a restaurant dubbed The Twisted Olive. The olive wasn’t the only thing to get twisted that night.

I had, through three phone calls, made three reservations for a total of 22 people. (It seemed I was also to be the social secretary.) I always used my phone number, but only once used my name. The other two reservations had another name associated with them.

Arriving at the very popular restaurant, I watched “my” fluctuating reservations. I was horrified when one of my groupings cancelled before I even left the hostess stand. The second group shuffled from table to table. I watched with my introvert’s horror as my sister and her first-timer friend ended up at different tables. In separate rooms. Both passing me mouthing, “That’s okay,” yet subsequently moving together after my sister placed her order.
I apologized to the unfazed owner/hostess and the frazzled waitress who had lost a diner. The owner was gracious. The waitress didn’t appear any less distraught.
Eventually, I was assured by all that things were copacetic. Even though I tried to let it go and enjoy the group I was with, I was still owning the unexpected game of musical chairs,.
Eric and his friend were at the opposite end of our table for eight. I got the friend’s attention several times by starting with his name. “Randy, how long a drive was it for you?” “Randy, what do you like to read?”
After several of these questions. Eric exploded, “Why do you keep calling him Randy?” His name is Ron!”
MOR-TI-FI-CATION!
Ron was a gentleman riffing, “I kind of like Randy. Ron is such a meh name, only three letters…”
I pleaded, “Well it began with “R.”
At this point, several others at the table began brainstorming “R” names: “Richard.”
“Raoul.”
“Raphael.”
I responded with more “R” names than anybody. Ron seemed to puff out his chest a little more with each name.
We decided to dub him with a different “R” name each day that we would spend with Ron/Randy.
The joking and teasing that ensued from my misnaming finally put me at ease. I was able to enjoy the meal and the others’ company.
After dinner, I left our table to say goodnight to others in our retreat who were in another room. I said goodnight, by name, to five of the six in that room. I didn’t know the last man, so he was introduced to me.
“This is Randy.”

Reading has been a life-long love of mine. As a child I curled up on my bed with Little Women or Nancy Drew or Illustrated Classics. Mom would try to get me to go outside by telling me, “Go out and blow some stink off.”

In my early thirties, I became a Big Sister to a nine-year Little Sister. We were part of a group of Bigs and Littles of both genders who went on monthly camping trips. I was thrilled when one of the little brothers observed through a question, “Why do you always have something to read?” I was thrilled someone so young, especially a boy, noticed.

My eagerness for reading has only been squelched once.

In December, 1989, I packed The Prince of Tides to take with me to the hospital. I would enjoy whatever time I had in the hospital reading this book that I had wanted to read for several years. I sold Real Estate at the time and was always hustling for my next sale. Whatever time I had in the hospital would allow me to finally start that book.

I never got past the first page of the book during four days in the hospital. Four days of gazing instead at my new born son. I read every portion of his body, every strand of hair, every finger or toe nail. This miracle took me away from my life’s greatest passion but gave me a beautiful substitute.

A new world of books entered my life. The local library presented all newborns with a copy of Goodnight, Moon. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Dr. Seuss soon replaced Pat Conroy.

It was two more years, after being waylaid by a sprained ankle that I was finally able to settle down with Conroy’s Prince.

Life continued intermingling Cam Jansen with Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone or Encyclopedia Brown with John Dunning’s Cliff Janeway.

I heard a lot of controversy about the Harry Potter books, but I would never prohibit my son from reading anything. So, we read them together. Every night at bedtime, I brushed off my character voices and regaled both of us with a marvelously magical world where neither of us found any fault. (Until we listened to one of the books on a car trip and I discovered that Jim Dale had “stolen” my Hagrid voice.)

The page turned twelve years ago when Son was eager for me to read one of his Magic: The Gathering books. Not one of my usual genres, but…

The most important thing that I have continued to read is my son. A taller than his dad, scarily smart young man whom I still stare at in wonder. He works part-time in a local grocery store. I continually hear from many what a witty, courteous, helpful, thoughtful and intelligent young man he is. Good words for any parent to hear. But this parent is still marveling at how he turned out so well.

Do you suppose it might have been all that book reading?

I recently entered a writing contest in which I could enter as many times as I desired. I found 3 entries to submit. The one that I am sharing here was a class assignment from almost 10 years ago. The assignment was to write a metaphor. On a trip to Dayton, I observed the different ways that trees either lost or retained their autumn leaves.

I evidently was trying to impress someone (who? I have no idea) with my multisyllabic vocabulary. I really did try to tone it down a bit, but what does one do with a sesquipedalian?

Here goes:

 

The coloring and leaf patterns of October trees are reminiscent of relatives found in many families. The golden bouffant of a fully-dressed elm suggests a silver-maned grandmother who never skips her weekly visit to the beauty salon. Grandfather is portrayed by the tall domed crown of the horse chestnut whose tired, drooping browns illustrate the passage of time.

The aunt’s image is reflected by the green-tipped frosted hair of the silver maple. The uncle’s friar’s cap is accented on the broad, round head of a chinquapin by the crown that has lost its uppermost locks through the tossing of less than gentle breezes.

The osage orange fruit is the perfect “earring” complement for mother’s blonde hair-do. Standing adjacent is the executive father in his pin-oak copper suit. Rustling teenagers avoid parents sitting on a lot next door. The well-developed American beech son shows an abundance of yellow-brown foliage overdue for a trim. Daughter tulip tree’s golden tresses cascade like Lady Godiva’s legendary locks.

The toddlers are playpenned in the backyard. A golden-haired ash boy displays irregular wispy patches showing the underlying skeleton. His toddler sister birch mimics the golden bob of Trixie from the Hi and Lois comic strip. A squirrel’s nest at the top resembles the iconic topknot.

This nuclear family opens its arms to other branches like the punk-colored red maples, the bald hickory and numerous distant cousins sporting hue and style tailored for each individual’s complexion.

As autumn develops, one more descent is observed. Deciduous transitioning leaves remnants. Colorful strands dominate a symbiotic relationship with the lawn. Manicuring will require either a comb-rake or a blower.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 526 other followers