Special Dinner in China

I’ve been in China for nearly a month and on the job in Feicheng, Shandong Province, for two weeks. Truly the highlight of my trip is our dinner at a Feicheng  colleague’s home, which I understand is a rare privilege. Before sitting down to the indescribably delicious meal that his wife and sister prepared, we had fun making dumplings (the kind that are boiled, not fried).

Here I am (the white American in the middle) with our colleague’s sister (on left) and his wife. They gave me the embroidered cloth that is on my shoulder. They said it’s to protect my clothing, but I think it’s too pretty for that purpose and I’ll wear it on a special occasion. You can see some of the son’s awards on the wall above the homework desk.

The dough is twisted into a thin rope while the filling (made of chives, mushrooms, tofu and other ingredients) is prepared.

The rope of dough is chopped into small pieces.

The small chunks get coated with flour.

Then the chunks are shaped into thin circles.

Teaching the Americans how to stuff the dumplings

My American colleague stuffing the dumpling

My American colleague in the background with finished dumplings waiting to be boiled. Several of these round trays of dumplings were prepared.

My American friend’s dumplings…. I can’t show you mine because I put the camera down when my hands were covered in dough. Mine were slightly (only slightly) better.

This is what the dumplings should look like.

You can see the plates of finished dumplings with the other delicious dishes. The women waited until we were finished before sitting down to eat.

Respect for Elders

I understand that, based on the teachings of Confucius, respect for elders has been the foundation of Chinese culture and morality for more than a thousand years. 
Last summer, when the teachers in my workshop learned my age (only 60) they referred to me as a “senior citizen” and were astounded that I would still be working; they said that their moms (who are my age) live with them, are taken care of, and do very little work other than play with the little one (their words). I must admit that there have been a few times when I’ve longed to retire in China at 60 rather than continue working in the US until 70 or so. My 81-year-old mother, by the way, just recently quit working. 
While wandering around the streets of Shanghai this past week, I’ve frequently seen an elderly person on the arm of a younger person — I assume a daughter or son. I compared this sweet relationship to our seemingly barbaric practice of putting our elderly in nursing homes.

But I googled it tonight, initially searching for Confucius’ teachings on the relationship between parent and child and on showing respect to the elderly. My search eventually led me to disturbing information that challenges my previous conception that those over 60 live out their golden years in ease.
The traditional social security system in China has been the family. But, according to the  sources I read tonight, that support is dwindling. See  “ELDERLY PEOPLE, RETIREMENT AND GRAYING OF CHINA.” In addition, it seems that there is a shortage of nursing homes and retirement centers.
With China’s one child per family policy, there are fewer children to take care of mom when she can no longer support herself. In many rural areas, with the flight of young people to the cities, dad’s situation is precarious. A Time article dated August 31, 2011, “100 Million Elderly: China’s Demographic Time Bomb,” indicates that many of China’s growing population of old people live alone and many in hardship. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Create

This quote by Billy Crystal says it all:

My granddaughter’s birth has made me want to create things she will love.

I hope that through my teaching, I can help to create a world in which she is safe. I hope that through the pictures I take, I can create memories for her.

I find it interesting that when I’m at home, I might go two weeks without seeing my son, daughter-in-law, and my GRANDDAUGHTER. However, here I am on the other side of the world with an ocean dividing us, and I am missing them horribly after only one week; I ache a bit to realize that I won’t see them for a little more than a month. It must be horribly painful for those in our military to leave their families for a year or so.

I took this shot last Saturday night, just a few hours before leaving the country.

The Blessings of Good-bye

I’ve wanted to write about the experience, but each time I sit with my red leather journal or at the computer, words fail. Yet …. I need to write about it. Perhaps someday it will come out. I had written a little bit about my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s previously (Hope).

Daddy’s Hands in Prayer: He truly possessed the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Last week was intense. Daddy went into the hospital Tuesday night and was released Wednesday night to go home to die, at his request. My mother, all of my brothers and sisters (I am the oldest of 10), and most of his 21 grandchildren were with him in his last days. We kept vigil, sometimes praying, sometimes telling stories, sometimes laughing, sometimes sleeping, from Wednesday evening until Friday morning.

We were all standing around his bedside as he took his last breath on Friday morning, June 8. His death was dignified and peaceful. Although we are enormously sad, we are thankful that his struggles and pain are over and that he and my family, especially my mother, are spared further ravages of that horrid disease Alzheimer’s.

I am blessed that I was able to be with him. Had this happened just two weeks later, I would have been on the other side of the world.

I am blessed that I had the opportunity to stand by his head, with my older son beside me, during his last moments.

I am blessed that he was where he wanted to be, at home. There were no tubes, lights, monitors, machines, strange sounds and scents … only the peaceful sounds of prayer and soft tears.

I am blessed to have spent five days with my large family; by Monday, both of my sons were with me. Because we are spread across the country, it is rare that all of us are in one place at the same time. Our father brought us together in a very special reunion.

One of Daddy’s favorite Bible verses is from 2 Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7-8 NIV)

He has finished his race, he has kept the faith, and he now has his crown of righteousness.

Alzheimer’s had stolen bits and pieces of my father over the last several years so that he was only a shell of the great man he once was. He suffered with breathing problems and heart problems, and throughout his life he lived in constant pain in his feet and his back.

He had only an 8th grade education, but he was as intelligent as people with triple the amount of education. His mind was sharp and clear; he could calculate any problem, design (and build) a kitchen or a house. I rarely saw him just sit and rest; he was always working on something, whether hoeing in the garden or building a piece of furniture (after putting in 8 – 10 hours in the factory).

I am blessed to be his daughter, and I am doubly blessed to be able to spend his last hours on this earth with him.

I don’t have a picture to share; I took some, but they are private. However, as I left the church after the reception, I glimpsed a bee hard at work. Because my father worked so very hard all of his life, I thought it appropriate that this bee would be there for me.

taken with Canon G12

As we watch…

I am in Indiana. My father’s journey is about to end. His wife, his ten children, many of his grandchildren,  and numerous friends have gathered to say goodbye.

He is truly the kindest, most generous, most Godly man I know.

A Day With My Granddaughter

It’s been a while since I posted pictures of Elle.

“Gramma!” she squeals and my heart sings.

Click on any image.

Happy Mother’s Day, Martha Ann Fromme Howard

In my father’s handwriting on the back of this photo: “This is why I fell in love with Martha Ann Fromme.”

Martha Ann Fromme before she married my father

Stephen and Martha Howard on their honeymoon

Stephen and Martha Howard 62 years later

My parents sired 10 children. They are pictured here with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchild.

My Favorite Model

While babysitting and playing with my favorite model yesterday, I took advantage of the opportunity to practice with my new 50 mm lens. I’m still struggling with the focus, but I’ll get there eventually (I hope). I wish the sharper focus were more on her eyes and less on the beads.

Lately, she’s been petulant when I’ve taken out the camera, turning her back on me and proclaiming the toddler’s favorite word, “NO!” Yesterday, she was in a playful mood. (I’m serious about the playful part. We played nonstop for nearly five hours until I finally manipulated her into a nap because grandma definitely needed to rest.)

She loves wearing hats and is beginning to like girlie things like beads and sparkly shoes. She is also a fearless tomboy who climbs on top of everything (just like her father) and loves airplanes, helicopters, and trucks.

She’s 2!

…and developing her independent spirit!

Happy 2nd Birthday

Wednesday (Pi day…get it…3.14?) was my granddaughter’s 2nd birthday. We celebrated with a morning at the zoo and a short visit before nap time at their house. I got few good shots of her with my point-n-shoot because she was everywhere at once. She did slow down long enough to pose before getting into her car with her baby. You can’t see it very well, but she is wearing glass slippers along with the sparkly beads. The princess tiara was discarded 1.5 minutes after she was crowned.

The next generation

Something about this feels odd and I can’t quite put my finger on it. My granddaughter, who will celebrate her 2nd year birthday in a few days, can find things on my phone that I did not know are there. She took some pictures, played Angry Birds, & spent a few minutes playing PacMan before texting one of my friends. She is able to pull up Netflix on her dad’s iPad and choose the program she wants to watch.