Breaking Bread Together

It is interesting how the whole idea of breaking bread together became a spiritual symbol in many religions. It makes sense really. In some ways, organized religions seem to encourage activities that build cohesiveness in the group of followers, and eating together is one of those activities that supports and encourages community.

Leaving aside religion, the importance of community cannot really be understated. It is important for the individual, the family, the village, the country and the world. Community is the glue that holds us together as a society. Given the escalation of horrific random mass shootings in recent times , it seems clear that in some situations, the glue is not holding very well. It is, however, significant to note that the mother of the admitted shooter in one such event had phoned authorities regarding her concern about her son’s assault weapon purchase. To me, that is a clear example of how community works. Of course, the glue needed to have been stronger so that the shooter would have been stopped. I remember reading how the grandmother of a wannabe mass shooter called the authorities on her grandson and he was stopped. That is at least part of what we need.

But we need the kind of community in our homes and neighborhoods and towns and cities that prevents these events and prevents or alleviates the anguish,despair, depression or rage that is behind some of this. Sitting down together, at a meal, with friends or family, and having a conversation on a regular basis is an opportunity to air concerns, fears, joys, anger, etc. Hearing other points of view can go a long way toward softening extreme views or feelings of rage and despair. Other measures need to be taken as well, but bolstering up our communities could be a part of the solution.

Sitting down together at a meal provides a common thread. Many cultures have long traditions surrounding both family meals and meals with guests. Every culture with which I am familiar has placed importance on the idea of eating together with other people, be it family or friends. The friends who join us are both honored to have been invited and honor us by gracing our table. There is something close to sacred about this bond of eating together with others. Even the simplest of meals is enhanced by sharing it with others.

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Cultural Differences in Being a Guest or a Host

Was talking with a friend yesterday who has a close friend in Spain. My friend wants to go visit her elderly friend but the older lady has discouraged her coming because she has had some health problems and doesn’t feel like she can host her as well as she would want. They are very close and there is no doubt the elderly lady wants to see my friend, but the exchange just underscored some of the cultural differences in what it means to be a good host or a good guest.

As our world becomes more global and hopefully more intercultural, although given world politics and several of the leaders in the news I don’t know if that will happen, but if it does, this issue will assume more importance. In some cultures, the norm is to just drop by and everyone will be expected to stop whatever they are doing and entertain the guest. One time that happened to us when we had family visiting and the guests came so late we had all gone to bed. But we got up, got dressed, put on the tea and got out the cookies. In some cultures, guests expect to be entertained, others not so much. In some situations, dropping by for tea means just that. In others, you would do well to skip lunch because you will be served the equivalent of a full course meal in terms of the variety of snacks provided. There are differences in where it is considered polite to sit, whether or not you leave your shoes at the door, whether you take a gift and even in the frequency and reciprocity of visiting.

In some cultures, the reverence and honor afforded guests is so strong that it becomes almost sacred. The host feels very bound to adhere to traditional expectations and go out of his/her way to make the guest feel welcomed and honored. In other cultures, typically ones that are more individualistic, the friend dropping by is treated much more casually. Clearly, no one way is better than another, but the difficulty arises when the host is expecting one thing and the guest another. When expectations are not met, people have a tendency to attribute the cause of the failure to a problem in the relationship, a perceived slight, or someone going over the top and being excessive. It is generally best in my view, when something unexpected occurs, to assume that one doesn’t know the reasons. It is good to research and ask people what is typical in a given culture before leaping to conclusions that could well be wrong for the culture in question.
All of this strongly relates to how cultures vary in how they see friendship, its depth, what is allowable, what friendship means.

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Lament for the Lemmings

Lemmings have always fascinated me. All of a sudden, en masse, a whole crowd of them takes off running and leaps off a cliff into the sea, and they die. What makes them do this? Not a clue. And what does this have to do with anything else? I think our society (or at least many members of it) share some attributes with lemmings. Years ago, I acted like a lemming too. Ran around like a crazy person, ticking off my to-do list. Always too busy to just sit down and hang out. Busy. Busy. Busy. I had legal pads full of items to do and nothing made me feel more accomplished and important than crossing off all those to-dos.

I’m not suggesting that we all sit around and contemplate our navels or watch the grass grow, but it seems to me there is a balance some where in between. I was incredibly lucky on so many levels when my heart issues required a second ablation which resulted in a puncture and all sorts of drama. Miraculously, I survived, thanks to some incredible medical people, support from family and friends, and God. It clearly was not my time. That happened six years ago next week.

That whole experience understandably forced me to think about what was important in my life, since I came so close to losing it forever. I realized that many of the things that took up my time were really not that important. It was time for me to do what my soul ached for, not what society seemed to dictate. Our society places a great deal of importance on accomplishment, but sometimes process is more important than achievement. People can have a tremendous influence for good by just being….it is not all about doing, but much is about being….and allowing oneself to be the person our soul yearns to reflect.

I don’t want to be a lemming and race mindlessly to the finish line over the cliff. I feel sorry for those who lose their lives like the lemmings. I lament them. Our lives are precious, let us appreciate and savor the time we are given.

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The Simple Things

Almost everyone I know is distressed. About the world. About politics in whatever country they reside or are from. In the past several months, and not discounting the impact of shocking result of the US election and the distressing choices being made during the transition, the stress level has just increased to barely manageable heighths. I think part of the stress is that all of these developments have the potential to affect us deeply, but we, as individuals, have very little ability to exert any influence on the causes of the developments. So we feel powerless.

The only way I know to dial down the stress is to readjust my focus while still paying attention. It is important to use our voices and to express our views and protect our rights as much as we can. But we must always maintain a commitment to peace. For me, one of the best ways for me to be peaceful is to make sure I exercise. Another thing I do is to try to focus on very simple things that bring me happiness and joy. Last night we went out to dinner with some dear friends and I tried some new wine (Rickety Bridge Pinotage). It was delicious! It was wonderful! it was just a simple glass of wine, but focusing on the evening with our friends brought peace and contentment.

We must be on the lookout for those kinds of things in our lives. I believe we need to be vigilant in giving ourselves peaceful, joyful moments. It is truly the simple things that matter.

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An Eagle in the Wild

We were driving back from Iowa a couple of days ago. Surprisingly, an eagle flew down onto the field by the road. It was farm country and I can only assume it was a wild eagle. It was the first time I have seen one in the wild. It was so uplifting. It seemed to be healthy. At least in the short time I caught a glimpse of the bird, it looked beautiful…white head, black feathers, so majestic looking. Somehow it gave me hope. When I think of the elections in this country and the level to which political “dialogue” has sunk, the brief view of a strong healthy eagle was a sign of hope. I wish I’d been able to take a picture, but it wasn’t possible. I will treasure that image in my mind’s eye.

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Why are we so polarized?

The current state of affairs is baffling. The idea of civil dialogue is a remembrance long past. One cannot even politely question why a given person did something or another without risking a knee-jerk response. So, when discussing the important issues of our world, sides erupt into violence of conversation and/or action.

Why is this the way? It isn’t just in the United States. It seems to be present in many parts of the world. Why have we become less able to see another person’s perspective, a different point of view? We do not have to agree with it, but it can be useful to explore why someone thinks a particular way and what led up to that particular conclusion. The whole thing is just mind-boggling.

Something else I’ve noticed is that with the advent of widespread use of social media, email, text messages, etc., not only is communication easier but it is immediate. Much, much faster. Most people have experienced sending off an email to the wrong recipient, sometimes with embarrassing consequences and sometimes not. But what makes these modern electronic communication forms so appealing is also part of their danger, I think. One can whip off a quick text, tweet, post, etc., without much reflection. So, when one sees a tweet that hits him the wrong way, no problem. Just send off an instantaneous put-down.

I just wonder, if we had to reflect a bit more and could not react instantaneously, whether or not those responses might be more measured and closer to dialogue and not vitriol.

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Language learning and interculturalism

It has been a while since I’ve posted on this site, but the time has come for this post. The world events are disturbing to say the least. There have also been enough comments from others that it is time to speak out about the importance of interculturalism and the role that language learning plays in that. I speak as one who knows what it means to bridge cultures, having been married to person from another culture for nearly 43 years and having lived in that culture for nearly five. And yes, I do speak the language.

I do not think that one can really understand another culture unless one speaks the language pretty well– enough to follow conversations, programs on television and to sit down with friends and converse over a meal in the target language. By learning the host country language, one understands what the culture values. Those cultural values are reflected not only in the richness of the vocabulary in those areas deemed important, but also in the way they are described, in what the culture finds funny, and the way in which relationships are described and managed.

It seems that the world, at least in so many places, despite wanting to call itself “global” or “inter-cultural” is moving toward separation and the maintenance of barriers and differences. That the building of a wall to keep out “foreigners” is seen positively by some is quite the change from the world celebrations when the Berlin wall came down. Many universities pride themselves on study abroad programs and in what percentage of the student body has traveled internationally. But when the students abroad traipse around with their fellow travelers (from the same school of course) and glance at the great landmarks of the world while on their daily facetime call to mom, I cannot see how the trip makes any difference whatsoever, other than to pad the pockets of the travel industry.

And even the professionals, who travel overseas for a post-doc or medical shadowing experience, many of the ones I’ve encountered can barely be said to understand/ much less speak the language of the host country. I do not understand why one would uproot one’s family and self to just live in some very basic flat, to use one’s computer to watch television programs from home, and never really explore the host country nor get to know anyone from the host country.

Why is our world becoming so separatist? Of what are we so afraid? That people can base an entire presidential campaign on this kind of fear and be taken seriously is totally baffling. Language breaks down barriers…or it can. It broadens understanding. Do people not want to learn more as opposed to less? What is going on here?

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the duck pond

There is a duck pond a short walk away from my house. It is one of my favorite places, not sure why, but it is. Every day since the big winter storm, I’ve walked by it. It doesn’t often freeze over, but there has been ice on it the past couple of days. Today, however, the ducks themselves were hanging out on the ice, resting in the sun. Was glad to see them as was kind of wondering where they were and how they kept warm during the frigid weather. I love this pond. For me, it is calming. There was a time when I had just retired and it took some adjustment in the beginning. Every day I walked over there and checked out the pond. Every day it is different. Around the edges of the pond there are all sorts of birds. I saw an egret once. In the summer, one has to be on the lookout for snakes, so I stay far away from the edges then. When the new ducklings hatch they are adorable to watch. It is a gift to have this so close by as with all of the turmoil and violence in today’s society, plus the awful politics, the little world of the duck pond is wonderful to behold.

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Kisir is one of the best things ever. It is a spicy, more Antep-ish version of tabbouleh. I make it about once a month but I hadn’t made it for awhile and when I made it for lunch, I literally had to put the lid on the container to make myself stop eating it. The full recipe is in my cookbook(Turkish Family Favorites). It is important to use the right kind of bulgur. It needs to be smaller grained than the kind usually used for bulgur pilav. In middle eastern groceries it might be labeled koftelik or kisirlik. OH MY Goodness. It is so good. You will soak about 2 cups of the kisirlik bulgur….tiny grains….in very hot water that covers it. It should absorb all of the hot water in 20 minutes or so. If there is any left, pour it off. Mix with a bunch of parsley, green onions, mint (fresh or dried), pepper paste, tomato paste, salt, lemon juice, cumin, hot pepper, pomegranate syrup (optional but wonderful). I did not have quite enough green onions so I sauteed some chopped up yellow onion in olive oil and poured the whole thing over the mixture. If you have enough green onions, then just add some olive oil. Mix everything well and serve with romaine leaves or leafy lettuce on the side to make wraps. Terrific Meatless Monday lunch!

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ONIONS- a quick and easy timesaver

This is so simple that I feel silly writing this post, but given that it took me years and years of cooking to figure this out, I thought it worth a share. OK, so I try to buy larger onions now….it is easy to do so at Costco- but what I realized is this. When you need some onion, cut up the whole large onion. Put what you don’t need in a glass or plastic container with a lid in the fridge. You can also use a plastic baggy, but glass with a lid works best. Whenever you need some chopped onion, it is there. If you are a cook, chances are you will need onion at least a couple of times a week. So, rather than rooting around the vegetable bin for a half, unpeeled onion, which often gets lost and then becomes very special, just peel the whole thing, cut the whole thing, and save what you don’t need. It takes very little time and your hands get oniony just once.

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