A Slice of Life in Charlestown – Volume 2: Death, Debts Forgiven, and Fitting Rooms

Two years ago today my father died. There are times in life where you remember exactly where you are at a pivotal moment. I was at work, chatting with my dear friend and colleague, Suzana. My dad had been declining and we knew the end of his life was drawing closer. Still, no matter how much you expect it, you never really expect it. That thin line between life and death; between heaven and earth. It’s a mystery.

I remember him today. It’s a beautiful day here in Charlestown, and he would love where we live. It is Boston at its prettiest in our neighborhood, with gas lamps that shine their light day and night, and neighbors who say hello to each other.

So I remember my dad today and I pause in gratefulness for his life and legacy.

Debts Forgiven

I am always on the lookout for a good story. There are plenty out there, but unfortunately we don’t always hear them. But on Wednesday I heard a great story on forgiven debt.

Evidently a group of churches in Chicago have decided to help almost 6000 people pay their medical debts. The total cost? Around 5.3 million dollars. ⠀ ⠀

In the next few days, each person will receive a letter in the mail with information on the payment and these words “⁣may you have a beautiful, wonderful holiday. Your debt has been forgiven. Enjoy Thanksgiving.”⠀ ⠀

I grow weary of bad news and cruelty, of incompetent leadership and lies at high and low levels of government. I grow weary of petty meanness – in others, yes – but in myself even more. Then I hear a story like this, and I know it does not stand alone. I know there are other churches and other people doing work that matters, living out their faith in actions big and small. And I am convinced that these small acts matter in big ways. These small acts make a difference, and we may never really know of their true impact. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀

One of the ministers from one of the churches involved in the debt relief effort said this about the decision: ⁣”Well, I began to cry because I knew what it would mean for – it was exactly 5,888 people. I’ll never forget that number. I knew what this would mean for them, that it was a new start for people.”⠀ ⠀ ⠀

A new start. Your debt is forgiven. What amazing words those are! The link to the full story is here. You’ll be glad you listened.⠀

Warning: You Are Entering the Fitting Room!

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more I believe that fitting rooms need a warning sign. A warning sign that says “The mirror may reflect things that surprise, shock or astound you! Please refrain from sudden outbursts!”

Here’s the back story: We head off to a family wedding in Florida today. I love weddings, I love family, and I love palm trees so I’m looking forward to it.

In thinking through what I would wear, I realized I’d like to look a little firmer. You know that thing called gravity? It creeps around and through you in the oddest ways!

I had limited time, but I was armed and ready – or so I thought. I picked up a few things from the rack of undergarments and headed toward the aptly called “fitting room.” Five minutes later, busy with Lycra and straps, I caught sight of this stranger in the mirror! I shrieked! “By God, who is that? Who is in my fitting room and what is she wearing?” Thankfully the store was short-staffed, so no one came to my aid, because the moment after I screamed I realized that the chubby, wrinkled person in the mirror was me.

How did I get to be HER?

What? How could this be? How could the beautiful, lithe, me who I thought I was be Her of the Stretch Marks and Muffin Top? I gasped in horror. Where is the me who I thought I was?

While those of us who are of a certain age have our own challenges, any female who has reached the age of being able to go to the fitting room alone knows the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” that are part of the shopping experience. Too often we women drag along men, expecting them to  make a potentially self-esteem damaging experience easier. It rarely happens and I can’t count how many couples I have watched in the same scenario.  It goes something like this:

She: You don’t like it. (in flat tones) He: I didn’t say I didn’t like it. (in defensive tones) She: But I can tell – you didn’t say anything. If you had liked it you would have said something. He: It’s not whether I like it, it’s whether you like it. She: But I need an opinion. He: Look, I don’t know women’s clothing. I guess I like it. Maybe you need something that doesn’t have stripes. She: I knew you thought I looked fat(in an accusing and hurt tone, eyes welling up). He: I did not say that. She: Let’s just go.

It’s a set-up for failure of both parties. We are desperately looking for words of  affirmation and have a completely unrealistic expectation of what those will sound like. 

But back to my experience looking for undergarments. As I laughed at the stranger in the mirror, I thought about our bodies and our souls. How one can be revived daily, and one is daily losing something. What if I spent as much time on my soul as my body? There is so much to think about in that statement. But I’m not going to unpack it here and now. I’m going to leave you with the vision of me screaming at the me in the mirror. “By God, who is she and what is she wearing?” The person in the mirror started laughing, and strangely – so did I.

Routines & Nesting

We are settling into something of a routine here. Though there are boxes in our cellar, this has become a good place to call home and nest for awhile, and we are loving the neighborhood and this little red house. We have begun family dinners with my daughter, son-in-law, and nephew and we have already had a couple of overnight guests. This is a true joy for us. The neighborhood provides beautiful walks, sunrises, and sunsets in a truly historic area of the city. What a gift!

Kurdistan is close to our hearts but far from our bodies and in moments of honesty we confess to each other how difficult that is. We pray and talk about our friends and Kurdistan all the time, and we are with them in spirit during this difficult time of history.

If you’d like to read more on the Kurds, this is an excellent site: The Time of the Kurds.

I began this post with death, and I will end it with the same by leaving you with a quote from the highly acclaimed novel – Laurus.

“⁣Each of us repeats Adam’s journey and acknowledges, with the loss of innocence, that he is mortal. Weep and pray, O Arseny. And do not fear death, for death is not just the bitterness of parting. It is also the joy of liberation.”

Laurus

Spice Your Monday With All the Wrinkled Ladies

I’m breaking away from my usual Monday morning contemplation and bringing you something with a bit more holiday spirit. In the United States today is a Federal Holiday – evidently we have a few dead presidents that had birthdays during these months and this is our way to celebrate them. I’m all for it if it means a 3-day weekend.

And in the spirit of the holiday I wanted to post a response to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl appearance. I’d venture very few women can relate to her super sexy over the top show – and I won’t even get into how oblivious the Super Bowl planners are to kids in the audience and parents who want their kids to have  a little G rated fun.

But the video below? I’m pretty sure you’ll love this parody of “All the Single Ladies” from Anita Renfroe. Take a look at “All the Wrinkled Ladies” and see what you think.

“Marlboro Man” and Other Names Bloggers Call Those They Love

In a year and a half of blogging I’ve realized something….I have broken an unspoken rule of the trade – I have not given those I love clever pseudonyms while writing about them!

The most famous one that comes to mind is Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman – the successful “High Heels to Tractor Wheels” woman who garnered a full feature story in the New Yorker, a book deal, and a spot on Food Network. She calls her husband “Marlboro Man”. Why? I guess he looks like one.

It was somewhat embarrassing to suddenly realize this. To try to correct this situation, I decided to take a look at the creative names other bloggers have chosen. The list is not exhaustive by any means but I’ve chosen some of my favorites.

There’s Renée at Lessons from Teachers and Twits with a son called Tech Support.I love this! It’s clear this child is a partner in her blogging world.

There’s MJ Monaghan who writes about MLB – My Lovely Bride (Presumably this is his wife!)

On to Stacy at Slowing the Racing Mind – she has a couple of names: The Huz (husband) The Girl, and The Boy. Simple but it works well.

Ironic mom has twins – twins that she calls Thing 1 and Thing 2, reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. Ironic Mom also has a famous sense of humour and a book deal (which is amazing and fun and cool all at the same time!)

On we go to Simple Life of a Country Man’s Wife – she keeps to the theme by calling her love “The Country Man”.

And Missindeedy? She has Sweetboy. Littlesundog who blogs at Day by Day the Farm Girl Way goes simple with the initials “FD” and Ann Voskamp, famous from her One Thousand Gifts has “The Farmer”.

These pseudonyms protect those we love; they allow bloggers to write personal content without bringing their families into a place that could be uncomfortable. It is also a clever way to personalize or ‘brand’ your blog,

But the idea brings up a deeper issue:what we choose to share and not share online through the medium of blogging. We know readers connect to personal content — blogging is about a relationship and relationships grow when we feel like we know someone, can relate with them in their conflicts, joys, laughter and tears. Blogging can be as complex as any other relationship. But our real-life flesh and blood is an even more important (and complex) relationship.

The idea that we would hurt someone who shares our dinner table and DNA is not fun and could have long-term ramifications.

In no way have I worked this through….I haven’t even thought up the pseudonyms yet and it’s a little late. But I am beginning the conversation.

What I would love to know is this:

Do you blog and if so what do you call those people in your life who you love, write about, and want to protect? If you don’t blog, what do you think of the names people give their “others”? For both bloggers and non-bloggers – what are, or should be, the rules of writing about those we love?

On Translation and Translators

Readers of Communicating Across Boundaries know about communicating across cultural boundaries. They know what it’s like when it goes well….and they know what it’s like when it goes not so well.

So today is Saturday and time for a light-hearted look at cross cultural communication gone wrong. Very.Wrong.

Enjoy this clip from a show in the UK! I laughed until I cried. I hope you’ll enjoy the humor and no offense intended! Have a great day!

Welcome to the new readers from this past week. I have heard from so many of you about Saudade and flying before walking and all those things that go into this nomadic life. Your stories resonate so deeply – think about joining in the project So.Many.Stories. If you have a story that you want to tell but can’t write, let’s talk!

Visiting Communicating Across Boundaries for the first time? Check out the About page for more information! Feel free to visit these posts to get a picture of what Communicating Across Boundaries is all about!

“What’s Mom Doing in My Mirror?!”

I sleepily walked into the bathroom, tired from an Easter weekend filled with chocolate and relatives. “What’s Mom doing in my mirror?” I wondered aloud as I stared with heavy, sleep-filled eyes at the image staring back at me. I half smiled and Mom gave a little smile back. Ahhh! Nice!

I backed up and Mom moved away from the mirror…I moved forward and she did the same. And with that motion I realized with a shock that the young 26-year-old I once was was replaced with a version that was recognizable only as my Mom.

And I love my Mom. She is lovely. She has aged with grace and beauty. She is also 32 years older than me, so to see myself 32 years older than I had imagined was a big surprise.

I was relaying this to a friend and she began to nod her head and laugh. “Yes!” She said. “I know exactly what you mean!” She was recently in a store and had to show her license to validate her identity. The teenager behind the counter looked at the license, looked at her, and gasped aloud “What happened to you?!” He wasn’t old enough to have the tact to hide his shock.

Aging comes with its humorous moments and that is a gift. A gift because much dignity is lost as I go from being that young cute thing to being described as that “Older or middle-aged woman”.  A gift because laughter is so incredibly healing in this journey called aging as mirrors reflect back mothers or strangers, and even doctors can’t stall the inevitable.

So I waved goodbye to my Mom and told her I’d see her in the reflection of the car window. Not surprisingly, she waved back!

Have you seen your mom or dad in your reflection recently? Do tell! We need each other in this process!

“Don’t Be So Defeatist, Dear” and Other Quotes from the Downton Dowager

My love affair with Downton Abbey began during the Patriots/Broncos NFL playoffs game in January of this year. Our friends introduced us and so smitten were we that we moved back and forth between the first episode and the massacre that was the football game.

It took ten minutes of Thomas’s scowl, O’Brien’s bitterness and caustic tongue, Mary’s arrogance, and Anna’s integrity to fall in love. But what sealed the deal was Violet the Dowager, Countess of Grantham (called Lady Grantham by most) played by the legendary Maggie Smith. She commanded every scene she was in and had more “quotable quotes” in one episode than most American TV shows have in an entire year.

As the football went down the field, usually in the hands of the Patriots, Downton Abbey entered our lives with its upstairs/downstairs story line and quotes that beg for memorization.

So here are some of my favorites, gleaned not only from the memorable night when the show came into our lives, but from all the episodes that have charmed us since that time.

Mrs Crawley: “What should we call each other?”

Lady Grantham: “Well, we could always start with Mrs Crawley and Lady Grantham.”

Cora: “Are we to be friends then?”

Lady Grantham: “We are allies, my dear, which can be a good deal more effective.”

Lady Grantham: “It always happens. When you give these little people power it goes to their heads like strong drink!”

“Why does everyday involve a fight with an American?”

“Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an H.G. Wells novel.”

Lady Grantham: “Oh my dears. Is it really true? I can’t believe it. Last night he looked so well. Of course it would happen to a foreigner. It’s typical.”

Lady Mary:  “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Lady Grantham:  “I’m not being ridiculous. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house – especially somebody they didn’t even know.”

Lady Mary: “Sybil is entitled to her opinions.”

Lady Grantham: “No. She isn’t until she is married, then her husband will tell her what her opinions are.”

There are so many more, but I’ll let the YouTube video give you true entertainment and end with my favorite:

“Don’t be so defeatist, dear! It’s very middle class!” 

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of falling in love with this show, I hope after reading you are interested in at least a dinner date. I guarantee you’ll want more! Happy Friday and to repeat the Dowager’s words: “What is a weekEND?”

“My Name is Nwabudike and I am from Nigeria….”

Perhaps you’ve received an email like this: 

“My name is Nwabudike and I am from Nigeria. Please I would like you to keep this proposal as a top-secret and delete it if you are not interested and get back to me if you are interested for details as regards to the transfer of $24,500,000 to you. this money initially belongs to a client who died and had no next of kin in his account-opening package.”

Or like this: 

I am Mrs. Isabel Jose from Spain married to Mr. Joe Armstrong from Sierra Leone for eleven years now, we have three kids … I have a business proposal which I believe that will be a very Good opportunity for both of us so I decided to contact you on this business opportunity in our bank, the business is this I discovered an abandoned sum of 10.500m US dollars (Ten million five hundred thousand united states dollars) in our safety deposit vault that belongs to one of our foreign customer. Who died along with his entire family on 15th April 2005 in a ghastly motor accident along Valencia express way.

Or maybe an email with a more friendly and familiar tone, like this: 

Dear friend
I am Dr Raymond Chien Independent Non-executive Director of Hang Seng Bank Hong Kong I have a business transaction of $44.5 million USD to share with you,If interested contact me for more details via my personal email

We’ve all received them. They come from Nigeria and Spain; Kenya and China. They have a name, a promise of more money than most of us could ever dream of, and often a tragedy thrown in for good measure. They are the famous internet business proposals that we know are false. We laugh at them. We “tsk, tsk” at them. We hit delete. But how many of us have secretly thought, just once, that maybe, just maybe we could outsmart the sender. Maybe we could turn the tables on them and receive something for nothing?

A clever playwright in Chicago did just this with an internet business proposal. In 2009, Steve Gadlin received an email from a Kenyan gentleman. The email was an offer to purchase a play that a Mister Victor Gido had written. The price? $30,000. Thus began an email correspondence that one can guess went to and fro until ultimately Mr. Gadlin purchased an original play for $50.

Here’s how it happened:Mr. Gadlin took the most impossible plot line ever developed in the history of man and asked Mr. Gido to write the play. The plot line was this: “A Millionaire  named Quack Quack Quimby has forgotten the true meaning of the Jewish Holiday Tu Bishvat. His daughter goes to great lengths to remind him of its meaning and make him happy once again”. The result?  The result was “The Nairobi Project“.

I heard of this play through my son and daughter in law, Lauren. Lauren, an actor in Chicago, played the role of one of Mr. Quimby’s daughter’s, Avital. Much to my disappointment, I never saw the play but the idea is outrageously funny and clever. The business proposal ultimately entertained audiences in Chicago by providing an unusual and completely original play at the cost of a mere $50.

There are critics who claim that Mr. Gadlin is exploiting our Kenyan friend. To this accusation Mr. Gadlin brings up a fair argument – just who was exploiting who? One can assume that this was not the first email that Mr. Gido had sent to solicit customers for his writing skills.  Mr. Gadlin paid a man who willingly jumped at the opportunity (in fact, suggested the idea himself) a mutually agreed upon fee. In return Mr. Gido received name recognition for a play that was put up in Chicago, a major city of the United States and described as “America’s most flourishing independent theater hub” For an aspiring playwright this is amazing.  How many people wait for years to get their big break – to have their plays noticed by producers?

An anonymous ‘someone’ is behind every one of these internet proposals. They are not created out of thin air. Someone writes them, casting a net out into a world-wide pool of potentially desperate takers. So what if most of us delete them? All they need is one and the anonymous someone walks away happy while the desperate kick themselves as they go through the nightmare of trying to replenish their now empty bank accounts

So next time you get one of those emails, take a look! If Mr. Gadlin could turn it into a real-live money-making opportunity, there may be some hope!

What are some of the business proposals you’ve received via email? Share your favorites in the comment section!