For My Friend

Standard

We must have seemed odd
to those who passed by
Opposites in every way
except on the inside
No need to explain Party of One
I understood you,
and you understood me
as no one else could
Over countless cups of coffee,
we pondered the meaning of life
and other silly things
And let’s not forget the music,
Junip and jazz still sing in my head
We read Maisie Dobbs and F. Scott Fitzgerald,
along with Willa Cather and Steinbeck, too
Ah, the books we treasured
and the stories we shared
I don’t have your picture,
but I’ll never forget your face
Nor how you taught me
the real source of strength
Without you there is an empty space
Thank you for being my friend,
until the very end

– – –

Recently, a dear friend of mine passed away. While the sadness is sometimes overwhelming, so is the joy I have in the memories of the moments we shared.  Our friendship was something really special and I already miss it.

– – –

c.b.w. 2014

A Friend in Limerick

Standard

Here I wait
blue skies
or gray

Loyal friend
patient
and true

Missing you
come home
safe, sound

A friendly dog waits at the open gates of a dairy farm near Limerick, Ireland. Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

A very friendly dog waiting at the open gates of a dairy farm near Limerick, Ireland.
Photo by: c.b.w. 2009

– – –

I apologize for the delay in this week’s Sunday Abroad. This weekend was spent remembering my Grandma and being with family.  I don’t mind giving up a little writing time to be with those I love, especially when I haven’t seen some of them in such a long time. While a sad time for all of us, it was also a time filled with laughter as we enjoyed each other’s company.

The photograph above was a favorite of my Grandma’s.  When we were in Ireland together we got the chance to spend the day at an Irish dairy farm. She loved everything about that place and had so much fun that day. The dog in particular made her smile, so I made sure I got a picture of him for her.

– – –

c.b.w. 2012

One Morning in Changchun

Standard

The sun is barely awake when people in Changchun, China welcome the day by gathering in Culture Square, (also known as Changchun Cultural Square).  The clock has barely struck seven o’clock, and this large city park is already bursting with life and color.

Soothing music plays from a corner near the park entrance, where a small group engages in the ancient practice of Tai Chi. Both physically demanding and soul-quieting, this martial art is a common sight across China. Wearing t-shirts and track pants, the group transitions from one form to the next in total unison.

Tai Chi in Culture Square, Changchun, China, c.b.w.

Across the grass, soccer teams occupy several fields where drills and games send black and white balls flying in all directions.  Several basketball courts flank the fields, all of which are filled with dueling players.  Up in the sky, dozens of brightly colored kites dart and spin.  Laughing children hold tightly to strings with the same enthusiasm as the adults behind them.

Kite Flying in Culture Square, Changchun, China, c.b.w.

Wide sidewalks hold a steady stream of walkers plugged into headphones or chatting away with a friend.  Some groups of walkers like to make things interesting by walking backwards! They never look back, always trusting their path and believing people will move out of the way.  Yet, a third group of walkers, hold their arms above their heads or straight out to the side.  Sometimes they take it step further by rotating each arm in small circular motions.  Either way, it’s best to get out of the way when you see one coming!

The backdrop to all of this activity is quite striking.  An enormous television screen broadcasts the morning news just loud enough to be heard without being obnoxious.  Bright flower gardens surround elegant stone sculptures, while the Sun Bird Monument towers high above everything.

  

Sun Bird Monument, Culture Square, Changchun, China, c.b.w

A large fountain sits near the center at the base of the Sun Bird Monument.  It’s here that I meet a man who spends his mornings practicing calligraphy on the sidewalk.  In his hand, he holds a long stick with a wet sponge attached to the end.  He dips the sponge in the fountain water and then “paints” graceful Chinese characters on the pavement.  His artwork remains visible for only a few minutes, but each is a masterpiece.

The Calligrapher-Poet, Culture Square, Changchun, China, c.b.w.

He calls himself a “calligrapher-poet” and passes on a bit of wisdom that has remained with me, even years later.  In a low voice tinged with kindness he tells me, “The foundation of writing is art.” Whether it be in reference to flowing strokes or storytelling, this man knows a beautiful secret and I am honored he shared it with me.

That wise calligrapher, with his curious and open-minded nature gave yet another gift.  He reached out to a perfect stranger and embraced me as a friend before he even knew my name.  The same can be said of a little girl on roller skates.  She came right up to me and smiled with her wishes for peace. I’ve never experienced a more beautiful morning.

All Smiles in Culture Square, Changchun, China, c.b.w.

– – –

c.b. 2012

Amish Friendship Bread

Standard

Over the last 40 days (or so) I’ve been caught up in a baking frenzy that has swept my workplace: Amish Friendship Bread.  It all started when a colleague brought a freshly baked loaf of sweet bread and told us all to help ourselves.  I am already a nut for Amish baked goods after years of going to an Amish farm market in Indiana, (every year I head to Indy to visit my dad in the summer), so I dug right in!  I can’t even begin to say how excited I was to nosh on Amish bread well before my usual August binge.  It was so good, I asked if she would be willing to share the recipe so I could make it for myself.  Instead of writing it out for me, she handed over a large ziplock bag filled with pale goo and piece of paper with directions on what to do with my “starter.”

For the next six days, that goo sat on my counter and bubbled.  In between mushing the goo each day, I have to admit I was pretty fascinated with watching the yeast ferment.  On the sixth day, I got to add some ingredients and mush the bag some more until Day 10 or baking day arrived.

Baking day is where the real message of Amish Friendship bread comes through loud and clear. During the process, four cups of batter are pulled out and bagged for new starters.  These starters are then distributed to friends, family, neighbors, etc., while one is kept for yourself.  This creates an immediate connection with everyone in the circle as the next bake day arrives.  As the starter chain grows, the community grows and so does the sense of doing something meaningful.  Over the course of four batches, I realized I wasn’t baking alone and that created an instant kinship with every single person who had received a starter, including the people before and after my link in the chain. There is something magical and very warm about doing the same thing at the same time as those in my inner circle and beyond.  Every ten days that feeling comes back when I bake the next batch.

Better still, each batch yields two loaves of bread.  The sharing doesn’t end with starters!  It only continues as one loaf stays at home and the other is shared with others.  The office at work has been loaded with yummy loaves and muffins for weeks, while my grandparents always have a fresh loaf on their counter thanks to the baking efforts of me and my sister.

Batch #4 of Amish Friendship Bread

This experience has been very rewarding and tasty, so I thought I’d pass it along to my friends in the blogosphere.  The recipe for the starter is usually kept under wraps in order to keep the spirit of sharing alive, but I managed to find a starter recipe that matches up with the baking directions I received for my bread.  If you’re interested in starting an Amish Friendship Bread chain, go here for starter and baking recipes.

May we all be inspired to strengthen the bonds of friendship and keep strong the tradition of sharing.

– – –

c.b. 2012

Stoke the “Embers”

Standard

Embers by Sándor Márai is one of those rare books that can fashion a slice of life story into something powerful and intriguing. It explores a deep friendship between two men that began when they were young boys, but fractures when they reach adulthood. They come from two very different backgrounds as one is very wealthy while the other struggles.  Despite the disparity they share a bond that does not break even when deceit comes between them. After an estrangement lasting forty one years, the main character laments that regardless of everything his friend has done, they are still connected.

Márai has an amazing gift of building a story bit by bit until it explodes with one twist after another. The story is told primarily through the eyes of the General (the wealthy one of the two). When he recieves word that his old friend is coming for a visit, the General begins to reminisce about past events. He thinks about how they met and vaguely alludes to what drove them apart. By the time his friend arrives, he is ready to confront the root of his long-held anger.

The two men share an evening of memories and accusations. Events of their history remain close to the surface, but tempers remain surprisingly in check. For both men, this meeting isn’t about proving who is right, but rather about closure and usurping the ultimate meaning of life. In particular, the General is looking to reconcile the human desire for passion, love, and friendship with the tendencies towards deceit, hate, and jealousy. They are inextricably part of the human experience, yet they are capable of both enhancing and destroying the very fabric and joy of life.  It is a paradox that has no answers and offers no consolation.

– – –

I interrupt this book review for shameless, shameless self-promotion.  If you are a campaigner and enjoyed my entry, (The Call) for the first challenge, feel free to give me a thumbs up!  I am #93 and you can find my “like” button here.

So far I’ve read so many wonderful stories and I can’t wait to read more as they are posted! Good luck to everyone in the challenge!

– – –

c.b. 2012