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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Today is Bastille Day.

Photo by Joe deSousa on Unsplash

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Today is also a family member’s birthday, yay!

Photo by Robert Anderson on Unsplash

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And on this day, years ago, I visited a floating market in Thailand.

At 6:45 this morning I hopped a bus for a two-hour ride to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak. I’m sure the pictures will tell the tale well, as long as the viewer can also imagine the sticky heat of the morning sun rising over a town whose streets are made entirely of water. It was totally touristy and, admittedly, lots of fun.

On the way there the bus stopped at a coconut oil factory, made obvious from the road by the mounds of coconuts piled everywhere. A woman stood by a huge stove and swirled coconut oil or juice around and around in the largest wok I’ve ever seen. She actually had three of these monstrosities cooking at once, each in various stages of reduction. Every so often she’d reach over and grab another handful of coconut husk to stoke the fire. I couldn’t resist a bag of coconut candy; it’s probably 99 percent fat and terrible for me, but it tasted like richly-flavored brown sugar. Delicious.

The first boat driver was a little throttle happy, so we got the speed demon tour of the town’s waterways. He’d race full ahead toward a wall, then turn at the last minute. The front of the boat would turn sharply, the back swing around, and we’d race off to the next corner to do it all again. Along the way I realized how little difference there is between streets of gravel and water. All along the banks there were walkways leading up to people’s houses, small yards where they kept everything from pets to fishing traps, and little garages off to the side where they parked their boats at night. One difference: on the canals’ sides I noticed an odd creature, a fluffy pink worm-like animal that looked a little like a small sea cucumber. It was easy to spot because it was hot hot pink. 

The first thing we were encouraged to do after stepping out of the boat was to get right back in another. For a few dollars a sightseeing boat of sorts would shuttle tourists around the main market canal. In a few seconds we were off with the rest of the boats, making our way along the canal crowded with boats carrying food, trinkets, and other tourists. The only thing they told us was to watch our fingers, as the boat’s metal-rimmed edges collided frequently. Good to know. 

Almost all of the boats selling things were occupied by women. They talked amongst themselves while making fried rice cakes or chopping open coconuts for us to drink. It seemed like a crowded market anywhere, just on the water.

A woman with a Bunsen burner and stack of bowls in her boat made noodle soup. As my boat mate sat back to slurp up his lunch, a man came over and asked me a question.

He wanted to know why I wasn’t eating too, and wanted to assure me that the food was both good and safe. By pointing at a passing boat and a billboard adorned with smiling faces and happy stomachs, he managed to let me know that the market had been established as a “Safe Eating Zone” which was enforced by police. I could eat without fear. I thanked him and let him know by pointing at my stomach that I just wasn’t hungry. I tasted some of the soup soup and declared it delicious. We concluded the conversation with smiles and thanks. 

Pretty good, considering neither knew a word of the other’s language.

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J.R. Johnson

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Happy Fourth!

I’m out enjoying a beautiful Fourth of July. Hope you are too!

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Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

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It’s a holiday weekend, bookended by Canada Day and the Fourth of July. As a dual citizen, I feel obligated to celebrate as much as possible, which means I am trying to work as little as possible. Today, that means learning something fun. Like perspective bending, with sheep.

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Original photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

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O Canada!

I originally hail from the United States but I’m also proud to be a citizen of Canada. Is it perfect? (Is either country?) No. But this is a multi-faceted country with a complex history and also a lot of good, and being part of something is the best way to both contribute to its present and better its future.

Happy Canada Day, Canada! Let’s all work together for brighter days.

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Photo by Steve Philpott on Unsplash

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Sunday

Istanbul-Cappadoccia

I’m in seat 34 and already seven minutes late. We’re on the night bus to Cappadocia and I’m settling in for a ten-hour ride into the heart of Turkey. The old woman ahead of me is getting feisty, pounding on the window and demanding to leave, loudly. This little drama is all in Turkish, of course, but it’s hard to misunderstand this kind of impatience. Most of the country seems to travel by bus and this is the largest terminal I’ve ever seen. The station is huge, complete with hotel and shopping complex, mosque, 200,000 lira WCs, and plenty of air guns to keep the kids occupied. 

What’s this? We’re leaving right on time, only 14 minutes behind schedule.

Tops in Turkey: Topkapi Palace, cherry juice and jam, beer on a rooftop terrace with a view of the Haghia Sofia and Blue Mosque.

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Photo by Fatih Yürür on Unsplash

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To my dad, who taught us to read without genres, cook without recipes, and love without limits.

Happy Father’s Day!

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We’ve taken a lot of steps to be where we are now. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863 and announced, finally, on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, was a big one.

Is everything perfect? Of course not. But our path is clear and the goal is righteous. This is a good next step.

Happy Juneteenth, America!*

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Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to change the world.

— Harriet Tubman

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Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

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* Is this only a Black American thing? Nope, it’s a “let’s all celebrate a better world” thing:)

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Would the world be a better place if we added the words “I’m afraid that…” to many of our negative thoughts? As in, “I’m afraid that the vaccine is untested and will hurt me.” Or, “I’m afraid that my neighbor with the weird tattoo hates me because I’m different,” or “I’m afraid that Anders in accounting is undermining my promotion case,” or “I’m afraid that the people in charge don’t care about me.”

Adding those three words adds flexibility. It highlights worry but also makes room for the possibility that you may not be right about the danger. It isn’t fact, but possibility.

Anders may indeed have it out for you, but your neighbor probably doesn’t think about you at all.

I’m not unaware that there are real problems in the world, and many of them can be very personal. I was raised around a mix of people, some of whom were sweet hometown souls and some for whom intolerance was their bread and butter. It is true that some people are not good. And not all tattoos are harmless.

Still. This quote also rings true for me:

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

― Yoda, Jedi Master

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Growing up as I did, an adopted, mixed-race but not obviously so child in a mostly rural mostly white area, gave me a certain perspective onto the good and the not so much.

My brother looks Black, he got the brunt of the in-your-face not good. I don’t, as much, so I got to see what lay behind the masks. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was always interesting.

What makes people tick? In my experience, the answer is often fear. We’re all scared of something.

Understanding that, about others and ourselves, can open a fascinating window into motivation, behavior, and connection.

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Years ago, I went on vacation with a group. I didn’t necessarily agree with the politics of all present, but that’s fine. We were there for a good time, and most days, a good time was had.

The weather was warm but it rained on and off, and strong winds blew through even on the best afternoons. On snorkeling day, the boat that took us out was on the small side and the water was choppy with a chance of jellyfish.

The captain took us out into deeper water, pointing to a box of snorkels and masks as we slipped farther from shore. The woman next to me didn’t say much but when she spoke, her voice sounded thin and strained. 

The boat dropped anchor and most of the group immediately swam away. My seat-mate stayed near the ladder, tension visible in her short, choppy strokes and the way her breathing wasn’t quite level.

In that moment, our differences didn’t matter. The water was deep. Jellyfish swarmed nearby, and the boat cast an absurdly small shadow on a vast ocean. 

I reached out a hand and asked if she would swim with me. She laughed, half disbelief, half desperation. 

Then she reached back. 

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It was years ago, but I remember that day every time I am tempted to fall into a knee-jerk reaction about someone. 

I’m half white, half Black, half American, half Canadian, half Star Wars, half Star Trek, half duck confit, half pork and sauerkraut. I’m Exhibit J for the argument that differences don’t have to mean disaster. 

I know that reaching out doesn’t always work. I’ve experienced the alternatives. (And thanks to the joys of social media and increasing polarization, it’s impossible to miss the bonfire of bad so often happening around us.) But I keep trying.

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Like most people, I am best at remembering the foolish things I’ve done, the comments I wish I could take back, or the times I wish I’d done more.

But I also remember that moment in the water, when I was able to reach past our fears and help someone. I doubt she remembers, and that’s fine. In a fundamentally useful way, that moment humanized us both. We do not always see eye to eye, but we like each other far better than any algorithm says we should. 

I can still see the wide blue waters flowing around me, hear the slap of waves against the side of the boat. And feel the warmth of another’s hand looking for help and hope, and giving both back to me in return.

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Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

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“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”

― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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In today’s installment of things I like: this sauerkraut.

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I spent a patently unreasonable amount of time looking for a good, nay, great sauerkraut, and finally found it:

Wildbrine Raw Organic Sauerkraut. If you find it at Costco, you can get the ginormous size for an excellent price.

Are these fine folks sponsoring this message? They are not. They are just doing their level best to to put out a fine product, and I am here for it.

Is it unfashionable to like sauerkraut? Whatever. This stuff is freaking delicious.

Happy weekend cookouts, folks!

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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

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