I have the delightful privilege of starting my Monday mornings with a group of six other single women serving around the world. I’m a huge fan of Connection Groups, and the inspiration and encouragement I receive is beautiful.
This last week we spent a good 15 minutes at the start of our Zoom call talking about cheese. I’m not kidding.
It started with a conversation about Starbucks and the lengths we will go to get to one, and then evolved into how the countries we call home include cheese in drinks and other, um, interesting ways. Melted cheese in hot chocolate. Cheese powder in a latte. Bright orange cheesy ice cream.
I love cheese, for sure—I was raised on a dairy farm and have a great appreciation for all dairy products. My limited American palate cringes a bit at these strange uses of cheese. I also felt rather unrefined this week because I’ve never even heard of most of the varieties of cheese mentioned in our section in Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah.
Have you ever tried fondue? I have to admit I have not, but I enjoyed learning about it this week, and the specificity of cheese production. Mah takes us on her journey of trying fondue with friends and learning the dos and don’ts of fondue etiquette. Never drink water with fondue. Kirsch and Fendant wine are best. Pineapple helps with digestion. Chocolate fondue does not follow cheese fondue.
In this chapter, Mah invites a couple she met through food blogging to her home to make dumplings for Chinese New Year. As an introvert, making friends can be challenging no matter what culture I’m in. It’s hard to be the initiator, not knowing how the invitation will be received. By the end of Mah’s dumpling making adventure, though, she had forgotten that these people were strangers to start with.
Last week we celebrated Velvet Ashes’ 8th birthday, and this section reminded me about the gift of strangers turned friends. While forging friendships through technology in our community certainly has its challenges, it also allows us to make connections around the globe. I’ve gotten to meet several women in person from VA and there are many I really hope to meet one day. Sometimes I actually forget we haven’t yet! It’s delightful to get to walk through life with women who understand without having to sound weird in the explaining.
When we serve in another culture, we are this beautiful and odd mixture of all the places that dig their way into our hearts. I loved this quote from chapter seven: “I’d lived in all three countries, and each had left its mark on me—America most widely and deeply, of course, but also France and China, too. I would always define myself as an American, and I would always fold dumplings at Chinese New Year, and I would always enjoy a bit of cheese between my main course and dinner.”
We are marked by these places, the people we meet, the customs that become familiar and beloved. We have new favorite foods, new opinions or perspectives, even scars that we take with us when we move on to the next place. I will always rejoice when I find Thai jasmine rice these days, and keeping my shoes on in the house still feels weird sometimes. I love celebrating Thanksgiving no matter what country I’m in, and I will probably always get a bit teary when the airplane skims the Missouri River to land at the Omaha airport.
What about you? In what ways have the places you’ve called home left their mark on you? What else stuck out to you from these chapters?
We’ll finish up the book next week!
November 23: Chapters 9-10, Epilogue
November 30: Giving Tuesday (no reading)
In December we will be reading some sweet holiday short stories and chatting about our favorite books of 2021!