Eight ounces of normalcy

After a year of “lasts” – last Thanksgiving in America, last Christmas, last birthday, last this, last that – the “firsts” began.

It started off slowly. First Moon Festival. Quaint really as my teammate and I were invited to the rooftop garden of one of our school officials. We were served so many peanuts and seeds I started hiding them in pockets. First National  Day. It was only a day and not as big of a deal as it has become in the country. First Halloween.

But then the weather changed and almost overnight we went from wearing shorts to wearing all of our clothes at one time. Why did no one close the windows? And who thought restaurants with only three walls was a good idea? Would I ever feel my feet again? Who was the genius behind half a country without heat?

Packages began to arrive with paper turkeys, pumpkins, and pilgrims. If you thought The First Thanksgiving was a production, you should have seen the culture lecture Erin and I put on for our students. Naive and energetic, we wrote skits, required practices, and learned more facts than I’ll ever need this side of Jeopardy. (Speedwell, anyone, anyone?! How about this one, 51 dead?!)

But Thanksgiving is more than a production, it’s a practice. A discipline really. A slowing down and feasting together. A remembering of how great is Thy faithfulness.

A few problems arose when it came to the discipline and ritual behind creating that space. First, we had not yet gotten over the meat market traumatization our first week and the only food we had perfected was frying potatoes. So, eating more fried potatoes didn’t feel special, it felt like survival. Next problem, we had come to China, two intelligent women, without one recipe and Al Gore hadn’t gotten around to his greatest invention of the internet yet.  To review, we had potatoes, a few other veggies, salt, pepper, flour and what I had learned to order from the bakery called yellow oil (aka very low grade margarine).

All sounds charming.  Except we weren’t on an exotic cooking show cooking with random ingredients (and skill) trying to win a prize. And we were freezing. And it was our first big holiday. And “our people” were on the other side of the world and “our new people” had been in our lives all of four months.

In discussing this and getting a bit depressed and woe-is-us, Mark, the only other foreigner we knew at that point, wondered if Thanksgiving evening we’d like to go out for Beijing Duck. He spoke Chinese and could order for us – yes, oh yes!

Thursday we taught in the morning, had lunch with students and went home for a short rest before joining in the sports meet. In a bizarre reenactment of The First Thanksgiving (in 1621, you’re welcome), we too participated in games, as we found ourselves helping the English Department to a victory in the tug-of-war. Other departments sputtered it was due to our girth. Don’t invite amazon like women if you don’t want them to bring it! We might not have been great cooks, but pulling on a rope, now that’s more like it.

We went home, changed, and biked to the restaurant. Mark ordered and as the waitress was leaving, he placed a small 8 ounce tinned can on the table.

And that is the moment I’ll remember forever as my bridge from old normalcy to new normalcy.

Eight ounces of a flavor and ritual that linked old Amy with new Amy. Eight ounces that contained memories and assurances. Power and simplicity intertwined with cranberries.

I may have been on the other side of the world with people I hadn’t known long, yet enough was familiar. We were going to be eating a bird. It may not have been turkey, but it was meat that we did not have to purchase raw and figure out how to cook in a toaster oven. The spicy green beans were actually an upgrade. And we were with people we loved, sharing a meal, and remembering the many blessings we had experienced.

Isn’t that like God? To take something small and insignificant and use it. And so it will be for you. I don’t know what will be used this year to remind you that you are still you, you are connected and matter, that you have much to be grateful for.

I’d love to hear what God uses in your story!

15 Comments

  1. Katherine November 27, 2013

    For my 1st Thanksgiving in China, we found a hotel that was doing a traditional Thanksgiving spread. Ahhh, that was heavenly! I think the meal that was the cross over of old Katherine and new Katherine was when my (now) husband sent a jar of tomato sauce. I was so excited that I invited the two other American’s teaching at my school over for spaghetti and garlic bread. They said that the minute the hit my apartment and smelled the smells of Italian food they were immediately transported home. That is a meal that we will not soon forget. How good God is to remember us in the midst of our un-ordinary and give us something so ordinary that it is quite special!

    1. Amy Young November 27, 2013

      Oh the power and memories wrapped up in smell! And the combo of spaghetti sauce and garlic bread. I feel at home just thinking about it 🙂

  2. How to make Thanksgiving more practice than production // The Messy Middle November 27, 2013

    […] A few problems arose when it came to the discipline and ritual behind creating that space. First, we had not yet gotten over the meat market traumatization our first week and the only food we had perfected was frying potatoes. So, eating more fried potatoes didn’t feel special, it felt like survival. Next problem, … continue reading here. […]

  3. Morielle November 28, 2013

    I made stuffing in a wok (sautee onions and celery, then add bread crumbs, sage, thyme, salt and pepper). I always hated stuffing in America. But I associated the smell with Thanksgiving. And, lo and behold, I LOVED it here. Weird how that works, huh?

    1. Amy Young November 28, 2013

      Wok stuffing, I love it :)! and funny/interesting how context can influence us :). Enjoy your stuffing Morielle!

  4. Ashley November 28, 2013

    For me, (besides turkey, which I’ve learned to let go of with only a little grumbling) cornbread casserole is Thanksgiving. The first 3 years were mini disasters. Edible, but so not like Dad’s. This year, I’ve finally gotten it down, thanks to numerous packages including Jiffy. (I just couldn’t find a way to replace the little box of goodness!)

    1. Amy Young November 28, 2013

      Love the little boxes of goodness myself! And so glad you won’t be sharing with the rats!

  5. Emily March November 28, 2013

    I had to learn how to make pumpkin pie. I was the only one willing to learn out of my friends last year, and so I tried. The thought terrified me, because I had one shot, and I was the only one bringing it to the party. But thanks to the internet, I learned how to roast a pumpkin (I had to use butternut squash – and now I would highly recommend it!) and make my own pie crust from scratch. I was extremely excited when a friend of mine took the first bite of the pie and smiled! It actually turned out really well, and I’m making it again this year!

    1. Amy Young November 28, 2013

      Woot woot for bravery! And yum yum for success!

  6. Mark Allman November 28, 2013

    The power of smell and taste on memories! Welcomed most of the time. It is amazing to take a trip into the past on a smell alone. 🙂

    1. Amy Young November 28, 2013

      I go back and forth on which sense I think is most powerful 🙂 … silly conversations I have with myself. But, Mark, I think you’re right that smell is most strongly associated with memory. Happy Thanksgiving and may it be filled with memories!

  7. Danielle Wheeler November 28, 2013

    I love this whole post. I’ll share my food in my post tomorrow 🙂 I have to say that one of my favorite lines here is “Why did no one close the windows?” 🙂

    1. Amy Young November 28, 2013

      Hahaha 🙂 … it was especially befuddling in the classroom. The windows wide open. The students racing at break to plug in their handwarmers. Hey, I have an idea …

      But then five years later when I moved to overheating and closed windows, I felt very southern whining about the lack of fresh air.

  8. Jennifer November 29, 2013

    My sharpest memory of this is actually not tied to the holiday. It came one day when I was sick with a cold and a good Chinese friend I work with went with me to the hospital. After we had finished there and we were getting into the car to go home, her husband, who I had just met for the first time, suggested to her that I let him take us for dinner first. We went to a beautiful Russian restaurant and had a meal I think I will probably never forget. The best western food I have eaten here. Classic comfort food. But what really made it special to me, was when over dinner he said that the reason he had chosen that restaurant was because he knew that when you were sick the food that you most needed to eat was the food you were most familiar with, your comfort food. He thought this would be that for me, and he was right. Since that time I have become much more aware of the fact that there definitely are times when the taste of familiar comfort food is what you need more than anything else in the world.

  9. Carolyn November 29, 2013

    This week, for the first time EVER on my own, in eight years of marriage, I made my first full Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings! Here we are, in a remote village in the middle of Central Asia, and I felt such a warm glow of pride as I looked at my table with roasted chickens, stuffing, green bean casserole, roasted veggies, mashed potatoes, even homemade cranberry sauce, and the best of all – real pumpkin pie AND apple pie with real whipped cream for dessert!! (And I am NOT a pie maker!) The local family we invited weren’t overly impressed with it all, and my New Zealander husband and our guest from New Zealand weren’t too crazy about the pumpkin pie, but I. loved. it. The minute I put a bite of that pie with whipped cream into my mouth, I was home. I never realized how much Thanksgiving really is about the taste of home until this year.

    The best moment of our dinner was when my six-year-old leaned over to me and quoted a line from “Cranberry Thanksgiving” which we read last week… “Mom – everything cooked with crisp edges and tender centers!” I was so touched that he actually remembered the line from the book AND connected it with my cooking… I felt so full of, well, thanksgiving!

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