Zarf: Okay, what?

The last post of the 2022 A to Z Challenge is always welcome in my world because posting for 26 nearly consecutive days is truly a challenge. My Z word today doesn’t have a direct link to my theme of relationship building, but then most of the other words weren’t direct links either. But here’s the final, true thing – because relationship with others and with God are the most important things in my life, almost everything in life becomes indirectly linked to those priorities.

I attribute many things which others call coincidences, or serendipitous moments, to God and his desire to give me a smile, a laugh or a touch of some kind. I happened to be looking at this scene in Julia’s kitchen on the day that I was searching for a post on Z.

Zarf, the little metal handle and the ring attached to it at the bottom. Top left corner, some extra zarfs, or maybe zarves. I don’t know.

A few minutes later I came upon the word zarf and realized I was looking at one and never knew what it was called. It brought to mind the many times Julia had made an espresso or latte for me and how I had enjoyed holding my zarf while talking with her.

I don’t know how it came about that someone initially roasted a coffee bean and soaked it in hot water. It seems that ever since coffee has had some kind of crazy hold on civilization. I’ve read a lot of stories about pioneer days in our country, how they were ALWAYS making coffee on their cookstoves or over their campfires. If you had nothing else, you had coffee, and maybe biscuits.

Our family has many people who enjoy coffee, and more than a few who might be called fanatics. Some go for the fancy, expensive kind from the shops that abound in our towns and cities. Most are content with a cup of plain, good tasting brew. I have to admit that coffee is a standard, a hub of our social gatherings. That is the indirect link to relationship building.

Mmm, hmm.

Rarely do any of us refuse a cup of coffee and a donut, or a homemade cookie. This beverage accompanies the best of conversations. Some of us feel secretly linked by our love of coffee. Coffee rituals abound. We have our favorite cups and we have signs on our kitchen walls, clever coffee quotes on our T-shirts. It’s okay. It’s even fine if someone wants to drink tea instead of coffee, as long as they don’t tell anyone what’s in their cup.

So, here’s a toast to that hot, fragrant, brown drink in the clear glass held by a zarf, and to the many relationships furthered by “coffee time”. (And to the end of the 2022 A to Z Blogging Challenge!)

Yard Work: Joining in Builds Relationship

This one is short. I’m getting tired but there’s only one more letter left!

They say it – the family that works together, stays together. (Did I get that right? Maybe not.). At the very least, the family that has built lasting, enjoyable relationships always wants to help each other with their yard work.

Whether it’s digging up dandelions, collecting dog poop, putting markers on redbud trees so they don’t get cut down, or pulling out vast amounts of invasive English ivy, I have done it. In my daughter’s yards. Happy to help.

After all, when I am visiting the girls during their busy work weeks, I am free during the day and looking for things to do. They are usually distressed by yard work that they haven’t been able to get done. I love being outside so it seems a win/win situation for me to be working in the yard.

It gives me a chance to take part in improvements they’ve done over the years. I get an odd sense of “ownership” in saying “I planted that flower”, or “I trimmed that tree for you last summer”. I think they would say they have loved that part of my work ethic too.

To build a relationship well, I am willing to join them in work that needs to be done. I might need a day or two to be on vacation myself, but that gets old pretty quick, and I have always found other people’s work to be more fun than my own (although I love my own yard work too).

At the end of the day, it is so satisfying to be relaxing in a nice yard that’s had a little love, and to be enjoying it with the people I love. Sweet, just sayin’…

Xenophile: Sharing Passions Builds Relationships

I was delighted to find this word describing a common trait that I share with my daughters, one which has been built especially into my relationship with daughter Julia. Both of my girls have traveled and experienced foreign cultures and love doing that, as do I. We love exploring, talking to people and learning how we are all similar, and how our lives are different. That’s basically what a xenophile is – a person who loves foreign people and their cultures.

Me, dressed for riding the tuk tuk through the city.

The foreign part of the world that I have the most experience with is Southeast Asia, Cambodia in particular. I have taken four trips of about two weeks each time and have made many personal friends, most of them in PhnomPenh. I was so moved by the people and their way of life that I had to take Julia there, so she could experience it too.

Julia loves these kids, they love her too.

While there, our mission was to spend time with the staff and children of Asia’s Hope, an organization providing stable homes for orphans and at risk children. In a country where it is common for people in poverty to “sell” a child into slavery of one kind or another, in order to make ends meet, Asia’s Hope is committed to finding these kids and rescuing them. They are a Christian organization and want to teach children that God loves and values them, even when other people don’t. They place 20 to 25 children in a home with indigenous house parents who will raise them to college age and beyond. They will live out biblical principles and equip the children to be leaders in their own country. It is a beautiful model and it works.

So, the love part – what won me over? I can list a few of the many, many experiences that did the trick.

– arriving at the Phnom Penh airport late at night and finding the house parents and dozens of the kids waiting to greet us, grab our bags and put them in vans and get us to our lodgings.

I’m in there, the only white haired person you can pick out…

– being invited to their homes for meals highlighting their cuisine but also giving us something familiar (they learned fried chicken and spaghetti quite easily).

Their preferred “table”. They were kind enough to make sure we had chairs.

– visiting in their asian style kitchens, while the moms, cooks and older girls cooked on charcoal grills while squatting on the floor (so amazing!)

– playing games with the children outside, sitting with them inside while they overwhelmed us with laughter and hugs

– enjoying outings to the city market where each child thoughtfully chose how to spend five dollars on something they needed with no complaining or arguing.

Of course I am not in this picture because I am taking the picture.
With PE4 after a successful shopping trip. I made it into this picture, again the odd one with very white hair.

– watching them enjoy a rare trip to a pizza restaurant where dozens of wings and pizzas disappeared, again with nothing but smiles and happiness.

Pizza night, and I am given a flower for my hair…
Oh, and there was birthday cake for all to share.

– hearing their delight in learning English words and phrases, and more laughter as they listened to us trying to learn Khmer words from them

– experiencing firsthand their simple, strong faith and how content they are with so little

– and over the years, seeing them learn and grow, graduate high school and go on to university (so rare in their country).

My contact list has almost more Asian friends than American ones and my Facebook messages are filled with pictures from those beautiful friends in that exciting, culturally different but much loved country. I am suffering from xenomania. I am a xenophile.

Updates: Relationship Building Necessity

In our family, we are not like lots of mothers and daughters who keep their relationships up to date by calling each other every day. I have often marveled at that since I don’t like phoning all that much. A big part of our infrequent calls is that we are all quite busy, and even if we would want to chat for a minute, the chances of us wanting it at the same minute would be slim.

However, all of us have this strange, inner warning system that tells us when it’s been too long. It’s time for an update. We will text to find out a good time to talk on the phone. Or sometimes we will just text for a long time, which leaves a nice record of what was said that can be nice to review. Often we will group chat with the girls’ husbands too, which always adds some hilarious twists. We do care about knowing each other and being known. I definitely give credit to that practice for our generally good relationships.

This need to periodically get updates has spread to our extended family. My four brothers, their wives and children cooperate on a Zoom call every couple of months. It’s a little challenging to schedule since we are in time zones from the east coast to Alaska, but we usually manage to hear from everyone.

We fill up more than one screen when we all participate.

Sometimes a half hour update is not enough for us so we plan a reunion. Spending more time together is what is needed to keep some of these relationships fresh and current. Four or five days of eating together, talking, walking, sharing fun experiences and being in the same space always adds to our understanding of each other’s lives. We always build some new memorable moments. I don’t think any of us ever wants to miss one of the reunions. (I could be wrong about that but no one has ever told me otherwise.)

It’s been four years since our last reunion, so everyone is excited about doing it this summer. We are reviving a number of items from past times, one of which is the family newsletter. This is the gold standard of updates. Every family is asked to summarize what’s been going on since we last met and submit it to the volunteer “editorial board”. And if they don’t take time for that task before the publication date, the board gets to make something up for them. As a writer, that’s one of my favorite jobs.

Lots of my friends and acquaintances notice and remark about how our family is such a close-knit group. Our habits of getting together, doing things together, staying knowledgeable about each other’s lives and having regular updates have made it possible. We are building good relationships for ourselves now and hopefully teaching the next generation ways of continuing to build relationships for the future.

How long has it been since your family had a reunion? What would it take to do it? Worth thinking about…

Tents, Togetherness: Relationship Tools

Tents, togetherness and relationships. Makes perfect sense.

We’ve spent a fair amount of time living in tents, my daughters and I – enough to be thankful we have houses to live in most of the time. Tents probably wouldn’t be much of a thing if we didn’t want to be outside, where it sometimes gets cold and rainy. They allow us to spend time with people in places we might not normally get to visit.

Some tents also provide gathering spaces bigger than our houses, and we’ve done a few of those also. Small tents give us intimate space with a few people. Big tents give us casual space with many, many people. Both are useful and available in a variety of styles, and a frightening array of prices.

I’ve had a fascination with tents since I was a small child. My father set up a used army tent for me, in our yard, for one of my birthdays. I spent a good deal of time in it that summer. I’ve gone on to own three or four tents and they were all dear to me. Some of them leaked but I loved them anyway.

Tents are a relationship tool, but I’m not saying there is a guarantee the relationship will be good. But you and others will be together, like it or not.

There I’ve about said it all for tents and togetherness. Here are my illustrations from my own experience.

Tents in our backyard in Florida served as extra bedrooms for people who got very little sleep. This one was big. It also leaked.
The one on the right is my “other” tent, ready for occupancy at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Requires being horizontal.
In Cambodia I attended many large gatherings in tents. They know how to put on fancy events in them.
Yeah, this is snow. It is the food tent at the Birkie International ski race in my hometown. It was not very warm inside, but better than being outside.
And talk about togetherness! Happening here.
A tent allowed us to gather, during the pandemic, for my sister-in-law’s memorial service. Technically, we were outside.
In 2020 I rented a wedding tent. It did keep us fairly dry in the downpour, at night. Another pandemic gathering outside.

This spring (if it ever arrives), I want to put my tent up by the pond behind the barn, and listen to the spring peepers. Probably no one will join me but I will strengthen my relationship with nature, or frogs and mosquitos… All good.

Saving: A Relationship Building Tool

There are people who don’t have a soft heart toward animals (I think we call them psychopaths). We are not those people. From their earliest days, my girls and I have been saving one lost animal after another. Our collaboration on this mission has helped our relationships grow stronger. After all, if we will do it for an animal we will probably do it for a person. We trust each other’s soft, compassionate heart for things that live.

This has been on Mom’s refrigerator for years. I think that’s why I must have started picking up strays.

Giving kittens a good home was one of the girl’s first projects. We had (way too many) barn cats that usually could not be caught, unless they were very young. The girls were “kitten tamers” so that they could be given to good homes. They were mostly successful, except for the one that had to go growling and hissing into a box, fastened shut. We prayed it would not be returned to us.

Baby birds, found near dead, were nursed back to life. I was commonly looking for recipes for baby animals and conferring with veterinarians on their care. Wounded squirrels found refuge at our house, in spite of being little terrors and biting us. One even got taken to the family chiropractor in hopes that his weird limp and inability to walk a straight line without falling over could be corrected.

Yes, even ants. Activism’s early beginnings.

Kitten tamers and dog trainers, they excelled in their saving of animals, and the animals got bigger. Julia brought a Wisconsin horse home to Florida, not knowing it was pregnant. Her herd started that way. Years later, she has four horses she cares for, plus two ponies, two donkeys, four sheep, two goats, three dogs and two cats. It is a good thing financially that she is now a large animal vet, but it also means she is always hearing about one more animal that needs to be rescued or put down.

Esther has become a greyhound expert, having given two of them a good home while they were alive. She has a third one now, and has had a couple of other dogs along the way as well. She has a passion for training dogs to have good relationships with people, so they aren’t a burden on others and can have forever homes.

I am going to give credit to our experiences saving animals, building trust relationships with them, to our ability to relate in good ways to people. After all, most of the same principles apply, and should be applied. Love and attention, reliable boundaries, consistency, proper care and feeding – doesn’t that sound like what you and I want? Yes, all that. And, in fact, we often buy pets for children in hopes that they will learn to do these things and be responsible for their animals and their people.

It is true that those skills in being compassionate do bleed over into concern and care for people. Both Julie and Esther value their close relationships and tend to them responsibly. It is a joy to watch, and also a comfort to consider as I get older and closer to needing “saving” myself. We’ll see how that works out.

Rescuing animals can be a good tool in teaching about relationships. It was for us, and has been for many others, maybe you? Sometimes it’s enough to send a check to the Animal Rescue Society, after watching one of those commercials about starving, shivering puppies tied up in the snow and mud. For the most part, we do have something in us that longs to save. I don’t believe it’s an accident that we were created that way. Just sayin’…

Once homeless, Shadow lives with me.

Noticing: A Relationship Building Skill

Not too long ago, I was waiting outside a public men’s restroom for my husband to come out. He is disabled and whenever we go travel, there are challenges to be dealt with. I’m often aware that we are slow and inconvenient for people around us. I’m also aware that the husband needs to have his dignity protected and his needs addressed with kindness. This is a balancing act and my patience or lack thereof is often on display.

We are slow and careful, but people often notice and help us by holding doors and waiting. Much appreciated!

On this particular day a man came out of the restroom ahead of my husband and stopped to encourage me. I forget exactly what he said, but it was something about having noticed us and feeling that we were a good example. He evidently had caught one of my more patient moments and had given thought to what life was like for us.

As he went on down the hall, he stopped to talk to another elderly woman who was sitting on a bench. He got down on a knee to be on eye level with her. This man was an expert “noticer”. He was building relationships. I found out later that he was a very prominent man in the community and in his field of business. He had at one time addressed a United Nations assembly. I believe his behavior and his prominence are related.

Sometimes I notice, and sometimes I don’t. The more often I notice people, really see them, the better my relationships with them become. But noticing is something of an art.

There are times when I am so focused on what’s going on in my head that I’m blind to what’s going on around me. People have facial expressions, body language, behaviors and words and I should be paying attention if I value the relationship with them.

It’s the best feeling in the world when I’m able to do a successful “notice”. Especially with my daughters, if I’m able to pick up on when they are frustrated and need to talk, I can just listen. When I sense they need some privacy or alone time, I can disappear. And when they need some help, I can figure out a way to help them. Over the years we have learned to count on each other to notice because they do the same for me. Our relationships are all the more comfortable and beneficial because we know each other from our years of noticing.

Noticing is very much like the present trend of being “in the moment” and fully aware. It’s probably not something any of us can do all the time but we can intentionally get better at it. We once had a neighbor who was a police artist. My mom took some art lessons from him and they talked at length about how few people are prepared to be expert witnesses, because they don’t notice with intent. See if this exercise gives you increased awareness of what you notice:

Think of a person you love, with whom you have a relationship – someone you are with often. If you had to describe them, or if you tried to draw them yourself, what would that be like? Think of the details of their face, the most prominent features, their most usual expression. If you were asked what their most recent concern was, would you be able to name it? When you last spoke, did you leave them in a better mood than you found them? How could you tell?

I value the people around me who notice. It can be painful to be in a relationship where I am not noticed. I imagine you feel much the same. We want good relationships. Let’s go out and, quietly but intentionally, notice our important “others” and see what happens.

Laughter: Relationship Necessity

Laughter is the lifeblood of my most important relationships. Sometimes it is all we can do. After we have talked, struggled together, cried, and hugged, if we can still find the smallest of reasons to laugh at our circumstances or ourselves, the relationship will survive. Laughter is precious.

I would not say that any of us in our family are gifted comedians. Other than my husband who is master of “dad jokes” and teasing, our humor tends to be more on the dry, satirical side. I am not good at telling jokes, never have been. I laugh quietly with an occasional explosion. When something is really hilarious, I like to watch others laugh more than doing it myself. But I am laughing on the inside…

Master of Dad jokes. DO. NOT. GET. HIM. STARTED.

What I can say about my family, and the relationships we have built, is that we like to look for the humor in ordinary circumstances and play that up any way we can. Whenever I get “needy” for fun I love to text my girls and get a conversation going. It often breeds laughter because, for some reason, it’s easier to be ridiculous with the instant written word. We get funny, pretty easily and I so enjoy those times.

The girls love to add memes to family photos.

An interesting experiment that anyone with a smart phone can try is to let predictive text write for you. Pick a like minded individual to text and start choosing words as they are offered to you. Sooner or later you are going to have to laugh. Try it.

You can also build a laughter bond by looking at old photos with your adult children and pointing out how trendy you all dressed years ago (not). And the hair, always the hair…

Since the digital age, I have saved photos of my girls that make me laugh. It is so much easier to get them in funny poses or crazy situations. I’m not sure how those photos make them feel, but when I look at them and laugh I simply could not love them more.

I keep this one with me in my planner, for low moments.

Every now and then, we sit with each other, talk and laugh and enjoy the comfort of it. It’s not so much the things we laugh at, it’s the sharing of a funny moment with someone I know will remember and treasure it as much as I do. It kind of cements that tribal feeling.

It’s not just a family thing, of course. I feel the same way with others as I work at building relationship with them. Conversations are better, healthier, when they are mixed with frequent laughter. It’s a tool, a good one.

Karaoke: Giving Voice to Relationship Building

There are probably some people reading this who remember being four years old and singing dramatically into a hairbrush “microphone”. Or better yet, you might have had access to a “singing machine” where you practiced your dream of making the songs you loved come out of your own mouth.

Confess. You want to pick one of these up and test it out. Yeah, you do.

Karaoke is what it’s called now and it’s come a long way, technically speaking. The words and music to thousands of songs are available through apps on the web. With very little trouble, anyone can have a fun night of singing in their own home, with their favorite people.

Because both the husband and I were musicians, our girls were always involved in singing and as karaoke became a thing, we often had our own singing events at family gatherings. I will give my brother Gary credit for starting it. He brought his machine to a reunion and had everyone wanting to join in before the night was over. Music in general is a great relationship builder (letter M is coming up) but I think there are special things about karaoke that give it a different twist. We all have ears, and voices, so the chance to pick up a mic and sing is a very accessible tool.

One of our early karaoke nights, when we were the young ones. My four brothers all like to sing.

The goal at our family sings is never to be just like a particular artist. We don’t kid ourselves about perfect pitch and tone, or knowing a song perfectly – we know we don’t. We applaud those brave enough to risk looking a little silly. Even before a very friendly audience, it is sometimes scary to do challenging things that are as personal as singing. Sometimes we sit waiting for the next volunteer singer, someone who is brave enough to mentor the rest.

This is what I’ve noticed. The bravery is contagious. We have a lot of younger family members, including my daughters, who willingly (I might even say eagerly) plan what they will sing for the next get together. Having fun and participating are both the goals and the rewards, and as the young ones get better and better from practice, we, the older, get more humble – as it should be.

The bottom line is that there is fun to be had. Not everyone sings but we all love to be entertained. We enjoy relationships built around fun, and we can acquire a reputation for being fun people, even if we do sing a bit funny.

Here is a screen shot from Kara-Fun, the karaoke app I have on my IPad. We’ve been able to find something for everyone to sing, so far. You can find it in your App Store for a reasonable subscription price.

Hike: Relationship Building Activities

This is the end of the first week of A to Z Challenge 2022. I have been completing posts A through H while on a trip and that has made it more of a challenge than other years. I have had to keep it very simple, knowing that it doesn’t compare to some of the other great blogs I’ve been reading. It is still fun to put it together and share. Hope you are enjoying the read.

Having always been a walker, but mostly for the purpose of getting from point A to point Z, hiking was not really a “thing” in life until 2000. That was the year we hosted an exchange student from Sardinia for her last year of high school in the U.S. Having mastered her English enough to graduate, Maura was all set to go to Cancun with a number of classmates to celebrate. I wasn’t very comfortable with that. There were horror stories of young girls disappearing from the beach and never being seen again. I said no.

I had to come up with an alternative activity. I can’t remember why hiking the Appalachian Trail sounded like a reasonable project. Maybe I already had it on my list. At any rate, we put together a small band of adventurers including my daughters and one of their friends, five of us. None with hiking experience.

We survived and we bonded, as often happens with challenging experiences. We got blisters, sore backs, got thirsty, hungry and sleep deprived. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

While it is comforting to young people to know that their elders are capable and resourceful, it only adds to the depth of a relationship to find out that they are not always that. I think it may have been one of the first times that I was the weak one, needing to be rescued from dehydration and lifted to the next camp via truck. Those girls hiked, by themselves, the twelve miles that day and arrived in camp in record time.

It was a successful hike overall and we had great satisfaction in getting to our car on the fifth day, somewhat more experienced as hikers. Olive Garden fresh salad, bread and Alfredo sauce never tasted as good as it did on that trip home.

Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

Since that time, hiking has been a passion for me, and it is always better with a daughter or a family member. There are so many good shared moments walking through nature, talking about what we see, making camp, and dividing up chores. We see how we behave when we have less convenience and less distraction. It is getting to know each other in a unique way.

To me, hiking is a special kind of walking, in a particular planned area just for the intent of seeing what’s there and spending time with companions. It can be an hour long, or a week long – distance is not the issue, purpose is. In the last 20 years my girls and I have made lots of memories and seen some amazing places. It has been an important factor in the relationships we have with each other.

Find a friend or family member who you want to get to know better, plan a hike, and get walking!

Springer Mountain. We were there.