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The "Wu Word" Blog

January 2019

Old

“I am getting old, Mary.” 
 
I looked at Mrs. J, not knowing exactly what to say.  She was 91-years-old.  She was fashionable, feisty, sharp, and savvy.  She was impeccable in her cashmere or cable knit sweaters, bright pink lipstick, and jewels that brightened at the catch of the light and only enhanced her inner brightness. Her eyes were a misty blue gray from her fading sight.  She was outspoken with declaring: “That’s a bunch of malarkey!” or “That person is just a screwball!”  She was the grandmother I never had growing up.
 
I did not meet my grandparents until I was close to 10-years-old.  This was mainly due to the fact that my father left his family when he was barely 20-years-old to North America.  When I finally did meet my paternal grandparents, I thought they were the most remarkable beings that represented living history in my life.  I could not get enough of them.  My paternal grandmother and I could barely communicate because she spoke Shanghainese, Mandarin, Cantonese, and not a lick of English.  My Chinese was broken and a linguistic struggle that made me dependent on body language, hand gestures, facial expressions, drawings, and finger pointing to my grandmother.  Yet, my paternal grandmother and I had our own special language with the focal point as juicy Chinese spare ribs and any and every food she thought I would savor and she could stuff me with—not a difficult feat at all, considering the foodie that I am!  My paternal grandfather could speak English. He was a poet and painter.  He also possessed the most graceful moves with his long limbs flowing in tai chi movements.  My paternal grandfather and I would play Chinese mahjong and cards together.  We gambled with food and pennies. We never said much, but we always did so much that have made for memories that I treasure.  I think grandparents and the old are such a special and vital part to us growing up.  For a short time, they lived with us.  Those were some of the best times of my life. 
 
Outside of my biological grandparents, though, was gutsy and gung-ho Mrs. J.  She was blunt, matter of fact, and had a rough sandpaper laugh from her countless years of smoking.  She accompanied and helped my mother drive me to the emergency room in the then bad area of the Bronx when I was the sick child revolved around my ailing kidneys.  She welcomed me into her home when I was the latchkey kid of a single father parent; I actually forgot my keys on more than one occasion.  Every year, she sent me a birthday card with the $20 bill saying how much she loved me.  Every Christmas, I visit her with my home baked goods and talk at least an hour with her—usually more.  As the years have gone by and I have grown up, they have grown old.  Her and my grandparents and all the elderly who I have met have been a staple of support in my life who have taught and shown me some of life’s greatest lessons with their experiences that have brought them great and invaluable intelligence and insight.  I am only fortunate enough to have been the recipient of such warmth and wisdom. 
 
“Mrs. J,” I said, “You are as sharp as a tack.  No one could or would even try to mess with you!”
 
“That’s sweet of you to say, Mary, but, the truth is that I am getting old.  My eyes are going.  My body always aches.  Look at my fingers and hands from my arthritis.  Everything and everyone goes when you get old.  You become yesterday’s news.  No one cares about the old.  I am an old lady.  Do not get old, Mary.” 
 
But I will get old.  We will ALL get old.  We will all experience illness and sickness in our lives either with ourselves and/or the people we love.  We will all see and feel deep sorrow externally and internally.  Our freckles will fade to wrinkles.  Our hair will turn gray or even fall out until we are like bald newborn babies.  Our bodies will fall apart and have dull aches and sharp pains.  Our attitudes on life turn from innocence and eagerness to disenchanted bitterness.  Yet, as our outer shells disintegrate, our inner minds are filled with such wisdom and ways that are also a part of growing old.  There are no shortcuts or easy ways about with the hands of time ticking away from growing up to growing old.  Just because the people we love or our own bodies deteriorate on the outside does not change the core center of us on the inside.  Maybe you could call it the soul.  A different physical form on the outside does not and really should not mean any less love or care, but actually beckons for more love and compassion.  Children may bring out the fun and laughter in us.  The elderly can only bring out our core compassion, sense of understanding and duty, and patience as the ultimate virtue that is more required than ever in this fast-paced world.   I am only chronologically 36-years-old, but I feel mentally aged.  I feel like and always say that I am an old soul and child at heart.  I have always connected and felt closer to the elderly.  It saddens me that we live in a society that cares more about babies and birth and the youth and young over caring about the elderly who are overlooked in probably the most pivotal points in their lives with their bodies declining and their sense of control that slowly slips away from them.  I know this sounds odd at 36-years-old, but I do hope that I can embrace the aging and wise-up process rather than recoil from the reality of all of this.  But, most of all, I hope for love keeping on and increasing at a time of such strength and fragility that comes with growing old for myself and for others.     
 
I said to Mrs. J, “I care about the old, Mrs. J.  I care about you.” 
 
She looked at me and I felt like she was seeing inside my words and not just at the surface of them and said, “I love you, Mary.  More than you will ever know.” 
 
I’m not sure if my love is enough, but it is the little that I can only hope can be a lot for the little time that she has left. 
 
Our society seems to shun aging because aging ultimately leads to death.  If you could stay young forever, would you?  Was there ever a perfect age or time for you?  What is ‘old’ actually considered in the chronological, mental, emotional, and physical realms?  Did you have your grandparents growing up?  Do you think that grandparents growing old are an intricate and very special part to us growing up?  Do you fear getting old? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,
 

Mary ;-) 

Warm

Warm
 
The cold cut
Into our skin
Our heads spin
So very dizzy
Our breath hazy
Ground beneath
So very icy
Chattering teeth
Puffs of air
Ice in your hair
We laugh and shout
With childish glee
So carefree
We stick out
Our tongues
Tasted the
Falling Flakes
Fell in blanket
Of shiny snow
Shared secrets
Snow angels
I think these thoughts
I knew that you
Did not want to go
But you did not know
What to say or do
All I could have said
All I could have did
Are movies in my head
Because this was so new
We are such fools
Not speaking
What we are thinking
Trying to just play it cool
Though it was cold outside
I was warm on the inside
For this was a sliver and slice
Of the best moments in life
You will never know
Because I will never say
All the many ways
I could confess
I think of us
But for only now
I say to you
I thank you
For keeping me safe
In your embrace
In your arms
For keeping me warm 

Breathe

One thing I know for sure every single new year is that my gym increases in the number of people, stress, determination, and perspiration to skim the fat and shed the pounds that were packed on during the holidays.  The parking lot gets jammed.  Cars circle like sharks trying to find and devour whatever spot can be found.  There are barely any lockers left.  Needless to say, the new year is the time I actually dread going to the gym.  Luckily, by the time February rolls around for St. Valentine’s Day and diapered cupid, there are less people and stress at the gym that comes from heart-shaped boxes housing an array of melt in your mouth chocolates. 
 
For this year, one of my new year’s resolutions is to try to get out of my comfort zone.  Try to be cautiously open to “NEW” and “NEWNESS” and poke at or tickle my ‘creature of habit’ Type A self.   I decided to start the poking and tickling with my gym routine.  I would continue with my first love of swimming, but I would up my swim laps AND I would do something that I had never done before: Take a group exercise class I had not participated in previously.  The “Definitions” class looked appealing.  Bars, weights, stability ball…ALL VERY “NEW.”
 
On the first Saturday at the gym, I bit the bullet with this “Definitions” class.  As usual, I was running a bit late that was made even later from the crammed parking lot and cars in vulture mode.  I rushed to the class only to find that it was so packed that there were members nearly out the entrance way.  I cringed.  I could feel the energy was drowning in stress, anxiety, negativity, and bordering on drama.  These things countered my lifetime mantra, which was to steer clear as much as I could from negative and dramatic energy.  Nonetheless, I found my feet moving forward in a determined march.  I randomly went up to one of the members with a bouncy ponytail and tight gym clothes that showcased her curvaceous figure.  I could never understand why people wore tight gym clothes.  I suppose it was to move freely without baggy clothes flopping around, but anything tight would stress me out even more because one of the most important tasks when it came to exercise was to “breathe.”    The woman was very nice to help me find a step and all the exciting exercise gadgets and tools. 
 
I was ready.  I was psyched.  Let’s do this! 
 
My inner pep talk was cut when the woman in front of me snapped: “You can’t be here.  I am going to end up hitting you.  There are dots that let you know of your space where to put your equipement so no one can get hurt.  There’s no dot here for you.” 
 
I raised my eyebrows at her, completely baffled at her sharpness and stress that was oozing out from her.  Rather than snap at her, I thanked her for letting me know and then tried to find another space or, as the woman said to me, dots.  I could not find any freaking dots.
 
I went over to another area and another woman in that area snapped at me again, “You really cannot be there.  There aren’t any dots.  You really need to go to the front.”
 
By then, the high powered music was starting to blast and women were flailing their arms as though they were searching for a rescue boat.  There was no way I was going to go to the front with flying arms and kicking legs.  I knew when this “NEW” was not right for me, returned all the elaborate exercise tools to their proper places, and walked out of the class.  I was bummed that I did not bring my swim attire with me.  I walked up the stairs in defeat when I suddenly felt a pull to another room.  I peeked in the window only to see a dark room with glowing dim lights.  On the floor were probably no more than ten people in twisted pretzel positions.  Yoga. 
 
I cringed again.  I never had the best experiences with yoga.  I had a history of vertigo and nausea that has increased even more since my last surgery in 2014.  I had felt so sick from the last yoga class I went to that I walked out of the class.  A woman with cropped red curls caught my eye and motioned for me to come in. 
 
“OK,” I thought to myself, “Well, I am about ‘new’ so let’s give this a try.  I’ll just leave if I feel sick.”
 
In that dim room, I struggled to find a yoga mat and then pulled off my purple unicorn socks.  I wish I could explain what happened in the next hour, but I cannot fully put it into words.  Only that I felt a warm blanket of peace cover and wrap me.  My forever stiffened limbs and joints unfolding slowly and softly.  I could feel my breath like when I did the elementary backstroke in the pool.  It felt like I was breathing for the first time in my life.  A deep breathe that was coming from the very core of my belly and body.    Throughout the class, the instructor would pop in with: “Are you breathing?” or “Remember to breathe.  We are meant to breathe.”  It made me think of something that I always say: “Oxygen is vital.” 
 
When the class finished, I felt rejuvenated in my body, but, most of all, my mind.  And my breath.  I had NEVER in my entire 36 years of my life been able to get through an hour long yoga class and feel so incredible without a morsel of nausea.  It was unbelievably empowering and, yet, so incredibly calming and peaceful.  I could not thank the teacher enough and that is when my “new” kicked in that I would make every effort to take a yoga class once a week.  Check in with me six months from now.  I have kept my word thus far by taking yet another class these past two weeks.  So far, so good.  For the first time ever since my second yoga class, I did not feel any body pains and aches the next morning.  I was shocked.  I have been bitten by the yoga bug.  I have been swept up with ‘breathe’ and ‘breath.’ I think the most fascinating part of all is that while I always live by my mantra of “PARTYEVERYDAY,” I am discovering and learning a new mantra of “JUSTBREATHE.”   While we celebrate every single day that is a gift, we also need to find a sense of peace in our bodies, our lives, our minds, our lives, and, especially, others and ourselves.
 
Such power in breath and breathing that brings such peace.  I felt empowered that I removed myself from a situation of such high-powered stress in that one class only to unexpectedly come across an age-old practice that seems so deceptively simple, yet incredibly challenging.  Have you been in situations where that you purposefully removed yourself from only to unexpectedly find something new and better?  Have you found that you can go from partying and celebrating to peace and calm?   Life and the world are full of stresses.  What is your way to find peace?  What is your way to stay focused and centered?  What is your way to breathe?  Are you breathing? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,
 
Mary ;-)

 

Missing

Missing
 
While I was driving
The sun was rising
Kaleidoscope colors
Nothing like any other
Reds, Purples, Blues
I thought of you
And all you are missing
 
While I was cooking
The scents were intoxicating
You would have loved to try these flavors
You would have tasted and truly savored
I thought of you
And all you are missing
 
While I was sleeping
I was dreaming
Of our times together
Fleeting moments so sweet and tender
Nothing and no one lasts forever
I thought of you
And all you are missing
 
You are missing
All of this
And I feel  
You are here
In little ways
I cannot even explain
In the way the rain
Falls on the window pane
In the sweet sounds
That are all around
Oh we had so much fun
It was the best of runs
In the days of the sun
In the nights of the moon
In the warmth of a silken cocoon
In your favorite flowers that bloom
And that you still care
Even though you are there
And I am here
 
I am wondering
If you are remembering
If you are wishing
If you are missing
All of us
I fully trust
From where you are
You are not really far
A shining star
Brighter than ever
And though I cannot see
I feel you are with me
A lot that we love
Cannot be touched
Can only be felt
In our beating, breaking hearts
 
I am living
I am breathing
I am smiling
I am crying
When I remember
When I recall
The happy laughter
The simple pleasures
We hold and treasure
It makes me sad
It makes me mad
Because I cannot help thinking of
All of this beauty
All of this ugly
All the young
All the old
Anyone and anything
Everyone and everything
That you are missing
You are missing
And we are missing

You 

Ladybug

I have a love affair with heavy cream.  So does my friend Ladybug.    Our love for heavy cream led to a most serious conversation about chocolate éclairs and cream puffs.
 
“I did a search for the best cream puffs and this place in White Plains came up in a small Japanese market!” Ladybug told me.
 
“What are we waiting for?  Let’s go!”  I exclaimed. 
 
The storefront was painted bright electric blue.  It was a tiny hole in the wall market on Mamaroneck Avenue right next to a pristine sushi restaurant.  There were maybe only six aisles in that tiny Japanese market, but the produce and the seafood were the freshest I had ever seen.  Hidden all the way in the very corner of the market was an elderly woman with a pile of puffs and a huge dispenser of fresh cream that was pumped out and then inserted into the puffs.   Cream puffs did not get any better than this!  Plus, it was only a $1.50—probably even cheaper than Dunkin’ Donuts!  Score!  The elderly woman did not know that much English.  Ladybug and I did not know any Japanese.  Somehow, we communicated through my two fingers pointed up like a peace sign to indicate two cream puffs.  She grinned, prepared the cream puffs artfully, and slid them piping and crispy warm in waxed paper sleeves. 
 
Ladybug and I could not even wait to eat the cream puffs that we removed the wax paper to try them right then and there in that small parking lot.  Ladybug and I eyed our cream puffs in awe and thrill.  I looked up at her.  She looked down at me.  We looked again at our cream puffs.  Without saying anything, we knew it was time to see if these cream puffs were really what they were made of! The topped crisp, the pillowy puff, and the slightly sweet heavy cream was at its absolute finest.  We were in heaven.  Sheer heavy creamed puff heaven.
 
Ladybug said with gusto and determination, “Well, now, we have to make our own.  I bet we could make it even better!” 
 
Ladybug was like that.   She loved seeing if she could replicate or make it even better in the comfort of home.  She loved recipes and would stick papered copies all over her green magnetic cabinets of her retro kitchen.  She loved cozying up on the couch to eat what she made in her 1910 home that came from her aunt.  She always had a stepstool for me to stand on to help her to chop—except for the onions.  She had to take care of the onions because I always cried when cutting onions.  She always had a stool for me to sit on when my hips and feet began aching too much.   Ladybug and I met when she was at the tail end of a difficult time and I was at the beginning point of seriously and heavily considering my hip replacement that would actually happen about a year and a half in change after we met.  Ladybug and I met at the gym because, of course, we had to exercise off our ultimate commonality of food and of heavy cream.  After exercising, we would chat endlessly in the locker rooms about Trader Joe’s, spices from Penzeys (her introduction), Susan Branch (her introduction), recipes, Chinese food and dim sum (my introduction), restaurants, and planning our next meals.  We would go food exploring and shopping together.  She always reached the items from the top shelves for me.  I picked items from the floor for her.  Ladybug towered over everyone at almost 6 feet.  I was pint sized next to her.  She was clearly Caucasian.  Me Asian.  She was in her late 50’s and I was in my early 30’s at the time of us meeting.  She always joked I could be her daughter, but she said that I was one of her sisters.  We looked like and were an odd couple, but we were the closest of friends.  And, yes, we had an extreme love for food.  We were Foodies and Foodie Friends and the closest of friends through and through.
 
On a sultry and hot summer day, Ladybug and I decided to fulfill our love for heavy cream by following a Susan Branch recipe to make a chocolate éclair wreath called ‘Zee Wreath.’  Do not ask me why we decided to try to make a wreath on the hottest day of summer.  We followed every step, every ingredient, and every single word to the last page.  We did not understand how come the cream was not thickening.  We kept dumping in more flour and stirring and stirring until our arms felt like they were going to fall off.   The end result was cream that was so thick that it oozed out of the wreath that had puffed up so big that it was a monster of its own.  We laughed and laughed so hard that we cried and nicknamed it our very own masterpiece “Zee Blob” rather than “Zee Wreath.”  Ladybug was quite upset that it did not turn out perfectly, but as I told her: “It does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” 
 
‘Zee Blog’ and ‘Cream puffs in the parking lot’ are two of my favorite memories with Ladybug.  I could tell you a ton more, but it would be a whole other book.  That would also result in me crying all over again.  Because, you see, just yesterday, I found out that my dear Ladybug died. 
 
This is the first time I am experiencing an extremely close friend (someone who I called and considered a sister) who has died so suddenly that I am left in deep state of shock and remorse.  A friend who I laughed so hard with that both of us would clutch our aching stomachs with tears running down our faces.  A friend who had been there for me in my absolute worst of times to pick me up and remind me always, always of the goodness in people that surpasses the bad.  A friend I went to my very first ballet that was, of course, titled “Whipped Cream.” A friend who understood and matched my love of handwritten cards decorated with stickers and hand drawn smiley faces and stick figures.  She taught me how to make fresh homemade yogurt and homemade bread.  She taught me how to do the ‘chicken dance’ when faced with ‘turkeys’ in life. She told me that life was a no-guarantee policy.  She exemplified a strong, fierce, meticulous, and independent woman/person.  Ladybug, dear sweet Ladybug, who brought me to her happy place on a farm up in Rhinebeck where I met kitty cat Ricky and another friend of hers that she spoke and thought the world of. Ladybug pulled out all stops to make sure kitty cat Ricky and I would have a home together.  She always rolled up her sleeves and was the first to step up to do the dirty work when no one else would or could.  She believed in miracles and magic, flourless chocolate cake with heavy homemade whipped cream that could solve the world’s problems, kindness and goodness, and that everything working out the long run without any shortcuts in life. 
 
She loved ladybugs and saw love and luck in them.  Before she left for the west coast to be with family, she sent me a picture of a ladybug that was crawling methodically on her laptop top and typed, “While I was typing an email to my sister, a ladybug landed on my computer.  That’s my family nickname!  There have been many signs that it is time for me to leave to the west coast.  You’ll get this.   You, of all people, get signs.” 
 
I wanted to tell her how sad I was she was leaving to the west coast because I felt like I was losing my friend and my sister, but I never said anything.  It was not my place to say my sadness that would only make her feel bad.  It was my place to share her happiness to make her feel good. 
 
Ladybug, spread your innate warmth, love, good spirits, and positivity.  Do your chicken dance just for fun.  Ladybug, give them your recipes, show them how to cook step by step, and warm their bellies with the food that is filled with all your love and care.  Bring out the stool for them to sit on as you always did for me because you knew that me standing too long would hurt my aching hips.  Sit with and eat well with them as you always did with me and all the other people you love.  They will love you up there in ways that we here on earth only for now love you immeasurably. 
 
Ladybug was a friend, a person, a sister, an aunt, a woman who I dearly admire and respect in ways that words cannot fully capture.  I wonder about the first death of a dear friend that has deeply impacted you?  Do you believe in signs?  What are your signs of luck and love that everything will be okay?  What is family?  Is it only by blood or does it run deeper than that? Who do you consider your ‘family’?  Ladybug was not my sister by blood, but a sister in every word, action, magical moment, difficult times, and deep conversations that we shared and beyond. 
 
Bee well and Bee Safe, Ladybug. I will miss you.  And, of course, I promise I will always continue to eat cream puffs in the parking lot just for you. 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,
Mary 

 
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