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Cherishing the Christmas Chaos
Bits and stories about World Bike for Breath. A Bulletin for sponsors. Volume 1, December 8, 2003
For the past thirteen years, since the birth of our daughters Anya and Yvonne, the holiday season from October to January has tended to resemble a crazy roller coaster ride--climbing to the top of one American holiday, to whiz far too rapidly down and around to the next big celebration. Indeed I must humbly admit that, by the time December approaches, I have occasionally felt positively Grinch-like: complaining about my aching feet after a long day of traipsing around Seattle searching for gifts; getting frustrated at the long lines in the Town and Country supermarket; and exhaustedly hurrying the already harassed looking barista and Bainbridge Bakers before rushing off to yet another holiday event.
Yet this fall, as our family continues our world cycling tour for asthma through Asia--spending Halloween in China, Thanksgiving in Japan, and Christmas in Taiwan-- I have begun to look back with nostalgia on the hustle and bustle of our American holidays, and to realize that perhaps I (like many of my fellow holiday grumblers) have judged the tinsel and glitter of the season a little too harshly. After two months of pedaling through the drab, solemn, colorless poverty of Eastern Europe and Russia, where store shelves all carry the same limited monotonous supply of basic living goods, I confess that the tawdry lights and commercial holiday shopping bustle of American stores seem an amazing luxury. Indeed, on Halloween, we were more than a little delighted to arrive in colorful, lively Beijing, streets filled with every kind of imaginable and unimaginable toy, gadget and gizmo. Trick-or-treating consisted of our girls knocking on the door of our hotel room, dressed in scarves, hats, and various assorted souvenirs collected in the past month . But at least we were able to provide a basket of (admittedly strange) Chinese plum, jelly and fish candies. As Anya and Yvonne observed the time honored Halloween tradition of sampling candy after candy in their bags, I was grateful that they had never faced a childhood in Communist Poland, where once a month, each family was given a coupon allowing them to purchase one--and only one--chocolate bar per child.
By November, a month of being constantly hungry as we attempted futilely to fuel our rides over 3000 foot mountain passes in Japan and China with a diet of fish, rice, seaweed and Bok Choy, has given a new meaning to the tradition of an abundant meal at Thanksgiving. Desperately hungry and dreaming of pumpkin pie and turkey with stuffing, our family settled for a Thanksgiving dinner at a Japanese hamburger joint in Okinawa. Luckily for us the menu had photographs of the various entrees. (We had already learned from a number of earlier disasters that pointing to random Chinese or Japanese characters on the menu often lead to receiving such unexpected meals as fried worms, tripe stew or seaweed soup.) Oddly enough, the menu also listed the caloric value of each meal. For the first time in our lives, instead of worrying about whether or not to have that second slice of pie, my husband Lorenz and I enthusiastically ordered combinations with the highest possible caloric value.
That evening I curled up on my tatami mat in the youth hostel, still hungry and feeling more than a little sorry for myself. Focusing on previous Thanksgiving dinners spent at a table piled high with food, laughter and friendship; I am ashamed to admit that the recent memory of camping in the field of a poor Lithuanian farmer--sharing the only loaf of bread from their completely empty cupboards--was far from my mind. It was our eleven year old daughter, Yvonne, who set me straight.
The next day, as we set our our evening meal of tempura vegetables, rice balls and fried fish, she remarked that we had failed to observe on of our most precious Thanksgiving traditions: giving thanks before the meal. And so, as we sat cross legged on the tatami mat around the simple Japanese meal, she began the ritual stating, "I am thankful for my friends and my family."
One by one we continued, expressing thanks for our good health, for the opportunity we have to travel, for the many warm and generous people who have helped along the way, and for the countless blessings in our lives.
Next December, as I sit with my feet propped up on the ferry after a busy day of Christmas shopping, I hope I remember the simple lessons of an eleven year old: to be thankful that I live in a country and community where the store shelves are filled with an amazing chaos of choices; where despite the lines in the Town and Country supermarket my table, my cupboards and my stomach will always be full; and where I can order a single tall latte, medium foam, and know that the barista, although frazzled, will not serve a bowl of squid instead!World Bike for Breath
P.O. Box 11581
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Updated: December 8, 2003