Bo’s Cafe – a Book Review

Bo’s Cafe is a novel by John Lynch, Bill Thrall and Bruce McNicol. The story tells of a man’s journey through the most challenging part of anyone’s life – overcoming the demons from the past that threaten the future. Steven, the main character, has unresolved issues which are creating problems for him in his home and in his office. A stranger enters his life, leading him to a place where he can learn to be himself as he’s meant to be.

Bo’s Cafe is like Cheers – it’s a place where problems can be aired and resolved in the company of friends. The patrons come together regularly for loving support. We all need this kind of support. I’m blessed because I’m already part of a group that meets regularly in a similar fashion (Wednesday mornings at an Einstein Bros. Bagels). I can personally attest to the blessing of this in my life. There is a tremendous freedom in being able to talk about anything and everything that’s on my mind (work, husband, kids, etc.) and knowing that I’ll get honest feedback and loving encouragement. This is God’s grace.
Although Bo’s Cafe is fiction, the story it tells is all too common. So many of us fall into the trap of trying to rely on our own inner strength, which results in things falling apart all around us. Steven’s tale is the sharing of good Christian counseling. I strongly recommend this book – read it and share it with others.
I won my copy and I’ll be passing on a copy. Go here to visit Bo’s virtual Cafe, to learn more about the book and share in the experience.
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Christmas

During my stay at the Windsor hotel in Kunshan, China I was impressed by the presence of Christmas and all its trappings.

When I checked into the hotel their halls were decked and Christmas tunes were playing in the background (specifically – “All I Want for Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth” greeted me upon my arrival).

Whenever I called down for room service, I was greeted with a cheery “Merry Christmas” and I listened to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” Muzak looping through my time on hold. And given the need to put me on hold every time I called (while they hunted down someone who spoke English), I heard that tune plenty.
Finally, I asked a local co-worker about the broad adoption of this Christian holiday. I know that Christianity exists in China but I was surprised to see so many reminders and signs of Christmas. I was curious if there was an appreciation of the significance of the holiday. I was told that most businesses were touting Christmas because of the commercial aspect – there were goods to be sold, they primarily catered to business travelers and tourists.
I wonder whether things are remarkably different in the US. We may be more cognizant of the Christian roots of the holiday but how many families really focus on the celebration of Christ’s birth? How easy it is to get swept up in the decorations and the gift-giving!
Something that struck me during this Holiday season was the weirdness of Santa Claus. The song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is especially creepy. In the song, we attribute traits to Santa that better describe God. Consider Psalm 139:

Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

….

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

God knows when we’re sleeping, he knows when we’re awake. He knows when we’ve been bad or good (so be good for His son’s sake!) and He loves us anyway.

God doesn’t come to town once a year or only on special occasions. He is always here. He is always with us. He is always seeking a relationship with us. He’s forgiving and faithful, loving us beyond measure. He leads us to everlasting life! He’s way better than Santa Claus!

In case that last post sounded sanctimonious

I’m not sanctimonious or holier-than-thou even if my last post sounded that way. My children may have survived thus far, but that is more of a reflection of God’s grace than my parenting skills.

Maybe I’m sensitive to the harsh criticism dished out by M. McGraw because I’ve been the subject of other parent’s judgment before. During their teen years my daughters were always able to find a sympathetic ear and welcoming arms in the form of “replacement moms”. D#3 moved in with a family whose mother actually told my mother she (the replacement mom) would never treat her children the way I’ve treated mine. Nice, eh? And all of the judgment passed over me by those replacement moms without benefit of Twitter.
And with Twitter? It definitely gives me something to think about. One of my daughters follows me on Twitter (although I don’t think she actively follows me, she could). One of my co-workers is also a “follower”. But it’s more than that that makes me think before I Tweet. It’s about the understanding that once Tweeted, the whole world is privvy to the thought I captured in 140 characters or less.
Do my Tweets make the world a better place? Do they spread light? Or darkness? As Christians we’re tasked with trying to spread light so that filter should apply to everything we do or say.
I won’t claim that before every Tweet I consider that it could be my last but I do try to apply a reasonable filter and use good judgment. Maybe it’s something along the lines of “What Would Jesus Tweet” (although not that well thought through).
Even with that in mind, after I tweeted this “Co-piloting while 15 YO drives the most dangerous stretch of I35. Praying! Oh, Lord be with us!it occurred to me – if we were in an accident (traffic was really nutty with all of the holiday shoppers) someone might correctly assume I wasn’t paying enough attention to my child who was in a potentially dangerous situation. As the co-pilot I was supposed to be paying attention, responsible and accountable for the safety of others.
My sisters and I often communicate via Twitter and in a way I was reaching out to them. It seemed better to focus on framing my next Tweet than to stress out. Maybe not. Fortunately we weren’t in an accident and my decision to send a Tweet wasn’t hotly debated by those who might choose to judge me. Or if it was, none of that was shared with me.
My musing this week weren’t meant to imply that I’ve got it all figured out. Far from it. I’m still trying to figure it out. Although I could post stories about what a horrible parent I’ve been and what tragic mistakes I’ve made to the detriment of my children, I choose to focus on how I think things *should* work.
Our social networks should work for good, not evil. And when we Tweet, we should Tweet responsibly.
That’s all. Oh, and…. Merry Christmas!
{From today’s reading in The One Year Bible: “Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another.” (Zechariah 7:8)}

It’s a Matter of Perspective … and Discernment

People tell lies. This is not new news. People lie for many reasons. If someone asks me to pray for them, I don’t ask why. I don’t assume their story needs to be verified. It’s not as if they’re asking for money (in which case, you bet I’m checking the background story)! If someone’s plea for support or sympathy casts someone else in a negative light, I may do some digging. There’s always two sides to the story. We are supposed to be intelligent, reasoning human beings. We’re also emotional and biased by our histories. I try not to take sides. I’m not in a position to judge others. But occasionally I’m called upon to discern the truth. Sometimes I’m compelled to share the truth as I see it.

When I was a teen, my high school opened up a computer club. I remember declaring my hatred for computers. By the mid-80’s I realized that if I wanted a decent job, I’d have to overcome my feelings about computers and learn how to use them. In ’86 I landed a job doing data entry on a mainframe computer. By ’87 I was doing word processing. By the Fall of ’89 I quit my job as a stenographer and went back to school to get a degree in Engineering.

Soon after that, I tapped into the internet. It was not like it is today. We had Bulletin Boards and Usenets. It didn’t take long before I fell in love with computers. And I fell hard. I’m inherently a researcher and I’m proud of my ability to find all sorts of information on a variety of topics. It’s a blessing. And a curse. (I give a nod to “Monk“.) The Internet is a researcher’s dream.
I’ve been a computer-geek for over 20 years, but in the land of social networking I’m still a babe in the woods. Mommy-bloggers seem so tech-savvy, blending art and design, wit and wisdom. I am humbled as I surf some of the best sites out there (according to Babble, anyway).
I’m not a Mommy-blogger. I’m barely a blogger. I’m a mother (my youngest is 15YO, my oldest is almost 24YO) and a grandmother (my 4th grandchild is due in April) and a geek. I may not be in my element, but I value the social network established through blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Most of my co-workers are mystified by my on-line presence (although many are on Facebook, few go beyond).
I could wallow in my insecurities, measuring myself against the greats and finding myself lacking. Instead I choose to do my own thing. Hopefully my “thing” is a positive reflection of my faith.
Recently, there’s been another round of drama in the World of Blogcraft and on-line networks.
Last week a toddler drowned and the mom tweeted a request for prayers. As much as I’m bent on seeking the truth, I didn’t stop to question (or check) the background – I stopped to ask God to be with the child and mother. On that day, God collected the toddler up to heaven and left the mom to deal with the aftermath. Ours is not to reason why. Only God knows His plans for us.
This weekend, another Tweeter sent an urgent request for someone, anyone, to call 911…and she provided an address. I’m not sure what’s going on in her immediate situation but I found myself reading her “back story” all the way back to 2007. She didn’t ask, but she’s also in my prayers. {NOTE: in the 2 days it’s taken me to finish writing this post, Jess has posted an explanation…and her thanks.}
Another blogger called for support of a friend who lost her home and family to a tragic fire. She and her family are in my prayers.
There’s also the ongoing story of Anissa and the tremendous outpouring of support for her (such as this video).
Sometimes the on-line community pulls together in a positive and remarkable way. Here’s a post by a woman who can truly testify to this. In this post, she’s responding to the Twitter “in-fighting” that took place between the mother of the drowned toddler and a women who positioned herself as a harsh critic (she jumped in to judge the situation and its tragic outcome).
Back in October I found myself at a crossroads. In this world, people lie. Whether I like it or not, that’s the plain truth. Not everyone is to be believed. I posted my thoughts on several situations that were made public via blogs. When the truth is not obvious, the burden is on the reader to decide.
Should we all become cynics? Should we doubt everything we hear? Should we refrain from sharing our opinion?
I choose to remain faithful, trusting in God to ultimately judge the action of others. Lying isn’t new behavior, but the Internet leaves us exposed to a much broader audience in a much smaller “world” via our social networks. For myself, I will do my best to love everyone and offer my prayerful support as needed. How about you?

The Great Interview Experiment

Neil at “Citizen of the Month” is hosting a fabulous social experience he calls the Great Interview Experiment. I’m horribly delinquent in completing my part of the experiment.

Ironically, the person I’m responsible for interviewing lived for a time in Shanghai, China. Ironic because this post has been held hostage by my 2 week trip to China.
Without further ado, I would like to introduce Alecia of Hoobing Family Adventures!

I see that you’ve traveled extensively, including living in Shanghai for a while. Coincidentally, I’m heading to Shanghai on Monday (my 3rd trip). I’m spending the better part of 2 weeks in Kunshan (west of Shanghai). Where do you recommend I go for a memorable weekend of tourism?
The top of the Jin Mao building, Yi Cafe for dinner (awesome international buffet inside the Shangri-La in Pudong), gardens in Suzhou, take the ferry across the Huang Pu river (we liked to take the ferry over to the fabric market in Puxi as we lived in Pudong), KeJiGuan fake market (Science and Technology Center subway stop on Line 2), Little Sheep (Xiao Fe Yang) Hot Pot restaurant (located all around town), Yu Yuan gardens (go to the tea house in the center and walk the streets further away from the enclosed area to see where the locals shop), Xintiandi if you want the more westernized shopping experience. There are also a ton of really good European restaurants (French, Italian) if you are looking for that. I know, random, right? I would say Jin Mao, Little Sheep, Yu Yuan and KeJiGuan are the musts. Oh and the ferry. Very few foreigners take the ferry, it is a great experience. Let me know if you need directions or the Chinese characters for any of those to show the taxi driver.

Of all of your travels, what was your favorite place to live/visit? Why?
We loved living in Guadalajara. The weather is awesome and we were close to the beach and the Mexican people are so wonderful. In one year we visited the beach (Manzanillo or Puerto Vallarta) over fifteen times. We could have been tour guides, seriously. Mexico is not the safest place though. For that China was good…very safe, but not good weather and the culture is less inviting. We do love living in Boise too, but after a few years back here, we generally get anxious to live somewhere exotic/different again. We like change and learning new cultures. How is that for not exactly answering your question?

As for our favorite place to visit…Cambodia sticks out in my mind as the most amazing place we have ever been. With the temples everywhere, the monks in their vibrant orange robes, the absolute poverty coupled with a newly booming tourism industry, the place is like no other. Honestly we have been so many cool places, it is hard to choose one. The Maldives were absolutely incredible with island atolls and having to fly up to the island on a sea plane. And there are still so many other places we want to go.

What was your least favorite place to live/visit? Why?
Hmmm, least favorite. Almost every place has something endearing about it. Generally, we would not go to a place if it wasn’t compelling for some reason. After some thought, I would say my least favorite places to visit were the cities in China during holidays because there are way too many people. We had this experience in Hangzhou, Suzhou and the Yellow Mountains.

Also, despite the unique pieces to each Chinese city, after awhile, they all start to feel the same with the exception of their key landmarks. I enjoyed living in China but it would not be my first choice to go to live again…and my husband will not go back there to live (although with the awesome sailing club in Shanghai, I could probably talk him into it if the opportunity was right.)

Do you plan to take Belén, your precious daughter, on adventures to foreign lands? Why/Why not? If so, where’s the first place you plan to visit? (If I’ve missed that she’s already made such a trip, forgive my oversight…and please tell of her adventures.)
Absolutely. That is actually why I chose the name http://www.hoobingfamilyadventures.com for our new blog. We plan to continue with the adventures. We are taking some time to let her grow out of her newborn state and build up the bank accounts a bit. We hope to have another child and then in time, we would like to take both of them on a sailing adventure for an extended period of time. Details to be determined, but this is our goal. Belén’s personality seems to fit very well with adventures, I hope #2 is the same. We will be taking her on her first big adventure next May to Puerto Vallarta. She has had her passport since she was six weeks old but it turns out she did not need it as soon as we were expecting due to the costs of having a baby and lack of time of due to an extended maternity leave.

How does parenting compare to your previous adventures?
I could take the cliché approach and say that it is the best. In reality it is, but that is not a fair answer. Andy and I were married eight years before we definitively decided to have kids and had Belén. We had so much fun in those eight years that having kids was actually a tough decision. We really liked our lives. We are spontaneous, not planners. Kids require more planning and make spontaneity more difficult. I think we are taking it in stride and plan to try and change as little as possible of our previous patterns while at the same time bringing Belén with us on our globe trotting adventures. She is only seven months old so more experienced parents are probably saying, “uh huh, ya right’ and maybe it won’t be possible, but that is what we would like.

Both Andy and I have adored every moment we have spent with our daughter. She absolutely changed our lives in every sense and deciding to be parents was the best decision we have ever made. I guess the point I am trying to make is that the parenting adventure is superb but the ideal situation will be when we can better couple the previous adventures we were having with the parenting adventure. I cannot wait to show Belén the world and I hope she gets to see much more than I have seen in my lifetime and I hope we will see a lot together. Nothing sounds better to me than that scenario!

Do you consider your dreams complete or are you still harboring a list of things you’d like to do before “slowing down”? If so, what are the top 3 items on your list of dreams?
Absolutely, positively not. I am not ready to settle into American life for good. And for the record, I don’t ever intend to slow down. 🙂 I actually started a list of things I wanted to accomplish in my life when I was in high school. I have already accomplished many of the key things (marry for love, run a marathon, live in another country for a year, become a manager, earn a Masters degree, visit Salzburg, obtain a patent, etc.) There are still quite a few things on that list, but I think my top three things are probably not on that list.

  1. I would like to either start my own business or find a job where I can use what I learned in my MBA to achieve something meaningful or be a full time blogger or writer :). Ideally whatever this turns out to be, it would be flexible such that I can see more of Belén and hypothetical baby #2 during the day.
  2. Write a book. I am scared, but I must do it!
  3. Travel around the world with my family for a year, ideally sailing for at least a portion of it.


If I had a #4 not including the travel, it would be my non-goal of doing an Ironman. I have tried really hard to not let this become a goal of mine because once I have a goal, I have to do it…but I am afraid it has crept on to my list.

There are also a million other places I want to see (France, Peru, Croatia, Turkey to name a few) and we would like to live abroad again. Oh I also want to perfect Spanish, and pick up another couple of probably romance languages.

Wow, it is exhausting talking so much about myself. I feel so incredibly selfish, but thanks for the opportunity! Enjoy your time near Shanghai. Zaijian!

I have to admit, I’ve fallen in love with the remarkable and inspiring Alecia. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know her better. Not just because of what’s she’s done, or what she’s yet to do – she’s got great travel tips! Thank you, Alecia!

Life Interrupted

A reality of traveling to China (or anywhere on the other side of the world) is that the trip doesn’t end upon arriving home. Jet lag is a souvenir that hangs around for a week or two then is gone, leaving only hazy memories of the days spent in a sleep-deprived stupor. I shouldn’t schedule anything important during the week following these overseas trips. I should just add a week to the trip agenda and pretend I’m still out of the country.

One thing that makes travel to China exceptional is that while in China, Facebook, Twitter and Blogger are all blocked (or at least, they were blocked from the hotel I was in). I could get to Blogger while in the factory, but that is because I had access to a secure network in Taiwan. But the connection was painfully slow. And I tended to be busy working when I was at the factory.

The nutshell is that I fell hopelessly behind and felt ridiculously out of touch when I got back to the States on Monday. And, I had to overcome jet lag. Jet lag and exhaustion. One symptom of jet lag is insomnia. It’s ironic that in fighting the time change (14 hours difference between there and here) our bodies fight sleep. I’m starting to get over the worst of it. Just in time for the holidays. Fortunately I’m not going into the office for 2 weeks so I can play “catch-up” on some things, like blogging.
I’ve been seriously delinquent with my participation in The Great Interview Experiment but today’s the day. I’m providing responses and preparing to post responses. Please stay tuned.

Adventures in Dining

In case you haven’t already picked up on this, I’m not averse to trying new things. If I’m feeling fickle, I know I can order chicken just about anywhere and be satisfied. If I’m feeling fine, there’s very little I won’t eat. During my travels to Malaysia I was told I was one of the few American’s they’d ever known to try chicken feet. I assured them I was familiar with po-man’s food. I maintain that boiled chicken feet is a dish for those with little else to eat. It shouldn’t be considered a delicacy. The foot is literally skin and bone. Whatever meat might exist is hardly worth the effort of parsing through the bones. I did, however, draw the line with the “Spare Parts” hot pot – another soup dish with, well…spare beef parts. By “spare” they mean “the parts that most people won’t eat”. In this case, I went with “most people”.

During my travels to China I’ve enjoyed dining at several buffets. Buffet dining offers the benefit of letting the diner check out a variety of dishes, picking and choosing at will. All of the dishes are (usually) labeled so the diner knows what they’re getting (such as Braised Seaslugs shown here, and “yes, I tried them”). Traveling with vegetarians and picky eaters has made me appreciate buffet dining even more, if only because my meal is not held up by the effort to find something on the menu which appeals to and appeases my companions. One alternative is to find a restaurant with dishes they like and then frequent the same restaurant. Another alternative is “family style” dining. This works well with Mandarin-speaking hosts who can order a variety of dishes and highlight which are vegetarian or spicy, etc. as the dishes arrive.

A common approach to dining is the “set” meal, with an appetizer, soup, main course, fruit, tea and dessert for each diner. Each patron can select a unique set of dishes for their meal. A variety of dishes are brought to the table and each diner can help themselves to whichever appeals to them. I think there are hybrids where the set meal can be family style or more like traditional American style (each person gets their own main course).

And even with our most seasoned hosts, there is still the occasional opportunity for the unexpected. On Tuesday we went to lunch at a local restaurant in Kunshan. The atmosphere was homey. There was a fireplace, bookshelves and magazine racks inviting the diner to get comfortable and stay a while. Two of my companions were picky – one a “meat and potatoes” man (he ordered steak and fried rice) and the other, a vegetarian (she ordered spicy tofu noodle soup with vegetables because, she said, it had turned out so well for her when we dined in Shanghai). Most of the ordering effort went into deciding what they wanted. My three other companions hail from Taiwan and they could read the menu. As noted, I’m not picky. I was asked “chicken or fish”? “Chicken.” “Is curry okay?” “Sounds fine.” And with that our orders were placed.

One of the first dishes to arrive was a fried fish dish. The expression on my hosts’ face was priceless. I wish I’d had my camera poised and ready, but unfortunately that opportunity was missed.

Here’s the dish.

Later I was told they were also surprised to learn that the meal was not a “set” so they were charged extra for my tea. Also, there were no free drink refills, so one of our guests’ refill was on the bill. And completely outside of anything I would notice (given that the entire exchange was in Mandarin) I was later told that the waitress’s communication skills were not very good.

Add to the list of surprises: our vegetarian’s request for “spicy tofu noodle soup with vegetables” resulted in two main courses (one dish with spicy tofu noodles and one dish of soup with vegetables) and our other guests’ request for steak with fried rice resulted in two main courses (steak and fried rice). The team’s assessment was that the ambience was nice, but the food was overpriced and the service was not good.

Room service occasionally brings its own surprises. One night this week, I ordered beef tenderloin which came with a side of fried mushrooms with butter, grilled potato chips and spaghetti.

I was most interested in the tenderloin. Good thing since the sides actually turned out to be grilled bell pepper, sliced zucchini and macaroni with ground beef.

Alternatively, today’s “box lunch” delivered to the factory turned out to be scrumptious fried dumplings and soup. Perfect for a cold wet December day.