Adding to Your Story-Letter [at A Life Overseas]

March 31, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Ahhh, newsletters. (And by “Ahhh,” I’m guessing you know what I mean.)

Living outside your passport country means finding ways to keep people updated about what’s going on with you. Some of those people need to hear about what’s happening and some of them simply want to. The newsletter can take care of both, which is a good thing. But sometimes it can feel like one more burden, especially when there’s not much interesting or exciting (or not much of anything at all) to report. What if your day-to-day goings on don’t feel newsworthy?

How about thinking of your newsletter as a way to tell your story in serial form? A story-letter, if you will. I’m not suggesting that your collected writings would need to be novel-esque. It’s a problem when we think that what we write isn’t enough: not inspiring enough, not impacting enough, not poignant enough, not powerful enough. It doesn’t have to be any of those things. Your story is your story. It is what it is. And we need more “what it is.”

But my main point here isn’t telling you how to write—many of you are already great story tellers. I’m just wanting to help you fill in the gaps when you hit a dry spell. With that in mind, imagine your newsletters bound together, like chapters in a book. What kind of cover would that book have? What kind of illustrations? And what would you add to make your memoir more memorable? Why not add those things now?

So, when you’re sitting in front of your computer screen and you feel stuck, give these a try . . .

Continue reading at A Life Overseas.

[photo: “Large Coptic Bound Journal Covered in Handmade Paper,” by Krispy and Dennis, used under a Creative Commons license]

Stealing Cookies and Borrowing Stories

March 26, 2017 § 2 Comments

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I recently listened to a TEDx talk by Scott Geller, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, entitled “The Psychology of Self-Motivation.” In it, he recites “The Cookie Thief,” a poem by Valerie Cox.

Wait a minute. Hadn’t I heard that a-stranger-stole-my-cookies-in-an-airport story before? In fact, several years ago, as I recalled, I had seen an actor on a late-night talk show telling how the thievery had happened to him . . . but maybe it had taken place in a train station. I was unclear on the details. I also couldn’t remember which show it was on, but I was pretty sure it was a British actor, since he called the cookies “biscuits.” It’s a funny story—with a great punch line—and I’ve retold it a few times. But is it true, or too good to be true? And regardless of its truthfulness, who can lay claim to its origin?

I did a little digging, and here’s what I found (with thanks to those who’ve dug before me). . . .

First of all, the British “actor” was actually a British author: Douglas Adams, who wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He was a guest on Late Night with David Letterman, and videos of his appearance on the web give the show date as February 14, 1985. Adams was there to promote his novel, written in 1984, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, “the fourth volume in the Hitch-Hiker Trilogy.”

Letterman asked him if he used his own life experiences in his writing, which was, I’m guessing, a pre-planned question to set up what came next. Adams answered,

Yeah, well occasionally. Actually there’s one story I put in this book, which I fi— I wanted to put in print, because it’s something that happened to me a long time ago. And I’ve told the story pretty regularly now, with the result that other people are beginning to use it, so I wanted to put it in the book to say, “Hands off, guys.”

The gist of his story (minus Adams’ comedic flair) is this: At the train station, Adams buys a newspaper and package of cookies (biscuits). He puts his purchases down on a table and sits down across from a stranger. The man across from him opens the package of cookies and proceeds to eat one. Adams is perplexed, but saying nothing, eats a cookie himself. Back and forth they go, with Adams wondering how anyone could have such gall. Finally, the cookies are gone and the stranger leaves. When his train arrives, Adams picks up his newspaper to depart, and, much to his surprise, finds his unopened package of cookies lying there.

In 2001, Adams again recounted the story in a speech to Embedded Systems, saying that it had occurred in Cambridge in April of 1976. After Adams’ death in 2001, the Embedded Systems retelling was included in The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, a collection of Adams’ previously unpublished works.

So Adams’ story predates Cox’s “Cookie Thief,” which was published in 1996 in A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul. But his rendering is still not the beginning.

Jan Harold Brunvand writes in The Choking Doberman: And Other Urban Legends that the biscuit/cookie story is one of many variations on “the unwitting-theft legend,” a general category for which he finds examples from as far back as 1912. Though the origins of Adams’ account don’t seem to be quite that old, they still precede his 1976 timeframe. Brunvand points to a letter written to the editor of the journal Folklore, in 1975. In it, A. W. Smith writes that he has seen the story in print three times, in July 1974, July 1972, and some indeterminate time earlier. The sources are, in that order, London’s GuardianOxfam News, and (possibly) London’s Evening Standard. Smith notes that in all these versions, the traveler is British (in Oxfam News he’s the director of Oxfam Scotland); the encounter takes place in a train station, near a train station, or in a dining car; the offending stranger is from another country, a West Indian, African, or Pakistani; and the foreigner kindly offers the Brit half of the last cookie. On the last two details, Smith asks, “Does the essence of the story concern the patient and indeed saintly character of the often despised and rejected?”

While Adams’ and Cox’s version leave out the cross-cultural aspect, Cox’s telling does include the stranger’s kind (but irritating) act of breaking the cookie in half.

Back to where we began, here’s Cox’s “Cookie Thief” in video form.

(Douglas Adams, appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, NBC, February 14, 1985; Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time, Del Rey, 2005; Valerie Cox, “The Cookie Thief,” A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul: 101 More Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit; Jan Harold Brunvand, The Choking Doberman: And Other Urban Legends,  Norton, 1984; A. W. Smith, “Letter to the Editor: Yet Another Modern Legend?” Folklore, vol. 86, issue 2, 1975)

[photo: “dark chocolate digestive BISCUITS,” by SimonQ, used under a Creative Commons license]

Krispy Kreme: Going Global with a Strategy That’s Full of Holes . . . and Topped with Green-Tea Icing

March 17, 2017 § 2 Comments

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In September of 2015, CNN posted a story with the horrifying headline “Krispy Kreme Krashes”! (exklamation point mine), announcing that KKD stock had dropped 12% following poor sales and earnings reports. The problem? Lackluster profits on their packaged doughnuts sold outside their Krispy Kreme stores. The solution? Opening more Krispy Kreme stores overseas.

Fast forward to today, and the eatery has outlets in over 25 countries. That means fewer people making overseas Krispy Kreme runs and wondering if they can get their purchases through airport security and transport them as carry ons.

It also means plenty of new creations to appeal to global palates. Take, for instance, the new “premium” doughnuts at Krispy Kreme Japan, which, RocketNews24 reports, just became available this month. They include the Premium Matcha Azuki, filled with green-tea flavored whipped cream and red-bean paste and topped with matcha green-tea icing; and also the Premium Sakura, which has a multi-layered filling of cherry paste, strawberry-raspberry-cranberry puree, and whipped cream. (If either of those sound good to you, you’ll need to head over to the Krispy Kreme JR Nagoya Takashimaya store in Aichi Prefecture in the next few weeks—it’s a limited-time offer.)

Seeing that news got me wondering what else one can find at Krispy Kremes far and wide. And so that you don’t have to wonder, too, here’s a list of some of the tasty offerings from Krispy Kremes around the world.

My mouth is watering as I type. . . .

(Paul La Monica, “Krispy Kreme Krashes,” CNN Money, September 10, 2015; Oona McGee, “New Krispy Kreme Premium Range Includes Sakura and Matcha Green Tea Doughnut Cakes,” RocketNews24, March 8, 2017)

[photo: “Free for All,” by Bokeh-licious, used under a Creative Commons license]

Tea, 2, 3, 4

March 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

[an animation made from tea leaves]

“Tea Tuesdays: Kenyan Farmers See Green in the Color Purple”

Across the picturesque highlands of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, fields of tea shimmer in shades of emerald, lime and moss under the equatorial sky.

Some of these fields, though, are now darkened with patches of purple. The purple comes from leaves with high levels of anthocyanins, natural pigments that also give cranberries, blueberries and grapes their color.

These purple leaves are Africa’s newest—and most intriguing—tea.

At the moment, they are being made into a handful of different styles. . . .

As pleasing as the unique flavors might be, [purple tea] was never developed for its taste.

Instead, [state-run Tea Research Institute] breeders were most interested in creating “a high-value medicinal tea product.” A number of scientific studies done inside and outside Kenya on purple tea suggest that its anthocyanins may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

“Anthocyanins have capacity to scavenge for free radicals and thus are good antioxidants,” says Stephen Karori Mbuthia, a biochemist at Egerton University, Kenya’s premier agricultural public university, and lead author of a recent study.

Jeff Koehler, Tea Tuesdays, NPR, March 3, 2015

Background Music and Getting Outside of Ourselves

March 5, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Jon Weece likes to introduce people to each other. Often it’s telling large crowds about someone he knows. And as “lead follower” at Southland Christian Church, a megachurch in Lexington, he has lots of opportunities to address large crowds. I’ve known Jon since he was a kid, and I was glad to be able to hear him speak last month at Ozark Christian College, his alma mater, as it celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Jon, a former missionary in Haiti, keeps his eye out for people who need a helping hand. One of those people is his friend Donnie, and Jon told us his story. In his book Jesus Prom, Jon writes,

When Donnie was six years old, he watched his dad beat up his mom. The trauma of that episode locked Donnie into a permanent state of childlikeness. Though he is fifty-two years of age today, Donnie thinks and acts and communicates like a six-year-old. Donnie loves me, and I love Donnie. He has taught me a lot about love.

Donnie washed dishes at a local restaurant for two decades. Each Friday he would cash his paycheck, and each Saturday he would ride his bike from one garage sale to the next buying albums and paper novels and costume jewelry. Donnie has a Christmas gift list and 385 people on it. Donnie loves people, and people love Donnie—so much so that he spends his entire year Christmas shopping for all the people he loves.

…..

Donnie doesn’t know a stranger. When he meets people for the first time, he hugs them. And he doesn’t let go! When Donnie hugs people, he holds on! And it doesn’t matter who you are; once Donnie learns your name, your name finds its way onto his Christmas list. From the mayor of our city to the homeless men in Phoenix Park, Donnie konws a lot of people by name.

Donnie looks a lot like love.

Love holds on.

Love gives.

Love knows.

Jon also introduces people to Donnie one on one. He said that when Tony Anderson, another OCC grad, contacted him to get together, Jon brought Donnie along. Tony lives in Lexington and is a successful film composer with a long list of commercial and documentary credits.

Before Tony had become established in his career, he took on his first project, a short documentary for Christ in Youth and Rapha House, a ministry working to eliminate child trafficking and sexual exploitation. The film Tony helped them with was Baht, about sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Tony later worked on another production for Rapha House, creating the score for Finding Home, a longer documentary following three young women who’d gotten out of the sex trade in Cambodia.

Tony’s career took off when Musicbed made his growing body of work available on their licensing site, and now his clients include Ford, TOMS Shoes, ESPN, and National Geographic. When Musicbed produced a video highlighting Tony, he put Donnie front and center (and, yes, that’s Tony’s music in the background). Tony says that Donnie is teaching him how to recapture the “childlike innocence and joy” that he’s let slip away. He’s also teaching him about opening doors, seeing the value of relationships over competition and deadlines, and “getting outside of” himself.

And finally, here’s one more example of Tony’s work. He composed the music behind this short film, Onward. It’s about a family in Western Mongolia and their tradition of hunting with eagles.

(Jon Weece, Jesus Prom: Life Gets Fun when You Love People like God Does, Thomas Nelson, 2014)

[photo: “Sitting by the Piano,” by Difei Li, used under a Creative Commons license]

An Open Letter to the Kind People in My Host Country [at A Life Overseas]

February 20, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Dear neighbors:

When my wife and I and our four children stepped off the plane in your country, with our 12 carry-on bags—and all our plans, enthusiasm, expectations . . . and naiveté—you welcomed us. In fact, the customs agent greeted us with a smile. And during the following years that we lived among you, we lost count of your kindnesses.

We weren’t refugees, we didn’t arrive on your shores having been forced out of our homes, we weren’t stranded. We had chosen to come. You didn’t find us naked and bloodied at the side of a road, but still you were often good Samaritans to us. When you saw us sitting on the curb, so to speak, facing roadblocks or not sure where we were headed, so many of you did not simply walk by on the other side.

For this we thank you.

To our language teachers who patiently, ever so patiently, led us through vocabulary lessons and guided us on the nuances of your culture, laughing with us but not at us, thank you.

To the food-cart vendors who listened to us practice the names of what they were selling and cheerfully rewarded us with wonderful tasting snacks and meals, sometimes putting something extra in with our order, thank you.

To the policeman who loaded up our family in his patrol car and took us home after we got lost on a walk, even though we ended up being only three blocks away from our apartment building, thank you.

And to the people near our home who didn’t think the worst of a family, who, for some reason, was riding in a police car, thank you.

Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Post Office Shoot8,” by Bryan Pearson, used under a Creative Commons license]

The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Stories and Faces to Put with the Headlines

February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

I want my daughters to tell people how we ended up here, whether it’s in a book, in a film, or just an answer to “What’s wrong?” That’s all I want.

—a Syrian refugee in Greece, in Refuge

22527575640_ce96708328_zAs I’ve read, and watched, more about the Syrian refugee crises, I came across two powerful videos. I decided not to include them in my post last week, because they’re  on the longer side (around 20 minutes each), and I wanted to bring more attention to them in a post of their own.

The first one, Refuge: Human Stories from the Refugee Crisis, lets a number of Syrian refugees speak to the camera. In Making Refuge: Behind the Scenes of the Refuge Project, the film’s director, Matthew K. Firpo, tells why he and his crew made the trip to meet the Syrians in Greece:

We wanted to focus on the simple, important fact that every refugee is a human being, with hopes and losses and families just like each of us. And in sharing their stories, we wanted audiences to understand what it means to leave behind everything you know, to finally have faces to put to headlines.

In the next video, The Island of All Together, Syrians who have arrived on Lesvos (Lesbos) as refugees sit down to talk with Europeans who have come to the Greek island as vacationers. What a wonderful idea.

They pairs converse on a range of topics, some profound, some mundane, all poignant in their simplicity and touching openness. In one conversation, Otis asks the Syrian Rashad what he would do with a million Euros.

Rashad: A million Euros? I would help all of the people who have not been able to flee Syria.

Otis: That’s beautiful.

Rashad: And what would you do with a million?

Otis: I would buy a nice car, pay for my education, and give the rest to charities.

Rashad: I hope that God gives you a beautiful car. . . . I had to sell my car in Syria to get the money to come here.

Otis: What kind of car did you have?

Rashad: I had a Kia Morning.

Otis: I now have a Citroen Saxo.


[photo: “Refugee Crisis in Europe,” by CAFOD Photo Library, used under a Creative Commons license]

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