Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Five Things to Love About Blueberries

Highbush blueberries

Highbush blueberries

There are more than five things to love about blueberries, but these are my top five things to love.

First blueberries are hardy and really easy to grow, especially in Heath where the soil is suitably acid. Blueberries require a pH between 4 and 5.5. I never tested the soil in the berry patch, but my highbush blueberries are  healthy, big and productive. And have been for 30 years. This year I am getting a bumper crop. Blueberries need two cultivars for cross pollination, and two or more cultivars can spread ripening time over a long season. Nourse Farms near us offers a dozen cultivars from very early like Patriot to mid season like Blueray and Bluecrop to  late season like Jersey. Just remember if you are going to get a good crop you will need to net the patch, something to consider when you are planting them. Mine grow in a line, but I do think a square of berry bushes is easier to manage. It is tough to get  a net over  a 30 foot row of bushes. And make sure you aren’t wearing any buttons while you wrangle that  black netting.

Two. Blueberries don’t all ripen at once and they hang on the bush happily for a few days until you can get out and pick. Nor are they susceptible to damp or rain like raspberries that need to be picked every day in season. Blueberries are very considerate of  busy gardeners.

Three. They are incredibly nutritious. They are not only rich in Vitamins C and K (important in blood clotting) they are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants  protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals (oxidation) that thus possibly setting the scene for disease. Blueberries are among the foods highest in antioxidants – and so delicious. A list of these foods shows  the wisdom of the motto Eat Your Colors.

My blueberries

My blueberries

Four. Blueberries are easy to preserve. Just pop them into a freezer bag and into the freezer. My own blueberries come in over a long season so it is easy to  always have fresh blueberries on hand, but I also buy a 20 pound box of local lowbush blueberries every year. It takes me about half an hour to put them in bags and into the freezer. Naturally, I also have many berries of my own to freeze.

Five. Blueberries are delicious. You can eat them out of hand or in your breakfast cereal. Fresh or frozen you can use them in pancakes, muffins and pies. You can combine them  with peaches, plums or raspberries in a colorful and delicious summer fruit crumble. We eat a lot of summer fruit crumble. Have you grown blueberries?

Beijing, June 4, 1989 – We Were There

Hu Yaobang poster Tianenmen Square May 1989

Hu Yaobang poster Tianenmen Square May 1989

On April 16, 1989 my husband Henry and I left NYC for Beijing .  We never imagined the events  of June 4 that were even then beginning. Our only thought was about taking up my year long post as ‘polisher’, a kind of sub-editor, for Women of China English Monthly Magazine published by the All China Women’s Federation. We arrived at 2 a.m. Beijing time, exhausted, but met by excited members of my work unit. They drove us through the murky night to our housing at the Friendship Hotel. We were registered and my new colleagues walked us through the dark grounds of the Hotel, very like a small college campus, to our apartment building. At one point I  stopped to listen to an eerie sound. I felt like I was in a Charlie Chan movie. One of my new colleagues said, “Oh, it’s the students mourning Hu Yaobang in Tianenmen Square.” We soon learned Hu was a reformer in the Chinese Communist party, and greatly loved  by students especially. This was the beginning of the Beijing Spring.

Chinese students on their way to Tianenmen Square

Chinese students on their way to Tianenmen Square

The student mourning soon became a movement with  thousands of students converging on Beijing. Students from Ren Da and Qinghua universities marched and bicycled right past the Friendship Hotel. What is happening?  What does it mean? Our lunches in the Hotel’s Foreign Experts Dining Room where we ate every day discussed the rumors and implications. Many of the other Foreign Experts were professors and journalists with years of experience in China. The answer to every question began with “It’s very complicated.”

Chinese students with me at the Beijing Botanical Garden.

Chinese students with me at the Beijing Botanical Garden.

Of course, I was going to work every day, polishing the articles in our magazine to make sure the English was correct and there was sufficient context to explain unfamiliar situations. My colleagues were all very excited about the student demonstrations. One day Henry and I took the Hotel Bus to the center of Beijing to the Friendship Store which is not far from Tianenmen Square. All along the way the roads were filled with rivers of students on their way to the Square. Some work units sent  workers in their work trucks. All along the side of the road old people and others carried signs, and cheered in support of the students. Something good was happening. Students met with top leaders, but no real demands were made on either side. What  did the students want?  What were the leaders going to do? There was a euphoric energy throughout the city. Even  when the army was called in my colleagues were not worried.  The People’s Army would never hurt the people. Their phrase was the Army moves through the people like fish through water. They cause no harm.  One day Henry and I  were told we were being given a special treat – we would be taken to the Beijing Botanical Garden with some students who were being trained to work in the tourist industry. The students would help us, and practice their English. We did not know until later that while we were in the Garden, my work unit was joining the demonstration in Tianenmen Square for the day.

Goddess of Democracy, Beijing 1989

Goddess of Democracy, Beijing 1989

Henry was in the Square with a friend the day Gorbachev was  scheduled to lay a wreath at the monument to the People’s Heroes, an important symbolic action, but the students prevented him from leaving the Great Hall of the People to take his wreath to the monument. Waves of students went up the steps of the Great Hall every time an attempt was made. Soldiers drove the students back, but Gorbachev was finally taken away through the back of the building and did not lay his wreath until he got to Shanghai as his visit continued.

It was on June 4 that I was finally going to visit the Square and see the demonstrators, and the Goddess of Democracy myself, but we were awakened by a phone call telling us about the massacre. The next few days  were chaos. Students were fleeing or arrested.  Foreign Experts immediately began leaving the city. On June 5 I sat in on an international nursing conference that was being held at the Friendship Hotel, but by noon the weeklong conference was cancelled, a great disappointment and humiliation  for the Chinese nursing association.

It was very difficult to fly out of Beijing. There were few scheduled flights, and no amenties at the airport. People camped out in the terminal, bringing their own bread and water. We did not leave until Friday at dawn when we had tickets for a flight, and the Hotel arranged a van to take us and several other hotel residents including Perry Link, distinguished scholar and China expert, to the airport for a flight to Hong Kong.

The view from the Peak, Hong Kong

The view from the Peak, Hong Kong

Our van drove through the Beijing dawn just as soldiers were coming in to take  control. We stayed close to Perry Link in the airport because he spoke Chinese fluently, and was the most likely to know what was going on. The flight to Hong Kong was uneventful, but we landed in a city that was afire with emotion and activity. Faxes were being sent everywhere spreading unofficial news of what was happening in Beijing and to the students who were fleeing, hiding, or being arrested.

We chose to come to Hong Kong instead of returning home because we wanted our year in China. Besides our house was rented. Where would we go? We had planned to visit our daughter Betsy later in the year before she left  Kenya where she was serving with the Peace Corps. We managed to call Betsy and make arrangements to visit right then. She was on vacation and arranged to meet us in Nairobi in a few days. In the meantime we wandered around Hong Kong where emotions ran high as HK residents considered what the Massacre meant for them as they looked towards the Handover, when Hong Kong would be returned to China by the British in 1997.

Boats in the Hong Kong bay

Boats in the Hong Kong bay

We spent hot humid days seeing the old and new Hong Kong, travelling about on the Star Ferry, watching Dragon Boat races, and even had a British tea at the very posh Pennisula Hotel. Then it was off to Kenya.

Betsy's mud hut

Betsy’s mud hut

Betsy met us in Nairobi where we  were tourists for a couple of days and then took a 6 hour bus ride up into the hills to her village Munyaka. The choo (outhouse) was out back, and like every other woman in the village Betsy had to carry her water – although her successful Peace Corps Project made that a little easier. I wrote  about that here. I got the one straw bed in the house during our stay; Henry and Betsy got the floor.  Betsy’s landlord killed the fatted chicken to welcome us, and we got to  visit all her neighbors and gain some idea of the changes coming in even a rural Kenyan village.

89 Betsy villagers

As part of her Peace Corps training Betsy became fluent in Swahili which was necessary for her to deal  with her village. When it was time for us to leave, everyone was invited to Betsy’s house for chai and to meet us formally. They all started asking us questions – in English – about what was happening in China. They knew about the June 4 massacre and wanted to know why the government did such a thing.They also knew about the one-child policy. They thought the government shouldn’t tell you how many children to have, but they knew they also were facing population problems in their own country where a man might have more than one wife and 20 children. Betsy chastised her neighbors for not letting her know they spoke English, but they said it was for her own good. How else could she get to be fluent in Swahili?

Holiday party

Holiday party

We were able to telephone a new friend at the Friendship Hotel who told us all was well and quiet in Beijing. My work unit wanted me back. When we arrived in mid-July we were just in time for another treat. Those Foreign Experts who remained (or returned, I guess) were sent off to Bei Dai He, a seaside resort. Of course this meant we needed to be accompanied by some of our  work unit colleagues  who got to share the treat. We could stroll around the town, see the sights like the promontory where Mao was  said to have written some poems, go swimming and generally do all the things vacationers do at the seashore. In the evening we entertained ourselves. Those few who had a few magic tricks up there sleeve were lucky indeed. All Henry and I could come up with  was Two little blackbirds sitting on a fence, a rhyming song for young children.

Returning to Beijing in a soft sleeper

Returning to Beijing in a soft sleeper

At the end of our vacation week, hot and tired, we and our translators took the train back to Beijing. Soft sleeper! The most deluxe train travel!

Beijing remained quiet. As far as we could tell. No one was permitted in Tianenmen Square until October 1, the 40th anniversary of the founding of New China, a great national holiday. Work units had been preparing dances for weeks. That night buses took us  Foreign Experts to the back gate of the Forbidden City and we walked through the city’s ‘alleyways’ feeling as if we were in a time warp 100 years ago. Then we were seated in bleacher seats to watch thousands of dancers in the square, performances separated by the most incredible fireworks I will ever see.

Only a few new Foreign Experts arrived that fall. Many universities cancelled their programs in Beijing. Our social relationship with my work colleagues was limited, but we enjoyed a busy – and educational – social life with other Foreign experts from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

On this 25th anniversary of the Tianenmen crackdown I remember those amazing days, filled with hope and excitement, then fear and anxiety. When we arrived the journalists said that after a week people could write a book about China; after a month they could write an article; and after a year they could write a paragraph. I’ve written more than a paragraph here, but still no conclusions or revelatory insights.  We returned to Beijing for another year in the spring 1995 to see how China had changed. That was the year of the U.N. Women’s Conference which came with its own problems for the government, for my work unit, and the attendees, but that is a story for  another day.

Tree Peony Extraordinare – Guan Yin Mian

Guan Yin Mian Tree Peony

Guan Yin Mian is my favorite tree peony, a native Chinese plant.  Guan Yin is the bodhisattva of compassion, or in terms more familiar, the goddess of mercy. During our years in China I became familiar with Guan Yin who is much given to appearing in visions, giving women the babies they and long for,  and who laughs that  we can struggle so – as she helps us. She is often shown wearing a gown with a rice plant design. Because out of her compassion, she transformed the weedy rice plant into a food plant that would feed millions.

Tree peonies are not really trees. They have a shrubby woody structure, so unlike herbaceous peonies they do not die down to the ground in the fall. Like herbaceous peonies they are long lived plants, and a mature plant can carry nearly a hundred gorgeous blossoms.  In spite of their fragile appearance they are very hardy. A Heath winter is as nothing to them. They bloom here at the end of May and into June, but their bloom period is short. Also that is the time of year when there can be heavy spring rains beating down of the large blossoms which are fragile.

Nameless white tree peony

A tree peony should be planted where it will get at least 6 hours of sun. They will tolerate, and welcome some shade. The soil should have a pH between 6.5-7.5 and be  well drained. I cannot say I have ever tested my acid New England soil for any of my peonies, but I  routinely spread a few ashes, or a bit of lime.  If you are  going to plant two or more tree peonies together  allow four feet between. You want to allow room for years of growth and heavy bloom. Also, make sure you plant them deeply enough, with the roots two or three inches below the soil surface. Again, this is very different from herbaceous peonies which should have the root just below the soil surface.  After the first year, unless there is a serious drought, watering is not needed. Remove spent blossoms. In the spring I prune off any branches that have suffered winter damage, and spread compost around the peonies. You can use a low nitrogen fertilizer. Too much nitrogen will result in weak growth.

Tree peonies, all peonies, require very little maintenance and suffer very little from disease or pests. They are beautiful and graceful and I love them. The snow is not yet melted here, but the air is softer and the sun brighter. I am looking forward to Guan Yin and her tree peony sisters, the most spectacular of my early bloomers.

Guan Yin Mian Tree Peony

Cabbage – Here and There – Beijing


Chinese cabbage in Beijing

Cabbage. Such an ordinary vegetable. We don’t give it much thought. We shred it into a salad, dress it into coleslaw, or boil it up with corned beef, but there are many types of cabbage in the world, and many ways of serving it up. Think of corned beef and cabbage!

            I began thinking about cabbage this week when, while sorting through some old photographs, my husband and I found a few shots of the ai guo bai cai harvest in Beijing in the fall of 1989. I had been working at Women of China Magazine since April, but every day still brought new understandings of daily life. That was a time before ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ took hold. At that time the government controlled the farms, the stores, workplaces and housing. In 1989 there was a huge cabbage crop. What is grown must be eaten – or at least sold. Therefore the government decreed that every household must buy 40 kilograms (more than 80 pounds) of bai cai, Chinese cabbage to us.

            Trucks brought the cabbage into the city from outlying farms. Then blue-suited white capped workers, often women, unloaded the cabbage on street corners, and in front of the state stores. Every night the TV news talked about the sale of ai guo bai cai, literally ‘love country’ cabbage, or patriotic cabbage.

Chinese cabbage Courtesy National Garden Bureau

            Chinese cabbage, as most of us know, is not like the hard green heads that keep well, and are so familiar in sauerkraut and coleslaw. Chinese cabbage has looser, more elongated heads. It is not a cabbage that Chinese workers enjoyed stacking up in the hallways of their cold Beijing apartments. Nor did they enjoy eating their way through all that cabbage. I should note at this point that Beijing is a desert city. It is very dry. Also, Chinese apartments at the time were very cold in the winter. Even though these cabbages are not the storage cabbages that we are familiar with, they kept fairly well. The outer leaves would dry out and protect the inner leaves. They would be removed when it was time to prepare the fresh inner leaves for cooking.

            On the rare occasions when I worked a full day in the office with my colleagues I got to see the lunches that were provided by the work unit canteen. Workers brought their own metal bowls which they carried downstairs to be filled with a big helping of rice topped with some vegetable. That fall the rice was topped watery cabbage. This sort of meal was not considered suitable for a foreigner, so I was sent down the street to eat at the newly opened McDonalds.

            Barrel headed Chinese cabbage and other asian greens like pak choi and tatsoi have become more popular and more common in the U.S. since we were in Beijing so long ago. Catalogs like Johnny’s Selected Seeds and the Kitazawa Seed Company offer a range of Chinese cabbage and other asian greens.

Cabbage courtesy National Garden Bureau

            All cabbages, Chinese and American, are cool weather crops. You can plant early in the spring for summer eating, and a mid-summer crop for fall storage. They are all heavy feeders and need a fertile, humusy soil with a pH of pH 6.5 to 7. Regular even waterings are essential for good cabbage development. Cabbages are susceptible to club root and bacterial soft root disease, soil borne diseases. This means you should rotate your cabbage beds with non-brassicas, in a five or six year rotation. Also look for disease resistant seeds. Bilko, a 12 inch tall, dark green Chinese cabbage from Johnny’s is resistant to both club root and fusarium yellows.

            You are more likely to find cabbage starts of the more familiar greed and red cabbages at garden centers in the spring, but seeds are available for many asian greens that can be ready to harvest in as little as three weeks.

            The Kitizawa catalog lists 21 varieties of pak choi. Some have the typical dark green leaves with crisp white stems., other have reddish, or yellow-green leaves. They have a slight mustardy flavor and are used in many Chinese dishes from soup to noodle dishes to stir-fries. The Chinese also pickle the coarser leaves. Pickling is an important and traditional method of food preservation in China.

            We are very aware of the changes in China since we were there, but at the time it was unheard of for vegetables to be eaten raw. We assume this was a cultural habit because the Chinese traditionally used ‘night soil’ or cleanings from outhouses and such as fertilizer on farms. Even in 1989 we occasionally saw a man on a bicycle hauling his ‘honey pots’ filled with night soil from the city out to the nearby farms.

            Locally, we can buy asian greens like mizuna, tatsoi, and komatsuna which are often used in salad mixes, but can also be grown for another couple of weeks for cooking. Pak choi seeds are including in the Botanical Interests Seeds Savory Mix of microgreens that I have growing in our guest room. More on that another day.

            Cabbage is a nutritious vegetable that provides a big helping of vitamins, minerals and fiber. I cannot speak to the value of the cabbage boiled up the way I saw it served from the Women of China canteen, but I can say that growing cabbage, Chinese or American, and gently cooking it will give us all a big nutritional boost.

Between the Rows           February 15, 2014

Chinese Cabbage – Beijing 1989

In the fall of 1989 there was a bumper crop of Chinese Cabbage in Beijing. This was before ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ and everyone was required to buy 40 kilograms (over 80 pounds of cabbage). The Chinese cabbages were trucked into Beijing, piled up on street corners, in front of the state stores – and everywhere. Then it had to be bought, taken home and stored, in courtyards, in apartment building hallways and balconies – everywhere.

Chinese cabbage riding home


Chinese cabbage in shopping carts.



Chinese cabbages stored in Beijing courtyards

 For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.   (Forgive the formatting. Computer acting out today)  I’ve written about our time in Beijing here and here.  And here.


Garden Planning III – Mixed Borders and Rock Gardens


A corner of my mixed border

        Garden Planning takes a new direction after you have decided how much time you have, what activities you want to enjoy in the garden, and what the garden needs in terms of soil improvement. You will also have decided whether you want a strictly ornamental garden, or if you want to include edibles.

            In urban and suburban settings the first consideration is the front yard. Most front yards begin with a lawn, and perhaps some shrubby foundation plantings. This is fine as far as they go, but often those foundation plantings are placed in a narrow bed, with little other interest.

            The lawn requires regular mowing, and while I never fertilize or use herbicides on my flowery mead, many people over-apply these chemicals which can pollute our waterways every time rains wash those chemicals off the lawn. What are the alternatives?

            The first might be to enlarge and broaden the beds around the house that would allow room for a small tree or two, possibly a witch hazel that would bring the earliest spring bloom, as well as the shrubs, and some flowers. You could create a long season of bloom by including spring blooming bulbs, perennials, and some annuals that will bloom all summer. This arrangement is called a mixed border, and it is an arrangement that can be used to mark lot boundaries, or to separate spaces in the garden. I have two gently curving mixed borders in my front lawn. They separate lawn areas, cut down on lawn (their original purpose) and have become greatly admired by visitors to the garden.

            My mixed borders were begun in 1999. That is an easy date to remember because of the ages of our five grandsons. We had a big family visit during which the five boys between ages three and one each planted a gingko tree. They needed (a lot) of help, of course. We chose the ginkgos in honor of the time we spent living and working in Beijing. The gingkos were planted at the edges of the prepared beds. The North Bed is about 25 feet long, and the South Bed is about 15 feet long. Both are about 10 feet at their widest.

            The three gingkos in the North Bed survived, but only one in the South Bed. Therefore we later planted a weeping birch in the South Bed. In the middle-ish section we planted low junipers – too many as it turned out. When you are beginning with such a large space it is hard to remember how big plants will grow.

            At the beginning the beds didn’t look like much. The plants were small and annuals can only do so much. There was a lot of mulch.

            Over time other shrubs were added, two hollies, male and female, a weeping cherry, a tree peony, two cotoneasters (different varieties), two The Fairy roses, a Mothlight hydrangea which has grown very large, and an array of perennials like astilbe, garden phlox, Echinacea, Northern sea oats, salvia, delphinium, aconite, Shasta daisy and a few annuals along the edges. Herbs like parsley, sage, and chives can also be a pretty and useful addition.

            All these years later I have well filled in borders with trees that are gaining in height and throwing some welcome shade, lush shrubs, and an array of perennials that will need dividing again this spring. I actually wish I had made the beds wider, and will probably do a little tweaking to make that happen in the spring.

            This is a planting scheme that can work at the edges of a yard. I love the idea of a shady woodland with spring bulbs and a native groundcover like tiarella separating two houses on an urban street. I might be harking back to the narrow shady woodland in front of my parents’ first house, providing a veil of shelter from the road.        


Lawn reduction – rock gardens

 One stunning garden I visited last year turned the front yard into a beautiful low maintenance garden by using stone, a lot of stone, a graceful tree, native groundcovers, and a few shrubs and flowers. The owner said she had been on a mission to eradicate lawn for 40 years. Her front lawn was reduced to a path that meandered between the foundation plantings and the rock garden, leading from the driveway, around the house to a welcoming screened room. This garden gives pleasure to all the neighbors, as well as the gardener.

Another view

            Another important way to reduce lawn is to increase social space. I love screened porches and summer houses of all forms because I like to be sheltered from the sun – and the bugs. Decks and patios are common ways of providing social space, and also take a multitude of forms. One important consideration when creating a patio is to make it out of pervious paving. Rain run off is a municipal problem. We can help our town and our own landscape by keeping rain where it falls.

            Lawn reduction and mixed borders are ideas to consider whether you are a new gardener or an experienced gardener who needs to cut back.

            Next week, to conclude this series, I’ll talk about periodic re-visioning, and since we do not weed all winter, the view from the window.

           Beetween the Rows  January 18, 2014


Thanksgiving at the Friendship Hotel, Beijing in 1995

Thanksgiving at the Friendship Hotel 1995

As I prepare for Thanksgiving in my nice American kitchen I cannot help thinking of  other Thanksgivings, most notably two that were celebrated in Beijing where we lived in the Friendship Hotel. The first was in 1989, and the second in 1995. While many things had changed in those five years, much much more car traffic, much much less bicycle riding (because of the vehicular traffic), the arrival of big department stores and McDonalds  and Kentucky Fried Chicken, our apartment at the Friendship Hotel was just the same. Our tiny kitchen came equipped with a two burner gas stove, a tiny fridge and a sink. No oven.  Drinking water was delivered by the fu yuans (service people) at the door every morning in the excellent thermos bottles that you can see on the window sill.  I had to visit our new friend Bettina who lived across town and had an oven in her tiny kitchen. Together we made  this pie with delicious Chinese apples.

Li Sha was our wonderful language partner that year. I have to say that her excellent English may have improved somewhat, but I certainly made very little progress in my Chinese. I went around quoting a cartoon that one  of our friends tacked up on his front door. The prisoner is being walked to the scaffold when he is told he will be granted a final request.  His request? To learn Chinese.  Oh, for a long lifetime of studying Chinese.  I am happy say that our friendship with Li Sha has endured. She was even able to make her first trip to the US last year. She is used to big city living so Heath was a big change. The thing that most amazed her was  our clear winter sky, thickly sprinkled with brilliant stars. No smog. No light pollution.

Henry with our turkey

The Friendship Hotel took orders for Thanksgiving turkeys which we picked up at the Foreign Experts Dining Hall at the appointed hour. The Chinese don’t know much about turkeys, but they did a great job.

All the gang for Thanksgiving dinner

Our dinner guests included other Foreign Experts like Bettina, and in 1995 we had several Chinese friends as well. All of us had something we could be thankful for. In addition to making new good friends, one of the blessings I counted that year was being able to attend the UN Women’s Conference. I had learned a lot about the life of Chinese women while working for Women of China Magazine, but I gained a much greater understanding of the problems women faced around the globe, as well as their achievements.

Bettina and me after dinner

Bettina shared bows  with me for the apple pie. Our friendship is one of our unexpected Beijing blessings.

This year I will again be celebrating Thanksgiving with my daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons, grateful that we are all well and happy. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends.


International Women’s Day – Beijing Memories

Women of China Magazine staff 1990

On April 16, 1989 my husband and I flew to Beijing where I had taken a job  with a women’s magazine. There I first learned of International Women’s Day where it is a  big event. And certainly I learned a lot about the life of Chinese women while working as  a ‘polisher’ for Women of China English Monthly.  I worked with translators (whose English was excellent) who translated articles about women in China’s history, and the women who were taking women into a very different era for China. I then ‘polished’ them to make sure grammar and vocabulary were accurate, but I found the biggest problem was  giving a bit of context as when I was given a story about a factory that was now making jewelry for sale. What was newsmaking about that? It was  explained that Beijing was now selling consumer goods, like jewelry, that had not been available to the general population before.

The photo above, of me with the Women of China staff, was actually taken at my farewell party in April 1990 – after many amazing adventures.

We arrived just as the events of the Beijing Spring were beginning, and that culminated in the Tianenmen Massacre on June 4.

Like almost the entire international community living in the Friendship Hotel (more like a campus than a hotel) where we were billeted and elsewhere in Beijing, we left the city. We flew out on the day that the People’s Liberation Army entered and declared martial law. We flew to Hong Kong and got in  touch with our daughter Betsy who was living in Kenya and nearing the end of her Peace Corps tour. We then flew to Bombay and then Nairobi  where we waited for Betsy to meet us and take us on the 6 hour bus trip to her village in the hills.

Betsy’s mud hut in Munyaka, Kenya

Betsy gave up the bunk bed to me, and she and Henry slept on the floor. The choo (outhouse) was in the backyard, but she had a ‘sunshower’ arrangement in the house. She was there  working on a water project renovating one large water tank and building a new one as well as laying a water line from a spring higher on the hill. While that project was going on she had to carry all her water, just like the other women in t he  village. We certainly learned a lot about the lives of Kenyan woman and the new issue of birth control, in a country where men had more than one wife and each wife could have ten  children. We also learned how small the world had gotten. In this village of mud huts, in the higher elevations of Kenya they had heard about the attacks in Tianenmen. In our farewell to Munyaka they all gathered at Betsy’s house to ask us questions about China. Betsy ran around serving chai, and a couple of the men told us it was very odd to see Betsy acting like a woman, serving tea, when they were used to her working like a man.  Of course, Betsy would say that women worked like horses, doing immense amounts of heavy physical labor, not just planning and organizing. I don’t know if they celebrated International Women’s Day.

Beidaihe resort

After checking with our new friend Leilani who had remained in Beijing we made plans to return. Our house was rented for the year and we really did want to continue in China. Because of the ‘turmoil’ that made so many Foreign Experts (that was our official designation) leave, the government declared that those who had stayed could have a vacation at the important resort, Beidaihe on the Bohai Sea. We were even given soft seats on the train. Of course, we had to be accompanied by our translators, and the staff  of the Beijing Friendship Hotel took up posts at the Beidaihe Friendship Hotel – but with a little extra time off for vacation. We  could see what seemed to us the odd standardization of the new consumer economy. There were lots of bathing suits for sale, in sizes, but in only one fabric pattern, little white stars on a solid ground. Of course, you could get a red bathing suit, or a blue one.

We were taken on one outing to the place on the seashore where the Greaat Wall of China begins. As we worked out way  through  the crowds strolling on the wall we were stunned to have Xiao Pan say, “It ‘s nice or us that are so few people are here this year.” Everything is relative, I guess.

Beidaihe party

During the day we went to the beach or sightseeing with new friends from our Beijing hotel. Muhammed (second from the left) was a polisher for a magazine distributed in Africa. On our final afternoon with Muhammed, and Aftab from Pakistan and a couple of others we had gone exploring, looking for the  pavillion overlooking the Sea where Mao Zedong had written some poems. We were a little late getting back for the farewell party and were chastised by Xiao Pan ( far right) who was our translator. “We are having fun, but we are on a tight schedule,” he said sternly. This has become a standard phrase in our household on many occasions.

At the party we each had to provide some entertainment. Ayjay from India did magic tricks  but the only thing Henry and I could come up with was the children’s song Two Little Blackbirds Sitting on a Fence.

Beijing Alley

Back in Beijing we spent time sightseeing on our bicycles with Leilani and other friends. In 1989 it was the best way to see the city. Near the Friendship Hotel was this Uyghur neighborhood where  there were great noodle shops. I had to get used to a new idea of what a ‘restaurant’ looked like, but the food was fabulous! The Uyghurs are a minority people living in Xinjiang Province.

There was work, of course, but I only had to be in  the Women of China office three mornings a week. I did some of my work at home on my Kaypro computer. Lunches were in the Foreign Experts Dining Hall where the food was good but cheaper than in the hotel’s other restaurants, and there was lots of discussion among the other Foreign experts about what had happened, and what was going to happen, and every thought began with the phrase, “Well, it is very complicated.” Then came a nap, which is granted by the Communist constitution!

Betsy at Tianenmen Square

After the ‘events’ at Tianenmen Square in June, it was closed to the public until the great 40th Anniversary of the Founding of New China when thousands and thousands of workers in their work units performed dances  and there was a great show of fireworks.  We Foreign Experts had excellent seats for the show. When Betsy visited in January (she was seeing as much of the world as she could on her way home from Kenya) we took her on the tourist trail, from Tianenmen to the Great Wall. Betsy in in the blue hat, I’m in faux fur and the two others are Peace Corps friends.

Xiao Pan and his family with Henry

Our time in China was growing short. We were granted a vacation in the south of China and requested that Xiao Pan accompany us as translator. This was a typical Chinese arrangement. Xiao Pan had not been able to visit his family in a couple of years and they lived in Suzhou, the Venice of China, just where we wanted to go! We had a wonderful dinner with his family. Papa did all the cooking  in the alley on a little charcoal stove, in a way that all international women can applaud, but came in for the final toasts.  Suzhou is also the city of many famous gardens, including the Master of the Nets garden. A single courtyard of this garden has been recreated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

Xiao Pan and Henry

Before we left we attended a banquet with my work unit to celebrate International Women’s Day. They could not believe that I had never heard of this international holiday. Everyone had gotten to know Henry pretty well and appreciated the help he gave them, and me. He was named an Honorary Woman, and given an All China Women’s Federation pin to prove it.

All China Women’s Federation pin


Being in China during such an historic year made us  wonder if we would ever return to see the changes that we could tell were beginning to take place. And we did!  In the spring of 1995 I left for Beijing and my old post at the Women of China English Monthly. And that turned out to be another historic year! The Fourth World Conference of Women organized by the U.N. was held in Beking that September. But that is a whole other story.

On this International Women’s Day I celebrate all the amazing women I met in China, and my own three daughters who have made such a difference in my life and in  the life of their own communities.


Visitors from China Explore Heath and Environs

Lisha, Henry, Bob at Dane Glassbowing

When our friends LiSha and Chris visited us, all the way from China yesterday we spent the day celebrating. After sharing lots of family photos and stories  we took them on a whirlwind tour of the highlights of Heath and Shelburne Falls. We began with a visit to Bob Dane’s glassblowing studio to show off his artistry and shelves and shelves of beautiful glass ready for his local sale on December 8-9 and 1-16. Unfortunately, we  couldn’t take our guests off for a trip to the Dane Gallery on Nantucket.


Chris, LiSha and Henry at West End Pub

Needless to say, driving around Heath and explaining the use of all the buildings including the town offices, library, transfer station, town garage and fair grounds we built up a hunger and drove down to Shelburne Falls for a delicious dinner at the West End Pub. I highly recommend the hazelnut and chocolate torte!

Henry, LiSha and Michelle

After supper we  took a walk to show Chris and LiSha the varied elements of a small town. Michelle ran into us and couldn’t resist bringing us in to see the new bar at her restaurant, The Baker’s Oven Bistro and Bakery  and showing off the  new mosaic backed bar AND the new dinner menu. I love having  a bakery in town and getting great bread – and muffins – and now I am looking foward to dinner there.

LiSha regaled us with  tales of the way her work takes her to Italy, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. She speaks English and Italian! And Chinese. Chris works for a Swedish company and visits there on business often. The world, China and the U.S., is changing for all of us. How many of us speak two or even three languages?  We met LiSha 17 years ago in Beijing where she was  our language partner. We have hopes that we  will not have to wait another 17 years before meeting again.


My Ornamented Life – Part 4

During our two different years in Beijing, China, Henry and I were untethered from all our usual responsibilities and routines. This was sometimes exciting, and sometimes unnerving as we learned about the 5000 years of Chinese history and culture, made wonderful friends from around the world, ate great food, and saw amazing sights.

Monkey King and Pigsy

We learned about the great Chinese classic, Journey to the West, and read the children’s version. We also met a five year old American boy who was living at the Friendship Hotel with his parents. Papa was teaching constitutional law! The boy loved Money King and had memorized the whole children’s version – all 36 volumes. He knew of all about Monkey’s mischief and valor, all his magic powers including his magic cudgel that Monkey kept behind his ear when it wasn’t needed. Monkey was travelling with his three companions, the (Buddhist) Monk, Friar Sand,  and Pigsy who can never totally control his appetites, at the Buddha’s request to bring the sutras back to China from the west. They have many exciting adventures along the way – and learn many lessons.

We were told that we could not begin to understand China until we had read the three great classics, Outlaws of the Marsh, Dream of Red Chamber, and Journey to the West.

Do you have ornaments, or books,  from any of your travels?