Humanity, Unwrapped. And Fanta.

It was love at first sight.

I was twenty-five, in the heart of Eastern Europe. What began as a “set up” by a mutual friend has blossomed into a lasting love affair.

We’ve weathered many storms:  Separation, temptation, disapproving friends  . . .  also diets, cavities and lots of mom guilt. There were days I swore it would never last. Then my eyes would meet its shiny, aluminum exterior, and I’d fall for Fanta all over again.

This is where I ate yesterday. Yep, those are toilet seats.

Recently, I’ve engaged in some mid-life soul-searching, and I’m reevaluating our relationship. It’s orange, carbonated sugar-water, after all. I was young and impulsive, but I’ve changed. I have a different perspective on life, and unfortunately, a different metabolism. I’ve matured. Even my pallet has grown in sophistication.

So, why am I still in this?

Once again I find myself half-way across the world — this time traveling in the opposite direction. Crossing into unknown territory, with all its uncertainly, I long for the familiar. After nearly two decades, with countless oceans crossed, Fanta is just a “constant” I crave. One sweet sip of thirst-quenching goodness and the world feels reliable and right again — even if it isn’t. Its packaging may vary by country and continent, but I can always count on what’s inside. Here in Taiwan, you’ll find the iconic orange can everywhere. You just have to look with intention. If you pause a few moments, you’ll find it — adorned in Chinese characters. Surly it means something glorious, like “Heavenly Orange Blossom.”

“Heavenly Orange Blossom”

So, Fanta with in hand, I’m pausing here for a while. I want to look with intention at the world around me.  I’ll do a lot of staring, since I won’t understand what I hear.  And for one of the first times ever, I’ll do it all with my mouth shut, because  . . .  Mandarin.

Humanity is diverse in its packaging, but strangely familiar once unwrapped. There are glorious narratives unfolding all around me.  I’m hoping to capture some of them in the days that follow.

From Across the Room

Athentic Dork
It’s not that far of a stretch. And I probably didn’t have my contacts in.

Pithy wine labels always catch my eye. I appreciate the whimsy of names like “Middle Sister,” “Mommy’s Time Out,” “7 Deadly Zins” and “Goats do Roam.”

Recently, I met the weirdest one yet: I was curious to discover the bottle my husband had paired with dinner. It was the exclamation point to the meal he was creating, and I wanted a preview. I peered across the kitchen, past the simmering pots on the stove, and strained my eyes for a sneak peek. The regal-looking label read, “Authentic Dork.”

I must have said it out loud — with a few exclamation points and question marks thrown in — because my kids burst into laughter. My husband, always unfazed by my words, cracked his “whatever, weird” smile. Intrigued, I leaned in for a second look. With closer proximity, the words morphed into something completely different.  This time they spelled “Apothic Dark,” simultaneously restoring faith in my husband’s wine selection abilities, and sense of humor.

This bizarre misnomer has since become our favorite family joke. Saying it out loud, at unexpected moments, is always good for a few giggles. Try envisioning what an “Authentic Dork” is, and you’ll see what I mean. Clearly I’ve contemplated this past the point of sensibility. (This is unusually fun.) But over the past few weeks, it’s pointed me back to something I’ve long forgotten:

Life, and our interpretation of it, often emerges with limited context. It comes in small doses and scribbled pictures, rather than as a finished masterpiece.  Like a novel, we crack it open at random intervals, fully expecting to comprehend the whole story. (I wouldn’t know, because I never procrastinated in college, except for all the studying parts . . .) We assume we are seeing things (often people) in totality, unobstructed. So we “read” our labels with brazen authority, never acknowledging the steam clouding our view: bias, assumptions, wishful thinking, anger, expectations, even our own insecurities.

We end up with “Authentic Dork” — obscured truth — in moments where infinitely more than just a bottle’s reputation is on the line.

When our conclusive default is to “jump to,” may we endeavor instead to “lean in.”

We just may be surprised.

Weak is the “New” Strong

By Nichole Woo

This post originally appeared at Leslie Verner’s In it, I shared some of my thoughts on the “Strong Girl” movement.

My best friend’s daughter hates her middle name. Columbine

As a parent, how do you not take that one personally?  After all, most of us spend about nine months contemplating, debating, and often agonizing over the matter. We sift through the millions of options, scrutinizing name meanings with a fine- toothed comb. We do the nickname test with first, middle, and last names to ensure survival through middle school, and then veto all options that remind us of mean people from childhood.  Some of us are so weighted down by this heavy responsibility that we are still deliberating on our drive to the hospital. (This happened to my grandparents, who succumbed to the stress by drawing names out of a hat. Thankfully, my uncle was named “George” instead of “Machine Washable”.) Somehow, we all arrive at the “perfect” name. Nailed it! At least my friend thought so.

Continue reading “Weak is the “New” Strong”