Sunday, August 31, 2008

Belated goodbyes

It's two o'clock in the morning here in Taiwan, and I am finally saying goodbye to my parents' house. A sensible person would have said goodbye when she was actually leaving the house, I suppose, but the morning of our departure after our long summer home was harried: load up the car, rouse the sleeping children, make one last pass through the house for any overlooked belongings. I'm sure we forgot some things--I'm expecting a box from my mom any day now with assorted summer leftovers--but the thing is, it's the house I left behind that I'm missing now.

Today--as in this moment, while it's dark here but nearly noon in Washington--my parents are holding an estate sale, downsizing as they prepare for their move to a new home in sunnier climes. I had all summer to set aside anything I particularly cherished and didn't want sold, and I did tuck away some favorites. Still, my mind is now wandering through all the rooms (dodging all the bargain-hunters who are doing the same thing), as I recall what goes where, and imagine how it will look when it's gone.

I am happy for their move, truly. And I'm happy that they are sorting and selling and saving aside as they see fit. I've done that before our moves overseas, and it's liberating. I just wish I could be there today. I'm sad that the house is beginning its transformation from "is" to "was" without me, and am feeling a little adrift. Perhaps it's not right to keep an anchor on the other side of the world, but it has been a comfort to me. I will miss it when it's gone.

I really must get to bed, but first, Mom, if you haven't sold the elephant mug I made in 5th grade, and the chromed boat bell that dad told me I could have one day, please stick a "sold" sticker on 'em for me. Thanks.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Headlights & red lights

It's late, and I should be sleeping, or if not sleeping then getting our bags packed for tomorrow's jaunt to destinations north and an overnight with friends.


Yesterday we were on the peninsula for a family get-together and on the drive home Cole was struck by the sight, as we came over a rise in the highway, of a solid band of headlights in the on-coming lanes and a solid band of tail lights ahead of us. He said, "That looks cool. Headlights and red lights." For some reason that resonated, like some sort of metaphor for life, or at least travel. Today it formed into a more concrete thought after rattling around in my brain: I do love coming home to Washington for the summers, seeing friends and family, eating favorite foods, losing sensation in my toes because it's so freakin' cold here in the summers; but when I'm here I have a general sense that I am looking at everyone's life from behind. It's not that I couldn't live like most people here, but the lifestyle seems one step ahead of where I want to be; if out of reach, only because I am taking small steps while everyone else marches on. Staring at the back of the American Dream: those are the tail lights.

On the other hand, living in Taiwan virtually guarantees that I'll not fit the mold. I live better than most locals, but am poorer than most expats; I am valued for my ability to speak my native tongue yet frustrated daily in my inability to speak Chinese; I do not really understand the culture around me, am not sure of my real reason for being there, but still persist in trying to make sense of all the whys and hows. Taiwan stares me down every time I step outside my cozy little nest: headlights.

This would be a great spot for an epiphany, or at least a platitude, but I have none. It's a puzzle, how we sometimes end up in unexpected places and then start calling those places home. And what was home becomes home again only when you're not there.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Spring goes zing!

How can it be May already? Not just May, but the end of May, even? Well, for once I've got a really good reason for not writing, and you can see her to the right, here. This is Nian Yu, a lovely little girl who was born two months premature and needed a caring home for awhile until she could make her way to the orphanage. From there she will travel to a new home in America, but only after the paperwork is done and the judge says okay. It may take some time, but I'm hopeful that by the end of this year she will be in a family for good.

We had never fostered a child before this, and hadn't really thought about it; but when a friend who works with the orphanage asked if we would consider taking Nian Yu in, I couldn't think of a single reason to say no. I knew she'd wake for feedings at night, and need lots of attention when we're all at our busiest, and make everything just a tiny bit more complicated, but none of those things seemed more important than providing an infant with the chance to bond to someone at such a critical time. So we said yes.

Lots of people asked if I thought it would be hard to let her go. I knew that it would be. If it wasn't, that meant I wasn't doing a very good job of mothering her. And indeed, last Sunday when we handed her to the very loving and dedicated couple who run The Home of God's Love, it was hard to say goodbye. I'm not really in the market for another baby -- those 1:00 and 4:00 a.m. feedings did take a lot out of me! -- but she was my constant companion for five weeks and I felt guilty for letting her go. I am grateful that she is in capable hands, and I am praying that her transition to the orphanage is going well and her stay there will be brief. Wo ai ni, Nian Yu!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

And then there were five...

Yes, I realize that a title like that is a sure-fire way to start rumors and invite people to look at my stomach to see if I'm in a family way, but really, now, I'm only speaking of the hamsters. Over Chinese New Year we decided to bring home two new hamsters (our super, best-in-the-world hamster, Cutie, having passed on last November). We found a nice pet store, with clean cages and a helpful staff, and asked for two hamsters that would cohabit happily in our big cage at home. I should have known something was wrong as soon as we got them in the car--they squeaked and scrabbled and appeared to not like each other at all. But we did take them home, and introduced them to their new home, and watched them continue to harrass each other. One was larger and generally sweet-tempered; the other--possible a runt--smaller and bizarre in behaviour, seeking out the larger one but then rolling on her back, practically begging to be bitten. Indeed, the larger one did just that after a few days together, so we dug out Cutie's first cage, a smallish one, and separated them. It was only a few days later that the little one, Indi by name, gave birth. Both of our hamsters are girls, and with a gestation of 20 days there is no doubt anyway that she was pregnant when we bought her. The suprise is that such a tiny thing could hold three babies and still be so slight. But mother and pups are all doing well (there is one runt, but it seems to be doing all right). They are two weeks old now, their eyes just opening and their legs finally taking them out of the nest they were born in. They are small-eared and downy-soft, and I want to name them all Beatrix.

In other news, 2008 is blowing by and with nary a dull moment: we enjoyed our Lunar New Year break, although we didn't do anything particularly festive; I went to Taipei on the high-speed rail All By Myself (that went on the calendar in red ink, don't you know) to give a talk to the Amnesty International group up there about the current state of affairs in Burma and how the Free Burma Rangers are working behind the scenes to help; I've led worship at church (not my gift, but my offering, I like to say), led Bible study, and planned the church picnic; I've volunteered at school for after-school activities (Nora and I head up free draw, or as she calls it, "Draw School") and with Cole's class as they prepared for their big chapel program and with the middle school drama group as they tried to figure out how to write dialogue; I have written a cooking article for a local magazine (I will probably write it as a regular feature from here on out), and worked on some other writings that have been languishing in the far reaches of my mind for a while; and amid all that craziness managed to make an astounding dark chocolate sorbet that is at this very moment begging me to finish it off. I may have to heed that call shortly.

I know at least one person will read this and appreciate the update (even though most of this he already knows, but maybe hadn't heard about the sorbet, eh, Kevin?). Hopefully there are a few others who continue to check in despite my long gaps between posts. We are doing well here overall, but are eager for Tim to finish his degree this fall so we can all see each other a bit more. Easter and the perfectly-timed Easter break are just around the corner--it is one of my favorite holidays here because the weather is usually gorgeous and the island is hard at work, leaving the scenic corners and beautiful drives wide open for us. I hope your winter is melting into a lovely spring wherever you are.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sawaadi bi mai!

Happy New Year, that is! Well, as is obvious to everyone, I did not post a word from Thailand. We weren't too terribly busy, but with limited internet access and abundant shopping and pad thai all around, blogging did not happen. Our trip was fabulous, the weather perfect (not too hot or humid, but very pleasant), and we met--and met up with--several friends. We are eager to return, maybe as soon as next Christmas. In the meantime I'll wear my Thai scarves, lather up with mangosteen soap on my new loofah and just enjoy lots of happy memories.

Cole and Nora both give Chiang Mai a thumbs-up. They loved the hotel room and big hotel breakfast (although Nora's usual choice was chocolate cereal, which she dubbed Cocoa Deluxe--a fitting name for a US$4.oo bowl of brown corn flakes). They were good sports through all the shopping, and had plenty of their own adventures: riding an elephant, birding in the jungle, swimming in the icy hotel pool... they loved it all. They particularly enjoyed our jaunts across town, whether in a tuk-tuk or a song-taew (a motorized surrey and a red pick-up truck, respectively), the chief modes of transportation in Chiang Mai.It has been so long since we've traveled anywhere besides the U.S., I'd kind of forgotten what fun it is to see new places. Taiwan is an adventure, but a more familiar one to us now. Thailand was full of new sights and sounds, all quite pleasant, and we are grateful for the chance to ring out the old year and welcome the new in such a relaxed and friendly place.

The new year is already presenting some interesting opportunities. I will be speaking later this month in Taipei to the local Amnesty International group about the situation in Burma (I'll be sure to get you an A.I. bumper sticker, Marc). One of our new friends in Chiang Mai is Alex, who coordinates the relief team efforts for the Free Burma Rangers. Please check out their website ( and support them if you can. The FBR is the only aid group sending teams into Burma to provide humanitarian relief. The need is great, and the Rangers put themselves in great danger by crossing the Burma border and remaining there for weeks or months at a time.

I will also be writing more regularly this year. I have been given a cooking feature in a local magazine, and will be writing other articles for them as well. I'm looking forward to working with other writers and photographers, and meeting some people outside of our usual circle.

I hope 2oo8 is off to a good start for you, too. Please drop me a line and share your New Year's news.