Thursday, June 16, 2016

Treasures?

I have accumulated a lot of stuff over the past 4 years in China.  How do I know this?  Well, I had a dream (or maybe we should just call it a nightmare) my first night back in the US this summer that I had to move out of my apartment in 24 hours.  I woke up in a frenzy, wanting to jump on a plane and sort through the junk ASAP.

I so desperately wish that I was a minimalist.

But alas, I'm not.

Fast forward a week and I'm back in the town that I lived in pre-China, standing at the entrance to my storage unit, completely overwhelmed by how much stuff I own.  Stuff.  Junk.  Things.  Memories.  Treasures.  Keepsakes.

If I were to go through one tote a day, I think it would still take me a month to feel like I had gone through it well.  And I've got one day.  Today.

My goal is to go to a unit half the size.  24 hours ago, my goal was to get rid of it all.

How does all of this stuff accumulate so quickly?  And even worse, how do I let it sit for so incredibly long, ignored and useless?

Time to roll up my sleeves, sip my latte, and get to it.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Speeding by...

I've had an amazing number of thoughts running through my lately, and I think it's time to get them down on paper....or rather screen.

This spring was a blur.  If you want details on anything that happened, I really don't have them for you because I feel like I was in a fog of busyness, followed by the storm of change that is June in the expat community.  I honestly don't know how I survived all of the plates that I was juggling and fires I was trying to keep lit.

A friend of mine uses the analogy of a glass of water to describe life overseas, so whenever I see him, he asks where my cup is at.  If it's full, I'm at the brink of craziness.  If it's empty, I have so much more that I could (or maybe should) be doing.  This spring when I saw him, I told him that I had solved my problem...I just picked up an extra cup.  Why try to keep one very full glass from spilling over when you can just carry two.  #storyofmylife

What kept me so busy?  Just life, really.  Well, life the way I live it.  Teaching full time, taking post-grad classes, learning the ropes of administration, preparing for a summer at "home", saying see-you-later to so many friends and especially my best friend who is starting a new chapter in a new land...  Any of those things on their own or in combination with one or two others would be perfectly fine, but all of them combined to cause me to go on autopilot and just get things done.  No time for tears (until the last few days of school, of course), and no time to think about the reality of change that was just over the horizon...just autopilot.

A student of mine made me into a Picasso-esque creation. An accurate depiction...sometimes I feel that jumbled.

I packed up my classroom during those last few days of school, and it didn't hit me until I was in JoAnn's the other day that I don't have to decorate any bulletin boards in the fall.  No, wait...I said that wrong...I don't get to.  The things that have always been in my classroom in the past won't be in my classroom now because I won't have a classroom.  That one lesson on parabolas that I always have wanted to try out?  Too late now.  That one bulletin board that I thought about putting up last fall? Not happening any time soon.  I'm thrilled to be moving into a new position and experiencing new challenges, but there is something about the finality of this chapter closing that is just too much.

This has been the #viewfrommyclassroom for the past three years

Saying goodbye to my classroom was nothing compared to saying goodbye to Sarah, though.  I've been blessed throughout my life to have friends that get me, that love me despite my quirks, and that make me a better person.  I'm very very lucky and oh so thankful to have people on every continent that I love and that love me.   There is something about the experiences that Sarah and I have had in Chengdu that have bonded us in a way that I didn't think possible.  We are opposites, and yet we gel.  Life over the past four years has been filled with high highs and oh so very low lows, and yet we have always had each other to lean on.  Bad day? Call Sarah.  Good day? Call Sarah. Nothing to do this weekend? Call Sarah.  Saw a funny Jimmy Fallon bit? Call Sarah.  Need someone to wander a new corner of the city with? Call Sarah.  She has been my go-to for almost everything for four years, and now she is moving.  I'm oh so happy for her and the next chapter that the Lord is writing in her life, but I would be lying if I didn't wish that chapter was a little closer to the 'Du and not so very far away.  Goodbyes are hard for people that I barely know, but for a heart-friend like her they are brutal.  A few months ago I heard a woman crying in the airport waiting for a flight and I didn't understand why she couldn't pull it together in public.  The day that Sarah and I said our final Chengdu goodbye on a metro stop and then went our separate ways home, I finally understood that poor woman's plight.  FYI, crying on the metro makes people VERY uncomfortable.  Very.  Don't try it.  Just trust me.

Our last picture as friends living in the same city. #roommatesatadistance

And now, I'm in the US, so far removed from the realities of Chengdu life that I don't quite know how to talk about it.

How do I wish I could respond...well, sort of like a school kid who doesn't tell their parents a whole lot when they get off the bus: "How was your year?" "Fine."    "What are you going to do next year?" "Cool stuff." "Learn anything cool about life?" "Yep."

It's either that or dive into stories that I don't quite know how to explain of a life that I wish you would just come and see for yourself.  If you came, you would understand why I love it so much.

But it's okay if you don't.  Just be kind as I talk about my crazy kiddos, explain why I only buy sunglasses on walls in China, and complain about the assorted bacon options in the US.  I know I'm weird...I know I don't fit...just humor me for a little while.

But seriously, who needs this many options???

Sorry, this post was all over the place.  Welcome to the currently jumbled mess that is my mind :) 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I got sunshine...

The sun came out in Chengdu yesterday.  You'd think we'd been living in an Alaskan winter for months, because as we walked outside just about everyone looked up, saw the orb of fire in the sky and gasped in amazement.

We don't see the sun much here.  It's cloudy, grey, and smoggy all winter.

And then it peaks from the other side of a cloud (er...smog...) and our hearts race a little...it's exciting.

Makes me think of this blog.  I feel like I don't share a lot of sunshine on here.  Often, I write when I'm down.  When the clouds have gotten me.  When I'm feeling alone and isolated.

I didn't realize this until after my last post and all of the follow-up hugs I got from friends here.  I'm not alone and isolated.  I'm surrounded and generally sunny on the inside...so it's time to share a little bit of it with you.

It's been a hard/crazy/long week.  Parent-teacher conferences generally drain me and energize me at the same time.  My students are awesome, and their parents are even cooler (don't tell the kids I said that...they'll get jealous of their crazy awesome parental units). I've gone to sleep before 6:30 for the past two nights, so it turns out I'm an old lady, but I wake up feeling on cloud nine, which leads to morning craziness.

I feel bad for the people that walked near me on the way to work this morning...I couldn't help but sing and dance along to the playlist that my Amazon Prime Music (best thing ever, btw's) was rocking me out to!  If they thought I was a crazy foreigner before, now they know for sure.

Today is going to be crazy-busy, with meetings scattered throughout my day and lots to ponder and think about for next year, but I'm excited.  I get to breathe in and out today, high five a few teenagers and almost teenagers, and be a bit of a math geek all day long.  (Okay, a huge math geek...don't judge.)

Life is good.  The sun is shining.  He is risen.  What more could we ask for?  Happy Thursday, world!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Home"

I’ve never been very good at change. If I have enough time to prepare, I can handle it, but if something big happens quickly, my brain reels and I feel like the world around me is spinning in one direction and I’m being violently flung in another.  Even when I have time to prepare, the moments leading up to the actual event toss me into a blender of emotions and fears.  Right now I’m in the blender, looking like a delightful smoothie but feeling like I’m being torn in to a million pieces that just don’t seem to fit.

Let me explain…and let’s just move away from the metaphors because obviously I could go for days and they don’t shine all that much light on the situation.

My parents are leaving Africa this week.  Moving.  Packing.  Shipping.  Closing that door.  In a few days, their home will no longer be on the continent that has always held my heart.

My first memories were in Rwanda, playing with my brother on the hill that was and always be the first place I remember as home.

When we lived in the United States in elementary school, going “home” to East Africa was always on my mind and in my heart.  I knew that it would happen eventually.

And it did when we moved to Ethiopia, which was new and exciting and different, but familiar and perfect and everything I hoped it would be.

Then there was boarding school in Kenya, with Ethiopia mixed in every three months.  It solidified even more strongly my roots and the depth of my love for the continent that greeted me with bird songs each morning and sunsets each night.

In college I knew that the smell of Ethiopian coffee would greet me when I put the suitcases in the car every time I picked my parents up from the airport.

And even now, living in China, my apartment is filled with items that come from the past sixteen years of calling Addis Ababa home.  The smell of the dusty streets still seems to greet me some mornings when I wake up from a dream of the land of “13 months of sunshine” and the birthplace of my beloved buna.

But they’re moving.

And while it will always be one of my “homes,” I’m not sure that I’ll be able to call it “home” anymore.  I won’t have a room with my old books from middle school sitting on the shelves.  Nijoro and Dixie won’t be in the yard when we pull in from the airport.  That street corner where the bus dropped me off in high school won’t be the street that we live on anymore.  The memories will always be there, but there is something so different about not having a bed that I’ve slept in before waiting for me after a long flight.

I don’t know how to process it.

I don’t know how to cope.

I just know that life is never quite going to be the same.

And the crazy thing is, China is home now.  It is home.  I feel at home on my couch in my living room in my 27th floor apartment in a city of 14 million.  The sounds of the city are comforting to me here.  I am comfortable and love it and wouldn’t change a thing.  But the thought of losing one of my other homes is a weight that I just don’t know how to bear.

Does all of this change me? Not really.  But somewhere, deep down, I think I’m afraid that it might.

Oh the joys of being a TCK…which this time I’m going to let mean Totally Confused Kid.


I’ll be okay…life will go on.  The sun will keep on rising and setting…it always does.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Rethinking Loss

I've been pondering loss an unusual amount lately.

It's a normal part of life.  We lose socks every time we do the wash.  We lose games or conveniently lose homework every now and then.  But loss isn't just the small things.

Recently, I found out that a very dear friend has cancer.  He's my age, so that's part of the struggle, but it has plummeted my brain into deep thinking on loss in a way that I haven't thought in a long, long time.

Five years ago I felt loss in a way I've never felt it before and I'm not sure if I've ever really come to terms with it.

Let me rewind a bit.  I say goodbye a lot.  A lot a lot.  Every other week I seem to be saying "see you later" to someone close to my heart.  People come and go in an international setting, and that is expected and normal.  It's hard, but I can handle it.

But death is a whole different level of goodbyes.

And as a TCK, goodbyes are usually see you laters.  Or at least they could be.  You might run into each other 10 years later at a baseball game or in a random airport in some strange corner of the world.  Or maybe you'll have a layover that is just long enough to see that one person you haven't seen since first grade.  Or maybe you'll be vacationing in Australia and they will be there too for that random week.  The Lord always seems to bring is back together.

But saying goodbye to a TCK...not just an earthly see you later, but an eternal goodbye...that reeks havoc on my heart in an intense way.

Five years ago this December, I said goodbye to one of the dearest friends the Lord has ever blessed me with.  We were friends back in Ethiopia days, and then as it often happens she moved and I moved and we drifted apart.  For a while we would call each other once every summer when we back in the States, but then college happened and life happened and it was another TCK friendship that was still there but dormant.  After almost a decade of not seeing each other, she ended up posted near my home in Washington state and we reconnected.  We had movie marathon evenings, dinner dates in the middle, and so many hours of laughter.  It was as if no time had passed at all, and it was so clearly providential that we were together again.

And then she died.

No one expected it, and in an instant she was gone.  And my heart still longs for our conversations...for a few more minutes of infections laughter...for all of our "one day we will"s to come into fruition.

But they can't.

Because, in this life, death is final.

But in a TCK life, goodbyes aren't final.

And there in lies the conflict.

So, going back to where I started, a friend of mine has cancer.  I'm praying every moment I think of it that the Lord would take the cancer away, that it would be the easily curable not so crazy kind, that the tests would come back that it was just a spot on the technology and not on him.

But His ways are better than our ways, and so we wait.

Anticipating see you laters and goodbyes.

Yet resting in the fact that earthly see you laters and goodbyes are but a temporary thing in light of eternity.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Trust

As 2016 started, I decided to choose a word to focus on and maybe even lean into during a year that is full of change and new adventures.  I'm horrible at New Year's resolutions, so this seemed like a safe way to learn and grow without beating myself up over failures.  My word this year is trust.

The thing that I'm most excited about with focusing on this so small but simultaneously huge word is that it applies to every area of my life....

I need to trust that I am where I am supposed to be, on good days and bad.
I need to trust that there is Someone so much greater than I orchestrating my days and this journey that I am on.
I need to trust that I have the skills necessary for the situations that I find myself in, and that where I don't have the skills there will be opportunity for growth.
I need to trust the people around me where my independence has the opportunity to get me in trouble.
I need to trust that the foundations beneath me are strong enough to keep me standing (or leaning, or sitting, or whatever it is).
I need to trust that my friends, both near and far, will be there when I'm falling and hurting rather than looking at how I can pick myself up off of the ground.
I need to trust that He who began this crazy and wonderful work in me is faithful to complete it, even when I want to take the reins.

I'm trusting that 2016 is going to be quite the year.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sometimes, you just have to sing...

These days life in Chengdu is my normal.  My 27th floor apartment, my crazy loud neighbors, riding the metro, getting my hair washed and styled for the equivalent of 4 dollars: these are all normal. After over 3.5 years here, things that I never thought I would get used to are things that I love and miss when I'm away.  Honestly, there are very few things from life on the other side of the pond that I think of and wish I could get easily.  Of course I wish that I was able to be closer geographically to the people that I love that are scattered around the world, but there are very few material things or experiences apart from that quality time that I long for on a regular basis.

Today I thought of something that I wish I could incorporate into my life here, but can't.

Let me rewind.

I love my former roommate and current best friend dearly.  We are kindred spirits, often laughing over the same silly things and quoting the same random movies.  We fit together like...I dunno...two really cool things that fit together.

Anyways, today we were talking about musicals and I realized that we have never been able to share one of my favorite pastimes: singing in the car.

Sure, we sing in both of our apartments all the time.  Sometimes we burst into song while we're walking.  I'm pretty sure we've ever sung a few times on the metro.  But it's just not the same.

Singing in the car is your own acoustic paradise.  Your own personal stage, with only you (and the random driver who notices the passion with which you let it all out) as the audience.

I remember with so much hiraeth (look at me speaking Welsh....or just using a really cool TCK related word) singing in the car on many a drive from Seattle to Portland.  There is something so therapeutic about rolling down the windows, switching on the "Musical Favorites" playlist on my ipod, and just letting go while driving down the highway.  If there's traffic it's even better.  Or rain.  All of a sudden I transform into Eponine in her dream land, Jack in Santa Fe, or Maria singing on top of that mountain.

Musicals were reserved for the longer drives (it was a long playlist...had to give it the full time to shine), but even turning on the radio in the morning for my 5 minute drive to school was a chance to belt out a classic or learn something new.

Singing in the car.  There really is nothing like it.

Singing on a scooter just isn't the same.

And if you sing "On my own" on the streets of Chengdu in the rain, people really do look at you like you're crazy.

I know what to put on my to-do list for the summer...

Space Bubble

This was written on December 30th when I was flying back from winter vacation.  It has been sitting, ignored, on my desktop every since.  Time to share...

Many times over the last week, my parents marveled at the fact that both of their children live in China.  It is remarkable, really.  I never in a million years would have thought that 6 year old me, would end up living in this part of the world.  I didn’t even think that I would visit this part of the world again and didn’t see a need to.  But now, here, I am, half way through year four in the world’s most populated country.

As a resident of the world’s most populated country, one would assume that I love people.  And I do.  I really do.  I love people.  But since moving here I have definitely become more introverted.  Me? Introverted? Who would have thought.  Sure, I still recharge from people time, but I’ve never appreciated my own space more than I have in the last few years.  On a flight today, I was feeling completely claustrophobic.  The man sitting next to me didn’t really get the concept of sharing the arm rest…and in fact kept moving his rather annoying elbows into my space bubble, no matter how cocooned I tried to be in my little seat.  Then, to make matters more annoying, the airline had these little tablets instead of TV screens, which in theory are really cool but in actuality are incredibly annoying.  Why? Well, they didn’t give people headphones.  That’s right…imagine this: a plane full of people, everyone around you watching a movie…with no headphones.  There was action there was romance…it was all there…and I could hear it.  Going to the bathroom was the one place that was quiet.  I stood in there for about 5 minutes, just to breathe. 

It’s strange writing all of these words, because this really isn’t the me that moved to China.  Who knew that I would learn to love peace and quiet? Who knew that I would come to need time of absolute solitude? Seriously, who knew?


Welcome to international living: full of the unexpected.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tourist Time


I've always loved being a tourist in my own area, whether it was going to the Space Needle for a cup of coffee when I lived for Washington or walking around People's Park in Chengdu on a Saturday morning.  I love to see things I've seen dozens of times from a new perspective, and I love sharing these places that I love with people that I love.

This month has been a month of tourism in this country that I now call home.  My parents made the long trek from Ethiopia to China for Christmas, coming to this massive country for the first time since 1993.  To say that they stepped in to a China they have never seen before would be an understatement.  China in 1993 is nothing like China in 2015.

Since they arrived on December 10th, we've seen just about all there is to see in Chengdu, they went up to Xi'an to see the famous Terra-cotta Warriors, we spent six days in Harbin where my brother Jonathan lives, and now we've spent four or so days in Beijing, the nations capital.  By far the coldest place we've been on this journey was Harbin, where we had a glorious white Christmas at the Ice Festival (it is the Ice City, after all) and 'enjoyed' temperatures of -30C.

The traveling has been fun, and seeing new parts of China is always exciting, but the best bit about our Christmas this year was being together.  Showing my parents my new home is surreal.  Who wouldn't thought that Jonathan and I would both be living in China?  I sure didn't!  But now, three and a half years into calling this home, I can't imagine how different my life would be if I hadn't started on this journey.  To say that I'm thankful would be a serious understatement.  I'm sad to see my parents leave tonight to go back to Ethiopia, but I'm so thankful that we were able to spend this Holiday season together, celebrating the gift of family and the Gift of the Savior.  Merry Christmas!


Rather than go into the whole trip in detail, here are a few pictures to highlight our adventures:
They rode in a pedi-cab all by themselves!

Real Sichuan HotPot
Heading to the bus with my roommate
Ready for whatever the pollution brings our way
Family Picture - Panda Style!
Playing an Ice Grand Piano
At the Harbin Ice Festival
Made of ice.  Wow...

On the Great Wall of China

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful.

Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday to reflect on after living overseas.  As I sit on my couch, waiting for the tea kettle to boil water for some chai (that’s festive, right?), I’ve found myself thinking back over a lifetime of Thanksgivings.  Allow me to let you walk down my memory lane for a moment as I reminisce…

My first memories of Thanksgiving are from when we lived in Western Washington.  I’m sure we celebrated it in Rwanda when I was smaller, but my first memory of the holiday has me at 8 or 9 years old.  My parents would wake up and cook.  By the time my eyes opened, the turkey would be in the oven and the first round of dishes would be ready to go in the dishwasher.  (I don’t know how they got all of that done so quickly…even now I’m pretty sure they had some sort of a time-turner!)  Sometime mid-morning, my dad and one of us kids (got to have 2 people for the HOV lane to be an option in King County) would go and get my Uncle Steve.  It would just be the four of us and him at the table if my memory is right.  It was perfect.  After our mid-afternoon feast, we would all take naps.  At least, that was the idea.  Uncle Steve would nap on the couch while we watched Andy Griffith episodes, and that meant his wheelchair was available for Jonathan and I to whisk around our driveway in.  Thinking back on it, that was a most excellent way to get us out of the house while the adults slept.  Well played, parental units…well played.

I’m sure we celebrated Thanksgiving when we lived in Ethiopia, but I don’t remember it as clearly as those years that we lived in Kent.  Once I went to boarding school, Thanksgiving wasn’t event spent at home.  I suppose I should feel sad about that, and I do in a way because we had traditions that I still can’t imagine not having the memories of, but sometime in there I think the Lord did something in my heart that I didn’t have a clue about.  He gave me a release from traditions and societal constructs that, without which, would have made it impossible for me to survive holidays for the next decade without tears and sorrow.  He allowed me to see that it wasn’t about location or situation, but attitude.

Which leads me to Thanksgivings in college.  When I think of the holiday, I think of driving for hours in a minivan packed with my friends from Kenya.  I think of Turkey Trots, sleeping wherever there is a flat surface, and feasts at the homes of strangers.  I think of Christmas lights and cold walks, of BB guns being shot at each other for the sake of initiation, of hours of intense card games, and of spoons thrown into snow.  My traditions are totally not traditional and non-repeatable.  For four years, we met in small towns in Illinois or West Virginia and made our home with friends that are and forever will be family.

After college, Thanksgiving meant time with extended family in the Northwest and memories that I will cherish with sweet nieces and tofurkey leftovers, but those memories don’t settle in my mind like those days in college.

Now, Thanksgiving is a day of work and an incredible feast put on by our Parent-Teacher Organization with food from around the world and so many smiles and hugs from the moms of my precious students.  We have staff feast and time together on Wednesday night, and I’ll celebrate with other friends over the weekend, but it’s more about an attitude of gratitude then the turkey or the after-meal food-coma.

Today, I came home from school and took a two-hour nap.  I can’t necessarily blame it on a food-coma, but for the sake of tradition I might as well.

All that said, I’m thankful.  I’m thankful for where I live and where I’ve been.  I’m thankful for friends spread far and near that I cherish.  I’m thankful for my students and their families and the incredible blessing that it is to be a part of their lives.

I’m also thankful for you, whoever you are and whatever you’re up to this holiday.  I’m thankful that our lives have intersected, maybe just for a few moments or for a majority of my 28 years.  Thank you for reading to the end this reflection of a heart in multiple places and times.


Whatever you’re up to this holiday, I pray that you and your traditions (or lack there of) would cause you to take a moment to sit back and be thankful.

Thanksgiving 2006 in Pekin, Illinois

Thanksgiving 2007, West Virginia

Thanksgiving 2007, West Virginia

The Fabulous Five, Thanksgiving 2008, West Virginia