Friday, October 29, 2010

What Might Have Been

My grandfather was mechanical engineer through and through. Analytical, inventive, a tool and dye man who had a mind like a steel trap. He raised a son, never thinking that son would or should be anything but what he was, an engineer. So my dad sweat his way through math and physics classes, forcing his less methodical nature to bend to the laws of engineering. Lo and behold, he eventually graduated and nearly thirty years ago began what has become a lifetime career in something he may never have been naturally inclined to.

Perhaps my grandfather just didn't have the ability we "modern" parents do to let our kids steer their own path in life. Perhaps he directed a little too much. My dad has been blessed in his work though, and doesn't seem bitter or oppressed by the way his life panned out. 

Who knows what he may have been were it not for the shove he received in the engineering direction? A kindergarten teacher?

 Watching him today with the classmates of his grandsons, he seemed equally at home with both worlds... wires and wiry rascals.

This post is a part of The View From Here's weekly photo challenge.
This week's theme is "alter ego" and I couldn't help but think of my dad masquerading as a burly construction manager on one side of the world, while kneeling on the floor talking patiently with six year old's on the other.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


It's hard for me to talk much about other things while my Dad is here. He is never here, you know.

I have to admit that during those few short weeks, when I was looking forward to his arrival, I was mainly thinking about how happy I was for my children, the one's who know him primarily through a computer, but have scattered memories of our summer visit two years ago, and before that mostly from what they see in pictures.

But now sitting together in the morning, taking walks and hearing about his work or his studies, his garden or news of our family, I know that this is a happiness for me too.

Of course it delights me to see how my kids love him, so naturally and freely, if not a tiny bit reluctantly (something that a few walks, visits to the swing, and lots of shared desserts fixed in no time).
I don't watch very many grandpa's in action, but watching this one I am so blessed. Who wouldn't feel blessed with someone who follows behind every meal, washing up dishes before I can say otherwise, or insisting on hiking out to the bus stop with all the kids so I can go for a morning run?

But it's not just the breaks and the help of course. One of the first conversations he had with the boys after arriving was on what it means to "sacrifice." They bring it up now, applying it when they think it might be appropriate (and sometimes when it's not). I listen and watch the way he loves them, the way he loves our family, and it is full of sacrifice.
It is bursting with real love.

It's easy to get sentimental (when you're me) and reflective on here, but I know the road I've traveled to appreciate my Dad the way I do now. It has certainly been bumpy, not always peaceful or lovely.

Watching him with my girl, I can imagine those hands holding mine when I was just her size.
I wasn't easy to understand or know how to handle. 
I suppose he wasn't either.
And she certainly seems to be following in our footsteps nicely.

I'm so thankful to have grown older, 
thankful that I can watch him hold my daughter's hand and swing her through the air,
let him hold my hand and feel loved.
I'm grateful to have come to that place.
And to enjoy him here.
He is never here, you know.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] A Hat

This hat, painted so many colors of autumn, was made for the Little Scout.
But then in the end it fit her so well, I just had to wear it (this a joke my dad will never grow tired of).

I love the colorway of this yarn. 
We took a walk late this afternoon, and the way the vines scampered up the stone walls, dotting the overgrowth with color here and there, reminded me of the way it weaves through this yarn as well. It's heavy with deep purples and rusty browns, dotted with teals and avocado greens... and every now and then a small bright burst of scarlet or brazen orange

Just the way I like to think of autumn here:
 surprising me with bursts of color when I had learned not to expect it,
or when I was thinking another year would be too long, 
with a visit from my dad. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ode to a Piano Teacher

For My Dear Mrs. M.

Yesterday my dad hauled all my old piano books and folders of music halfway around the world and brought them here to me. I sat down at the beautiful upright my husband bought for me a little over a year ago, but have barely been able to play, and leafed through the familiar pages for awhile, fingering old pieces, playing through entire Sonatas, remembering again the feeling I used to have when I could really play.

I thought of you almost the entire time I sat there, my head filled with the grand sweeps of the music or fast and furious finger maneuvers that I once worked so hard to learn; it was as though you were sitting just to my left, but a little behind, watching and listening and talking quietly in my ear. I was glad you were there, enjoying the moment with me, because you were there for so many of the moments before this one... puttering about your studio or rummaging in the laundry, but always with an ear cocked and always somehow able to know exactly which note I had missed or which fingering needed work.

I thought of you and how your own hands, hindered by stroke, can no longer move over the milk colored keys, washing them with your own emotions and years of hard earned skill. Your hands, now still for over a decade. I know they must ache to scamper with fury, or slow and sweet caressing over that ivory board, and I know that it must be more than just the activity of your hands that you long for, because music is so much more than an exercise in your life, and in the life of anyone who loves it.

And you are a lover of music. You are a lover of life, of the many things that make up a life. You have loved hard and loved well, and I am one bearer of the fruits of that love, me sitting here in my apartment in China, playing songs that echo in your ears too... if only you could hear them with me now.

I thought of you as I played because it is as though your hands lie like ghost fingers with mine as they move up and down the lines of black and white, mind held up by yours and mine able to live only because of the life you gave them. It was such a picture of who God is to us, as I thought of you laboring over me as a teacher; the way I would never have been able to achieve any of the joys I now know as a pianist if it wasn't for you training and teaching and showing me the way, often pushing me beyond the limit of what I thought I could do, and certainly beyond what I ever would have done were I left to my own devices. This to me, an act of grace.

There are others who bear the fruits of your love, many of them musical but some of them with a beauty we don't yet comprehend: your son, who though his mind is crippled has been given freedom by you to be so much more than he might have been were it not for your careful and perhaps laborious training, your years of working with him, a love poured out over and over again. Now you must be still, unable to help him as you once did... and to a much smaller degree you are unable to help me as you once did too. Yet I feel strong with the part of life you have given me, and I wonder if Pauly feels that strength too. It's a joy and a skill that needed your outworking in order to find its place in me, and I know it is a strength that will one day lie still in my own hands as well. So I have plans of passing it on, as you passed it on to me.

Sitting here today, relishing in the uncovering of a line of Bach that came shakily, but grew in strength as the minutes passed, I was thankful for you and all that you have given. I know that the days now must seem smaller than they once were, must seem longer and perhaps emptier, or just quieter. Yet I am full now with thoughts of you and pray you may be blessed from the tips of your still fingers to the bottoms of your toes, knowing that your life matters much, both now and forevermore.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] When Grandpa Comes to Town

When Grandpa comes to town...

Five year olds learn chess 
(jumpstarting to intermediate or even advanced level, as only grandpa's can do)
Four year old's watch five year old's learn chess.

Archery skills are honed and take flight.

Books are read in a decidedly deeper, more booming voice, and without as much character enactment.

Tree forts plans are birthed, talked about, and then scaled down due to environmental reasons
(nevertheless, there is much pride in "my Grandpa knows how to build" and the fact that he is out there, directing the scrap gathering and construction.

Meals are shared and much time is spent gazing adoringly at this larger than life presence, 
who is actually here, with us.

Stories are told, of rivers and cabins and pet crows and the childhood dreams of another generation.

It is blessing my heart beyond what I am letting on, that the walls of separation, even for just these few short weeks, are being battered down and trampled to bits by all of these beautiful Grandpa moments.

This post also a part of The View From Here's theme of the week, {Our Gang}

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] star gazing

[star gazing]

My dad arrived today, all the way from the other side of the globe. He brought, among other things, coffee.

I'm so grateful for his arrival, for this unexpected visit that we've only been planning for a few weeks now. The kids are over the moon excited... they are sure he will want to join in and help them build a tree house outside our apartment, "because he likes to work and he likes to build stuff!" They are right about that, but I'm not sure anyone has tried to build a tree house in the neighborhood courtyard before.

Anyway, the best part is that he is here, but the second best part is that we are drinking coffee again, after a several day hiatus due to unfortunate circumstances. I did break down and buy this one cup pictured above. And then I realized that I've taken more than one or even two photos of coffee related items, so I gave them their own little home over on flickr. I'm excited to add more to the family in the future.

A few months ago I had no idea October would hold such a gift from home... Grandpa and java and new books and bows and arrows and new yarn... can't wait to wake up tomorrow to it all.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] Looking Intently

I've been thinking about gazing lately. 

How often do I tell this little one to look into my eyes? 
Most of the time she avoids this when it is required of her...
but there are countless moments when we catch each other,
 or when she takes my face in her hands and turns it to hers, not allowing me to look away.

It's a rare and special gift, this ability to look another human in the face and to communicate on some level, simply through the meeting of the eyes, the lock of a gaze.
Do animals have any sense of this? Their bodily communication powers sometimes exceed our own, but do they share emotion or bond in any way through the looks that they give?

Sometimes one of the greater challenges of Faith is our inability to see the face of God.
We think that if we could see, believing would be easier.

I think of how many times I tell my children to look at me, and how they want to go their own way.
And I wonder at all the ways God gives me to look at Him, and how I turn to other things.
But lately I am so thankful for the grace that is given to look, even when it is hard and you are afraid.
He works in the most backward of ways.
Hope in the bleakest places.
Light when it is most dark.
Healing from brokenness.
Closeness from pain.
Being Found from seeing you are Most Lost.
Finding Life when you Lose Yours.

When, in these recent days I have felt most humbled, most ashamed of my ways, 
I have found that looking at Him has lifted my face.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] A Time to Exercise

I am so used to posting pictures now that this feels a little strange, a little bleak without one. But I try to bravely press on...

Today was a day for exercise, not the kind you might imagine with the blood pumping and sweat running down your face, but the kind that involves all your mental powers and the control of your spirit. The last few days so many little things happened and continued to happen, until this morning when a few more were added on, I fell apart rather ungracefully.

In these moments, I try to remind myself that there are people far less fortunate than I in the world, people with far less, people with problems far heavier and more serious and long lasting. But in the end, I am still here, faced with my problems however small or light in comparison, and I must wrestle with them.

 Despite what some may say, one thing that is true of Christianity (not necessarily Christians mind you) is its robust ability to engage in intellectual debate, in inquiry, in thoughtful, even emotional questioning. And it can stand in the face of those things with humble but unbreakable strength. So on days like these, and on so many before it, I work through the things I know and hold to, and find that they still hold fast.

When the exercises are done and I lay spent in prayer and the quiet rest of an afternoon, I am at peace. His Name, His Word calmed the storms and when they rage in my mind or my heart or the deep places of my spirit, He brings the calm there too. I spread the events of my days before me, laying them out in a banner before my closed eyes and feel the winds of refreshment blowing them gently, not away, but as though they are now written on the Banner of His Love.

And when I take pictures, when I hold a lump of dough in my hands, when I walk with my daughter in my arms, smelling the fresh autumn air, when I catch my breath as I fight the frustration of an unreasonable five year old, I am living in the moments and the in the midst of the materials God has given me to work with. He, the Master Creator, has made me a mini-creator, an artist of my days. It's not without guidance and it's not always freelance... there are rules of the trade to follow if I want to make a Work of Beauty. So these days, these small inconveniences, these mistakes and errors, these ups and downs and bits and pieces of grace and goodness, they are the stuff of everyday life... and this, my task, it is the Art of Everyday Living.

Friday, October 15, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] colors of the season

When I set out to Hunt for a Red October, somewhere there lurked this idea of literally finding small hints of the vibrant reds and fiery oranges that autumn brings to mind. 
But instead, over the past several days, a different palette has presented itself, and instead of dreaming and sighing over the wild painted hues of pumpkins and maple trees, and backyards piled high with crunchy leaves, I've begun to accept and even delight in the natural earthy textures that are surrounding me each day.

The colors of my world during these beautiful days of autumn in China are faded fennel and upturned dirt, deep chocolate and crushed cloves, milky whites and crunchy tart Granny Smith's, simmering cinnamon and the slow death of leaves. It's not surprising that I'm suited to this array... most of the clothes I own fall somewhere between cream and dark brown, with several shades of green thrown in there. Someday I may go wild and buy a pair of red shoes or something.

I've been gathering these images for a few days, but the stuff of life has hindered me from doing very much with them. This too is part of the palette of these days, I think. Autumn is laden with so many themes and natural processes. The Gathering In and Cleaning Out, Sifting Through and Putting Away, Preparing and Sharing, Giving Thanks and Looking Back. So the hiccups and restraints of the past few days have helped to remind me of these important parts of this beautiful season as well. 

I'm happily sharing this post as a part of The View From Here {colors of the season}
Please click on over to see more inspirational photography or to share your own!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] what really happened

I had lovely plans for this space today. It included some colorful photographs, some thoughts on the days here lately, and the wonderful activities I've been enjoying lately. 

Instead, the electricity went off at about 8 am. this morning, and to my dismay was not expected to come back on until around 4 pm. I had a lot of cooking and baking to do. Laundry of course. There were insurance claims to fill out and some catch up correspondence to do via the internet. 
So needless to say most of those plans were canceled.

Instead we went knitting with a neighbor.
We took a short bikeride around the hood.
We piled the dishes neatly, hoping they would get bathed in a hot bath later on.
We laid plans for cooking while some of us napped.
But then none of us napped.
So then we cooked together.
And that was fun, some of us kept trying to tell ourselves.
Then we made mulled cider and popcorn and waited for Skills to come home so we could eat it together.
One of us has this thing about "making things cozy."
We had a little party on our back patio.
Our kitchen was a mess, and only a little of the cooking was done.
Dad came home early.
The electricity came back on.
Most of us went to bed early.

So once again, here I am saying, I'll be back tomorrow with more, in color...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] a preview

I haven't had much time here the last couple days, with the baking and cooking and walking and playing and friends and laundry and absolutely glorious weather that we've just had to be out in.

So this is just a note to say that I will be back with more, tomorrow, in the way of pictures and words and autumnal glory. It's a preview, not anything in the way of say, soulemama and moving into an old farmhouse or anything. It's just a preview in the sense that there is more to come.

See you soon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] Second Born Boy

He was a June baby but those first moments in the womb came some time in October.
And I think it fits him, with the look of sunshine but the temperament of your favorite fall sweater, the kind that cuddles soft against your skin and wraps you in a ready embrace.

He's always been my soft one, with quieter words and slower activity. He whispers to his play things and studies them with a gaze that looks lost but is really wandering. He climbs into my lap and would stay there indefinitely. He swirls my hair through his fingers, and whispers what he sees, what he thinks, the nonsense and growing intellect that belongs to a four year old.

He's a dream, and a dreamer.
He's a sight, full of visions.
I wonder at what the world holds for him.

Swirling sticks in the cool water of a tide pool,
dumping rocks to watch their liquid splash against the mirrored water,
sifting sand between through his fingers,
squishing weeds between his toes,
He beholds the earth so quietly and with playful wonder.

And I behold him, knowing too that he is Beheld.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] Fields of Gold

Someone asked a favor, a few pictures for their Christmas card.
 I agreed, though sort of reluctantly, because this isn't something I want to get into... arranging people and making them feel comfortable when I barely know them or know them too well. Eeks, it doesn't sound fun to me. But, "never say no" was this voice in my ear. If nothing else, it's Good Practice.

And then, even though the arranging and all was exactly as I feared it would be... I had fun with this one part. 
She made it easy, I will say. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] There is this one tree

Just out my kitchen window, through the metal bars of the gate that divides us from another complex, and past a few artistically placed fir trees, stands this one tree. It's the only tree in the whole city that I've seen thus far that has any color. And it shines. 

It sits there, small and lonesome, surrounded by ten huge towers of concrete and glass, and sings its autumn song every morning as the light hits from the east. I gaze at it while washing dishes, or scrubbing potatoes, or as I turn from the stove and catch it again out of the side of my eye. 

I like this tree, how it speaks to me. How there is always grace, there is always His kindness, growing and shining, however small or alone or surrounded by bleakness. It's right there, and I can see it when I look up.

Friday, October 8, 2010

[Hunt for a Red October] Up on the Farm

Every week, a man drives into the city from a small farm out in the mountains to deliver boxes of free-range eggs. Every week, we take our little cardboard boxes and gratefully unload the variety of speckled brown or white, faintest watery blue, or cream colored eggs, and feast on their freshness. Today we were able to take a trip out to this mountain farm to get a glimpse of how these lovely chickens live and where our eggs are coming from. 

First, a hike up steep trails and a footbridge wet with the morning rain, to the small brick homes that house the hens.

They literally are free to roam on the mountainside, with little huts scattered here and there where they go to lay their bounty.

And then, the hunt for eggs.

Then we came back to the house of the couple who runs the farm, where they graciously made us tea, let our children run all over their small home, and prepared a charcoal grill for us to cook our lunch.

The leftover casings of chestnuts... 

A little dancing ensued...

And then back home again.
It was a perfect way to spend a fall morning, after a night of heavy thunder and rains. 
The air was fresh and cool and the mountain crags and valleys were like a drink of water to these city soaked eyes. 
You can view the entire set of photos over on flickr, though I know I nearly posted them all here:)

And it almost seemed ridiculous that the theme for this weeks' The View From Here is {nesting}. So I can't help but interpret that in a chicken coop sort of way... 
If you want to share photos of how you are nesting this fall, or just view some creative ideas from others, visit and/or share over at The View From Here.