Monday, January 31, 2011

Toothless Grins

It's such a precious age all on its own, for its own host of reasons, this being six. The limbs are thinning out and showing sinewy muscles underneath, angles and freckles all starting to make their way onto the stage.

Two teeth drop out one day and then another, and another. The tooth fairy forgets to stop by sometimes, or is too busy in other parts of the world so has to leave a message that she'll be back the next morning. It's a tricky business keeping up with all those teeth.

It's tricky too, not to wish these days away or let them breeze by without attending to them. He's been helping me lately though, with his need to be at home and at my side a little more, with his sweet requests to do something together, or his readiness to curl up into the concave of my side and read, sometimes his voice the one moving slowly along and sometimes mine.

Toothless grins... they are right up there with first steps and graduation caps and it doesn't take much to get all sentimental and sappy about them, or to start worrying about orthodontist bills.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Knitting: Waffles and Babies

I continue to crank out hats. Credit it to cold weather, an abundance of one or two skeins of a single color, and maybe the satisfaction of a quick project. I like this waffle knit pattern for a little variety. It does not have a brim, though it looks like it in the picture because the model went from a folded edge to a pulled-down-ove- the-ears look mid walk to the bus.

And my new favorite gift for all these friend's who are cranking out babies like I'm cranking out hats, is... a hat. This was my first attempt at a crochet edge for interest, as well as a pom-pom (which, had I known how easy it was I would have done long before!)

This design is very simple and is worked from the earflaps up, a mixture of the Thorpe and Baby Earflap Hat patterns. I followed the order of the Baby Earflap pattern, but used the crochet trim idea as well as the garter stitch for the brim portion idea from the Thorpe pattern. This is the same mix I used for the boy's hats earlier this year.

On the needles... still working on something red (which feels very appropriate during this Chinese New Year holiday), and possibly another tweedy project and trying to think of a way to use up all these extra bits of leftover skeins sitting around. And dreaming about all the yarn shopping I'll be doing in a few months when we head back to the States this summer.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It Rained Red and the New Year is Here

Last night was China's Xiao Nian, or Little New Year, which marks the fact that in one week, the Chinese New Year arrives. This holiday is so vast in its festivities and importance that it seems to envelope the entire country and virtually shut it down for the several weeks required to celebrate it. 

This morning, we walked around and gazed at the remnants of last night's firework extravanganza. Fireworks are one of the main events in these coming weeks, and they are at once intrusive, obnoxious, glorious, exhilirating, out of control, and way better than any 4th of July (for you Americans) pansy celebration you may have attended (and some flying straight from your neighbors window mind you!).

Our first experience of Chun Jie, or Spring Festival (which is the Chinese New Year) was a lesson in positive thinking. I always think these things will mean a house full of cranky kids, up all night because they can't sleep, crying because of the war zone going on two feet from their head on the other side of the concrete apartment wall.

But in reality, they love it. They gaze for hours out the windows, exclaiming and oohing with awe. They love the jiaozi that is traditionally served. They fall asleep at the normal time, and stay that way until morning, even with all the canons booming and skies crackling until after midnight.

And then we get to wake up in the morning and look at the world littered with red snowflakes and burnt out boxes strewn across sidewalks and parking lots. We find little casings shaped like army tanks and hold them in our pockets like some treasure left by the New Year Fairy. It's all very exciting and wonderful, not hard and grumpy like I imagined it would be.

It's actually quite beautiful in it's own way,
 especially in the morning light,
 like most things are.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Birthday Reflections

Dear Me, it's my brithday.
Time to get self-reflective!

In honor of this day of utmost importance, I am sharing a self-reflective photo (or two), which coincidentally matches the the theme of The View From Here this week. Tada... a photo of myself taking a photo of myself.

Today I have been alive 31 years. This is not a major milestone or anything particularly exciting at all. At all.
In fact, my husband is away coaching a basketball tournament somewhere in China and my kids don't understand birthdays void of decorations and cake so there is little tadoo going on around here.

So even though I don't really want to go over-the-top and recap the whole meaning of my life and these 31 years of it, I do have some tiny little thoughts about it all.

My life is the people in it. There is never really much that is more important than people.
It is life to know them, to be known by them.

My life is the places I have lived, and the people that were there, that are there.
The ho-hum town of Highland, Indiana.
The mountains of Wyoming.
The streets of Philadelphia (you're all singing it now aren't you)
this coastal city in China.

It is the things I do every day with my hands
the prayers I offer up from my soul
sometimes just with words that flutter silently from my mind
sometimes with the bones and gristle work of my flesh
and an uttering from my limbs that begs it to mean something.

It is the words I read and mull over
but want to breathe like life from my body.

I read this line the other day in Tolstoy's War and Peace and it  has rattled around in my head for days:

It was as though the infinite, fathomless arch of heaven that had once stood over him had been suddenly transformed into a low, limited vault weighing upon him, with everything in it clear, but nothing eternal and mysterious.

I understand the desire for the vault.
But to be shaped by the arches of heaven,
that is life indeed.

(Guess the whole "not re-capping the meaning of life" part didn't go so well...)

Monday, January 24, 2011

whoever said I Run to Win the Prize was cool

Nearly every time I set my feet to the pavement, laced up with old beat up Saucony's, I experience some sort of battle. The first one is usually against my body, begging me to let it stay home, or telling me it is too tired today and that knitting on the couch, or even just washing dishes would be better.

There are plenty of days though, when the body is not having a pity party, and sometimes it is those days that I battle the elements. Recently, the elements consists of frigid temperatures, the kind that make tears run wildly and without control down my cheeks, making me think of men on the Endurance who battled the same phenomenon, but nearly lost their noses because of it. I am nowhere near that kind of predicament. But the cold does make movement slower and stiffer, and the wind biting and pushing me like a schoolyard bully as I battle the hills can feel relentless.

But to be completely honest, neither of those is the greatest challenge I face as I head out morning after morning. The body may give fits and starts but after years of knowing the joy of the run, the adrenaline, and the winded feeling of satisfaction that follows, those fits have become easier to ignore. And the elements, though challenging, present their own kind of vigor too. I know that once the legs start pumping and the blood starts moving, I am like an oven on wheels, chugging heat up and down the windswept boardwalk and frozen concrete slabs that are my winter landscape. And I have come to love the feel of the cold air filling my lungs, numbing my cheeks. It invigorates me in a way that a sweltering, blazing sun on my neck never will.

Instead, the battles I fight are merely about placing one foot in front of the other. They say that distance running is mostly a mental game. And distance, in my book, is any distance at all. It may have grown over time, to mean longer periods of time or stretches of road, but it has nearly always been a battle. And perhaps because of my nature or the introspective tendency of my thinking, I generally always find myself laying my entire life and character on the line, when the question of stopping bares it's weak and ugly head. If you can't make it to the top of this hill, which is only a matter of muscles and lungs burning and a few slim minutes of your life,  how will you ever...? If you stop before you reach the end of this measly little road, how will you ever expect to have the fortitude to make it through______? And when I've stopped, or given up, it's disheartened me in places a run shouldn't really be able to reach to. But then again, it has made me want to stop stopping.

This past weekend I ran the longest distance I have ever run to date. It wasn't that far. It wasn't a marathon or anything. But it was two miles further than I have ever gone. And with each additional step, I felt a singing coursing through my every tired muscle and aching knee. There have been countless times when I have given up. So, it just may be that this running thing in my particular frame is seeing improvement at a very, very slow pace. But improvement is happening, some of it even taking years to see. I would like to think that the carryover is true in other areas as well. So that when I have a transcendental crisis because I can't make it over that last crest, I can rejoice in the victories too when I finally make it without giving up.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday afternoons are for

I have nothing of value to say right now, except that I love this photo.
The Man left on a four day trip today, and the hoodlums are loose in the dining room...

Notice the bandanas on backwards.
The nakedness (read: savageness)
The intensity of the faces
The look of "this is completely normal and I am in nothing short of my element standing here completely bare outside of a pink loin cloth and my brother's underwear."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

{book}worm wednesday :: committed

The books currently on our nightstands (because honestly, that's really the only place the reading is happening these days) all seem to be long ones for some reason. That means the list today will be short, and most (or all) of these are not finished yet either. They are good books though, I tell you, which is why we are reading them.

The Kids:
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
This book is charming and sweet in it's own E.B.White sort of way, who made us love a rather dull and conscientious pig, and a spider for crying out loud, and it's amazing how he can make you feel the same for a funny family of trumpeter swans. Louis can't "talk" like the rest of his kind, and it's disturbing and perplexing to his parents, and to him... until he learns to read and write which creates a whole new set of problems and adventures. I personally find the Cob (the father swan) the most hilarious of the bunch. He doesn't talk, he pontificates. But his wife just rolls her eyes and says what's what. They make me laugh.

The Husband:
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
I think I mentioned before that he was obsessively reading this book... and he still is.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the most infuential writers and theologians of the 20th century. Most people know him as the author of The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, but his life was absolutely remarkable in his academic abilities coupled with a prophetic and strikingly counter-(church)cultural understanding of the community of believers. And it plays out in the startling, gripping tale of his life as it goes from academia and pastoral pursuits, to life as an undercover SS agent in Hitler's regime. A very challenging  and inspirational read.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (abridged and edited by Manuel Komroff)
I have an old paperback edition, with 621 pages of the thinnest (as in, lick your fingers and crinkle the pages each time to make sure you aren't skipping one), tissue-like paper with small, close together type. This alone has created it's own challenge. But there is something about those Russian authors that makes you feel you ought to read them. I've read some of Dostoyevsky and needed lots of additional materials to make it come alive for me. Yet I find myself often thinking back to The Grand Inquisitor passage in The Brother's Karamazov when I am struggling through the question of suffering in this life. I guess that means it was worth reading... and that the others will be as well.

I don't know if I'll find a similar passage that forever sticks with me in War and Peace, but I am pleasantly surprised to find I am enjoying and following along the story itself, after tackling and hurdling over the first few somewhat dry chapters. I'm starting to feel a sympathetic liking for Prince Andre and dear Pierre, for Natasha and Rostov. Only half way through at this point but happily determined to keep going.

Committed:: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
This one has been a great conversation starter, if in no other place than the insides of my very own head.

So far in the reading of this book, I have appreciated several points she brings out concerning the way we currently view marriage and have treated it throughout history, but I also have questions about they way she handles these views. Understanding history is a tricky thing. It's an interpretive thing. A historian will (hopefully) examine primary documents and then begin to piece together an interpretation of events or ideas of that time. So when Gilbert claims that marriage has not always been treated as sacred or that it is evolving over time, I would probably interpret the information a bit differently.

Marriage has always been mistreated, and perverted in certain aspects ever since the Fall. But I would venture to say that it has also always been upheld and treated as sacred to some degree( by the grace of God) during those times as well. I have always appreciated how C.S. Lewis put it: that each era has its own strengths, and its own weaknesses, and it's easy to point those out in an era already dead and gone. But sometimes looking into the world of another time, can lead you to see the pitfalls in your own. I wonder this about the way we criticize marriage in past eras. Or the way we understand the historical treatment of women. It is easy to see the atrocities, because they are there in plain and awful sight... and to think we have attained so much good in the present. I wonder what those women (or men) would say if they were able to comment on our present day marriages and views on/treatment of women. Would they point out things we have lost, or are damaging, even within all our gains?

Another important bit to chew on...marriage as a moral issue: the author doesn't agree that it is one, which I understand. It's a trend these days to take it off the moral list. But everything is on the moral list. You can't say morality has no jurisdiction over some things (like the union of marriage), but then claim morality for the issues you still want it for (like the treatment of homosexuals, which I agreed with her sentiment on). In her argument for the goodness of same sex marriage, Gilbert cites the Greeks as being a culture that accepted it (and because they produced men like Aristotle and Socrates, and the framework for modern day democracy, we tend to get a bit woozy when we talk about the Greeks)... but failed to mention their acceptance of boy-love, also known as pedophilia. We still claim that as a moral issue today that is unacceptable. So without going into a huge diatribe on philosophy here, suffice it to say that I appreciated some of the points she brought out that deserve our careful attention, but with a different starting point for moral, ethical, and epistemological outworkings, I would disagree with many of her conclusions.

One of the things I have appreciated most thus far in the book however, was her musing on whether or not we put too much expectiation on our spouse and all that our marital union holds for us. I think this is true everywhere, and no less in the Christian community. If anything is now in danger of becoming simultaneously destroyed and made into a ridiculous icon of idolatry it is marriage and even the family. I think this is where her quote of the Apostle Paul is also a bit off. Taken in isolation, his statement about wishing everyone were "as he is", may have appeared to make the claim that marriage was bad or lesser than a solitary life wholly devoted to God... but closer inspection would reveal that his whole point was that it shouldn't be the all in all. It can't be. And most of us figure that out in the day to day life of marriage but somehow at the same time still expect that it should be the quintissential completion of our being. It won't be.

I believe in marriage, in the goodness of it, not because I think we're evolving and figuring out better and better ways to make it work for us, or because of it's utilitarian purposes, but because I believe it was formed within the good and perfect plan of God. Right now, in this fallen state of things, that means it is fraught with problems and abuses, failures and perversions, but the grace of God has not left us, and even though it is "not the way it's supposed to be," he is working in spite of it all. That is why there is the possibility of hope... in broken marriages, failed marriages, abandoned marriages, empty marriages, even good and healthy marriages. I'm committed because of this hope.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Moments {What Afternoons Are For}

In my humble opinion, afternoons are for:
or coffee
books, read in a lulling voice
eyelashes on cheeks
sunlight through windows, 
but indirectly, not full and happy like the morning
little playthings
the kind you can whisper too, or make whoosh
but not bounce or crash or roar at.

They are made for
little boys who can get lost in them
little girls who can sleep them away
and mama's who need them.

This post is also a part of The View From Here's photo challenge. The theme this week is {small things}.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Our Hats All Match

I suppose it could be worse. I could have bought some sort of lovely gingham or calico print and had our whole family made up a set of "we belong together" clothes... collared shirts for the guys and a pinafore for the girlie and a full skirt with a cute little handkerchief for my head or something. So I didn't go that far. I just made several hats that all look very much the same. Same color, same style, same samey sameness.

And the photographs seemed to want to go the same route.

Anyway, it's a fun and easy pattern and I wear mine all the time because it's so nice and toasty, even if slightly itchy (and in fact, it is a little different, with a "seed stitch" for the crown portion instead of the regular stockinette. Gettin' crazy).

I used Wool of the Andes in Mink/Heather by Knit Picks for Scout and I and
a Lion Brand Alpine Wool in Bay Leaf Tweed for the Man.
No specific pattern, just rib stitch to desired thickness and then stockinette all the way home!

And currently, something red is in the works...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Moments {take to the streets}

The last few days, I feel full with thoughts of this place and of living here. Some friends just repatriated back to the States after living here for several years, and their journey as they settle back in to the Midwest feels so near and far at the same time.

We listened to a woman speak the other night on Third Culture Kids, a phenomenon that happens to children who are raised for some, or all of their developmental years in a country that is not where they hold their citizenship. My husband is a Third Culture Kid and I can see the way it has affected him. I know it already has irreversible roots in my own children now too, roots that will only grow deeper. At one point the speaker said, for Third Culture Kids, "their childhood is a grieving childhood." You can't say that to someone like me. I'm a sad thinker. I think sad thoughts. But I understood what she meant. It's not an entirely bad thing, this grieving. It's a part of life. But it is hard.

One thing I love to do and don't get to often enough is to walk the streets of our city and photograph it.  This is not an easy task, to capture the faces and lives of people here... it feels intrusive (and it is) since most of them are strangers and they don't know that I am not a tourist, or merely oggling them as if they were a zoo animal.

I can't pass a person without wondering about the life that is draped by that body, that set of clothes, that particular color handkerchief that is tied tight around a head of dark matted hair. I wonder if they have a family, and if their job is steady. Do they have a burden they are heavy with today, or every day? Do they get along with their mother, their wife? Do they have some hope that drives them?

So I've noticed that with all the loss and gain that comes from living in this land as a foreigner, but as one who is making this foreign land her home, sometimes it helps to just gaze upon the details of the place. The more I do it, the more I find that I love it, in a surprisingly tender though painfully removed kind of way.

Today I took a walk, and did just that.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Moments {kitchen dreams}

Sometimes I daydream about what a kitchen could really be... not philosophically or anything, just the plain, bare-bones wood and tile, ceramic and stainless steel make up of it.

It could be spacious, with pine flooring that shines from the sunlight streaming in through large, french paned windows. It could have countertops that wrap and roam for miles around the perimeter, like a freshly mown path that just waits to be trampled on with kneading and chopping, hot baking pans and bowls of ingredients, and maybe three or four little bums that want an aerial view.

It could have sinks like bathtubs, so deep you have to bend and reach with your fingertips to scour the gleaming white enamel. It could have cupboards that reach to the sky (which I could reach, because I am just that tall) and pantries that you could get lost in (or lose someone in). I even know someone that has two ovens, stacked right on top of each other. A Thanksgiving Day dream.

And best of all, or sort of best because really all those things seem like "bests" to me, it could have a large table with six or even eight chairs gathered around it, that sits by a window and gathers bodies from wherever they wander and lets them join you, right there, where all the cooking and talking and making and pouring and all manner of wonderful things takes place.

It really is just a dream though, isn't it? I know some of you have all those things... and it doesn't mean your life is rosy or your family close, or the struggle to do housework vanishes down the drain of that bottomless sink.

Our kitchen here is nice, though it reminds me of cooking in a camper sometimes, like those old pop-up Jayco's my family spent our growing years wandering around the country in. But you get used to what you have, and I know this has been true for me (outside of daydreaming).

On days like today though, when I have twenty things going at once and everything is fighting for space (and losing), I can get a little twitchy. But eventually everything finds it place, and gets its turn in the oven, or its run through the doll house size sink. And we have also managed to learn to shop a bit differently, which means cooking a bit differently, and maybe planning a bit differently too. My kids may not all be able to land a seat on the counter at the same time (which really isn't necessary or sanitary anyway), but those same counters are also low enough (think mid thigh) that peering over them is made a bit easier.

And the table I think would bring everyone together? It likely would, but small houses can make for strong love too.

And cookie dough stuck to your heel can make you wake out of a daydream...

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Best of 2010 {in pictures}

Our computer is still down, and I am still using an old one, which means to post a {your best of 2010} post, I could only select from the photo pool of what has already been posted on this blog. Yet, even with that narrow(er) playing field, it was hard for me to pick... so I just clicked on any picture that I loved for some reason or another... the memory, the pure aesthetics of it, some new trick I learned that happened when that shot was taken, or just the way it made me feel when I looked at it.

I can't wait to do it again next year.