Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Message of Hope from Sendai

This letter is from "a friend of a friend of a friend" in Sendai, Japan.

Hello My Lovely Family and Friends,
First I want to thank you so very much for your concern for me. I am very touched. I also wish to apologize for a generic message to you all. But it seems the best way at the moment to get my message to you.

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend's home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their home, they put out sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.

Utterly amazingly where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines. People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes. People keep saying, "Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one another."

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often.We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all of this is by area. Some people have these things, others do not.

No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places, yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun. People lining up for water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All happening at the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.

The mountains are Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky magnificently. And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking, rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better off than others. Last night my friend's husband came in from the country, bringing food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of all that is happening. I don't. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and Love of me,
With Love in return, to you all,

Friday, March 11, 2011


I’ve been told I walk with my head in the clouds, and so it must be true. I am wasted by a buttercup; I hold the bus for one last look at a piece of broken glass. I listen for the poetry of rustling leaves, notice a lover’s knot in a willow tree, follow the sound of a Tibetan folk song and discover a conclave of retirees singing in a grove of bamboo. Their maestro dances the time with a white silk shawl draped over his arms like an offering to God. It seems whenever I walk out the door, strange beauty assails me.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, prefers to call it “synchronicity” - a supernatural event or creative catalyst presenting to artists when they are open to see it happen. At least that’s how I interpret her idea. So I watch with intent; I listen with purpose; I look for the sublime, even if it is rusting metal buried in green, green grass.

In High School, I once lived in the town of Colorado Springs near a street named Carefree which dead-ended onto a circle named Serendipity. I have loved that word ever since for it is far more lilting on the tongue and in the mind than coincidence or Cameron’s synchronicity. The timing of those years in Colorado also dove-tailed with my spiritual awakening at the age of fifteen when I looked to the mountains and realized there had to be a God and only He could help me navigate this hard, strange world. I saw the morning light dawn on that snow-dusted Pike‘s Peak as I perched at the foot of the mountains in a glen of wind-hewn rocks that towered as ships and shapes and tunnels of time. And that first Easter of my new faith, as I saw the sun rise in that sacred place, watched the light paint lavender and roses and lily white on the grey morning clouds, I witnessed the God of creation, the God of resurrected life, make art that morning and I have hungrily looked for his art ever since.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The good bug

RIP GuoGuo. We inherited you along with the fishtank, one goldfish, one blue beta, and two orange bubs. Unlike the fish, you lived in a tiny bamboo cage with a water dish half the size of a short thimble. You disliked cabbage, loved spinach and rice, and hated getting wet. So I kept the water tepid and slow when I washed your cage.

Your first owners, the Swansons couldn't take you back to America. They used to take you out and let you survey your world from the edge of a computer screen. You liked the hum and warmth and chirped cheerfully. But I was less skilled at retrieving you and kept you inside the cage close by the radiator where you satisfied your curiosity in hanging upside down or stretching out your spindly legs through the thin bars where maybe they felt the breeze of our breath has we read Aesop's Fables and poems from Robert Frost. You ate your breakfast while the girls did math and I got lost in the movements of your mandibles.

Your iridescent green began to change, day by day as the temperature outside dropped farther and farther below freezing. Your chirps would miss a beat, become hoarse, or forgetful. Last week, your armored green blackened like old spinach leaves dried and withered and one day I found you praying. Your body barely stood and attention but your head was down and flat - prostrated on the bottom of your bamboo cage. So still you prayed I thought you died. You no longer climbed the cage in frantic bursts of energy when I rinsed it out. You let the water run under you. You moved in slow scuffles like the old man on his way to the morning market. You did not eat. Your strong legs began to buckle and finally, you did not chirp but once in the day before you died.

"Mom's bug died," the girls told their dad when he came home for dinner. They buried him beneath the rose bushes with his thimble-sized water dish. That night, even my husband missed the ritual act of placing him by the window to keep him quiet. And lest you laugh at a eulogy for a bug, may I remind you of your childhood?
Where were you when Jiminy Cricket, the conscience of Pinocchio, faithfully brought the puppet home? Or when Chester the cricket was in Time's Square? Did you not witness Cri-kee, loyal friend of Mulan? That God said everything that creeps on the ground is good? Or did you not know, as Charles Dickens did in "Cricket on the Hearth" that "to find a cricket on the hearth is the luckiest thing of all?"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Epiphany is yet to come

Christmas is finished and all our photos and memories will join the others of Christmas Past. It is also the close of a decade rich in life and tumult. Although we began the turn of the century in China, we moved to Texas that year and began having babies while Brad simultaneously began and finished two graduate degrees and worked full time. I struggled to remain creative while raising the girls and working part-time. We packed and moved four times. Loved ones died, marriages divorced, friends moved away. But our girls thrived, our families moved closer, our friends discovered blogging and Facebook. Somehow the tapestries woven throughout our lives got stronger and more intricate and colorful.
This year, at the close of this amazing decade, we are once more in China. Out of necessity and desire, we all created a truly home-made Christmas. Throughout Advent, the girls spent all their free time making cards, ornaments, scenery, decorations - all from paper. It was all we had. We were too far away to receive snail-mail cards so we strung ribbon and hung all their creations. The potted plant we bought looks like a small fir and showed off all the sweet elves and gingermen and santas and stars and angels. Our Chinese tutor, who comes daily, taught us the Chinese words for everything Christmas. She taught us how to carol in Chinese.
I began to bake. I hadn’t made bread in twenty years and really hate to cook but oh how I craved homemade sweets. I’ve been reading a fabulous book about our spiritual lives and food, and the essays made me want to provide food for my family and my own soul, my own body. I craved the breaking of bread. I bought some flour and yeast and found an easy recipe. It worked. From the same batch I made cinnamon rolls. I could actually smell the yeast when I punched down the risen dough. (I have an incredibly weak sense of smell that probably half explains why food doesn’t mean much more than filling my belly.) My family ooh-ed and ah-ed and requested more. For three weeks of Advent, I made bread every Saturday.
Then I got ambitious. I began to cook more than fried rice or spaghetti. For the first time in years, I made an entire Christmas dinner (in a toaster oven) for our Chinese friends who visited from another province. And by necessity it was all from scratch: cornbread dressing, garlicked green beans with onions, squash casserole, steamed pumpkin (so naturally sweet!), salad greens with olive and balsamic vinegarette, splendid peach pie, rum balls and gingersnap cookies. The guests never had an American-made meal. They were awed.

We had to share. We packed the rum balls (yum for Meyers rum!) and gingersnaps, practiced our carols in Chinese and set out in the 15 degree wind chill. Our retired neighbors who keep cabbages in the stairwell, had a house full of guests for a birthday. We sang and offered cookies. Then on to the community center and the family who lives in their shop and delivers our water. We sang to the fruit seller and the vegetable vendor and the mantou lady. The bicycle repair lady and her Pekingese weren’t out but the shoe repairman was and we sang for him and his customer. Lastly, we found the lady who sweeps and puts the trash on her hand-pulled cart. We like her. She waves and greets us warmly when we pass. Someone found a clean napkin as she removed her gloves to take the cookies. We sang Silent Night in Chinese and wished her a merry Christmas, peace on earth, good will toward men. Epiphany is yet to come.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Great Wall at Mutianyu in October
Here am I, in China once again, my upside down life creating vertigo as I absorb the land, her people, and the shock of losing the familiar. Most readers of this blog have moved on, for the dormancy in my posts belie the transitions and adventure of this massive move. I now homeschool, live in a frumpy Beijing community of cold-war era retirees, and own a new puppy, some fish, and even a cricket in a cage. Our cat is declawed and living with my Dad, a newlywed to a bride we adore. (The widow in my previous post - we named her Mt. St. Helen - finally imploded and she has thankfully faded into family lore.)

In short, a lot has happened in the year since I last posted and shame on me for being so quiet! My thanks to Wayne Leal and Trisha Swanson for prodding me back to blogging about my latest cairn. I've been so busy building our new life, I've neglected to erect the signposts so others can see what I see. (I have, however been an avid photographer and the best photos are next door on my Flickr page.) So I'm a bit selfish and bloated with fresh adventures, sights and sounds (I can't smell), and I don't know where to begin. Thus I'll end this year's only post with a promise of more in the days and months ahead. Indulge me if I ramble, take some rabbit trails, backtrack through the last few months and otherwise create vertigo as others follow along. It's so good to be faced again with a tabulae rasa, a clean white page to write on.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

All Saints

It's the day on the calendar following Halloween that, growing up Southern Baptist, no one knew much about save the Catholic girl down the street who taught me how to sing "The Lord is my good shepherd, I'll follow Him alway" in a haunting round that still echoes in my mind on sad and lonely days. I was, and still am, precociously spiritual and the rock pillars I've erected to God, those life-changing signposts that say, "God spoke to me here," well, they are many and of varied stones in numerous times and places. Lately some old friends from my non-denominational cairn have become enamored of liturgy. Or maybe I've only lately noticed. But when many friends from many eras not only quote church fathers, but read extra-canonical literature as devotional material and follow the liturgical calendar and participate in High Church services and carry pictures of a saint in their wallet and no longer read Revelation as a tome against the Roman Church, well then I stop slouching and do more than raise an eyebrow.

I, too, have grown tired of contemporary services where I have to stare at a projection screen to follow the words sung too fast, and though I really like jazzy, rocky beats, it feels suddenly foreign in church. I find myself craving a reading, a scripture, a prayer, and the breaking of bread and drinking of wine more than once a month. I'm hungry for a tradition that spans beyond the 1970's Jesus movement. I want to follow a calendar of seasons and celebrate a true Advent and re-learn the wisdom of the Fathers. (It helps that I got a degree in religion and philosophy and actually know what I'm missing.)

This morning we went to my father's church, a stately, new, Methodist one in the middle of vast building expansions which also happens to be where my sister's family have attended for the last ten years. It was this church that performed the funeral services for my stepmother when she died this past March and I rarely attend except on Christmas eve or when my niece or nephew has some special performance. Aside from the connection to the Wesley brothers, the Methodist Church has seemed one of the more mundane of the denominational churches I've attended. But this church observes All Saints Day and this year, Marie's name would be read allowed followed by the chiming of a tiny bell. And how often does All Saints Day actually occur on a Sunday? Probably about as often as my birthday.

We went all together as a family and took up nearly an entire pew. I tried to ignore the widow who's been hot after my father since August and managed to plant herself in the pew behind us. None of us trust or like her except my father, but that's another story. I just suddenly found it hard to remember the precious saint who died in March and left a huge gaping hole in our family like the earth just opened up and threatened to cave in all the buildings and bridges we had built together. Then the choir sang a requiem, Agnus Dei and a slow drum resounded through the Latinate and a soloist sang Pie Jesu and the woman who officiated spoke about the tomb of the unknown soldier and though that connection still escapes me it held the earth in place. The deacons and deaconesses broke yeasty bread which we dipped in honest wine and I had to walk forward to receive it and watched as my children took it for the first time in their lives because the Methodists believe it is okay for anyone to partake regardless. The bread lodged in my throat and the wine burnt my tongue and I forgot everything else. I allowed the ministry of the saints to enfold me.

The widow managed to squeeze my dad's shoulder has she passed behind him and I still don't trust her an inch, but I laid Marie to rest and felt the solace of re-visiting the dead. What have I been so afraid of all these years? What are ashes on the skin or the lighting of a candle or the appreciation of the dead?

A few days ago, I was introduced to the late poet and philosopher, John O'Donohue. Here is his beautiful blessing to his mother, following the death of his father. It is entitled Beannacht, which means blessing, and is found in his book, Anam Cara.

John O'Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth by yours
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work the words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pieces of Picasso

Four years in Dallas and we FINALLY visited The Nasher Sculpture Center in downtown Dallas wherein I saw my first Picasso, face-to-face. I confess I was never a fan of the modern master until I stood three feet away from his genius. I was mesmerized and kept returning over and over to the two paintings displayed in the right wing. The Nasher is most famous for its sculpture collection and outdoor garden and I'll get to that in another post. For now I am still absorbing the colors and lines I saw in Picasso. With art, as with people, I become so engrossed in the immediate topic that I forget names so I couldn't tell you the title of the two paintings. But my favorite was the flower on the table. I walked around so happy that day because I saw that painting. (All the works combined probably produced that effect, but the colors of Picasso, even now, make me happy.) For more pictures of Picasso, Rodin, Matisse, and more, click on my flicker album next door.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We are done! .......... Not.

"One out of four marriages do not survive law school." So said the Dean of Dedman School of Law to my husband's first year class at Southern Methodist University four years ago. (He took the four year night school route.) Brad never told me that until a few months ago when a group of guys went out for a beer. All of them, except his Chinese buddies, had divorced while in law school. Sobering.

Three days ago Brad graduated cum laude. I've never been so proud of someone. Fifteen years ago he couldn't speak a word of English. The first person in his family to go to college. The first person in his county to leave the province for college. Now he has a Master's in education (he taught four years of high school English while working on that) and a prestigious and hard-earned law degree - oh and two children born in the middle of it all.

We celebrated with family and friends who have all been a tremendous support during the past four years. We raised a glass of champagne and toasted each other. We took pictures of Brad in his magnificent robe and watched the hooding ceremony. It is over. We are done.

Last night Brad came home lugging a box. "You won't be seeing much of me this summer," he said. The he pulled out ten of the fattest books I've ever seen. "I have to memorize these for the bar exam in two months," he said.

My old pappy used to say that his old pappy used to say: It ain't over til the fat lady sings.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

She ruled the house with an Okie twang

I had four months to write the obituary but I held my breath anyway. Every member of our family had their talents and tasks and could do them far better than I could write an obit. Debbie and Fran cooked the meals; Bill administrated; Joanie shopped; Brad wrote the eulogy; Melisa fixed the plumbing; others kept the kids occupied; I stared at the computer.

For one whole Saturday, we all shared one house and one bed - the bed my stepmother died on. Twenty-five family members cooked and ate and joked and sat at her bedside. She rallied for us and laughed and ate her favorite cake. We partied and Marie held court until we all bedded down on couches and pallets. On Sunday she transitioned into a coma and on Monday hospice took over.

I stared at the computer or played sudoku, finally jotting down memories of first impressions until the muse flowed and the obit was complete. She died on Wednesday and the minister wanted anecdotal information so I sent him the obituary I had intended for a small Oklahoma town newspaper near the Texas panhandle.

Brad spoke the eulogy and Bill thanked thanked the visitors. The Methodist minister led us in prayer and then read the obit. I told him he could. But he didn't stop at the list of descendants she'd left behind and my face flushed as I realized he was also reading from my stream-of-consciousness notes which I'd forgotten to delete from the final draft. Guess which part people liked the most.

In memory of Marie, here is the obit, including the notes, excepting the personal information. If you knew her or my dad, go here to post a note.

Peggy Marie was born the second child to Ben and Lennie B. in Vinson, Oklahoma, August 5, 19--. She grew up in Hollis, OK with her two brothers, Edwin and Ben A. B.. Marie loved to tell stories to her children and grandchildren of working at the soda fountain in her father’s pharmacy. She enjoyed laughter and children and family and pulling pranks. Every family member has a tale about the rubber fried egg she’d serve for breakfast; or the holes she cut in her dress so she didn’t have to wear it; or the dead chicken she would serve for dinner. She ruled her home with laughter and an Okie twang.

Marie, as she was known to her family, married Alan David Miedrich on June 4, 19--, at the base chapel in K. I. Sawyer AFB, Michigan. Their union blended two families into one loving unit. She followed Alan, an Air Force pilot and career officer across the country in sixteen moves and was a master at making a house into a home. She earned her realtor license in three states and was a sought after interior designer and decorator. Every living space had to be both beautiful and child-friendly.

Marie’s Christian faith was the bedrock of both her life and her death. Her special talent was encouragement. After a long and debilitating illness, she continued to speak kind and encouraging words to comfort her family. Marie specifically wanted to thank her parents, her brothers and her husband Alan for contributing to a blessed life. When she died on March 4, 2009, she passed peacefully in her home surrounded by all her family, just as she had wanted.

I first met Marie when I was ten, I think. We drove from South Carolina to Michigan in one of those large Chevys that hold a lot of kids in the back seat. There were three of us kids and she had to keep us entertained and introduce herself all at the same time. She taught us how to draw cartoon monkeys and goofy faces. She told us stories about her disobedient childhood: how she cut holes in her dress and plucked out all her eyelashes. When Daddy got impatient, she uttered a gentle, “Al” that had this magical effect on him.

Once home in that bordertown airbase, her arguments with Daddy always landed him in hot water. She tickled him until he cried uncle. Her bathroom towels were bright pink. Her hair was a foot tall. And she ruled the house with an Okie twang.

Mealtimes were a treat: you never knew when you’d be served the fried bacon and rubber egg or told you were having dead chicken for dinner. But boy could she cook. Wilted lettuce, black-eyed peas, fried okra, chicken and dumplings, pepper jelly, chow-chow, and the best Thanksgiving dinner you’ll ever eat.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What Nai Nai Left

The day before Nai Nai left America, she brought to me a handful of seventeen pennies and three dimes, many of them corroded or flattened and crushed around the edges.

"You found these on your creekwalks," I exclaimed.

She laughed and waved her hand. "They are no use to me," she said.

My mother-in-law has a keen eye. Once she found a dollar in the creek and once more in the parking lot at Costco. And once, when she saw the girls playing with a million dollar note of play money, she scolded them and brought the paper to me. She would walk the creek in the afternoons when the winter sun warmed her through the barren trees. Noticing my excitement over a rusty hinge she found on one walk, she began to bring me bits of metal and things she noticed in the dirt. The girls taught her to look for smooth and colorful rocks and embedded fossils. I don't know that she understood why these are important to us but she helped us look.

On one creekwalk, we met a grandmother from Korea. I got lost in translation when the grandmother tried to explain where she was from. My mother-in-law didn't know where Korea is. In Nai Nai's mind there exists China - the homeland, Japan - the old enemy, and America - the dreamland.

Most mornings she spent indoors by the window, reading Chinese poetry or tracts she got from church. I love this image of her most of all. She worked all her life in the fields and had only a second grade education. In our home she could be comfortable and spend her days in leisure.

"She wants to go home," Brad said.


She says she is bored and has nothing to do.

Sometimes she would mistake my limited Chinese language for fluency and begin to tell me stories of her life back home. I really wanted to hear her stories, but she only did this when my husband wasn't home. At first I tried calling him at work for a translation but that couldn't last long. Then I tried using a Chinese dictionary, but her dialect wasn't in the dictionary. I was stuck with listening for one or two words I could interpret and guessing at her subject. If I said I didn't understand, she talked louder and louder. Then I would nod and pretend to understand to make her feel better. Eventually I learned enough Chinese to become dangerous and we began to miscommunicate. She would get offended by what I said. Finally I began to ignore her attempts at conversation to prevent further disagreements.

"I never want to come back again," she said, the day before she left.


I am always too confused.

That day, she forgot my husband took the girls with him on an errand. She searched the creek and walked the grounds for two hours, vainly calling out for them. She thought they were lost.

In her suitcase she packed the new shoes and clothes we gave her, the photos from her stay, the jewelry she had asked for to "give her face" with her relatives. She asked her son if she could take some pebbles she found, but he said that the suitcase would be too heavy. She left them in a styrofoam cup on the bookshelf next to her little stack of Chinese books.

Monday, February 16, 2009

On Poetic Justice

"Li Po Chanting a Poem",
ink on paper, by Liang K'ai (13th century)

I glanced up as the plump, middle-aged, Chinese woman rounded the corner and strode through the church coffee bar, passing my husband and daughters, until she stood square in front of my chair holding a stapled essay. My husband looked perplexed. Clearly I had a sign on my forehead visible only to Chinese visitors who wish to have a blonde grammarian check their writing. I'd never met this woman and still don't know who she is for, without an introduction, she shoved the essay titled "The Consequences of Drunk Driving" in my lap and asked me to check the verbs. Her English was halting but with complete confidence that I could help her.

Three double-spaced pages detailed the devastating physical and emotional trauma caused by driving (and getting arrested) while drunk. Prison, guilt, loss of life, financial ruin, she named them all. The essay was chock full of cold facts and figures, but with few grammatical errors. Toward the end, the author referred to a previous blog post that explained details not relevant to her essay.

"Did you write this essay," I asked.

"Oh, yes," she said. "I write this essay."

"Can you tell me about this blog post?"

"What is blog post?"

"Well, I see nothing seriously wrong with this essay except you must be sure to credit all of your sources."

"I write this myself."

"I understand. You did a good job but if you do not tell every place where you found information, your teacher will give you a bad grade."

She nodded and seemed pleased there were no errors. She thanked me and she left. Why try to reinvent the wheel? And certainly, passing the class is far more important than losing face by exposing poor writing skills in a foreign language. Besides, the teacher wants information, not what I think. You see, in her mind, cobbling together a few sentences from esteemed sources constitutes good writing. The Eastern mindset venerates expert opinion and writing.

In Wuhan, China where I lived for three years, I often visited a site near the Number 1 Bridge over the Yangtze River. Built in 223 A.D., the Yellow Crane Tower has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, yet is one of the central landmarks and tourist spots in the city. With a 360 degree hilltop view of the tri-cities below, over the centuries, it has also captured the imagination of scores of poets. The most famous of the poems tells the lore of a man who, while visiting the tower, was carried away to the celestial city by a crane. Written by a renowned poet of the Tang Dynasty, it is considered one of Cui Hao's best poems.

But what captured my imagination during one visit with a translator, was that there was another, equally famous poet during the Tang dynasty who visited the Yellow Crane Tower and read Cui Hao's poem written on the tower wall. Struck by the greatness of the poem, Li Bai (Li Po) vowed he could do no better and would never write again. I was floored until I heard this sentiment repeated again and again during those three years: once greatness is achieved, there is no use going down that road again.

Li Bai does (thankfully) write again and, ironically, in an ensuing series of poems reminiscent of Salieri's frustration with Mozart, his obsessession over that poem on the wall results in some of his most enduring works.

Here is a translation of the poem that inspired so much.

The Yellow Crane Tower
Cui Hào 704-754
The ancient one
flew off on his yellow crane,
Now this place is empty
only Yellow Crane Tower remains.
The Yellow Crane
once gone never returns,
White clouds for a thousand years
empty and remote.
Boats and Hanyang trees
reflect in clear water,
Lush vegetation thrives
on Parrot Shoal.
At dusk I ask for news of home,
These mist shrouded waters
heavy on my heart.

Translator: Dongbo 東波

Monday, February 09, 2009

People who live in glass houses...

... apparently have very large carbon footprints. I smugly thought I was doing pretty good at conservation since I "don't get out much." Yet it appears my footprint is embarrassingly larger than the average consumer in this country. Not sure how except that if I get rid of our Mazda van, I could cut that figure in half. So what's the rest of the country doing that I'm not? Not sure, but at least the calculator gives ways to offset my greedy consumption (Really, I thought I was pretty conservative!!)

I've added a link in my bar so you can calculate your own footprint. Please don't tell me your number since it will only depress me further. Instead, make a resolution to offset some of your own bloat and save some dragonflies and butterflies for the future.

By the way, we found this fossilized print in the creek behind behind our home.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

...shouldn't throw stones

"My mother thinks you are planning to build a house with all those rusty things you collect on your walks." There was a hint of a smile in Brad's eyes as he put his hands on my shoulders and I dissolved into laughter. It is hard enough for my husband to understand my love of rusty things. My children can barely grasp what I envision as art. But my mother-in-law. Well, she just thinks I am very thrifty. In her world of "never-enough", found trash is a great way of recycling - for money or for building a home.

In Nai Nai's defense, she comes from rural China which is tantamount to taking Laura Ingalls Wilder out of Kansas and plopping her in front of a computer. In rural China, hi-tech means having a phone line that runs to the village and scarcity is a way of life. The dishwasher, microwave, fridge, and stove aren't luxuries to her, they are alien. I'm just not sure why she thinks I would want to build a house with my found pieces, though I imagine all those rusty bits of re-bar, bolts, wire, and other thingies might surely be useful in constructing a new home. The thing is, how long would it take me to find enough materials? And what does she envision it would look like? Now there is some artful food for thought.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Year of the Ox

Chinese Dolls

It is New Year's Day for over one quarter of the world's population. My mother-in-law just couldn't understand why the girls went to school and her son had to work. There should have been fireworks and food and family from all over China. But this is America. Though we had fish last night and a feast with friends from church the night before, I know she misses the two weeks of festivities and friends. She'll want to burn paper money to honor her deceased mother, give red packets of money to her oldest granddaughter, eat vegetables from her garden, hope for a good planting season.

She is out of her element here in our home and she is not used to sitting indoors. I show her pictures of when I visited her home for Chinese New Year (ten years ago) and wonder if it will only make her sigh more deeply.

During the feast with friends we met a seventy-nine year old woman visiting from China. Her father was a Chinese minister before the revolution yet she went to Nanjing University in the early fifties. I asked her how she was able to survive the red guards during the sixties and her eyes welled up. It was too painful to discuss, she said in halting English. Her mother was a westerner from California, she said, as she hugged me and asked for my address. I hope she writes to me in this year of the ox.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Frozen out of Time

If you haven't noticed, our family is just a little gaga about rocks. The six and seven-year old girls think dirt and pebbles trump divas of pop so when we surprised them with a visit to an auction house in downtown Dallas for a peek at museum quality bones and gems for sale, they were ecstatic. We didn't make the dinosaur bone give-away (though they were promised one would come in the mail) but we got a whole month's worth of eye-candy in one hour. On the first floor were crystals, ores, and gemstones worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of them were found in China, including the stunning silver formation called "The Dragon". Many were found on farms in the corn-belt or in the mountains of Utah. We couldn't stop staring and drooling but finally left as the crush of grade-schoolers standing in line for the giveaway began to press in. But several floors above was where the real treasures were kept.

Prehistoric fossils lined the walls and floors. Trilobites swarmed encrusted in silt. A fish nibbled on a tiny dinosaur.
Mastadon hair nestled near an aborted dinosaur egg. Psychodelic images, formed through aeons of pressure and mass, were now table-tops and wall-art. But oh, didn't I covet them for my home decor. There is no art more sublime than what God creates and then frames, frozen out of time.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What if...

The eyes clenched it. Peering up from the grainy Facebook photo of a young college student were my father's eyes. He had my last name, so rare, that a google search only turns up what I've posted on the web and a few odds and ends posts from family members or the cemetery plots of deceased grandparents.

I sent the guy a note and he added me to his list of friends: college girlfriends, drinking buddies, classmates, and me. I listed the names of his paternal ancestors and asked if they were his dad and his grandfather. Stunned, he wrote back, "Yeah, how'd you know??"

A long time ago my grandfather, groomed to be a priest, instead married your great-grandmother and if they'd stayed together, as good catholics should, I wouldn't be here, my children wouldn't be here, my entire family would still be dust.

George had two sons in Pennsylvania and neither knew the other existed until one day, on a baseball field, someone yelled out their last name and both boys yelled back, "What?" They never saw one another again, though years later my dad tried to make contact. And so we knew how the generations grew.

George was a drinking man of German stock. During the war he dropped a vowel in his name to avoid nasty associations with Hitler's Germany. He worked primarily in the tobacco industry and finished his career as a foreman for the Tampa Bay cigar factory. Retiring to a swampy, cypress-shrouded acre in Land-O-Lakes, he and Lois fished for Bass, killed water moccasins, and sat on the picnic table every evening with a six-pack of Budweiser.

I spent the summer of my senior year helping them take care of their one daughter, a mentally retarded adult, as they prepared for the inevitable. George and Lois died within one month of each other - one from bone cancer, the other from lung cancer.

I was at my grandfather's side minutes before he died when he confused me with one of his sisters. And I responded as though I was. Excommunicated from the church for his divorce, and told by the Baptists on his doorstep that Catholics were evil, he eschewed religion. When he learned he was dying of cancer, he gave me his rosary. On his death-bed, I gave it back.

My father had no sons and when he dies, this line of Miedrichs will desist. I look again at the eyes in that grainy photo. The future is now yours.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eulogy for a Fish

There's not much you can say about a fish. But T-Maxx was our first pet and when I told the girls he had died, Bethany quietly said, "Mom, we were so happy the day we brought him home." True. We all had pet lust so bad last summer that we would go and visit the SPCA and the local pet stores just to hold the animals. We looked at turtles, rabbits, snakes, and birds yet in the end we agreed a fish was best. We bought a vivid red beta.

Theodore Maxwell, or T-Maxx to his family, loved listening to music. He swam in circles in his little round bowl on the bookshelf in the bedroom. Hannah pressed her nose against the glass and He looked her in the eye and flared his fin but he didn't swim away. He also loved the color yellow. The fact that his food came in a bright yellow box only increased his excitement at mealtime.

Pillow, the calico cat, came to live with us a month later and they bonded quickly - a little too quickly. So I changed the wide-mouth bowl to a tall narrow mouthed vase so she wouldn't wash her paws and scare T-Maxx. But he was always a gracious host and allowed the cat to hug him through the glass.

Nai Nai came to visit us in September and she wanted to know why T-Maxx wasn't growing and when he got big enough, would we feed him to the cat? Perhaps she fed him on the sly. Perhaps that is why the water fouled so quickly every week.

T-Maxx got a fungus. He rested on the bottom of the vase and wouldn't eat. I misdiagnosed his symptoms for the Ich and waited too long to treat his illness. He was a patient fish and not easily flustered. He minded his business, but got along well with the rest of the family. When I took him out of the water for his burial, Pillow seemed distressed. She looked for the bowl and nudged my elbow.

The girls have given him a Christian burial. They used masking tape to form a cross with two sticks. They were reverent and solemn.

My husband has forbidden me to get another. Perhaps he doesn't want the trauma of bonding with another fish so quickly after this one passed. Perhaps he thinks I'm silly to like a fish.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Galveston, Oh Galveston

The old year finished in the perfect place - a place in recovery, buffeted by calamity, yet hopeful. Galveston is a favorite retreat of ours, anchored by old friends from Houston. We mourned to see the wreckage of so many homes, the upending of so many boats; we rejoiced that our friends' home survived, though bruised. On the first day of the new year, we walked along the sea wall and I began collecting rusted rebar, flic-flac, and such things that no one else would want: pieces of our memories left on the jetty.

The kids joined in, filled their hands with fishing line and other bits, and a curious Russian stopped us with his thick accent and inquiries. "Why do you do this thing?" he said, standing on the seawall in front of our car. "I make things," I said, doing such injustice to all the times we'd spent there building sandcastles, watching dolphins, catching crabs and fist-sized dragonflies, while all around us the wounds from hurricane Ike lay exposed and in decay. Why do I do this? My Chinese mother-in-law struggles to understand why I pick up rusted trash on our walks at home but give away useful clothes and shoes. Why do I find such beauty in rust, and peeling paint, and heaps of discarded metal? Why does Wayne like cardboard and Allison like broken dolls? Why do my children love rocks and dirt?

Back at the house on Tiki Island, the other guests, a Chinese family attending seminary in St Louis, turns soft floury dough into thin discs for dumplings. They are from Beijing, where the people love to laugh and talk and the conversation is spirited and loud. I settle in the warmth of these friends new and old. Outside, the balmy breeze echoes distant sounds of reconstruction and a new year is born.

What the end of the jetty used to look like (03/07)