Winter in Oregon

This is winter in Oregon.

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Far-off hills wrestling with fog

As the sun says goodbye.
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This is winter in Oregon.

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Tall grasses bend with the weight of the wet

Red-bellied roundness beside them.

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Crystal-fire, of raindrops on rosehips

Clear water comes dripping to earth.
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This is winter in Oregon.
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Tall bearded trees reach into the water

Holding the sunlight prisoner.
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Colors are dying and growing old,

Fading in the wetlands.
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This is winter in Oregon.
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This message was brought to you by a few moments of silence from this cute little face. I’m sure you’re all thankful.
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How to Have a Stress-Free Pregnancy

Since there are (fortuitously) seven steps to follow, I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes!

Can you believe my baby is already almost five months old? He’s getting big so fast! So in honor of being the mother of an almost five-month-year-old (how Jared says it and it’s so funny I have to include it here. Do tell if you know anyone else who says that!), let me give you some advice on how to make your pregnancy really easy and stress free.

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(Cute baby picture so you’re reminded what the end result will be).

First, start your pregnancy in a country where no one speaks your language.  Prenatal visits are that much more exciting when you have to listen to the nurses practicing how to say “gynecological” from Google translate. And you’re never quite sure if they’ve understood any questions you have. As a bonus, when you come back to English-speaking parts all your doctors will be really annoyed because your medical records are all in Chinese and they don’t teach them that in medical school.

Second, get rid of nearly everything you own and prepare to move halfway around the world when you’re about five months along. Things like couches can really weigh you down with their couch-sitting needs, so it’s better for all involved if you just get rid of them now. You’ll be thankful later when you’re so huge you can’t pry yourself off a couch with a crowbar!

Third,  leave the country you started in and spend a few months with family. You’d be amazed how packing in the visits and seeing as many people as possible in a couple months’ time makes everything easier. But don’t get your heart set on staying here with people you know–these are just quick visits!

Fourth, when you’ve traveled the entire length of the country and seen everyone, get ready to move! Thankfully this will be an easy process since you will have already done step two. It just involves packing your entire life back into the two suitcases you’re allowed and you’re off again.

Fifth, once you’ve flown for around seven hours and have a serious case of jet lag and swollen ankles, start looking for a place to live. This will involve lots and lots of googling and walking everywhere, so be sure to give yourself at least a few weeks before the baby’s supposed to come. Remember, you still have to find a doctor reasonably close to where you’ll be living as well.

Sixth, you finally find a place to live and your baby’s due in a month! Perfect timing. Now you can relax. . . except there’s no furniture. Time to go shopping so when that baby does make its appearance it doesn’t have to wear your clothes. Oh, and having somewhere comfortable to sleep is a plus too.

Seven, buy that waterproof mattress cover you know you should have just in case you’re one of the few people whose water actually breaks before you’re in labor. Then let it sit in the other room because there’s no way your water is actually going to break in the middle of the night–at least not two weeks before the baby’s expected!

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(Not-so-cute pregnancy picture so you can see what the last two weeks of pregnancy were like.)

Once you’ve done all that, you can kick back (I’ll let you have a couch again) and wait for that baby to arrive. You’ll probably have about two days before he decides it’s time. But at least you weren’t just sitting around worrying about when he was going to come.

So in brief: to have the easiest, least stressful pregnancy possible, all you have to do is get rid of all your stuff , pack some suitcases, and fly (four or more flights is best)! And for maximum stress reduction, plan on having a baby a few weeks after you arrive. It’s completely foolproof.

One Month

JQ is one month old now. Actually, he’s six weeks old today, since I’m a week and a half behind on writing this. So I’m going to turn into a mommy blogger again and give you some more cute baby pictures.

I won’t bore you with details about his eating and sleeping habits, but he is an exceptionally good baby. Must be because he’s just like his wonderful mother.  Except I probably cry more than he does.

Don’t you just wish you had that cute little face to look at every day?

On Being an American: Updated with Pictures!

I tried to get these in yesterday, but due to internet problems, pictures wouldn’t load. But here they are now!

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The view of Beijing from high up in the Summer Palace.

When we first began talking about possibly moving to China for a year, we were living in one of the most affluent cities in America: Arlington, Virginia. Houses, cars, land, shopping, space: we Americans have it made.

China, on the other hand, is a country of contradictions. A beautiful modern building stands tall next to a pile of graying brick that looks as though it will crumble in about three years. Their subway system is incredibly modern—Washington, D.C., could take a few hints!—but on the streets pedestrians yield to cars.  Tumble-down shops–practically nothing more than a hole in the wall–are surrounded by piles of junk, but an enormous supermarket takes up the whole block on the other side of the street. People get from one place to another in shiny new cars or odd bicycle contraptions that look as if they could disintegrate any moment—and usually carry loads many feet high.

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A very normal sight for Beijingers.

 

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The smells practically assault an American. Sewers are underground, but according to the reek emanating from the manholes (helpfully covered with a metal cover, just like in America), they aren’t buried very deeply. The pungent smell of garlic greens is evident on the subways, along with the aroma of many sweaty people all crammed together.

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And people are everywhere. They flood the streets on foot and in vehicles. They mass in the supermarkets and the banks, fill the universities.

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Small shops.

But all these things that an American would gripe about and demand better of life? The Chinese just accept them, realizing that change takes time. They’re willing to invest that time, too, and begin to clean up their streets and their air and their buildings instead of whitewashing the outside and leaving the inside dirty.

So I’m confident it will be a good year in China. We have a lot to learn from the Chinese.

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One of Beijing’s skylines

To China–with Pictures!

Yes, we made it to China! And we even have had a few days of blue sky and clear air–though that’s left pretty quickly. Anyways, here are a few words and a few pictures for those of you dying to know what’s been happening!

Beijing is a huge city, around the size of the entire state of Connecticut. And more than 20 million people live here, so as you can imagine, it’s crowded. But it’s actually less different from the US than I had previously thought.

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A Chinese supermarket. Sorry for the blurriness!

It’s quickly becoming a modern city, with modern highways, cars, subways, technology, and supermarkets. People are everywhere, all very purposeful.

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A view of Beijing from the Summer Palace.

I still don’t know any Chinese, but hopefully I’ll be able to take a class in it this semester and learn a little.

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One of the best things about Beijing–it has mountains! (not that you can see them when you’re on the ground and every building is 30 floors high, but you can see them really well when you’re on the rooftop!)

Visiting the tourist attractions will come soon, I hope. The Great Wall is definitely on our list to go see.

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Buses and bikes–two of the main methods of transportation.

Longer post coming soon, hopefully, once we get the internet set up at our apartment (which I will also take pictures of at some point when it’s a little more unpacked).

Beauty in Blisters

Thankfulness. It’s hard.

I’ve been doing far too much grumbling lately. It’s easy to think only of everything you wish were different.

When everything is changing and a move to the other side of the globe is imminent.

When you’re given a trial that you never anticipated and never understood until now, and it seems as though everyone is judging you for it.

When you’re given kindness in the midst of hardness and all you want to think about is the hardness.

When all you want to focus on is everybody else’s faults.

In times like these, it’s easy to forget, to see only the small thorns in the midst of glory. And yes, thorns are still thorns—they’re poky, and they hurt. No one wants to keep walking when every step rubs blisters raw, even in the midst of the most glorious scenery.

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Looking down on the Snake River from Clarkston, WA.

But if you do keep walking, keep feeling the poke of the thorns, the blisters will turn into calluses and even the most obstinate thorn will become dull. And the beauty will still remain—the beauty of adventure, of friendships, of relationships, of character shaped and molded through trials.

No one’s promised an easy life, where beauty can be taken—stolen, almost. What we are promised is a beauty that will never fade, a glory that cannot be dimmed when we’ve fought through the trials and the pain of the blisters. So be thankful for your thorns—they’re leading you to heaven.

Why I Don’t Study–or 5 ways to keep your sanity in school

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A random beach picture, just because it’s pretty.

I’ve always hated the word “studying.” It makes me envision something like slave labor–a tyrant driven, inhuman state where a person pushes himself way past his endurance point and begins to foam at the mouth with all the incredible knowledge he’s attempting to force into his brain. Come test time, he’s little better than a walking carcass, full of nothing but sleeplessness and caffeine and nervousness about the test because, surprisingly, he remembers almost nothing of what he almost killed himself for.

Is it any wonder, with such a jaundiced view of studying, that I forswore it long ago? I have much better things to do with my life than lose sleep or valuable reading time. So here’s what I do instead:

1. Sleep

If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t stand to be around myself, and I’m guessing most other people can’t stand to be around me either. So just for the sake of my general happiness and sanity, I make sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night, and preferably 9 or 10.

 

2. Eat

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Homemade Sourdough Banana Nutella Crepes. Ain’t nobody gonna say we don’t eat well around here!

Taking the time to eat good food every day is extremely important for keeping your health and sanity. Your body simply can’t run well on bad food or not enough food (diet gurus to the contrary!). Saying you don’t have time to make decent real food is like filling your brain with bad movies because you don’t want to take the time to find good ones. It might not kill you immediately, but it limits the amount of good work you can do!

3. Relax/do something for fun

There’s nothing to take your mind off of schoolwork you’d rather not be doing like reading a totally unrelated book or watching a TV show or movie. Far from taking away time from my studies, it simply keeps me from worrying at all hours what I need to be doing next. Blogging also falls into this category–if school takes away my creative abilities, I’m unable to blog because I can’t think of anything to say. But once I’ve unwound enough, I’m able to think somewhat creatively again!

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The best way to relax, of course (at least for the baby!)

 

4. Work hard

Do your assignments, every time, on time. An assignment takes just as much time as you give it, and if you’re giving a three page paper 3 days, nearly all of that three days will be wasted time (I’m speaking from experience here!). However, don’t give yourself less time than you need either. Just learn to manage your time well so that each thing you have to do is done decently and in order.

5. Exercise

When you keep moving, everything’s easier. Go for a bike ride, run up and down 6 flights of stairs, go for a walk if the weather’s nice. Just make sure you move your muscles, because your brain thinks way more clearly when you’re not just sitting around all day!

 

So there you have it–my wonderful recommendations how not to turn into the brain-dead zombie who spends all their time studying! Stress, begone.

 

Why I was a Music Major

I started my intensive English language course this week. It’s so intensive, they told me, that I’ll want to spend every waking moment spending time on it–in fact, it’s comparable to doing school and having a full-time job. 

Of course, being anti-studying, I decided that I could very well take this class (which is from 9:00 to 5:00 every day, with a 30-45 minute commute each way) AND teach my music lessons afterwards. So far, it’s working. But I’ve only had to teach one 20 minute English lesson and plan a 40 minute one to teach tomorrow (and one on Monday, then Wednesday. . . you get the picture), and most of that I did in the car. Easy peasy, right?

Joking aside, it’s been a good class so far. I’m learning a lot about teaching English to foreign students–everything from lesson plans to giving instructions to grammar and phonology (betcha don’t know what THAT one is!).They weren’t kidding when they said it was intensive, either! Most days I come home and am ready to zone out immediately, not crawl into the car and be off for more hours of personal interaction. 

But now that I’m back “in school,” I’m craving the old feeling of practicing for hours on end each day. This place doesn’t have a practice room, or I would seriously consider bringing my violin on the metro and practicing during the lunch hour. There’s just something about turning away from all academic pursuits–writing essays, reading textbooks (another of those things I’ve sworn never to do!), taking notes–and filling your brain with musical details of chord changes, bowings, and intonation. It’s refreshing, even more so than spending time reading a gripping novel. Because at the end, you actually have something to show for your time. You’ve begun, and conquered (or at least advanced toward!) something of value, a timeless art. 

And somehow, all that practicing never hurt my grades one bit. I never once had to pull an all-nighter. I never even turned in an assignment late. But when I was fed up with mundane class work, I could change my pace. I could take my violin, shut the door on my practice room, and play until the world seemed right again and I had again discovered beauty.

I hope I’ll be able to play again soon, other than in my lessons each night. But for now, I’m thankful that I had that opportunity to play and learn and become an artist. Because in the end, artistry–in all avenues of life (English lessons included!)–is what will matter. 

 

Foxiness

We had a visitor the other day. Two, actually. They were little, reddish, and had a great sense of fun. They took over our backyard as if they owned the place. Until we showed up with our camera, when they decided to absquatulate. One of them was nice enough to pose for a picture, though:

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Resident fox. Click to embiggerate.

 

 

As soon as we came out, he perked up his ears and fluffed up his tail.

 

Later we went down to investigate the damage they did, because they were digging holes in our nice ajuga plants (there’s about a thousand down there–every one of them planted by hand! It was a lot of work, and no foxies need to be digging them up!). We found this: (Not so nice picture alert):

Don't look if you're squeamish!
Don’t look if you’re squeamish!

 

Don’t you wish you had such nice visitors?

I Want to Be a Writer

Books

There. I said it. I want to write: books and essays and yes, even blog posts.

I know how to write–I know all about good sentence structure, grammar and punctuation, literary devices and ways to engage the reader.

But when I actually write something that will be read, my self-respect automatically deflates a little. And since writing is like jumping off the edge of a cliff, my newly-deflated self respect is not going to protect me much from what awaits at the bottom. Sure, the fall is exhilarating. But at the bottom are sharp rocks just waiting to tear me to pieces–criticism, condemnation, even praise. I want approval, sure. Who doesn’t? But imagining it scares me, because then I actually have to live up to it.

Thankfully, there’s more than a thin, easily broken shell of self-respect keeping me aloft. There’s grace beyond judgment and hope beyond failure. My writing won’t save me–but since I’m a sinner already saved by grace, I write to give thanks for the grace bestowed on me.

Starting this blog is a way to make myself write, to get out there and say what I can say. It doesn’t have to be amazing (and probably won’t be). It doesn’t have to be original, witty, or profound. But it does have to be said. Even a small drop of water in a large bucket can add new life. I’m just another person, another woman, another wife: but at the same time, no one has ever been me before or will be again. So will I hide my light under a bushel, too scared to say anything from my own perspective? Will I run because I think there’s no way I could be used to say anything? Or will I accept my gift, even if it never blesses anyone, even if I am never heard?

I choose the latter.