Christmas Letter 2019

2019 has been a jam-packed year from start to finish.  Connor’s first big trip happened in January – the three of us went to a cabin in Rhododendron for two nights while I was still on maternity leave. 

It was a little much for him, but we survived. He learned about the cold, and bundling up, and saw his first snowfall, though we didn’t catch those first flakes on camera.

From that early start, he’s hit milestone after milestone: rolling over, first teeth, crawling, first words, standing up, first giggles, feeding himself, first claps and high-fives, dancing and singing, and now first steps. Every day is a new development, and there are too many to list.  The best way to stay informed of all his achievements is through the TinyBeans application, where we post photos almost daily.  If you’re interested, please shoot me a note with your email address.

We were able to take several trips over the course of the year. We went down to California to visit Josh’s side of the family, and introduced Connor to his great-grandparents for the first time. We went to the Oregon Coast for a weekend with the knitters. We spent time with my college friends and family in California and Missouri. We went to Indianapolis and saw extended family and family friends while there. My sisters came for a long visit, and my dad visited multiple times. We were able to camp a couple of times during the summer, if not as often as I’d like.

I took the opportunity this year to run a well-known Oregon relay race called Hood to Coast, where teams run from Mt. Hood to Seaside, OR over two days. It was a goal to help me get motivated to get back in shape, and I ended up liking running more than I thought I would. Now I guess I’m a runner, so my goal is to continue training and hopefully run a marathon before I turn 40.

March was a rough month for us this year.  Mom has been gone for two years now, and there’s so much I wish I could ask her about her experience raising us. My good friend Paige passed away March 1 after battling cancer the entire time I was pregnant and on maternity leave.

I was promoted to a senior manager position at Nike and am now responsible for our technology workforce strategy with external providers.  Josh has finished work on a contracted home remodel with his partner, and the two of them are preparing for the first remodel they are going to flip in the new year.

Most recently, we adopted two 3-month-old kittens. Connor absolutely adores them and is learning how to play with living things that are smaller than him – good practice for the future. Josh is very patiently putting up with the extra cleaning, but he loves them as well. They both have their own personalities, but are absolutely adorable.

Though we’ve gotten busy with the little ones and next year shows no sign of slowing down, you’re in our hearts and minds. Love to all!

Christmas Letter 2017

The holiday season is a time of year when we reconnect with friends and family and reflect on the year’s passing and the new year to come.  For Josh and I, this year has been especially poignant, given all the life changes that have happened, losses we’ve had to endure, and new opportunities we have been able to pursue.  It has been a whirlwind, and so far we haven’t quite learned how to ride it.

We took a trip to Ireland in March, celebrating the marriage of my good friend Corina.

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She is married to a wonderful Irish man, Alan, who is worthy of her.  And that’s the highest compliment I know.  While there, we saw a bunch of friends from Boston I hadn’t seen in ages that Josh had never met.  We toured the Guinness Brewery, saw a few of the sights in Dublin, and explored the Barberstown Castle, where the wedding was held.

Another friend, Pam, took the opportunity to IMG_2545.JPGExplore Ireland with us, and she’s already making plans to go back.  We saw the Book of Kells, and went on pilgrimage to Newgrange.  We drank lots of beers, danced and sang along with lots of traditional music, ate traditional foods, and generally soaked in the rainy, stony, windswept ambiance that mirrors the Pacific Northwest, with subtle differences.  I discovered that I have a favorite Irish whiskey and it’s called Writer’s Tears. IMG_2541.JPG

 

Finally, we had time to visit our knitting friend, Rusty, and even made it out to the Aran islands with him – an appropriate excursion for knitters.  It was a cold, windy, and desolate sort of day – but hey, it wasn’t raining.  We even had a dolphin following our ferry on the way back to the mainland. And beers, of course.

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As soon as we were back in the U.S., we bought a house.  I literally signed the paperwork and we closed the day after we were back in town.  So we are now the proud owners of a three bedroom, two bath, ranch home in Tigard.  Its name is Fern Hill.  There are three raised beds, a fenced backyard, a bunch of well-established flowering trees and bushes, and a patio complete with grill and fire pit. The inside is pretty nice, too, but I’m most excited about having a yard, even with the upkeep.

 

This year we limited our plants to tomatoes, kale, sugar snap and snow peas, lemon cucumber and the regular green variety, broccoli, crookneck squash, lettuce, and basil.  Next year, I’d like to add a few other vegetables but we’ll see if Josh stops me in time.  After that, we add chickens, and if I can convince Josh, some little goats.  And a dog and a cat.  And a baby.  We’ve been working on that this year without luck, but we’re still hopeful.

Our first wedding anniversary was in June, and Josh and I celebrated with a retreat into nature at a little rental place just outside Rhododendron.

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The house was made out of a prefabricated shed that had been converted into a minimalist dwelling – very cozy.  Outside there was a hammock set up to relax in the woods, and a fire pit to warm a cool evening.  It was good to get some hiking in as well, since we hadn’t done as much camping as is typical for us.

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The T-Rex was my first creation

Plus I got this great book from Josh for our paper anniversary:

We always enjoy the areas around Mount Hood, but this year we did a little less camping than normal, due to the heat early on and then the fires later.  The Eagle Creek fire in particular was an emotional one for us – it’s the trail where Josh first went backpacking, and we’ve enjoyed its waterfalls on day trips as well.  Considering this fire was started on Sept. 2 and not fully contained until Nov. 30, that particular trail is never going to be the same.  Or at least not in our lifetime.  I’m glad we got to experience it at the time, all the same.

This was also the year that I lost my mother.  She’d had Parkinson’s for several years, and things really took a turn for the worse in November of 2016.  She lasted until March, which I am so extremely grateful for – I got to say my goodbyes.  But I know it was not what she wanted, to be alive but barely herself during all that time.

 

I’m still dealing with it.  Somehow even though I knew this was coming, had been coming for a long time, it is still unreal to me.  I float through my days, unconcerned, and then something will remind me.  She’s gone, really gone.  My children will never know her.  The people I meet now will never know the wonderful, strong, stubborn, and silly woman who made me who I am.  Sometimes that is an unbearable reality.

 

But most of the time I can live with it.  Most of the time, I look forward to the new year, its new opportunities and discoveries.  We hope you do the same.

With best wishes for the joys of the season and the returning warmth of the new year to come,

Stacey + Josh

Improving the vocals

I have an affidavit due tomorrow for class.  SO, time for some pictures!

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Vietnam Fun

I am somewhat drawn to the ridiculous.  Perhaps that’s why there are several pictures from my summer travels in Vietnam that are delightfully foolish rather than reverent. The experience as a whole may have been one of deep peace, but that does not mean laughter was not a part of it as well.  And that laughter began on the plane on the way there, though I am not certain of the airline.  Malaysia Air perhaps?

Airplane: taste the rainbow.

One of the first places we ate (that was recommended by our hostel) allowed Louise and I to experience the local bird.

Bird bones, bird head

One of the tourist type activities available is to take boat tours through various limestone caves.  However, sometimes the hands get tired of rowing.

Feet row.

And when the rain gets serious, so do the umbrella hats.

Lotus leaf umbrella

Lotus leaf rain hat

The ponchos get pretty serious too.

Louise loves the rain!

And finally, lychees are sometimes called sheep’s eyes.  This is not why.

One eye...

Two eyes...

...and some force-feeding

The Wise

It’s rare that I post anything I think about that’s more religious than philosophical, in part because I don’t feel comfortable sharing my faith much outside direct conversation with other people.  There are certain pieces of myself that are not for public consumption, despite the fact that I typically share just about anything with people if I can do so directly at a place and time of my own choosing. However, at certain moments sharing is necessary, even if only in an online and therefore somewhat distant manner.

One appropriate occasion for sharing comes from my first visit to the church where my youngest sister is now working.  The church itself is not my focus, nor is the sermon from her senior pastor – instead it was the “children’s moment” that grabbed first my mind and then my heart with a single comment.  In speaking about the Christmas story, one of the groups of people mentioned along with Mary, Joseph, the cow, angels, and shepherds was the wise men.  Specifically, the astrologers or magi who brought three gifts.

What was most pertinent to my mind however was not any of that, but the mere statement made that although the Bible states three gifts were given, we have no idea how many wise men were actually present.  I was suspicious of this at first, because I seemed to remember that somewhere somewhen someone had named the individuals present and that there were three.  Perhaps we just think that wise men had figured out that things work better when each person chips in on the gifts.

It did make me think about just who the wise men were and what role they would have played in their societies at that time.  A person who can afford to drop everything and wander off following celestial movements is not a person tied down with everyday reality.  Such people are seekers, like me, who quite possibly will never be satisfied.  I struggle to find fulfillment, especially at this time of year, in my life choices and lifestyle, in my faith, in my sense of purpose, and in my relationships.  I remain often not quite satisfied, which can be a source of consistent frustration.

Yet it is also a gift.  My inner restlessness has prompted me to not settle for a mundane existence.  I have done many things that others have not and never will.  I have traveled, lived abroad and in various cities across the U.S., experimented with multiple professions, learned, taught, changed, and thrived in a variety of environments.  And while all that movement can chafe at times, it has also made me something greater than I would otherwise be, something I can’t quite see clearly from the inside.  It will continue to transform me, and even though I will continue to struggle with the amount of change and questioning and self examination and development I take into my life regularly, I embrace the fact that I will in some manner be continually unsatisfied with my life.

Most of all I hope that that seeking means I will be able to give my own gifts to others due to those experiences and that continuing search.

The Life of the Mind

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about brains.  Not perhaps in the Dr. Frankenstein sense of needing to collect some for a pet project, but still with a nod to my own mortality. In some sense that’s due to getting older and especially watching my parents get older and wondering what the future holds when my mind remains intact but my body can no longer respond to the mind’s commands.  But perhaps I’ll be fortunate and the mind will go first.

Regardless, I’ve been thinking regularly about the thinks I think because that patterning and association that goes on inside the head of myself and others is interesting to me.  I think differently than many people – that is, I process information differently.  My trains of thought are usually more grasshoppers than trains in the usual sense.  There may be an anticipatable trajectory or arc to them, but they change direction frequently and unexpectedly to those outsiders attempting to catch up or catch on.  Or perhaps they are more like teleporting insects of another type, that flit from here to there with no expected or regular results.  I occasionally wander around inside my own head, become bewildered and lost, and have to retrace my steps to figure out how I got here.  So far, I’ve always managed to find my way back out.

But are the thinks I think unique?  Probably not.  I would like to imagine that the stories I tell myself are ‘irrepeatable’ and will never again be known in this world. Language makes that unlikely however in that the words we use – in conversation, in written correspondence, in any spanning of that gap between two distinct minds – are all based on some sort of commonly accepted understanding of meaning.  And despite the fact that a gap of some sort remains – I am not you, and you will never be me – there is no certainty that as individuals, we are all so different from one another that I would not be at home if I could in some way merge myself into your thoughts.

This scares me.  I may be a unique snowflake, but the idea that the other snowflakes in this blizzard of humanity are equally unique and equally worthy in some way disrupts my independent pride.  The idea that I may have my own mind-self looking out from behind different eyes but thinking around the same sorts of well worn concepts and diligently pursuing the same formulaic ‘answers’ is depressing.  True, I may have new perspective or insight into a number of the great questions.  But is perspective enough?  Or do I want to be special enough to find my own new question?

Or perhaps there is nothing deeper for me to dig into unless I want to make a really big hole.  Perhaps I would be better off focusing on the path I’m taking, embracing the journey to find the same answers to the same questions once again.  Perhaps it is enough to identify, trace, preserve and make beautiful those still-shot images I recognized as some higher plane of Life through the words I use to bridge that emptiness between minds.  Perhaps writing as a craft is enough to give voice to the rambles undertaken by my ‘self’ due to unique neuron firing, genetic makeup, physical and environmental impacts, magnetic energies or lesser forces.

Or perhaps I demand something iconic that is my own.  Something more.

As the Crow flies

While I was in Mumbai, and also in other parts of India, there was something fascinating about the crows that I can’t quite describe.  Crows in the U.S. are quite appealing to me in their own right.  They are very intelligent birds.  They learn quickly, and they listen to you as you talk, though they may simply fly away after.  They are canny birds.

Indian crows are different.  Those I saw in Mumbai most frequently had an odd dirty gray ruff around their throats, a lighter colored feather that fluffed out and didn’t have the same obsidian shine as the other feathers. When the rains came, and feathers clumped, I could see these ruffs were once white and had only been smogged and grimed and dirtied on the outside edges.  After a bit of research, evidently such white sections of plumage are common to several species of the Corvus genus of crow.

It was also the images of crows that stuck most particularly in my mind in ways that other birds did not.  It was the crows who were brave enough to hop right up to me on the balcony of our office when I went to take pictures of the cityscape, hoping for a handout.  The smaller birds had flown at my approach and the pigeons merely shifted uncomfortably, but the crows gazed deep into my eyes as I spoke to them and did not flinch.  They merely cocked their heads expectantly, a conscientious audience.

It was the crows that were the most vigorous scavengers, raiding the gutters and the refuse piles, stealing the sandwiches of the unwary, pecking out the guts of rat remains.  I don’t remember seeing more than one or two seagulls in the city by the sea, but there were literally thousands of crows.  They posed for my photographs, sitting jauntily on the heads of statues or balancing easily on thin strips of wire.  Did they know they were framing my early morning photos of the Taj?  Undoubtedly.  A crow is nothing if not vain.  And yet, despite the attitude, they remain some of my favorite birds and I can’t help thinking of them as beautiful, whether common or not.

Here you can see quite clearly the discolored sections around the neck and throat which are a bright white underneath and this odd gray brown (whether through dirt or nature was never confirmed) on the outside. Yes, these two are resting on the statue of a life-size crocodile. No respect these days.

Crow, soaring from its perch on the Flora Fountain just as I take this picture.

Crow flying near Socialist statue

A statue of crows in Horniman Park. Do I know why crows have to do with freedom and Gandhi? No, but it is another reason crows are awesome.

Crow. On the crow statue.

Crow, staring pensively at the Taj Mahal in the morning mist.

A little bit about Mumbai

At long last, with my midday break from classes, I’m finally catching up a bit on my writing and recounting on my adventures this past summer.  Therefore, after much photo editing, I’m starting off with a few brief reflections on Mumbai.

When I talk about Mumbai, I mean south Mumbai, the city proper.

In this area, where I lived and worked for the summer, planning is key.  Streets are wide – tree lined boulevards are the norm.  The buildings are elaborate, full of odd corners and design motifs ranging from European to Aztec.  Even the grocery store is decorated like a Czarina’s birthday cake.

A tree-lined avenue

In front of a Parsi temple

Sahakari Bandar, the grocery store

Of course, this is the area of the city designed to a certain look. It was laid out to be beautiful, to be bordered by elegant parks and small niches of green.  The train station was designed to be beautiful.  The central post office was meant to look like a sultan’s palace.  And the buildings in the area remain elegant, even in disrepair.  The tumbledown remains of former facades provide the facing and framing that make the concrete bulk of modern buildings so much more appealing to the eye.

Decorative elaboration

Damaged decor

Saint Thomas Cathedral in Fort - a quiet corner of green space

Fountain in from of Saint Thomas Cathedral

CST (Former Victoria Terminus), a local train depot in south Mumbai

Municipal building across from CST

Central Post Office, Mumbai

Horniman Park - another isle of green

A portico framing a boxy concrete apartment building

In addition, south Mumbai remains the primary destination for tourists in the area.  It is the site of the majority of museums in the city and a number of other famous landmarks.

Prince of Wales Museum

National Gallery of Modern Art

Jehangir Art Gallery

Another view of the Prince of Wales Museum

Gateway of India

David Sassoon Library

But I enjoyed it most not for any of these reasons.  It was the areas where Mumbai took on a kind of shabby chic life that I was most drawn.  The odd corners where plants began to grow off of buildings, where birds rested on unusual perches, or where plant life began to take over for more substantial man-made structures drew me.

Tenacious plants on the facade

This is not a real croc.

Flora Fountain

Tree vs. fence

Abhaya and Creaky Crocky: A Tale in Three Parts

Actually I spent a long time journalling this weekend and I have quite a bit to put down about India.  However, I’m writing this instead due to my chair at work.  It squeaks.  Literally at the slightest shift from me and it lets out horrendous squeals, which is both embarrassing and disturbing to the work of others.  I kept apologizing to those around me, which led to a conversation with Abhaya, which (naturally) got around to crocodiles.  Which, of course, led to this:

1)

One day Abhaya was taking a walk after work, not really paying attention to where she was going as the orange afterglow of the sun slowly faded.  She came across a new friend.  He had a big smile.

2)

Fortunately for all involved, Abhaya had a sideline as an alchemist and was able to whip up a skin tonic that would set her new friend to rights in no time.

3)

Of course, supple skin, while valued, is not a large part of the way we select long term friends.  Alas.

 

Aaand that took way too long.  I’m going back to using stick people for everything.

Well, I’m not dead yet.

I really should be posting something about my job and current experiences thus far, but this is more fun.

So far, there are only a few minor mistakes I’ve made in my time here in India.  The first is that I may or may not have been eating street food the entire time I’ve been working.  Why?  Because we usually eat in the office, and someone else orders from who knows where.  Ok, they know where, and it’s someplace they’re comfortable with, but of course my immune/digestive system is not accustomed to it.  But judging from my bosses’ reaction to what I’d been eating – frog eyes and “Seriously?!?” – maybe it’s something I should’ve been more careful about.  And then there was that time he put his foot down about me eating bhelpuri.  Evidently our ‘of council’ got typhoid and all his hair turned white from eating it someplace on the street, and he’s probably got more of an iron stomach than I have.  So no more of that for me, even though it’s delicious.  Of course I didn’t get smarmy about how I took the live typhoid vaccine so I’d be inoculated for the next five years, thanks very much – because why take a risk?  I could get e coli instead.

I have been careful not to drink the water.  I’ve been doing all the right things as far as brushing my teeth with the bottled stuff and not eating raw things unless they are fruits with a thick peel, like bananas.  But then there’s the chutneys, which I didn’t really think much about until recently.  I should probably have been more careful of those, since I’m not sure quite what is in them – or how much, if any, fresh stuff (especially herbs) they contain.  Coriander is delicious, but it might be a bit of a risk. However, despite all this, I haven’t gotten myself sick yet, at least as far as digestion goes.

What I have done is had the worst allergy attack in quite some time merely due to the change in climates.  For a single day, I went through a box and a half of tissues, which is bad, even for me.  I took antihistamines up to the hilt, which didn’t really help much.  And I didn’t epi pen myself, as I could breathe just fine – I was just sneezing up a storm.  Thankfully, for that eventuality I came prepared – three boxes worth of tissues, family size, stuffed into separate ziplocks.  And they ended up having plenty of tissues for sale here, in this very metropolitan city.  Even have toilet paper!

Additionally, tonight, I may have gotten my co-worker drunk.  I’ve been craving just a sit-down someplace with people to hang out, and I finally convinced at least a few people to go with me tonight.  Of course, this meant me advocating for it for half the week, the girls in the office being excited in the office and seemingly willing to join me, another bunch saying they ‘don’t drink’ and me convincing them that my company and appreciation are worth a slightly pricy lime juice, and then half the cast dropping out last minute.  But, there were two other girls still willing to go – after a suitable amount of time hanging around, waiting – and then some shopping on the way, because who doesn’t need more chapatas? – and then some serious confusion and walking around dazedly when we got separated.

But my one drinker and my one non drinker eventually crowded into the only available table at the back of a small restaurant/bar on the main strip.  And it was lovely – cool, dimly lit, and only just a little loud.  My drinking buddy decided she didn’t know what she wanted, and I was the resource as the oh-so-cultured foreigner.  So.  I suggested something with rum.  She thought maybe she wanted to try tequila – a shot of it in fact.  I counter suggested getting some food into her stomach first, and explained the concept of a shot.  Eventually we decided on some strawberry soda concoction with tequila in it.  Very fruit, very sweet, and possibly too much for her, even with a mound of noodles, a fact of which I was only aware when we stood to leave and she started traipsing off through the crowd, a mad cackle on her lips.  Luckily, I was able to leave her in the care of my non drinking buddy as far as making sure she got on the right train.

As far as my usual habits, I haven’t fallen into anything obnoxious, I haven’t broken myself too badly, and I haven’t had any negative interactions with glass or fire.  One evening in particular the snails were out in force and I may or may not have stepped on one and crushed it to death in the dark, but I continue to hope it was just a crunchy leaf or something.  Oh yeah – I did explode my water heater.  Turns out you aren’t supposed to leave this particular type turned on without the water running – the connecting fittings get to hot and can snap off.  I think you can even rupture the tank eventually with the pressure that builds up, but thankfully I didn’t get that far.  Thankfully it also popped off while both me and my landlord were home, so he was able to shut off the water almost instantly when I came banging on the door.

Lastly, I discovered today that honey in India has a high concentration of lead.  Not sure how high, but you can bet I’m going to be checking out the symptoms of lead poisoning online and will be finding something else to go with my pb in the mornings.

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