They do things that they’d never do on Broadway…

The Daily Life Text

I am fighting some kind of wacked-out head and chest cold. It is making my thought process fuzzy, but perhaps that’s more the incredibly long weekend I had.
It started on a Wednesday, you see, with some visits with old friends from college and one much more recently and regularly in touch. With the former I’ve kept in only spotty touch, but the latter’s been on and off, sharing adventures and catching up every once in a while. Really, really nice. Breakfast with one, lunch with the other, and, shock of shocks, when I stepped to have lunch with Kate and spotted her jotting thoughts down in a journal, I became instantly aware that I don’t do this myself anymore, if at all. I carry around a notebook that I use to write, uh, notes in, but I’m nowhere near the pages I used to collect for myself each day, noting down minutiae of thought and occurrence. Oh well. It doesn’t fit my current life, quite possibly because I’m spending much more time at TheGoodDirt.
Anyway. I then went to my favorite airport terminal in the world to catch my afternoon flight to Chicago’s Midway, where I took notice once again of the awesome depth model of Lake Michigan, and, also, noted this:
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It’s an enormous bird, made of tiny, tiny aircraft. Here:
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But the crowning grace of this work, which hangs suspended from the ceiling at Midway, is the silhouette that the bird casts, which is made of the weights that hold the artwork in place.
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Can you make out the silhouette? It’s an airplane. Very, very cool.
Anyway. It was a minor thing to get from Orange Line to Brown line and back home to Dan’s, where I was staying for the night, and where he’d offered to host me and Audrey in an eerie reprise of many, many evenings we’d spent previously at Dan’s house, before Jim and I moved. It felt curiously like nothing had changed, except that I was walking around in a pair of boots that I’d ordinarily never wear to Dan’s house because I know he’s got a loose shoes-off rule in the house, and who wants to deal with mucking around in boots just to take ’em off?
Er. Dinner that night was a casual affair, with pizza from Art of Pizza next door and some glasses of wine, and then it was off to much-needed sleep.
Thursday was breakfast with Kristin, which was really nice, and felt, once again, as if I’d never left; then lunch and an exploration of the Art Institute with cousin John, who’s starting his first semester of law school at Northwestern.
I never tire of the Art Institute, and if I feel as if they’ve done the place a minor disservice with the installation of a new wing that feels kind of ordinary, well, it’s the art that makes the place, anyway.
Took this picture of John and myself in the reflection of the Bean, which makes me laugh every time I look at it.
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I zipped up to my old neighborhood, had a quick visit of the Southport stores, and then went to Tabitha‘s place to meet my wonderful, wonderful critique group. Here they are. I can’t believe we’ve been meeting forever and that this is my only photo of them. DSC00327
We took a look at Tabitha’s next work, which is quite good and on its way to being something much, much bigger. I am remiss in not mentioning here that Tabitha has secured an agent for the first work she had us critique, Royal Rose. Needless to say, I am stupid proud of her and equally, stupidly, keep on repeating, in her company, “SQUEEEE! You have an agent!”
Anyway. I’m up next, again. It’s a freak proposition that I’ll have this thing where I want it to be in time for our next meeting.
I went out to meet friends for drinks afterwards, again in my old neighborhood, and had a wicked good time at our old haunt, Gurthrie’s.
Crashed into Dan’s place and woke up for breakfast the next day at the lovely Tre Kroner, where I had terrific Corned Beef Hash and eggs and good coffee, and then it was off to meet Abby for lunch and David for tea and then home for a quick kip on the couch, and then off to Lisa and Ron‘s to meet up with Kristin, Audrey, Bonnie, and Jim for dinner at Babareeba, where they did absolutely right by us and set us up with a nice corner table, two pitchers of sangria, plenty of tapas, and a full round of desserts for a ridiculously small price. The conversation was terrifically good, and I’ve never been prouder to see such different people all at one table.
I often say that I’m proud of my friends, happy to endorse any one of them, but this really took the cake: Conversation never lagged, and yet, all of these people come from different walks of life. Really, really precious, to be sitting among all of the smarts, and know that these brilliant people consider me a friend.
[/End Schmaltz]
Next morning it was off to meet Tab at her place for a conversation on a potential class we’d like to jointly teach, her in Chicago and me here, and bat around ideas in her gorgeous little penthouse office, way in the trees at the top of their home. Sigh.
Then, after lunch with Alexe and Mike and Baby Kai, we were off to Ed and Kathleen’s wedding, which was, ostensibly, the reason for coming into town in the first place.
They were crazy busy, but not too busy that they couldn’t take the time to say hello and look thrilled and point us out to the friends they thought we needed to be in touch with. We love Ed and Kathleen, have I ever said? It’s funny how a scant year of living in the same house can make people fast friends or true enemies. We’re lucky to have stumbled upon the former in many situations, but truly lucky to count Ed and Kathleen as good friends, people we’d expect to hear from if things went pear-shaped, and who’d we’d expect to be able to call on if they went cock-eyed on this end.
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Here I find myself all emotionally verklempt over the fact that Chicago is truly a great city, where we had great friends, and must exit for a Kleenex, but not before mentioning that I had breakfast with the very cheery, insightful Bevin the next morning before flying home. Lovely way to cap a really, really great weekend. More later.
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Day of Birth, Girls’ Night Out, and the Weekend of Bad Photos and Gorgeous Houses

The Daily Life Text

Oh my, oh my. What a week.

I turned 35 last Tuesday and did it in the company of some good friends, some I hadn’t seen in a year or so. It was a terrific evening: Jody and I saw a movie that a friend produced, and then hopped into a taxi cab to meet up with some old friends.

Girls' Night Out, the reprise
Girls' Night Out, the reprise

We met up at a funny little bar called Three Steps that was very sweet and came with its own hound. [Who’m I kidding? This is not a hound. This is some kind of Roomba creature. I know this because it spent most of the night trolling the floor, looking for bits of the pizza we ordered.]

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Shortly after (okay, three hours later) we dragged ourselves to the Campbell Apartment, where this happened:

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And this:

DSC00306What’s that? You want to know what’s happening there? I’ll tell ya: Our girl Jen landed herself in a Reuters photo, is what. Jen got laid off on a Monday, made a sign, and ended up all over the newswaves the rest of the week. Way cool. I hope this will help her to land a job soon. She deserves it.

Tuesday and Wednesday were ShelterBox days for me. The CEO of our little NGO was in town, and I accompanied him on a little junket that involved some speaking and socializing and meeting. It’s always nice to get the head honcho’s point of view about the future of the team you volunteer for. Even cooler, Tom’s just won the Alternative Rich List, an award given to honor those whose wealth is measured in terms of what they’ve given to society. Very cool. Over the course of our three days together, we met some people who seemed truly stunned by what we do. Someone even told me that what we do elevates us to the status of angels. I’m not willing to go that far–it’s just a fact of life, isn’t it, that some of us are driven to do this work and others aren’t, and that’s OK. To call me an unearthly being was jarring, to say the least, and humbling, at best.

Couple that with a visit from my girl Jody, newly re-arrived from Boise, and you get a whirlwind three days. It was just the way I like to lead some of my days: hardly room enough to breathe, capping evenings with good company from friends. Wonderful.

On Friday Jim and I went to Rhode Island to visit the Newport Mansions. Here’s one of them, the Elms.

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D’you see the massive shadow of the tree taking over the lower half of the photo? That’s a weeping beech. Here’s what it looks like from the inside:

This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.
This photo is only one of the reasons I'm calling this entry "Bad photos." People's thumbs; blurred photos; missed subjects...argh.

Seeing the houses was bittersweet for me. I fully believe–and intend to–have a home as expansive as the ones we saw in Newport, but I’m fully aware that I need to make a lot more money–and have a lot more diligence–before I can have one. I don’t mean to say that I want something that’s 70,000 square feet, with 70 rooms, I just mean that I want something that feels as open, something where all of my friends come and visit and see it as a place to relax and be happy. I’ve written before about this. I won’t bore you with it again, but I will say that I’ve added one more requirement to the list: A big lawn, I think. Croquet is in order!

Jim and I tried–and failed again–at the fishbowl photo. Jim looks increasingly consternated in these things. I think we’d better try another tack. P9190136We spent the later part of the day wandering the grounds of The Elms, and discovered this scary-looking statuary.

P9190133I mean, hello?? This is a lion, attacking an alligator. What does this mean? Let us take a closer look at the struggling alligator. P9190134Why? Also, is it an alligator or a crocodile? If it is an alligator, than the bronze thing above it is a puma or a panther or some sort. If it is a crocodile, the thing is a lion. Because, well, alligators live in Florida. Lions do not live in Florida. I am so confused. Mostly because, well, why would you want to have such a sculpture in your yard??? The other one, on the other side of the yard to preserve symmetry, is a lionness with a dangling limp turkey from her mouth. (Or is it a vulture? ‘Cos, you know…) Ugh.

And then we saw this:

P9190139This is s horse with webbed feet. I know there is some mythological thing going on here, but I am refusing to entertain it, mostly because the faun on the side of the fountain scared me with his wide-open mouth and scary singing technique. Or maybe I was just distracted by the other fountain, with the woman proudly squirting water from her melons. Yes, you read right. Oh, those crazy American industrialists.

Actually, the whole weekend was very interesting. I learned a lot about some very ballsy women, which was cool, women who weren’t exactly happy with their lots in life, despite having tons of money. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, who kept scullery maids but who was a champion of women’s suffrage, and her daughter, Consuelo, who agreed not at all with her mother’s decorating sense and went on, like her mother, to divorce her first husband. And then there was Gertrude Vanderbilt, who grew up wealthy but who wondered if anyone would ever love her for anything but her money. Tragic, in their own ways. Definitely worth reading up on later.

On Saturday night Jim took me to dinner at the White Horse Tavern.

P9190141It’s rumored that there’s a ghost in here, but I didn’t see him, even after a half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Really nice meal. We’ll come back, if we can.

Here’s one final photo from the weekend, ‘cos I did name this post “Bad Photos,” after all.

P9190146See? All blurry! Argh!

The Return of the Desk Zombie

The Daily Life Text

I’m back at my desk for the first time in about a month. I can hardly believe it’s been such a long time, and I will readily admit to missing the small space that I’ve made my cubicle, with its crammed bulletin board and random toys over its working surface.
I feel like I haven’t had too much time to think. There have been very few down weekends since May, when we moved here, but the time’s been filled with good things, things that make me happy and proud, and things I’ll be able to talk about for the rest of my life–or, at least, until the Next Big Thing comes along. I’m worried that I’ve set the bar so high this year that every other year will pale in comparison.
Thing is, I didn’t really consider what a big year it’s been for me until my friend Ed pointed it out, while I was nearing the end of my deployment in Taiwan. I was moaning about post-deployment blues (which feel remarkably like post-race blues, actually) while online with him, and he said something like, “It’s been a very big year for you, Yi Shun. Turn that frown upside down!”)
I’m sure he only meant it as a flip comment, but I’ve been carrying that idea around with me for weeks now.
Post-deployment has been interesting. Certainly, my world is larger, my parameters for judgment are different, but it’s only obvious in small increments–like the other day, when I was showing a friend some photos of Taiwan after Typhoon Morakot, and she said, “God, it must have been terrible to see,” and I followed automatically with “It was a disaster area.”
I mean, duh. I can’t really say that anymore, without having the automatic snapshot pop into my mind.
Or when I found I’d gone weeks without regular TV of the brainless-sitcom (or even crime procedural) sort, and didn’t miss it, or much care. I’ve regressed to a certain level of childhood, it seems, where books were all that mattered. I don’t mind it.
Lara asked what it felt like to be in the field. It isn’t like anything, really. It’s like, you get there, you do the job, and you don’t do any processing until you get good and home and you’re way out of the situation. People who’ve never been in a situation where action counts most of all can’t understand it, and that’s OK.
Some part of you just takes over. The best, most useful part of the 9-day training course, by far, is when you’re sitting in the middle of class and someone standing just outside screams, “Fire! Fire!” and they make you go outside, run laps with your kit, unpack and repack your stuff, and then settle right back into class, as if nothing ever happened. It’s that ability to zip in and out of situations that they’re looking for: Address the immediate need, get back on track.
My patience for small things has slid rapidly downwards, although my taste for drama remains the same. I’ll still entertain calls about boy problems from my younger cousin, for instance, but I’m much more likely to snap, “Oh, Christ, who cares?” when she veers away from how he’s making her feel and rapidly into the “Why is he doing this to me?” school of thought. (She might argue that it’s always been this way with me, but I think it’s gotten worse.)
The amount of stuff in my house has become somewhat offensive to me. When you live out of one 35-litre pack for a few days and you do it just fine (okay, with meals out thrown in), you start to wonder why you have five hundred pairs of shoes, some of which you can only wear for two hours before they start to Piss You Off.
(That’s not to say that I’ll stop painting my toes before races and long training sessions, or that I’ll actually get rid of all of my shoes. Some things a girl just cannot give up. My immense bag collection, however, might do with a little pruning.)
My need for silence has increased exponentially. My preference for reading as a past-time is becoming a problem. I still love the city and all of its trappings, but I love this city most because of its lack of provincialism. I’ve been thinking about re-introducing myself to music as a past-time. (I have a keyboard, a saxophone, and a guitar in my storage room. I can only play two of those instruments, and only one of them kind of well.)
Mostly, I am tired. And hungry. For some reason I skipped dinner last night, and all of my English muffins are frozen.
And if you’re wondering why I’m thinking about the things that have happened over the last year, it’s because I turn 35 on Tuesday. Tuesday. 35. Mmmmhmmm.
Here are some photos from Taiwan.

This is the front gate to my home in Taiwan
This is the front gate to my home in Taiwan

The entryway to our Great Hall. It came down in the 1999 'quake.
The entryway to our Great Hall. It came down in the 1999 'quake.

This is one of the five dogs that runs about our house. This one's name is Ah-Huei, or "Little Flower."liberry
This is the hallway just in front of our Great Hall. In earlier times, when I was young, it was lined with chairs for receiving dignitaries and other visitors.
This is the hallway just in front of our Great Hall. In earlier times, when I was young, it was lined with chairs for receiving dignitaries and other visitors.

This is the Ameican House. We don't own it anymore, but I wish we did.
This is the Ameican House. We don't own it anymore, but I wish we did.

This is my great grandpa. I wish I had known him.
This is a small part of my incredible, happy family. Love them, and miss them.
This is a small part of my incredible, happy family. Love them, and miss them.
This is my great grandpa. I wish I had known him.

Labor Day shenanigans

The Daily Life Text

The perils of coming home from a long trip abroad on the eve of a long weekend are such: wasted hours sleeping; hours spent half-awake; susceptibility and a remarkable weakness toward the suggestion to drink. Witness last night’s labor-day BBQ at Stuart and Mhairi’s, which involved haggis burgers and a fair amount of single-malt Scotch. This is what happens when you party with the Craigs.
Here is proof:

The haggis burgers are to the right. Wow!!
The haggis burgers are to the right. Wow!!

Here is proof that there were at least five Scotch bottles out. Kara left early. More came out after her departure. We broke a lot of corks and endured the Wrath of Stuart, but I think everything was OK in the end.
I'm not sure what that look is.
I'm not sure what that look is.

We went to the lovely township of Bath, ME on Friday morning, and stayed at the really lovely Fairhaven Inn. Our room, at the top of the stairs, was nice but a little bit stuffy, and if the little perks you expect from a B&B were somewhat minimal (honor system for sodas and bottled water; popcorn microwaved instead of fresh; coffee in the break room instant; powdered creamer for said coffee), well, it was Labor Day weekend and there were only two families staying there. I wonder if it’s any more exciting in the winter. Anyway, breakfast was nice and we had good company in the form of a couple from New Jersey who I hope we’ll see again.
And the light in the mornings at this place was beautiful.
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We were in Bath to see my old friend Julia get married. It’s been a long road for Jules, and I’m proud of her and of the fact tht our friendship has seen us through so many changes. I never feel like I have to “catch up” with Julia. it’s always like it’s always been. That’s a nice thing. That, and I love Julia’s parents, so it was nice to see them, and her sister Anne as well.
I said somewhere before that all my friends are gorgeous. Proof!
I said somewhere before that all my friends are gorgeous. Proof!

Here are Jim and I, fishbowling. Jim has very long arms. I am clearly in disbelief.
or maybe I am in disbelief at how OLD i look in this photo!
or maybe I am in disbelief at how OLD i look in this photo!

In the sitting room of the B&B we found a relative of Sprocket.
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He was not amused.
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Er. More later. On ShelterBox, yes, yes.

On perspective after Typhoon Morakot

The Daily Life Text

…I should really have a think about that headline. Is this really going to be about perspective? Part of me is tempted to troll the web for other disaster-relief volunteers, see how their perspectives changed after their first real-life experiences, but that would be cheating.
The other part of me is just temped to lay the whole thing out in schedule terms, see if that helps me to make any sense of it.
Overall, I’m deeply impressed with the ShelterBox operation. I knew that we were fast, but I wasn’t aware of the real-time pace of work. My team lead, David Ray, only just graduated from the 9-day course a year ago, and has already been on four deployments, to Pakistan, Sudan, Somaliland, and Sri Lanka, I think. He’s itching to get one more in before class starts, and I can understand why.
In many cases, I know we’d have moved faster, if it weren’t for the lifetime pace of Taiwan itself. We really do work 24-7 when we’re in the field, whether it’s working to create plan As, Bs, and then Cs and Ds or actually delivering ‘Boxes and finding the best ways to get them to their destinations. We didn’t see other aid agencies until a full week after our team first landed on the ground.
This isn’t giving anyone a really good idea of what happens during a ShelterBox deployment, and maybe that’s just because it’s largely impossible to describe. We get in, we establish partnerships, we find some way to recon the areas, we ensure the ‘Boxes are cleared of customs and ready to go, then we deliver the boxes. Following that, we set up a couple of tents, make sure everyone’s all set, and we’re off to either the next area, if it’s that kind of disaster, or off home, if it’s that kind of disaster. In my first three days there we recce’d four sites and established need in two.
The fact that I had a language advantage was great, but it added to my feeling that I’ll need at least three deployments under my belt before I consider myself fully competent in the tasks that make up a ShelterBox deployment. I could read between the lines, which made for some frustrating times, and I could also tell when things were sliding downhill.
Anyway, here are some photos.

Sometimes we carry our boxes by hand
Sometimes we carry our boxes by hand
Uploading them by excavator is easier, though.
Uploading them by excavator is easier, though.
I love this photo, of the local police chief of Lai Chi and the demo tent we set up for them.
I love this photo, of the local police chief of Lai Chi and the demo tent we set up for them.
I like this photo of the hound of one of our Rotary Chia-Yi people. She's just had pups, which is why she looks a little disgruntled.
I like this photo of the hound of one of our Rotary Chia-Yi people. She's just had pups, which is why she looks a little disgruntled.
What kind of vehicle was this?
What kind of vehicle was this?
we saw a lot of this
we saw a lot of this
the villagers of Ruei Tai were terrific teammates and quick learners
the villagers of Ruei Tai were terrific teammates and quick learners
Mr. Lai (no relation), to my left, is the kind of neighbor you want--although his own business and home weren't damaged, he called for help for his neighbors in the village of Ruei Tai, just up the street.
Mr. Lai (no relation), to my left, is the kind of neighbor you want--although his own business and home weren't damaged, he called for help for his neighbors in the village of Ruei Tai, just up the street.

More later, I suppose, as I process this thing. Lara sent a note that listed, although I know she didn’t mean it to sound this way, a number of ways in which something like this could change a girl. I may have to drag that out and use it as a rubric.

home & safe

The Daily Life Text

and sorting out the crap that is expense reports, flotsam and jetsam of the post-deployment variety, and the massive backlog of photos.
more later. cranebox