Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Festiggiando is one of my favorite words in Italian and my new word for the act of participating in local customs, or celebrating local holidays that the participant knows nothing about.  Festiggiando is one of the side effects of State Department life and it has persisted, even as we've return to normal life, as evidenced at our house in February.

We were happy to spend time in the kitchen with Aunt Courtney. She and the little cousins joined us for Super Bowl soup and bread bowls. This is her amazing cheese and broccoli soup.

As it turned out, Bethany and I were the only ones interested in the game, inspired by our east coast- west coast rivalry. Although Bethany should know, no true Mainer should be loyal to any team from south of Boston. She is obviously confused...our fault for moving her from Augusta.  Bethany mentioned half way through the half time show that her friends probably weren't allowed to watch it. I was too busy with my face two inches from the t.v. screen, jaw dropped in awe. I am praying to come back in the next life as Beyonce.

 The next weekend we took a trip down to my favorite Asian market on the corner of Fifth west and Center in downtown Provo.  It was unusually crowded with other howlies like us getting ready for Chinese New Year.

Caitlin is a native Hong Kong ren.

Sam chased Sophie around the store with a frozen fish.

 She was terrified.

Sunday evening I fried up the frozen dumplings. The girls ate them happily, but informed me that Dad fries them better than I do.  I agreed and decided not to take a picture.

February was a busy month for other reasons.  Bethany took part in the school spelling bee for the third year in a row. 

Olivia presented her Curious Cub project on violins to her class.

 Ben took part in the high school performance of  Shakespeare's As You Like It. Here we are in the post play hubbub.

Friday, February 22, 2013

seven days of stink

Judging by the archives, it would seem there wasn't much to say about January 2013.  But if there were just one word, it would be pollution.

Throughout the month Sam kept saying, "This is what I don't miss about Beijing."

And I kept wondering to myself-- Whatever happened to The English Beat?-- a band that will always remind me of Santa Barbara mornings riding from early morning seminary to high school with the Mormon kids in the Mills girls' Land Rover. The lyrics to Mirror in the Bathroom were stuck in my head, but just one line really.

Drift gently into mental illness.

 It seemed like that was what everyone was talking about... in Utah Valley... in the Salt Lake valley. It was about the terrible cold, and the terrible stink, and the cold that kept in the stink. Or was it the stink that kept the in the cold?

Toxins must have been on Ben's mind too. I walked into his room one January morning and found this Ben Raines pen-on-canvas newly displayed on the wall among the movie posters.

 One Saturday we drove to Draper, and as we ascended I prepared myself to enjoy the majestic view at the top.  Winding up the mountain road, just as we reached the summit where our friends live, we all gasped. It was like a B-grade horror flick.  The black, amorphous, mass--heavy and foul, hovered over the valley, and from our view point, threatened to envelope and smother the inhabitants with a blanket of particulates. Meanwhile, everyone below, though pausing to bemoan their mild displeasure with another stinky day, continued innocently to inhale and exhale.

Facebook was rife with comments.  And I started to notice a meltdown trend among the family.  One night after the next, this child or that decided that life was tragic and meaningless, and on about the fifth day of stink I started to agree.

The ill tempered children brought back affectionate memories of our time in Guangzhou, and the wisdom of our dear Chinese ayis.  If the children were depressed, throwing fits, or running a fever, the polite explanation was always kongqi bu hao--bad air. For that matter if the washing machine wasn't working, the traffic was terrible, the milkman was late kongqi bu hao could also be held to blame. At the time, I dismissed so much of their insight and carefulness--umbrellas in the sunshine, watermelon makes you cough, the fear of cold beverages...

 But years later, after just one week of bad air in this mountain paradise, I realized how right they were.  A little kongqi bu hao  and  everyone you knew had a cold or complaint.

At the same time, Beijing was suffering its own bad air crisis, with the particulate index at 725. That's 225 points off the U.S. Embassy charts, much worse than any day we experienced there.

 Even this February 2010 morning...can you even recognize this as River Garden?

Vice Beta blogger George Ding wrote this post, Beijing's Pollution Problem is Becoming Harder to Ignore including unbelievable photographs of the city shrouded in toxic air, and discussing the more serious effects of long term pollution, and The Sydney Morning Herald published this story, Canned Air for Sale in China about a Beijing business man who sold flavored air to increase awareness and concern about China's environmental crisis.

George Ding wrote, "Like with other global crises, self-delusion helps to get you through the day."  

Jobs were the big focus of our 2012 election, and shipping to jobs to China a big part of the discussion. Between all our competitiveness and complaints about our weakening national economy, do we give China any credit for bearing the environmental burden of global commerce?  While we've shipped jobs overseas, we've also shipped the bad air, taking advantage of fewer restrictions to decrease costs, but leaving our toxic mark on the cities and villages abroad. At some point we will need to set new priorities, for the sake of their children, and ours.

 This was the snow that broke through the inversion.  It came in with warmer air and cleaned the skies.

 This was the fairly impressive accumulation of several January snows.

 After a month of permafrost, we were blessed with a typical Utah melt.  While we were loading into the van one morning I noticed that Grant had paused in on this green patch and was quietly speaking to the ground. "Hello grass. I missed you."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

triumph and survival

I have cleaned my room.  I am forty-one years-old, and this is a moment of personal triumph.

 As I think I have mentioned before, I have had this arrangement with God; I get my house in order and He will give me the password to move out of crisis mode. We came up with this plan as long ago as May of 2012, perhaps it was longer. God is more patient than I am.

It got worse before it got better, as things so often do. Over the previous months I had worked to contain the majority of the disorder to the top floor, specifically my bedroom and the girls' room.  In December I took my eyes off the prize. I believe they were reasonable distractions.  First--Christmas.  Second--Christmas carols.  December annually means I take another stab at playing the Christmas hymns with some degree of adequacy, and that takes time away from laundry.  And so the piles in my room grew, and when the girls needed to find just the perfect pair of pink stretch pants, rather than diving in, and risk getting lost in the piles themselves, they flung and flung, this way and that way, and soon the floor became a less than lovely collage called what-to-wear. And that's how things stayed, even though, as you know, guests arrived.  That welcomed chemical messenger, who creates just the right balance of warm hospitality and defensive pride-- that makes the need to clean just before guests arrive feel particularly urgent, stepped out the moment I stepped in my room. It was as if God needed the mess to be there a little longer.

If it is any consolation to my guests, the whole scene gave me nausea on a daily basis as well. And the worst of it, the little pests that torment  me even now-- since even though the crisis has passed the family still refuses to go naked, or even just barefoot--were the socks.  There were hundreds of them, white with green toes, white with blue toes, black, off black, Christmas socks, Halloween socks, even Easter socks, mismatched and scattered all about. At one point I had them basketed and earnestly anticipating some kind of reconciliation with their long estranged partners.  Then, one day, Sophie discovered the joy of recreational flinging, and like confetti they flew.

I think it was conquering those little socks that gave me the courage to finally overcome the mess, that and the grace of God.  After months of just feeling too depressed about the mess to even face it, we cleared one path and then another... me and the angels, and the Elmer chocolates in the little heart shaped boxes stashed way back in the corner of the top shelve in my bedroom closet. It was as if God had decided the time had come.

So January was folding socks and surviving this. Cold.  

And there were other triumphs.  Sam and Ben, and their friend Steven produced a short film for the LDS Film Festival twenty-four hour film contest.  I was proud of them for working together so well and creating a film in such a short period of time.  Sam also went to drama camp and enjoyed watching several plays at Westminster college in Salt Lake.

 Olivia and her friend Emma, and Mary and her friend Joey entered the school science fair.

 I was grateful to spend two Saturdays with our dear friends from Beijing, the Carrillo family. They invited us up to their new home in Draper for lunch one week and the next week the little kids and I enjoyed celebrating Diego's birthday at Chuck E. Cheese.