Wednesday, February 27, 2013

This Is No Wasteland

My friend, Tom, is a photographer and he started a project where he sends his photography to friends who have asked to participate in his project, and we friends write something to go along with the photo we receive. Here's my first attempt...

This Is No Wasteland

You can see the rest of his beautiful photography at Adventures of Photo Beard.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me

The Brakeman is letting off some steam,
This has to be the slowest train that I have ever seen
and the Sandman's waiting to deliver me my dream,
Guess I'll lay my head against my elbow and the window

Watch the wheels go,
Watch the wheels go

Roll on, roll on oh little train
Brakeman blow your whistle, throw your weight upon the chain

Make way, for whatever will be, will be
Between the Sandman, the Brakeman, and me.

And the Sandman's waiting to deliver me my dream, deliver me my dream, deliver me my dream,

Guess I'll lay my head against my elbow and the window
Let my wheels go, let my wheels go

(background)Let my wheels go

Roll on, roll on oh little train
Brakeman blow your whistle, throw your weight upon the chain

Now make way,
Whatever will be, will be,
Between the Sandman, the Brakeman, and me.

Roll on, roll on oh little train,
Brakeman blow your whistle, throw your weight upon the chain

Oh make way, whatever will be, will be
Between the Sandman, the Brakeman and me.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fresh meat

My brother's friend shot a couple of wild hogs this morning, then my brother and cousin skinned and prepared them, and then we ate pork burgers for dinner. Probably the freshest meat I've ever eaten (it was still oinking this morning!) ... And it dawned on me that I'm officially back in the Midwest when this is my Saturday night...and it was awesome.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Harold Arnett

A poem from Spoon River Anthology, "Harold Arnett" ...

I leaned against the mantel, sick, sick,
Thinking of my failure, looking into the abysm,
Weak from the noon-day heat.
A church bell sounded mournfully far away.
I heard the cry of a baby,
And the coughing of John Yarnell,
Bed-ridden, feverish, feverish, dying,
Then the violent voice of my wife:
"Watch out, the potatoes are burning!"
I smelled them...then there was irresistible disgust.
I pulled the trigger...blackness...light...
Unspeakable regret...fumbling for the world again.
Too late! Thus I came here,
With lungs for cannot breathe here with lungs,
Though one must breathe....Of what use is it
To rid one's self of the world,
When no soul may ever escape the eternal destiny of life?

Friday, February 22, 2013

The 3 F's

Family + Friends + Food = Happy. And Fat. Ok, 4 F's.

After a little over two weeks back home, I think it's allllllmost time to stop pigging out. Almost. It's been deliciously fun, but I'm seriously starting to feel it.

Well, let's see. The first week back home was pretty productive with buying a car and finding a place to live, but the second week was both productive and loads of fun. I moved into my apartment (easiest move in the history of all of my moves, of which there have been plenty), and I got a job with my old company in Denver, working mostly remotely from Illinois. Couldn't be happier about that. Plus I think my sleep is nearly back on track. Now I'm no longer waking up at 2, 3 and 4am because of the jet lag, but now I'm waking up at 2, 3 and 4am because my downstairs neighbor is playing music loudly at those hours. We've talked about it and exchanged numbers, so hopefully this is a temporary thing while she adjusts to finally having a neighbor upstairs. Apparently this apartment has been vacant awhile and she got used to living neighbor-free.

I love my new little apartment. It's furnished, clean, cute and the perfect size for all of my lack of belongings now that I've downsized my life. I have great cell service and super-fast internet, which are basically my only two requirements after living in China and totally reevaluating what living conditions I need in order to feel comfortable. Oh, and I have yet to see any mold or cockroaches. Bonus! And while we're on the topic, here are some other everyday things I'm totally appreciating now more than I ever did before…
  • A bed without springs poking into my spine and other random organs that shouldn't be poked by springs
  • A 4-burner stove top (now I can cook separate things at the same time!)
  • A fridge that cools my food-stuff
  • Being able to drink tap water
  • Not having to wear shower shoes
  • Not having to wear rubber flip-flops indoors (seriously, everyone in China does this…maybe because everyone has tile floors and they get dirty so fast? I really don't know why, but you just have to do this.)
  • Being able to flush toilet paper (hooray!)
  • Oh, and being able to go grocery shopping and buy terribly unhealthy things that taste oh so terribly good

Here are some highlights from the past week or so...

Last Wednesday I went to my niece Josie's school to speak to her 6th grade Social Studies class about China. Her teacher invited me in to speak because they just finished studying a unit on China, so it was perfect timing. They learned all about ancient China so I came in to speak about modern everyday China. I brought in lots of things to pass around, like books, money, Chinese New Year decorations, chopsticks, etc. etc. And I taught them some words, which seemed to be the thing they liked the most, well, besides the money. I was teaching them how Chinese people can count to ten on one hand by using unique finger gestures for each of the numbers, and one boy asked, "Do Chinese people have more than ten fingers?" He was completely serious. And I had to be the adult who doesn't laugh at such questions, and politely answer in a way that made him feel like it wasn't a silly question and also so the rest of the class wouldn't laugh at him. Most of the other kids, however, did groan and slap their palms against their foreheads.

Then on Thursday I went to East Peoria to speak to my other niece's 4th grade class. They had so many questions I could barely field them all quickly enough. I love how curious kids are, and how they ask questions that wouldn't occur to us to ask. I handed out candies I brought back from China, and the kids loved them. But then later during the discussion a boy raised his hand, and he looked pretty sad, and I called on him and he said, "That candy you gave us gave me really bad heartburn." Aww, he was too cute. I apologized.

While I was in East Peoria I got to hang out at my sister's house before heading to the school, so I force-cuddled her cute dachshund...

until she no longer wanted the forced cuddles...

Then on Friday I went to my nephew Justin's Valentine's Day party and helped out with the various activities. He's in first grade...

I even got to read a storybook to the class, which was always one of my favorite parts of teaching in China. There really is an art to reading to a group of kids, and it's more than just reading the words on a page.

Then on Friday night my nine-year-old niece, Emilia, spent the night and we had a blast ordering in yummy pizza, playing games, walking to the park and goofing off, and making rootbeer floats.

Then on Saturday I caught up with an old classmate I hadn't seen in about 18 years, since high school. And on Sunday I visited my brother, sis-in-law and 1.5 year old nephew Mason, and then my six-year-old nephew Justin and my eleven-year-old niece Josie spent the night since they didn't have school Monday for President's Day. We went out for pizza, played games, made more rootbeer floats, walked to breakfast the next day, walked to the park to play, made Jell-O in orange peels, made brownies, and watched the original 3 Star Wars movies back-to-back in the background while putting together a Star Wars puzzle and playing games. Here are the Jell-O treats we made, and then realized we should have made jigglers because the Jell-O seems to soak in and shrink more making it the original way. It's supposed to be flush with the edge of the peel so that you can then slice them into neat orange slices...

Then we mixed all four leftover flavors into a big bowl of Jell-O fruit punch. Here are some collages I made on my iPhone of pics of all four nieces and nephews (and a photo of confused birds flying north already) that we took over those few days...


Josie told me about the cool collage app for iPhone so I downloaded it and tried it out. It's a weird feeling when I was always the tech geek of the family, and now my little nieces and nephews are out tech-geeking me. I've been letting them download lots of apps and games to my iPhone and iPad and it's amazing how quick they are to pick up new technology. They're even teaching me new tips and tricks on my iPhone, a phone I've been using for two and a half years!

I came home the other day to a package at my door, and lookie lookie what was inside...

A huge thank you to my good friend Tom, who knows the way to this girl's heart. I never was a big drinker, but in my old(er) age I've grown away from the girly sweet drinks and now really enjoy a good beer, good wine and good American whiskey. The only fru fru drink I really enjoy nowadays is a really good Manhattan. So anyway, spending a year in China not drinking anything (I think I had watered down beer a couple of times while out karaoking with friends, and a glass of red wine on two occasions)...this is a much appreciated housewarming gift.

Yesterday I woke up and craved pancakes, which is one of the only foods I had yet to eat since returning to the states. So I made some from scratch. Not from a box mix, but from scratch scratch extra scratch (don't think I've ever done that before). And I added a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla extract, and holy cow they were good...

The only thing I truly miss from time to time from all my belongings that I left behind in Denver a year and a half ago is my big collection of poetry books. So I went to the library, got a card, and checked out a few. I've been reading the Spoon River Anthology this week, which is a book I had always heard about growing up here in the Spoon River Valley, but never took time to read.

The author grew up around here and wrote this really neat collection of poems that are spoken from real people (or characters based on real people he knew had lived in these parts) from their graves. It was such a uniquely creative idea for his time, and the poems have an air of brutal honesty about them, maybe because the voices of the dead can be completely honest. The poetry itself isn't mind-blowingly beautiful or anything, but the stories these voices tell seem a little more special because they are so specifically about a place that I am connected to. The poems are a bit pessimistic…or the voices of the speakers in the poems seem pessimistic. What's funny is that through the pessimistic tone, a subtle optimism emerges, like a hint of something lying just beneath the surface. Kind of like how we can sometimes infer something deeper by those things not said, precisely because they were not said. Things that lie in the contrast. Like reading between the lines.

Fresh snow

Woke up at 5am and remembered today is garbage day. It's been awhile since I lived somewhere where we set it out on the street on a certain day. Living in LA and Denver we had to put it in nearby dumpsters or the big garbage/recycling cans that are just always there in the same spot all week. I may need to set a weekly reminder. So I walked outside at 5am to fresh snow up to my ankles...I love the unique fresh smell in the air after a snowfall and how fresh snow sort of dampens all the sounds so you just sort of feel like you're transported out of time and space for a moment.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, February 11, 2013

Settling in

Well, I've been back in the states, back in my hometown, for one week. It was a productive yet relaxing week. I ate all of my favorite foods that I missed, not only for the past year of living out of the states but for the past seventeen or so years of not living in the midwest. I also purchased a used car, found an apartment, and started the job hunt. I also spent some time getting back in touch with family and catching up with their lives.

I even found a new hobby since I'm such an early riser. Each morning I go to a different diner, drink never-ending cups of coffee (I love how the diner staff keeps your mug full without even having to ask), and chat with all the old timers. When we get around to talking about families, they all seem to know my family members (everyone knows everyone here) and they tell me old stories about them. It's pretty awesome. I've gone to an old restaurant in town that my grandma used to take us kids to, and that place hasn't changed a bit since then. And I hope it never does.

I'm also trying to organize my China photos because I'm going to speak at my niece's school about what it was like living in China. It's funny that they just finished learning about China in their Social Studies class -- she's in 6th grade -- so it's perfect timing to come in and talk about what it's like experiencing the everyday modern China as a complement to all the history they just learned. And my other niece who is a couple of years younger has asked me to come speak to her class too. Should be lots of fun. You know what's crazy? My hometown is Canton and was named after Canton, China which is now named Guangzhou. I flew through Guangzhou a couple of times this past year. A nearby town named Pekin was named after Peking, China which is now named Beijing. Both founders thought these Chinese cities were exactly opposite side of the world from Canton and Pekin, Illinois. They were wrong, but hey, it was before Google Earth.

I also got my butt back to the gym yesterday to work off all the rice and noodles I ate this past year. Oh, and the cheeseburgers, taco salad, tenderloin, pizza, beef jerky, twizzlers and chips I've eaten this week. I'm so happy my hometown now has a gym. A real, state of the art gym. The town has had a pretty rocky history economically, but it seems to be on a slight upswing. Hooray!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Back in the 'ol USofA

And dang it's cold!

I arrived in Chicago on Monday around noon after leaving Hong Kong on Monday around noon. A fourteen hour time difference and a fourteen hour flight makes for a strange little time warp. I flew from Haikou to Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon and stayed over night at the airport hotel. I took advantage of being near good food again to eat a great big juicy cheeseburger, medium rare, with a delicious manhattan on the side.

The flight from Hong Kong to Chicago was great. I have a new favorite airline in Cathay Pacific. Unlimited drinks, snacks, good meals, good movies, enough leg room, comfy seats, free wine in economy class (which I didn't take advantage of for some silly reason) and great service.

They even checked my luggage all the way through from Haikou to Chicago so I didn't have to hassle with it during my night's stay in Hong Kong. That was the best part since I had two huge bags that are impossible to lug around without a trolly.

When I arrived in Chicago I got right through Customs in less than ten minutes and picked up luggage with only a few minutes of wait time. Talk about smooth all around. A+ gold star extra credit travel experience!


I took a shuttle from the airport to a nearby hotel where my mom and brother were waiting for me. And when I got off the shuttle I was so excited to see them that I ran right off to hug them and left my backpack on the shuttle. I didn't realize it was missing until the end of that day when I was three hours away in my hometown and taking my bags to my hotel room. Oopsie. I then remembered a missed call I received on the drive back from Chicago and thought oh crap, that was probably the hotel telling me about my bag. Why didn't I check my voice mail when I saw it? Who knows. So I listened to the message and yes, it was the shuttle driver telling me about my bag. So I called him back and they said they'd hold the bag for me.

On Tuesday my mom and I went car shopping. She took the day off work so we could spend some time together, how sweet. I was thiiiiiiiis close to buying a car from a dealer in a nearby town but it needed repairs and they wouldn't budge anymore on the price so it didn't work out, but my mom let me borrow her car the rest of the week to do more car hunting. Thanks, mom!

On Wednesday my sister-in-law and I drove up to Chicago to get my bag. It was great catching up with her on the road trip. We stopped in Bloomington on the way back and ate at Steak-n-Shake...Frisco Melt and chocolate malt milkshake. Heaven. I'm well on my way to gaining a good 20 pounds. And it will be the most delicious 20 pounds I've ever gained.

Speaking of my sis-in-law, she did something pretty awesome. I no longer have any cold weather clothing since I left Denver with wimpy clothing only. So when I arrived in Chicago to below freezing weather and snow and no heavy jacket or gloves, it was quite the shocker. But she had picked up a couple of my winter coats and a flannel shirt at my place in Denver after I left and they didn't fit her, so she gave them back to me. What a wonderful surprise. Thanks, sis!

I stayed in a hotel the first two nights and then moved over to my dad's house since he is down in Texas for the Winter. Seems like half my family moves down there for the Winter these past several years. I think they are in semi-retirement mode. I just had to flip on the heat and ask my brother to light up the water heater, and bam, I'm no longer homeless. I know I should be able to light a water heater, but when I read the instructions and it said in big letters to make sure there is no gas in the thingie before you light it, well, that was enough for me to back away from the heater and call my brother.

I'm looking at a few apartments this week and will probably make a decision this weekend. So I'll be extra extra no longer homeless by next week. One of the apartments is owned by my old high school boyfriend. And now he may be my landlord. Oh, life.

I was informed that the public library has free wifi, so I came over this morning to do some car hunting online and wow, it's extremely fast. Way to go, Canton. I'm back here again this evening to do some job hunting and catch up on emails. It's funny, I haven't been in this library for over 20 years and when I walked in and smelled the same 'ol library smell, it was like wham, flashback mode. I remember coming to the library in 4th grade to play Oregon Trail on the new Apple IIe computers. I also remember using the encyclopedias and microfiche readers (wha?!) to research school papers. I'm officially old.

This morning I stopped by a restaurant and sat at the counter to have some freshly brewed coffee (oh, how I've missed thee) and I ended up making chit-chat with some old locals. Again, I swear I'm a 70 year old man in a 35 year old woman's body. It's funny how everyone really does know everyone here. It's a town of around 14,000 people and nothing's a secret. It's interesting to be back after 17+ years and see things from a different perspective. It's also interesting to notice how friendly and chatty people are. People take time to make conversation. Small town life. Guess I spent too many years in big cities. Now these things surprise me…in a good way.

This afternoon my sister-in-law and I met my brother and his coworkers for lunch and had yummy tacos. I sure did miss Mexican food. And turns out my brother works with our cousin, so I got to see him as well. I'll be slowly getting back in touch with my sprawling family over the next few weeks or so.

After lunch I drove a car I was thinking of buying out to my mom's mechanic so he could give it a once over. He did this for me with another car on Tuesday, which turned out to be a huge help because he found some issues the dealership didn't mention. After he finished, he called a local used car lot to inquire if they had anything in my range, and they did, so we went over to test drive one of them. We took it back to his shop and he checked that one out as well. It's a great car for the price. The mechanic is going to call the car lot owner guy tomorrow to talk more details and try to get the price down even more, so keeping fingers crossed. Thanks, mechanic man!

I forgot how dry and static-y winter is here. All the humidity I stored up over the past year living on a tropical island left me within a day of arriving in the midwest. My hands look like the hands of a 70 year old man. Hmm.

Well that's enough brain dump for now. Library is closing soon!

Love always,
The Mooching Vagabond