Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rice Cereal Adventures

My newest niece is one optimistic little kid.  She has a bright outlook that just amazes me.  Here are some examples of that from this weekend.

(1) During church, she spent most of the meeting trying to eat the flowers on her mother's shirt.  She'd look at the flowers and pick at them with her hand and then pull them forward to put into her mouth.  Invariably, she would always end up chewing on her own hand, which she would happily do for quite a while.  Then she'd pull her hand out of her mouth and open it to look at the flowers only to find nothing there and then look completely shocked.  Undeterred, she'd start the whole process over again.

(2) At one point, I was taking care of her while her mom did something else so I took her in my room and set her on my bed so I could go pick up the teddy bear and moose I have.  I turned back to see her completely flopped over, her face planted into the futon.  I hurriedly ran over to pick her up and apologize - I didn't realize she couldn't sit up by herself yet.  However, she didn't complain at all or even fuss (in contrast to later, when I wanted to see her flip over and purposely put her on her stomach when she complained quite a lot).  She seemed to know it wasn't my intention.

(3) While walking back from my personal tour of UVa which ended up being a longer than anticipated walk, my niece woke up and was tired of being in the stroller so her mother started carrying her.  It was getting dark and chilly and surely, she had to be getting hungry and in need of a diaper change.  However, because my sister was carrying her, my niece only smiled.  In fact, it was such a big smile, my sister and I just laughed to see her.

(4) After dinner on Sunday night, we had brownies and ice cream for dessert.  My brother-in-law was holding my niece while he ate his portion.  Suddenly, we noticed that every time he got himself a spoonful of ice cream, she opened her mouth really wide like she was expecting him to give her a bite.  Her eyes would follow the spoon all the way into her daddy's mouth.  Rather than get frustrated that she wasn't getting any, she had this look on her face that seemed to say, "Oh, that bite was for Daddy.  The next bite must be for me!"  And then she'd open her mouth really wide again.  It was adorable and hilarious.  If it wasn't ice cream which she really can't have, we would have been tempted to share with her.  We think she thought it was for her because it was the same color as rice cereal that she gets to eat.  But she's never seen her Daddy eat rice cereal so we were quite taken back by her willingness to share or think that they should take turns.

(5) On Monday, while at the restaurant, she grabbed her mother's water glass and tipped it all over the table.  While we worried about the water and the ice she had pulled onto her herself, she just kicked her feet happily in the mess.  We watched her while we picked up the ice and then just laughed.

(6) Whenever my niece fell asleep and awoke to find herself in new surroundings, she would panic for a second before her parents showed their faces and she realized that she hadn't been abandoned in some random place.  While in the bookstore, she woke up and panicked for a moment and then her mom said her name and she settled down.  Just at that moment, a little boy stuck his face in the stroller and close to my niece, "Hey Mom!  There's a baby in here!"  He was so excited at this revelation and he didn't try to touch her or anything that we just chuckled at him and my niece didn't seem too ruffled by it at all. Later, in another store, she saw her mom and just started giggling in joy.  She was so excited to see her mother's face.  It's kind of adorable how much that baby really adores her mom.

Here are a few pictures of my adorable, optimistic niece.
She discovered books this week - she thinks they are for eating

She likes grabbing for everything

Look at those baby blue eyes but we think they are here to stay - she has her mother's eyes

Sleeping Beauty 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

33 度 C

This morning, I faithfully toted my bike up to the road and got on it to ride to work.  That was when I realized that the back tire was completely flat.  Busted inner tube and I didn't have a spare.  I sighed and lugged my bike back down to my apartment and propped it up against my living room wall.

"Well, I'm going to think of this as a good thing rather than a huge inconvenience.  Something great is going to happen today."

No one was on the streets today.  Except for one man who locked his car and started walking ahead of me down the sidewalk.  The competitive part of me immediately calculated how long it would take for me to catch up to him.  Then I noticed how put together he was, his shirt and shorts, his backpack all in shades of brown or gray; everything about him was neat and orderly.  This man did not wake up and throw on some clean clothes and just head to school (which is how I managed to prepare for my day).  Everything he did, every action he took had purpose.  I followed him, willing my feet to match his pace and it was then that I realized he swung his arms with a certain carelessness that surprised me.

I chuckled to myself to imagine what kind of friend I would be in his life.  I'd be this whirlwind of disjointedness who flits in and out of his life with ebb and flow of busyness in my life.  Then, as I got closer, I realized that I had done just that.  A few years ago, when I was helping with teacher development, I had attended a few weeks of an atmospheres and weather lab.  It was one of those small labs where it was pretty much impossible to not be noticed so I pretended instead to be a student, happily took quizzes that I failed (one I aced and still have it hanging up in my office), took notes on the lecture and then jumped into the lab work with my new lab partners who assumed I was making up for a missed lab in a different section the first class and then started asking more questions the second class.  By the third class, this man (the neat one) had asked if we wanted to study together for the next midterm.  I never went back.

Now, here he was, walking now just a few steps in front of me.  I suddenly got nervous and shy and decided  to split ways before he noticed me.  I stepped off the sidewalk and, waving my arms self-consciously, ran over to the funny light intersection and pushed the button like I always do, balancing on the curb.  I lost my balance and jumped off the curb to find the man right at my elbow.  I was listening to music so his sudden presence startled me even more and how did he come up so quickly?  We both waited, not looking at each other, waiting for the light to change and then he charged as soon as the cars were gone while I waited for the walk sign.  This meant that after all, I was following him anyway.  I knew I would catch up to him in about thirty seconds but I was too shy to scoot past him on the sidewalk.

I kept kicking myself for not saying something.  I could pretend to be a student again, "Hey, weren't we in the same Environmental Science class a few years ago?"  Except that I had hated lying to him the first time around.  And I wasn't even sure what the lingo among undergrads was for that type of class.  I thought about  simply trying to strike up a conversation but starting one five minutes into the walk seemed awkward.

Why are you so awkward, Erin, I asked myself.  Wouldn't it be great to make a new friend?

Except that it wasn't somehow enough to convince me to take a chance.  But somehow, following him was enough for me to decide that he's going to be the protagonist of my next story.

I guess this is the real reason why I write: to befriend the people I'm too scared to in real life.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Talk of the Town

There is a sign on McCormick Road that reads: BRIDGE CLOSED TO THRU TRAFFIC

This is what that bridge looks like:
Yep, there's not a bridge.

It was taken down this week and my friends and I all just marvel at it.  In my seven years in Cville, I've gone over that bridge literally thousands of times.  And now it's just gone.

It's funny how much construction goes on all the time here.  My friend and I tried to think of getting anywhere in town that didn't run into a construction area and we couldn't - at least not anywhere that we would normally think to get to.  So, you'd think we'd all be used to it and not even bat an eyelash at a bridge disappearing.  But we do - in this case, mostly because we're hoping our instincts don't try to lead us across a road that no longer exists.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

These Days


If you want, I can recite the entire above paragraph to you.  I've memorized it and I repeat it to myself on my daily commute now to keep practicing.  

It's Joseph Smith's First Vision in Japanese, which is the same thing that missionaries memorize.  I decided to memorize it because when I was in Taiwan, people would perk up when I got to that part.  The description in the old Chinese translation (that I learned) was beautiful and people would just stare at me, "Wow, your Chinese suddenly became perfect."  For the first time, they could focus on the words and not try to understand what I was saying.  

Since Japanese is incredibly difficult for me, I thought this might be a way to start to practice the cadence of the language without stumbling over trying to make a coherent thought along with saying the syllables.  It only took me a few days to learn it (easy to do since I walk for 80 minutes a day).  

Yesterday, I ran (yes, I went on a run) to visit my dear friend and gloated to her.  "I can say the First Vision in Japanese!  I memorized it."  

Her response?

 "I love that this is your idea of relaxing - to go memorize something in Japanese."  

"You might need to learn some more Japanese to accompany that, such as, 'Joseph Smith said this.'  If this is your way of proving to Japanese people that you're suddenly fluent in the language, what will they think when you tell them you saw two personages in a pillar of light?  They'll think you're crazy."  


Off to learn more Japanese.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On a Wednesday

Here's a short story for you:

It was nothing like he had expected.  One hopes, of course, that the arduous hike to the top of a mountain will be rewarded by grand vistas and the feeling of accomplishment.  As he reached the summit,  his entire body trembling from exhaustion, his skin burned and flaking with salty residue from his sweat, he looked around for the grand moment, that feeling that he "had arrived."  Instead, he found a five year old kid staring at him, bug-eyed,from her perch on a rock and a crowd of tourists tumbled loudly off the elevator, pulling out their cameras to click, click, click.  "Oh, it's so pretty up here!"

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Small Elephants Sometimes Forget

My lab ran out of gloves last week.  That was expected - we were running through so many with pump repair, it was only a matter of time.

My lab partner and I found a pair of reusable rubber gloves in a bucket somewhere and started using those.  They quickly got covered in oil but as we worked with different chemicals to clean off pump parts, we had no choice but to pull them on again, rather than risk damage to our skin.  

The gloves are still usable but they are so dirty and greasy and oily that you can't do anything without leaving brown smudges on everything you touch.  And trying to use those gloves to clean something? 

Forget about it. 

So, today, I started trying to clean up the lab and get it organized for the continued pump repair.  I carefully wrote a list of things we needed: gloves, o-rings, a stainless steel plug for the vacuum chamber, shop cloths, and degreaser.  Then, I went up to my office to order the materials.  

As I typed in gloves, I suddenly remembered that there was an unopened box I had received over a week ago from a supplier.  I already knew it had bolts in it that we did not need any more so I just left it, under my desk.  

However, suddenly, looking up gloves on the online ordering page, I had a feeling of déjà vu.  Had I already ordered gloves?

I leaned down and retrieved the box and opened it.  Sure enough, I found the bolts but also two boxes of nitrile gloves.  

At that, I just wanted to put my head in my hands and just cringe at my forgetfulness these days.  But as you can see, my hands are too dirty.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Can You Feel the Love?

Lately, I've been in a Lion King mood.  Have you ever really paid attention to the lyrics of Can You Feel the Love Tonight?  I am not sure if the Broadway version differs from the movie version but I'm sharing the Broadway version, since that is what I have been listening to.

Simba sings: So many things to tell her, but how to make her see?  The truth about my past?  Impossible!  She'd turn away from me.

A hero not being completely honest and being afraid to be so?  This is kind of a common theme with Disney movies, right?  Cinderella runs from her prince before he finds out her name.  Aladdin gets his genie to make him a prince so he pretend he was a prince pretending to be a beggar.  Mulan cuts her hair.  Ariel gives up her voice.  Aurora's parents whisk her off to the woods.  The Beast holes himself up in his castle.  The whole Disney world, it seems, is full of secrets.

But what are the secrets they are trying to cover?  Well, in the case of Cinderella and Aladdin, it seems to be poverty.  In the case of Mulan, it's that she's a woman.  With the Beast, it's that he's a man (and not an animal).  With Ariel, it's her identity as a mermaid.  And Aurora?  Well, she's so innocent, I don't think she realizes she has anything to hide but her parents do.  They are hiding that she's a princess.

In most of these stories, the thing they are ashamed of or keeping a secret are things that are seemingly harmless to us.  So, you're poor.  And?  You're a woman.  Or a man.  And?  You're a mermaid - ok ,well, I've yet to meet one of those.

I'm not downplaying the moral of their stories.  There is something absolutely terrifying for anyone in any story to expose their whole selves to another person.  It a moment of vulnerability for even the rich and perfect that cannot be understated.  We like these stories because we all hope that someone will see us, truly see us for who we are and love us anyway.

However, in most of these stories, what they are hiding is not because of what I would consider anything they've really done wrong (with the exception of the Beast who was mean to an old lady once).  However, in the Lion King, that feeling is different.  Simba thinks he killed his father.  We know he didn't  but that doesn't remove his guilt.  As far as he knows, the previous king was killed because of him and then, rather than face up to his actions, he ran away.  (Again, this is not quite true since we know they wanted to kill him too but you get the point.)

For years, he has avoided this part of his life.  He's pretended it never happened.  But deep down, he's still terrified of facing his family, facing his past and ultimately, facing himself.  There's a lot riding on the line for him to open up and confess this to Nala.

I can get behind such a character and such a dilemma.  Certainly, I've never been in his situation but I've definitely done the wrong thing and regretted a lot in my life.  For me to have that vulnerable moment one day with someone who I hope will love me, I am absolutely terrified.  In the exact same way, I am scared stiff they'll turn away.  I keep thinking they'll wish they hadn't even tried to get involved.

I love though, Nala's thoughts on the subject: He's holding back; he's hiding, but what? I can't decide.  Why won't he be the king I know he is, the king I see inside?

It's the response we want someone to have even before we've uttered a word and laid bare the ugliness we see in our souls.  We hope desperately that someone will see something in us that is good, that they will look beyond our weaknesses and our shortcomings and see our potential to be something absolutely great.

I think that's the definition of love.  I also think love will be the thing that gets us through those vulnerable moments.  Our loved ones will come to understand our flaws and weaknesses, whether we tell them all our doubts and worries and sins or not.  But in their eyes, the negative does not ultimately define us.  Instead, they can help buoy us up and lift us until we can see for ourselves the good that we hold within us and help us to bring it out.  Can you feel the love?

I hope so.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

House Rules

I live in a basement apartment which means it's always cold and always has bugs.

I only have one rule regarding those bugs - No bugs in the bedroom.  Whenever I find a bug, I always tsk them, "You know the rules - You're not allowed in here."

Then I chuckle because they're bugs.  Of course they don't know!  I carefully nudge them to escape to the living room where they are free from my wrath.  And by wrath, I mean concern about what they are doing.

The other day, I was in my very clean bedroom and a bug came crawling across the floor towards my bed/mat-on-the-floor.  I picked up my slipper in case I needed to use it to discourage his current trajectory.  The bug saw me pick up the slipper and started running towards my bed even faster.  I brought the slipper down and swooped the bug across the floor over to the other side of the room where I hoped he would find my dresser more interesting.

I picked up my book and started reading.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement and looked up to find the bug right next to my elbow.  In shock and surprise, I jerked back and we both stopped and looked at each other for a brief second.  Then, of his own accord, the bug went sprinting across the floor.

My laughter followed his speedy retreat.  I watched him for a few minutes more, trying to find something interesting in the baseboard heaters across the room.

I went back to my book.  I  guess he learned the "No bugs in the bed" rule.

Alternate career no. 4546473: Bug whisperer.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Meteorite Falling

On Friday, I attended a special UVa Observatory night for Venable Elementary School with a friend and her two oldest children.  While there, we got to hold a piece of a meteorite.

"Isn't it so amazing to think that we're holding something from an entirely different world?"  The man in charge enthusiastically asked us when we handed it back.  

With such excitement, can anyone wonder that it was a magical night for the kids involved?  

In any case, the person also asked a question and made a fascinating point.  The earth is a very vibrant planet.  If we didn't have an atmosphere and moving tectonic plates and a constantly changing geography, then our planet would have noticeable damage left from the meteorites that have hit our planet.  Earth should potentially look just like the moon on its surface with craters.  But, it doesn't.  Instead, it's a planet full of life and movement.

I was thinking about that when I walked around UVa on Saturday, now largely empty of students.  One student walked past me with his parents and pointed to a green expanse of grass, "Here is where our temporary dining hall was last year."  Looking at the green grass and no sign of wear and tear, the parents stared back at their son in amazement.  

"What was the temporary dining hall?"  The mother ventured to ask.  "A tent?"  

I smiled at her question and understood her confusion.  "No," I wanted to say.  "It was the most beautiful temporary structure I have ever seen, two stories of glass."  Lit up from within, it cast a cheering light out on the dark, cold nights of winter."  

When I had first come upon it, I had marveled at the beauty of a temporary structure, so used as I was to tents and trailers and hastily thrown up walls to redirect traffic around construction areas.  It was beyond anything I had expected and I secretly wished we could have a permanent structure with such simple lines.  But within a semester, the dining hall was gone.  And after four months, the sign that it was there at all is only in our memories.  

How could this son explain that to his mother?  The face of UVa had changed and changed back.  

I wondered what it would be like to explain my life to my children or even to my future husband.  If he were to see UVa, what would he see?  Would I even recognize in it the place I have spent seven years of my life? Or will its landscape have changed once again?

We humans are a dynamic people, as dynamic as the Earth on which we live.

This is a song that I thought was fitting when I was writing this blog.  I looked up the lyrics and realized that I had misheard some of them.  So I will write them down as I thought they once were.  

Need Some Time to Settle by Yen-J

It takes time to settle.
Settling takes time.
Settling needs even more time,
Until the world changes.
(The last line actually says, Too many things are changing)

He uses the word chendian (沉澱) which is a word for settle but also sort of refers to how sediment settles.  I always think of the rock cycle and how sediment slowly builds and then changes form until the face of the earth changes.  (I'm such a science nerd)  So the idea of life taking time to settle and change like the face of the earth changes was beautiful to me, as a way to heal from any heartache or hurt.  I'm not sure Yen-J intended people to think of the rock cycle but that's how it is.

Friday, May 10, 2013


On Sunday, Makoto Hasebe scored the equalizer for his team in a game against Hamburg, with a great assist from Ivan Perisic.  

After the game, his coach talked about the game and the players.  He said of meinlieblingsspieler, "Makoto ist unser Mister Hundertprozent zuverlässig."  I put the German here because somehow looking at those words in German is just fun.  Also, aside from that last word - which means reliable - it is completely understandable to the English speaker.  "Makoto is our Mr. 100% Reliable."

The words from his coach expressed exactly what I've been seeing the few seasons I've been watching him.  They conveyed a strong message: Hasebe is one of those players that you can trust.  He's consistently where he's supposed to be, doing what he's supposed to be doing.  If you give him a task, he will do it.  You don't have to worry about him.

As I've been basking this compliment all week on behalf of Hasebe, I've been thinking a lot about what people can say about us and what types of compliments we can hope to receive.  (I think Blue Castle refers to this as "tasting these compliments" - I like that idea.  The compliment never loses its savor.)

I think that being dependable and trustworthy (read: reliable) is one of the best ones I can think of.  Wouldn't that be great if my boss could say of me, "Erin is 100 % reliable"? Or if God could say that?  Or my family and friends?

"When I need her, she's there."  "When I ask her to do something, it's done."  "I just don't have to worry about her being where she needs to be."  "I trust her completely."

(I'm not fishing for compliments here and believe me, I know that I'm not perfect in this area.)

My resolve to do better is renewed.  

And Mr. Hasebe has inspired me once again, just like I knew he would.  :)  
Source: Vfl-Wolfsburg Webseite

On a slightly related note, Makoto on his blog reported that his teammates and coach have been teasing him all week, calling him a "goal getter"  which is such a clever play on the term "go-getter" that I can't help but chuckle.  (And also secretly wonder if his Japanese fan base understands the beauty of that pun)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Life that Changes

Every day this week when I walked to work, the streets were, by and large, empty.  A few of these days I was running later than usual.  Most of these days it was raining.  The majority of the student body was in finals so I imagined they were all holed up in their homes or in the library.

Today, the weather was warm(er) and the sky was clear(er).  The streets were still empty.  As I walked up towards the dorms, I really noticed how empty it all felt.  And then it occurred to me that finals were almost over.  Most of the students have probably finished and packed up their things and left.  

I mean, I have seen the cars packed to the roof with stuff and people crammed inside along with it.  (I am usually reminded of a clown car and can't help but chuckle imagining those cramped conditions on a three hour car ride back up to northern Virginia)  

There I was, walking the way I have been walking to work for the past several months and realizing that for the first time, there are no students.  Soon, the cafeterias will close, the dorms will be all locked up.  

But I will remain, walking the long forty minute trek to work.  I looked at the grounds around me with new eyes - the glories of this walk during summer will be mine alone to enjoy.  

In an interesting twist, I next walked past a girl who was wearing a 2015 t-shirt and calculated how old she was and what year in school she was.  All of these freshman that I've been walking past every day are the class of 2016.  The new class that comes in the fall will be the class of 2017.  How many classes of students have passed through the grounds of UVa in my time here?  

That girl though, the one who is a second year and those freshman I see every day as well as the incoming freshman this year - I will not be here to experience their graduation.  I will be gone, off to somewhere else.  Soon, I will not be the person left behind.  Soon, I will be the person who moves on.  

Time moves ever forward.  Life goes ever on.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dirty Elbows

For the past several weeks, it's been usual for me to return to my home on Friday, covered in oil from my shoulders down, and wearing soiled, smelly clothes that I would rather burn than wash.

Of course, after thoroughly scrubbing down my arms using dish detergent (best on oil), I shower and practically rub my skin raw using my nails and whatever else I can to scrub away the well-embedded dirt.  As it is, I walk around the rest of the weekend with slight marks all over my arms that look like fading bruises.

This has become so common that on Saturday, while eating my lunch, I noticed my knee looked bruised.  Then I touched it and it hurt.  "Wow, this oil spot looks like a bruise and feels like a bruise."  After a second, I realized that it was, in fact, a bruise.

Usually by Monday mornings, though, I'm perfectly clean once again.

Just in time to get dirty again.

After about 30 seconds of work on my pump, I'm already pretty dirty

Here is the view from my window now that the bars are gone.  Isn't it so nice?  Please kindly ignore the pressurized tanks and notice the GREEN.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Transportation Junkie

On Friday, I went to DC.  I ventured over to the Navy Yard to wait for my sister to get done with work for the day.  Carrying my baggage, I didn't want to just walk all over the place so I decided instead to do a slow, leisurely tour around the building for the Department of Transportation on some nice little thing called the Transportation Walk.  If you started at the correct part of the building, you were able to review the entire history of transportation in America.  I didn't start at the correct place.

Also, while looking at various models, people kept staring at me and business men walking by usually almost ran into me so I'm guessing this is not normally a tourist spot.

In any case, it was exactly my kind of exhibit - ships, trains, planes and automobiles.

Here's a few things I learned:

Bicycle infantries - it's a real thing.
Ship wheels are fairly recent inventions (circa 1700) (I should have known this)
Sperry invented the gyroscope.  (Well, he was the American to do so.  Apparently a German patented one first)
Pullman porters created their own union called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  I had heard of Pullman cars and Pullman porters but I didn't realize the power struggle between them.  Kind of interesting actually.

Can you recognize these airplanes?  (I couldn't)

I should not be surprised that Monticello made an appearance

This map is hard to see but it shows Jacksonville, IL

Landing gear for an airplane.