Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dear Daddy - The War Zone (Week 3)

This week we read about another daddy also in Kabul. His name was Brent Taylor. He was a major in the Utah National Guard and he was serving his 4th deployment in Afghanistan. He was the mayor of a small city in Utah and the father of 7 children. He was killed on Saturday. He was 39.

Since the United States went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 there have been more than 4000 American military and civilian casualties. Brent Taylor is just the latest in a long line of deaths. His family has said he was proud to be serving in the US military. They, his community, and his country were proud of his service. He is a hero. But, he is never coming home.

Our hearts are broken for the Taylor family. We grieve for his small children who will never again hold his hand or hear him read them a story or kiss them goodnight. We ache for his wife who has unexpectedly been permanently cast in the role of single parent. We feel for his friends and neighbors who will miss him. Mayor Taylor was well liked by the people he served, even his ideological opposites, and so we are also saddened that America has lost a committed and moral public servant, particularly now when politicians like him seem to be in short supply.

Daddy, when you told us you were going to Afghanistan, you said very matter-of-factly, "I'm going to Afghanistan. I'll be gone a year and then I'll be back." You showed us where Afghanistan was on the map and explained that you would be in a city called Kabul. You talked a little bit about why you were going and what you would be doing there. And then we didn't talk about Afghanistan itself anymore. But, we know you're not just in Afghanistan, you're in the "war zone."

Truthfully, "war zone" sounds kind of cool. We picture you surrounded by guns and helicopters and marines and walkie-talkies. But, in reality, we don't even begin to understand what the term "war zone" means. We can't imagine the level of destruction there must be in a place where there have been violent conflicts for centuries. We don't know what gunfire sounds like or the rotors of a helicopter or any of the other sounds you hear because you're in a place that is at war. And, while we understand why you're there, we wish you weren't. We wish you and Major Taylor and all the others that are serving there now in any capacity didn't need to be there at all.

We've heard Mommy say, "they don't call it the war zone for nothing." We think she says that when she hears unsettling reports because if she dwells too long on where you are and the fact that people are getting killed there, she'll go crazy. Reading about Brent Taylor's death was sobering. Although you are not in uniform and you are not being asked to deploy over and over again and you too are being protected by people like Major Taylor, you do have a few things in common with him. Chief among these bonds is that until Saturday, you were in the same place. A place where people, Americans, daddies, are dying. A place called the "war zone."

Today is Veteran's Day - the day we remember the thousands upon thousands of women and men who have and continue to bravely and selflessly put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms and liberties we enjoy and that make us uniquely American. Words are insufficient to express our gratitude for the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives who are willing to give or have given, in too many cases, their very lives to keep us safe.

Today also marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of the Great War. World War I earned the moniker "great" due to its size and scope - nearly 60 million soldiers fought and more than 8 million people died from 1914 until November 11, 1918. And, it was hoped that it would be the first and only conflict of its kind, that the world would never again know the horrors of war on such a grand scale. Today we mark this anniversary somberly, reminded of the heroism of so many and wishing WWI had in fact been the last war. Mostly though, today we wish that Major Taylor and you and so many others will never again have to run the risk of not coming home - that someday we will celebrate the anniversary of the end of the "war zone."

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Dear Daddy - The World Series (Week 2)

Most people would agree you are an unlikely Red Sox fan, Daddy. Born and bred in the Mountain West, never having been to Boston, much less Fenway Park, before entering your third decade, your joining Red Sox nation wasn't exactly predictable. But, college is transformative and your freshman dorm mate can have a lasting impact - as yours did by converting you into a Sox fan nearly 80 years into one of the longest championship droughts in sports history.

You knew what you were getting into when you decided to hitch your wagon to the fan base of this storied franchise. You knew that whole generations of fans had been born and died without experiencing the joy of a winning season. And you had to know about the Curse of the Bambino and Bill Buckner and the "Boston Massacre" and Bucky Dent and all the rest. But, something about the team and their history spoke to you and you became a die hard fan overnight.

This year, the Boston Red Sox had a record-breaking season and you kept us all abreast of their impressive achievements: first team to 100 wins; first club to clinch a postseason berth; first Red Sox roster with more than 105 wins in a season since 1912, and all of this before the playoffs. You even took us to a game this summer when they played a series against the Orioles at Camden Yards. It was a great game. The Red Sox were trailing after 5 innings but they stormed back and scored 14! runs over the next three innings. There were 10 home runs, and fireworks, we saw a rookie literally batting a thousand, and the Orioles, who had a record breaking season of their own, were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after that game earlier than any other team in the history of MLB. We sat in the stands eating hot dogs and peanuts and singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." We had our picture taken with the Orioles mascot and were even featured on the JumboTron.  Best of all, we watched the Sox crush the competition and you eat up every minute of their 19-12 victory - it was magical.

Mommy hates baseball - we all know this. She would rather stare at the wall than watch baseball. She drives Isaac to practice twice a week and now she goes to his games, because he loves it and because you aren't here. She took us to Isaac's baseball tournament over Fall break where we did nothing but think/watch/play baseball for three whole days. She sat through hours of televised baseball this year and memorized their starting line-up by name and position because the Red Sox were playing, first the Yankees, then the Astros, and finally the Dodgers. She did all of this because the Red Sox are your team.

This week, the Red Sox won the World Series. You weren't here to watch it with us, we missed you. Mommy tried to replace you and make your absence less noticeable. She watched the games while we were at school so she could tell us the highlights and see us get excited as the Sox moved one step closer to their victory.  She listened to us recount our favorite moments from each game and returned our celebratory high fives. She gave us her phone at church so we could check the score in real time for game 4.  She promised us if there was a game 7 we could stay home from school and watch it live - and then she prayed the Series wouldn't go to 7 games. And when they won, she didn't tell us and let us stay up late to watch the replay so we could experience the win for ourselves.

It wasn't the same - watching the Red Sox win - without you. Mommy was disappointed, for us and for you. She knows how much you love this team and especially how much you love sharing what you love with us. She knows as incredible as this victory was, because we weren't together, it was a little bittersweet. But, the Red Sox have now won the World Series 4 times in the last 15 years and they'll probably win again in the not too distant future. At least, that's what Mommy says. She's a pragmatist and based on their track record, she definitely would not have become a Red Sox fan in 1995 like you did, but in 2018 she knows they are a force to be reckoned with and their prospects for future victories are excellent. Mommy was aware of your blind, inexplicable, and unrewarded devotion to this team when she decided to hitch her wagon to your star. She may not be a baseball fan, but she's your fan, so when the Red Sox win we celebrate...even when you're far away.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Dear Daddy - Goodbye and Thank Goodness for TSA (Week 1)

We've never been grateful for TSA. We know they are there for a reason - to keep us safe. We know they protect crazies and criminals from doing harm. We know that most of them mean well. We know that their job is hard and they are often not treated with respect or kindness or even civility. We know all of this and we appreciate their role in principle. But, truthfully, in practice we get annoyed with them and wish they were not part of our travel experience.

We travel a lot - A LOT. And EVERY. SINGLE. TIME, going through security is a challenge. We stand there in bare feet, trying to keep the kids corralled, waiting for the inevitable bag check, reminding the children of what they are supposed to do even though the requirements are never the same from airport to airport. We wait for the line of backpacks, snacks, cameras, iPads, empty water bottles, etc. to make their way through the scanner, waiting for...something. There's always something. Some random object that cannot be identified. The inflated football, that has to be deflated. The bag of candy that looks sinister on the X-ray. The battery that looks like anything but. Etc., etc., and so on.

We said goodbye to Daddy the first time 2 months ago. He stayed in Washington, DC, for 7 weeks of training for his next assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan, while the rest of us flew home to Shanghai. He took us to the airport, walked us to security, and told us goodbye. We cried at the airport, all of us. It was hard. We were tired and anxious and sad. We talked about the next time we would be together. We promised to talk on the phone every day. We exchanged long looks questioning the wisdom of this plan. We hugged and hugged and hugged. But, eventually it was time and we joined the security line.

And, there they were. TSA. Full of unanticipated rule changes. Full of directions and admonitions and signals to move and stop and take off one more layer. Full of long, slow-moving lines. And mercifully, full of distractions. As the instructions were issued and followed the lingering glances shifted. As the shoes and jackets and bags were removed and placed on the conveyor belt the sobbing ceased. And as we collected our belongings and organized ourselves the tears dried. Going through security distracted us from our distress and forced us back to normalcy.

This week we said goodbye again. We stood in our living room to say our goodbyes. We expected it to be like the time before, but it was so much worse. We all knew it was coming, but that didn't seem to mitigate any emotions. It was shoulder shaking, breath catching, throat burning, ugly crying, painful. Daddy cried too - never a good sign. And then the car was there and loaded and it was time, again. Daddy got in the car and drove away. We closed the door and sobbed. It was Monday and that night we cried ourselves to sleep. And the next day we cried, sobbed really, some more. And the next day and the next and the next. Mommy seems to be taking it the hardest, which has surprised us all - even Mommy.

By the end of the week it was time to go camping with the Boy Scouts and hiking with the Cub Scouts and celebrate Halloween. And, as life inevitably goes on, so have we with it. Daddy's new normal is a room somewhere in Afghanistan, and ours is almost the same as it was before apart from one very big change. And each day we learn to ignore, fill, or just pretend away the void.

A few days after Daddy left, we talked about how hard Monday had been compared with the goodbye in DC and we agreed the difference was that we were the ones "leaving" that time. And then someone said, "thank goodness for TSA." Back in DC, TSA and all its inconveniences had been there to distract us from our thoughts. There had been no TSA on Monday. Week one of this year comes to a close and we find ourselves missing Daddy and, incredibly, feeling grateful for TSA. Only 51 weeks to go.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Family Pictures 2016

We asked our favorite photographer to take one last round of family photos of us before we leave Beijing. We wanted to take the pictures somewhere that would remind of us of our life in this city where we have lived for the last 3 and a half years.  So we chose the Dongyue Temple we visited the first month we moved here. We will miss our friend who took these photos and so many other things about living in Beijing. But, we have collected many memories from our time here and we will carry these with us always.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Once this year

This is my one and only post for 2015. It's been an extraordinary year for our family of five, and letting it end without even an attempt at commemoration seems wrong. 
So, in no particular order, 
actually, strike that, in chronological order, 
here are the highlights:

Claire's third birthday party

A Lego birthday party for Caleb and Isaac
After 2.5 years in Beijing, we finally rode the Subway

Caleb took 2nd Place in the Pinewood Derby - Isaac's car had technical difficulties, but he still had fun!

The boys dressed up like Cowboys for the Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet

Auntie Lane got married; Claire was a flower girl and learned some Greek dancing

We took a family trip to Disney World and met Aunts and Grandparents (and Goofy!)


Chinese Assembly for Isaac
Badminton tournament for Caleb

Happy Easter!
Ancient Rome Day

Friends came to visit and we took a road trip with them to Datong to visit the Hanging Monastery and the Yungang Grottoes (it snowed!)


Caleb's piano recital

Isaac's piano recital

Claire's first 1st day of school

1st stop on our amazing African adventure: Addis Ababa, where we visited the Entoto Church.

Next stop: Amboseli National Park in Kenya. We spent three glorious days on Safari in Amboseli - what an experience! (That's Mount Kilimanjaro in the background).

We visited a Maasai school and brought them school supplies.

We visited a Maasai tribe and danced with them.
We ate Bush Breakfasts.

We saw thousands of animals, in some cases close enough to touch.
Then we spent three days at another camp in the Maasai Mara, also in Kenya.

We saw more animals, including a pride of lions, an elusive leopard, and these hippos - see them in the river behind us?

It was an indescribable experience. We took 7000+ photos over 6 days and made memories to last a lifetime and beyond.
After we came home, I wrote a story about our trip and it was published in a local magazine.


Our last stop in Africa was Zanzibar, Tanzania,
where we fed and petted a 500 (not a typo) year old tortoise,

went snorkeling and swimming on our own private sandbar (where, unfortunately, Caleb got stung by a sea urchin and had to visit the local emergency room to remove the spines - no pictures of that episode,
it was too traumatic to worry about capturing anything on film),

visited a spice farm, and just generally enjoyed a little slice of paradise.


In August we visited Shanghai. We stayed at the JW Marriott which houses the
highest library in the world.

We also stopped to visit the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party.

We enjoyed a lot of down time playing and relaxing.

And, we took in a river cruise to get an up close view of the world famous skyline.

Then summer was over and it was time for the first day of school - Caleb in 4th grade, and Isaac in 2nd.


Over Labor Day we took a quick, but truly enjoyable trip to Mongolia. The air was clean and we spent all day every day outside, hiking, riding horses, canoeing, running, playing wiffle ball and archery, and just enjoying the outdoors.

We stayed in a gher (the Mongolian equivalent of a yurt), a fun and unique experience for everyone.

Then we spent a few hours in Ulaanbaatar where we posed with an enormous statue of Ghengis Khan.


In October, we played tourist in Beijing, visiting the Confucius temple and indulging in some really delicious street food.

We also stopped by the Drum and Bell towers and watched the drum show.

Then we took a quick weekend trip to Shaolin Temple, purportedly the birthplace of Kung Fu.

On the same trip, we visited the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, China,

We also took our very first family camping trip in October, along with about
100 Cub Scouts and their families.
We camped near an un-restored section of the Great Wall. Pretty cool, even though the pollution was off the charts high.

Last but not least, we celebrated Halloween as Indiana Jones, a purple witch, and George Washington.
In case you're wondering, assuming you're still reading,
Caleb's wig was made out of a swim diaper and cotton balls.


We hit the road again this month, this time for our first visit to Hong Kong. 
We enjoyed everything about Hong Kong, especially the food, museums, and gardens.
Of course, no trip to Hong Kong could be complete without a visit to Hong Kong Disneyland.
What fun we had!

In December, we stayed home in Beijing to enjoy the sights and sounds of the season. We packed the month with concerts, parties, exams, performances, food, and all sorts of holiday cheer.

Mostly, we spent time together as a family reflecting on the past year and
feeling grateful for all our many adventures and blessings.

If you've made it this far, you deserve a medal. As you can see, we've had a jam-packed year, as usual. With 2015 over we now turn our attention to all that 2016 has in store for us and our friends and family, wherever you may be. We can't wait!


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