Last Day : Our bags are packed, but I'm not ready to go

Our last day by the gate.

Our last day by the gate.

This posting has taken me longer than expected because I just don't know how to wrap it up - how to conclude this process. Every time I've sat down to write, more comes to mind, more faces are remembered, and I don't know who or what to delete. 

So I've decide to include them all and swallow the fact that this will be a much longer, sporadic, and segmented post than what I've wanted so far.

It will be a bit like my thoughts.

: The Morning of Lasts :

Last night, after graduation, Josh and I stayed out much later than I'm used to. We ate street food, drank cheap beer, and digested the year. I didn't get to sleep till probably closer to 2am, so when my alarm went off at 4, I was a bit tired. So tired, in fact, I couldn't even read this morning. I just sat on our porch, drinking coffee, and listening to the birds. It was bliss.  What I didn't know is that it was going to be my last time sitting in my favorite spot of our house. Later in the day, while at work, the chairs were taken away by their new owner. 

It seems childish, but I'm really going to miss that chair on that porch. I'm going to miss Zion coming out and crawling into my lap with sleep in her eyes and her thumb in her mouth and us just sitting and listening to the hum and rhythm of the city below. I'm going to miss Josey and me sitting in the dark, drinking a beer, and talking about whatever we wanted or needed to. I'm going to miss our family dinners on the back porch.

It's such a simple spot with a simple chair, but it was my favorite, and its just strange to me that I'll never sit there again. 

And the whole day was like this.

Friday mornings are typically a time where staff can share their hearts, and today, I was fortunate enough to speak one last time, and it killed me. Even afterward, when I was back in my office, I couldn't turn off the tears. Until Cody and John-Ross Jones came in. Then, as always, we laughed. And that helped.

The rest of the day was a mixture of closing accounts, writing cards, hugging students, and laughing with friends. 

All year, Jacie and Sarah Day have terrorized my office. First, it was dozens of pencils stashed all over the office (even in my shoes and ties). Then fake cockroaches, followed by a giant viking boat, and now this (notice, cockroaches on the chair behind me). I loved these pranks. They always made me laugh and reminded me to not get too serious. These girls are crazy, and I will surely miss them.

 

Later in the day, my students brought me cake. Because they're nice kids and love to share.

 

: My brothers and sisters :

The students left around 12, ushering in the last minute scramble of clearing accounts, signing sign-out sheets, clearing out my office, writing cards, and all the while, try to say appropriate goodbyes.   

Some of the hardest were with my Chinese brothers and sisters because I just don't know if I will see again. I want to, and will probably try to, but I just don't know, and I just don't know if they could ever understand how much they have meant to me. From helping me order good coffee, engaging in deep conversation, loving and teaching my kids, and being kind. Very kind. 

They are some of the best CDIS has to offer, and I have been so blessed to call them my friends.

My brother Kevin Lu

My brother Kevin Lu

My lovely sister, Christine Wei (I had to change shirts after the caking)

My lovely sister, Christine Wei (I had to change shirts after the caking)

The legendary Bruce Lee (even better than that other one).

The legendary Bruce Lee (even better than that other one).

The joy of joy's, Joy Wu

The joy of joy's, Joy Wu

The Captain, Mr. Xao - "Xiexie ni shi laoshi Shao!"

The Captain, Mr. Xao - "Xiexie ni shi laoshi Shao!"

I will miss these people deeply. 

 

: And the Sun goes down :

Everyone was free to go home early, but I had to stay - my office was a mess.

For dinner, Cody, Jeff, and myself went out for xaokao (I really don't know how to spell that). This was my last time with Cody, a man I've grown to respect and enjoy (he plays some mean Jody Ball and writes a pretty fantastic blog on food). He's moving to the Congo and calls Texas "home" . . . we have very little in common, but I love him. And I'll miss him. I'll see Jeff again before leaving, so his goodbye can wait.

 

Back at the office, I was greeted by this:

Cleaning out my office was harder than I expected. It was a finality to my time here. I've been in two different classrooms and two different offices, walked the halls of two campuses, helped graduate five classes, and have spent countless hours thinking about and pouring into this school. And now, I'm walking back and forth from my office to the trash can, throwing out binders, teaching materials, memorabilia, and a million other things. 

I wiped the calendar clean, scrubbed my desk and shelves of dust and coffee stains, and found old notes from my kids.

I've loved working in the same school with them, watching them in classes, and greeting them at the gate, and it just hit me that this is also a goodbye to those opportunities, and my heart breaks a little more. Agh.

On one of my trips to the trash can, somewhere around 11:00ish, this guard stopped me in the hallway and pointed to his phone. He had written in Chinese, then had it translated to English, "Are you moving back to America?"

"Dui," I told him.

He shook his head and pointed at his heart, "bu hao." Not good.

I don't even know this guard's name, but every time we pass, we both salute one another and smile. It was yet another reminder of the importance of small things and how they truly do matter, but it also encouraged me that, even though we can't communicate all that well in a common language, kindness is always understood fully and completely. It is not limited by words or country of origin.

 

: Some things I probably won't see in America :

This is where it gets a bit long, and out of order, but I don't want to forget these things. Plus, it also seems a bit appropriate. I'm not only saying goodbye to the people and a country I have loved, I also have to say goodbye to some of the various nuances that make China unique, and sometime just a bit comical.

Things like:

Bathroom light switches on the OUTSIDE of the bathroom.

Bathroom light switches on the OUTSIDE of the bathroom.

Feet markings on western toilet seats, because many of my Chinese brothers and sisters need a squatty. 

Feet markings on western toilet seats, because many of my Chinese brothers and sisters need a squatty. 

Egg Art

Egg Art

Hair cuts in the park

Hair cuts in the park

The pre-work pep talks and exercises

The pre-work pep talks and exercises

meat markets

meat markets

Vegetable markets

Vegetable markets

Milk markets

Milk markets

Wood street. For all the little projects, this is where I negotiated for my rough-cut wood.

Wood street. For all the little projects, this is where I negotiated for my rough-cut wood.

Friendly scooter waves.

Friendly scooter waves.

China-flavored streets

China-flavored streets

And early in the morning, China-flavored streets

And early in the morning, China-flavored streets

There is more, but it will have to wait. I have some thoughts brewing, the culminating kind that need time and long train rides. Which is great, because that is exactly what I'm going to do!!!

Starting tomorrow, Judah and I will be heading to Beijing to camp on the Great Wall for a night, walk the concert slabs of Tiananmen Square, and whatever else we have time for. We come back to Chengdu Friday, then fly out for San Francisco on Sunday morning.

The Last Hundred Days countdown is over, but my wife is kind and gracious and knows how to feed my soul. Thank you, Josey, for giving us seven more days. 

Last Hundred Days, plus Seven . . . I had to look up the symbolism of seven, because it sounded poetic. And it is:

- the senses of a change after an accomplished cycle and of a positive renewal.

- a symbol of the perfection and the unity.

- In the traditional Chinese culture, Seven represents the combination of Yin, Yang and Five Elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth). This combination is considered as “harmony” in the ideology of Confucianism. While in Chinese Taoism, it stands for Tao which has a close connection with kindness and beauty (via). 

Seven days from now, we'll be on a plane, headed home. Let the countdown begin! 

Again.

 

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Day 1 : Graduation means the end

Some Graduates, and the sweet Mrs. Linda

Some Graduates, and the sweet Mrs. Linda

My first and last CDIS graduation as principal. This is a special class for me. It is filled with many different types of kids, relationships, and histories, and I am fortunate to say I will miss them all. 

 

I was asked to give a brief opening word for the night, and it was more difficult than I had expected. I'm used to standing in front of people, talking, and telling stories. But when the magnitude is HS graduation, jokes and simple stories seem fully inadequate.  

My notes of the night were scratched over and over into my notebook, until finally, I wrote some simple ideas and spoke freely, and from the heart. 

I shared this poem with them:

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer, by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer, When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

And reminded them that as they pursue their careers and grades and futures, to stop and stare up in perfect silence at the stars.

 

Then, I summarized this story:

Once upon a time, there was an old man who had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, after a big storm had passed, he found the vast beach littered with starfish, as far as the eye could see, and stretching in both directions. 
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy who, as he walked, would paus every so often.  The old man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” 
“But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach,’ The old man said, “I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” 
The boy thought for a moment, then bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. He turned, smiled at the old man, and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley

And reminded them that the little things matter, like writing simple cards, and buying ice cream.

While working on my speech, Stanley Leong, an elementary teacher, came into my office and said, "I just want to say 'Thank you' for always greeting me in the hallway. You made me feel part of the furniture." Then, he handed me this envelope, because he and his wife wanted to gift my family with ice cream this summer.

This too I shared with the seniors. 

 

It was a great, and very late, night, filled with reunions and goodbyes. 

An old grad, a previous student, and the future CDIS Student Body President

An old grad, a previous student, and the future CDIS Student Body President

But it also means that tomorrow is our last day of school.

 

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Day 2 : Please, someone, hit the breaks!

This picture symbolizes quite a bit for me:

The watching, as life and days and memories and places blur by.

The looking back and seeing where we've come, yet not sure where we're going.

The peace of a boy with an uncertain future, yet confident his father is before him, and that everything will be alright. 

These last days . . . how do I summarize these last days? They've been coming them for months, and I've been counting them down - with anticipation and trepidation - and now that they're here, I'm fully caught off guard. At work, at home, in life. At times, it feels like the picture above, only, I haven't told the driver where we're going, he's just driving - fast - and I have no control if he turns left or right. I just wish he'd slam on the breaks and let me catch my breath. Then, maybe, trade places?

Yet, Judah sits, looking out the window, his hair submitting to the wind, his mind on simple things.

And I envy him.  

Day 3 : Wants and needs and the ocean between

For Judah, from a classmate.

For Judah, from a classmate.

We're down to packing up the last bag. The house is empty. Judah and I are sleeping on the living room floor.

For Josey and me, this is our ninth move in twelve years. It’s Judah’s seventh in ten. Of them all, this move might be the hardest because, of any place we’ve ever called home, we’ve lived here the longest, and we’re moving with the least amount of stuff.

Our lives need to fit in fifteen suitcases.

The decision of what we need to bring home and what we want to bring home is suddenly dwindled down to and decided by space and kilograms. Whatever fits can go. Whatever can’t, stays.

The books I love or hope to read, the jars my wife found in corner markets or on her China adventures, and the coffee cups that we’ve used every morning are placed on the scale of need and want. Then, they’re left behind. Sold, or given away. Because we only have fifteen bags.

Pine cones from my backpacking trip to KangDing are put in trash, covering Judah’s schoolwork from the year and some of Eden’s artwork.

Because we only have fifteen bags and what we want cannot trump what we need. Even though the scale seems unbalanced.

Then, a letter falls from a pile of books and floats to the floor. There are more. Some are simple notes of encouragement or love, others say “Thank you.” All of which overwhelm my heart with memories and moments and sweet, sweet times - of good friends. I tuck them back into the books they’ve fallen from and stuff them all deep into the bag. We only have fifteen bags, but there is always room for cards.

Good words from a good friend. (Also, I no longer have the email, but still do the note).

Good words from a good friend. (Also, I no longer have the email, but still do the note).

While looking through Judah’s backpack, I find a few more from his classmates, and they are the sweetest friggen things.

And I get to thinking.

There’s something about getting a note, a hand-written note, that seems so personal, so important. I have a shoe box full of letters back in the states from when Josey and I dated for two years long distance. Even though I wrote them almost fifteen years ago, whenever I read them, I can still remember most every place I wrote them, because they were intensely personal, and because they took so much time.

Author Simon Garfield says that the art of letter writing is dying, and for obvious reasons: Email. Email has transformed our world, making communicating much faster, much easier, and much more efficient. But what these emails lack, according to Garfield, is depth and emotion. They tend to be much more factual and functional, rather than personal. We read, write, send, then move on and read, write, send – quickly forgetting what we read, wrote, and sent.

Letters, however, take time, not just to write, but the whole process. There’s the finding of the address, writing it out, finding a stamp, stamping it, then getting the letter to the mailbox. All the while, we could have written over a dozen emails. Emails that, over the course of just a few hours, will have been lost in the shuffle, deleted, or ignored.

Letters, however, good letters, make an impact and are not easily forgotten. They are personal and a physical manifestation of how much someone means to you. Which is why they are found pinned to caulk boards or refrigerators, and why they fall from books and come back to life, over and over again.

We only have fifteen bags. We can’t take everything we want, only what we need. And packed inside our needs are letters I hope to lose and then find, over and over again.

 

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Day 4 : Senior's Lunch and some of my favorite groups

Today, for lunch, we took the seniors out and enjoyed a few hours of conversation and updates on colleges and movings. In a years time they will be spread all over the world: China, Japan, Scotland, and all throughout the US. This is a great group of kids with so much to offer, and I'm excited to see what they do in the future, and where and how they will impact this world.

 

And because I'm running out of days, I might as well post some of my other favorite groups here. 

My AP Literature students, and me, wearing what will soon be a world-wide phenomenon - a tarf (tie+scarf). Trust me, it will happen. 

 

My basketball boys. Love this group and had a great time this year.

 

There are a few other groups too, and I had meant to capture them, but, as it tends to happen with my limited memory, I forgot. 

 

This morning, I drove in under this sky, which isn't much in the mountains states and other places around the world, but for Chengdu, its pretty special. 

 

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Day 5 : A Tug-of-War

After two late nights in a row, Judah had very little left, and I didn't have much to offer. So we spent the day reading, walking slowly around TaiKooLi for perhaps the last time, writing notes in Starbucks, and taking pictures, because these our truly the last days.

 

Writing at Starbucks

Writing at Starbucks

I've been working on trying to get this shot. I love this background.

I've been working on trying to get this shot. I love this background.

These were supposed to help declutter the streets. I don't think its working.

These were supposed to help declutter the streets. I don't think its working.

My last wrap at one of my favorite places to eat - its affectionately known as, "Chinese Chick-fil-a." 

My last wrap at one of my favorite places to eat - its affectionately known as, "Chinese Chick-fil-a." 

These little trolly-looking buses are great accents to the city.

These little trolly-looking buses are great accents to the city.

We arrived back home around 6:30, watched a documentary on boxing, then went to bed, tired, but refreshed.

 

The tug-of-war truly begins, with three sides. One, spend the last few nights with people, spend the last few nights with places, and three, spend the last few nights wrapping up all the loose ends. There isn't enough time for them all, and the flight won't wait. 

The ropes snap and crack and the tension threatens. One of them will win.

 

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Day 6 : Judah and his buddies

For an early birthday, Judah's buddies from our complex stayed the night. They're an eclectic group of personalities, but they're solid. From the background I can hear them innocently talking about farts and video games and "what if the Bible was written in code" jokes that I never quite heard finished but can only assume it was a zinger.

These boys are just good boys. They even apologize when they've accidentally hurt someone or made a friend feel left out. They're the kind of kids a parent wants for their son. 

 

I tried to find some activities that didn't involve any sort of screen, so they started off with an Around the World tournament. It didn't last long. At one point one of the boys asked me, "If we play a basketball game on our device, can that count?" I laughed, than cringed, than said "No." The boys were good sports about it all, but I could tell, Around the World isn't as attractive as it was when I was their age.

 

A rooftop dinner of grilled chicken, bowtie noodles, and corn on the cob (still boiling when this picture was taken). Between laughing and jumping on the trampoline, I'm not sure how much they ate, but no worries. In all my years of attending birthday parties, I've never remembered the food, only the people.

 

I borrowed a projector from school . . . nailed it!

I borrowed a projector from school . . . nailed it!

We watched a documentary on Michael Jordan because this generation seems to know very little about true basketball greatness. I don't know if it sunk in or not because most of the time they couldn't get over his tongue sticking out. It was all I could do to stop the movie, look deep into each of their eyes and say, "This is important. That tongue is the sign of a genius hard at work and he demands your respect!" But then one of the boys farted and it totally ruined the mood. 

When it was over I turned off the TV and, with my back turned to them, said, "Okay, if you brought a device you can take it out." When I turned around, it looked something like this. And I'm okay with that because, at the end of the day, I could look myself in the mirror and say, "You fought a good fight. You kept to your faith. Now go rest in peace."

But I couldn't. Because seven boys left in a living room are the very opposite of church mice. 

At 11pm, I told them to turn off their devices and try and sleep.

At 12pm I told them to try and quiet down.

At 12:45 I told them to quiet down.

At 1pm I turned the fan on high and covered my head with a pillow.

In the morning, when I came out at 6:45 to make some coffee, the scene wasn't much different than the one above and I smiled and hoped their parents wouldn't be too upset with me.

 

The boys all left at 8:15am, and by 9, I found Judah like this:

 

I checked him around 10:30 and found him like this:

 

Then again at 11:45.

 

I think the boys had a good time.

Happy (early) birthday Judah, and thank you, Judah's friends, for being so kind, so eager to laugh, and so polite. You are all quality, quality, young men.

 

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Day 7 : Down from the door, where it began

The long journey begins.

The long journey begins.

This has been a favorite of mine for almost 13 years. I remember when I first read it, in my parents' backyard while sitting next to a fire, a few days before I would head to California and try and rescue my soon-to-be marriage. It has stuck with me ever since, and it seems appropriate yet again.

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.

- Bibo Baggins

 

The road to the airport.

The road to the airport.

I've driven down this road many times, but never for the last time. This isn't my last time, but it is for Josey and the girls, and this morning, I'm viewing it through their eyes.

It's strange, watching something pass you by so quickly and knowing you will never see it again. It has been so much a part of your life, it has been home, then suddenly, it is gone forever.

How is it that something so important, so vital, can be gone so quickly? 

When I was in high school, Kevin Manno and I used to listen to a band called Showoff. I remember very little of them, but a line they sang in one of their songs has followed me for many years, "Not everything begins, but everything must end."

I'm not sure when Chengdu began to be called and seen as "home," but I know when it ends. For Josey and the girls, it is today. For Judah and I, very soon.

Being dropped off at the airport.

Being dropped off at the airport.

Driver Bao.

In our first years, we hired him to drive us to Ikea for furniture. When we moved to Tongzilin and much closer to Ikea, we began hiring him to take us to our favorite camping spots. He isn't the only one we've ever hired, but he is our favorite. 

 

As much as he may argue and fuss with his mom and sisters, this little man has a hard time when they separate. Two weeks is a long time, even though it will seem like a few days. 

 

Our last glimpse.

And just like that, they are gone. Their home left behind. Mom and family will great them on the other end, with smiles, tears, and probably Chick-fil-a, but not home. Where that is and when it will come, I cannot say.

 

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Day 8 : Cramming it all in

No pictures today. At least, not yet, because they are on Josey's camera, and she didn't have time to get them off. 

Josey kept all the kids home today so they could do several, "last time we will . . ." together. Then, she tried to pack and get ready for the morning. 

But friends stopped in. Tears flowed. More goodbyes were said. 

The sun fell, and still, there was much to do.

The night before, I couldn't sleep because my brain just would not shut off, and although I was going to take Josey and the girls to the airport the next morning, I was still planning on heading in to work. So I could't pull the all-nighter Josey was. When I went to bed around 11:30, she was far from finished.

At 4:10, the alarm went off and I stumbled to the coffee maker. Josey was already in the shower. All the bags were packed and the house was cleaned and organized (as much as it could be before a move). Elias was asleep on the floor. 

Day 9 : Zion's Birthday (in three languages), and a whole lot of goodbyes

Today, our little Zion turned 5!!! This was also her last day of school, which means this was my last morning of greeting her and her brother and sister at the gate - which has been one of the greatest joys of working at the same school as my kids. 

I told her she wasn't allowed to turn five, but she refuses to obey.

I told her she wasn't allowed to turn five, but she refuses to obey.

Naturally, we combined Zion's birthday party with a sending off party. Because it makes sense. 

We are so fortunate to have so many people to say goodbye to, so many people who have made an impact in our lives, and perhaps more importantly, our kids' lives. 

These people have been our family and our home. We have been immensly blessed.

 

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Day 10 : Calm before the Storm

Dragon Boat Festival in China means a day off - the last before the school year ends. After several weeks of abnormal intensity, this small reprieve was a sincere blessing, but it came with a small cost: the beginning of many hard goodbyes.

Auntie Bekah offered to steal our kiddos for the day, for one last cupcake cooking session, allowing Josey and I some time to talk (finally!), map out the coming week, and sneak in one last tattoo (Josey this time, not me).

Our tattoo artist

Our tattoo artist

Our kids made cupcakes . . . with poop. Because when you're with Aunt Bekah, what else would one do?

That night, we met one of our early and good friends, Clare, for dinner. Josey and her share an adventurous spirit, and she will be missed.

Tuesday was a good day, but it was also the deep inhale before the dive. And I'm not sure if I'm quite ready for it.

 

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Day 11 : Rooftop Smores

As a celebration and thank you of the year, the Todds and Wrights threw a party and invited a LOT of people. 

The company was great and the candy and sweets were in plenty. I didn't bring my phone, so these are from the Wechat group.

Before the night was over, Eden would accidentally smash a giant glass door (not her fault - the frame was broken), but it was a sweet night of friends gathering and kids playing.

Day 12 : Naps and Tats

Life is pretty rough for this little guy. Clearly.

But today, we're all feeling like this. At one point, wanting to catch a few minutes rest, I had Zion lay with me on the floor, next to the fan. "But I'm not tired," she whined. Ten minutes later, when I got up, she stayed behind.

This about sums up where we are right now: a mess, and exhausted.

 

Later in the afternoon, Judah and I went to make Elias and official part of the family!

Although it looks like five, the bottom two are the outlines to what she's filling in

Although it looks like five, the bottom two are the outlines to what she's filling in

Four kids : Four rings

Welcome to the family, Elias!!!

 

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Day 13 : Dinner with Dolaz

From the Dolaz rooftop.

From the Dolaz rooftop.

We spent the bulk of Saturday packing, but Saturday night, we went to the Dolaz family home. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I forgot to. I was having too much fun.

Around 9:30, I was ready to go home because that is about the time we always go home, but instead, we stayed till about 11:30, talking, listening to music, and just enjoying good company and good beer. It reminded Josey and me of our younger married days, in California, and it was blissful.

Zion fell asleep on the couch, Eden kept busy with American Crayons (which is truly a big deal) and Judah played Monopoly with David and Cecelia, because the Dolaz family is just fantastic. From beginning to end. 

Josey's and the girls' last Saturday here in China, and it was perfect. 

Day 14 : Our last Friday together.

Friday. My last official EAD Day and our last Friday Night Fire as a family in China because Josey and the girls will fly out a week from today. It's all wrapping up too quick.

 

Friday Mornings:

When the weather is nice, Friday mornings are my time to take one of the kiddoes out for breakfast (darn you McDonalds!!!). This morning, it was Eden's turn . . . and Pandy's (for class, she got to "babysit" Pandy). 

Eden and Pandy, ready for Water Day at school!

 

I love riding the scooter with my kids (don't worry, I stopped for this picture). I love the wind, them sitting and almost cuddling behind, and the little talks we can have on the way. 

But my favorite is when the ride is a bit longer and they begin to sing to themselves. It's just so precious. 

 

In my office, before school begins, Eden gets to work on some artistic endeavor. 

 

Friday Night Fire:

As much as possible, we tried to have Friday Night Fires with the family, and this was the last one in China. 

Without the need to plant this summer, the weeds have take over a bit, but this our woodpile. Scrounging for wood in a city of 14 million is a bit rough. Often times its scraps from discarded crates in the complex, at other times its the scrounging of the Neighborhood Haircuts. This wood though, is from the mountains. Last summer, on one of our last camping trips, we bought wood from one of the farmers and brought it home with us. And this is the last of it.

 

In our first summer in this home, I built this bench to cover a flowerbed because we were in serious need of sitting room. It has supported many a butts that have come to Gather here with us. And tonight, it supports the last of our family rooftop dinners. 

 

Zion LOVES this ledge. Hearing her little voice play and argue and sing to herself with her little toys and worlds is about as precious as her curls. 

 

A rare city skyline sunset from our roof. Almost like a waving goodbye. 

And it was. The mornings, our roof, the growing up, and the gathering. They were all very, very good. Which makes the "bye" hard, but worth it. 

 

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Last Hundred Days

 

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Day 15 : The Beginning - Zhonghai

On our whirlwind tour of goodbyes, we headed back to our old and first home in China. We walked old streets, thought a lot about how much different our China experience would have been if we would have stayed (it is SO much quieter and suburban-like, compared to where we live now), and did a lot of explaining to Eden and Zion. They remembered very little of this place.

 

There used to only be one option, this corner Hongqi (now we have a four right outside our gate), and it was almost midway from our home to the school. 

I used to buy a milk tea everyday on the way home from work.

 

This complex was, and is, beautiful. No cars allowed, overflowing with vegetation, and dozens of little trails and small parks. This is right inside the main gate, and turning left, we headed towards our first apartment.

 

The entrance to our first apartment building. We lived on the 7th floor, like we do now, but here we had an elevator.  Life was very different then.

 

A return to the scene, where Judah fell from the glass ledge, cutting his arm, and needing over a dozen stitches but getting only six, because we didn't go to the hospital but to a nearby friend. And they didn't have any Novocain.  His scare now tells a pretty fantastic story.

 

Down the road is one of our favorite parks. It hasn't changed much except for the trees - they are huge and, finally, provide the shade it so desperately lacked when we first lived here.

 

This is the park where our whole family, starting with Judah, contracted hand, foot, and mouth. I endured the worst, being knocked out for almost two weeks.  By far the worst I've ever experienced . . . not sure why we wanted to remember this place.

 

To many, this is just an ordinary intersection, but to us, it's pretty special and we ended up standing here for a few minutes, just reminiscing.

Following the gray van is the entrance to where many of our friends lived when we first moved here. Most notably, Bekah and Sarah who, over the next few years, would become Aunt Bekah and Aunt Sarah. This intersection holds a lot of beginning memories to China, and Josey's first flower shop.

Turning left, instead of following either van, is the ground floor of the apartments. Josey's favorite flower shop is still there.

 

The main drag of Zhonghai, and a typical China scene. 

 

Our favorite mode of transportation. 

 

Zoo Coffee was our first "Western" coffee shop in China, and one of my first places to sit and write. It's also the place where I learned to bring earphones into public settings because it became fairly common for Chinese parents to drop their kids off at my table so they could practice their English. At first it was cute, then it got annoying because I had lesson plans to write or memories to store.  

Sometimes, I didn't even play music in my headphones, I just wore them. And for the most part, the little tikes got the message.  For the most part.

 

I hate McDonals. Always have. But when the city doesn't really wake up till around 9am, the Golden Arches become essential to early mornings. This one means a lot to me because it was the place Travis Miller and I would meet on Friday mornings. Once, we were joined by a giant rat that climbed up on a nearby seat. Another morning, a HUGE pickup truck thought it best to ignore the entryway. It drove over the medium, through the grass and over a fairly large sign, then parked perfectly in a nearby parking spot. 

Travis and I sipped our coffee and carried on. 

I miss Travis and, for the first and possible only time in my life, I'll miss McDonalds. 

Eden and Judah, snuggled in a taxi . . . a perfect ending to the day.

 

 

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Day 16 : Our China Child, Zion, and some of her thoughts

This posting is a bit late. I will spare you the details why.

Judah and Eden have both recalled their time in China, and now, it is Zion's turn. She, more than any other of our kids, is our China Child. Outside of a few months, her whole life has been in China, and in many ways, she has fit right in.

What was your first memory?

"I pooped my pants on the roof because I wasn't wanting to stop playing.

Along with the swing, trampoline, and dirty toys, these girls loved the flowers and garden Josey planted. This was their "backyard" and our small haven.

Along with the swing, trampoline, and dirty toys, these girls loved the flowers and garden Josey planted. This was their "backyard" and our small haven.

The early days at our ZZY apartment.

The early days at our ZZY apartment.

What are some of your favorite memories?

Waterpark, camping and sleeping at the hostel by the river, recess and playing tag with Quinn, riding the bus with Quinn.

Mother's Day Camping, 2016

Mother's Day Camping, 2016

Whether school or public bus, these two always enjoyed the company.

Whether school or public bus, these two always enjoyed the company.

What are you really excited for when you get to America?

"To get a new camera. For new beds and a bike, Adah and Selah, Papi and Mimi and Kade and his parents and Aunt Heather with Anna and maybe we will camp a lot and your brother Uncle Jesse but he is funny and picks me up a lot and holds my hand and sometimes throws me on the ceiling but he is pretty tall you know? To see horses and other animals and I like lakes but they are so cold. 

Do they have quesadillas there?"

On one of our camping trips.

On one of our camping trips.

Mom, heading out on her Tibetan trip. I wonder where Zion gets her heart for adventure and the outdoors?

Mom, heading out on her Tibetan trip. I wonder where Zion gets her heart for adventure and the outdoors?

What will you miss the most about living here?

Quinn, my teacher, the table you sold today, Miss Day and Jacie, Auntie Bekah, baozi and rice, art class, Mr. Xiao, the fun room.

Not pants, no shirt, no shoes, yet a whole lot of fun.

Not pants, no shirt, no shoes, yet a whole lot of fun.

Auntie B doing what she does best. 

Auntie B doing what she does best. 

Do you think yo will come back someday to visit China?

No. Well, I mean yes. When I'm a mommy with five kids. So I will tell you their names. Judah, Elias is my baby, Sydney, Eden, and Abbey.

Our first set of wheels, in Zhonghai.

Our first set of wheels, in Zhonghai.

Afternoon rides with Mom.

Afternoon rides with Mom.

Zion was blessed with so many people who loved her while living in China. Some, we may never see again, like her beloved PE teacher, Mr. Xiao, and her sweet ayi . . . Ayi.

She was also blessed with friends who she will know forever. The two years Uncle Jesse and Aunt Sarah and sweet little Emma lived in China were a blessing we could never have expected. 

If I looked ticked, walking off in the distance, its because I am . . . I just recently stepped in a MASSIVE pile of dog poop. Wearing sandals. 

If I looked ticked, walking off in the distance, its because I am . . . I just recently stepped in a MASSIVE pile of dog poop. Wearing sandals. 

Up until this last winter, Zion always had a pair of leggings with a bear on her butt. She liked to wave it around and show people. Mom and Dad liked to pinch it. 

 

: Adventures with Mom :

There were many, but these two encompass them all because whether it was adventures in mountainous lands or just outside the front door, Mom sought it, and she always brought her kids along.

"Sometimes, when life is rainy, the best thing to do is put on rain boots and jump in puddles."

"Sometimes, when life is rainy, the best thing to do is put on rain boots and jump in puddles."

Tea picking.

Tea picking.

 

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Day 17 : Just the two of us, with Elias, and other people too.

Today, with all of secondary on Spring Trips, I cashed in one of my paternity days and spent the day with Josey and Elias . . . and a few others.

We went for a walk, drank some coffee, and for the first time in several weeks, talked. And cried. We took a few pictures because these days are flying by much too fast.

For dinner, I met Trent at McElroy's, an Irish pub, where we've played a few shows. This is on the inside of the menu and, while I waited for Trent to arrive, I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. The humanness of it. And simplicity. 

"Just live your life."  

I'm try'n Red (that's the owner), I'm try'n.

Thanks for the taco salad and beer!

 

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Day 19 : The Juggling

It's hard, trying to pack up and sell off our life here, stay well at work, and keep some sort of family chemistry in tact. Really hard. We've done pretty good, for the most part, over the past few weeks, but as the departure inches closer and life is uprooted, we've begun to crack a bit.

Today, we tried to ground ourselves, even if just for a few minutes, by taking a walk around our neighborhood. It helped. A little. 

I think we need to do more of this - even at the cost of selling more things or having our bags packed with time to spare. 

Day 20 : Packing, and the big shift.

For the past four years, this hung by our door. It came down this weekend.

For the past four years, this hung by our door. It came down this weekend.

Today, we officially packed up our home. We've been teasing it for several weeks - sifting through clothes, selling away knick-knacks and books and things, but these weekend, some of our biggest furniture left us. Everything came off the walls. 

Our house is no longer home. 

Yet, in the midst of it all, Enosh stayed the night.

Enosh was new to our school this year, but with his love of basketball, he has quickly become on of Judah's buddies. He's also one of the girls' favorites.  

We've told Judah, "Mom and Dad will judge how good a friend is for you on how they treat your sisters." Enosh is a good friend, and he will be missed. By all.