Thursday, March 15, 2018

An Aurora Named Steve

Forces of Nature!
I always said I married a colorful guy. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center space physicists have just named a newly discovered part of the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights), and they are calling this phenomenon “Steve.” Steve can be seen further to the south than the rest of his eerily glowing counterpart. I don’t find my spouse to be “eerily” glowing, but otherwise I see a resemblance.

This is just the latest in an escalating series of natural events that are given human names. Remember when only hurricanes were called “Gloria” or “Hugo”? Now EVERY unusual happening boasts a different name. Superstorm Sandy! Winter Storm Skylar (Sky-lar. Get it? I like that one!) and so on. I suppose these monickers make them more “special” (think your local weathercaster writing Thunderstorm Gus!!! on the weather map—perhaps with a frowny face). It’s all about the branding these days, whereas back in the Mesozoic Era that was my childhood, rain was rain and snow was snow and that was the extent of it.

As I have a number of rather animated guys and gals in my immediate family, I thought I’d do the National Weather Service a favor, and go ahead and name upcoming disturbances in the field after my loved ones! Here goes:

Volcano Sheridan: Sher is placid on the surface, but bubbling with inspiration and creativity underneath. When he erupts at last, thousands of musical notes cascade down into the valley below. Beware of molten concerti, people!

Earthquake Evan: Ev is on the West Coast now, so this is extra-fitting. Amid the rumblings of national political unrest, all at once the earth is shaken with new possibilities. San Andreas? You are not at fault! It’s Evan’s Congressional candidate Gil Cisneros! Whoo hoo!

Tsunami Rose: She just missed a very big one before her arrival in Thailand in 2005. As the tide receded, unsuspecting folks ventured back into the water, then whammo! And our lovely Rose still likes to catch us all off guard!

Heatwave Patrick: He was baptized on the hottest day of 1991, and sweated through multiple sports over the years. He’s an executive chef now, enduring the restaurant kitchen’s sky-high temps. For Pat, every workday’s another scorcher!

Blizzard Julie: Gentle as a softly falling blanket of snow—until it hits you that this blanket is three feet deep. Julie’s effect is slow but steady. Note: Julie will also rescue you from the drifts, because Julie.

Tornado Ya-Jhu: NO one can power through a house cleaning, or a meal making, or a song cycle writing, like our Yaj! The trick is to batten down the hatches, enjoy the ride, and not get swept away.

Aiden and Peter are a little young to be meteorologically labeled yet, but I’m sure something significant will bear their names someday.

And me? Hailstorm (crazy, mixed up, ice pellets on a warm day) probably fits.

 This is fun! Monsoon? Cyclone? I can christen it! Bring on that weather event, Mother Nature!

Steve! (Photo from National Geographic)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In Dog Years

Our special dinner! Aerial view!

While I do not put much stock in fortunetelling, I am strangely charmed by the Chinese lunar calendar. There is a legend that explains it…

A long time ago, the Jade Emperor decided to have a grand race and all the animals in the kingdom were invited. 12 animals showed up at the event. Grateful for their efforts, the emperor rewarded them by naming each year of the Chinese Zodiac calendar after these  animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

This is the Year of the Dog. Considering the perennial “underdog” Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl victory, I think it’s very appropriate. People born in a dog year share many of the best qualities of the canine. Dogs are loyal and loving, drawn to being a friendly presence in other people’s lives. The dog is gentler than other signs. The dogs take a cooler-headed approach to problems, rather than letting emotions flare up and get the better of reasoning. My Julie was born in 1994, a dog year, and those characteristics suit her.

I, on the other hand (paw?) am a 1956 model, which was a Year of the Monkey. According to my research, people born in the Year of the Monkey are clever and intelligent, especially in their career and wealth (wealth! Ha!). They are lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile (aww shucks!). In addition, their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life (I do have my everlasting love, Steve, but I can’t credit either gentleness or honesty on my part). We do have several shortcomings, including an impetuous temper and a tendency to look down upon others. (Now we’re talking turkey—um, monkey).

For the past couple of years, inspired by Yaj’s presence in our lives, we have celebrated Chinese New Year with a home-cooked feast. The timing is perfect. Smack in the middle of the winter doldrums comes a colorful and festive occasion to boost our spirits. This year was made extra-special by a visit from my sister C. She, along with Julie and her boyfriend Gil, observed the beginning of the Year of the Dog with us, complete with Tsingtao beer and honey walnut shrimp.

Some of the revelers

 So what will transpire in this Year of the Dog? We so desperately want to have control over our futures (or at least be able to predict them), that we read our tea leaves and our tarot cards and our newspaper horoscopes for clues. In reality, none of us know what will happen in the next minute, much less year. But we can look at our qualities as described by our signs, and work on emphasizing the positives. Julie can remain her loyal and loving self, and I can aspire to monkeylike liveliness and flexibility.

If we all work on being our best selves, every day, we can make this year a winner, for everyone. We can place in the Jade Emperor’s race, in 2018 and always.

Sshin-nyen haoww! Happy Chinese New Year!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Map Quest

It’s a game they are playing. Every night Evan leaves a message, telling Aiden where he has stopped for the night. Aiden then goes downstairs to the big US map on the wall, finds the destination (with a little help) and puts a push pin there. Aiden’s shushu (Chinese for uncle) has covered a lot of territory since his departure on Monday. He needs to be in California to start his new job by tomorrow, which still involves many, many miles on the road. So far Evan’s luck as held, and he has not run into terrible winter driving conditions (he deliberately plotted a more southerly course). Aiden thinks he will make it on time, and I do too.

Aiden has always loved maps of all kinds. He is also crazy about Evan Shushu. That combination has been a winner, because Evan has traveled quite a bit during Aiden’s 3 ½ years, and my little guy loves to trace his adventures. 

Sometimes the journeys have been American, such as Ev’s cross-country drive helping a friend resettle on the West Coast. Other times, Aiden has needed to switch over to the world map on the other side of the room, where even at a very young age he could point out Barcelona (where Evan went to graduate school) and other spots Evan hit in Europe and Asia. Last winter, his intrepid uncle went with another buddy to Argentina for five weeks of trekking that included time down in Patagonia. This location particularly fascinated Aiden for some reason. Several times daily, Aiden would put on his small backpack and head for the front door. “I’m goin’ to see Shushu in Argentina!!” he would call out. We would solemnly wish him safe travels. Three minutes later he would zip back into the room, journey completed.

What, I wonder, does Aiden think of all these places, depicted in so many different colors and shapes on his maps? He knows where many of them are, and knows some personal connections attached to them too: Indiana, where Steve was born; NYC, where I was born; Thailand, where Rose Gugu (aunt) spent a year. He himself has been to Taiwan several times, and can easily zero in on Taipei, where Ya-Jhu’s family lives.

When I was little, I pictured the world as incredibly diverse and exciting. Then I spent time in different US cities, and was sadly struck by the sameness of so much that I saw—the same fast food places, malls, hotel chains. But in recent years, traveling more, and looking past the surface, I am heartened to realize that little me was right--everywhere IS special and unique.  

I am so grateful that my loved ones and I have been able to travel, and I look forward to Aiden experiencing the world as more than push pins in a map. Putting on a big backpack someday, walking out of the house, and really meeting his beloved shushu in the amazing Argentina of his dreams.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Defining Moment?

This was the message on C's phone!

I was in center city early yesterday afternoon, in line at Starbucks, when I checked my phone. Two missed calls from my sister C in Honolulu. A little unusual, as we try to always time our calls to one another in advance, but not unheard of. Then I got the text: We just got alert of inbound missile. It says not a test. I immediately started shaking, and stepped out of line. Sheer panic set in; as I tried to call her, I blanked out on the last four digits of her phone number. By the time I reached her, she had good news: it had all been a mistake. But she described the horrific previous few minutes, trying to call all of us, possibly to say goodbye; apparently everyone in Hawaii had the same idea, because the calls weren’t going through. As for me, during the few moments before I talked to her, everything else on my mind diminished in importance to nothingness. Who cared about meetings, or deadlines, or annoyances at work or home? Nothing mattered as much as my sister’s survival. This dread was coupled with another: if we were indeed on the brink of nuclear war, how would any of us survive?

As we all know now, the terrifying message had been sent out in error; there was no missile heading to Oahu yesterday. But even as relief washed over me, I recognized that the message was all too credible. We are not only capable of the world’s destruction, but powerful people with access to nuclear weapons seem to be taunting each other into action. I am aware that existence has always been fragile, but that doesn’t minimize the risks and threats facing humanity right now.

Riding home on the train, I thought: how would I occupy myself if we suddenly had only a few minutes left to live? Would I fall to my knees, praying nonstop until the end? Make farewell phone calls: my children living away from me, my sister, my dearest friends? After that, would I gather my beloved Oreland family and just hold on to them? Yes! I often say that my faith, the loss of my sister Mo, and being with Mom as she passed away, have made me largely unafraid of death. But yesterday reminded me that I am still fearful. I am also saddened that life on earth may possibly not continue through Aiden and Peter’s old age.

It may go out with a bang, or a whimper, or something in between, but at some point life WILL end, for everyone. That point may be millions of years from now, or fifteen minutes. So may I try to live in love, the love that casts out fear. May I try to spread peace and understanding, in the hope that all of us doing so may prolong our time here.

I will never forget the sinking feeling I had in the coffee shop yesterday, but may it not define me.

My favorite picture of C and me