October 24, 2012

Here are some pictures from a wonderful weekend with Christian’s mom and step-dad.

We took them to the Getty, the Griffith Observatory (where I saw a girl wearing the most beautiful pants ever made…don’t worry, I took a picture), Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Laguna Beach.

For our favorite shots (and some actual faces of real people, unlike mine below), we made a contraption out of 2 disposable cameras that will hopefully yield some awesome 3-D pictures … we just have to finish off the cameras and do some photoshop magic.

 

 

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April 22, 2012

This weekend, Christian’s mom and step-dad visited! We always have such a great time with them, and it was especially exciting because Kai had never been to NYC, and Christian’s mom hadn’t been for decades.

One of the first things we did was go to the top of 30 Rock. It was amazing. It actually felt way sturdier than I thought it would (though I could have done without the clear-ceilinged elevator on the way up).

Isn't it crazy how much of the island Central Park takes up?!

Fun 30 Rock (the TV show) Fact: in one episode, Liz leaves her cell phone in a taxi cab, and she goes with Kenneth the page to go pick it up in the taxi cab garage in Long Island City (where we live)! As soon as a very nervous Kenneth gets out of the car, he is attacked with spray paint…luckily, I have never had that experience.

Also, I saw Hazel (the new creepy page) from 30 Rock at a subway stop last week! And I may have followed her for a few minutes.

On Saturday morning, we walked through Central Park. Even though I have been here 6 or 7 times, I end up in new parts I didn’t know existed each time I go. Here’s Turtle Pond.

That little line sticking out of right side of the island is a bunch of turtles!

Then we walked the Highline…it never gets old.

Next we took them across the Brooklyn Bridge. Some of it was under construction, but we still got to see a lot. We went to a park we had never been to afterwards, and had the best ice cream ever (organic!).

We rode the subway a lot,

My new favorite subway art.

Somehow this is the only picture I managed to get of Kai...

and ate LOTS of great food.

Last night, we saw Memphis on Broadway, which was fantastic. The music was so so good, and it was really funny.

Kai had to fly out (to China!) early this morning, so Christian, his mom and I went to brunch, and then wandered around a flea market and a few shops in Williamsburg before she flew back to Arkansas. We were soaked by the end, but so happy.

He can never hold a straight face for very long.

Even though we choose to take Christian’s mom and Kai to a lot of the same places we took Zac and Anna, the city always feels new and exciting to me. It was another fantastic weekend… we’ve had so many here!!

Easter in New Haven

April 10, 2012

This weekend was wonderful. We had such a nice visit with Matt and Julia in New Haven.

On Saturday, Matt showed us around Yale. The campus was beautiful…I could just feel the smartness in the air.

The Rare Books Library....my favorite place on campus!

One of the best parts about getting together with Matt and Julia is that we usually have really good conversations. Since Matt’s field at Yale is cognitive psychology, he always has a lot of cool news about what is going on as far as new studies and discoveries.  This visit, Matt was explaining to us how most cognitive psychologists today actually think that belief in God is natural to humans (though, since most believe it is irrational, they say we should learn to repress it). One of the big guns, Paul Bloom, even recently talked about how to silence “the big booming voice inside you that says God exists”… I had no idea! That information might have been helpful in all those hours of Torrey debates about innate belief : ) Anyway, I’m excited to have a friend who can translate some of the important but way-over-my-head stuff that’s going on in that field, and even more excited that he’s in the midst of it all.

Julia and I also had lots of really good kitchen talks about careers and prayer and friendship and art…spending time with her is always so good for my soul.

On Easter, we all got up early to go to a sunrise worship service on top of a hill with the most beautiful view… even though we were tired and cold, it was worth it.

After a homemade (as in Julia-made) breakfast of French toast casserole, we walked across the street to their church to celebrate some more.

In the afternoon, we took a nap and then cooked A LOT…our first Easter meal without any help from mothers or fathers! Julia had all these amazing ideas… but leave it to me to over-whip the frosting for the raspberry lemon cupcakes. Luckily, that was the only real mishap (besides none of us having any idea how to carve a ham!) and after hours of cooking, it was so great to sit down together and enjoy the food.

Afterwards, we played cards and talked some more until bedtime.

Christian and I left Monday morning very thankful to have such admirable, wise, fun friends, and a God who is risen!

Recent travels

March 19, 2012

These past few weeks, I have finally gotten to explore other Burroughs besides Manhattan. I have taken some walks further into Queens (we are on the very edge, one Subway stop away from Manhattan), and found some gems (mostly food-related). The neighborhoods around us are really diverse and really friendly (not to mention much cheaper than Manhattan!).

Christian and I have also had a few meals with friends in Brooklyn, and we even got to eat/snoop around at an apartment there. Brooklyn reminds me of some Chicago neighborhoods, and I love it. The buildings are shorter, the cars honk less, and instead of the tacky souvenir shops that line the walk to our Chelsea studio, there are restaurants everywhere. It’s actually somewhere I could picture living.

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Fajitas and cake at Julia's sister's Brooklyn apartment.

Two weekends ago our Contemporary Art Class took a field trip to Dia: Beacon, a 90 minute train ride from the city. The pieces at the museum were pretty minimalistic, but most of them were really cool because they were made specifically for the space. After seeing all the art, most of us just sat in the grass for an hour or so before heading back…I really miss grass!!

Walking to the Dia.

One of my favorite pieces inside the Dia. Working on an essay about it... art is confusing.

This past weekend was my favorite one so far in New York. We kicked off spring break with a visit from Christian’s brother and sister-in-law from North Carolina, and we had a blast exploring the city with them. We went to the MET and the MOMA, saw Spiderman on Broadway, walked the Highline and the Brooklyn Bridge, sat in the grass of Dumbo Park and Central Park, toured 30 Rock, rode the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, and ate SO MUCH good food. (I finally understand why NYC is known for its bagels!)

The Highline (an old suspended railway converted to a walkway/ park).

The Brooklyn Bridge. Though our feet were sore by this point, the views made our walk across go by so quickly. Also, thankful to report that we did not witness any biker vs. pedestrian brawls.

Dumbo park, under the Brooklyn Bridge. Loved watching all the little kids wrestling their parents here.

30 Rock. We watched 3 episodes when we got home that night, and squealed every time we saw something familiar. (Liz Lemon walks across the Brooklyn Bridge in one!)

The view from the Staten Island Ferry. Not bad for a free ride!

The Shake Shack...my new favorite! Their cheese fries were to die for. Also, they accidentally gave me a free burger! (Yes, I ordered cheese fries and a shake for dinner...)

One (or all) of us may have our eyes closed.

It is crazy how much we were able to pack into one weekend when traffic and parking weren’t factors (when Christian’s sister visited us in Southern California, we must’ve spent 3-4 hours in the car everyday). The Subway is kind of growing on me. (Also, New York has turned me into a dirtier person in general, because I have stopped using anti-bacterial hand gel 15 times a day).

This week, I’m really excited to explore some more the rest of break (and hopefully finish the 15,000 words of my novel due Monday!). On a side-note, my new favorite thing to do: sit in a coffee shop and watch all the “toddler trains” dawdling past. Local day-care centers have the kids hold these rings along a rope when they go for a walk, so it’s kind of like watching a giant millipede inch along the street. Today, I was close enough to get the stink-eye from one of the cuties.

A trip

January 31, 2011

photo by Chelsea Alling

photo by Chelsea Alling

“A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys.  It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness.  A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.”

– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Last week, I went on my first real road trip, and I wish I had brought this book with me. I read it years ago, maybe even before I could drive, and loved it.

Steinbeck’s trip was very different from mine. For starters, his only company was a poodle, and I got to travel with three wonderful girls. His trip was almost 10,000 miles; ours was 2612.1 miles (the distance from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon and back).

Over the course of our trip, Julia, Chelsea, Tracy and I held a two-week-old baby, witnessed a Dungeons & Dragons game, explored an abandoned theme park, ate bacon doughnuts, and, like Steinbeck, had our fair share of bite-sized interactions with strangers.

At one point in his book, Steinbeck is saddened by an encounter with a waitress who “wasn’t happy, but then she wasn’t unhappy.” He says,

“I don’t believe anyone is a nothing. There has to be something inside, if only to keep the skin from collapsing. This vacant eye, listless hand, this damask cheek dusted like a doughnut with plastic powder, had to have a memory or a dream.”

I have noticed in me a temptation to collect people like I collect experiences. On our road trip, I don’t think we came across anyone even close to “a nothing,” but I sometimes had the urge to instantly understand and even categorize those we met. I’m not quite sure how to combat this, but I know it involves humility.

There should be a sort of wonder in meeting a new person, probably not unlike the wonder of exploring a new place. But over the trip, sometimes I forgot that most people we encountered (waitresses, shop owners, homeless people, relatives, friends) have lived longer than I have, and all of them have a story just as meaningful as my own. There is not time to hear everything (or anywhere close to everything) someone has to say, so sometimes to remember that each person I meet is a complex, mysterious being, and that my perception of them is embarrassingly incomplete, is enough.

I am arrogant when I assume I know how the drug addict sprawled out on the streets of San Francisco got where he is, or why the waitress was so rude to us; there is so much I don’t know even about the girls I travelled with. In fact, one of the richest parts of the trip was learning bits and pieces of why my friends are the way they are. That, and pulling over every few hours to smell the salt-soaked coast or stand next to a redwood.

Three Million Rivets

January 8, 2011

This is a creative non-fiction piece I wrote for an anthology this past semester. My assignment was to write on Obsession, Compulsion, or Longing (or any combination of the three), so I wrote about my little sister Kate: the most beautifully obsessive person I know.

It was my first time writing a formal creative non-fiction piece, and I loved it. While the words themselves came easier than usual (many thanks to Kate’s eccentricities), I had a harder time structuring the piece. In fiction, moments can be manipulated, edited, and tweaked (though actually, many would say the best moments in a story are a surprise even to the writer—I’m still figuring that one out); in non-fiction, the writer has a responsibility to facts. While at times I felt constrained by chronology, the process of organizing and re-organizing personal memories in a meaningful way was more exhilarating than anything else. Metaphors and motifs are not just literary devices, they are hidden within our daily chores, our morning commutes, our dinner table conversations. As I have found with other genres of writing, I think as I practice creative non-fiction, I am practicing how to see the world.

Kate, 6 years old

Three Million Rivets

When my younger sister Kate was eleven years old, she would lie on the back patio in the afternoon and imagine the sun slowly creeping from the tips of her toes to the top of her head. She performed this private ritual for several minutes at a time, her skinny blonde body blanketed in sunlight, eyes scrunched closed and limbs outstretched.

Kate’s therapist also encouraged her to exercise when nervous, so she kept a jump rope next to her bed. From our downstairs bedroom, my older sister Kelsey and I heard her jumping rope or scrambling up and down the steps before she got into bed. We would look at each other and chuckle; it was hard for us to imagine that these stiff, rhythmic thuds belonged to our carefree little sister. Earlier that same year, my mom found Kate riding her scooter in our driveway, fully covered by a refrigerator box and clumsily pushing herself around in circles.

One Sunday when Kate was six years old, my family was driving to church when my mom wondered aloud if the car in front of us belonged to a family friend.  Kate immediately responded with a confident and simple “No.” When we all mocked her certitude, Kate explained that the license plate in front of us didn’t match our friend’s car. After a few minutes of interrogation, she casually recited dozens of license plates– those of family friends, sisters’ boyfriends, and every car we had owned since Kate was born.

Back then, I had more than once come home from school to find the whole pantry laid out across the counter-tops, ordered chronologically by expiration date. At dinner, Kate asked my mom when each thing on her plate was expiring. Most of the time, Kate knew the answer, and my frustrated mom would humor her for a few minutes before halting the inquiry with a firm “Nothing is expired, Kate.”

Sometimes Kate forgot to ask about an item. One night, just as she was putting a cup of milk to her lips, she jerked slightly and put it back down on the table. She looked up, evaluating by my mom’s expression whether it was safe to ask about another expiration date without getting sent away from the dinner table. She decided to ask, and my mom patiently informed her that the milk would not expire for another week or so. Kate nodded, but didn’t pick up the glass.

Instead, she listened as my dad explained to me and my sisters the varying motivations behind the conflict in the Middle East. Between bites of chicken and sips of lemonade, he replied to our questions in what my mom calls his “teacher voice,” slightly enthusiastic and perfectly-paced. Kate fidgeted in her chair, fork in hand but not eating. She understood the conversation just enough to take advantage of lulls by inserting irrelevant facts about her latest obsession, the Titanic. When my dad paused before elaborating on the history of Palestine, a wide-eyed Kate told us about the three million rivets it took to hold the Titanic’s massive hull together. We all nodded, my dad adding a genuine “wow, Kate.” A few minutes later, as my dad was explaining the value of petroleum, Kate interjected that the temperature of the Atlantic as Titanic sank was a frigid 31 degrees. This time my sisters and I were not so gracious. We snickered and I started to say something when my mom intervened by raising her hand toward Kate with three fingers in the air. “Kate,” she said, “You are allowed three more facts tonight. Choose them wisely.” Unphased, Kate replied that while the Titanic had more lifeboats than required by law–1,178–it still came tragically short of the 2,208 needed. My mother put one finger down.

Now a freshman in high school, Kate has been on medication for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder for nearly four years. She has been seeing a therapist since the notorious Frogger incident of Thanksgiving 2004, when she panicked after reaching a new level in the computer game and began to pray repetitively that no one in our family would get sick or die.

Though she does not depend on specific routines as much as before therapy, Kate still occasionally struggles with frantic anxiety. While her nighttime routine used to consist of moving the blinds up and down twice and brushing her teeth at exactly 8:30 p.m., she now writes in a red plastic journal she has kept for years. Inside, she rates her anxiety on a scale of 1-10. I asked her for an excerpt:

February 16, 2006, 8:23 AM

Rate: 6

Cause: cleaning room, not very occupied.

February 16, 2006, 11:05 AM

Rate: 7

Cause: sky looked really dark, got nervous about a tornado.

February 17, 2006, off and on AM-PM

Rate: 3

Cause: friend not at school…no real feeling inside but just regular nervousness.

February 18, 2006, all day

Rate: 0

Cause: occupied all day!

February 19, 2006, all day

Rate: 5

Cause: occupied almost all day.

This journaling method is a much-improved version of my dad’s short-lived technique of “taming the lion.” One time while Kate was hyperventilating, Kelsey and I overheard my dad asking her “How big is the lion?” to which she shouted “8! It’s an 8!” Our dad then lovingly encouraged her to “tame the lion” in her mind. In retrospect, Kelsey’s and my uncontrollable laughter probably did little to help the situation.

This past June, my family sat down to a quiet dinner while my dad was away at a work conference. My mom, who had replaced him at the head of the table, said a quick prayer as the last of the day’s sunlight streamed through our massive dining room windows. Over plates of  chicken salad, we talked casually about our days, and Lauren told us about life in Scotland, where she is doing her graduate studies. At some point, Kelsey and Lauren started to bicker; Kelsey was hurt by a joke Lauren had made about her appearance. Lauren quickly offered a sincere apology, but Kate saw this rare moment of confrontation as an opportunity to address some grievances of her own. She interrupted Lauren’s apology and proceeded for the next several minutes to remind us of how many times we had relentlessly made fun of her appearance, particularly her toes.

Kate’s two big toes happen to be rather bulbous, especially in comparison with the rest of her toes. To be fair, she has grown into them over the years, but for some reason the jokes haven’t stopped. I regretfully admit that I instigated the majority of the toe-related jokes; I have wondered aloud many times whether Kate would be charged extra for pedicures, or claimed to have finally figured out where all the ice cream that she eats goes.

As she sat teary-eyed, with knees clutched to her chest, Kate told us how much we had hurt her with our jokes. We listened, startled and embarrassed, and when she finished listing our wrongs, Kelsey spoke first.

“Kate, we shouldn’t have made so much fun of you. We really didn’t know it bothered you so much. Sorry for being insensitive about your… your…” and then: a hesitation, the beginnings of a smile. Kelsey quickly put her hand over her mouth, shoulders shaking. She cleared her throat and started again. “Kate, we’re so sorry. We didn’t mean much by our jokes, it’s not even like your toes are… they really aren’t too…” Now we were all grinning, bashfully hiding behind hands and studying our salads closely. Then, to our surprise, Kate burst into her strange high-pitched laughter (another subject of the occasional joke or two) and we all joined in, relieved.

When she laughs, my mom either chuckles or is bent over gasping for breath; there is no middle ground. That night, tears were streaming down her cheeks. Kelsey’s face matched her bright red hair, and Lauren was leaned forward, arms stretched across the table for support. At one point, I looked across the table to Kelsey. Head cocked, she was staring at Kate, and motioning for me to look also. Kate, it appeared, was not laughing anymore, but had transitioned into a sob that none of us had noticed. We were all quiet at once; my mom asked Kate what was wrong.

“It’s just that … I know they’re … big…You guys… don’t need to… say it,” she said between sniffles. Startled, Lauren, Kelsey and I looked at each other, trying to figure out an appropriate response. We weren’t used to being confronted by Kate, especially with such a fair, justified reason. We wondered when the exact moment had come that our little sister deserved to be taken seriously, and how we had missed it.

Then Kate, satisfied with our somber silence and apologetic eyes, took a deep breath. And she began to giggle. She kept giggling, catapulting everyone at the table into several more minutes of punch-drunk laughter. At one point, my mom got up to answer the phone but, doubled-over and unable to speak, retreated back to her chair after just a few steps.

Back when Kate was five or six, her bibliomaniac gene was not yet fully developed. While everyone else in our family preferred reclining for hours with a good book over almost anything else, she, in her naivety, still treasured “fresh air” and “playing games.” Of course, my older sisters and I loved to dress up and play Lady Friends (our more sophisticated version of “house“) at Kate’s age; the difference is that we had each other. Sometimes I wonder if Kate’s early obsessions, first with the Titanic and later with cars, dogs, and terrorists, were not just a way for her to channel all of her extra intellectual energy, but also a result of loneliness. Honing in on a topic helped Kate organize and stimulate a brain she hadn’t quite grown into, a brain that was hardly challenged in elementary school. But I also think Kate, being nine, seven, and six years younger than her sisters, turned to facts for companionship. When she did interact with people, she talked about what–not who–she knew, because the facts were always there to learn; they never ignored her or told her they were too busy. The night at dinner when my mom held up three fingers, Kate’s sporadic factual hiccups were the only way she felt she could inch her way into the conversation.

Kate has been writing poems since she learned how to spell, and my family only recently found out that she has been submitting them, along with some short stories, to online forums for years. She graciously let me look at some of her earliest poetry (most of which she will never post online), and one piece in particular caught my attention.

Hoping For Love: A Crow’s Story

By Kate Moreau (age 9)

Hoping for love is the crow.
Sitting high on her perch.
Hoping for freedom from a life of sorrow and resentment.
She tries her lovely song but no one hears the true loveliness of the song she sings.
Hoping for love is the crow.

After more than a few not-so-suppressed giggles (even Kate was grinning), I began to wonder the significance of such an image. Sure, Kate may have been a slightly melodramatic child (which, by the way, also may run in the Moreau genes…I wrote a similarly poignant poem about the emptiness of life which caused my sixth grade teacher to gently confront me after class about my “concerning” worldview), but I don’t think the  sentiment behind the poem is entirely sensationalist. Even a nine-year-old with a family who loves her deeply can feel the subtle twinge of loneliness.

Though she will most-likely never fulfill her childhood dream of being first mate of the Titanic, I know Kate’s quirky brilliance could be of use in countless other fields–beat poetry, criminology with an emphasis on license-plate identification, or maybe a graveyard shift security guard.

From the ages of three to five, she tried to convince our family that she was the only person on earth that did not need sleep to function. In fact, she had given up snoozing years ago. When my mom politely explained to her that this was, in fact, impossible, Kate insisted she was telling the truth (apparently her body magically produced the necessary immune-enhancing substances released only in deep sleep). Kate’s protracted stubbornness frustrated me and my sisters to the point where we began to take pictures of her sleeping–eyes closed and, on the most incriminating occasions, mouth open. Confronted with the evidence, an unhesitant Kate admitted to closing her eyes most nights, but only in deep concentration.