Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dear Katie....

Dear Katie,

With the help of my neighbor girl, Morgan, I finally opened up the suitcases that I took to China. It was over a month that they sat occupying a cozy corner of my house waiting to be opened and explored and tucking things away.

The truth is, I could not bring myself to open them up...emotionally or physically. But the time had come that I needed to take care of that chore. It was painful to open them up, to see the clothes that I never wore, to see that all the gifts I had put together...power point, maple syrup, seeds, an album of photos from my photography students that I painstakingly put together were gone. They had been handed off to Kimberly as if I were just handing her a pencil or a tissue.

My journal had three pages of entries...all had stopped when I stopped. There were folders of Dr. reports and hospital paraphernalia...all in Chinese. I found the two empty soda pop cans. I remember you laughingly put them in my suitcase as my only souvenir. I was wrong though, because I found my jade bracelet in the small case, the one you gave me, remember? It made me cry as if we were back in the hospital. You bought it for me so I would have one treasure to take home with me. I will cherish it always.

There were also pencils and curlers (I still use them for my bangs!), small shampoos and lotions...all untouched.

Deep in the bottom of the large suitcase, I found a card addressed to me. It was unopened. It had a giant "L" on the front. It was a letter from you with inspirational thoughts and challenges, and, even though you also missed your China trip, you felt lucky that we spent this time together.

I also found a beautiful cache of postcards you purchased for me from the trip. Thank you for those.

It was fun to find our black-market videos, you know, the ones I watched at night over and over and over...

I found all the notes you left when I fell asleep late at night. You laid out the movie for the night, knowing I would wake up at midnight. When I awoke in the dark, in the lonely place that I found myself, there were your notes to cheer me through the night.

Katie, your grace and sweetness will always be treasured. You never complained, you worked endlessly with your company to get me home, and you brought me good coffee every day.

Maybe we can both try the trip again, and actually see what we both missed.

From the depths of my heart, Katie, I thank you.

Here is a picture of Katie before everything happened.
Note to readers: It was very cold that morning in Beijing
so we were all dressed in layers, Katie is really very
little in size!! (Aren't you glad I added that, Katie??)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Little Orphant Annie's come to my house to stay..."

Being a born Hoosier, I grew up with the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley. My dad knew so many of the poems and the ones he didn't know he would read to us from his poetry books. I learned them by absorption, not by anyone making me learn them. I know Little Orphant Annie, The Raggedy Man, The Fishing Hole...and on and on. There is not one Halloween show that I do in the fall for children (and sometimes adults) that I do not recite Little Orphant Annie.

I have spent some time in the Riley home in Greenfield, Indiana. I burst into tears when I walked through the doors trying to imagine Mr. Riley living there as a child and then writing about it. Originally Annie was Alice, but the publisher could not read his writing. When the publication came out, it was Little Orphant Annie.  Mr. Riley got ahold of the publisher in N.Y. and they promised to change the name to Alice for the next publication, but it was too late. Little Annie was already in the hearts of the Hoosiers and others who loved his work.

Every Saturday my neighbor girl, Morgan, comes to clean for me. She does exactly what little Annie did. She scrubs, she sweeps, she changes flowers in the vases, she dusts, she cleans closets...well, she does everything. Only this Morgan does it all with her ipod! I am so grateful to have Morgan in my life to keep my house shining and clean until I am able to get it all done myself!

So cheers to my Annie!

Morgan cleaning my house on Saurday!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A new beginning...

Philip left yesterday taking a flight back home to his Island. The house seems very empty without him. He has been my caregiver and friend for four weeks now. I will always thank and appreciate him for all he has done to get me well!!

Now it is back to my own to manage living on my own again. I am so fortunate to have friends and neighbors and family who are really at my beck and call. Karen, my daughter in law, is in charge of bringing groceries, Alia (a great friend and part relative) is doing laundry, Larry (from next door does the yard care), Lee, my neighbor and friend, is coming over for morning coffee and checks in periodically, his daughter, Morgan, sweeps and cleans up for me....

Actually the list goes on and on. Since I am sleeping in my little bed downstairs, I have clean clothes and such in the library for two days. All in all, it appears to be OK. I even walked without the stick today, carried my camera instead as a safety net. This photo is looking up at the crabapple tree in my yard! It has been so beautiful this April!!

The crapapple tree in my front yard!

A star on local cable TV!! OK, a tiny star!!

You all know how much I love living in my small town. It is beautiful this time and year and we all just enjoy sharing dinners, poetry, ping pong nights and recording commercials.

My neighbor and friend across the street is a cartoonist, writer and a crafter of repairing old houses.

He restored mine back to the original a couple of years ago and painted it lavender! He has restored my old weight-driven windows, redone ceilings, fixed old plumbing, lighting, etc.

Anyway, here is a commercial we recorded the night before I left for China. It is fun to watch, enjoy!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Photos from Today's Walk...

Tax Day and Record Highs in my small town....

Today is tax day and in all my confused life, I did not get mine done. I just called my accountant in Fort Wayne. She had been wondering about me. She said she would file an extention and I gave her the information that she needed. She wanted to know why I was late in one word. The was so simple, I just said, "China."

"Enough said," she replied and went on to tell me not to worry, just get them done and in to her.

It is interesting to note that my trip to China was going to add another storytelling program to my list. In my storyteller's mind I was going to call it, The Storyteller's Journey on the Silken Road. Sounds great, yes. Except I never got to the Silken Road. I am not sure what to call this STORY that everyone wants, if you have any great ideas, please share them with me! I also want to thank you all for your good wishes and comments.

Today in Indiana it is spectacular. Warm and sunny and all the spring flowers and early flowering trees in full bloom. I will do a photo shoot later with pictures to tell the stories! The one great thing about walking slowly is that I have to walk alot and not up to speed so I notice everything...from the cracks in the sidewalks to the fallen spring petals. I commented on my walk yesterday that it was like walking through a fairy garden in some places.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

42nd Annual International Night at Trine University

Trine Students Performing at International Night

Last night was the 42nd annual International Night at Trine University, just three blocks away from my lovely old house. I have been involved in International Night for many years and this year was no exception! I had to cancel many storytelling, performing events, but I knew I could handle this one!

I had a small booth with Mengting where she wrote out the names of folks who stopped by in Chinese, while I tended my slide show of China and included a few artifacts from my short journey! I had some money, a wonderful book, leftover tigers and children's toys from Chinese New Year and my passport with the beautiful Visa from China. Folks stopped by to hear my story and most exclaimed over the Visa and were surprised that it was needed to travel to China. Indeed it is needed and cost $200.00!

The entire foyer of the student union building was decked out for the evening with foods from all the cultures, hands on activities and a program to follow at 7:00. I gave the opening address which I wove with my China experience and the earthquake in Haiti. It was followed by a moving video of the Haitian earthquake and Trine's acapella choir.

The rest of the entertainment was of the international students showing their culture through dance and music.

It was a wonderful evening and I was so glad to be able to be a part of it!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Sassafras Walking Stick

Learning to walk properly, quickly, smoothly is my biggest challenge at this point. I try to take four walks per day each one a little further, longer, quicker.

Philip, of course, has been taking my arm, but I decided it was time to take charge of this walk myself (as long as he is still by my side.)

My choices of independence include a regular walker, a four prong aluminum cane or a wooden cane. For some reason all of the above just could not work for me. Then I remembered that years ago while at a conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, I found a wonderful sassafras cane with a rawhide loop at the top for hanging. I immediately bought it and brought it home on the airplane.

I hung it in my kitchen just for the beauty of it. It is tall and crooked and full of character. I took it off the hook in my kitchen and it has now become my constant companion.

I already have heard the rumors and stories or sightings of me and my old cane walking the streets of my town.

Last night as we walked through the cold and mist the only sound was the tapping of my sassafras cane.

So, shall I become the eccentric old woman who lives in the purple house walking by moonlight with her sassafras cane?

Or shall I remain the eccentric storyteller/writer always looking for a good story? Or...both?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The China Trip

The following story appeared in the Herald Republican newspaper in Angola, Indiana on Saturday, April 3. It is my trip summed up in the familiar 750 word style of columnists. Enjoy!

April sunshine fills my living room as I awake from a dreamlike state not knowing where I am or maybe even who I am. Maybe I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle knowing that the world has gone on and I have missed the flavor or the color or the taste of it.

My trip to China…so long awaited, so long planned for, so many stories to collect and bring home became a different sort of story. I boarded the plane with a bag of medications for a low back pain problem. Nothing too serious that I felt could stop me, just enough to know to medicate every few hours to take off the edge.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The flight was long. I read. I did yoga in the back. I watched the monitor in front of my seat of the journey of our flight…across the U.S., through Canada, tipping through the edge of Russia. We landed in Tokyo with a couple of hours to spare and then three more hours to Beijing. Most of the folks wanted to walk off the flight, but I took my place on the floor of the airport to rest.

By the time we reached Beijing, I was not able to keep up with the group in the airport, but there is always the possibility of a good night’s sleep. Our first day was the long tour day…Tiananmen Square, The Summer Palace, the Outdoor Markets, Peking Duck Dinner. Each one deserves its own story. By noon I knew my trip my over. I hired a wheel chair driver for the afternoon that sped me around the Forbidden City continually tucking my scarf around my shoulder and taking my photo against the ancient sites of China.

It was obvious by nightfall that I needed major medical attention. But where to go? What to do? One day in Beijing and I was reduced to a weeping, medicated, disappointed beyond belief American. It took three tries at three different hospitals to admit me. One hospital offered ancient Chinese medication of liniment and heating pads, another forbid me to enter as I was an American, the third was the Beijing United Family Hospital where I was admitted and where I called home for the next eight days. One of the tour guides, Katie, stayed with me, and the rest of the group moved on to Shanghai and to their schools.

The biggest problem now was how to get me back home to the United States. I couldn’t sit through the flight; I would have to come back as a medical patient. It was a combination of my friend Philip in the United States, the tour company, the Embassy in Beijing and Katie. After eight days I was on my way home in a first class pod seat which turned into a bed, my nursemaid Katie and a very nervous pilot who told me ahead of time that I had to make the flight once I began as we could not stop in Outer Mongolia or Russia. Philip and Karen met me in Chicago, a night spent in Chicago and a long ride home to my lavender house with the white picket gardens. The week was amass of MRI’s and X-rays and wheelchairs as by now I could not walk a single step. I had been sent home with this same information from China but most was unreadable in our American hospitals.

The ordeal is over, or mostly I should say. Surgery has taken care of the herniated disc and other problems. I walked into my lovely old house yesterday with the help of a walker and the medications which once filled bushel baskets has been reduced to just a few tablets. My caregiver, Philip, is with me every step of the way, and my humor and zest for life is returning minute by minute.

But before I go, I need you to know a few stories. I could write a book on my experiences in Beijing. I could fill hours of telling you how the Chinese nurses cared for me, how they sat with me at night holding my hand while I wept, how they told me their stories in the English that they knew. I would tell you how I had a guard outside my door each moment that I was in the hospital. And I will tell you that walking on American soil, in all our problems, is my home sweet home.