Tuesday, June 24

A New Job, and Other Things I Might Not Have Told You Yet

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Taken from my deck - a sign of God's promises
I am now officially a part-time employee at Ben Trogdon Architects.  The other part of the time (in which I am not sleeping, cooking, studying for architecture exams, enjoying the Summer in Seattle (!) or other non-work activities) for now, I'll continue working remotely for LGA Studios.  Yay!!  I have a local job!!  And yes, there is a Ben I communicate with at LGA Studios as well as my new boss Ben, and so Bens are continuous and ubiquitous.

If I had reported on my job search as it unfolded, there would have been a small school of red herrings and crying wolves.  In my head, the whole thing was quite the page-turning drama, but really, it was probably just your average job search process.

During the more stressful moments, God always sent just the right sign of his care.  There was the day I had two interviews and class.  While working at a coffeeshop between appointments, the baristas circulated with large slices of free chocolate cake (this scientific study shows why choosing to eat the cake was inevitable).  During another day of online job hunting, the cat was extra full of purrs and cuddles.

Also taken from my apartment.  Jealousy permitted.
Right now, I'm quite optimistic about liking, learning from and being good at this job.  Some of the lifestyle changes involved are quite appealing - like biking to work from Montlake to Fremont and seeing more people.  I admire Ben Trogdon's work.  When he and the other employee wanted to order several intriguing lunch dishes to share on my first day and then went back to the office to calmly focus on all the details to complete a set of building plans, I knew that we would hit it off. 

Out of curiosity to see where it leads, I picked up another project with a local architect to do on my computer, and also spent a pleasant day working at her kitchen table with a third architect in what she described as a "pop-up office".  Saying yes to this additional opportunity has made things a little crazy, but for a time I can accept that :) 

Does posting this make me a crazy cat lady?
What else has occurred lately?  Well, there have been lovely serendiptious chances to either help or be helped by other people.  One old friend was my bicycle commuting Sensei.  A new friend, a seasoned widow, listened to all the confusing, sad, meaningful, frustrating or pathetic things in my head and said things like "Oh, yes - I remember that.  That lasted three years for me," or "That never goes away, but soon it will start getting better.  You are doing well."  What a relief to hear those words!

One day a friend in Texas needed advice on hosting her brother-in-law with cancer, and another day I spent at the hospital with a family whose fifteen-year old was having his first round of chemo.  I feel like I will never be able to repay all the help I have received while Ben was sick, but perhaps I can repay some.

Got a little carried away with foaming my milk
It's taking some time for my life in Seattle to unfold.  I could explain this by saying that this is often just the nature of the way God works.  Also, I could explain this by saying that for much of the last year, productively and progression were at odds with relationships.  In other words, all of my relationships here in Seattle revolved around having fun and hanging out, and didn't involve many shared goals.  More and more, relationships are crucial to me, so for a time I mostly sacrificed productivity in favor of spending time with people.  Also, I traveled to Colorado and Houston to spend time with people, instead of "getting stuff done".

But, I want to be more than just someone who hangs out and has fun with family and friends. Therefore, I've been praying for people to share my journey - for relationships and progress to come into alignment, whether that means my passions evolving or new relationships or the sweet discovery of shared goals with people who I already know.  It seems like that is beginning to happen, and I am so thankful.  I'm also getting better at being alone - both physically for a time and ultimately before God. 

Friday, May 30

On May 9th, an anniversary

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On the morning of the anniversary of the day Ben went to Heaven, things started out normally enough for me.  This wasn't too surprising, being as dates in and of themselves don't hold a lot of significance for me (Ben was the one who remembered our wedding anniversary) and also because I'm pretty good at emotional detachment; though less so lately.  Anecdote: a friend recommended that I watch "Star Trek: Generations" - the movie - because Data gets an Emotion Chip and maybe I'd be able to relate.  I did and I laughed and felt very emotionally intelligent compared to an android.  This is why Geeks are good friends.

Anyway, in the afternoon I got a message from dear friend Chanda, sending she and her husband Chris's love and prayers.  I was touched and started to reply, thinking that in addition to her natural empathetic nature she could relate because a couple of years ago she had a difficult miscarriage.  And in a flash, I had a vision of Ben holding Chanda and Chris's baby.  Of Ben rocking the baby, telling the baby about its parents, waiting for us to come and meet them.  And then of the several friend's babies who never experienced life out of the womb, and how Ben wanted to be a father and that it would be just like him to treasure our friend's children until they met.**  All of this I wanted to write back to Chanda, but I was crying too hard (she heard from me later that day).  It was kind of a relief, and meaningful in that moment.

That night, my roommate and I watched "Up".  Since she'd never seen that movie before.  According to a couple of family members, this was ill-advised timing. 
But for me, it was actually the perfect way to celebrate Ben's life! 

In "Up," Ellie has the spirit of adventure and longs to travel and explore!  This was just like Ben.  He wanted to get a jeep and drive to the ghost towns in the Colorado mountains.  He wanted to buy a cow and butcher it himself.  He wanted to go around the world, helping missionaries with their computers.  But also like Ellie, because of the difficulties of life his plans were thwarted.  However, it's revealed at the end of the movie that she was satisfied with the adventures of her life - they were just different than she planned.  Ben also had all sorts of adventures he wouldn't have chosen, from canoeing around trees and a dead pig in a river in Texas (my fault), to encouraging and advising people around the world with the platform cancer gave him and the purpose and joy God gave him.  And even better than in "Up" Ben's life in this sad world is over, but his real life is just beginning.

** This mental flash doesn't express any specific theological belief in "the age we actually are in Heaven," or even in "what Ben is doing right now (if time even has the same meaning?)"  These are interesting topics to discuss, but I see this image as simply a beautiful possibility.

Sunday, March 16

Fish Intestines and making engineers happy: In India, Days 8 & 9

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The easy end of surveying
While working, I make friends with the heat source
On Monday, it was my turn to lead the devotion.  Up until this point I had been emotionally stable, but oh the tears that morning!  Things went pretty well through the Bible study on Psalm 139 (with focus on story, intimacy and fear of the Lord), but once I got into my testimony and everyone on the team was listening so well, I was really honest and it all came pouring out! 

We were fairly productive on Monday -but before we get into that, let me tell you first that we spent that afternoon hiding in our bedroom.  I'll keep the reason why vague: foreigners at Children's Homes can be suspicious, and an inspection was scheduled.  During that time, Alyssa and I did got some work done, but let's be honest: there were also antics and silliness.  On top of that, there was an incident that was quite literally a "bedroom farce".  Matthew was standing at the door to talk to us for a minute, then stepped inside when he heard a car coming, and was caught!  In India, men do NOT go into ladies bedrooms.
this photo was taken after 5 hours straight in our room...
The process of kitchen inventory-ing
The site of the future Kitchen & Dining Hall!
Monday morning through Tuesday evening Alyssa and I were everywhere.  We inventoried the current kitchen equipment and recorded the cooking processes.  We gathered details about the place the building would sit and did a study of the sun's angles there.  With Madi's help, we interviewed one of the kitchen staff and later received his suggested floor plan for the future kitchen.  We imagined various elements of the building's program as a list and then a puzzle, put them together, questioned and tweaked them, and showed them to other team members, who inevitably brought up elements of local construction or structural limitations that we were not expecting.  Those engineers!  And then we started again. 

Tuesday night, with all our notes spread out and all limitations firmly in mind, we had a tentative plan for how the building could come together, just in time to start getting ready for our final presentation.
Playing around with table arrangements
This is us working hard
What else happened those days?  While Alyssa and I were out and about, we joined up with the rest of the team and I held the surveying rod for awhile.  We also met some more of the staff!  There was a nurse from Miroram, and the friendly schoolteachers from the local village, who invited Alyssa and I into their staff room during recess.  With maps and calendars, we had some points of discussion.  A couple of them even helped me with a little Hindi lettering.  After feeling some of the language and cultural barriers over the last couple days, it was exilerating to make this kind of connection!
the sentence game
Beautiful teachers from Himachal Pradesh
We even played a little.  My favorite was writing a sentence on the classroom board, which the kids tried to guess before I was finished - like a game show! So of course we put twists into the sentences ;)  Mine was "The monkeys are naughty, but God loves them anyway."
The bubbles Alyssa brought were a hit!
Finally, I want to mention our honorary teammate from Child of Mine: Chelsea!  Because of Chelsea, I had to eat fish intestines.  Her birthday was celebrated during our visit, and she loves fish!  So there was fried fish, fish soup, and fish intestines.  I tried everything, like a good little missionary.  The fried fish was delicious, the fish soup was fine and the intestines... bitter!  But not bad, really.  Another couple of different dishes I happily ingested were pumpkin leaf soup and tomato chutney.

Chelsea and the girls
But back to Chelsea and Child of Mine: they are Canadian group who sponsors Shanti Niketan and also sends large construction teams.  In fact, they will likely build part of the buildings we design.  Chelsea is their ambassador and is doing a sort of "career counseling" with the older students and generally trying to implement programs to help them prepare for moving into the world.  She's a fantastic woman who is loved by everyone at the home, took us under her wing, and held her own during our "dessert making" discussions. 
Matthew, Ivy and Shawn
Tuesday night, Matthew's wife and toddler son (Ivy and Shawn) also arrived.  And it was an event.  People had been asking all week about Shawn, and when their car pulled up there was basically paparazzi and general rejoicing.  Shawn enjoyed his celebrity status all week with the other children in the home.  This missionary family really has a wonderful relationship with Shanti Niketan.
Everybody loves Shawn

Sunday, March 9

Subathu Variety Show: In India, Days 6 & 7

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Circulation sketches for the Kitchen and Dining Hall
On Saturday morning, we found out that the ministry leaders (Hmuni and Suvarna) had the time to meet with us that afternoon.  We started scrambling!  An architect's method of communication is largely visual, so I created sketches to convey some initial ideas and options.  We had the basic parameters of the project in mind, but still had lots of questions about how the building would be used.  I made sure that all these were written down, since our hosts would be busy with meetings during most of our visit and this may be our one chance to really talk.

Meeting with the ministry leaders
During the difficult situation they were facing (see previous entry), we weren't sure if discussing future plans would be stressful.  To our relief, planning with us proved to be both a distraction and encouragement.  Shanti Niketan has been hoping for more and better housing for their boys and a place where everyone can eat together for years.  Currently, the staff eats in Hmuni and Suvarna's house, the boys eat at the school and the girls eat in their dormitory.  Food and tea is carried across campus, the kitchens are small and everyone is crowded.

We also discussed putting staff housing below the dining hall, which would be accessed from downhill.  Some of the current staff housing is in really sad shape.  The Shanti Niketan campus used to be a leprosy colony, and mud buildings like some of the staff housing are relics from that time.  This would later prove to be a problematic idea, because the spot this building will stand doesn't get much direct sunlight from the East (the direction the windows would face).  And, like everything there, the building will heated only by the sun.  This was a different sort of design constraint than I am used to, and a bit of a reality check.
Janelle (more often behind the camera)

Now, dry shampoo had only taken me so far and it was time for a shower!  My Indian teammate Madi was extremely patient with us Westerners and explained the "Indian shower" ways of filling a big bucket from the tap, and using a small one to pour water over yourself, then cleaning up with a squeegee at the end... since the whole bathroom floor gets wet. 
The shower end of the bathroom

Overall, it was kinda nice, and really saved a lot of water!  But, since there was a high window open, making the room was about 40 degrees F.  So the experience was a roller coaster of the lovely sensations of hot water, lingering for a minute or so as I frantically washed and then ebbing away as the chilled air cut through and made goosebumps. 

Everybody adores this baby
Just hanging out
It was casually mentioned on Saturday night that Shanti Niketan would like us to be responsible for some of their Sunday morning program, doing... whatever!  We ended up doing everything from leading "action songs" (Peace like a river) to Madi's testimony, me story-telling through the book of Jonah, Alyssa greeting the children with verses from a Pauline epistle and Matthew talking about some strange difficulties he's encountered lately - comparable to some of Shanti's difficulties.  But most enjoyable was listening to the student-led worship in both Hindi and English - these kids are enthusiastic singers and musicians! 
Cows in the marketplace

The day was full, with helping in the kitchen, playing with the kids, attending afternoon church in the nearby village of Subathu. and walking around the Subathu market.  A clean, charming military depot - but in the streets there were still cows - which politely begged for peanuts - and monkeys, which rambunctiously raided the trash. 

Madi shows off the salad we made
That evening, it was my privilege to hear a little of the ministry leader's history.  Hmuni is from Mizoram, a small state in NE India.  An English Christian missionary came to Mizoram in the 1800s, and now much of the state identifies as Christian, including Hmuni's family!  She helped found Shanti Niketan as a missionary endeavour in Himachal Pradesh, a mostly Hindu state.  Much of the staff also comes from her church in Mizoram, but her husband Suvarna is from Nepal and was the first (but not only) person in his family to believe in Jesus' resurrection.  Praise God!


Thursday, March 6

Strange Beginnings: In India, Days 4 & 5

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Opening the project meeting at the EMI office in Delhi
Entering the EMI office the next morning, I met our final team member: Madhulika (who goes by Madi).  She's an architect about my age, and was a pleasure spend time with.  Such a different story than mine. She's lived in India all her life, was raised in a Hindu family, and came to know Christ a couple of years ago.  But she's also spoken English as her primary language for the last twelve years AND has read all of Harry Potter, so it was easy to relate to her.   

As our official opening meeting began, we received surprising and disturbing news from Matthew our team leader concerning the children's home that we were about work with.*  It's copied here from an email he sent out later:

"On 29-Jan the Home received a notice from the government that all the children should be returned to their own homes, or if not then surrendered to a government children’s home in the district, followed by the closure of the Home by 15-February. This notice... came two days before their 25th Jubilee celebration...

Starting in Delhi, we went North to Himachal Pradesh
The purpose of this decision and the Act is to make children’s homes a last resort of the immediate/extended family of the child in question, and comes in reaction to cases of major child abuses that were discovered in various children’s homes across India over the last 10+ years."

Yikes!  Should we even go there?  We began planning and praying, while yet waiting for a phone call to tell us if the project was still on.  Whew - it was!  From office, we went to the train station where, based on Indian train lore, I fully expected a two-hour delay and cars brimming over with humanity and chickens.  Nope.  The train was exactly on time, and the seats were super comfy and pre-assigned.  Admittedly, this was first class.  We played Dutch Blitz, ate Indian snackfood and talked about CS Lewis.

Scheming in the rain?
On the way, I had a chance to talk with Matthew.  He's the director of the India EMI office, and an interesting and intelligent person.  You all know that I love to ask random questions, and Matthew answered all of mine - eloquently!  You may have noticed though that on this trip he was literally the "odd man out".  Most EMI teams are predominately male - on my first trip, I was the only female professional, though my leader's wife also came along.  This team was flipped.  Matthew handled the situation well, though I think he was baffled by the amount
of time we spent discussing how to make various desserts.

The amazing Hmuni and Suvarna!
By the time we arrived, after four hours on the train and an hour and a half in a van (where the darkness kept us from being able to discern the edge of the precipice as we wound up mountain roads), it was midnight.  That didn't stop the ministry leaders at the children's home* from greeting us with food and tea.  Throughout our visit, their innate hospitality was abundant, and the love of God and faith in His providence to them was clear.

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The next day we toured the premises in rain that would linger, but of course as a Seattlite I took these conditions in stride :)

The current "small boys" dormitory - around 100 years old!
EMI has an ongoing relationship with this Christian children's home* in Himachal Pradesh.  Among other things, our team's goals were to create conceptual drawings for their new dining hall/kitchen building and to make the existing conceptual drawings for a new boy's dormitory and ready for construction.  Specifically, I was in charge of the first task.  And it became clear that afternoon when I called our first meeting to order that I was the most "type A" personality on this team.  Despite the uncertain and sensitive situation, I wanted to give these amazing people our best efforts.

Work is always better with tea
About four times a day, we encountered a classy ritual: tea time.  "Chai" in India is black tea with cardamom, boiled with milk.  Ya'll know I love tea.  I especially loved it in India: because it was served in elegant teacups.  Because it punctuated the day with awareness of the people around me.  Because it was cold, and it felt really good to drink something warm.  And because there was no coffee, and over the past three nights I had gotten a total of 15 hours of sleep.  Seriously, friends, praise God that I stayed healthy and functioning through this trip, because the sleep deprivation would only continue. 

*The children's home is unnamed in this blog post, because of some the details I've included about their situation.  They have a desire to cooperate with the government, but are trying to figure out the logistics to do so.



White Pines at the edge of the Himlayas