When I think of summer, I think of St. Louis. It’s true of winter, too….I guess because we don’t have “real seasons” in that way in California. I think of the smell of sunscreen, the overwhelming humidity and the pounding heat, the lush green trees and the unexpected thunderstorms. Here in Houston, I find it’s similar – that feeling of summery-ness. I put on a shirt today that I’ve had since high school, since those days of cornerstone and missions trips with youth group and it made me so nostalgic. For swimming in rivers and lounging on beaches, days spent doing nothing but waiting for the cool of evening, splashing in the random downpours and picnics in the park.

It’s funny, how things like that don’t seem the same to me if the space looks different. We went to a beach here in Houston that was decidedly not a Pacific Beach. It had something about it that i can’t quite pinpoint – the sand was different, the grass was different, the light was different – that made it look definitively like a midwest beach (like the beaches on the great lakes) or even an East Coast beach, but absolutely not a West Coast beach. Suddenly, it was nostalgic, and I could enjoy it more than I can enjoy California beaches. It’s a flaw in my system, I think.

At any rate, summer is here, and it is also in San Jose. Whether the nostalgia is there or not. So when I get back, I’m gonna get in that summer – I’m going to splash in it and bike in it and run in it and get that summer all over me. And it’ll be some good times :0).










Everything I love to do is about beauty. I’m pretty sure that that’s something us humans inherited from our Father. I’ll bet He looked at all this emptiness and said to  Himself “lets see what beauty we can make out of this” (He did that, sometimes – referring to himself as “we”). I don’t have a whole lot of faith, and a good portion of the time I have a hard time getting out of bed and facing the world, with all it’s endless questions and complications and uncontrollable situations. But every once in a while I have this overwhelming, *absolutely overwhelming* desire to make something beautiful. And then I think, I must be His daughter after all.

you make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of dust.
you make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.
you make me new, you are making me new.



What I loved most about “the old place” were the windows. Huge windows which opened up unto views of rooftops and trees. Our street is lined with the big, leafy trees and adorable freshly-painted stucco houses built in the 20s. Every single one has some sort of gorgeous flowers growing in the front – a fluffy white arch of jasmine over the entry, a beautiful pink tulip tree bending under the weight of it’s enormous blooms, or even a carpet of wild lemon grass with its simple happy yellow. I loved our street. This particular day was the last day I could rightfully call it “our street”, as we tossed the last remaining dregs of “random uncategorizable stuff” into unlabeled boxes. The winter (otherwise known as “lots of rain” in these parts) had finally arrived and it was my favorite kind of weather: miserable and unpredictable and heavy. Of course, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”  was blasting.

I was standing there, looking out the window as the clouds shifted to cover an unexpected ray of sun and it once again began to pour, and I had one of those poignant moments. You know what I’m talking about. The kind of moment you think “man, I really have to write this down” (if you happen to be of the writing sort) but you don’t know what to say about it.  So I was looking out the window, and of course the song “time” started to play. The one about how life goes so fast, and we’re all just sleeping and walking when we should be running like hell. And then, icing on the cake, Sean came up to me and hugged me, and we were both just standing there looking out the window. For the grand finale, the song reached its crescendo: it started to hail, I started to cry.

I was just thinking that the life Seany and I are making….well, it’s not perfect, but its a pretty good start. It’s that combination of recognizing that things, for that moment, for you, are really quite good, and the terror that one day it might NOT be good and it would be too late to change anything. I’ve lived with this fear for as long as I can remember – the fear of the roads untraveled, the races un-run, the mistakes made and the ones that weren’t, the overwhelming amount of what-ifs and what-thens.  I live my life half asleep because I can’t bear it, and then I have these moments of being completely alert and awake and thinking of all the time I’ve wasted. But what was crazy about this particular moment, was that I didn’t think I had wasted a whole lot of it. I thought “by the grace of God, we’ve done alright so far. I have no regrets. ”

And so, we moved, and life goes on. I like moving, because of the poignant moments and the fresh starts. Hopefully, it will just keep getting better, and maybe one day I can be fully awake all the time, and it won’t be so terrifying and overwhelming. Maybe I’ll figure out how to balance it.

rainy rooftops

Tri-ing Again

I’ve never thought of myself as an athlete. I’ve always been a slow, somewhat sluggish, full-figured sort of gal. But I started doing triathlons a couple years ago and I suppose that means I’m an athlete now, no matter how slow, sluggish, or full-figured I may be. I’m not one of those triathletes who eats healthy and is all fit and fast and never gets out of breath. I’m one of those barely-walk-across-the-finish-line-but-feel-triumphant-anyway sorts of triathletes. And I love it.

I stopped biking and swimming right after the last tri in Sept, while continuing an occasional running schedule (in fact, getting worse and worse with each occasional run). We’ve been to Hawaii, Ethiopia, St. Louis, Chicago, San Diego and Las Vegas. Needless to say, I’ve fallen a little behind with my training, and I’ve eaten everything I could get my grubby little hands on. And can I tell you, it is more than a little depressing when you go from being able to run 5 miles to being able to barely run two. Ok, I said I was an athlete, not that I was a good one.

The the fun thing about triathlons is that you work, and sweat and strive and succeed… and then the tri happens and it’s like hitting the restart button. And if you try harder, maybe you can do better next time. The next tri I’m planning on is the Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon at the end of May. It’s a great course that Sean and I have done before, and I am aiming to kick my previous time’s ass. Which shouldn’t be too hard, considering I came in dead last in my age group.

Well, this week was a good start to my journey to the next tri – 3 runs, a bike and a swim. The runs were short intervals : 2min walk (4mph)/2min run( 6mph). Times 5. Which is a lot worse than I used to do, but you gotta (re)start somewhere. For the bike (my first time in the saddle since October!) Sean and I biked to his work – a nice, slow 25 miles in the frosty morning. Then I topped the week off with an easy 30 laps in the pool, just trying to get the feel for it again.

Feels pretty good to be moving again. AND!

I’ve been having the worst lower back and hip pain. For weeks. Which didn’t help my running progress at all. I would have to take pain killers just to make it through my days of sitting at the computer (sitting with a bum hip = no fun) and my short runs. And sleeping? Forget about it. And then – a miracle.

There I was, stretching my hip after a long shower, trying to get the ache to mellow out and I hear a quiet “click” as something pops into place in my hip. Now, I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but I think it’s healed! NO PAIN for the first time in two months! I feel reborn.


Now I’m ready :0) Lemme at that treadmill!

Tuesday was a strange day. First thing in the morning, I took some portraits of our lovely hosts. Sean and I had breakfast with the team and said our goodbyes. As usual (funny how in a matter of a week a routine can become “the usual” ) the O.R. team headed to the hospital and the school assessment team went over to the school. Sean and I were left alone with Bete (our hosts’ son and a Chicago resident who was visiting and working there for a couple weeks) and David (who was also visiting, and was a vet connected with the farm in Chacha, though what specifically he was working on, I am not entirely sure). After much fumbling about, the four of us headed out in the direction of Addis. On the way, we stopped by the new high school that Project Mercy is working on. I swear, they have more projects up their sleeve than I can count. On the drive Bete recounted his memories of escaping Ethiopia with his family (I believe he was 14 at the time) during the communist take-over in the 70s. It was a fascinating story, and we passed the time quite amicably between listening, chatting, and watching the fields and hills pass by the window.

By the time we reached Addis it was well after noon, so we decided to stop for lunch. Bete treated us to an amazing all-you-can-eat buffet at the Hilton hotel. After lunch we rolled out of town in the direction of Chacha. The scenery began to change slightly – it flattened out, and the landscape became more rocky. We started seeing stone tukhuls replace the branch-and-hay structures we saw in the Yetebon.  It was a beautiful, peaceful drive. We arrived at the ranch in Chacha sometime around 4 or 5 pm. It is a vast swath of land which, as they aptly told us, looks remarkably like Montana. There they had several large barns and many acres of grazing fields. Oh, and of course, the cows :0) I couldn’t stop myself photographing the beautiful, still, quiet landscape and the sturdy, healthy stoic cows. I got some shots of the new calves, the result of inter-breeding between American Jersey cows and local Ethiopian cows. The calves were skittish and scared, but I managed a few decent shots. The female moms were a lot easier to photograph, and I had just a jolly time frolicking around with them and doin what I do.

We had only been there for maybe 2 hours when it was time for us to leave. I was anxious about the drive back to Addis as we were always warned not to go anywhere at night, but they assured us this particular road was safe and well-traveled. The driver (Hilay, I believe) who drove us down there also drove us back to Addis. Only this time, we weren’t in a Jeep, but were actually in a large box truck. I loved the huge front window and being so high up – we had a peaceful but surreal drive. Only large towns are lit up, and of course there are no streetlights. Hilay maneuvered expertly around random people and animals who darted unnoticed into the road, and I tried my best not to freak out. Something about being just the three of us – Sean and I and a nice young man we had only just met, in a box truck careening around the Ethiopian countryside at night – is an image that will stay with me, I think, for many years.  There is rarely a feeing of isolation in the States – between fairly consistent population, cell phone coverage, rest stops, etc, it is uncommon to find yourself so utterly on your own.

I’m not entirely sure when we got back to Addis – it probably wasn’t too late, but we were completely exhausted. Marta and Deme’s beautiful home had long go been transformed into the Addis Project Mercy headquarters, and there are many rooms available for guests to stay at. We were just climbing into bed when a knock on our door indicated that we had a phone call. Marta was calling from the Project Mercy compound, asking how we were, and insisting that the staff at the house make us dinner. We didn’t have much heart to object, and were soon treated to a delicious pasta dinner. Being served in a stately dining room in Addis Ababa, which, we were told, was likely part of the servant’s quarters, we were having a decidedly surreal experience.

Marta and Deme’s house is a whole ‘nother story – it is enormous and someone stern, speaking of the high post that Marta used to have in the government. Yet it is sparsely and functionally furnished in a style that, for the most part, is purely utilitarian. You can tell that it is now a place of business and that their hearts are far away in the Yetebon.

After dinner we fell asleep, and that’s about all I remember.

Well, on Sunday it had been decided, rather suddenly, that on Tuesday I should go to Chacha to photograph cows.

Let me back up a minute. I’m not going to get into all of the details, because there isn’t a whole lot that I understand or that has really been figured out, and it stressed me out to think about it. BUT, suffice it to say that somehow it came about that I would be working with another team member on a long-term project: making a photobook about Project Mercy. Or…well, something like that. One of the myriad of off-shoot projects that Project Mercy is working on is a ranch in a town called Chacha. Chacha is a farming community on the other side of Addis Ababa – about a 4-5 hour drive from Project Mercy. There, they are attempting to breed hardy, disease-resistant Ethiopian cows with American cows. American cows (Jersey cows, I think) produce almost 10x as much milk as these Ethiopian cows. The goal here is to produce a hearty cow which is both resistant to Ethiopia diseases and produces more milk.  If successful, this project could help many families improve their nutritional intake.

At any ate, this would be a great thing for me to photograph for any potential book (which may or may not happen…?) so it was decided that I would go with Sean, Bete and David to Chacha on Tuesday. What this meant, then, is that Monday would be my last day to capture the goings-on with our group and Project Mercy. So I spent the first part of the day at the school clinic (in a new location for the new week) and the latter portion driving around with Marta and Deme, taking pictures of what they felt were significant parts of Project Mercy.

It was great to spend some time with Marta and Deme and hear their stories. The end of the day was sad for me as I was thinking about leaving. Leaving this beautiful place, and the new connections I had made – leaving the new way I felt about my place in the world. But all good things must end, and I was (and am) pretty sure that I will come back to Project Mercy.


I’m trying something new with the images – click on the first image to see the gallery.




Ethiopia 8 – The Hike

Sunday was our only scheduled day off. A large portion of the group wanted to do a highly recommended hike into the mountains to see the countryside. Some wanted to go to church, others to a nearby town to visit with old friends from past trips. The hiking contingent was divided into three groups: The crazy early-risers who wanted to leave for the hike by 6am and be back in time to shower and go to church by 10:30. Others wanted to leave at 7:30 for a shorter route and also go to church. The third and largest group (which I joined) decided to leave at 9, take it easy, stop often for photos and not worry about making it to church. The hike was billed as gorgeous but difficult, with a steep uphill climb for about 2.5 miles, on rocky and somewhat treacherous terrain. The end goal was a small waterfall at the top of the mountain.


I would say it was billed pretty accurately. We started out on the same dirt road we traveled every day – the one by the hospital. We cheated and took a truck to the hospital to cut off a familiar stretch of road and get started with the interesting bits. It meandered past quiet tukhuls and farmers out tending to their animals. Pretty quickly we veered off of the road unto a path which was rocky and slippery and uneven. It’s hard to describe in words what this place is like, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.







These two lovely ladies were among the first of the mountain kids to join our hiking group.


Soon there were a couple of little boys as well. As we huffed and puffed, paused, snacked, drank, took photos, these little kids bounded up the mountain barefoot, often carrying heavy loads of sticks. They sure put us in our place. Once we reached higher ground on one side of a canyon, we could hear yells of “hellohellohello!”, but we couldn’t see the kids across the canyon.

Once we made it to the falls, we just chilled and relaxed for about half an hour, surrounded by a large quantity of local kids. As always, the way back was much quicker and easier.


It was an  exhausting and treacherous  hike, especially at altitude, but it was well worth it.