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We had an ice storm last Wednesday, rare in our temperate western Oregon climate. I sat on the couch in our living room watching as freezing rain coated the trees outside, and icicles grew on the power lines. I heard the bang and saw a flash of light as a transformer exploded somewhere in the neighborhood. Thankfully our power stayed on.

Later that evening, as I continued my couch vigil, watching the storm outside, I said a silent prayer that our electricity would stay on through the night. We don’t have a fireplace, or gas, so electricity is our only heat source. At the moment that I finished my silent prayer – the lights went out. My heart sank.

Spencer gathered flashlights, we put on extra layers of clothing, and I told the kids we would all get to sleep together in our king-size bed that night. They’ve both been finding their way into our bed by the middle each night anyway, so it wasn’t too out of the ordinary. It was a little fun, a bit like camping on a cold night.

Waking up in the morning with no heat and light was not very inviting. I was thankful that my parents, a few miles away, still had electricity, so I packed our bags and we headed to their house to stay as many days as needed.

We were lucky. My parents’ next door neighbor, and all down the street to the north, lost power and didn’t get it back until yesterday. The electricity at our house ended up coming back on Thursday afternoon. At Marie’s dentist appointment Friday, the hygienist told me she was without power at home, that it was an inconvenience but she didn’t mind too much. She was looking forward to barbecuing a steak that night.

My husband, who maintains parks in Springfield, has extra work now with all the downed trees everywhere. Ice storms are hard on trees. It made me think of the poem Birches, by Robert Frost:

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
(You can read the poem in its entirety here.)

The storm made me realize how fragile we are against the forces of nature. But oh, the beauty!

I may not know much about how the world works or why things happen the way they do. But I do know this: Life is full of fragile beauty. And I am here to be a witness.

“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” – Mary Oliver

 

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It’s been almost ten years and still I can’t forget. Even on vacation at a gated golf course community in the Palm Desert, I have Africa on my mind.

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I feel her in the unrelenting beating sun. I smell her in diesel fumes, a freshly cut mango. Memories return: Guard holds an AK-47 to his chest, tells me, “Why don’t you go back home obroni.” Beggarwoman breastfeeds twins. Leper holds misshapen hand outstretched, seeking coins of mercy.

I remember: My colleague at the newspaper walks me to the station, sees there is no tro-tro for me to ride home tonight. “Tonight we will have to suffer,” she says.

I shake my head. No. I will not suffer the African way, not tonight. I have white skin and a first-world passport. “I have money for a taxi.”

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

She looks surprised, then hails one and negotiates a fair price for me, not the obroni price I usually pay. I ride safely back to the house I’m renting with other American students, the big house with running water, a security guard and wall to keep Africans out.

Africa, I remember you, the thin space where the very air is electrified with the presence of God and I barely even notice. I see the tin shacks and open sewers, the child beggars surrounding me. I still visit you in my dreams, always searching, never satisfied.

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

My husband and I decided to kick off 2014 with a hike to the top of Spencer’s Butte. Even though he carried the tot, he was still quite a bit faster than me. It’s just because he has really long legs though, right? Happy New Year to all, may your year be filled with peace and joy.

Glorious sun! A rare sight in the Oregon winter.

Glorious sun! A rare sight in the Oregon winter.

 

 

Above the fog and looking out towards the Three Sisters.

Above the fog and looking out towards the Three Sisters.

 

 

I'm being adventurous and standing on top of a boulder.

I’m being adventurous and standing on top of a boulder.

 

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Inspired by the Up Series, here’s a brief synopsis of my life in seven year increments.

What was I doing at age 7?

Current Occupation: First grade student

Career goal: Writer

Sports: Horseback riding, soccer

Favorite color: Hot pink

Celebrity crush: Elvis Presley

The year I traveled to: Disneyland

Best Friend: Na’ alei

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At age 14, here I am in front of my middle school.

Current occupation: 8th Grade Student

Career goal: Movie star

Sports: Figure skating

Favorite color: Blue

Celebrity crush: Ben Affleck

The year I traveled to: Victoria, BC (Yes? I think…)

Best Friend: Jean

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At age 21 (though technically I was 20 when this photo was taken, but this is the photo I found, so here you go)

Current occupation: University of Oregon student; Eugene Weekly intern

Career goal: Magazine editor

Sports: Rock climbing at the rec center

Favorite color: Blue

Celebrity crush: Well I wouldn’t call it a crush but I have a strong literary admiration for T. S. Eliot.

The year I traveled to: NYC, where I got engaged.

Best Friend: Spencer

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And here we are at age 28, which as you can see, is the year that my beautiful daughter Marie Joy was born….

Current occupation: Marketing Assistant at Westside Christian High School; substitute teacher

Career goal: Elementary school teacher; young adult novelist

Sports: Walking during my lunch break.

Favorite color: Still blue. I think it’s time to make a change.

Celebrity crush: Don Miller (again it’s really more of a literary thing…)

The year I traveled to: The hospital to give birth.

Best Friend: Spencer