It has been raining for close to 3 weeks straight now, and I am afraid to look in the mirror because I am fairly certain I am beginning to look like Gollum. I sound like him, given that I caught a head cold. Yesterday morning it was 37 degrees F and wet and I went out for an EMI tradition: morning photo walk. I went because it was my first opportunity to join in the fun since we moved here, but also because I was so desperate to get outside. It probably worsened my congestion a bit, but who cares? Not me. It felt so good to get out in the fresh, albeit damp and chilly air, that I briefly considered doing it again this morning.
Anyway, such cloudy and gloomy skies are rarely good for photography, except when it serves to act as a sort of filter, taking the harsh glare and flatness of full sun off things. Also, fog is pretty cool when it shrouds a place like Manitou Springs. It was just me and Rex (EMI architect and fellow shutterbug) and the pigeons, enjoying the morning while the town slept in.
Garden of the Gods is right on the way home from Manitou, and I could not resist the fog. There was really just a bit too much of it to work well, but if ever there was a time to get a good shot of the rocks with no tourists around, it would be when it's cold and wet and 8:00 a.m.
I am pleased to report that at approximately 9:47 a.m. the sun broke through the clouds. Kevin saw several people stop on the street and stare upward in awe. "Light of the day star! Glory to God on high!"
Colorado, you have used up your quota of cloudy days for the year. Let the good times roll.
Because I (Jenni) am not an official staff member with a specific hourly commitment, my work and preparation for our first project trip is more random, and a whole lot easier to explain. Kevin already gave you an overview of his typical day. I will try to do the same.
My primary responsibility is still to the kids, so I try to be up early enough to get my Bible study and prayer in before making breakfast. We dive into school work by 9:00, but everyone is fairly independent by now so in between monitoring and helping I am able to work on the planning for next school year and sorting out all of Colorado's requirements (a task that might make me gray before July).
At least once a week we go to nearby Garden of the Gods or Ute Valley Park for a post-lunch hike or just to sit on a rock and do some nature journaling and drawing. Unless of course, it has been raining for about three weeks straight, and then we go do things like check out a Dutch bakery or buy cat litter just to get OUT OF THE HOUSE.
In the larger chunks of afternoon free time or in the evenings I try to work on things like getting more comfortable with video editing software and my sound equipment. I need these things to be as close to second-nature as possible so I am more free to think creatively when we get to Kenya. At least that was the plan when I originally drafted this post. Since that time I have relaxed the tutorial cramming mode, knowing that I can't learn everything I want to know in such a short space, so that time would be more wisely invested in reading with the kids and enjoying each others' company (climbing gym, anyone? Archery? A hike in the 40 degrees F and hail?)
If the weather is good I try to get out a few times each week, just in the backyard here, and practice various shooting techniques. Not that the weather has been good. No. But no matter. Tomorrow morning a few of us from the office are headed to Manitou Springs for a little photography practice.
Currently, I am also working with several other EMI staff to develop a strong body of photographic and video work that will be used for marketing and publications. At the moment that means some brainstorming, strategizing, and learning. None of us are highly experienced with video work and I've taken on the responsibility to do the research and get us rolling. In other words, I get on Vimeo and hunt for the best channels to stalk, blogs to learn from, and shooting techniques to employ.
On the more practical side, I have made lists of things my parents can go do with the kids while we are gone and gathered important info they might need in our absence. I made a whole information binder, which is an Organizing Nerd party, if ever there was one. Today we are working to stock the freezer with pre-prepped slow cooker meals for an easy dinner. I'm browsing for video music to download before we go so I don't have to use up the bandwidth and data of the ministry when we are in country. We bought international electrical adapters and a new suitcase that is currently having random items tossed into it in the name of packing early. "Camera - check. Maxi skirts fresh from the dryer, pack those. Flip-flops? Just in case. Instant coffee....yes, probably a good idea."
I did not forget about Photo Fridays, it's just that, well... read yesterday's blog post. That's my story and I am sticking to it.
Meanwhile, after yet another rain storm yesterday the sun came out nicely for golden hour and there were some sweet water droplets on my plants and the light was coming through them in that way that is just irresistible. I have not done any macro photography in a long time so I gave it a shot (really did not mean to make that pun). I don't have a real macro lens, just a set of Kenko extension tubes, but they work nicely. Macro photography is very challenging. The tiniest wind translates to a hurricane at that magnification and you have to be pretty well dialed in on every single setting. It takes great dedication, perfectionism, and patience. I was in short supply on all three. When you see some really great macro work published (not here), take a moment to think respectful thoughts for the photographer. They probably spent hours getting the shot, and the one good one you see probably represents at least 50 that just did not work out.
What I love about photography is that when I shoot a bunch of lousy or just mediocre images, it's still enjoyable and usually whets my appetite to go out and try again another time.
I am not a complainer. Complaining borders on whining and whining is the most obnoxious form of communication ever invented, so I do not take part. I am stating this up front so that you will know that this post is not meant as a complaint. Quite the opposite, I am writing this because the past 10 days were just plain entertaining and I thought you might want to laugh along with me.
First, Joel mentioned a few weeks ago that he often hears scratching in the walls downstairs, something akin to the sound of tiny feet. Having owned rats before (on purpose), this did not really bug me. I like little scurry furries. Seriously, as long as Frederick and Co. stay out of my Cheerios and my sock drawer and don't chew the electrical wiring, we're cool (except there's that hantavirus thing...). Our kitten, however, does not subscribe to this belief system. She's a "take no prisoners" sort of cat, and when she finally realized there was a rodent about, well, it was "game on." She made a lengthy foray into the walls one day in our absence and spent hours upon hours peering into a floor vent. On Tuesday of last week the game went into sudden death. As in, she either killed it or found it dead. With that, I felt confident our mouse problem was over. Hahahaha! Ha. Ha.....
Meanwhile, it started raining last Saturday and did not stop until sometime on Thursday. And by "stop," what I really mean is changed into to hail. Hard. Like hail coming down here all day long until it looked like snow. The interstate had to be closed in sections and the snow plows put to use. There was so much hail that on Friday there were still substantial piles of the stuff all around town and on the highway shoulders. But there was this one point on Wednesday evening when the sky cleared briefly and the sunset was blazing. At Kevin's suggestion I climbed the hill behind our house for a better look. This is where I learned something new about Colorado geology: southern clay has nothing on this mud. It's goopy. It's slick. It smells nasty. There was so much of it caked into the treads of my hiking shoes I could actually skate on thick grass and prickly pears (I'll wait while you picture that). I had to find a very sharp rock and chisel it out. Then I stomped in a bucket of water for several minutes. That took care of roughly half of the mud, but I left tracks all over the back deck. The next morning I noticed said tracks, now blurred by the (still more!) rain and almost passed out because I was certain a mountain lion had spent the evening pacing by our glass doors.
All through the night Friday and into Saturday's wee hours we were awakened by blasts of hail slapping the windows. And this is where I should mention that I was already not sleeping well because I was achy from my typhoid vaccine. In preparation for our Kenya trip we had to get a large round of immunizations, typhoid fever being one. Given the choice between the shot (dead virus, good for 2 years) or the oral (live virus, good for 5 years and half the price) we took the pills. Live virus vaccine = "Intro to Typhoid Fever." Typhoid fever = nausea and strange dreams. Somewhere in the Land of Nod I toted my friend's baby around Busch Gardens, took her on a roller coaster without buckling her, then she turned into a screaming toddler boy and I hit her in the head with a jar of peanut butter to make her quiet down.
But back to the hail. And mice. So Saturday came, bringing with it another substantial dumping of hail and sleet and at this point all these outdoorsy Coloradans were apparently so fed up with being stuck indoors that they all went out for retail therapy in the one corner of the city I was trying to get to. All 400,000 of them. And all that precipitation? It got sick of the rain too and headed indoors. Like into our basement. If ever there were a time to love being a renter, it was then. Kevin called the property manager and within a few hours we had a pair of nice guys here (one named Theron, and as he explained, it's spelled like "The Ron") setting up 5 fans and a dehumidifier and pulling back carpet and cutting out drywall, and whoa --- they found the mouse nest. Awesome.
While The Ron was explaining to me what to expect, the kitten went trotting by, sneezing and covered in wall dust bunnies and insulation.
OH! I forgot to mention the bunnies! The rabbits that live under our deck had baby bunnies and they are so fluffy I'm gonna die!!!! And they eat the weeds. What's not to love?
Anyway, after 3 days of fans running we have nearly dry carpet and it did finally stop raining (mostly). I was able to plant some beautiful flowers out front and it warmed up just enough for me to not need 3 layers. I was all like, "It's a beatiful day! The sun is shining! The tank is clean!!"
Just in time for all three toilets to back up and one to totally overflow...
In my last post I talked about the flurry of practical preparation going on here and then sort of setting aside all that in favor of preparing my heart. By "setting aside" I mean that it needs to take a back seat, not that it isn't still happening. There is still quite a bit of it happening.
One of the questions a lot of our friends have asked is, "What will your day-to-day job and lives look like?" In a lot of respects, things really don't look very different from life back in Tampa when Kevin had a corporate job. Except take out the 20-mile commute and killer traffic and meetings left and right and a LOT of emails. As for Jenni, you just change out the view from our window while we homeschool. It used to be a miniature Everglades for a back yard. Now it's mule deer and aspen trees.
At the moment, Kevin has a few months of settling in and training to do. To explain, it helps to understand his role and how EMI's project terms work. The year is divided into three terms that roughly correspond to the college calendar (summer, spring, fall semesters). This is to accommodate our numerous interns, many of whom have just graduated and are on to grad school soon. Each staff member takes on one project trip per term, but they overlap, which is where it gets harder to explain.
As a Project Leader Kevin is responsible for communicating with the ministry his team will be serving, recruiting a team of volunteers for the trip, making travel arrangements, coordinating their efforts on the job site in country, then helping the team get their responsibilities wrapped up and finalized in the months after they return home. So during Term 2 (we are currently in Term 1) he will be making preparations for that term's project trip, while also finishing up the efforts from Term 1. He might also be in the very early planning stage of his Term 3 project.
Clear as mud? Yeah....me too. Here's his own take on "A Day in the Life."
8:00 a.m. - arrive at work, check emails from team members and ministries on different time zones
8:30 - morning devotions and prayer time as a group Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays; Wednesday staff meeting, Friday a time of worship and then a project leader will present on a recent project trip. We take turns leading the devotional.
Random daily tasks: preparing Trip Packages for our Kenya team (includes logistical info, flight schedules, contact info, itinerary, project goals, team member bios, developing world design guides and questionnaires, spiritual preparation homework to make sure we are in the right position to serve when we arrive). I might also speak with our ministry partners in Kenya and their US-based sponsors. It has been a blessing to be able to hear their voices and to know they are grateful for our help and praying for our team even now when we are weeks away from the visit.
We typically bring our lunches into the office and find someone to chat with over the meal instead of sitting in front of the computer. We are striving for a professional but friendly office environment here and taking the time to talk over lunch is really great!
I am also talking with my office mate, Andy, about our new endeavor to help ministries with their electrical and mechanical infrastructure needs. We have many ministries with infrastructure limitations and we have a lot of engineers that are interested in volunteering their expertise. We want to help match the need to the capability so that these ministries can be more effective. One possibility is a design/construction (aka design-build) approach where we send a small study team to a project site to ascertain the problem and recommended a solution. Then we would bring back a construction team to actually perform the necessary work. Since in the past we haven’t performed the construction, this new direction is giving us a chance to broaden our contact base with other ministries and professionals. It will take some time but we are eager to see if God will open the right doors for us to serve His Kingdom in this way! Each day something comes up concerning this work and we have a chance to continue to strategize.
Lately I am helping redesign the office interior space to prepare for 10 interns this summer! I see this as a learning opportunity and though, quite frankly, I am not highly qualified, I do have more time to help than most. So, I’ve been doing demolition, hanging drywall, taping and mudding the joints and some rewiring.
My workday either ends with a two block walk to my car and a 15 minute drive home or a 6 mile bike ride. It has been wonderful to find a home that is a short 20-25 minute flat/downhill ride to the office - almost completely on purpose-built trails. The bike ride home is more of a workout as about 1/3 of it is uphill but I arrive home knowing I have saved fuel, emissions and maintenance on the Honda (which has over 210k miles on it now) as well as having given myself a good bit of exercise.
It's okay if it does not make much sense. Just know that it boils down to planning, strategizing, recruitment, and communications. But even bigger is the heart preparation: the part where you just pray for the upcoming time, the people involved, and the ability to be open and available to whatever it is God has in mind for the experience.
-Kevin and Jenni
We are missionaries with Engineering Ministries International, based in Colorado Springs, and traveling around the globe to serve.
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