Saturday, December 27, 2008

America the Beautiful

What a nice change from China to come to U.S. It's so CLEAN here! The snow-capped mountains as you fly into LA are breathtaking. I do love it here. Efficiency and order are actually valued. Nobody is peeing (or worse) in the street, there are no horrid smells to assault your olfactory senses, the meat you buy you can be fairly sure is actual meat and not a former pet. There are restrooms in the restaurants and stores and malls - AND they have actual western toilets (not holes in the floor), toilet paper, soap and paper towels. People wash their hands, for the most part.

When we wanted to special order something at a restaurant I started to stress out immensely, wondering how we were going to explain what we wanted. Lo and behold, the waiter understood what we wanted the first time around! NO LANGUAGE BARRIER! I can take a shower in water that doesn't smell like feet, and not have to worry if I open my mouth by mistake when I shower. I can DRINK TAP WATER! We can drive here. I can turn on the radio and hear beautiful, normal music. I can turn on the TV and understand what they are saying on every single channel (yes, I can speak Spanish, ha ha). Nobody stares at us or wants to take our kids' pictures...we blend here. Everybody blends because everybody looks different - so different - here. It's such a beautiful country.

I can go to any website I want to and download or listen to whatever I want - there is a Chinese firewall that is pretty effective in not allowing many things through, whether due to censorship or copyright laws. Either way it can be a PITA (Pain In The #$%) to listen to a music sample or even go to a webpage that discusses personal freedoms...but in the U.S. it's something most people take for granted.

When we drive, people for the most part obey the traffic laws and respect each other. People bump into you and say "excuse me". When you sneeze somebody will say "God bless you."

Don't get me wrong - I do love China and I love living there. It's exciting and interesting and in some ways, more simple than living here. But what a lovely, fantastic treat to spend some time in my home country. Americans, you've got it good. Please don't ever forget this. With great personal freedom comes great responsibility. And it's a good thing.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Greetings from Sunny California!

OK, not really. It's been gray and rainy and COLD here! Who would have thought LA would be so cold...ah, well. We are enjoying our little family reunion immensely here - us, my mom and her husband, my dad and his wife, Tim's mom and her sister. Too bad our respective brothers couldn't join us...

We went to Disneyland the past few days, and did a tour of LA, which was really cool. We hired a private van to take us around, which was nice. Of course we made the pilgrammage to the Hard Rock Cafe, where we assaulted our parents' ears with a loud lunch, he he he. We saw the Walk of Fame, Hollywood, Rodeo was cool. And Disneyland Cali is really nice - we have finally been to every single Disney park.

Now we're in San Diego. Photos to come!...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Field Trips and Holiday Concerts!

Andrew's grade took a trip up my mountain one day so I decided to join them. We really had a nice time! Can you find my son?

How about in this photo of his class singing for their holiday concert? He just looks so sweet to me!

Alex's drama club did a hilarious version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause" dressed as elves. Sorry for the blurry pictures - my camera is temperamental...wonder where it gets that...
And here is Alex's samba band performing as a warm-up for the older Elementary School kids' concert.

Here is Alex doing his solo in "I'll Be Home for Christmas". That kid has the drama/music/performing bug! Wonder where he gets it...

Here is Ella getting ready for her big show. The preschool kids sang a few songs and did a crazy dance. It was lovely.

Then they got to hang out with Santa for a bit. My girl was so brave she actually sat on his lap! Originally we agreed to maybe a high-five or some other minimal-contact interaction. You go, my Power Ranger Girl!

Santa gave her a present.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS from the kids' school!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sad Times Indeed

My friends, let us lament what has happened in Hong Kong as of yesterday. The Hong Kong Hard Rock Cafe has closed its doors, to be opened only when they secure a new location and build in it. Our safe place, our slice of normal, our family music discussion roundtable venue, our very home away from home is no longer.

A moment of silence, please...


Monday, November 17, 2008

Happy Birthday to you!

4 years ago, my beautiful baby girl was born...

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Last night we went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant - the kind that has plastic chairs set up on the sidewalk into the street and it's loud and busy and great for people-watching. We were seated near the restaurant door - we love the food here so we knew it would be great. Looked over at the restaurant right next door and saw some animal parts hanging for display while the rest of the animal was being cooked outside on a sidewalk. We noticed pretty quickly the animal was actually dog...the waiter confirmed this for us. And you know what? We sat right down and ate. We were a tad squeamish but stayed and were able to handle it. I think I've been in China too long!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


We've been in Beijing since Thursday. Our dear friends from Knoxville made the huge trip over the North Pole to visit us so we decided to show them as much of China as we can in 10 days.

We flew in Thursday and went to the Temple of Heaven, which is a temple (well, duh) with a really nice park around it. It's my friend Sharon's favorite part of Beijing because when she was there a few weeks ago there were old people dancing to traditional Chinese music, doing tai chi and playing mah jong. Basically it's where you see Chinese people doing Chinese-y things. Unfortunately, we got there too late in the day to see all that cool stuff, so we just saw the temple. Ah, well.

Friday we went to the Great Wall of China. Amazing. Spectacular. Really, really cool. And a whole lotta exercise. Steps galore and towers to climb. They were shooting a video up there which was cool to watch.

Everywhere we go people comment on how many children there are all in one place - 6! I hear "lio haizi!" so many times. Many, many people stop us to take photos of our kids. We've really gotten mobbed a few times. The kids are handling it well, though, and it's kind of fun for my friends' daughters.

We also went to a cloisonne factory to learn about that detailed and painstaking process, and a jade market. Christmas shopping!

We went to the Hard Rock Cafe, which is the nicest HRC I've ever been to! Had a fantastic dinner there and great music to listen to. A little slice of normal...

Today we went to the Forbidden City, which is vast and beautiful and ornate and waaaaaay too much walking. We took a bus to get there and tried to take a bus back but kept getting turned around and missing our connections. Finally ended up in a couple taxis - there are 10 of us altogether.

Tomorrow we'll have a nice breakfast at the hotel - the Holiday Inn Central Plaza, which I highly recommend - and pack and head back home to Shekou. Looking forward to getting back to my bed and my shower and my kitchen!

We've had a really great time and I'll try to post some photos when we get home and I can hook my camera up to the computer.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Normal stuff you see in China

Typical street in China - shops and restaurants on the bottom level, apartments above.

Typical shop full o'stuff. These are everywhere, with apartments above them with laundry hanging on each balcony.

Typical menu at a local restaurant. Just point at what you want if you can't speak Chinese, and hope it's something you recognize!

Many business set up right on the street - you can get tailor work done or shoe repair just by walking up to the people who set up shop on the sidewalk.

There are many little restaurants with plastic tables and chair set up on the sidewalk or street - they are usually packed with people at night. People just sit and hang out, eat, drink, smoke, leave their trash on the ground and somebody else comes up and sweeps it all away by morning.

Many, many foot massage places in China. Foot massages are a cheap treat and very popular with local Chinese as well as foreigners like us.
Some have very well-dressed women at the entrance to make people want to come in and get a foot massage. It's also normal to see people in eveningwear just going out shopping or to lunch or even up the mountain. People wear just about anything to do everything - if you have fancy clothes, you wear them, you don't save them for special occasions.

This is how our pizza and other food items get delivered - by electric bike!

Signs and Spooky Stuff

There are signs like this all over the place. One says "Empty Talk Endangers The Nation".

Aaaagh! Where does the time go, anyhow?

Let's see...yesterday my friend Sharon and I went to Hong Kong. I really needed to get my hair done so I went to an expensive Aveda salon, thinking that SURELY they would know what to do with my hair. Hmmmmmm...yeah. I wanted the color Fabulous Stacey always makes my hair and I showed them the color on the chart. They convinced me that I needed to go darker than that or it would wash out in two weeks. Well, my hair is DARK RED now and I hate it. I almost started crying right there in the fancy-ass salon. Supposedly in two weeks it will be the color I want it to be but I'm not believing that right now. Waah.

We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe but they were all tricked out for Halloween. Chinese don't really get that Halloween can be fun - they make it really, really scary and gross. Not good in a restaurant to see blood and guts and horror everywhere, and I refuse to take the kids there during October. Luckily I know better than to bring them there again until after Halloween. There is no moderation here for scary - no "fun" scary like cute skeletons and witches and bats - just blood and gore and really, truly scary stuff. Sharon lived in Sweden for 14 years and she was saying that Europe is very similar to Asia in that respect. The countries that have adopted Halloween really take it overboard on creepy. Too bad. All the dusty decoration stuff they put up also makes me sneeze.

Then we went to check out a tattoo place. We had looked in China but found dirty shops that - eu - re.use.needles. Yuck and HOW SCARY IS THAT! So we looked online and found a shop that uses only new, clean needles up to U.S. standards. We stopped by there yesterday and found cool designs we want to get, and made appointments to have it done. Yippee! Sharon's getting her first tattoo on Monday and I really wish I could be there with her but I'll be otherwise occupied. Mine won't be until October 27. I'll post a picture. Actually, I probably won't post a picture because I always say stuff like that but I DON'T do it. Sorry. I am sure it will be awesome and you'll just have to trust me on that, ha ha!

Tomorrow night our dear friends from Knoxville are coming. We are so excited to show them China. We'll go to Beijing next week and see the Great Wall of China, which is truly amazing, and the Forbidden Palace, and the really famous Peking Duck Restaurant. I'll take them to the wet market and to Lowhu, that awful, harrassing market where they yell and grab and push their cheap junk aggressively. We'll take them for nails and massages and maybe even up the mountain. The girls will come to my kids' school in grade-appropriate classrooms for a day. I'm really excited about this! Hopefully I'll take a bunch of photos and post can believe that if you want to.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Wet Market

Last week my friend Liz and I decided to check out the wet market. The wet market is the place where many Chinese purchase produce, meats, seafood, even fresh noodles. You can bargain and pick through whatever you want to buy. Including the meat.

I've always FEARED the wet market - live and freshly killed animals are there, and they frequently just wash down the floors with water to get rid of the blood. Perhaps you have heard of sars? It started in the wet markets. I was also always afraid to see Fido or Fluffy hanging from the ceiling, half-gutted. Fear. Silly fear. The only thing I had to fear was the smell itself. Awful. Offal. Ick. I made the mistake of having a bite of bagel in my mouth as I stepped out of the car into the wet market area. I felt as though I were eating the wet market - not pleasant. At all. Thanks to my friend Sharon's husband Ulrik for these fantastic photos...

Lovely, fresh, cheap produce that you can bargain and haggle over. Just about anything you're looking for you can find here.

I was definetly not looking for these. But there they were.

Hot peppers, anyone? Bushels and bushels of them!

And of course the LIVE CHICKENS. I was going to buy a fresh chicken for dinner, break its neck and pluck all the feathers but I opted for the rotisserie-cooked one from the butcher shop. Ew.

And some people opt for just the feet. Chicken feet are served automatically at almost every meal in China - they're on the table when you sit down. People love 'em. I haven't even tried 'em and DON'T WANNA!

Only way to make sure your meat is fresh is to TOUCH IT. Yikes. I don't buy my meat here, where it sits out all day being pawed at by anyone and everyone. Again. Ew.

See your seafood before it turns into food! Buckets and buckets of all kind of ocean life that may or may not be considered actual food.

Tables and tables and tables of produce...
It was an interesting adventure and I ended up with bags and bags of beautiful fruits and vegetables. Which I washed and washed very meticulously before eating. You may or may not know what is used for cheap, readily-available fertilizer here in China. I'll leave that one to your imagination. Scrub, scrub, scrub! More cool China photos to come, thanks to Ulrik.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Happy Birthday, ......Alice??

This weekend we went to Hong Kong to see our dear Hong Kong friends - haven't seen them all summer. They were kind enough to order a cheesecake to celebrate Alex's birthday, which we celebrated in the U.S. in July, and Tim's birthday, too, which as you know was Wednesday.
Except, there was a little typo on the cake...

Oops! We had a great, very private laugh about that!

I just had to add this one...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Get out your kilt!

Soooo, what do you give a guy who loves golf as much as Tim does? Who's turning 40 and is the best husband in the world???

Yep, you give him a trip to Scotland to golf with his buddy. St. Andrews...ever hear of it? And Gleneagles. Scot. Land. He leaves next Friday and I must say the man is thrilled. I'm just thrilled to not have to hold onto that big a secret anymore!


The Big 4-0

Ju ni shengri kwai le
Happy Birthday to the best husband in the world.

After dinner tonight I'll be able to tell you about his big, huge birthday surprise...I'm so excited to tell him!!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

mountains, massages, and meat

BUSY DAY today! But with a relaxing on!

First Tim and I went for a walk this morning through the neighborhood. We try to do this nearly every day at 6, before the kids get up. No, we don't leave them alone - we have help here of course. It's a nice way to keep in touch and get exercise (those hills!)

Then I met Paty and other friends to get as much of the mountain in as I could before 9 - we made it all the way to the first peak. A few times I tried to stop and go back down but my Czech friend Jana was very encouraging and inspirational. Made it! In a heaving, sweating mess of muscle, but made it nonetheless...someday that WILL get easier, I just know it.

Cruised home and showered quickly before joining a test panel for my friend's husband's company. That's right, we were thawing meat and peeling vegetables at a table in Starbucks! We got a lot of strange looks and questions but we really had a good, productive test of the products. The funny thing is, I probably would have felt very self-conscious peeling vegetables and watching meat thaw in a Starbucks in the U.S. You can get away with so much more in China than you can in the U.S. Like showing up at Starbucks, where you will most certainly know at least 3 people, after strenous mountain exercise, all sweaty and icky, no makeup, and not think twice about it. Your clothes don't necessarily have to match - they can even clash. I love China.

After test panel, I met Tim at his office for lunch and a relaxing stroll around the police station. We had to go there and be interviewed for our residence visas, a complicated procedure. Luckily we had an agent who totally knows the ropes navigating for us and we were done in under an hour! It didn't hurt that she knew the officer behind one of the was relatively painless, really.

THEN we headed home and I had to deliver newsletters for my local women's club. I don't normally deliver them but my fantastic neighbor Marcie asked me to - I can't so no to Marcie. It was a hot, sweaty walk around my neighborhood AGAIN. So much walking.

Then we discovered the most wonderful restaurant in the area - REALLY! I'd heard it was good but it was truly fantastic. The pizza is fab, Alex had minestrone and a caeasar salad and he actually ATE them - no small miracle. Awesome breadsticks - you have no idea just how big a deal that one is - with little bowls of olive oil and balsamic...ahhhh. SO good. We ran into 2/3 of our kids' teachers there. It was very nice.

Kids showered and relaxing on our bed with tv, and Tim and I headed over to the local spa for a bedtime massage. SO relaxing, I must say. We took a cab home - TOO MUCH WALKING TODAY ALREADY! I'm ready to pour myself into bed now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ups and Downs

There is a mountain behind our house that many people like to walk up for exercise. I have friends who do it several times a week but I had never done it. Until yesterday.

The mountain trail starts out as a nice smooth uphill road. Then you see the stairs. They look like those Dali stairs that just keep going but never really actually get anywhere.

We were climbing stairs for an hour and a half straight. We took a few breaks so we could replenish our liquids - I felt like Spongebob Squarepants when he's been out of the water for too long. But we just kept climbing up, up, up. It was truly grueling and I don't know how people do it as easily as the friends I was with. I have friends who RUN it. Ayah.

The really tiring part was that I had gotten up early to walk my hilly neighborhood with Tim at 6. So I'd already HAD my workout when my dear friend Paty called me to join them.

My Czech friend casually mentioned that yes, the first time is so hard and that it's no better the second time. She said maybe the 10th time it starts to get easier. Paty said "you're doing great! You can do it!" to which I replied with a few choice words I can't repeat here.

Jana also said I'd be sore, to which I replied "not me! I'm in shape!" HA HA HA HA Boy are my calves aching today! Like they haven't ached in years, except maybe when I've had the flu. No, I'm not in shape. But I'm going to GET in shape. Maybe keep climbing that mountain...

On a side note, as you know I live in an expat community where people come and go all the time. Saying goodbye to people is normal so sometimes you tend to hold them at arm's length. My friend Paty - the first person I met here - and the person I have most definetly NOT held at arm's length - is moving in a few weeks. She's not even sure where she's going or the day they're leaving yet, which is also normal for an expat. But she's leaving and I am so sad to be looking at life without her company. She is a wonderful friend and a fabulous person. Say a little prayer for Paty as she faces an unknown future.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Food and friends

Last night was my friend Sheri's birthday. She is from Scotland and her husband is from Germany. They had a little gathering at a nearby favorite restaurant which we were happy to attend and bring a cake to.

Around the table, we had 2 Scots, 3 Germans, 2 Brazilians, 2 Americans, 2 Israelis, 1 Czech, 1 Dane and 1 Brit. It was really quite amazing to realize just how many different countries my friends are from. We had great food and fantastic conversation.

The restaurant we ate at is a western restaurant - they serve really excellent salads - owned by an Australian. He does a great job of providing "normal" food there.

We were talking to Sheri's husband about the things you don't even realize you crave from home. He was saying that when they have clients in town they go to a nice hotel brunch quite often. While the clients go for all the exotic seafood that is quite common here, he always makes a dash for the good ham, the great bread and all the very normal (but not normal here!) comfort food.

Today I have another few cakes to do and I must practice my guitar. Had my first lesson yesterday and I have an awful lot to learn if I'm ever going to be able to actually play anything. But I learned a lot in one hour and I found a really excellent teacher.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Rock you like a Hurricane

This is our first experience with a real, big typhoon in Asia. We knew it was coming - lots of news flashes and SMS warnings in Chinese on the mobile phone. The past two nights the sunset was eery bright red.

Last night we were told Ella's preschool would be closed today. We assumed the elementary school would be closed, as well, but we found out at 9 (yes, everybody was still home in pajamas) that school was OPEN. So, my kids were an hour late for school. Oops. An hour later I got a call from school saying they were closing at 1.

Throughout the morning the wind really picked up, even though the rain held off until this afternoon. It was a really strong wind with pelting rain all afternoon and evening! The boys were playing at the neighbors' all afternoon and barely noticed. But we couldn't believe the wind! In Hong Kong there are reports of store signs and huge bamboo scaffolding being torn off buildings. Trees uprooted and all that. I am curious to know if there's been any damage here on the mainland.

It was nice to have an excuse to just stay in all day and be lazy!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back in the China Groove

It was the first day of school on Thursday. All three kids were so excited to get back to school and see their friends. In our community, people sort of trickle back in after their summer holiday - some wait until several weeks into the school year before returning. So it's been several days of seeing friends come in and join the fun. It's been really nice. Almost everybody is back now.

Friday was our 10th wedding anniversary. 10 years seems like such a long time, number-wise - but it hasn't seemed nearly that long. It's flown by and I couldn't be any more blessed with a husband. Tim took me out to Morton's of Chicago, a wonderful steakhouse in Hong Kong. Before that we went to the lounge at the Intercontinental Hotel, which overlooks Hong Kong harbor. It's breathtaking and so nice to just sit and sip a drink. I had a lovely mango juice. It was really a nice evening. He had a private car whisk us across the border, both ways. Very sleek. Nice job, Honey!

Yesterday we went to Hong Kong, back to our church. It felt so good to get back there - I really felt at home there and the sermon was preached, I believe, specifically to me. I love it when that happens! Then we went to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch where our waitress said "Welcome back! So nice to see you again! Would you like a Perrier, ma'am?" How cool that was - it was like "Cheers!" where everybody knows your name.

Then we went to a music store and picked out my anniversary gift. I figured now that I'm forty and been married for ten years and have three kids, it's about time I realize my lifelong dream of being a rock star. No, actually, I decided that instead of a rock for a gift, I wanted TO rock. Tim bought me a nice Fender Stratocaster, an amp and some books to learn. Started picking away last night. I'm going to have fun with this gift. And, yes, I am getting him something very special, too, but I can't tell him what it is until his 40th birthday in September. I'll let you know AFTER I let him know! Are you just ready to burst with anticipation? I am!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sweet Home China

We had an interesting trip back from the States. Alex, Ella and I left my mom's at 5 a.m. Monday (Tim was so kind as to drive us there, get us checked in using his Eliiiiiiiiiite status and see us to the security check). Hung around the airport and had a sleepy flight to Newark. When I got onto the plane, there was a guy who was assigned the same seats as us. He had obviously booked the front-row-more-legroom seats on purpose. I just wanted to make sure I was by both my kids. Luckily the flight wasn't full and he was able to find another seat but when I offered him my front-row-more-legroom seats he was just like "I'm fine." I felt really bad because I don't need the extra legroom. At all. I wish I did because then I might reach my lifelong dream of being 5'8" but I don't. Needless to say, neither does Ella! He kept insisting he was fine but I could tell he wasn't especially happy to squeeze into a row-3-not-so-roomy seat.

When we got to Newark, we found out our flight out was delayed. Normally we would have a 6 hour layover but our plane kept getting delayed due to maintenance. Well, by the time we left Newark we had spent TEN hours at the lovely Newark airport, killing time, running after Runaway Ella, and eating junk. Yippee. No, really, can I tell you how fun it was? Nope, it wasn't. At all.

Well, we finally got onto the plane and had pretty nice seats - only 6 rows away from Business Class so we could smell their good food and hear their crystal-clear serene silence. Ah, well. Someday maybe I'll be ELIIIIIIIITE enough to get into Business Class. For now, I'll sit in the plane ghetto with my fantastic flying children (well, they can't really actually fly...but they do well on airplanes).

Because of the delay, we arrived in Hong Kong at 11 p.m., too late to take a ferry across to China. I couldn't find the driver who was supposed to be picking us up and my phone battery was dangerously low. I also was unable to call Tim to ask him about it. I can call the U.S. from China but from Hong Kong you need to dial some magic code that I have yet to learn or make work on my particular phone. I would have been stuck in Hong Kong with my kids, too late to cross the border near our house (it closes at 10:30) and just wanting a shower and my bed.

Luckily for us my lovely, talented and incredibly generous neighbor Lucy was on my flight and she checked with me just as she was going to her car with her incredibly generous husband David. David was able to perform the magic rites that puts a call through to the U.S. and called Tim TWICE from Hong Kong so I could find out that the driver was indeed not even AT the airport. So I stopped looking for him.

Lucy and David kindly took us to their waiting car and drove us home, just as a typhoon was moving into the area. They had to walk through the border (the one NOT close to our house) due to some new regulation that only lets 4 people across in a car at once. Then they had to wait on the other side in the rain for us while the customs people looked into our car, at our faces, our paperwork and our passports. It was an ordeal. FINALLY we were on our way again.

I was so happy to get home, to have fantastical neighbors like Lucy and David, and to have arrived in Hong Kong BEFORE the typhoon hit. My housekeeper was waiting with open arms for us and we got cleaned up and settled in for the night. Slept and showered - I'm a new woman. The typhoon is giving us an excuse to have Lazy Day, too.

I'm ready to face my jetlag.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Leavin' on a jet plane...

We leave for China on Monday. It's funny, at the beginning of summer 6 weeks seemed like a long time. Now it seems to have flown by!

I thought I'd answer some of the Living in China FAQ's I've gotten this summer:

Q: Are you going to the Olympics?
A: Well, no, because Beijing is a 3-hour plane ride and hotel prices have been jacked up 500%. Equestrian events will be held in Hong Kong, and the boating events in Shanghai. But we're still not going.

Q: Is it true there is a "Chinese Firewall" that blocks websites?
A: Yes. I can't get into Wikipedia or to anything having to do with the Bill of Rights. Oftentimes e-mails sent to me from the U.S. will be blocked for no apparent reason.

Q: How do you like living in China? What's it like?
A: It's different and I like it. I love the community we are in, especially - my kids are exposed to Chinese culture plus many other cultures they would otherwise not really know much about. They are becoming little World Citizens, which is awesome. But I miss the convenience of the U.S.

Q: Are the kids excited to go back?
A: I don't think so. This summer has consisted of visits with grandparents, playdates, fun camp stuff and new toys to play with. It's not "REAL LIFE" which they don't realize. If we actually lived here life would pretty much be the same - friends, lessons, and school. Bedtimes and morning know, REAL STUFF.

Q: How is the shopping?
A: It can be great - factory stores for Ann Taylor and J. Crew with western clothes (that FIT) for cheap-o! But it can be a hassle - the markets with people grabbing at you and yelling and bargaining for clothes that probably won't fit because I'm just not shaped like an Asian. Shoes that look great but are poor-quality and won't fit right. I've done a lot of shopping here to find clothes and shoes for all of us that I know will fit.
Shopping can also be frustrating if you're a westerner used to a western diet. We were in Sam's Club yesterday and I was nearly moved to tears by the huge number of stuff available in huge sizes. Like parmesan cheese and dishwasher detergent. Both of these things can be hunted down in China but it takes a lot of searching and when you find them, you can buy a teeny little jar (or bottle or can) for a way-jacked-up price. And all sorts of OTC medications that you can't even find in China - although if you need some ground-up deer horn or a snakeskin for your medicinal soup you can find them on every Chinese corner!

Q: Is it really that polluted in China?
A: Yes.

Q: Are the Chinese people nice?

Q: Are you going to vote?
A: Yes, by proxy, but our votes won't count unless there is a tie situation, from what I've been told. I am thrilled, however, to be missing all the ridiculous mud-slinging!! Yikes, people - a little dignity and integrity would be nice...

Q: Aren't you a little afriad to live in China?
A: Ummmmmmmmm, read the U.S. news lately?

Q: Are you excited to go back?
A: I'm completely torn. I will so much miss my mom and her husband and their very comfortable house we stay in. And her appliances. And Sam's Club, Kroger, Target, Steak N Shake, Bonefish and our dear friends (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) and my church. BUT, I am looking forward to returning to REAL LIFE, my routine, my book club, my awesome friends, my STUFF and my bed. And my housekeeper - I'm not going to pretend I don't miss her!! And tropical winters. And our kids' awesome school and their teachers and staff members. It's all about people, really, isn't it? Aren't we blessed, my friends? Love and peace to you.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


We returned home to Knoxville today to find out there has been a shooting in a local church. Some guy who "hates Christians" chose to open fire in a non-Christian (UU) church during a children's production of "Annie." Two people have died so far and 5 more were injured. The people who were shot were only a few feet away from the children who were putting on the play.

Please keep the victims, their families, and the people who had to witness this horrific crime in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rural Life

Today Tim and I had a little date at the local internet cafe. My dad and his wife's house isn't wired for any decent, efficient internet connection - they live too far out in the boondocks for that kind of technology. So, we had a very relaxing morning sipping coffee and getting all our internet stuff taken care of. While we were there, Grandma Jo took the kids raspberry picking and out for a nice lunch.
This afternoon, Grandpa Bob, Tim and I took the kids out fishing for trout at a local fish farm. They caught 4 big fish for supper tonight.

So, for supper we had fish we caught ourselves, vegetables grown in Grandma and Grandpa's back yard, and fresh raspberry pie, picked by the kids and Grandma. Grandpa Bob claimed to have picked the noodles in the noodle patch but I don't think the kids believed him. It was very cool, however, that the bulk of our meal (including yummy dessert) was obtained using our own hands and the local bounty of the land.

It's also been very quiet and relaxing, not being tied to the internet or to my mobile mobile phone service for me unless I stand in one particular spot on the back deck and don't move at all. I've been cut off several times even using that special position. While it's a bit stressful to not be connected, it's also quite relaxing to not be connected!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dells

First off, my camera battery is dead so there are no lovely photos to accompany this blog. SORRY. Today we drove to Wisconsin Dells, which is a big tourist area. We are staying overnight with Tim's mom at an awesome, new indoor water park resort. There are three different water parks indoors, and two huge ones outside. There are rides and fun things for kids of all ages - lazy rivers for Grandma B. and cute little shallow-water play areas for Ella. And really fun giant slides and wave pools.

We had a blast today! The boys went on slide after slide after slide, and hit the wave pool as many times as they could.

We went to the indoor parks because it was a little chilly at first, then we sort of got comfortable and stayed there. We had planned on hitting the giant outdoor park after dinner tonight but the kids (and maybe the adults) are just beat! Ella just passed out on the couch - poor baby.

We'll have a quiet evening in our beautiful condo and then hit the outdoor park tomorrow. I hope it's warmer tomorrow! I think I've gotten spoiled living in tropical southern China! Because what seems to be perfectly acceptable outdoor swimming weather for the Wisconsinites that still live here (I'm always a 'Sconnie at heart!) leaves me blue and shivering.

Tomorrow we'll head to visit my dad and his wife for a few days and then farther up north to visit my brother and his family for a few days. We're hitting a good chunk of Wisconsin this trip and I am having a blast. I'm also looking forward to some chill time next week before heading back home to China!

Sunday, July 20, 2008


We are in Madison, Wisconsin to visit Tim's mom. I came here for the first time in 1987 to visit some friends and fell completely in love with the city. People say New York City has a special energy about it - and I agree - but Madison has this incredible, laid-back, unassuming feel to it that just felt like paradise the first time I came here. State Street has changed a lot - it's a pedestrian street filled with funky shops and restaurants and bars that leads from the Univeristy of Wisconsin (my alma mater) to the beautiful State Capitol. The shops have changed - some are still the same - but the feel is still there. Freedom of expression is valued and so is pursuit of knowledge and life experience. Many outdoorsey-naturey-adventureous types milling about in comfortable shoes, tye-dyes and dreadlocks. It's not uncommon to see tattoos, piercings and politically-charged stickers and t-shirts all over the place. I remember when I was just out of college, it wasn't a question of WHETHER to get a tattoo so much as WHAT to get for a tattoo. Madison is unlike any other place I've ever lived. I lived here for as long as I could out of college, until Tim got a job when he graduated and we had to move. It's good to be home.

Next we'll be heading to the Wisconsin Dells for a retreat at an indoor water park, then up to northern Wisconsin to visit my dad for a few days.

Friday, July 11, 2008


We're halfway through our summer holiday in the USA. We've been seeing some great friends and having a really nice time. So glad to be here.

Tonight I went to a cooking class at Williams-Sonoma. It was a Summer Salads course and we had some excellent salads - the chef prepares them and shows you how to make them, then we EAT them. We had lobster-raspberry-corn-snap pea salad; chicken-cashew-citrus-cilantro salad; fresh tuna salad (not from a can!); and candied pecan-chicken tender-mesclun salad. And excellent lemon cake. It was awesome but by the time I was finished I thought my stomach was going to explode! I have GOT to stop eating so much! Do I have to say the word? Yes, PUFFERFISH! AAAAAACK! I have been walking brisky every morning so at least I'm getting some exercise.

Tomorrow we're having a party for Alex's birthday - he will be 9 on Thursday so we're having a big shindig at one of those jumping places. We also invited some of Andrew's little friends. How cool is this: my son has agreed that no, he does not need any more STUFF so it would be great if everybody coming to the party donates to their favorite charity instead of bringing a gift. He originally wanted people to give to the Sichuan Earthquake victims but we couldn't find an easy way to do that. It's a pay-it-forward birthday - the kids get a fun time and goodie bags and lunch, then they pay it forward. Love it! Love that kid!
My stepdad is in the hospital as of this evening with pneumonia - he'll be in there for a few days. Please keep our dear Wayne in your prayers for healing and speedy recovery. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


FINALLY slept a normal night's sleep last night - yippee! It's a little difficult to function when you want to sleep all day and can't sleep at all at night because it's SUPPOSED to be day! Even the kids slept all night. It's a good thing.

Can I mention how absolutely refreshing it is to be able to buy things and not have to multiply by 7 to figure out how much they "really" cost in U.S. dollars?
And how wonderful it is to have cars stop for you if you're crossing the street or in a parking lot, rather than aiming for you and speeding up?
And how great this country is, that everybody actually lines up in an orderly fashion and doesn't shove in front of you then invite their 14 relatives and friends to join them?
And how nice it is to go the store and know what everything is, how much it costs, and be able to ask questions about it?
And to understand what sizes I wear in clothing and shoes and know they'll pretty much fit me?
The food here is fabulous - at least at my favorite restaurants.
Drive-thru windows are a luxury - did you know THAT?
People generally follow the rules on the road - no big giant games of "chicken" here.
It's nice to walk down the street and not have to watch where I step for fear of "snot-rockets", trash and food debris, for the most part?
About those snot rockets - it's also nice to be in public and not hear all the hawking and spitting and nose-clearing-out that is perfectly normal in China.
Having a phone book and being able to use it!!

It's good to be home for a while.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Would you believe I sort of didn't want to come home? I have made some super-special friends in China and our time together is limited by the fact that we're mostly there for just a few years. How funny compared to last summer when I was so miserable and's a good feeling.

It's lovely to be in the U.S. - yesterday I went to my church and was welcomed by my big Faith family there. And then we went to my favorite pizza place, then to visit some very, very dear friends to just hang with them. Dinner with my mom and her husband last really is nice here.

However, here are some things I did NOT miss while in China:
Pre-presidential election MUD-SLINGING...UGH! It was great to not be in the U.S. for the majority of that junk. Really, it's ridiculous.
Tomato scares
Having to drive everywhere instead of walking...I miss walking my neighborhood! Everything seems so far apart here! So funny...
Cheap stuff like pants from the J. Crew and Ann Taylor factory stores for about $5 each
Cheap manicures, pedicures, massages and hair washes - it's so expensive here!

But, it's nice to be here for a little while. I hope to see everybody this summer at some point if you can! Call me at my mom's - if you don't know her number, just shoot me an e-mail. Thanks for checking up on us!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


After a very, very busy end of the school year, and a reeeeeeaaaaalllllllyyyy long trip home, we are in the U.S.

We had programs and parties to attend before leaving, plus going-away parties for our dear friends who will not be returning in the fall. That is the difficult part of expat life - saying goodbye to the wonderful people you meet along the way. We had to say goodbye to some completely lovely people this year. We all know it's part of the culture of an expat community, but this was my first full year and therefore my first goodbye to true, real friends. So sad!!

Then we were all set to return home. The car picked us up in China at 7 Thursday morning and took us across the border and across the big bridge to Hong Kong. We checked in and shoved breakfast down the kids' throats, only to find our flight was delayed. Delayed 7 hours! So we killed a bunch of time in the Hong Kong airport - luckily they have a nice little playground in there. And a great restaurant where we loitered for a really long time over various salads, sandwiches, tea and sodas. Finally got on the plane and flew over the north pole, down to Jersey. Of course since we arrived so late at night, we had to stay a night in Jersey. The people at Continental Airlines were completely fabulous in handling things for us. We got off the plane and were met by customer service reps with room keys for a local hotel plus food vouchers. We were shuttled off to the hotel and headed straight to our rooms. Very nice service. We had a whopping 4 hours to sleep before we had to return to the airport to head was a really long 36 hours of travel. I have to say, my kids totally rock. They were so good and so patient! People around us were amazed they had been traveling for 36 hours by the time we got here. Way to go, little dudes and dude-ette!

So, after discombobulated sleep patterns we are finally here for our first full day in East TN - yippee it's good to be home! Tim and I went for a walk around the neighborhood this morning - not quite the same workout as the hills of our China neighborhood but a nice walk nonetheless. I went to Curves with my mom, where we had another little workout - and we had a nice, normal lunch. So far, so good. I'm going to do my best not to turn into a pufferfish this time home! Wish me luck with that.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Party Photos

Here is everybody SURPRISING me and singing Happy Birthday

And the lovely "40" medallion. Sorry, my eyes are closed. Next to me is my friend Paty from Peru. She is either consoling me for the fact that I have to wear the obnoxious necklace or else admiring it....not sure which.

Some friends, both of whom happen to be from Scotland...guess which one is in the band.

Birthday Week

Last night Tim threw me a surprise birthday party! He'd been planning it for weeks and was really sneaky about it! My dear neighbor made me a cake, another friend helped with invites, and Alex helped him decorate the restaurant. Our dear Hong Kong friends came all the way over to share the evening. This was especially nice because they just had a baby 3 weeks ago, and we spent my actual birthday with them in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
I got to wear a beautiful necklace that said "BEHOLD THE AGELESS WONDER" with the number 40 all over it (it was really obnoxious!) . There were streamers and all sorts of decorations - he really did a it great job.
It was such a lovely surprise!
My multicultural friends sang "Happy Birthday" to me in four different languages - Swedish, German, English and Chinese.
He had an excellent buffet dinner for us including fish and chips from the Irish Pub the party was held at. The party was on the top floor, open-air, upstairs from the bar where my favorite local band plays. So after eating and relaxing and having fun upstairs, we all headed downstairs to dance the night away to the rockin' sounds of "Mind the Gap."

It's the rainy season here so it had been pouring all day - luckily the outdoor room was at least covered. The floor was wet but we were dry. Many people braved pouring rain to come to the party.

Everybody commented about what a great party it was - we all had such a blast! What a fantastic husband I have!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Whining Zone

And what an...uh, exciting...week it has been! Tim left for the U.S. on Monday and is enroute back home to us right now - he's just flying over Mongolia, it looks like. Let me just say I am so happy I have help in the house, especially at suppertime! Domestic help is not only desired and expected and perfectly normal here, it's also necessary, believe it or not. Everything here gets so much dirtier so much more quickly here - must be due to all the pollution in the air and water, but if my floor is washed one day, it will be black again by the next day, and we don't wear shoes in the house! Even my Chinese friend who moved to the U.S. has commented on how you really don't need help there like you do here because you don't have to clean so much there! You need to spend a LOT more time cleaning in China (that would be a figurative "you"...meaning "Somebody Else"...)
On Tuesday I had a PSA meeting - this coming year I will be on the board for our school's Parent Support Association. Later that afternoon, I had lunch with some friends. During this time I felt sort of yucky...sore throat, a bit of a headache. Well, by mid-afternoon I had a screamin' headache, a really bad sore throat and even my skin hurt - I was really sick! Turns out I had tonsilitis, and it pretty much knocked me down for three days. Again, I am SO GLAD to have domestic help here because with Tim gone that would NOT have been all. It still wasn't fun...
Then on Thursday I still had to fulfill a cake order for a friend. This friend has ordered 2 cakes from me in the past and both times I had to cancel the day before due to some emergency or another...I couldn't cancel this time! So I got that done...and then slept some more!
Friday morning (I kept thinking I'd feel better "tomorrow" but...) I had another obligation I couldn't cancel - Ella was asked to model again and this time she wanted to. I couldn't cancel on her agent the day of the shoot so we went to that. Luckily it was a pretty short one and we were home in time to take a nice nap together. Still feeling pretty sick...
Saturday morning I FINALLY felt better - yippee! That was such a relief. Especially since domestic helpers have Sundays off and I really wanted to be healthy by today. Thank you, Auntie Biotix!
I was able to take Andrew to the rain because it's the rainy season here...and then to his end-of-the-season soccer banquet. We had a nice time together and spent the day hanging around the house, playing and still taking it easy.
Today we made it to church here in the neighborhood. After church the kids were playing on the playground and I noticed Andrew itching away. There are many mosquitoes and horrible little black bugs that bite and ITCH for weeks here. There are also these poison caterpillars that give you a huge, itchy, bumpy red rash that makes you miserable. Guess which bug bit Andrew? Yep, the caterpillar...he was swelling up and bumpy and red and itchy...poor little guy! We got him home on a golf cart, slathered on the calamine lotion and popped a Benadryl into him. He had a little pizza picnic on the couch (way against the rules, usually) and some Cartoon Network. Now he's good as new, just a little pinker than normal thanks to the calamine.

OK, so I know this week will be exciting, too...after all, I will be turning FORTY on Wednesday. How much more exciting can life get than that? Hopefully it will be a healthy week for us, I know we will be so happy to have Tim back home. And in a mere 19 days we will be heading back home for a visit...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another Disney Weekend

Yesterday we decided to hit Hong Kong for another Disney weekend, just to hang out together as a family. We met our friends that we got to know in Cebu for a few hours at the park. Disneyland Hong Kong has a brand new It's A Small World ride. We went on it twice, and Ella has been singing the Small World song ever since - so cute! They did a great job with this one, and put different Disney charaters into this particular Small World (the only one that uses characters). Lilo and Stitch are in the Islands part - Pocahontas is in the North America part. And the China part is HUGE, showing different parts of China plus the Hong Kong skyline.

When we got to our hotel (The Disneyland Hollywood Hotel - VERY NICE) we were told that we had been chosen to be MOVIE STARS for the day - I was hoping for huge things like leading the parade, maybe a new "movie star" wardrobe...but the perk turned out to be the use of a lovely Toyota van to cart us around to the front door and pick us up at our leisure. That was really nice, actually, to just hop into our a/c van after a HOT day at the park.

We spent the evening at the pool, taking a break only to eat supper in our suits. Goofy came to the pool and actually played in the pool, splashing around with the kids, a few times. It was pretty cool. I don't know what his costume was made of but it did NOT look comfortable. The kids had a ball with him, and Ella was actually brave enough to "high-five" him.

Today we'll be heading to church and then lunch with our dear Hong Kong friends. They just had a baby girl on Mother's Day! It will be our first time seeing them since she was born, though I don't think they'll be bringing her. People here tend to keep kids in the house for the first few months of birth - it's not uncommon to get chewed out in Cantonese or Mandarin for having a baby out in public that looks too young.

Then we'll head back to China for another exciting week of school, work, and play. Probably not as exciting as last week with the Elton John show, but exciting regardless, I'm sure.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rocket Man

That's right - the photo below is an image of Sir Elton John, who we just saw in concert. In Hong Kong. At night. Morning is approaching awfully quickly but I wanted to post the picture.

He still rocks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Foot in Mouth Disease

China is lately freaking out over some supposedly super-virulent strain of Hand Food and Mouth Disease - so far I think 34 children have died from it, and it's quite widespread. They closed all the public pools in our city, and even at our school, swimming is being postponed as part of the PE program until the panic calms down.

So this morning Ella started scratching her hand and complaining about itching. I looked and, sure enough, there were a few little blisters there. She also felt feverish and was tired. So, I took her to the doctor right away this morning to get her checked out.

The doctor blames the media for the panic. She also talked about how common this illness is in the States and in Australia, where she's lived and doctored (Australia), and how kids do not die from it there. She said she doesn't know what those children died from but it wasn't hand foot and mouth disease. Her theory is that it's possibly some Chinese herbal remedy gone wrong, or maybe dehydration. She said Ella's case is very mild but to keep her home from school until the blisters go away. When I asked her about the boys she said that, ideally, infected kids should stay away from other kids. She said "Well, I'll tell you to keep them separate, but good luck with that." She figured they're probably already immune to it or else they'll pick it up but she wasn't especially worried. She made me feel so much better! So, now you have the rest of the story about the China Childrens' Virus, at least according to my lovely and talented doctor.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ella MacPherson

Since there are so few foreign kids here, it isn't uncommon to be approached by a model agent if you have kids. With all the clothing factories here, it's cheaper to shoot a catalog using local kids, pay them a little money, and send out your catalog to prospective buyers. If you fill it with Western-looking kids, the Western stores will buy from you.

Ella has modeled a few times, and Alex has done it once. I have some really nice catalogs with their pictures in. Lately Ella's been saying "NO!" when we get a call so I don't know if she'll do it again. But, the last time she did it it must have been a nice job. There is a huge billboard in the main children's clothing department store here with her on it! Several people have told me about it so today I went to check it out.

Department stores are much different here than in the U.S. They are usually two stories tall, although sometimes many more. There are different vendors that cover only a certain area, and they don't have anything to do with the vendor next to them - they are in direct competition. There is no common accounting system, either. So, if you want to buy something, you agree on a price - haggling is getting less and less productive here - and they write up a "fa piao" or receipt - all in Chinese, of course. For all I know it could say "This stupid foreigner just bought a load of crap for a ton of money. Ha ha ha. Smile nice at her, now." But, I digress. Then you take your piece of paper to a cashier - there are usually several set up around the floor. You pay the cashier, who then gives you more paper, duly chopped, and your change. You bring the new pink piece of paper along with the cash receipt to the vendor, who by now has bagged up your purchase and will hand it to you. It's a whole lotta hassle but that's the way things are done here...the old-fashioned, labor-intensive, paper-heavy way.

Today I couldn't help buy the dress she's wearing in the picture and said (in CHINEEEEEESE) "That's my daughter." They chattered on about how beautiful she was and how she looks like me ("Buy more stuff! Buy more stuff!") and then I left to take pictures of Ella's billboard.

Monday, May 12, 2008

We're fine

There was a big earthquake up in Chengdu recently - a tragedy. We didn't get much news about it but apparently you folks outside China are hearing more. Chengdu is quite far from where we live and we didn't even know about it, so please know we're fine. I don't in any way mean to trivialize what other people are going through in that area. Please keep the victims in your prayers.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day to ME...the best gifts...EVER

July, 1999

April 2002

November 2004