Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy Birthday PEOPLES Rep. of China

According to my very un-scientific poll on Facebook, the outside world did provide news coverage and recognition of the China's 60th National Day. (That is, a few of my friends did, indeed, hear about China's October 1 Birthday Party.) Reviews of the 16 hour extravaganza in Beijing continue to be replayed here. It was spectacular. Eighty-thousand school children stood in formation holding red and yellow flowers to create an aerial view of the flag and other Chinese characters. There were dancers and singers and representatives from all 56 of the minority groups who live here. The parade of military branches was orchestrated in extreme detail as well. It reminded me of how impressed I was after the opening ceremonies of the olympics here in 2008. "We got people." is some company's motto. It could definitely be China's slogan!

Anyway, the PEOPLE'S Republic of China (PRC) is a mere 60 years old. If you're like me and think of Chinese history as being ancient and full of dynasty names ending in "ing" or "ang", this seems like a WAY TOO SMALL number. This birthday is based on Chairman Mao's declaration of the exsistence of the PRC in 1949. His powers were firmly established (with strong ties to the Chinese Communist ) and with the oust of Dr Sun Yat Sen's "Republic of China" (ROC) followers. (The ROC leaders fled to Taiwan and remain there, hence the strife between China and Taiwan.) If you want to read more (after 16 hours of hoopla, I did), follow this link to a Wikapedia timeline of Chinese history. Go to the bottom of the timeline, which appears at the right margin of the page, and click on the categories in the section about Modern Chinese History.

It turns out that when the "birthday" hits a multiple of 5, (like 55 0r 60), China has a mega-holiday and review of the troops. It would be a wise financial move to invest in a company that makes Chinese flags just prior to one of these celebrations. (next one is 2014; don't say I didn't tell you so). I can only imagine Beijing, the epi-center of all of this. Shenzhen, where we live, is covered in flags! On the interstates, you can drive for miles and every light pole has 2 flags. National pride appears to be very high.

Our family arose early on October 1 in order to watch the neighborhood security force (it is sizeable to protect all of us westerners and our "stuff") raise the flag. They had announced there would be a ceremony in the last monthly neighborhood newsletter. Since the event took place at 8:00 am, we did not expect MANY residents. Sadly, we were the ONLY residents. Our guards, who normally don hawiian shirts and wave friendly hellos to us, had worked on a crisp march and chants. They even wore Chinese military uniforms. Music (the National Anthem?) blared from loudspeakers, and the staff not in the marching unit stood at a proud attention. We stood out of respect as the flag passed. (This is a behavior ingrained in me from many a Memorial Day/Fourth of July/Sports Event occasion. ) It was a small but sincere and solemn effort. I was glad we were there.

This vast, ancient yet young, and very POPULATED place, is my current home. It is not easy for me to grasp all of it's complexities but I think I should try. The world has grown so small that we are all affected by one anothers significant events. A birthday is a big deal.... just as I hoped when I celebrated my own birthday recently, may the best be yet to be....

Let Them Eat (Moon) Cake!

Before beginning this post, I went to the NBC web-site to see if there were any news stories related to it. I realized that China's holidays would not be a lead story, but I was sure there would be some references. To my surprise, the ongoing, simultaneous, celebrations of China's "Birthday" and of one of her most significant annual holidays (The Mid-Autumn Festival) were not mentioned anywhere! I admit I did not search too hard, but I didn't think I would have to. These events are the ONLY STORIES here. I wish I were more scholarly and able to do justice to the subjects. Because I am not, a brief summary and some pictures will have to do. This post will try to enlighten readers about the Autunm Festival. (I'll post later about the National Holiday. Maybe it WILL get coverage in the USA and it will be old news!)

Every fall, on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, China celebrates the mid-autumn festival. This tradition can be traced back to 2170 BC. It is a time when family members gather for meals, especially the eating of "Moon Cakes" and pomelos (picture included - it's a giant grapefruit.). There are several legends that surround the festival and highlight our celestial giant, the moon. (Google the "Moon Featival" and read about Chang-O or the Jade Rabbit.) It is also customary to decorate with colorful lanterns and stay up with family members and gaze at the moon.

Since our family is a part of a chapter of "Families With Children From China of East Tennessee - FCC-ET" we have had the pleasure of participating in several Knoxville-based celebrations of the Moon Festival. I thought I had a really good idea of how this worked. In Knoxville, we would gather at a park on a full moon evening. Among those present, there was usually some vague discussion about what a moon-cake was. Then we would eat various round foods with our girls (eg: cookies, pizza), make paper lanterns, read a legend, and march with flashlights around the park. We also shared other tasty foods, pot-luck style and enjoyed the company of our "family" of other friends with the common China adoption experience. The togetherness was definitely "authentic" Chinese. BUT, it is the "Moon Cakes" that have made an impression on me as we experience our first Mid-Autunm festival.

Moon cakes are EVERYWHERE! There are special displays in every store & hotel lobby. Ladies in special costunes stand near the displays and escort buyers to the check-outs. Though you can get reasonably priced ones in individual wrappers, many boxes of 4-6 small cakes cost $20 -$30 USD and much higher! They are wrapped elaborately and boxed beautifully and given as gifts by everyone, to everyone. Bill came through the door day after day exclaiming "more Moon Cakes!" He and others in his office got many from various vendors.

And what IS a "Moon Cake"? It is a cookie-ish/cake-ish outer crust, stamped on the top with pictures or chinese characters. Inside is a filling which is the consistency of very thick peanut butter. It is made from lotus seed paste and tastes sort of nutty/sweet/salty. In the very center is a whole egg yolk which (apparently) has dried or baked intact in the process of making the cakes. It is - I surmise - the moon! (I opened a moon cake to take a picture for this post and it had TWO MOONS! I probably would have double good fortune if I ate it - but I didn't....)

I have concluded that moon cakes could be compared to that US holiday "favorite": the fruit cake. They must be an acquired taste - surely somebody eats them because they are produced in great quantities. We ate some of our moon cakes, then we shared them with workers, neighbors, everybody! But they seemed to multiply in our pantry! We'd give one and receive two! The only variety that did NOT multiply was the unique "Dove Chocolate" mooncakes sent by some Chinese friends who know the family weakness. Enjoy the included photos of (only some of) our moon cakes. Also, I included a photo of the MANY gorgeous lanterns installed near the entry of our neighborhood.
Enjoy the's the same one we're gazing at here in China..... Happy autumn!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oh My Darlin' Clementine

It's been a really nice day. I began the morning happily deciding where to locate Paige's food and water bowls. After a leisurely shower, I strolled, apron and two containers in hand, to a cooking class a few blocks away. I signed up for this class through the Shekou International Women's Club. I joined SWIC soon after arriving here and it has been invaluable as a a way to network with other women/mothers/shoppers/fish-out-of-water/ such as myself.

As I stood puzzling over the very secure entry door to the lobby of the building listed in the e-mail about the class, a woman approached from the other side and let me in with a smile. My new friend, Suzie, and I then took the tiny elevator to the tiny apartment which is the "Shenzhen Kitchen, Chinese Cooking Workshop, Since 2003" According to the business card given to me by the smiling young instructor of the class, it is "One of the best cooking schools in the world",Gourmet Traveler , Austrailia 2008." I have little experience with cooking schools, (okay, no experience), but I think the business card may have been embellishing just a bit. We sat on tiny stools at white plastic tables, cooked our creations on hot plates, and probably exceeded the lawful capacity of the apartment with our enrollment of 7 plus 2 teachers. Did I mention the air conditioning was not working? They did put a fan conveniently behind me which kept me comfortable - my ingredients just kept blowing onto the other student's work . But, we had a GREAT TIME learning to make Prawn Dumplings and Fried Sesame Steam Buns.

Do not write asking me for the recipes or begging me to recreate these tasty dim sum selections. The instruction sheets listed all amounts in grams and the spoon we used to get ingredients like sugar, cornstarch, and salt out of little unlabelled jars was not a standard measuring spoon. There were also ingredients like "STARCH" and "FAT" "You mean lard?", we asked? "No, fat from meat you cut off and boil." came the reply. "Oh.....right.....huh?" Still, it was fun to make dumpling dough from scratch, roll it super-thin, stuff it with a mixture of diced shrimp, carrots, bamboo shoots, "fat", egg white, and cornstarch. Our instructors then demonstrated the art of beautifully folding the dumplings, creating perfect fan shapes and cleverly folded pouches that looked like silk drawstring bags. My classmates and I laughed, struggled and sweated to duplicate these masterpieces. Most of us, especially me, had to be satisfied with the knowledge that our ugly dumplings would at least taste the same! Seven minutes in a tower of bamboo steamers over boiling water and they were, indeed yummy!
The Sesame Buns filled with red bean paste were easier to make, demanding less artistry. They went through a process of steaming and then were fried in oil like old fashion donuts. Not likely the nutrition nazi (currently a position filled by Emily; Emily received her training under General Erin) will allow THAT to happen under her watch! Besides Suzie, my new friend from, of all places, Minnesota, I met Melanie from Belgium, Marian from France, Rebecca from Hong Kong, and two young ladies from Japan whose names I cannot spell. We left smiling, containers filled with our creations. My 15 ugly dumplings will be enjoyed as an appetizer tonight. The sesame buns may not get eaten since Dunkin' Donuts finally opened yesterday!

Elly came home from school grinning ear to ear, eager to tell me about the Awards Assembly held at school today. (I did not know about this...guilt, guilt.) Anyway, she was selected by her teacher to get an award for her outstanding attitude and humor thus far this year. She also got the award for Chinese Class (hard work and good listening). She was beaming as she told me about shaking the Principal's hand in front of the whole school. She was walking on air, all the more so because she had a play date planned with a new friend from Wales - a 5th Grader!

Back at home I was visited by a repairman offering to fix my doorbell , which had failed to chime when a representative of the neighborhood management team had dropped by earlier to leave a rent notice. This was the second repair our door chime required since we moved in. The chimer is battery powered and when the batteries weaken, the "Fur Elise" rendition sounds like it is being performed by a wounded cat. The repairment showed up on his electric scooter just as I was leaving for a trip to the grocery store. I handed him the chimer and told him the batteries were "bu hao" (no good). He motioned that he had to drive to the office to get batteries; I raised my shopping bags to signal that I was leaving. We used more sign language to agree that he could bring the chimer back and put it on my door stoop even if I wasn't home. Thumbs up - off to get eggs, bananas, Grape Nuts, and some ingredients Emily requested for the Italian Creme Cake she is planning for my birthday. (Her dumplings would have been lovely!) When I returned three stores later, arms about a cm longer than when I started, there was my doorbell chimer. I relaesed my load, pressed the button and.... "Oh My Darlin' Clementine" echoed through my house.

I laughed. Living here offers funny moments like this every day. Crazy that someday, when I hear THAT tune, it will make me think of CHINA!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

To Market To Market

Picture me standing with my grocery bags on the double yellow lines. This is where I cross when I am too lazy to walk up and down the 146 steps.over the street! I don't do thisoften since a lady told me she witnessed a fatality here.

Some glimpses into our pantry in Shenzhen.

Some snack foods from Sams and WalMart.

A tiny fraction of the special "Moon Cakes" for sale EVERYWHERE in China as people prepare to eat these for the Moon (or Autumn) Festival. Ladies in special costumes stand nearby and accompany you to the register if you buy some.
More snacks from Sam's. We thought the bag on the left might be like Cheetos - it was not. The big jar is oats.

All of the rice here is sold in JUMBO quntities. This is the smallest bag I could find. Elly was struggling to hold it up and I had removed a large canister amount of it already. I try to store all grains in the freezer to kill/prevent (you guessed it!) bugs.

These are quail eggs. they are a little bigger than a malted milk easter egg. Very cute and taste great hard-boiled.
Hmmm.....Is it "The Real Thing"?

Ellysa and I outside our local general goods and groceries store. This place carries mostly Chinese items and a few imports. Two import stores are right next door and carry lots of the other items we normally cook with, eg: chocolate chips and pancake syrup!
As I have said before, shopping in Shenzhen is always an experience. Compared to the first couple weeks of living here, I can now (usually) focus on the task of fulfilling my shopping list as opposed to being awestruck by the sights, sounds, and smells. Of course, the other day when a fish jumped out of captivity and onto the floor near our cart, Elly and I were a little distracted. And then we got mesmerized watching the frogs in their adjacent tanks, wondering how high they could jump. But the eels in this particular little market were just baby-sized - not nearly as impressive as the several feet long ones at Sam's or WalMart.

Other things, I have learned to NOT study too closely. The poultry, which is most often sold whole, always includes the head, tucked neatly beside the wing so you can look it in the eye. Then there are the trays of organs and innards which I give a blink and a swallow to and hurry on past. In the produce section, I am mostly frustrated that I can only recognize about 25% of what is sold. Even the stores that have taken the time to translate the label to english limit the effort to "Green Vegetable" (how dull do they think we foreigners are?) Plus, I get thrown off by even some of the familiar items - like the "green vegetable" that looks exectly like a green bean but is about 18 inches long. I'm thinking "Blue Ribbon" at the fair but wondering how long do you cook those things?

The packaged items are usually a little easier to navigate. If they are Chinese versions of well-known brands, there will be enough of the logo to make the item seem "normal". Even if Tony the Tiger has a thought bubble written in Chinese, I know he's saying they're "TERRRRific!" This commercial used to annoy me. Now I am happy to glance at Tony grinning at me as he slides around in my cart. I am trying to buy fewer of such import items. In part, because I can't justify the price; in part because I know we need to try other foods. I wrestle with the quality fears and try not to dwell on the tainted milk headlines that were so sad (I do still buy imported milk.) The girls have found some lunch snack items they enjoy. We're not sure of the contents or nutritional value but we're trying not to be too paranoid. Elly discovered some seaweed packets that she first had from an Asian import store in Knoxville. She would eat these salty, fishy things every day..... but Emily won't let her. (She, not Mommy, is the Nutrition Nazi of the house if the truth be known.)

Today, I remembered to have every item of produce weighed at WalMart - before I got to the final check-out! And I had enough of my own bags with me to hold everything! I didn't count out small change but, having recently mastered the many versions of coins which can add up to a Yuan, I could have done it! I then navigated myself to the nearest "travelator" (a label which seems to fit the moving sidewalk that takes you between levels at many malls and parking areas here) and found the "car park". I was grateful to NOT be on foot as the weight of my bags might have caused me to take shortcuts on the streets. I have written about the road hazards here, and I respect them greatly, but sometimes my tired arms and shoulders get the better of me. At such times, I find myself standing on the yellow lines as buses whiz by in front of me and behind me. Crossing Kingston Pike, at rush hour, between the North and South Campuses of Cokesbury UMC doesn't even seem risky to me anymore.
I hope this gives a better picture of some of the "day to day". I'll try to take my camera out more in the days ahead. I will begin a weekly Mandarin class next week. I'm also signed up for a class to learn how to make prawn dumplings. I cannot bring myself to buy the live shrimp just yet - I can't envision how you kill them before consumption - so our version will get made from the frozen shrimp I have purchased at the grocery. Tell the folks at Kroger "hello"!
(Lest you feel too much sympathy for all of the food adjustments we've made, let me confess that the new Dunkin Donuts opened a few blocks away this morning. Buy 5 get one free - we'll be there this weekend! They are located a few doors away from Starbucks, not far from the TCBY and across from McDonalds!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Connected Again!

I am not the "techie-ist" woman of my generation - never claimed to be. I am always slow to embrace new gadgetry. I probably would have sided with those who said TV would never catch on! The thought of buying new electronics (whether DVD players, phones, PCs, or anything else with more than an obvious "ON/OFF" switch) almost never appeals to me. I cling to my exsisting models, even if they are taped together, scratched, faded, partially functional, or, as my children put it, "from the old days". If some gadget still does the basic task I needed for in the first place, then it is good enough for me. I usually never figure out how to use the fancier features on the newer models anyway. And if my old gadget is slow, so what? I'm pretty pokey myself!

So, when our old desk-top computer showed signs of serious aging, I was the family hold-out on agreeing to get a new PC. Fortunately, I was out-voted and we shopped for a new laptop before moving to China. Of course, I became the biggest fan of the new toy. I loved being able to carry it around the house and take it on trips. With the move looming, it was comforting to have a gadget I could rely on to keep me connected to the world I was leaving behind. I hurriedly signed up for Facebook and even started this blog to make communicating easier. I was SO HIGH TECH!

And then....poof....I entered the People's Republic of China and much of my new-tech world was blocked! Every time I tried to get to Facebook or this Blog, "somebody" knew it and my session would be ended. "Humf", I sighed, thinking that just when I was catching on I had to give up.
But this time was different. I WANTED the technology; I NEEDED the technology! So, I asked and searched and tried lots of ways to get around the blocks. It was a HUGE undertaking for a non-techie. I gave up several times, resigned that e-mail and Skype would have to be enough. Then a new acquintance would suggest something else or I'd get a response from one of my many e-mails to "tech. support". I'd uninstall things, reinstall things, change settings daily. I even followed instructions like "extract all files then drill down to the Config. File and copy and paste to the C:\Program file"! Me! I did all this - sweating profusely, of course, and quite certain I would disable our new laptop completely by messing with things I did not comprehend.

Then, last night "TADA!" (This is probably not what Bill Gates said when he invented microsoft in his garage.) something worked! I cannot tell you what, or how ('cuz like we used to say in Oak Ridge, then I'd have to kill you, plus, I really don't understand how!) But, I can now get to Facebook and this blog. I can view You-Tube and other content that was previously blocked as well. Oh Happy Day! I'm a Techie and I'm connected to the world because of it! I plan to start using the blog again to organize thoughts and images from our aamazing adventure here in China. I hope I don't get derailed again. I'm paying a monthly fee and I have "support" people who know me on a first name basis, so I'm optimstic.

One more thing.... Necessity has also led me to using more of the features on my new cell phone here in China. I can text using the crazy T9 feature. (Okay, I admit I am really slow.) I use the calculator feature and the currency converter on a daily basis. I even write myself memos on my phone! Now if I could only figure out which remote control to use to change channels..... hey, gimme a break.....the labels are all Chinese!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Making Memories

Here are a few shots of some recent fun we've had. Ellysa, Isabella, Trish, and I spent a day exploring Ruby Falls and Rock City. Though both are famous TN tourist destinations, I had never been to either one. Very cool! I'd highly recommend it, especially in the company of children and great friends. Next is Ellysa enjoying one of many recent days playing with her friend, Jessica. Jessica's family, like so many of Elly's friends, have been life-savers this summer. Elly has had much-needed breaks from the apointments and the apartments to just swim, play, and have the kind of summer a kid is supposed to enjoy.
The last three pictures are of "Christmas In July", a first annual (my label which I hope will stick since we'll be back every summer) event sponsored by our TN family, Brian and Cheryl McClellan and company. Just like so many Christmas mornings we've spent in their home, we had brunch eggs, biscuits, cheese grits, hot fruit, and cheese danish. Mmmm, makes your mouth water, doesn't it? There's a photo of their girls and ours, a photo of me and Cheryl and her Mom (my "other Mothers," I call them - it's a title that should go only to Judy but, if you know Cheryl, you'd agree she wears it even better!) and there's a photo of Elly showing off a scrapbook to Brian's grandmother. "Granny", as we all call her, is about to turn 91 and she's a hero to us all.
The amazing digital picture frame that the clan gave us as a going away gift, loaded with memories of wonderful times shared with this family, will be a treasure in China. It DID start the flood-gates of crying (see post titled 'OUT of Denial'), but the memories are so special. I'll try to post more pictures soon. The blog program doesn't always let me - at least that's where I place the blame. I'm having a better day, less crying, though I still have to avoid certain subjects and eye contact with certain people. ... They know who they are....

Monday, July 27, 2009

OUT of Denial

It's true. Despite my positive-sounding proclamations about this being a big adventure, I am here to confess that I have been in deep denial about the reality of our impending move. The business of preparations, the fun of summer travels , and adjustments to life in a 3rd floor (walk-up) apartment have (mercifully) enabled me to stave off the emotions of leaving. But alas, be it from the sheer milestone of "one week to go" or, from the dear stream of love that has flowed our way of late, I can no longer bury my feelings about leaving.

The get-togethers we've been having with our friends really ARE the last we'll enjoy for a long while. And, we really MUST pack up the last of our Knoxville possessions which are strewn throughout this apartment. And Erin really IS going to take us to the airport on Sunday morning. and drive away alone.....

So, if this was a note on paper, it would be tear-stained. And if you could see me now, there would be no point in my denying that I'm on a doozy of a "crying jag" (as my Mother used to call them). How can we survive without the comfort of friends who have been near through so much of our life? These are friends who have shared our joys and sorrows; friends who know us well (and love us anyway!); friends who make us feel like they've known us always; friends with common bonds of faith; friends who have shared life experiences like our own, raising children together, adopting babies from China; friends who have made us family in a state far from where we were born. How can we endure letting go of such ties? At the moment, it seems unbearable!

So, keep us in your prayers. Pray that we'll muster whatever it takes to keep moving toward Sunday. Pray that we'll find comfort in knowing that "time flies". (This summer sure did!) Pray that Erin will get a study-abroad placement in a southern hemisphere university so she can extend her planned Christmas visit to China well into the new year. Pray that E-mail, SKYPE and any other technology tools that will help us stay connected with friends, work well everywhere we go in China. And know that every prayer we raise includes a thank you for the blessings of friends and family whose love we will carry with us in our hearts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Home Is....


"Home is..." I finish that sentiment like many people do, adding "where the heart is", or "where they love you", or "where you make it". "Home" is on our minds a lot lately! We close today on the sale of the Knoxville home we occupied since 2002. It is (finally) empty, save a broom or two and a dust mop that we were too lazy to remove. There's probably some hidden meaning in leaving home care supplies behind for a new owner to find - do we hope it will continue to be loved - or at least cleaned?

Then too there are the pictures of our future "home" being sent via e-mail updates by one of Bill's kind work associates. The photo above shows the exterior of the house. As you can see, it is a "stand-alone" structure. This is rare in Shenzhen - most people live in apartments. The interior is spacious and finishing off nicely too. There's a bedroom on the first floor and 3 more on the upper level - the same amount we had in the (just about) sold house. Of course, others are choosing all of the colors (well, that's easy since everything will be white!), the wood finishes, the fixtures, etc.. This is a big change for us as we have always done extensive re-modeling of our homes, usually adding bold color and agonizing over every choice. We even wallpapered a kitchen and painted bedrooms in our first TN apartment! This seems especially over-the=top when I think back to the fact that we lived there 12 months and started construction on our first home during that time! Anyway, I'd be lying if I didn't confess that "home" has had some strong ties to "dwelling" in our life's history.

But back to the title of my inky meandering.... Despite all that I have said about "home", I was reminded last week just EXACTLY what it is for me. With deep apologies to my beloved TN "family", and with sincere acknowledgement that east TN is indeed a beautiful slice of the world, I have to confess that "home" , for me , will always be Wisconsin. Spending a few days there over the 4th of July holiday was like a magic elixer to me. I drank in the rolling, emerald green farmland, marvelled at the black topsoil and all of the beauty and bounty it produces. Every scent every scene, every taste, all blankets me like a warm quilt. I'm sure I look like a kid at Disney all the while I am there. Just ask our girls and they will tell you they grew up thinking Wisconsin was akin to Oz itself. They joke that my voice takes on a reverent tone and hands must cover hearts when I utter the name of the unincorporated little hamlet where I grew up, namely (I'll give readers time here to assume a respectful pose ) "Mindoro".

So, without apology, I am basking in the afterglow of a trip "home". I will always feel blessed beyond measure to have grown up in a place where "everybody knows your name". Even the mosquitos and the smell of manure can't alter the way I feel about that place. I am SO THANKFUL that my dear siblings planned a reunion picnic during this latest trip. (See the photo above. We're in "numeric order" from left to right.) Adding seldom-seen cousins and nieces and nephews to the "home" experience was priceless. High school friends (and even a college pal) stopped in as well. Reinforcing all of those precious connections was another shot of that elixer.

Reality beckons..... We have a more loose ends to tie before we leave. We will say difficult goodbyes over the next few weeks and we will reinforce the precious connections we have to our Knoxville friends. It will be hard. Thankfully, I have reserves of "the Good Stuff" (anybody familiar with that Kenny Chesney song?) stored deep in the well of my heart. Since I always appreciate reference to a song, I'll always think of it as 'Love Potion #9"

PS: The date fore this pos t should be July8th, 2009. I can't seem to change the one above. (Thanks for pointing that out, Annabelle!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Moving Out

The big week is finally here - Moving Out! It's not like we've been preparing for months or waiting endlessly, but still it's a culmination.. In fact, Erin and I were discussing last night that this WHOLE THING only started as a CONCEPT less than 2 months ago. In that short time, we:
finished up elementary, high, and pre-school-years;took trips to California (Erin), China (Bill, Mary, Emily & Ellysa), and Florida (all of us); picked out a new home to rent for the next 3-5 years; enrolled the girls in a new school; put our house on the market and sold it! (Closing is July 8); AND, most recently, we have sorted through the collection of a lifetime of our "stuff" to get ready for our move.
I would go to the mat with anyone to argue that moving is one of the most exhausting things you can do. Let this be a warning to you.... don't hang on to so much STUFF! And, don't stuff your stuff willynilly in every conceiveable space in your house! We have made discoveries in so many drawers, attic boxes, crawlspace bins..... we have jammed unrelated "stuff" all over this house!

It HAS been refreshing to clean out and give/throw, but as those of you who have done this know, it is also emotionally draining. There are the "What an idiot I am!" moments when you discover the worthless stuff you have selfishly clung to. There are the "Aw, look at THIS..." moments that bring you to your knees with a memory. Of course there are the "?@#^ this is ruined!" discoveries as well. After a solid week of those moments, interspered with meetings about customs restrictions, insurance inventory forms, and the occasional discussion of where we'll live when our stuff floats away, I AM SPENT!

This has definitely been the steepest, most rocky part of the climb thus far. (See my reference to "Come to the Edge" in my first post.) I was (happily) raised as a "stay in the pew" Presbyterian but my feet were itching to walk to the alter on Sunday so I could lay this down. The sermon was titled "Faith and Doubt" and it was one of those messages that make you wonder if the minister is a mind reader who spent time in your head recently. Anyway, it recharged me and reminded me that God has it all covered, even when I don't know what"it all" is yet! I have Erin, my daughter who was born older and wiser than I, to thank for nudging me to church when I really just wanted to continue to sit and cry.

Anyway, the packers will work for a couple days, boxing "stuff" and wrapping furniture. We have piles and piles for Goodwill in the garage. There are post-it notes on furniture and closets and cupboard doors to inform the packers that something is to go to China. We have wondered, argued and debated about whether to ship or store many items, but after Friday, we can (MUST!) "let it go...." We will be in a 2-bedroom apartment starting Friday night; a 3-bedroom opens up next week, so we'll move again! The things which go into local storage will be packed up next Wednesday (after a few more rounds of give/throw debating, I'm sure).

We have painstakingly tried to anticipate what we'll need to have in our possession, and on our backs and feet, between now and whenever our stuff gets to Shenzhen. The International movers can not give us a firm arrival date so we may have to live in an apartment there for a couple weeks when we arrive. Emily's task was the most painstaking because, in the worst case scenario, she will need clothes to wear to a new high school for the first week. This is a BIG DEAL!

I covet prayers of my friends and family. There are still many decisions to be made. After a trip to WI in July, our schedules will be full of Dr. appointments and efforts to update legal documents, convert things to electronic mails, etc. Bill takes it all in stride quite well; I get wigged out way too easily, but hey, I'm still moving on! Erin and Emily have been amazingly helpful. Both of them are way more organized than I am so they have made great suggestions and executed with energy I lack. And Elly (I mean Ellysa), well, she is still NOT a happy camper. She has, thankfully, beeen gone every day from 7:45 - 2:30 at "Camp Invention" at her elementary school. Parents of friends have been kind enough to let her go home and play afterwards. She came in from a day of pure pleasure with two of her best school pals and burst into tears when she saw that our kitchen and dining room were reduced to cardboard boxes and paper-wrapped chairs and tables. We all huddled around her for a family hug. It's very hard, but I believe myself when I tell her it will be okay.......

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Could Somebody Change That Station?!

In all honesty, our trip to the beach really was relaxing. As we were making our way back to Knoxville from China, I kept thinking..."We're nuts! We can't possibly come home for a day and then drive to Florida!" But we did it, and thank goodness! There's just something about barefoot walks in the sand and staring at an endless horizon. As Erin put it, the trip to the wedding and the stay on the condo in St. Pete. was the "reset" button that our family needed after the surreal craziness of the past month. We had a great time seeing Bill's family and the wedding...... it was a fairy-tale event complete with a princess bride. (Our niece Brittany, who is a corporate event planner by vocation, had every detail covered and was honestly one of the most beautiful brides I've ever seen. Her Mom commented that she and her bridesmaid friends went to "Bride Bootcamp". Maybe I need to get re-married.....)

But, I digress. We returned from FL on a marathon drive on Monday. After several loads of laundry, Ellysa is nearly ready for her 2-night stay at a church camp near the Smoky Mtns. She leaves today with her forever pal, Isabella. As for me, I am plagued once again by those two pesky stations that I can't seem to shut down in my head. I think of them as "FRET", FM and "PLAN", AM. Despite my faith that everything will be fine, and despite the reassuring nature of our house and school and healthcare hunting trip, AND despite the fact that everything really has fallen into place so far, I can't "turn down the noise in my mind" (can you hear Carly Simon's voice?)

So, I wake before the dawn and mentally wander through the lists. It has become clear that we will need to get our furniture and selected possessions on a ship by the end of next week! This means we need to find a furninshed place to dwell until August 1st. This means we need to seriously sift and sort, make a run to Sams to but bulk quantities of items that we can't get in China (like deodorant and tampons that we would want to use, coffee, dishwasher detergent, and on and on if you're crazy like me) We need to start cancelling utilities, figure out what to do with the mail, the dog.....YIKES! Everyone also needs to get to the doctor, the dentist, the hairdresser. We need to order long=term supplies of medicines. We'd like to sell some furniture. Bill needs to take care of the items found on the home inspction for the sale of the house - we think we'll close before July 15 if the appraisal (done yesterday) goes well.

Oh, we also need to arrange for a furnished place in Shenzhen for a couple weeks after we arrive as it is likely our stuff will not be there August 1st, even if we DO ship it next week. So much for being settled in the house when school starts, but this appears to be a small hurdle.

Seriously, if someone doesn't find a better station, I'm gonna have to get rid of that radio!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Few Thousand Words

Hopefully, these pictures will paint my story....

Here are a few photos to reflect our recent trip to Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Ellysa and Emily are pictured in the courtyard near the Shekou Int'l Elemmentary School. They are also together in near the entrance of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Hong Kong's Aberdeen area. The picture of the house under construction should give you the idea that we really are getting a stand-alone house. It also reveals what "redecoration" means in China! The interior pic. is of Emily looking over the construction plans. There were many workers everywhere and it was hard to get pictures.
As our high speed journey continues, today finds us at in a hotel in south Georgia, on the way to a wedding in St. Petersburg. Erin drove most of the way; we will get to unwind a bit before the return to Knoxville to begin the sorting process. Some days it feels like we have to move a mountain by August. Breath....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Falling Into Place

Obviously my big ideas about keeping up with our adventure in a real-time way while in China did not pan out. Between the challenges of hotel computer speeds, sleep deprivation, a very full schedule of events and decisions, and "Big Uncle" (aka the Chinese government), I failed.

We are, gratefully, back in Knoxville after a L O N G trip home. As if a fifteen hour flight from Hong Kong to Chicago is not enough time spent in the "friendly skies", we were again treated to a little extra time in Chicago. This time we got to sit on a taxi-way for three hours. We arrived in Knoville at midnight Monday night ((Tuesday afternoon where we had just spent 10 days), so we are pretty wiped out. The girls were troopers as usual, even despite Emily having stomach pains the entire HK to ORD flight and Ellysa throwing up several times on that same bumpy ride. We think Emily ate something that disagreed with her. As for Elly, well, she frequently needs a bag nearby during travel if you get my drift. They are both fine now.

Anyway, things are "falling into place". For my part, it sure SEEMS like falling too! I continue to have mostly positive and confident thoughts about this undertaking but I would be lying if I didn't say I feel overwhelmed and scared every day too. I still can't believe we found a home, enrolled the girls in schools, met an MD in Hong Kong who agreed to coordinate healthcare for us while we're there. Thanks to Bill's amazing organizational skills, we also bought cell phones so when we arrive in August we'll quickly be able to contact our new network! To increase the comfort factor in a land of strangers, we even got a cheap phne for Ellysa! (You can imagine her excitement!) I got the same cheap model as I expect to remain a simple(tech)ton for some time! Elly was proud that I chose the same phone as she so that she could teach me to use it. (Sad but true....)

We feel good about the decisions we've made so far. One big question before the trip was related to furnishing the house. We decided to ask for our unit to be unfurnished so that we can take our familiar things with us and make it feel more like our home and our sanctuary. We think we'll get quite a lot of resistence to our requests to hang pictures on the walls as they are all concrete. It' sad and worrisome to think about storing the many prints we have bought as souveniers on vacations over the years, but maybe the tropics would be hard on them anyway.

Not long after sharing our "We're moving to China!" news with people, a fretting friend told me that if God is behind a plan, things will just "fall into place". It seems that this is the case for our move. I pray daily that God will keep sheltering us and give us wisdom We have already been given so much advice, encouragement, hospitality and support, both here and in China. Really, I can't put my appreciation into words. I never dreamed I would be taking such a big adventure. I certainly would have denied my ability to absorb the events of the past month and still be standing upright. (Okay, I admit I sway and swoon every now and then.) God is great .....and He has many hands and feet around His world.

Oh..... I almost forgot. Today, after being back in TN for about 12 hours, we accepted an offer for the purchase of our house. If all of the steps "fall into place", we'll close on July 15th.

I'll post some photos on my next entry into cyberspace. Right now, I need an Ambian and a pillow, in that order.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

come to the edge
"Come to the edge.""We can't. We're afraid.""Come to the edge.""We can't. We will fall!""Come to the edge."And they came.And he pushed them.And they flew.~ Guillaume Apollinaire, 1880-1918 Many years ago, I kept this quote taped in front of me on a college desk. When I dismantled my dorm room, I put the yellowed quote in my Bible. (The one bestowed upon me by the Presbyterian Church in my little Wisconsin hometown.) When I have had my Bible out over the years, that yellowed rectangle would fall out, reminding me that if only we will trust, we can soar.

Well, to be honest, moving to China seems a lot like going to the edge. (The earth is round, I know, but it's hard to see that from the current perspective.) My dear husband of nearly 28 years called me "out of the blue" just a few weeks ago and offered the "possibility" of this move. It DID sound like one of those "chance of a lifetime" moments and so I said "Sure, we should be open to the possibility."
Fast (FAST!) forward to today and we have passports and visas on the counter. We'll be in Shenzhen in just a few days, looking for ....a house? (there are very few), a highrise apartment? (there are many, but we might fall!), new schools? (an International School), a new grocery store? (and way new groceries), new friends? (I have SO MANY WONDERFUL "OLD" ONES!), new, new everything! I swing from panic to excitment to exhaustion over all that must be done to make this move happen in two months. Our house is for sale, but there's SO MUCH STUFF to be sorted. What stays in storage? What will be need and have room for? What will be end up giving up and letting go of just to expedite this adventure? We've been vaccinated. Our luggage is out of the attic, ready to be filled.
I feel blessed but uncertain. It will be an amazing experience but it WILL be scary. We're approaching the edge. Get ready, here we gooooooooo!!!!