Monday, August 30, 2010

What Goes Around Comes Around

Time, I decided as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes at 6:45 on a Saturday morning, to begin writing my blog again.  I had not intended to take the whole summer off.  I envisioned leisurely moments back in the USA when I would reflect on the first "China cycle" with a detached and objective eye.  I fully expected I would use the blog to pour out the emotions I felt at being truly "home".  WRONG!  (Or, as John Lennon so wisely said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.")

Summer whizzed by at super-warp speed, and no wonder considering all that we wedged into our 8 weeks!  My Master Appointment Sheet, initiated many weeks before we left China, seemed like a managable plan, spacing out all of the doctor, dentist, and business-affairs "check-ups" we needed to accomplish while in Knoxville.  Alas, it seemed every appointment begat a follow-up for some finding or another.  I needed a filling (add two more appointments); Ellysa needed to have some minor oral surgury recommended by her dentist (add three more appointments); Emily found out she could improve her smile (without more orthodontia) with a procedure to extend the tooth that seemed determined to shrink from the ranks (add one more appointment).  On top of the above multiplications, add Emily's visit to the "Minute Clinic" to treat a sore throat.Then there was my trip to the MD for a flu-like virus that had me down for nearly a week with fevers and a wicked cough.  Consider also the other "ologists" who I saw only once.  No wonder I didn't sit on a veranda and think profound thoughts!

And I should also document here and now the ridiculous amount of miles we logged.  Torturous flights from China and back book-ended our crazy itinerary.  Our summer also included driving to and all around WI and flying to Portland, OR for a four-day, four college visit.  Emily snuck in an awesome trip to Denver to see her friend Ashton, and Ashton's Mom, Kim.  They even managed a road trip to Mount Rushmore!  Picture side-trips to airports at all hours to drop off and pick up Emily and Erin as they carried out their dream trip to Machu Pichu, Peru.  Tired and dizzy?  I was!  Writing a blog in my spare time?  Afaid not!

But here I am.  Back on the red sofa in my living room in Shenzhen, PRC.  We all survived our first summer of "going home".  It was an interesting challenge since we no longer "own" a home in the USA.  Thank God for the generosity and patience of friends and family who sheltered us, fed us, and put up with our crazy schedules.  It is not easy having a party of 3 or 4 drop in with six pieces of luggage.  The fact that we also suffered jet lag and multiple viruses did not make us more appealing.  But our dear friends (voluntarily) and family (they're stuck with us, I guess!) were a godsend.  They catered, cleaned, shuttled , borrowed, laundered, listened, played, entertained.  They planned for us and around us for weeks on end and we felt so loved!

And that brings me around to the conclusion of this first blog post of "Year 2 in China".  My first thoughts coming here a year ago, and my thoughts returning again, are mostly about our dear friends and family.  They have carried us, literally and figuratively, through this incredible journey.  So this is a "thank you" post, from the bottom of my heart.  For the prayers and the patience, for the pulls and the pushes, for the memories and the messages.  To those we did not see this summer, my deepest regrets!  We just couldn't fit it all in! 

I will write in the weeks ahead about the details of "Year 2".  It is a much easier start than our first year but still offers many occasions for shock, amusement, endearment, and growth.  I hope you'll enjoy what I share.

You can follow the link below to a Shutterfly album with photos from some of our summer fun.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Please Pass The Eyeball"

I just have to write this down and attach a photo before my adled brain forgets!  We had a milestone event in our household on May 22, 2010.  A member of our family ate a fish eye!!  With knowledge and forethought!

A little background.....

We have been blessed by the kindness of several new friends since moving to China.  One family that we have spent some great times with are native Hong Kong residents.  They happen to have a daughter close to Ellysa's age and we have done a few "family outings" with them.  Our get-togethers invariably include food, often traditional Chinese cuisine, as our friends try to introduce us to the customs and culture of our newly-adopted homeland.  On a February trip to a Hong Kong sea-side village restaurant, we enjoyed an array of just-caught delicasies from the local waters.  Our lazy susan swirled at the center of the table with giant prawns, lobster, squid, and a fish, all of which we had selected from outdoor tanks near the restaurant entrance. 

Talk about a raw sushi bar!! You get to pick your seafood before entering the restaurant.

The Chosen One.  "Lunch is ready!"

Ellysa sat near her new Chinese friend, Doris (who speaks perfect English), and watched curiously as she happily plucked the eye from the huge, whole fish which was a featured dish on our table.  After getting a nod from her parents that she could indeed "claim" the prize organ, all of us Grohs looked on in amazement as  Doris popped said eye in her mouth with a smile.  Some questions followed: what does it taste like?, what does it feel like? do you like it?  Delicate stomachs then steered the conversation elsewhere and we chalked up ANOTHER China experience.

Fast-forward to May 22.....

A day at the beach.  Bill and Ellysa took (very bumpy) rides on the boat in the picture. 
I found a rock and sat down!

Bill, Ellysa, and I joined the Radio System's Shenzhen staff on an "Outing" to Huizou, a "beachy" area about 2.5 hours from our house.  We all departed in a tour bus at 8:00 am and the day included lunch and dinner meals, pre-planned by the Chinese staff members.   Lunch was at a decidedly Chinese "establishment", near the water's edge.  The food was okay and rice, as ever, was plentiful for moments when we didn't want to use our chopsticks to grapple with the unknown dishes swirling by on the lazy susan.  As is customary, the big fish was a featured dish.  When the "wheel of fortune" spun the fish to a resting place in front of Ellysa, she looked at Bill and I and said, "Should I eat the eye?" 

Note the tasty morsel dangling on the chopstick on the right.

The voice in my head was screaming "Oh my gosh!  Please be joking.  You are NOT gonna eat a fish eye, are you?"     However, the Mother voice I possess (and use not as often as I should) calmly said, "Sure, give it a try if you want to."  (GULP)  So, she did it.  She got that shiney eyeball on the tip of her chopstick and popped it in her mouth.  After some chewing, she judged it "not too bad", but had to spit out a brittle, white ball that would not break down.  (Who knew that was in there?  GULP AGAIN)

I still quease a bit when I consider this event, but it is a reflection on the many ways we are all "growing" here.  None of the Chinese people who shared our table of 10 diners thought it was any big deal.   In fact, they were probably thinking, "Remember when we were kids and always got dibs on the eyeballs?"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day

Since this blog should be a bit of a journal of our time in China, I'll devote this post to some pictures of my first Mother's Day in China.  Though there was not an onslaught of ads for brunch buffets and suggestions for giving Mom flowers, candy, jewelry, my family did not forget this special day!  We were told restaurants might be more crowded than usual for lunch after church on Sunday so we went out to dinner on Saturday night.  Tried a new place near the hotel we stayed at back in May when we visited China to choose schools and a house.  It brought back memories when we dropped by the lobby after dinner.  We were unanimous in wishing we could stay for the fantastic breakfast buffet that we always enjoyed but we headed back to Jing Shan instead. On Sunday, Erin Skyped me from Chile and then we went to church then out for lunch at one of our favorite western retaurants.  Later, I opened my gifts from Ellysa.  Bill got me flowers and Emily fulfilled a request and baked me a lemon tart.  We sat by the pool for awile and watched Ellysa play there with a friend, then came home and ate leftovers for dinner.  A perfectly relaxing day!

Relaxing at dinner on Saturday night.

Mother's Day Eve Dinner Out

Gifts from Ellysa ("I had to use my free time at school. This is gonna MAKE YOU CRY!")

A vase of "flowers" featuring Elly in every bloom.

I'm glad "I got you babe!"

The "made -to-order" lemon tart from Emily Dawn.

Flowers from Bill.

Hmmmmm....  Perfect!

Thank's for making me a Mom!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Confessions of An Ex-Pat. Part 3 - "Is This A Dream? Somebody Pinch Me!"

These guys get so lonely waiting in the corner for me to ask them to dance!

Ah.... the "cleaning supply bucket"!  Good Memories!

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I "confessed" having a Driver and Gardeners. Undeniably these are a couple sweet "perks" of being an ex-pat in China! Today's admission, however, trumps them both times ten! Another drum roll please (or is deep organ music more appropriate for the Confessional?)......

I have a housekeeper!!!

Could you but see me now, the non-verbals that would go with this announcement  include a blush, hands over my face to hide my sheepish grin, and, (if I'm completely honest) a little jig!!!

As with the Gardener thing, my oldest friends know that having someone clean house for me is NOT my historic 'MO' (that's Modis Operandi, I think, in case you are not into crime lingo)!  Never, in all my years of marriage, of having babies with no family close by, of having appendectomies and mastectomies (and other -ectomies I can't recall), of working full time, NEVER, have I hired someone to do my housework.  It's just not how I was made - although I have some relatives who can picture me "sitting  a spell" while the dishes got done! 

Oh wait- I stand corrected - we did once hire a maid! When we moved into one of our past homes (that appeared especially lived-in by the previous families which included a big dog , a couple cats, several children and NOT many housekeepers), Bill and I agreed that we should hire one of those maid services that have a set rate for a  one-time "Top to Bottom" cleaning.  They came (3 ladies from The Merry Maids company as I recall) while Bill and I were either working (we both worked full time then - even me!) or distracted with packing up the house we were selling.  The house we hired them to clean was completely empty anyway, so how much supervision could a crew of experienced women need to clean a blank slate?  Well, despite my failing memory, I distinctly recall we were SO disappointed with the job they did, or didn't do is more like it.  I believe we wrote a letter of complaint and then, in typical Bill and Mary 'MO', we went back in and did it ourselves!  Maybe that's one of the reasons we never hired another house-helper after that?  (Nah.... it's 'cuz we're tight with a dollar! Bill never could justify paying someone for what we could do ourselves.  He is somewhat a changed man in this regard, but THAT's a whole other BLOG and HE can write his own confessions and improve his own soul!)

Anyway, with a LONG and consistent history of doing all house work myself, I moved to China and have a housekeeper.  Here's how it all started.....
Our Shenzhen home being "re-decorated" (aka "gutted") last summer. 

Here's what "redecorating" looks like from the outside.  (Shenzhen home summer of '09) 

The house we are renting was not quite ready when we arrived.  It was under "re-decoration" all summer and despite a promise to have it ready when we needed it, there were delays in getting the nod to move in.  At the time we were living in an apartment about a 15 minute walk away from the house, so we checked on it nearly daily.   When our long-travelled shipment of furniture and "stuff" from Knoxville was about to arrive and our occupancy day grew closer, one thing was clear - the house needed a good cleaning!  Construction dust coated the many tiled walls and floors, there were globs of glue and epoxy everywhere.  And this is a pretty big house (something like 3500 sq. feet)!  So Bill and I complained to the rental managers.  We even had a bilingual co-worker of Bill's come and tell them we were very dissatisfied with the cleanliness of the house.  But not much happened......

A second and third round of pointing out globs of (I dunno what!) had no greater affect.  They would send a little lady (Chinese, of course and not a word of english spoken or understood) with a single, VERY GREY rag and she would rub away at ONLY the spots I pointed to.  A glob less than a foot away did not catch her eye unless I pointed .  When it was clear that a rag couldn't get epoxy or dried grout from tile (duh?), I offered her a putty knife from Bill's tool box.  She used it briefly, left, and returned some hours later with a single edge razor.  She held it in her bare hands and, again, used her laser-like tunnel vision to tackle only the places I pointed out as I hovered nearby.  By the looks of things on each of my new visits, when I left the house, so did she. 

Progress was slow....  And  (confession within a confession) this was NOT one of my brighter times in life.  I had jet lag and culture-shocked nerves.  I ate little, slept almost never, and I think I was constipated too!  In short, a basket case!  I bemoaned to an experienced ex-pat (one from Knoxille herself, no less) my frustration about getting our soon-to-be-new-home cleaned.  "Hire someone!", she said as she tilted her head to the side and concluded that I was clearly NOT with the ex-pat 'program' yet.  "It's so inexpensive!", she explained.  Not only that, she knew of someone who might be available and who came highly recommended as she was a cousin of her own housekeeper!  She spoke great English and she was available for some part-time, temporary work.  I mentioned this possibility to Bill and he was ALL FOR IT.   (I'm tellin' ya, he's not the man I married!  Of course, he didn't marry the basket case I had morphed into either!)

And so began our introduction to "Sinamar".   (Isn't that a beautiful name?  Like a combination of cinnamon and some perfume named something like Shalomar). Initially we hired her to help out 4 hours at a time, kind of on an "day by day" basis, until we had the house cleaned to our standards so we would be comfortable putting our furniture in it.  She was glad for these work hours as she had a only part-time job for another family at the time.  And did she work!! Plus she was even "merry" about it!   I cleaned some walls too but in my exhausted delerium I was happy to keep her on retainer.

Of course, during these initial weeks we continued to absorb more about what life was like for a foreign family living in China.  Everyone I spoke with had a housekeeper.  Many had live-in's.  They are referred to as "Ai Yi's"  (which literally means "loved 1", which is kinda confusing but then again who wouldn't love a housekeeper?)  All of the large homes and apartments in China are designed with a "maid's quarters".  They are usually tiny spaces, adjacent to the laundry and just off the kitchen.  (We converted ours into a pantry the week we moved in by adding 3 large racks of metal shelving.)  A sizeable number of families had "full time" AiYi's meaning women who come to their home 8 hours daily, plus 4 on Saturdays.  A few people had part-time helpers, but I was warned that it was hard to find a "good one" who only wanted to work part time.  And my friend who helped me find Sinamar warned "if you like her, talk to her about something longer-term or she'll get snapped up by someone else".  Since I was also hearing from new ex-pats like myself who were hiring and letting go AiYi's by the handful.

So.... the new guy I shack up with here said, "Let's hire her!"  We worked out that she would come 5 mornings each week for 4 hours a day.  She had a family that used her every afternoon so we figured if we gave her the balance of her work hours we wouldn't loose her to someone who would give her more hours!!  (I'm rationallizing here, but at least I know it!)

I laid out a schedule that included laundry and ironing - PtL! (that's "Praise the Lord" for those of you who don't get texts or e-mails from southerners), changing sheets on the beds, cleaning bathrooms, dusting and floor cleaning.  Because my newly acquired friends were all talking about having their AiYi's prepare meals, I asked her if she would cook one day per week.   I had it from a reliable source that she came from a family of good cooks and she said she  knew how to prepare "western" food - exactly what we still preferred on our home menu!  Her first dish was a minestrone that was labelled fabulous by us all.  Then she did a roasted chicken with fresh rosemary and a ratatoulie that made our mouths water.  She brought recipes she's familiar with and I (and Emily) of course passed on requests.  EVERYTHING she touched tasted amazing!! Chicken enchiladas?  YUM! Fresh (yup, she gets 'em live on her way to the house) Shrimp Stir Fry? - OH MY!  Chicken Parmesan? - We ALL get seconds!

Sinamar's Chicken Parmesan - YUM-O!

More importantly, Sinamar became our house and Paige sitter whenever we've travelled.  I cannot bring myself to put Paige in a kennel here, and the ex-pats clear out on most holidays so there is not a neighbor option like back in Knoxville.  Enter sweet Sinamar.  She has slept here when we are away overnight so Paige has not had to be all alone.  At Chinese New Year, when we were in Malaysia for a week, Sinamar stayed with Paige.  Thank goodness! During the ALL NIGHT LONG fireworks, Paige had a human-occupied bed to jump into while she shook llike a leaf.

She's still the sweetest dog on the planet, even if she has devil eyes!!

One day my friend Jenni (who is wise and wonderful  and missed her calling in sales because she can sell me on any idea that pops in her head), asked if I would like to "share" Sinamar's mornings, because she did not think she wanted her full-time Chinese AiYi anymore and, really, couldn't we both get by with less housekeeping services.  I had to admit that I was stretching the list to keep Sinamar busy 5 mornings a week, so back in October, she started working M/W/F mornings for us and T/Th for Jenni.  She's such a hard worker that she still got through the list.  I picked up slack with the laundry - it is never-ending, as all families can relate.

But last week, Sinamar said that she was no longer working for one of her "afternoon families" (they moved back to Korea, I believe).  So, I started thinking, imagine all the recipes she could cook if I didn't have to limit her to the "make-ahead" category! She is so sweet and hard-working and I want her to be happy, I thought.   Plus I figure the floors will need mopping more often in the rainy season.  And then there's the fact that I volunteered to head a committee for PTA next year.  Our church wants me to take on more responsibilities too and I NEED to be able to say yes to my church, for heaven's sake! 
And before I knew it, I added some extra hours to her schedule.  Sinamar came at 10:00 today.  She's in the kitchen now making mushroom porkchops and her famous ratatoulie.  Ellysa requested the ratatoulie as it is her favorite  (Ellysa also loves seaweed wrapped around cucumbers as a school snack - gotta love her!)  It smells devine and here I sit typing.  Every dish will be washed and every counter wiped down before she leaves at 6.I think I'm giving up laundry again.......  

Ironing.....has always given me motion-sickness.  Really!

So, with apologies to my hard-working sisters, the real and the figurative, who do it all and do it well, I confess that this is SOOOOOOOO sweet.  It's a new luxury for me and it will end when we quite this "un-reality" show of living in China, but it is S W E E T.  If you come visit,  my "Loved 1" might do your laundry and cook for you.  Shall I put you on the calendar for one week or two?

I'm really not spry enough to click my heels properly during a jig but, go ahead, picture me giving it a try.....

Oh yeah, and revise the title of this blog, for as more than one someone has said in more than one movie: "If this is a dream, I don't think I ever wanna wake up!"

Friday, April 30, 2010

"Climb On! 'He's Got You!"

A couple weeks ago Ellysa's teacher forwarded an e-mail  request from the school's Phys. Ed. teachers asking for parent volunteers.  They needed help with some wall-climbing sessions they were planning to offer the students during P.E. class.  The extra hands, the letter said, would improve the safety and accessability of the activitiy for the students, as parents could assist children with donning and securing climbing harnesses,  supervising the climbing, etc..  The need seemed reasonable to me and I responded with a note that I would be happy to help. In return for my volunteer message I was invited to attend a brief training session last Thursday .

I hurried to the Thursday climbing orientation following the first meeting of a new women's Bible Study group that new friend Jenni and I decided to launch.  It was a great first meeting, clearly several of us needed to share some "faith time" in a small group setting! Anyway, I switched gears and scurried to the gym, planning to quickly learn how to help children into harnesses.  Surprise!  After we learned how children should don and adjust the variety of harnesses available for different sized bodies, we were handed harnesses to put on ourselves!   Did you know (I didn't) that climbing harnesses are not just worn by the climber but also by the person assisting with the rope on the ground level (aka the Belayer)?  Also, in case you don't know, climbing harnesses have straps that run around a person's rear, up between the legs, and then secure just below the hips?  "Duh" once again for me - the non-athletic, non-adventurous one! I was the clear amatuer in the tiny circle of volunteers as I was wearing a dress!   But, relieved that on that particular day I had put on a pair of "presentable" underwear, I forged ahead, not looking too "sporty" but surely qualified to be called "a good sport"!
Belayers helping students climb the walls in Gym at Shekou Int'l School.
My friend Jenni is standing on the left.

Our hour of "training" flew by.  I frantically tried to commit to memory all that I was told about the different harnesses - which were best for the tiny 1st and 2nd graders, which suited the older kids, which were best donned like a jacket, which should be put on like a pair of pants.  (Since I have raised three bike-riding children but never figured out how to adjust their helmet straps, I was seriously concerned that I might not "get" this, but I listened carefully and stared at every harness with deep concentration.)  Then it was time to add a carabiner to the harness straped 'round my stylishly gathered up dress so I could learn to "Belay". ( "Ahh..., excuse me, did he say I was going to "belay" and is it getting drafty in here or is it just me?")

Jenni waiting for her next climber -No, she's not responsible for the
girl climbing the wall behind her.

The gym teachers showed us how to loop our belaying rope into a "basket" device, being mindful if we were right-handed versus left handed.  I'm right-handed, BTW.  Next they showed us how to (1) "pulley" the rope through the basket with a quick left hand down/right hand up motion , then (2) drop the dominent hand ("but keep gripping the rope!") into a position beside just behind the hip, then (3) bring the left hand down, position it above the right hand, close to the basket, to secure the rope in the safety position, and (4) slide the right hand up to the take over the position of the left hand ("Never letting your right hand lose contact with the rope!") so the left hand could go back to it's original position on the ever-slackening rope feeding from the climber's progress.  "1, 2, 3, 4", we went throught the motions over and over as a brave (foolish?) teacher climbed short spans of the wall so we could practice. 

We also learned the verbal exchanges required of all Climbers and Belayers.  The Climber asks, "On belay?"  The Belayer, if ready, says, "Belay on."  The climber says "Climbing" and awaits the Belayer's command to "Climb On!". Finally (biggest deal of all)  when the climber wishes to come down from whatever height they have achieved, they say, "Take".  The Belayer then confirms a strong stance, both left and right hands in a safety position with the pull rope across their dominent hip side, and the Belayer says "I've got you!"  The Climber can then feel safe about sitting back in their harness and using their legs to "walk down" the wall .
The P.E. teacher in the "safety position"
 belaying a climber on highly challenging wall, number 7.

The little troop of volunteer parents took turns practicing this and watching others practice.  We listened to advice of experienced Belayers ("Always rest in the safety position.", "Lean back and sit in your own harness to get more leverage on climbers close to your own weight or heavier than you."  "Watch, watch, watch, as a climber may lose their grip and start to drop at any time.")  Hands became red.  Sweat formed , not only from the exertion but also from the sense of impending responsibility we all were feeling.  I was not alone in thinking, "You want me to do this with some scared, squirrely kid on the other end of this knot?"  But, miracle of miracles, I learned a lot about wall climbing in that short but intensive orientation.  I left promising to help all that I could in the weeks ahead. 
My own climber reaching the top of her wall.

On Monday, I assisted with my first groups of climbers.  I also helped classes on Tuesday and Thursday.  Some children were experienced, having participated in an after-school wall-climbing enrichment activity that is offered each trimester here..  Others had no clue.  Some were llike spider monkeys, shooting up almost faster than I could keep slack out of the rope.  Others were scared and cautiously deliberated every hand and foot placement.  More than once, balance was lost and I felt the weight of my responsibility.  Some children made it to the tops of the many of the 7 walls in the gym; others gradually bested the distance of an earlier effort.  "Climb On!" , "Take!", and "I've got you!" repeated over and over as boys and girls did their best.
Jenni belaying her daughter, Erin.  "I've got you!"

And the awesomeness of holding someones life in my hands made me think about how God is like our Belayer.  We can pray and ask Him and we can read his words and know, He is "On Belay".   He is always ready.  He wants what is best for us and He wants us to reach all of the potentials He created in us.  When we say in our small and fearful voices that we are "Climbing", He says with encouragement "Climb On!".   Like the children I helped climb, we all scale our mountains in our own way.  Some listen carefully to instructions and make progress "by the book".  Some, failing to listen or deciding to try their own way, struggle along, working harder than needed because they are not following the teacher's guidance.  But, no matter, our ultimate Belayer has still "got us".  And as we rise, He rejoices.  When we fumble and falter, when we cannot lift ourselves further or, worse, when we loose our grip altogether, He watches and waits to reassure "I've Got You!".  And He does!  He's got us.  We can lean into the rope He holds and He won't let us fall.

My friend Pernilla's daughter (from Sweden) tackling tough wall #6.

Amanda, after making it to the top of
a tough wall hangs on and enjoys the ride down knowing she's in good hands.

It was so rewarding to see the fearful children go farther than they thought they could. It happened once they trusted the one saying "I've got you."  It was also energizing to see the experienced climbers, those who were certain from the first leg up that they would not/could not fall.  Their spirits were charged and they were ready to show others what heights could be reached.  And it is like that with God too.  If we only trust , we'll go farther than we think we can. 

Erin Hwang on reaching the top!

I learned a lot of new things this week as I helped the children.  But I'm grateful that I've been secure in the knowledge of one important rule: 

Make sure you know who your Belayer is, then "Climb on", 'cuz  "He's Got You"!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Confessions of An Expat. - Part 2 (Mary Mary Quite Contrary.....)

Ahhh, if I had a nickel for every time I was asked, "How Does Your Garden Grow?", I could hire a gardener and just forget about it!  Hold on, (confessional drum roll please) I DO have a gardener!  In fact , this being China, I have several!!  No kidding.  We are fortunate enough to live in a rental home, within a gated (and barbed wire fenced) community of all rental homes.  As such, all of the homes, yards, sidewalks and common spaces are maintained by the central corporation that owns the community.  And maintain they do!!

Each and every day of the week (except for major Chinese holidays), a small army of gardeners descends on "Jing Shan" (the Chinese name for our neighborhood).  Equipped with ancient looking tools and rakes which appear to be hand-made, they DAILY sweep all of the streets and sidewalks.  I swear I am not exaggerating.  Every inch gets swept and/or raked.  Every fallen leaf and twig get collected.  Every day

A couple of the members of the Jing Shan Gardener Brigade.

But that's not all.  Every home gets a minimum of 45 minutes of lawn care each day as well.  Thus our flowers are watered and weeded, our fallen leaves collected, our shrubs kept shapely. Even the potted plants we added to the patio ourselves get watered, pruned, fussed-over.  The grass (such as it is and let's just say it is NOT up to Bill Groh standards!) also gets cut (Bill says "scalped") regularly.  And I lift not a finger.

Our flower beds - no thanks to me!

The climbing vine on our front yard fence - again no thanks to me.

More flowers, compliments of The Gardeners

A shot of the Gardener working in the yard next door.  This is not our Gardener - we ususally have a young woman.  Good thing as I am often in my PJ's when she arrives at 8 on Saturday mornings!

"Yes, dear, I'll check the pots."  (See the fallen leaves?  They WILL be gone tomorrow.)

My old friends and neighbors in Knoxville will find this impossible to fathom.  We (especially "He") had a reputation of being a bit obsessive about our yards.  Bill never shrank from any lawn/landscape challenge.  From our first yard in Knoxville (1333 Candlewick Road) to house number two,  just a couple yards down at 1341 Candlewick Road, and then across town to our last home in Tan Rara, we did it ALL!  Manys the Friday when Bill would say, "I think we need to spend some time in the yard this weekend." and I could see the blisters rise and feel the muscles ache before we even got started.  Bill was a "yardwork machine"!  Our old Toyota van was a great momma-mobile but it just as often doubled as a workhorse hauling river rocks, straw bales, mulch, pinestraw, fallen tree branches, paving bricks, sand, potting soil, shrubs, flats of flowers, sod, and anything else Bill sent me in search of whilst he stayed in the yard, scheming and prepping. 

And I know many wives who wished for a "Bill" now and then.  (Honestly, never in going-on -29 years of marriage did I have to nag him to cut the grass!)  But the downside to this self-motivated lawnboy was that I, his faithful (and  maybe too liberated)  partner, usually tried to give an equal measure of time and effort to our jointly-held properties.  I mowed, raked, shovelled, pitched, dug, hauled, spread, watered, seeded, fertilized right alongside him on most occasions.  (Side note to prove my point: I was out of town on the fateful week Bill chose to install an entire sprinkler system, by himself, in our very steep front yard in Tan Rara.  Good thing because some of his "we can do it ourselves" ideas were over the top and THAT was one of them.  When I returned from my travels, neighbors approached me to describe how they saw him wrestling a trench digger, in the TN August heat, and feared he would collapse.  And if I had been home?  His last words before keeling over would have been to tell me how to finish up where he left off!)    

So.... am I loving the gardener thing?  You bet I am!!  Bill is too, and he'll be the first to admit it.  However (and this is SO "Bill")  he still goes behind the gardener and pulls weeds, waters the trees, and even did some pruning a while back!  He's never home when they do the mowing but if he was I just know he would ask them to raise the blade a couple notches!!  And, no big surprise, he also frequently but kindly asks me to "check the pots on the patio". 
Yup, I love my Gardeners - the new ones and, oh yeah, "the old one" too!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Confessions of An Expat.- Part 1

When we tell people we live in Mainland China,  the usual response is a wide-eyed "Really?", "China?", "Wow!" , "For how long?".  Once in awhile we get the impression the listener is trying to tell us they think we're lucky, but most of the time it seems they are trying to keep from blurting , "You must be crazy!"
And if you've read my posts or know me at all, you know that I too regularly question our sanity.  But, I need to confess a few things about living here that are pretty darn 'sweet'.  Part 1 of this series will cover the joys of having a 'Driver'.

Mr. Tian, or 'Tian' as we call him, makes life here so easy for us.  I definitely miss the independence and security of having a car in the driveway 24/7, but I still am emphatic that I could not/would not/should not get behind the wheel here.  So, I have learned to appreciate the joys of a driver.  I chat with friends, (safely) text on my phone, (safely) make my grocery list  or accomplish some other necessity while Tian navigates the considerable hazards of Shenzhen's highways.  Plus, I get to remain blissfully ignorant of how far/how long/exactly where some destination is.  Instead, I hold up a little business card with a Chinese address and Tian has to do all the thinking!  Sometimes he calls for advice on finding some obsure store, but whoever he is talking to (His boss who has a better map?  A driver pal with more experience?) usually gets him to where I want to go.

Of course no road trip happens without me wincing now and then at some perceived "near miss"  I also shake my head daily at all the horn-honking that the drivers here find necessary.  I still manage to check Tian's blindspot regularly before lane changes too (I WAS a Cerified Driver's Ed. Teacher, remember?), but I am more relaxed than in the early weeks of our relocation.  And I have to say, I have gotten VERY used to being dropped off right at the entrance to stores, and then picked up in the same place when I make a "I'm ready, Mr Tian", call or text.  And though I always used to decline the offer of the bagger at Kroger to help take my things to the van, it is very nice when Tian hops out of the driver's seat and helps me get things transferred from cart to trunk.  He 's also Johnny on the Spot to assist me carrying things to my doorstep.  I don't ask him to tote bags all the way to the kitchen or the pantry because he would rather be struck dead (I think) than trot in without taking off his shoes.  So, I wave him off with a smile and a "XieXie" (that's "Thank you"), glad to have me and my bags under cover.

Tian doesn't limit his help to all things driving either.  Since we cannot speak mandarin, he efficiently calls to order water for us whenever he sees the empty bottles lined up on the porch.  If he drives up and the re-fills have arrived, he carries them in to the kitchen.  (I usually don't refuse this offer, as the 18 liter jugs are heavy!) I have even asked Tian to accompany me into stores to retrieve something especially heavy or large.  We make for an odd couple since our interactions are still limited to mostly gestures and halted conversations.  And Tian is ANYHING BUT comfortable in unfamiliar stores (like IKEA) with an unpredictable woman (like ME).  Still, he always rises to my requests and tried to help - pretty sweet, right?     

Fianally, I need to take this opportunity to say that Tian's english is improving!  Slowly but surely he is adding words to his vocabulary, he asks me to repeat less, and sometimes he gets out a fairly complex sentence.  (This is leaps and bounds beyond my strides (HA!) with mandarin!)  His text messages to me to clarify or confirm driving plans are also increasingly complex.  "Ok" is still his most frequent response to a text from me, but sometimes he adds "see you then" or "see you tomorrow", and I feel like I am reading a short story!  "Chatty Cathy" that I am, it has been tough to limit converstations to one or two word phrases.  That's why I donned a silly grin today when Mr Tian, upon understanding that a slice of zuchini bread I was holding as I entered the van was, in fact , for him, said (rapidly and without hesitation), "Thank you.  Thank you very much."   I resisted the urge to start a conversation about Elvis Presley and said sincerely, "You're welcome.  You're welcome very much!"

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Live in Southeast Asia and I NEED TO VENT!

This title might imply that a good public rant is about to unfold.  Well, it just may come across that way, but I have actually calmed considerably.  In fact, my alternate title idea was "There's a Fungus Among Us", but that was cheesy, grade school science teacher level humor -  even for  me!  Anyway, here's the point is - WE ARE GETTING MOLDY! 

The humidity in Shenzhen is something I have written about before.  When we arrived last August, the consecutive days of rain and heat were unlike anything I ever experienced.  Our flip-flop straps stayed perpetually soggy, snails the size of fists slugged along walkways and up walls.  Mushrooms sprouted everywhere.  We lived temporarily in a third floor apartment during the peak of this phenomenon, and I don't recall any indoor affects of all the moisture.  Soonafter we settled into our "just- finished-being -completely- remodeled rental house".  By necessity, we kept the AC cranking and by early September the rainy days became few.

Fast forward to last week  (and it IS going by fast I must admit and give thanks).  Increasingly, days have periods of a little or a LOT of rain.  The air feels thick, sticky, like something you must push through.  Mother Nature's furnace has not yet added her blast though, so we have not had to run the AC too much.  BIG MISTAKE!

I guess I should have gone on higher alert when the spices started seeming a bit "clumpier"; when the salt in the shaker turned into a solid block.  And then there were the notes from our friendly community management office.  "SWEETLY REMINDER", these notes are always titled.  They warned us to prepare for the upcoming hot weather by running AC and putting dehumidifiers in our drawers and closets.  Since I picture a dehumidifier as a big electrical appliance, I filed this suggestion as I do other puzzling things here.  (Meaning I tilted my head, shrugged my shoulders, wondered why there is so much every day that I "don't get", and and went on my merry wayIgnorance has always been blissfull for me!)  Another mistake!

The moldy shoe!

But the other shoe dropped (literally!) when Emily came walking out of her bedroom a few days ago holding her favorite Sperry Docksiders at arms length.  The "Mom!  Big Problem!" that she proclaimed as she marched toward me got my attention.  To our disgust, the inside of her shoes, which had been resting innocently inside her closet on a wire shoe rack, were a fuzzy blanket of mold in many shades of green.  We looked at the shoes and each other, disgusted and puzzled.  I strode into Emily's room, cranked the wall-mounted AC down a few degrees and told her to "keep it running, wear a sweater if you have to, but get some air moving in here."  Emily swung her shoe closet doors open wide.  We concluded that "dockside" shoes are meant to get thoroughly wet and I told Emily to clean them up and spray a mild bleach mixture on them.  All done, or so I thought.

Another day or two passes and I am skipping  up the stairs ("Mom, you don't skip!  Who are you kidding?", I add this because Elly will SO say it if she ever reads this blog!) .  I glance over towards the corner stand that sits on a landing part way up our steps, fosusing quickly on the bowl of potpourri on the middle shelf.  Double-take!  It is covered in the same lovely blanket of green that graced Emily's shoes!  Okay!  This is serious stuff, this mold.  More AC everywhere.  Throw out the potpourri.
Another day goes by. 

The moldy potpourri!

"MOTHER!", comes the scream from Emily's corner.  This can't be good, I just know it.  I walk hesitantly in the direction of the probable disaster and sink at what Emily holds in her hands.  They are collages of treasured memorobilia she put together last summer.  She worked for hours arranging photos, quotes, ticket stubs, etc. and mounted them on tall cardboard poster frames.  When she set up her room she hung them in a place of honor next to her desk here where she could glance over at good memories.  They fell from the wall a couple months ago when the 3-M stcky hooks just "let go" one day.  (Humidity?).  Since their fall, she had kept them propped against the wall by her desk.  And....yes....the backs of both framed pieces were covered in fuzzy mold!  A peak behind a newer print above her bed revealed the start of another crop of the hairy stuff.

Emily's collages after being vacuumed and wiped down.

So yes, I live in southeast Asia and I need to vent !  Apparently, I need to vent A LOT!  We vacuumed the backs of the pictures and rubbed them down with bleach solution.  A friend who has lived here longer told me to turn on all the bathroom fans and never, never turn them off.  I went to the "Park and Shop" and bought "dehumidifiers" for enclosed spaces (like Emily's shoe closet).  I bought two today but will go back and get a few more! 

Moving to another part of the world brings new discoveries every day.  I just hope that I stop discovering mold!  Luckily, no one has had any illness/allergy yet.  If anyone has "advice for the moldy", I'll take it!

A "dehumidifier".  Who Knew?  Not Me!  As Erin would say, "Oh, China!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bake..... Someone Happy

Bake just one someone happy.....

For those too young or too deprived to recognize the reference, the title above should have you humming!  Personally, I like the Jimmy Durante version of "Make Someone Happy".  Never heard of it?  Poor you - go to search it by title and artist.  You can listen for free.  It's a new vice of mine!

But I didn't say "make", I said "bake".  We've been doing a lot of baking lately - even more than usual!  The youth group at our small church is going on a mission trip to Cambodia at the end of this month. While we were away from church to pick up Kathryn and Donna Coffey in Hong Kong, Emily's friends decided she should head up a couple bake sales to raise money for the trip.  These friends routinely show up in our kitchen to devour some delicious treat Emily has concocted.  On a weekly basis, she also prepares desserts for her Wednesday night Bible Study.  Every Tuesday, and many others days as well, our kitchen smells heavenly and, if we're lucky, we get a sliver or two of the chef's choice before it is sealed in our precious USA tupperware and labelled "Hands Off". 

Hmmmm..... Marshmallow and Chocolate
Field of Dreams.....

That's right - Home-made Cinnamon Rolls!  Heaven on a Plate!

Just to clarify...yes, that's a brownie-like cookie with raw
c-chip cookie dough sandwiched in the middle! 
Say it with me "Oh my gosh....."

"How many do we get to keep?" Peanut butter rice
krispie bars dipped in chocolate......sigh....

Yes, definitely a good chice to put Emily in charge of a bake sale!  Like anything to do with the kitchen, she handled it without blinking.   But I LOVE a good bake sale too! Forgive me, Hillary. I'm liberated. I (once) brought home the bacon. I can mow the yard, use hand tools, and I routinely take out the trash, but I love to bake! Emily loves it more than me, true, but I do think I might be a good share of the reason she finds contentment in the kitchen. So this week I made zuchini bread and brown sugar cookies. (I also had the ingredients for rice krispy bars ready to go but "somebody" used them for something else!) I played Jimmy Buffet with the volume turned up and sang along as I puttered. Simple, I know, but it gave me great satisfaction to imagine my sweet treats making someone happy.

Of course I wince sometimes at the costs of a pan full of something gooey.  Here in Shenzhen a bag of flour is $6.65 US.  The same for a bag of chocolate chips.  Butter is never on sale and we pay $5.65 for a pound of Land-O-Lakes.  (We ARE from the "Dairy State" and believe in butter, real butter!)  Sugar is about $1.00 per pound.  But the truth is, baked goods in bakeries here are just not all that great.  They are works of art to look at but too often they lack any flavor or sweetness that, to us anyway, qualifies them as "dessert".  So, though made from scratch can be pricey, most days I  am glad my family has their priorities straight and I happily keep the pantry stocked.
My zuchini bread!  Made from a recipe a secretary in Oak Ridge gave me
over 20 years ago!  I love my recipe book.  It's a walk down memory lane!

The first bake sale raised over $500 dollars (US!).   It was such a novelty (and hey, REAL sweets for a change!) for a great cause,  that many church members threw out their 100RMB notes and left the change behind.  We're having another sale on Sunday.  We're also grilling hot dogs to sell as a quick lunch in the church courtyard.  The youth and their leaders are excited.  Some 200 children in the Cambodia town they will visit come un-parented and unprotected each day to a location called "The Dump".  There is great need and there will be great opportunity to brighten some days for these children.

It can be so enjoyable to "Bake Someone Happy".  Excuse me while I go soften some butter.  I think I feel a recipe coming on!   

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair!

In the city of Shenzhen where we live in China there are many opportunities to experience, at a very cheap price, things that I categoried as luxuries back in Knoxville.  Things like manicures, pedicures, massages and spa treatments.  And since I have always been practical ('to a fault', some of my girlfriends would say), I confess that at age fifty, I have never splurged on a single one of these treats for myself.  But here, in Asia, these luxuries can be had for a LOT less .  A foot massage - about $6.00.  A combination manicure and pedicure, with fancy features like palm trees on each nail  - about $15.  A lengthy full body massage with essential oils? - under $50 at a very nice spa.  A Hair Wash and Style  - under $6.  So, many of my new acquaintances here  kept saying, "You need to try something!" 

I kept resisting.  It IS a fault to be so practical, but I don't think it is all MY fault.  I was raised to never waste or be frivolous.  I spent a lot of my formative years in the company of people who had lived through the Great Depression.  The most influential was my Grandma, Wilma Bell Timm .  And if she were here, she would scoff (really, she could make a "scoffing" sound  when she thought something was just plain foolish or wrong) and say with pride that SHE never needed any of those things and there is no reason to waste money on "such foolishness!"   And when Grandma Timm scoffed about a subject, we all knew not to question any further!  But, the lure of a bargain and the rave reviews of my new friends finally wore me down.

So.....  last weekend Ellysa wanted to get her hair cut.  And since I needed to accompany her to the salon, I thought, 'go for it.'  We arrived a little before 3:30 - no appointments.  People rarely make them as the language barrier can be a challenge.  My color guy,  Leo, was not available to do Elly's hair but within a minute or two we conveyed that any available stylist could handle Elly's cut and I wanted Nancy, who had been recommended by a friend and was available, to do a hair wash.

Elly's haircut service also included a "hair wash" so we were ushered to the back of the salon.  There, they have about 16-20 massage tables that you lay on to get your wash.  Each table has a little head rest that extends over a sink so you can stretch out.  Elly laid on one with a "potluck" washer while I followed "Nancy" a few tables away and laid down.  The wash lasted at least 40 minutes and included two LENGTHY, MASSAGE-Y shampoos, a conditioner treatment with more head massaging,  a neck and shoulder massage, an arm massage with finger "pops", a flip over on your stomach backrub session, AND a thorough ear cleaning with q-tips!. 

I should mention that there are mirrors on the ceiling in the washing area, so you get a change to eavesdrop on the services that others are getting.  Unfortunately, a man near me opted for a strange add-on ear-cleaning.  As I shot covert glances his way, I watched as his "washer" had him roll onto his side and then placed a straw-like tube in his ear.  She put something from a tube on one end of the straw and then, AND THEN.... BROUGHT OUT A LIGHTER AND LIT THE TUBE!  I have no clue what this was all about - earwax softening? evil spirits exorcism? ???  I only know I was rehearsing how to say "Bu Yao", meaning "NO WANT!" in case Nancy had pulled out tubes and a lighter.  But, to my relief, I only got the q-tips.  This was scary enough, since, as Elly said later, "They are a lot smaller than your elbow!" :) 

After the washing and massaging, we went to the styling area where Elly had a cut and sytle and I had a style session with a 'senior associate'.  Said associate seperated my hair into about 35 sections and slowly, meticulously styled each section.  After this, he sprayed and tucked and played with the collective whole until I had what I will call "party hair!".   Elly and I finished at about the same time, a little past 4:45.  We looked good, felt good.

And what did this hour and 15 minutes of hands-on service cost for the two of us, you ask?  Elly's cost about $9.  Mine - only $4.75!  (We did get a discount because I bought a pre-paid services card for about $200 back when Leo did not ruin my hair the first time.  This is a unique marketing approach used at this salon wherein you pre-buy an amount of services but then get 30% off  every time you use the card.) Anyway, despite Grandma Timm's ever-present and often right voice whispering the contrary, I didn't think it was all THAT foolish. ( I may even have to try it again....) 


Monday, March 15, 2010

Only Your Hairdressor Knows For Sure

I love my Knoxville hairdresser.  Jodie, or "Ms. Jodie", as the girls and I usually refer to her, has been cutting my hair since...hmmmm.... was I pregnant with Emily,?or was Emily a baby?  (Oh no, I'm starting to forget anciant history too!)  Anyway, I remember Jodie waited patiently with me for Emily to get hair, ('please, God, just a little hair?'). She was so bald! For so long!  I lovingly nicknamed her '"Uncle Fester", in homage to the  shiny-headed, plump-faced  character  on the "Adam's Family"  whom she resembled.   (Sorry , Emily, I know you think I didn't have to record that, but we have pictures already, and pictures don't lie.)  Anyway, Jodie has taken care of our families' hair for a LONG time.  Jodie gave Emily her first haircuts. We still reminisce about how magical it was to cut away at her wispy white locks and, afterwards, look on the floor and on her shoulders and see no evidence.  So pale and gossamer thin was her hair, it just seemed to vaporize.  'Like an angel's hair',  I would sigh and think...... then again, never mind!  This is the same child I ALSO nick-named "Tempy" because of her wicked temper. 

Jodie also began cutting Erin's hair as a child.  We even had a "Glamour Birthday" hair and nails party at Jodie's salon when Erin was maybe 7 (or 9?  Erin will have to correct me and remind me.  Those old photos are in storage!)  At some pont even  Bill joined the Jodie fan club and she had the whole family locked in.  When Ellysa came along, Jodie got to experience a whole 'nother category of hair.  Once Elly's "Don King" hairstyle finally laid down, Jodie's was the only chair that Elly wanted to sit it.

Yes, Jodie has been keeping Groh hair gorgeous for nearly 2 decades!   For those of you who can think of times when my hair has been "less than" beautiful, let me say for the record that this was NEVER Jodie's fault.  I must confess I am not the most disciplined client in any matters of beauty.  Over the years, I stretched a haircut, a color, a highlight, a perm, FAR beyond it's natural life !  Jodie would say, "See you in  __ weeks!" and I would return in double that time, looking frizzy, moppy, multi-colored.  But Jodie always did what she could with a less than cooperative subject.

One of the last things I did before leaving Knoxville to move to China August  3rd was get a haircut and color treatment.  I asked Jodie to work a(nother) miracle and give me a style and color that would last as long as possible.  Then, knowing that  even I could not go ten months without visiting a salon,  I asked Jodie to write down the secret recipe for my current hair color.  She lovingly oblidged and, after hugs and tears, I left Jodie behind until the summer of  2010.  Which brings me to, to borrow a line from Paul Harvey, ...."the rest of the story" .

I have conquered my fears and overcome my dependency on Ms. Jodie.  I have been to Shekou's salon of choice for ex-pats, "The Tonan" Salon !  After asking new acquaintances met via the women's club and school events, I bravely walked up the spiral stairs and asked for "Leo".  Leo, I was told, cut a lot of "Western" hair (don't think 'Annie Oakley'; think NOT asian).  On my first visit, Leo studied Jodie's notes and consulted his "Book of Hair".  Every salon has at least one of these cookbooks for hair ; it contains all the  samples of various colored locks of hair, sorted in descending hues, that the salon's brand of colorant can concoct.  In his broken english and my completely severed mandarin, we pointed and nodded and agreed on a (Loreal brand) tone that equated to Jodie's (Wella Brand) equation.  I also worked hard to make him understand that I was "growing my hair out" ,"only wanted a T-R-I-M", "a little bit", "not too much", "keeping L-O-N-G", hoping that one of those words or phases was part of his limited vocabulary.  I was nervous through the entire process.  I kept recalling what my Mom, a hairdressor herself, used to joke to her customers: "Do you know the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut?......."Two weeks."   I sat with the gloppy mix of color on my head, glancing at Leo, wondering how long he was going to let me "process" and wondering all along: What is the difference between a good dye job and a bad one?"  But, after about 2.5 hours I left a with a perky brownish/goldish/auburnish color that seemed close to what Jodie had achieved in the past.  Like Jodie, Leo styled my hair into a sleek, chic look that I knew I would never have the time or talent to reproduce, but I felt good. 
More than 8 weeks have passed , and I need to see Leo again.  He has cut Emily's hair and Erin's too but he was too busy the other day when I stopped by with Ellysa.  Bill is being stubborn, seeing a very cheap barber who gave him, let's just say, a lot of haircut for the money."  I'll write more later about the China phenomonon called "Going For A Hair Wash". 

If you like your hairdressor, let him/her know it!  You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

(This post is dedicated to Jodie, whom I will always love (even if Leo can mix color).  I like a hair dressor I can chit chat with.  One who knows a little harmless gossip.  One who agrees with my ideas to solve the world's problems.  One who keeps candy in a jar for my daughters. One who prays for me and my family.  One who has known me for .....well... for a long time, and loves ME anyway! )

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Just Do It!"

Ellysa got skates for Christmas and routinely rolls around our house. She has graduated to outdoors but still enjoys sailing by in her pajamas on skates.

Ahhh.... A new room accessory for Ellysa. Paige remembers the luxury of wall-to-wall carpets and can be found napping on this rug frequently!

Once a Lott's Leopard, ALWAYS a Lott's Leopard!

The cell phone is a daily accessory for Ellysa; she has F R E E D O M when she can roam and still call home.

Emily's HS Physic's class did a several month project which involed tearing apart and rebuilding electric bikes. These populate the streets and sidewalks here, but none have the long forks and fancy paint job. None of us is too brave about our"street rod", so we have committed it to a charity auction event.

In case you were wondering how to get more "UT Orange" in your Christmas decorating, have no fear, there are still a few of the models like that one on the left available. They also come in purple and neon green but hurry, these are hot-sellers here!


To Blog or Not to Blog. Ah.... "THAT is the question". And it's one I've been asking for months now when I sit down to document more bits of this experience. I start a day with good intentions and then find myself uninspired to write or, more often, unable to rein in the emotions that swell up when I try to process "life" here. But, even with the risk of my posts sounding like "The Diary of A Mad Housewife", I have resolved to "do better" and start blogging once more.

(Sideways Thought Bar: Since I was only eleven in 1970, I am guessing that the aforementioned movie was not an appropriate film for me to see. I suppose my recollection of a (gulp) forty-year old film title reflects my current brain function. It randomly dredges up ancient memories yet cannot catalog and retrieve information from last week! Let's hear it for middle age!)

Anyway, one problem with taking a long break from this effort is that I don't know how to "re-start". It's much like my excuse for never being a scrapbooker : I find it overwhelming to go back and gather every photo I have.... so I just never tackle any "scraps" at all. In the case of this travel blog, I feel like I have failed to capture so many months of the adventure that I can't possibly retrace my memories in any just way. (Not to mention the all-too-true reference to my memory above!) But, I have heard successful scrapbookers say they the way to start is in the "present". Collect something meaningful, put it in a manageable pile and start some pages. So, with some trepidation that I may regret this public pronouncement, I am determined to begin blogging again. I'm gonna "Just Do It!"

Thanks to my friends and family who keep telling me they are looking for new blog posts. I know it is great to keep up with someone far away though this amazing (and vexing) thing called the "PC". I drink the words of my friend Cheryl on her funny, poignant, blog at: http://thedailymom-wiblogspot,com/ It literally "makes my day" every time I read it! Now our daughter Erin has stepped up to share her travel adventures from Europe to China to Chile. She's a great writer (I'm biased but it is true) and her exploits are more than a little interesting (to me anyway!) You can read her blog at: . When I awoke this morning without an e-mail update from Erin, I went to her blog to read the details of her first experience with a significant aftershock from the Chilean earthquake. Reading her last words, "I'm safe", proved another value of a blog to this worried Mom on the other side of the world.

So, as we mark over 7 months in China, I will try to be more disciplined about this blog. I know it will be fun to read years from now. My children (and grandchildren?) will hear my "voice" in what I choose to write about and how. Maybe the pictures I manage to post will even be a small recompense for my lack of scrapbooking !
(PS: If this post is dated January 2010, please ignore that. It is really March 13th, 2010.)