Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ti-i-i-ime I-is On My Side

I have 5 weeks of plan-less vacation staring me in the face. So much time, so little to do. After such a busy semester and more recently a busy Christmas weekend, I'm finding it hard to slow down and rest. I'm already finding myself bored. 

In an effort to have things to do, I've started creating lists. A list of movies I want to watch (I have at least 25 already), a list of places I want to sight-see in my city, a list of school work that must get done. It's all adding up to a lot of alone time. Something I don't mind but also find a little sad. I mean, I like being alone. It gives me time to think. And I'll get a chance to really practice my Chinese while out on my excursions. But 5 weeks is a long time. 

I do have a few friends in town. Many, MANY people went to their home countries for the holiday break as this is the longest mid-school break we've ever had. In my attempt at saving money for traveling this summer, I decided to stay here. I look forward to spending time with the 8-10 people that will be here off and on during the break but we can't all spend our every waking moments together. That would be exhausting.

So, I'll pepper my quiet time with a few friends- game nights, movies, dinners. I'll spend the a huge lot of my time letting my brain think and reflect and mull over the last 2.5 years. I've been so busy, even on breaks and holidays, that I haven't had time to do much of that. And I excel in the art of finding things to fill my time when I do have a break- internet, movies, books, friends. 

This (almost forced) reflection time, it makes me nervous. I fear that my time, the way that I've spent the last two years, will be "weighed in the balances and found wanting." I could've done more, said more, grown more, loved more, lived more. 

And yet, I have to remind myself that some of largest growth comes from the act of reflection. What can be done differently? What must be changed? What was good? What was done poorly?

Sigh. What a sad little post after being absent for so long. I'm at this point where I have so much I could be writing about that I have to start out really small and work my way out of my thoughts. It's like being covered in an avalanche and having to dig myself out, one handful of snow at a time. At least I don't have to drink my own pee to survive.

Yes, I really said that. Made myself laugh out loud.

I really am so thankful for this break. I feel like I've been in a race but not running against anyone in particular.  The whole I'm-getting-things-done-but-is-it-purposeful? thing. That's been echoing around my head for a couple of months. I want to be purposeful in my busy-ness. Not just being busy to be busy. What a waste that would be. It's nice to have time to breathe, to spend time in my house, to get to know my city again.

A few things to update you on...
  • After living a year and a half in my house, I finally bought a t.v. Yay!
  • I'm returning to my job for another year. Four years in the same place, it's a record.
  • I auditioned and got a part in a big play here in my city. I'm the evil Stepmother. 
  • Guitar learning is not going so well. Sigh. I wish I was a faster learner.
  • I'm still pursuing my Chinese. I'm hoping to spend a lot of time out and about working on it this holiday. 
 That is all. For now.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Dress

I went to the tailor on Wednesday. The dress was perfect. He made exactly what I wanted. Even the color. After "Zheige"ing (This-ing) and "Neige"ing (That-ing), I was sure I was going to end up with a fire-engine-red tube-top, with a drape attached to cover my knees. My fault, not his. My lack of language, not his lack of ability or comprehension.

So apparently I'm not able to make an appropriate face while taking a picture of the dress. But here it is.

Nothing super fancy but comfortable and exactly what I wanted. Yay!

The ball was fun-ish. It was a like a grown-up prom...which was a little strange. I go to teen-age dances several times a year but this was one of my first grown-up dances. What's interesting is that it's still the same, regardless of the age. Fancy dresses, strange dancing, loud music, lame games, an overarching them of awkwardness but adult-style.

But the food was delicious. And the high-light was getting all gussied up with my friends. It's the people that 'made' the night for me.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Living on the Edge: Getting Clothes Made in China

Next Saturday is a really fancy party here in Qingdao called "The Winter Ball". It's a formal affair, tuxes, prom dresses, the whole nine yards. They're calling the ball "Glamorous Hollywood of the 1930s".

I've been invited by my school to go and schmooze with other expats living here in the city. Not because I'm glamorous. It's because I have a big mouth and can make conversation with a doorknob.

I'm super excited, mostly because it's a free dinner and a chance to get all dolled up. The problem is, I had good intentions of buying a party dress this summer to bring back with me (because you KNOW the Chinese people don't make my size) but well, here I am a week prior to the ball and no dress. Where's Fairy God-mother when you need her? Not that I want to arrive at the shindig in an overgrown pumpkin but I sure could use some help with the outfit. And shoes. And hair. And makeup.

For the last few weeks I've been contemplating going to a tailor/seamstress to get a dress made. Between traveling to two different countries, planning special events at school, auditioning for a play and trying to keep up with normal life stuff, I just haven't had time to go. And let's be honest, getting myself measure by a 12 pound, 4 foot Chinese woman, surrounded by all her co-workers and their kids gawking at me like I'm the best thing they've seen since rice balls made their way to China, just isn't something I get excited about. And, of course all this would be happening while I'm bumbling with my Chinese, mostly saying phrase like, "I want" or "I don't want", "This. Not this" and pretending that I understand what she's saying, when in reality, I'm just grunting in all the right places.

For those reasons, I've never gone to the tailor. I always buy my stuff in America and have it shipped here. Not ideal but way better than the humiliation of being a freak show.

I decided to bite the bullet yesterday. On a friend's suggestion, I went to a new tailor. He's got a nice private little shop in another part of town than where we usually go. He's a little more expensive but from what I can tell, he's pretty good.

Here's the thing when dealing with Chinese in any thing that is in any way "western". It's like they lose their minds. The Chinese have good sense but when it comes to making something or doing something western, a lot of times, they just don't get it. It's almost like they're so scared of us that they do whatever they can, as quickly as they can, with as little trouble as they can, hoping (thinking) it'll work. No pizza sauce for the pizza, let's use ketchup. Making a t-shirt with English words on it? Who cares what it says or how it's spelled, just throw some letters together, it's basically the same thing. Now, this is a generalization that is not true of all Chinese. And in the future, the more "westerness" infiltrates the country, the less all of this will be true.

Anyway, back to my story. Knowing the above about getting "western" things in China has just reinforced my unwillingness to have something made. Making clothing that fits a western body is really difficult. My body specifically...well, almost impossible.

I decided  to go in completely prepared. I made diagrams, photos-shopped pictures, and had 2 differnt hands-on examples.  

Here's the original. I wore this to the Royal Wedding Party.

Here's the photo-shopped version. I wanted an A-line dress with a long-sleeve sweater.

This is the diagram that I took. Google Translate might've helped. The tailor laughed when I opened my computer in his shop.

He seemed to understand me. I hope I understood him. I didn't take material with me. I just kind of pointed at some colors and fabrics that he already had and said, "this, this, this". He acted like he knew what I was saying. It was a little bit of a circus, me touching every roll of fabric, him watching me, me coming back to the computer to point some more, him watching me, me showing him my examples again, him watching me...

I did have to give up on the sweater. It was just one step too far. For me and him.

So, I go in Wednesday to take a looky-lou. I have super low expectations. All, and I mean all, of my friends who've had clothing made here have either had to go in for sizing at least four times before it's even wearable or give up on it completely because it's just so "off".

I'll keep you posted. If it's a hit, I'll take pictures. If it's a miss, I'll take pictures. Either way, I'll share the experience with the four of you that still read this blog.

Regardless of the dress, I have other things to worry about. I have plans to try and curl my hair like Mae West (she defines 1930's glam) wear lots of costume jewelry and have at least one feather in my hair (maybe some netting and a little hat too).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bullet Points # 732

My life is a whirlwind of activity these days and has been since the first day of school. I'm keeping up my regularly busy fall schedule. I spend most days and nights out and about doing awesomely cool stuff but it drains me of most of my socialness and therefore my blog is well, moved to the bottom of the list of the millions of things I have to/get to do. So, here goes my brain dump...
  • My friends and I started a new English Corner here at my apartment complex. We have a new coffee shop so it was an easy way to make new Chinese friends in a convenient location. It's been really neat. 
  • I just got back from Shenyang, China. I coached JV Boys Volleyball this year (4th year coaching, 1st year coaching boys). It was a blast! Such a great group of boys. We didn't do very well in placement at the tournament, but the guys did a phenomenal job with a lot of their skills. They were actually much better and further advanced than most of the other JV teams, they just weren't as consistent. But it was a really fun weekend with all 40 students that went. Our varsity boys took 1st and our varsity girls took 2nd. Yay!
  • Speaking of fun this weekend, I spent about an hour in the airport last night playing Korean group games with my students (someday I'll do a blog about Korean games because they're fascinating). Both games we played had to do with rhythm, chanting, and a few other things I'm not very good at. Hence the massive bruise on my leg where I was slapping it over and over and over. I guess I was so caught up in the concentration of the game (i.e. trying to stay on beat) that I didn't realize how hard I was hitting myself. Oh man, those kids and their games. Good stuff.
  •  I leave for Seoul, Korea on Wednesday. I'm (and 2 other chaperones) taking 18 students for our first MUN conference of the year. It should be fun. It's a chance to hang with the students, eat good American food ( can you say HOT Krispy Kreme?), and maybe see a few beautiful men near the American army base. Oh, and there's a great Mexican restaurant and a used book store. Yay!
  • I just dyed my hair. As in while I was writing this blog. It's a really dark red. Like celebrating-autumn-with-my-head red. (Mom, it will only convince you further that I am in fact turning Asian.)
  • I have done nothing to celebrate Fall (except enjoy some pumpkin muffins, SO delish!) (oh, and now my hair). It makes me sad. Fall is my favorite time of year. Partially because it includes my birthday but mostly because it's beautiful. The leaves change, the weather gets chilly, apple in all its forms (pie, crisp, cider, etc.) and chili and pumpkin and cranberries and turkey are expected to participate in most meals, there's trick-or-treating, and Thanksgiving and football games all bundled up in blankets and sweatshirts...sigh...I just LOVE Fall.Of course, here in China, Fall mostly means the smell of coal burning and the leaves turning from green to yellow to dead quickly. But, I'll take what I can get
  • It's weird that I know nothing about what's happening in America with the whole "Occupy Wall Street"/ 99% stuff. I pride myself in keeping up with my home country but I just haven't stayed on top of things lately. It seems like it's a big deal but I can't really seem to find good solid answers. Everyone's SO polarized with their opinions that nothing is unbiased enough to read. Kind of frustrating. 
  • I'm in a Fantasy Football league with some of my family members. They have a family cup and everything. I stink. I seriously don't think I could be doing any worse than I actually am. So much for impressing them with my mad FF skills. I'll have to find another way. Maybe March Madness. Didn't do so badly with that last year.
  • I know I have 14 bazillion more things to tell you. I've been creating a running list for weeks now. But...I can't seem to remember any of it. I'll have to post another one of these really soon. 
Must go to bed. Me and my scarlet hair. 

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    It's Official. I'm Old.

    Blurry, but Me. With antlers.
    I am officially "in my 30's". Turning 31 didn't really count because it's so close to 30 which is so close to 29. And 29, as you know is still very young. But 32...32 is WELL into the 30's. 


    I'm old. Not in a compared-to-a-75-year-old-sort-of-way. Not even in the look-like-a-32-year-old-sort-of-way. We all know I still look like I'm 18. Arg. More in a my-brain-still-thinks-it's-23-but-wait-where-did-all-these-memories-come-from-sort-of-way.


    It's so close to that "is she going to be an old maid?" age. You know what I mean. When a single women reaches a certain age, people start to stumble over their words when they say things like "oh, you'll understand when you're married" or "just wait until you have kids".  It's like there's a giant vacuum in the room that just sucks out the air. "Oh crap! I just said that out loud. To HER!" As if they've just said the one thing I can't bare to have implied when we both know "IT" (marriage and children) may never happen. They're embarrassed because they're sure they've just kicked the elephant in the room. And I'm embarrassed because they're embarrassed because they think I should be embarrassed.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be married and have a bus-load of babies. In all shapes, sizes and colors. Babies, not husbands. And maybe someday it will happen. I hope it does. 

    But let me set you straight. And by "you". I don't mean YOU. I mean those of "them" that think I just HAVE to be dissatisfied. Well, if that applies to you then I suppose I do mean YOU.

    I'm 32. I'm single. And I'm content. Say it with me you who think that a woman can only be fulfilled when she's got a man and a gaggle of offspring strapped to her back: "32. Single. Content." Yes, ladies and gentlemen it is possible. 

    Content. Joyful. Dare I say "happy"? God and I have been discussing this whole singleness issue for close to a year now. After a lot of questions and talking and even some tears, I've come to the conclusion that I trust God. It's one thing to say it. "Of course I trust God." We all say it. "Yes, I trust God. Enough to move to China, even". But I've found moving to another continent is easy-cheesy when compared to looking at FOREVER being single and realizing that that is what He WANTS for me (as far as I can see). But I've chosen to believe this is true---> He has His BEST in Mind For Me. My singleness MUST be included in that. It doesn't make sense to me sometimes. But I'm making a choice to trust Him, even if I'm single for. the. rest. of. my. life.

    I REALLY mean that last paragraph...most of the time. I only renege every once in awhile...mostly around holidays or when I have something really heavy to carry up my five flights of stairs. Or need to figure out electrical things like what kind of wires to buy to hook up my laptop to my TV.

    So...I had no intention to write about "singleness" in this post. It was really just going to be about getting older, about how I tend to evaluate life a little more with each passing year, about how I'm pushing myself to learn new things (like the guitar), about how I'm finally going to buy a TV for my gift this year after not having one since I moved out on my own. I was going to reflect on the things I've done and the things still left to do. Maybe even write a bucket list. I was going to discuss how at 32 I know less then I thought I did at 23, how time seems to go faster every year that goes by, how relationships seem to get harder and yet more important with each birthday. I was even considering telling you about how big changes seem to be headed this way over then next 12 months.

    But I suppose all of that will have to wait until next year. Of course, who knows where I'll be in a year, physically, mentally (hopefully still sane) and geographically. Oh the surprises 12 months can bring. Exciting, isn't it?

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    Random Thoughts #212

     Lots of things to write about but nothing worthy of a full post...bullet points are best.
    • I'm coaching my 4th year of JV volleyball this year. I played volleyball all the way through my JH and HS years and it's one of my passions. I love coaching JV  because they're malleable and it's so neat to see how much they improve. Something new and exciting is that this is my first time coaching boys. I am having a blast.
    • I have recently discovered that I'm very self-centered in one area (I'm sure more than one but one in particular has been brought to my attention lately) of my life. So much so, that I didn't even know it was happening. Yes, it was that bad. Marching on towards improvement. It's just mind blowing to have something brought to your attention when you had no idea you were doing it. Arg.
    • It's kind of like my hair sniffing. Apparently, I sniff my own hair. A lot. I never knew it. Someone brought it to my attention several months ago and I was horrified. I mean, really. Who wants to be known as the hair sniffer!?! How can one do something so bizarre and not know it? I wore my hair up for 2 months straight. I now no longer sniff my hair, unless I do, but then I at least notice I'm doing it. Usually. Hopefully.
    • My new Model United Nations program seems to be working well. I feel like I'm still a step behind because it's all so new but I think it's going to come together with a few tweaks here and there.
    • I love living alone. Love. It. I spend all day and most evenings with people and then I get to come home to a completely silent house. It's the perfect.
    • I'm learning the guitar...ish. I've decided that it's really time. I'm going to do it. I've learned 4 chords which is 4 more than I've ever known before. They may not sound great and it may take me 8 minutes to transition between each chord, but dang it, I know them.
    • My communication skills are being honed. I've had to have some really difficult conversations this week, several of them actually, and if nothing else, I'm learning how to effectively communicate. 
    • Words of the week: intentional, pursue, community, initiate, love.
    • This is a really boring list. I've been sitting here for 5 minutes trying to spice it up...clearly, no such luck.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    A Fishbowl Life

    The theme of 75% of my conversations this week have been about "community". No, not the t.v. show. Although, I do feel as if my life here, in this community, could probably be made into an interesting reality-show-slash-musical (I threw in the musical because it's my lifelong dream to be in a musical. All that singing and dancing just makes me happy. Unless we're talking about Sweeny Todd. Then it makes me really, really sad).

    I (definitely) digress.

    Questions a few of us have been throwing around...What is a community, in the real sense of the word? Who's included in that community? How does a loving community work? What are the boundaries? Are there boundaries? Who gets included? Who does the including? When is being exclusive okay? Is it ever okay? How do you build deep, meaningful friendships without coming across as exclusive?

    In a normal setting (referring to my life back in America), I had several different friend groups. Sometimes they mingled together but mostly they were separate. Church friends, work friends, old students, current students, families, etc. As long as we made time for each other at some point, everyone was pretty much happy. No one really noted who, when, what, where, how long.

    I don't live in a normal setting now. I live in a fishbowl.

    I am surrounded by the same people all the time in work, play, church, and any other extra-curricular activity. And it has some major consequences, good and not-as-good. It has the potential and usual outcome of great friendships, automatic accountability, help (physical, spiritual, social) when needed, and a general sense of being-taken-care-of-and-cared-about. But, just like any house with glass walls, it leaves room for little privacy and can cause a sense of community over-awareness. When the people in your community know where you go, what you do and who you spend your time with all day, every day, life can get very complicated. Spending a lot of time with one group makes it very apparent of who you're not spending time with. It becomes noticeable when you don't show up or who you show up with. It can be noted who you talk to when you're in a group or who you don't talk to, who you take time to get to know and who you don't, who you have over to your house and who you don't.

    There are about 150 people within my immediate community. Probably half of that amount are people that I eat, play, worship, travel, and work with during a normal week. Within that crowd, I have been blessed to find a small accountability group. People that I have invested a lot of time, honest communication, and hard work into. They call me out when I'm wrong, discuss deep theological questions, let me cry even when it's silly, encourage me, take care of me, try to understand me. We build each other up, sharpen each other...I have learned so much from these people. It's intentional. It's deep. It's precious to me.

    We are, in this small group of mine, trying to figure out how to do life together in the in the right way within the bigger group. Balance, love, thoughtfulness, inclusion, while still maintaining the closeness and accountability of the group within the group.Tricky, it seems. Super tricky.

    Is it possible to have a group within a group without being a "click", exclusive, hurtful?

    I hope so. There are so many friendships within the larger group that I want to continue to pursue, to strengthen, to enjoy, to learn from. But I need my smaller group too. I need that accountability and familiarity, that spiritual bond, that love and acceptance even when the truth is known.

    But mostly I want to do what's right, what's edifying for the body, what's commanded of me: to love my neighbor as myself.

    I'm hoping after this week, to have a better understanding of what that looks like.

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    To a New Year...

    I'm almost done with my first real week of teaching and I haven't really even mentioned it yet. So, here goes.
    • I like my schedule. 
    • I'm happy about the re-vamping of my Model United Nations program.
    • The teachers' lounge is as awesome as it's always been. Maybe even awesomer. Yes, awesomer.
    • Technology has been the bane of my existence for the last two weeks. Arg.
    • I'm coaching volleyball again. Yay!
    • My classroom has new tables (desks).
    • I'm drinking coffee like it's going out of style.
    School is good.
    In all seriousness, I'm happy about the next nine months. They feel full of possibility.I've decided to be more purposeful in my teaching this year. I plan to sit down and write a list of professional goals to accomplish by May. Over the last two years, I've learned so much and really been forced to be a better teacher just because of circumstances. But now that I'm past "survival mode", I feel like I can choose how and where I want to improve. It's exciting really. 

    Hm, I feel like there's an epiphany coming soon about how I might really enjoy teaching if I'd ever stay in one place long enough...bleh...that's for another post.

    As the days pass, the more excited I become to be back in school, teaching, planning for trips and conferences, coaching volleyball, preparing for Vida and fall camps, training new student leaders. 

    Ya, I foresee a great year in front of me. One of growth and fun and new relationships with both students and staff.

    Let's get 'er done.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    Embracing the Suck

    I heard a phrase in the teacher's lounge today (one of my favorite places on earth) and decided to use it. The guy who was explaining it to me was saying that when he was a soldier in the army, he learned to do this when he was marching. Hot and sweaty and muddy...it had the potential to be miserable. So instead, he would try to get as hot and sweaty and muddy as possible. He called it, "Embracing the suck".

    I literally haven't seen the sun full-on since leaving Colorado. It's seems all I've ever know is the foggy, misty, cloudy, all-consuming gray. It's hot and muggy, sweat pours at all times, day or night.

    I'm going to try and embrace the suck. See? I even took a picture to prove that I'm appreciating the beauty of all the shades of haze. And then played around with the coloring...also involves appreciating...

    Haze- There's a whole city out there somewhere.



    I'm trying to come up with other ways (besides picture taking) to enjoy the really stinky weather we're having (and predicted to have for the next week...or the rest of my life). 

    Puddle jumping? Fancy new umbrella? Sweat bandana that can double as a neck scarf?

    Yep, That's all I can come up with.

    New motto: Embrace the Suck.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    The Real Deal

    I wrote this post several days ago but didn't post it. Too much honesty. Too much accountability. But after talking with several friends, I've found I'm not the only one having these thoughts. It seems to be a community-wide conviction. Maybe being confronted with death has helped to bring us back to our first Love, helped to remind us why we've chosen to live a life set apart. 


    "Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony.

    Frauds! You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds."

    You have wearied the LORD with your words.

    “How have we wearied him?” you ask.

    By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them”...

    For months, God has been working on my insides.
    The end of school last year, my last two weeks in America this summer, coming back here, this weekend...it all seems to be pointing me in the same direction.
    Am I really going to live the life Christ has called me to live, or am I going to continue to be a fraud? A fraud with the best intentions, but a fraud none-the-less.
    As I prepared to lead worship this weekend, feeling more nervous than I have in a long time, I was constantly reminded that it is SO not about me. It's not about my abilities or talents or words or the band or the songs. It's about the heart, what's on the inside. It's about meaning the words I'm singing.
    But it's more than that. And I crave that "more". The "more" of living a life holy and acceptable, a life constantly dying to self, being holy because He is holy. 
    This is what I've been thinking about for months, knowing God is calling me to do it. I mean, He's commanded us all to this kind of life but specifically working  on banging, clanging, pounding on the inside of me...
    The question is, am I really willing? Am I willing to make radical changes in my life? Or am I going to continue to actively ignore the Holy Spirit? As if talking about change is enough, acknowledging the need, even making small changes, but not really doing what I am being called to do.
    I don't even know if I know what that kind of life looks like, how to really be in the world and not of it. And I'm not just talking about not watching Glee or not listening to Lil Wayne or not drinking beer. I'm talking about loving people so much it hurts. About following Him where ever He leads, even if it means staying right where I am for a decade. About making hard choices that go against the popular Christian social norms. About looking at every aspect of my life and making sure that it's glorifying to God, living a life that's radically different and yet so appealing that it draws others to Him. And doing it all with the sole purpose of loving God, totally and completely surrendered to Him. 

    Blast! A rock and a hard place, that's what I'm in. I want to do right, but I want it to be easy. And I want to not have to do it all the time. Only when it's convenient for me or when I feel Super -convicted (different than just normal-convicted).
    Ha! And there's the heart of the issue.
    Me. I get in the way. I'm always in the way.

    But what James 4:17 says has been ringing in my head for weeks. If I  know the good I ought to do and don't do it, it is sin.
    And that, folks, is where I'm at. And you?

    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    The Same Old Same Old

    I have the same classes. The same classroom. The same school. The same job. The same house. The same non-roommate. The same fellowship. The same city. The same routines. A lot of the same.

    And I love it. Since graduating from college, this is the first year ever that I'm not dealing with some major change in my life, i.e. new house, new job, new roommate, new city, new country.

    It makes me happy to be surrounded by the comfortable and known in my immediate circle of life. That in and of itself is new. And I plan to cherish it. 

    But I also plan to push myself to do new. Start new ministry and build new friendships.I find when I stay in my comfort zone for too long, life begins to stagnate. I retreat inside of myself and become more self-centered and less aware of those around me. And that's not why I moved here, to live a life completely about me. I moved here to be used in my community. I'm asking that I would be made aware of just what that means and that I would be willing to do it, whatever that "it" is. 

    I love the old but bring on the new!

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    Follow Up Pics...

    First Day of School Outfits...Carolyn, Beth, Karen, Me, Jane

    Half of Team Awesome

    2nd Day of School- Matchy Matchy Pinks.

    On the way home from dinner...RAWR!!

    We love a man in uniform.
    So, I ended up wearing part of my "second day of school" outfit on the first day which then messed up the second day outfit. I had to regroup and start over. And the rest of the pics are from dinner after our second day. Good times.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Jean Jumpers and Apple Sweaters Are NOT An Option

    Tomorrow (which will be today in about 18 minutes) is the first day of school. I have bulletin boards unfinished, syllabi to still type up, lesson plans to write, students to meet with, checklists to create, attendance records to fill in...needless to say, I am SO not ready.

    Ready or not, it's here.

    The REAL problem is...

    I have NO IDEA WHAT I'M WEARING yet. How is that possible??? All week I've been thinking about what's in my closet and I just can't come up with an outfit that's perfect for the first day of school. This is a very important decision, you see. Or maybe you don't see.

    What a teacher wears on the first day really does affect not only how the teacher feels about herself within the classroom, but also how the students view her. Is she serious? Fun? Stylish? Lazy? Immature? Not relevant? Kids pick up on these things...and clothes, whether we like to admit it or not, say a lot about a person. Wrinkles, heels, cardigans, panty-hose, stains, dress pants, t-shirts, short skirts, khakis, sandals, turtlenecks, high-water pants, fishnets, skirts, suits...all convey a message. Some good, some neutral, and some that are never okay regardless of age, sex, place of employment, race, or religion.

    So much pressure.

    I have something for the second day all picked out and ready to wear. Don't even ask how that works, how I have something for Thursday but not tomorrow. It's just that the shoes I want to wear will be too uncomfortable and not really practical for all the stuff going on tomorrow. AND I'm afraid it'll look like I'm trying too hard. You want to look like you care but not like you care too much. It's a tricky balance. Better to save it for the second or maybe even third day.


    I'm off to the closet to take another look. I have 5 hours to get it sorted out. I'll keep you posted on what I choose. Maybe. Unless I hate it. If I end up hating it, we will not be discussing this again.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    I Can't See Clearly Now, The Rain is Not Gone

    I'm feeling different shades of haze these days. There are things and sub-things rolling around like marbles in my head not ready to be complete thoughts yet.

    A new school year
       not ready?
    Downshifting from an exhausting and emotional summer
       missing people
       processing thoughts and feelings
       learning from circumstances, some made, some given to me
    Slap-me-in-the-face change
       friends that moved away
       a little boy who's gone forever but so NOT forgotten
       a new boss
    Mixing up of groups
       new people
       old people in new places
       new friends?
       what's important to learn?
       what am I missing?
       we are all experiencing it, am I showing grace?
       what does it look like this year?
       wanting to do everything and nothing at the same time
       leading worship tomorrow, feeling very nervous for some reason
    Next year
       where and why?

    I am so very happy to be home. I'm just feeling all jumbled up inside. And not in a depressed, moody way. More in a life-is-awesome-but-I-can't-see-anything-clearly sort of way. I'm quite sure it has to do with jet lag and adjustments and Jesus, all rolled into one. I plan to take some time today to rest and pray and spend extra time in the Word. Oh and shop for the typhoon party.

    Seriously? A typhoon?


    Sunday, July 31, 2011

    Au Revoir Old Pal

    I will miss fast internet and carpeted floors, 
    little doggies and palm trees.

    I will miss having conversations with the bank teller
    because he speaks English and enjoys small talk.

    I will miss Walmart, Target and Walgreens.

    I will miss easy grocery shopping, drive-thru Starbucks, 
    and the Rocky Mountains.

    I will miss parents and brother and friends.

    I will miss Barnes & Nobles and cheap Shampoo.

    I will miss the freedom of going where I want to go 
    when I want to go there.

    I will miss listening to Christian radio any time I want to.


    I will not miss engine lights, car problems or gas prices.

    I will not miss sleeping on the cot in the living room or 
    living out of suitcases.

    I will not miss leaving tips or paying food tax.

    I will not miss commercials, crappy TV or American 

    I will not miss complicated technology, having everything 
    at my fingertips, or the debt crisis.

    It took me about 2 weeks to re-adjust to America, but adjust I did. It's hard to live in dual realities so I kind of had to forget about my life in China and be all here. I gained back my ability to spend money, eat out, enjoy movies on cable, the freedom of driving. But I can't wait to get back to my five flights of stairs to my apartment, walking to a restaurant for dinner, no TV, and overall simpler life. 

    Thanks for the all the fun America! See you in a year or two. 

    I leave you with...

    Thursday, July 28, 2011

    THE Road Trip- Thank Yous

    This trip was made possible by the following people:

    My parents- thank you so much for letting me take your good car away from you for 5 weeks only to return it to you with broken parts that needed to be fixed. I REALLY appreciate the sacrifice you made in letting me use it and the money you've spent to fix it. I recognize how big of a deal it was to trust me with it for so long a journey.

    The C's, Z's, M's, P's, and O's- thank you so much for opening your home to me. Thank you for taking care of me, making me meals, giving me a bed to sleep in, spending extra money on me. Especially the M's. Two and a half weeks is a long time to put up with me. Seriously.

    My friends in China- thanks for praying me through.

    THE Road Trip- Part Deuce

    I learned a few things on this trip.

    1. I still don't have it all together. I'm not above making poor choices, needing to ask forgiveness, having to learn from my mistakes. I hate to learn things the hard way. But sometimes that's the only way. Hopefully, they are lessons I only have to learn once.

    2. I have a lot of people all over the country that really love me. Not just because I'm the "fun one" but because they value me. That...surprised me. I mean, I love them. I appreciate them. I wanted to see them. But it blew me away, the effort that was made by many to make sure they saw me. People took off work, cancelled plans, drove hours back and forth every weekend, came home from college, bought me gifts, made me meals, worked out special plans, let me choose how/what/when/where, paid for movies, dinners, gas, coffee, wrote cards...loved on me. They loved on me the way I needed to be loved. 

    3. I hate cars. More specifically, I hate car problems. If you've known me long, you know that I've had some HORRIBLE car experiences. I had about a year while living down in Florida where my car was in the shop at least twice a month or more. I've dealt with blown engines and transmissions, broken radiators (helped change it myself), more flat tires than anyone should ever deal with (I popped three during my first month after I got my license), oil leaks, car accidents, broken windows and trunks...needless to say, I've been scarred for life. Anyway, the day before I left South Florida, the car (which up to this point had been perfect) began doing crazy things with the oil pressure. After a mini-freakout, a tow, a good look-over, and an oil change, I was back on the road with the assurance from the car guys that everything was fine. But it wasn't. The car continued it's craziness for the rest of the trip with a hope and many prayers from me that it wasn't anything serious and that I wasn't ruining the car by driving it for another 3,000 miles with the oil light on. Long story short, I got home and it wasn't anything major. Praise God. But after living with a knot in my stomach for two weeks every time I turned the key, I was glad to give it back to the parentals. 

    4. Friends are friends forever if the Lord's the Lord of them. Remember when you thought that was the best song ever? Seriously though, this trip has reconfirmed that when you have a spiritual bond with someone, it just makes it easier to pick up where you left off. There's something about having God in common that makes things like time and distance inconsequential. 

    5. Saying goodbye is always hard. In some ways, saying goodbye this time was harder than it was the first time. I think it's because I really don't know when I'll see many of them again, if ever. I'm not sure if I'm coming back next summer and when I do finally return, I doubt I'll do the US tour again. Things change, people move, people change...who knows. And that makes me sad. Really sad.

    6. I love my life in China. If you've read this post, then you know that one of the most FAQs is "How's China?". I was probably asked this question or some form of it at least 200 times on this trip. A little irritating but also helpful. Being asked the same questions over and over helped me to really figure out how I feel about my life in China. To process through my thoughts, feelings and experiences from the last two years. What did I figure out? My life in China is awesome and I'm super content there. God has provided for me in every area of my life, in the big and small things. He has blessed me so much more than I deserve. And honestly, I can't wait to get back to it. 

    There's more to add but I'm still working through it.

    THE Road Trip- Part A

    Over 6000 miles. 31 days. 19 states. 5 homes. 2 hotels. Every person I've ever met. Stops: Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Home.

    It's about 6,400 miles from Loveland, Colorado to Qingdao, China. If that gives you any perspective. 

    Indianapolis- Went to my old church and enjoyed some incredible worship. Twice. Had great conversations with people from my old Bible study. Sat and talked about ministry and life with a fellow worship pastor. Stayed at the only hostel in the state of Indianapolis. Went to a friend's wedding. Saw friends from China. 

    Toledo- Spent time with a couple I used to work with in Florida. Treated like royalty. Shopped. Ate good food. Hung out with some sweet dogs. Rested. Enjoyed a beautiful back yard full of trees and flowers.

    Virginia- Stayed with a family that I used to work with. Taught their kids (who are now grown...yikes!) These boys will probably rule the world someday. Or be rich and famous. One or the other. Staying with them felt like family. They're salt-of-the-earth kind of people. We laughed a lot. Set off fireworks. Went putt-putting (I won by the way). Ate fresh fruits and vegetables from their amazing garden. And home-made ice cream. HOME-MADE! Got to say good-bye to sweet little Sarah-dog. 

    Florida- Moved in to a house, worked with her, taught a couple of the sons, great friends, like family. I had a lizard for a roommate. Celebrated the 4th with them. Laughed and played a lot. It was like being in my own home. Love these people. Got to see a lot of people. Sang at church a few times. Met friends for coffee, found closure, talked about moving to Africa. Went to the beach and the pool. Got a bit of a tan. Ate delicious Cuban food. Game night with my game-night friends. Lots of lunches and dinners with good people. Great conversations, hard learning experiences. Saw some good movies. Listened to great music. Read some interesting books. Sang with some of my favorite people.  Slept in, stayed up late, kept really busy. Karaoke, dancing, laughter, fun. Saw old co-workers, best friends, favorite people, a healthy church, my pastor, students, "family", new friends. 

    Alabama- One of my best friends from college and former roommate when I lived in Indianapolis. Shopped, ate, talked, reminisced. Got to know the new husband a bit better. A time of catch-up.Another friend, a mentor. A delicious lunch and laughs about my Scarlet Fever. A short but well-worth-it stop.

    Tennessee- My old roommate from Florida. Knows me better than most people. I'm the most ridiculous version of myself with her. The biggest one-upper I know. And I love it. Went swimming, grilled out, hung out with Diego dog. Again, a brief but fantastic visit.

    I'm a quality-timer and this trip was filled with a lot quality time with some of my closest friends, with people who've made some of the biggest impacts on my adult life. A lot of laughter, reminiscing, deep conversations, a few tears, reaffirming of the bond of friendship, some growth and some closure.  

    I spent most of my time exhausted. It's just a lot of work to do all that talking and soul searching and working out of things. Necessary and truly uplifting but hard work. I've learned about myself that I'm a closet introvert. I know this may surprise many of you but it's true. I love people. I love building relationships. I love getting to know new people. But I must have time to recharge or I just become a dud. And I'm afraid that by the end of my trip, I was a little less outgoing, a little less shiny and sparkly. When you're with other people literally 24/7 (except the 100 hours of driving...which also wore me out), it tends to take a toll. But the truth is, I wouldn't have had it any other way. I'm so glad I got to see every person I did, visit every place I went to, spend as much time with people as I did. Yah, it was tiring but I don't care about that for my sake. I just felt bad for those that weren't able to see the normal me. 

    Maybe if I ever do this kind of trip again (yah right!), I'll go in the opposite order.

    To be continued...

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    My Top Ten FAQ's About China

    1. "How's China?"
    China is awesome. I love my job and the people I work with. The city I live in is beautiful. I've got great friends. God is teaching me lots of things. Yep, I'm really happy. If you want to know more, feel free to ask something a little more specific.

    2. "How's your Chinese?"
    You would be embarrassed for me if you knew how little Chinese I actually knew. I'd like to say it's because I'm around English speakers all day but... I can get around town, shop, use very basic sentences. That's it. I have the goal to greatly improve in my language skills this year. 

    3. "Have you gotten a Chinese boyfriend yet?"
    *Blink* *Blink* No, as a matter of fact I have not. 
    "No Ching Chang Chong in your life?"
    No, I have not found me a...Ching Chang Chong.

    4. "Do you miss home?"
    Well, because I've moved so much in my life, I don't really have a home here in America. China is my home and I'm quite happy there. If you mean, "Do I miss America?", my answer would still have to be "no". I miss the people. Of course I miss the people. And I miss some of the conveniences like pre-made salads and sandwich meats but as a whole, I don't really feel homesick for America.

    5. "When are you moving back to America?"
    When I moved to China, it was with the intention of forever. I sold almost all of my earthly possessions and have no home to move back to. That being said, if God moved me back that'd be great. But at this point, I plan to stay overseas and specifically China for an undetermined amount of time.

    6. "Have you eaten dog?"
    No, I haven't eaten dog. I probably could find a restaurant in my city that sells it but I choose not to. The Chinese actually love dogs as pets. And they pamper them just like Americans do. I've seen dressed up and toe-nail painted dogs all over the place.

    7. "What about cat?"
    No, no cat. As far as I know, the Chinese do not eat cat. They eat donkey, horse, cow, lamb, probably some goat, pig, chicken, and a lot of tofu. But no cat.

    8. "What do you do in your free time?"
    Good question. I spend a lot of time at Starbucks, working and talking. I go see movies, eat out with friends, walk around town watching Chinese people watching me, shop at markets, read books, travel...mostly the same stuff I would do in America except with a twist. The movies have Chinese sub-titles, the food's mostly Asian, I'm stared at, I have to barter at the market and so on. Oh yes, and I watch ridiculous videos on Youtube like this one and this one.

    9. "When the Chinese speak English, they can't say words with the "L" sound in them, can they? You know like in "The Christmas Story" when that family goes to the Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner and the Chinese waiters sing Deck the Halls and pronounce the "Fa la la la la la la la la" as "Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra".  Isn't that true?"
    Um, well, they do have a hard time saying the "L" sounds but...it's not really that noticeable. And most of the Chinese people that speak English work very hard to speak it correctly. I mean, there are at least 3 sounds in the Chinese language that I struggle with saying. And they are very gracious with my attempts. So...I guess I just don't even notice it when they struggle with some of our sounds.

    10. Are you taller than all the Chinese people?
    Well, it depends on what part of China I'm in. Anywhere west or south then yes, I'm probably a foot taller than most of them. But in my province and northern China, the people are much taller. I'm probably the average height of the men there. Which is nice. It was unexpected. I was sure that I would tower over everyone there. Yay!

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011


    I'm only blogging to let the world know that I am actually alive (and by "world" I mean the 13 of you that actually read this blog). I'm in the middle of my 5 week-long road trip across America so life is crazy. I've driven 3100 miles and crossed 12 states (big ones) so far. I am now resting comfortably in South Florida among people that are almost family. I've even unpacked my suitcases. 

    My stops thus far have included Indianapolis (and Wabash)/Indiana, Toledo/Ohio, Amherst/Virginia, and now Hollywood/Florida. I'm here for two more weeks and have grand plans that include lunches and family dinners, BBQs and the beach, ladies night out and game night, church and helping with worship and maybe a trip to the Keys. And anything else I can fit into my time here.

    I've been so busy and tired. It's a lot of work to drive so far, talk so much, and then leave again. But it's been absolutely worth it. And it's not because I'm doing all of these amazing things. It's because I'm seeing all of these people and it's so totally normal. Comfortable. Like we've never been apart. Now, that's a sign of a good friendship. To spend years away from each other and still pick up where you left off. I've been able to do that in every place I've visited. 

    I'm very happy. I'm happy that I'm getting to love on and be loved on by amazing people for two months. And I'm happy that at the end of July, I get to go back to a place that I love, where there are people that I love and that love me. 

    When people ask me "how is China?", I usually respond with, "It's awesome." and then go into something about how good God has been. And then I feel that I have to explain that I know that God is always good, regardless of my circumstance but that the last year has been this amazing time of growth and tangible goodness in my life. And then the person that I'm talking to usually says something along the lines of, "I can tell that you really mean that. Your face just lights up when you talk about China".

    It's true. It's great to be here among all of my friends and family. But I'm so glad that I'm homesick for China and my life there. It's a good sign to be so content here (yes, I know, it took a couple of weeks to get there) and still deeply miss there. 

    I promise to do my best to keep you posted on life. I actually have several blogs partially written or in my head that I just haven't posted yet. Maybe I'll get around to them...

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    Gettin' My Hairs Did

    There are a few experiences I've been hesitant slash straight-out-defiant about trying while living in China.

    Things I absolutely refuse to try would include riding in a three wheeled taxi shaped like a triangle, Korean massages (must be done buck naked...no explanation needed), and eating grilled bugs on a stick.

    Things I'm hesitant about would include swimming in the ocean, eating dried sea food, and walking on the beach at night. Or during the day for that matter (sand cockroaches...need I say more?).

    Another thing on my hesitant list would be getting a haircut, something about a language barrier and the Chinese Stylists' idea that they really do know best, regardless of what I actually want. I'm pretty picky about what happens to my hair. That may surprise many of you who only see my hair pulled into a messy knot at the back of my head 5 months out of the year (I blame the humidity...and my laziness) but I really do. Haircuts usually mean digging out any pair of scissors I can find and semi-carefully snipping away in the bathroom until I've gotten rid of most of the mange at the ends. Which I guess doesn't sound like I'm picky but if someone's going to screw it up, it may as well be me.

    I've been cutting my own hair for many, many years. Mostly it works out well but I do recall a time in middle school where I cut my bangs so short they were literally poking straight out. I just couldn't get them straight and before I knew it, I only had about a half an inch of hair left in the front. Yah, I learned early on that unevenness is always better than little sprockets of hair. Always.

    You see, I've almost never had a good haircut from a salon. It's either too short or not layered enough or they styled it weird. I went and had my hair done for my Junior Spring Banquet (Christian prom) and left in tears. They used the smallest curling iron size, a ratting comb and a half a bottle of Auquanet. Think scary '60s hair wig but uglier. Needless to say, it scarred me for life.

    So, take all my hair-issue-baggage, add to that a language and cultural barrier, multiply it by my nervousness, and you get me, a sweating, panting ball of panic in a rockin' Chinese hair salon (they had purple fur on the ceiling. Seriously).

    Go big or go home, they say...don't they? Whoever "they" are. Not only was I going to get my hair cut, but I decided to get it chemically (permanently) straightened as well. Actually, it was the fancy version called "Magic Straight". Magic Straight includes not only the straight part but also a nice little curl at the ends so they're not so pokey. A lot of the women I work with have had it done and it looked fantastic. Their hair always looked good. And it made me jealous. My long-time fear of hair salons eventually lost out to my ever-growing jealousy of awesome hair so I decided to bring on the ammonia.

    Let the "Magic" begin...

    A very helpful friend (the one who talked me into going), already there and almost finished with getting her hair done, had an entire page full of English phrases translated into Chinese that one might need in a situation like this. And by "situation", I mean a "non-Chinese-speaking-foreigner-going-into-a-non-English-speaking-hair-salon-and-asking-for-a-really-complicated-hairstyle-and-chemical-process-that-no-motions,-hand gestures-or-pictures-can-adequately-convey-because-we-tried-that-and-it-didn't-work" situation. Even with the awesomeness that was the "phrase page", they still didn't get it. Luckily, my friend had a Chinese friend so we called her, had her explain and then, well, hoped for the best.

    So, hairdresser-manager guy (because all the regular hairdressers where pretty fearful of working on me at this point) whisked me away for a wash and then promptly sat me down for the cut. And when I say "cut" I mean "maul". He grabbed chunks of my hair and just chopped. And chopped and chopped. He cut off 4 or 5 inches at a time. My bangs were gathered and trimmed in one quick motion. When he was finished (took about 5 minutes), I didn't even have time to let it settle. He immediately handed me off to the "magic" lady who had finally worked up the courage to deal with the crazy foreigner. I was horrified. All of my friends who've gotten their hair cut in China have these stories of 4 hour haircuts because the cutter person snips each hair individually. This was my expectation. This did not happen. Panic ensued. As soon as he was done, I looked at my friend and said, "I can't do this." And then promptly relayed  to the magic lady in motions and panting and sweating and broken Chinese that I didn't want my hair straightened. She, in turn, looked at me like I was crazy and then turned to the non-panting friend and asked what was going on.

    My dear, dear, sweet, calm, seeing-things-clearly friend proceeded to try and help me see things in a rational matter, to speak truth into my life. "Jen, I love my hair. I've done this and I love it. You're going to love it too. I'm not trying to talk you into this but REALLY think it through." She's a good woman. I took a few deep breaths...

    and decided to go for it. The whole shebang! Bring on the Magic!

    Here are some pics during the process...

    My head was on fire. The curlers were so hot!

    My friend Kelley

    Looks like a caterpillar on my forehead. And I look like an 8 year old.
    Anyway, after five hours of combing and curling and washing and flat-ironing and waiting....

    I LOVED IT! I still love it. I love it even more now. I don't have any real pictures to show you as I'm having camera issues but here are a couple pics that I've taken since I've had it done.

    Left- Goodbye Banquet in China
    Right- Fishing in Estes Park, CO

    After all the worry and near panic attack, I can say it was totally worth it. I would definitely do it again. 

    This experience however does not in any way make me want to reconsider doing any of the things on my "Never-Do" list in China. 

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    I still call him "daddy".

    When you talk to some people, mostly past students, he's the scariest person they know. When you talk to others, he's the greatest musician they've ever heard. In the town I'm visiting, my father is legend. They adore him here. I mean, I know my dad is great, but it's always nice to hear what other people think. "He was the best music leader I've ever known." "He was a great principal." "I love your dad so much. I miss him. Wish he would come down to visit."

    After all these years, being a grown woman and all, it's still nice to come home and have a dad who takes care of me. He carries my luggage, buys my meals, fixes up my fishing pole, pays for a new battery in my car, fixes my bed, lets me borrow his car (for a month),  grills me up burgers, asks me questions, encourages me, loves me with his actions.

    He is a good man, a wonderful husband, a great father.

    Thank you dad for your love and your support. 

    I love you.