Saying Farewell

Obviously, I left this place hanging a little. I put off writing this for months. Not really sure why. I think it was because I didn’t really want to admit that it was time to say goodbye. That our time here was REALLY “over”. China was home my home away from home. Always different, always strange, but home, nonetheless. I am one of those who wants to bury my head in the sand anytime change is coming and that is what I did during this move. I took it as it came, little step by little step got me back to the US. I purposely never took time to think about what was really happening.

Sometimes it feels like it was all a dream. And sometimes it feels like I’m just waiting out an extended vacation before I get on a plane and fly back to China. But I’m not. At least not for a very long time. That chapter has closed for now.

And it’s time for a new chapter. Ready or not. Lots of times in the last few months, I have felt the “not”.

I do not plan to abandon this blog. There are many stories and photos and reflections that did not make it here when they happened. It all happened so fast.

And yet, I think the thing I have struggled with the most is the pace of life back here in America. Everyone has so much to do! And you are expected to accomplish 10 things in a day. Grocery store, bank, post office, lunch with friends, shopping, cooking, and laundry. In China, it’s an accomplishment to check off one, and a rockin’ awesome day to knock out two! But all those things that should be so easy, are somehow so overwhelming.

Grocery stores are huge, and everything is wrapped in plastic, or metal, or cardboard. (yuk!) And it’s hard to explain to someone who has always done it this way why it’s now hard for me. I did it for years. It’s “normal”, right? Nothing changed here. (Except the prices! Holy cow, inflation!)

Nothing changed but me.

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Just arrived

And look who I brought back with me!

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Meet my youngest sister, known around here as the “Fashionista” or “the redhead” and our close friend/adopted sister, the “Carolina China Doll”.

I’m SO excited to have someone else to share this awesome experience with and I can’t wait to show them around China and to be reminded myself of how eye opening this place is.

The last few months were great as we were home for the holidays. (A firm commitment for our family no matter where in the world we are.) We had an awesome holiday season with our friends and family.

And check out what Santa brought me…

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I think it was a big ploy by LB to give me a reason to want to come back home to the US. Our contract is almost up and it will be moving time soon. I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about this adventure coming to an end, but now I have at least one little adorable furry reason to look forward to back in South Carolina.

I realize things have been quiet around here lately but that’s about to change. Since we don’t have much longer left in China I figure I have procrastinated long enough and now it’s crunch time to finish the book.

Not to mention I’m home schooling two high school students so I don’t have an excuse for not getting this thing finished!

There will be lots of chatter to come as I post excerpts from the book as well as daily posts from my two favorite teenagers in China (under the category “The Teenage Invasion”). And from the hilarity of the first few days, it should be plenty entertaining!

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catching up

It’s been a little while and I thought I’d do a catch-all list to give an update on the amazing things we’ve had going on.

Number 1 most amazing thing was our 3-week vacation to AUSTRALIA.
Seriously, the trip of a lifetime. Will definitely have to share more of this soon but as a quick run through, we went

horse-back riding in the Daintree Rainforest
to a crocodile farm in Cairns
jet-skiing and wild-life watching near Whitsunday Islands
sailing and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef


touring in downtown Sydney
petting koalas and kangaroos in north-west Sydney
visiting with cousins in south-west Sydney
repelling and canyoning in the Blue Mountains


climbing to the top of the highest mountain in Australia (Mt. Kosciuszko!)
driving through the heart of Australian wine country
exploring in downtown Melbourne
riding along the Great Ocean Road

So yeah. It was pretty stinkin’ amazing! I think I’m still a little hung-over from the awesomeness of everything we experienced.

Now, it’s back to real-life in China which honestly still doesn’t feel like real life most of the time.

The yarn section of Wuai is back open and I’ve got lots of projects going on for the upcoming holidays.

I’m currently illustrating a children’s book, which is a new thing for me but I’m totally enjoying it.

The new designs for China Christmas ornaments are posted (Year of the Snake!) and ready for order.

I have a sale going on until Nov 18th… So pop over and check it out!

Trying to get shopping and traveling and writing and drawing finished before I head back to the US for the holidays (didn’t I just get back to China? The last half of this year has just flown by!)

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Grocery Shopping in Shenyang… American style.

I’ve told you before about the local markets I like to buy meat and produce from, but what if you need cheese, bread, and canned goods? These items are not commonly used in Chinese cooking, but fortunately, Shenyang has some nice new grocery stores to fill that import food need.

Yoo Hoo:

  This is the grocery store in the basement of the Richgate Mall, beside the Lexington Hotel. It’s just down the street from the North Train Station so you can even get here on the Shenyang Subway line 2 (Bei Zhan stop.) This place reminds me of a Whole Foods Market. They carry only import goods from all over the world. They have a great cheese and deli section. And sometimes avocados in the produce section! It’s pricey, but if you really need a guacamole fix, sometimes it’s worth it.

Olé

This store opened about a year ago in the new MixC mall (Wan Xiang Cheng) on Qingnian Street just north of Zhanlanguan (Exhibition Hall) also accessible on Subway Line 2 (zhanlanguan stop). There is an exit from the metro that takes you directly into the basement of the MixC and right past Starbucks toward Olé. It’s similar to YooHoo but doesn’t have quite the selection they do. They are comparable on price, but Ole is easier to get to so it’s good for a quick trip. I usually buy ciabatta bread, and sometimes cheese here. They also have the best bacon in town.

Riverside Market (aka. The Little Store.)

This place was like a treasure chest and Christmas all rolled up into one when I was first introduced to it. Keep in mind, the above 2 grocery stores didn’t open for six months and a year after we arrived so this little place was IT for the good stuff.

It’s actually still a like a weekly treasure hunt because their stock changes frequently and you never know what’s going to arrive. There’s a Shenyang expat rule you better learn fast or you’ll be frequently disappointed, if there is something you see that you think you might want in the future, buy it. immediately. And probably buy several. Don’t wait and plan to come back tomorrow. It WILL be gone. And there’s a good chance you won’t see it again for months. Or maybe ever.

The is the place to find the American comfort foods. Breakfast sausage, Doritos, Tortilla chips and salsa, Kraft Mac & Cheese. Last week, they even had frozen waffles.

Carrefour

This store has been in Shenyang for several years. French owned, it is similar to Wal-mart in the US. They have the best prices on import goods although their selection is pretty slim. I usually buy milk, cereal, and a few can goods here. The one at the big circle overpass at the intersection of Qingnian and Wenhua Road has the best import section. Bring your A-game for a trip here because it is cah-razy. Like Black Friday on steroids. To save your sanity, don’t even try to go on a weekend.

Notice that I didn’t mention Walmart. While Shenyang does have several, they don’t have the import goods you’d expect. Walmart tends to cater to local tastes and in my experience tends to be kind of dirty. I usually stick to the above mentioned stores (plus the market) for most of my shopping. Although you should definitely make at least one trip to a Walmart in China, just for the experience. That’s one you just have to see for yourself.

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Shenyang Knitting Group

I’ve been pretty much obsessed with knitting for several years now. I go through spurts where I get more done than other times, but I nearly always have a project in progress. It’s great for keeping your hands busy on those LONG, boring plane flights.

When I moved to Shenyang, I was excited to meet a few other ladies who enjoyed knitting and crocheting, but none who got as excited about it as me.

What’s a girl to do?

Create more knitters and instill the obsession, of course.

So that’s what I did.

I waited until it got nice and cold outside and then invited my friends over for a nice little stitch&bitch. Fortunately, two were expecting new babies (who now join us for knitting, by the way.) so they were easy to convince. Most didn’t know how to knit when we started.

But let me tell you. They learned fast and are now nearly as obsessed as I am.

And now I have friends who enjoy shopping for yarn, and talking about new stitches, cast-ons, and the difference between wool and cotton.

Mission accomplished.

If you’re interested in joining us, we meet on Thursday mornings around 9:30ish at Riverside Garden. Drop me an email for more details. We’re always looking for more people to brainwash with the joys of knitting.

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Shenyang Cha Bu Duo 5K/10K

Last Saturday, the Shenyang LIGHT Foster Program held a fundraiser race called the Cha Bu Duo 5K/10K. It was such a fun morning and a great fundraiser for the foster children.

There were over 100 runners in the race. (That’s me with the banana, still trying to wake up.)

We had a few onlookers trying to figure out what the big group of foreigners was up to.

Friends helping friends pin on their numbers.

We started the day with a kiddie race.

It was seriously cute.

They also had face painting.

And then we ran (or in my case ran a little, then walked a lot. What can I say… not a runner. Unless something really big is chasing me. On second thought, probably not even going to run in that case. I’m more of a fight over flight kinda girl.)

But my friends did pretty awesome and didn’t walk at all! So proud of them.

Me, I kept up with my 8 year old running buddy. She did so awesome and we kept each other moving. And entertained for the whole 3 miles.

She mentioned about halfway… “Do you think they’ll have a nice cold Coke for us when we get to the end?” I laughed. It made it very hard to run.

But I guess she settled for water. I hear that’s better for you anyway.

Even Baby J finished her first 5K at a whopping 1 month old. You go, girls!

This girl did the whole 5 kilometers… and was happy to see the finish line!

Me and my girls had a blast… even though they all smoked me. It’s ok. I’ve gotten used to the fact I’m slow, and I’m ok with that.

Not sure if you noticed, but there are no photos of LB crossing the finish line.

That’s because he was one of the first to cross it. And by “one of the first”, I mean he was second. Despite the fact he hasn’t run a race in 10 years, and he “trained” for this by jogging in the park 3 times in the last two weeks.

Yep, that’s my man.

(And by the way, that’s a peace sign the guy who came in third is holding up. It’s also interesting that even though there is no podium, their heights do distinguish the finishing order.)

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Hiatus

I finally got back from my summer hiatus to the land of fried chicken, garden fresh tomatoes, s’mores, and four-wheelers. It was a fantastic trip where I got to see all of my family, including all of LB’s family who are scattered all over the world!

This is home. The farm where I grew up and the first place I head when I get back to the US.

Family farm

It was 6 weeks of non-stop packed-in travel and busyness.

We went camping in the mountains of Tennessee and rafting down the Ocoee River. Twice. It’s one of my favorite things to do. Being outdoors is one of those things I miss most when I’m surrounded by the concrete jungle of Shenyang. I still spend some time outside here but it just isn’t the same when you aren’t surrounded by green.

I also got new eyes!

This is from one of the pre-op dilations for measurements.

Ok, not really new eyes but laser-enhanced eyes that feel like new eyes. I have to admit, I was scared to death to have this done. If it wasn’t for LB pushing it so hard (he had it done several years ago) I would have just lived with glasses forever and never taken the chance. I’m an artist, you know, my eyes are a big part of my livelihood. But, I sucked it up and went for it anyway. And it’s awesome. Very uncomfortable for a day or two but totally worth it!

Although, I still think to myself at least once every night, “I need to take my contacts out.” I wonder how long that lasts. But I guess 16 years of that nightly ritual takes a while to forget.

We also spent a week at Garden City Beach (just south of Myrtle Beach) for our annual family beach trip with my family.

The cornhole tournaments can get serious!

I love hanging out with my crazy family.

And LB’s family joined the fun back at the farm with an Olympic Tournament of crazy games like cornhole, ladderball, and frisbee golf.

and of course it wouldn’t be a trip to South Carolina without some guns…

So far since I’ve been back and made my rounds to see my friends at the massage place and ayi has come to help with the laundry, they’ve all had something to say about how I look now. You’d think I’d been gone a year and not just 6 weeks. My massage friend mentioned that now my butt was a little more fat than before and my ayi wanted to know why my skin was black now.

So yeah, I missed China a lot.

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Things to do in Shenyang – Hawaii Waterpark

Now that Summer has arrived and kids are out of school, it’s time to find some fun activities to keep everyone happy. Even though Shenyang isn’t exactly full of touristy sites, there are still a few fun things to do.

And now that it’s finally warm, we decided it was time to pull out the swimsuits…

Royal Ocean World is a huge family amusement park between Shenyang and Fushun. It has five parts: Ocean World is the aquarium that has both sea and fresh water exhibits. Century Forest focuses on reptiles, lizards, snakes and crocodiles. Narnian Castle is a theatre where animal shows are performed several times throughout the day (show times may vary throughout the year). Susu World is a soft play place for children.

But this time, we headed for the water park.

Hawaii Waterpark is a large indoor park with tons of ways to get wet.

An indoor beach fit for sand castles.

And waves that start on the hour.

A ropes course so you can get ready for Wipeout.

And plenty of huge slides for the big kids.

That blue and green slide ends in a funnel. I tried it.

Looked like I was being birthed… came out head first.

Royal Ocean World (皇家极地海洋世界; Huángjiājídehǎiyángshìjiè),
Wanghua District (抚顺高湾(沈吉高速抚顺西出口))

The attractions can be purchased separately or on a combined ticket and they range from ¥70-140.

Definitely give it a try if you’re looking for something fun to do. And you don’t even have to remember the sun screen!

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Just another reason I’m jealous of Beijing

Because for 1. They have international restaurants. Hundreds. All types of food. Even Mexican.

In Shenyang, we may have 10 (if you don’t count McD’s, KFC, or Pizza Hut). Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Chinese food. It’s good stuff (if you know what to order). I just don’t want it everyday. I need burgers in my life. And tacos.

And for 2. Because some genius started this website… jinshisong.com

Jinshisong

They have over 100 restaurants. That wouldn’t normally deliver. They set up the menus online (usually not the full menus, just the stuff easy to deliver), they place your order, and then… bring it to you. at home.

It’s genius, I tell you. Think of all your favorite restaurants. Then think how awesome it would be if you could eat that without even leaving the house. Awesomeness. No matter where in the world you are. Especially for hermits like me.

(Ok, so not really me, I like to go. But LB definitely would be a hermit if I let him. And even I like to hole up during Shenyang winters. Although, honestly, I’d probably no longer be able to leave my house I’d be so fat if this service was available to me.)

Why don’t we have this in Shenyang? Anybody out there? Will you please build this? You will have customers. Many customers. (Although, you may need to build a few more Western restaurants while you’re at it. I vote Mexican food!)

Jinshisong even delivers Kro’s Nest Pizza! Have you been there? The next time you’re in Beijing, you absolutely must! It is a top notch pizza joint. Some of the best I’ve ever eaten. in my life. (Confession: I was in Beijing last week with some girlfriends and we ate there 3 times. in one week. It’s good stuff, I tell you. But it really deserves a post all its own.)

So if you live in Beijing, you should definitely take advantage of this service. Because fo’ real, I’m jealous.

If you’re not in Beijing, sorry I just made you jealous too.

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The new washer

Our original lease is nearly up so I had to discuss with the realtor about extending for another year and a couple of things we needed him to fix. One of those was the washer.

It’s been on the fritz for a while now, and finally my ayi was running a load for us (normally I do the washing and she irons) and called me in to tell me that it was “Bu Hao” and “very old” and that I should ask the landlord for a new one.

Our landlord has always been great and timely about taking care of the things we need. We’re very fortunate. First thing Saturday morning, we had his “friend” (we always deal with the landlord’s friend, never actually met the landlord) at the house to look at the old washer and see if it needed repairing or replacing.

At this point, I got Ayi on the phone to explain to him what was wrong. (It doesn’t always do the thing where it sounds like a freight train coming off the tracks and stops in the middle of a load, and I sure didn’t know how to explain that in Chinese.) She went on and on with him on the phone and he just kept saying “Bu xing. Bu neng.” (It’s not possible. I can’t.) He never really agreed with her, but as soon as he hung up, he told me he was going to buy a new one. Never even looked at the current washer. (You go, ayi!)

Now I’ll mention here that I was spending this Saturday preparing for a baby shower that I was hosting at our place Sunday morning (as well as packing for a trip to Beijing that I was leaving for on Sunday afternoon). I didn’t really think it would be a big deal since I didn’t need the washer to do those things.

At about 5 pm, I got a knock on the door. When I opened it, it was a Chinese guy bent halfway over with a washer tied to his back. Surprised, I let him come on in, impressed at how quickly we had a new washer.

I ushered him to the kitchen where I was beginning to bake some cupcakes and showed him the old washer since I was assuming he was going to replace it.

At this point, I was even more surprised when he unloaded the washer in the middle of the kitchen floor, took off the cardboard box and waved his hand like he was Vanna White showing me the new washer.

I just nodded to say “Oh yes, that’s a very nice new washer.” Not really sure what he wanted from me. He smiled and nodded back.

Then turned and walked right out of my house. Leaving the new washer, old washer and box right where it stood.

And me, standing with my mouth open in the kitchen trying to figure out how I’m supposed to cook for and entertain the 12 people who would be at my house in just 12 hours around this huge new washer in the middle of the floor.

I know I really shouldn’t be surprised by anything anymore, but sometimes I still can’t help it.

And I think the landlord’s friend was just as surprised when he stopped by at 11 the next morning to drop off the receipt and was greeted by a house full of loud foreign women.

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