Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Woman in her Thirties Reminisces

A few weeks ago I noticed that a friend I taught with in China had posted something on Facebook about schools being closed due to weather.  I'm not great at keeping up with the nuances of Facebook, but upon closer inspection I saw that her status had been posted near St. Paul.

(P.S. Creepy, Facebook!)

After a quick 'uh.... are you in the Twin Cities?' note, we realized she was living 30 minutes away from me in P-ville.

Let's think about this for a second: A girl I taught with IN BEIJING had relocated to the Twin Cities.  The world is small, people.

She came over Monday with her new addition, and while our kids played we reminisced about the old times.

Which really wasn't that long ago at all.  But a whoooooooole lot has happened in the last six years. For example, how cute is her baby?!

When L and I announced to our expat friends in China that we were moving back to the US, people warned us that the transition would be difficult.  They were right.  That first year home was a doozy, for both L and me.  I think when you live overseas time sort of stands still.  You live in this strange, privileged bubble.  You assume that life at home is staying the same, and when you come back you realize that not only has it not stayed the same (the price of a movie jumped $3 in the time we were gone, among a billion other things), but your friends and family have moved on with their lives since you've been gone.

And you:  you have changed most of all.  You've seen and experienced things that most people haven't.  It is difficult to find someone who understands how awesome and crazy that is.  You feel like you don't fit in anymore.

My visit on Monday brought all of that back to the surface for me, and I've spent the last few days missing China and the many great memories I have of there.  Here are a few:

1.  Jack

Forgive me for starting with something mushy, but I must.  Part of L's expat package included our own, personal driver.  Since L traveled all the time and his office was only a block away from our apartment, I used Jack's services far more often than L did.  Jack drove me to and from school every day, which on some days was 15 minutes and some days, due to the crazy insanity that IS Beijing traffic, that was an hour and a half, each way.

I never called Jack my 'driver'.  I called him my zui hao de pengyou (best friend).  He truly was.  He patiently helped me with my Chinese flashcards, correcting my terrible pronunciation and teaching me slang.  He was my translator anytime I needed him. He was always patient and always kind and always made me feel safe is a huge, scary city.

We still exchange emails every Christmas.  He sends pictures of his daughter, whom I gave the English name of Sierra, and I send him pictures of Anna and Aaron.  And then I cry a little, just like I did the last time Jack dropped me off at the airport on my way home for good. 

2.  Food

Okay, now that the mushy stuff is over... I miss the food  A. LOT.  This is a picture of me having hot pot with a group of teachers.  So, so, crazy good.  


Obviously, the food was not always amazing.  And there was one bout of food poisoning that I would prefer to block out of my memory. But it was more than just how the food tasted, it is how people eat in China.  Long, family-style meals.  Everyone shares, no one gorges. Each person on the the lookout to keep everyone else's glass full. The dinner pictured above took 3 hours, easily.  Love that.

3.  Massage

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, I miss China for its massage.  I went at least a couple times a month for a one hour, five dollar, elbows-in 'beating'.  And then I discovered the wonders of acupuncture, and my life was never the same.  Yoga has now taken the place of the massages I used to get, but man.  I miss it.

(Side note:  I did sliding cups once, and this was the result. Didn't do much for me other than give me some street cred. Give me the needles and a beating any day.)

4.  Bing

It was through friends of friends that I met Bing, and she became a very important person in my life during my three years in China.  We had lots of adventures, too many to count here.  Here is a picture of that time we decided to model for an installation piece in the 798 Art District.  Cuz why not.

I never realized how unusual it is for a laowai (me) to have a friend who is a true Beijinger until several of my expat friends pointed it out to me.  I feel so lucky to have seen Beijing through Bing's eyes.  

I'm going to get mushy again if I talk too much about Bing, but I will say this:  We both have two children now, one boy and one girl each.  We may or may not have arranged their marriages.

5.  Hilarity in Translation

I kick myself every time I think about all the hilarious signs I failed to take pictures of in China.  For me, it was such a relief to laugh at a poorly-translated sign not just because it was funny but because it made me feel better for all the times people laughed at my terrible Chinese.  

'No taking a blunt to enter.' Boo.

6.  Adventure

Right now, my biggest adventure is planning my trip to southern California this summer for my cousin's wedding.  Granted, traveling with children is an adventure of monumental proportions.  But I do miss things like this:

Panda holding.

Thailand exploring.

Happy hour dancing.


Great Wall Climbing.

But of course a woman in her thirties puts it in perspective.  There's plenty I don't miss about China.  PLENTY.  And as I was going through all these old pictures, I was noticing two very important people who are absent.

And while I miss the old times, I wouldn't go back to them for the world.  There lead me here.  And here, wherever 'here' ends up, is the right place as long as we're together.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Woman in her Thirties Freezes Deep

I love living in Minnesota.  I truly, honestly do.  In the last four years L and I have had many conversations about moving, either back to California or somewhere else, and we both have agreed that it would not be the right thing to do.  There are many factors that play into this decision, all of them equally important.

So keep that in mind when I say this:  The weather here SUCKS.  There is no way around it.  And in the last few days, it has sucked in a way it hasn't sucked in over forty years.  Here is an image of the weather text I got on Monday morning, to just to make you understand:

Yes, you are reading that right.  The HIGH is the coldest I've ever been, ever.

Ever wonder what happens to your windows in that kind of weather? This:
One thing I've learned about myself being a stay-at-home Mom is that I'm really not good at the stay at home part.  I have many friends who have gasped at how booked our schedules are, weekends included.  We don't have down time, we don't have lounge-around-the-house mornings.  We are go, go, go, seven days a week, unless someone is sick and we're forced not to be.  It is better for everyone that way.

So when I knew that Monday was going to be... I think the technical term is 'butt as$ cold'... I got a little panicky.  One day-- at least-- stuck indoors.  Here's how we (barely) survived:

Connect Four:
My children are far too young to understand the concept of Connect Four, but you know what they love?  Dropping those little checkers and hearing them clink, clink, clink.

Anna sorta-kinda gets what's going on in this game, but she doesn't understand the concept of winning or losing.  Her main objective yesterday was to get both of us to land on the cupcake, and get to the castle together.  Love her.

PBS Kids:
Anna knows how to work the PBS website all by herself.  It's magical.  Magical, I tell you.

Cookies (in her Ariel costume, obvi):
Anna helped me make cookies while Aaron napped.  It was so much fun to watch her get into it, and then super annoying when she wasn't into it anymore and I was stuck with the mess.

I get a lot of use out of our home treadmill, but yesterday's run with Don Draper was much, much, MUCH needed.

Dance Party:
Anna put on her second princess outfit of the day so she could dance with Daniel in the basement for awhile.  Dan was a good sport, but wholly disinterested.

This little basketball hoop has given minutes (minutes!) of entertainment to my sweet Aaron.  He's a natural, and obviously gets his skillz from me.

I tried to document everything we did yesterday.  There was lots of reading, lots of hide and seek... but despite my greatest efforts, things fell apart around 4:30.  I made this soup from the Pioneer Woman, which turned out totally gross and flavorless.  The kids were done with me.  Done-zo.

That was when I got an expletive-laced text from a friend who told me school was cancelled again tomorrow.  I did some yoga breaths and sat the kids in front of Little Einsteins to get my head together.

And decided that I didn't care what the temperature was, if I didn't get us all out of the house today it was going to be bad news.

So here's a pic of us this morning, at Minnesota's Great Mega Mall of Monstrosity:

Because I might not be a hard-core Minnesotan, but I'm raising two little ones who most likely will be.  Bearing the miserable cold is worth it, for all of us.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Woman in her Thirties Resolves

I don't know what it is, but I'm noticing a lot more New Year's Resolutions this year than in years past.  As a fan of lists, goals, and overall improvement, I love making New Year's Resolutions.  Here are mine:

1. Focus on the positive

I've been inhabiting some darkish space lately.  Not dark-dark, but a little blue.  A woman in her thirties knows that there is only one person on the planet who can pull her out of Blue-ville, and that is herself.  So I'm doing the 365 Grateful project this year on Instagram, to help keep me focused on the little wonderful things.

Like these guys, and more:

2.  Embrace my glasses

For the last few years, thanks to pregnancy, stay-at-home mom comfort, and general laziness, I have been wearing my glasses a lot more frequently than I used to. I always subconsciously associated wearing my glasses with not taking care of myself and feeling generally crappy about the way I looked. This last year I discovered Zenni Optical and bought these glasses for $10:

And have decided that glasses are awesome because they keep my eyes happier than contacts.  So I'm going to buy lots of glasses because dude- $10 is AMAZING!- and rock the you-know-what out of them.

3.  Eat more donuts

And speaking of keeping myself happy, this little pearl of wisdom came from a friend's daughter last night.  I'm not a huge donut fan, but I do like chocolate.  So I'm going to eat more chocolate, because chocolate is really great.  And so is ice cream, so I'm going to eat more of that, too.

4.  Finish book #2

I think part of the reason I've been a little blue lately is because my book is in a strange calm-before-the-storm phase.  The launch is set for March, and the final manuscript is done.  The waiting time between finishing the book and 'launching' the book is a really yucky time, full of anxiety and worry and self-doubt.  So I'm going to do what I've always done to process the world, and that is write.  I'm 13 pages into book two, and I'm re-realizing how therapeutic the writing process is for me.

5.  Be Nice... me.  I actually think I'm a pretty nice person to most people, but man. I'm horrible to myself.  I put myself down when I can't nail the side-crow in yoga, I put myself down when I try (and fail) to style my hair, and I torture myself with the comments of other people.  It's really a terrible quality, so I'm going to try to stop doing that.

And I really think that eating chocolate while doing all of this is going to help.  Happy New Year, bloggie friends!