17 December, 2017

Spread Wars II: This Time It's Personal

Five-odd years ago, a couple of Aussie bloggers I followed at the time started an online debate about which spread was better: peanut butter or Nutella. I joined in the fray (and links to both of the original blogs are in that post, although both are inactive now).

You do not need to read that post to understand this post.

We now live in China, and when we first found peanut butter, I noticed they only offer small jars. Small, and tiny. I have since found creamy in larger jars, but I now realize that the big jars of chunky that I used to purchase in the States are simply an element of The American Dream.

Peanut butter is not cheap here. When we first moved here, we had nothing, so we certainly didn't spend on peanut butter. When we decided to splurge - mostly because of my peanut-buttered apple addiction, I spread the peanut butter very thinly. I was the primary user of the peanut butter, and I was frugal with my expensive decadence. 

Now that we are more settled and have reliable income, there is always peanut butter in the house. (It's not cheap, but it's not *that* expensive.) 

However, we are at an impasse. Brett has this habit of dipping a licked utensil into the jar of peanut butter. And he ALWAYS wipes down the insides of the jar with his finger. His logic, "You let me put my tongue in your mouth..." like that makes any kind of sense. So when we had a backup jar - because we must never run completely out - I claimed it as mine, hid it, and told him the current jar was his to ruin.

Now, I considered hiding the peanut butter in my underwear drawer, or among feminine products, or other places he NEVER would consider. I am good at hiding! But Brett is a typical man: unobservant. He is always asking where something is which I quickly find by moving one thing. So I didn't put a lot of effort into hiding it: 
He never opens the cabinet under the cook-top.
I didn't dream he'd actually move the saucepans like this!

Brett: Well, I'll buy more peanut butter today. You can get yours out from under the stove.
Me: What? You found it?
Brett: I've been without peanut butter for two days!
Me: I thought I was safe, because you never open that cabinet.
Brett: I didn't find it by accident. I knew you hid it somewhere. I was making a big show of bringing in my chocolate bars smeared with peanut butter - I thought surely you'd ask!
Me: I saw your almost empty jar on the counter, and almost threw it out, but there was enough for at least one more of your chocolate bars, so I decided to leave it there so you wouldn't search for mine.
Brett: I kept waiting for you to notice yours was going down.
Me: I wasn't using it, because I didn't want you to see me eating peanut butter and remember we had another jar in the apartment!

Today he is buying his own peanut butter. He'd been digging into mine secretly - allegedly not using his fingers - for the last 2 days. He kept expecting me to notice, but I didn't because I was intentionally avoiding using peanut butter, thinking he forgot we had another jar, and would try to take it from me!

So we were both deceiving each other over the same thing. Except apparently he was trying to get caught, while I just assumed his small jar was lasting and lasting, like a Hannukah miracle.

This is the real Spread Wars, people: keeping your spouse out of your spread!

UPDATE: He still hasn't bought more peanut butter, 2 days later.

14 December, 2017

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Facebook keeps reminding of what I was doing this time in past years - prepping and baking fruitcakes, shoveling out my car, gift-wrapping, setting up nativities, writing letters - these are my ghosts of Christmas Past, but also, of Christmas Future.

We haven't had an oven since moving here, which means no baking for last Christmas or this Christmas, but if we're still here next year, we will be in a better apartment, and I *will* have an oven! And maybe some surface space that isn't in active use, where I can place my one nativity that I brought back from storage in August. And maybe I'll find actual Christmas cards, now that we've figured out the postal system. Here's to Christmas Future!

Last year I saw Christmas decorations for sale in a couple places, so I thought I'd put a string of lights in our enclosed balcony, but when I shopped for them, they weren't around yet, and I haven't been back, so it's a no go. Just as well, because we have a lead on a good apartment that we might be moving into early in the new year - who wants to take down decorations in addition to a move?! But next year I'll do some lights.

Today I am home with a fever. I don't know why. I got excessively cold two days ago, and my body hasn't figured out how to regulate my temperature since then. Whatever. It'll sort itself out.

Before I opened my computer to start work this morning, I reached out to my sister with a message, and to my best friend back home, just saying hi and wishing well. I guess it's a kind of Christmas spirit homesickness. I'm not sad, but just needed the contact. Weird, huh.

My ghosts are messing with me. 

{I wanted to drop some pictures in here, but trying to find the right past Christmas pics is tiring. I need a rest!}

18 November, 2017

Time Travel is Real

For years, I've crossed distances to "do coffee" or "do lunch" or "take a walk with" friends by phone. It's a habit that I figured could help me cross time as well as distance.

Friend: Hey! I want to hear more about that thing you posted. How about we "do coffee", 9am my time tomorrow morning? I'll have coffee, you can have wine!
Me: That's perfect! Since your time changed, I think I'm 13 hours ahead, so that's... 8pm for me. Easy enough. See you then!

The next morning, on waking up:

10pm previous night...
*missed call"

Friend: Okay, I've tried calling, so I'm going sit by my computer and work on some stuff, and you just call me when you're ready.

Me: OH CRAP! When you said "tomorrow" I didn't think of the fact that your "tomorrow" is my "today"! I realized after we set the time, that it would be 10pm my time, not 8pm, and I was so happy that I realized it, that I forgot to think about the date! When can we reschedule coffee?

Friend: LOL. I get it. How about MY Friday morning. I'll be driving, so I can focus on our conversation.

*I check my planner* 

Me: Oh good grief. Friday is the day I had marked for our call, even though I was planning for Thursday and it should have been Wednesday! Apparently I can't figure out time. Talk to you Friday morning, your time! Friday NIGHT, my time, LOL.
Friend: Perfect.

*After putting it in my phone calendar*

Me: I'm such a mess! I had the first time in my phone set for the correct night, but 8pm, which was my first - WRONG - guess about the time! I think I'm finally set for YOUR Friday morning. I really can't wait to give you all the details.

*Friday morning*

Me: It's my Friday morning, which means your Thursday night, right? So we'll talk when you wake up! I'm on it!
Friend: Bad news. Crisis at work, so I won't be free to call, and actually have a meeting at 7am tomorrow morning. Sorry!
Me: I'm SO SAD that I messed up our first scheduled time! Please let me know as soon as you have an idea when you can talk. 

Conclusion: I suck at time travel.

29 October, 2017

How I Lost my Resting Bi*** Face

For the sake of not wearing out my asterisk key, I will refer to  "Resting Bi*** Face"  as "RBF". We all on the same page? Good.

Like many others, I seem to have a natural RBF. No one has ever called me out on it, and it wasn't an issue I really noticed when we lived in the States. ...Well, there was that one time, when I was getting a new drivers license, and thought I would thwart the DMV's "No smile" rule by just lifting the corners of my mouth a little. I could feel the slight smile on my face. When I got the license? No smile. At all. It felt like I was gently smiling, but the smile didn't show.

I have an RBF.

When we moved to Beijing, I started using public transportation with tens of thousands of others each day. (I would estimate that I see at least 50,000 individuals daily, simply through taking the subway.) I was struck by how downtrodden everyone looked! No smiles, unless two people were actively engaged in an amusing conversation. everyone looked sad, mad, or just beaten down by life! 
This is MY personal photo - not stock photo from online!

Perhaps they are just reserved. I have noticed that my Chinese friends are less emotional. Less "demonstrably" emotional, at least. But it's daunting, and can get into your head to be surrounded by a perceived negativity.

At any rate, I made a decision to smile when I am out in public. Just to look friendly - especially since I am already head and shoulders taller than most, and an RBF could make me even more intimidating. I want people to feel okay to answer if I ask a question, or to just smile back! 

I try to make sure the smile gets into my eyes, if I make eye contact. Might as well be friendly!

Occasionally it works and I get a smile in return. Most often from kids - they are a great ice-breaker, aren't they? But at the very least, ensuring that I have a smile on my face helps me to observe the world through a more positive lens. 

19 October, 2017

Life Can be Confusing. So Can Death.

So apparently my dad is of the impression that he was told by his urologist to "get his affairs in order" by November. 

I heard that from my sister, who quickly followed it with, "but then Mom said, 'no - he said we need to do any traveling before November'." When Dad was hospitalized for a prostate issue a year or so ago, they found out that his kidneys were a bigger problem.

My dad is of the mind that medication and extreme treatment are not the way he wants to live his life. After having a stroke in 2012 - which led to my move back to the Midwest to be nearby - the only medication he condescended to accept was a daily aspirin regimen. He has already stated that he doesn't want dialysis. No wait, according to Mom, he said he "won't do" dialysis. 

I'm guessing that the "travel before November" guideline was the doctor's way of telling my parents that Dad should expect to require dialysis at that point. Which means Mom has that long to try to convince him that it isn't "a waste of time".

My sister believes he should start dialysis, because it affects more people than just him. True. Dad's life and death does affect more people than just his-own-self. But if that's not the kind of life he wants, shouldn't we honor that? To take a half a day, 3 times a week (or so) to go sit in some medical facility hooked up to a machine is a "waste of time" for him.

My first thought is that, typically he spends at least half his day sitting/sleeping in his recliner, or writing and playing on his computer, so what's the difference? I bet he could  take his computer with him. But then, it won't be as comfy as doing those things at home. So...

I bet he is - secretly or with Mom's knowledge - getting his affairs in order. Which means I am doing some mental preparations. He will be 78 in December. If you need dialysis and don't get it, how long does it take until your kidneys kill you? We just spent a pile on a trip to the US. I don't know how soon I can afford to go back.

17 October, 2017

Not to Be a Diva, But...

Remember when I said I have a pretty sweet gig doing English kids' videos?
I saw part of the first video, and let's just say I'm glad it's a world away from everyone who knows me!

I don't want to say too much, but frankly, it's kind of amateur hour. 

Things I like:
  • It's cool that we recorded against a blank background, and there are magically cartoon-y flowers and images around me.
  • The graphics that pop up are nice. Like showing the folds in the origami bit, or the key words floating onto the screen.

What kind of bugs me:
  • They chose pink for the background, and in the full shots I practically blend into it. Seriously, I'm that fair. 
  • Because it was action-based, and I hadn't done the crafts before (my assistant did), my banter is a bit stilted. (Not to mention, we did 24 videos in 8 hours, so I wouldn't have remembered every bit line even if I had them written out.)

What truly, deeply, bothers me:
The sound is all echo-y. You can tell we are in a big, blank room. The cameraman / producer actually rented a professional studio, but - maybe because he's a cameraman in his day job, and not a sound tech - didn't connect the mic in such a way to reduce the echo. 

I worked at my college TV studio, so I know a little bit about this stuff, although of course it's all different since those days.

I had to say everything so very slowly, that I was boring myself just watching it. BUT... I can't speak faster, since this is going out to little kids who are just learning English. So slow is necessary. I am pleased that I used my "speaking to kids" voice, and it's warm and inviting and not so deep and bossy as I feel I usually sound. 

I'm only saying this here, because as I said, it's a pretty sweet gig, and I'm not going to blow it. In another year or so, I'll look too old to relate to kids, so they'll be looking for someone else. I'll take advantage while I can!

10 October, 2017

The Tragedy of Mandarin

Some days, I despair of ever learning Mandarin. There is SO MUCH! I've started spending a lot of time in review. Just review. Characters mostly, but also my notes from our lessons.

Our 2 hour classes are primarily spent in discussion based loosely on a textbook. We learn a new key phrase or topic - like introducing people or giving directions - and a
Brett, conducting his speech in class.
particular sentence or phrase structure: S+V+direction word +S2. When our teacher writes on the white board, she incorporates characters if we've learned them, but otherwise spells it in pinying. (Our first few lessons were all to learn pinying.)

If there's time, we do 2 or 3 grammatical structures, and for about the last half hour we learn new characters. Often she includes a few ways that character is used, or adds another character to show it in context. She's quite a good teacher.

Homework has two parts. First, sentences that she's spelled in pinying and we have to write in characters - which is harder than it sounds, when there are a half-dozen characters all spelled the same in pinying. Second, she'll list the new sentence structures and we have to write out a given number of sentences that fit it - using characters we've learned, and pinying.

Sound confusing? It all makes sense at the time, but days later I can only remember 3 of the 15 characters we learned. That's when I want to just chuck it all and stumble around using only English. Will I NEVER be able to communicate in Chinese? 

We had a test recently, and she corrected the tests, but there's no grade given. No pressure, except that learning this is actually a life-skill here - a bigger deal than a grade! I did better than I expected, but still had a lot of holes in the character-recall section.
Part of my actual test. I don't recognize my handwriting yet.

Should I just stop? Quit the madness? But then I remember my lofty goals:

1. I want to learn calligraphy. I've wanted to since I was a teenager. Now's my chance. Learn the language, then the art.

2. Read the I-Ching in Chinese. Even my Chinese friends say it is hard to understand.

Regardless of how long we live here, I must persevere, no matter how painful!

07 October, 2017

The More Things Change, the More They Stay The Same.

First of all, Chinese do holidays differently (big surprise). For some holidays, schools take off the Monday. Or Tuesday. Or both, but they will make up the missed day - or at least one of the missed days - on the previous Saturday. Why even take the Monday, am I right?

But other holidays are a huge break. We are winding down National Day holiday, which is October 1st, but the whole country takes off the 1st to 7th. We stayed in Beijing last year, and even the grocery store was closed for 3 days.

This year, we were invited to accompany friends to Qingdao on the Yellow Sea coast. Nice! 
We walked the shore the night we arrived.
(Also, home to Tsingtao beer, the Budweiser of China. Double Nice!)
Tsingtao brewery. Not very Chinese-looking? Germans started the brewery in 1903!

Turns out, there was a bit of an agenda. Yes, vacation at the coast, but our friends run a school in Beijing, and a former student's family had moved down to the area, and the mother is trying to get this school to open a branch down there. Brett would be a prime candidate to manage that location while our friend oversees operations from Beijing.

Buying crabs in Jimo
So we enjoyed the beach and the beer, lots of seafood, and a FANTASTIC hotel, then shmoozed with this woman of influence and looked at the potential site for the new school. 

In short, we may be moving within the year. That's as much as I can wrap my head around at this point. There are so many details to be worked out, and I've worked with this school through potential franchise situations before - witnessing them fall flat for various reasons. 

8 hrs by car, but a bullet train would  be 4-ish.
IF it actually even happens, the timeline could be anything, but I have an agreement to continue what I'm doing into April of 2019, so for a while my time would be split between the 2 locations. Fortunately, there's a bullet train between the two cities. I could get very familiar with travel by the Chinese method!

Or it could be nothing. 
This could all be pie in the sky.
I have let it go. It only concerns me insofar as my beloved husband may want to talk things out in advance. 

For my part? Life is the same.

It was a nice vacation, though. Check it out!
Dinner at Tsingtao Beer Garden, the first night.

The following day, Brett and I split from the pack and their kids.

I got to feel the sand between my toes once again. >sigh<

Nothing better than the sound of the waves.

A sculpture of getting a tattoo!

The goods sold by the "board"walk are different here.

If we move, it would be to here... in the outskirts, a "growing" area.

28 September, 2017

The Difference a Year Makes

Happy Anniversary to me! 

We have officially been living in China for one year, as of yesterday. 

I meant to post yesterday, but I spent the day in a recording studio 2 hours away, making videos for an online class teaching rhymes and crafts to little kids - making English fun and practical, and not just textbook knowledge. It's a pretty sweet gig; I won't lie. What a difference a year makes!
My view from the makeup room

I've learned to look at these projects from a totally new perspective:

I'm just the on-air talent.
I'm the trained monkey.

I have little say in the script or the crafts, except for the fact that I'm the one doing them. But it was kind of fun stepping back from my typical helpful "let me get that" attitude. You do your thing. I'll do mine.

No more teaching for me, not even drama. I wrote a Christmas play for a private facility, but the jury is out on how involved I'll be with that. What a difference a year makes.

Mandarin homework
We are learning the language - almost 200 characters so far, plus words made up of them, plus spoken words and sentences that we haven't learned characters for yet. Well, we've been taught that many, but how many I actually know is debatable. Anyway, it's a start.

We are stable enough to order in food and pay for it. I am looking to Ikea for ways to increase our limited amount of space in the apartment.

We're definitely in a better place than when we first arrived, and it is fall again: The Golden Season in Beijing. That means all the giant-sized fruits that were available when we arrived are coming back.

Life is just life now. We know where to find things we need, and if we are freezing before the heat gets turned on in November (like last year) we can at least afford to buy another blanket!

Things are still often unpredictable. We found a great place for reflexology foot massages, but half the time I go there, they are closed! I cannot figure out their hours. And the way holidays work here throws Brett off almost monthly.

On the whole, things are better than a year ago. Still, for me, the jury is out on this as a potential long-term home. 

23 September, 2017

Letting Go

I'm learning to let go.

Well, I'm trying. All in the name of "being my best self."

Is your social media timeline full of fitness posts too? Maybe I've joined too many groups in the past, or maybe because I used to go to the gym regularly when we lived in the States, but I see motivation like this a lot:

A. Lot. Usually accompanied by images of my friends sweaty from a workout. Awesome! I love it. I love fitness. On some level, I want to be that dedicated to it, too.

And I want to be my best self. Don't we all?

Recently I had an epiphany. (Bear with me. It's kind of obvious and you probably already know it.) My "best self" depends on my inside, not my outside.

So now I read these motivational posts from my friends - who are trying to encourage others to be physically healthy - as motivation to be spiritually and emotionally healthy. I'm letting go of the focus on my flaws.

I do yoga daily, and I try to eat well, so I will no longer beat myself up about the quantities of pizza and beer I take in! I let it go.

If I don't get all the exercise I usually try for, who cares? I let it go.

I am reading a great book about God's promises and prayer. It helped me realize that focusing on my spiritual life is better for me than focusing on my physical attributes.

I meditate.
I'm working on mindfulness again. 
I'm learning to let go of things that used to bother me... Just this morning, I was concerned about 2 work-related issues from 2 different jobs, but realized that I have asked the questions I need to, and it is out of my hands. I let them go. 

The thing is, when I don't get emotional about things, I am truly healthier. When stress builds up in me, inevitably I get an ear infection or a nasty cold. Stress weakens the immune system... and a lot of other systems, to be honest! So I am truly healthier - being my best self - by focusing internally.

What I didn't expect? I look better, too. Getting fit - counting calories, weighing in, measuring my physical body - always focused on how far I still need to go. Focusing on my spiritual and emotional well-being? I'm happier with who I see in the mirror. I genuinely think I look better, although I'm sure I haven't changed physically. 
It's amazing.
You should try it! 

 *All images in today's post are from pinterest

10 September, 2017

Writing to Write - Early Christmas!

Today I voluntarily turned on Christmas music.

No, not because the US is finally past Labor Day, or some silly time-related rule like that.

...honestly, I don't have rules about when it's okay to listen to Christmas music. I listen to what appeals to me, when it appeals to me (unless I'm in an office shared with co-workers) - it's one of the best parts of adulthood!

But I've been tasked with writing the Christmas play for a local international preschool/kindergarten, and today I finally started making real headway. 

I know it is important to include suitable songs, and was seeking inspiration for a carol to break up two scenes. So I turned to all the Christmas albums I've saved to my computer. I didn't keep it on for long.

Story of my life - in theatre, music, or retail, I'm always a season ahead.

03 September, 2017

Starting Over

Okay, I'll try this again. I can't seem to get my thoughts in order, but the longer I postpone writing, the worse it'll be.

We returned from the States and launched into Mandarin
classes. Which is fun, but requires study time outside the 6 hours per week that we're in class. Also, the last two weeks I worked double hours to make up for the 2 weeks I was gone. I have slept and slept on the weekends.

When we moved overseas when I was a kid, the mission group we were with had established timelines: Live in a country for 3 years, then return for a 3 month furlough. That was the timeline we followed. I never thought about it until this trip to the US after just 10 months. I now understand the wisdom of that plan.

Do you know how easy life is in the States? You can go anywhere you want to, without checking in with people. 
Such wide open spaces!

You can buy... SO much. I wanted to record one of our shopping trips to Walmart to share with my Chinese friends here, but decided that might be insensitive, or send a message of greed and materialism.

Seriously - popcorn!

And the heaven that is a bottomless cup of coffee...

My first thought, as we left the Vancouver airport and meandered that city, was, "Man, these Canadians are tall!" Of course, they're no taller on average than Americans. It was just the culture shock of not feeling like a giant!

We had to take the trip when we did. We had given ourselves one year to keep things in storage, with the goal that after a year we would know better what we still might need. So we had to clean out the storage unit, and really put a push out to sell my car. Due to school vacation times, our "one year" became 10 months, so that we could be back in time for school to start.

We cleared out the storage unit - with great success! And succeeded in selling my car. Yay! But on the whole I think the trip was premature. Now I'm back almost to the beginning of trying to consider Beijing home. Not that I want to go back to the States. It's easier, yes, but a LOT more expensive. I speak the language there, but I'm learning this one. 

I don't really know what my problem is. I guess, on the whole, I'll never really be "happy" anywhere, so I just wish I lived in a location that I liked better, so the "unhappy" could be a little comfortable.

I'll be more positive when I write again. I promise. I just need to re-settle a bit.

22 August, 2017

In brief, I'm back.

Well, I'm back, but immediately launched into a busy schedule. Each day, I think I will write a blog post, and then don't.

The day we returned to Beijing, my contact at the audio studio asked when we could come in. So on Friday Brett and I both went down, then I went down again on Saturday. And he keeps expecting me to come down during any couple free hours I have! I'm saying no, a lot.

My boss kindly did not ask me to come in on the weekend, and even only has me working half-days this week! But then, we set up our Mandarin language classes, and they will take up the other half of 3 days a week. 

In short:
We returned safely to Beijing.
We accomplished what we needed to in the US.
I will write a proper blog-post, maybe this weekend.

29 July, 2017

It's a good life.

When I told Brett I was ready to start celebrating my birthday - because life is hard, and every year is an accomplishment - all I wanted was one gift, and a meal out. 

The gift came early, because I thought I would use it going to and from Drama Camp, but the camp location was moved, and I've only used it locally so far.
It's a Segway-mini! I'm told they were banned in the US.

Just one small part of the hike.
Drama Camp just ended days ago, and in the meantime, Monster Jam has been setting up in Beijing. Brett happens to be facebook friends with someone on the crew, so he's been running around finding things to show them and going out at night. Two days ago, there was a problem at the stadium, so his new friends were given the afternoon off, and they wanted to visit the Great Wall. My workday finished at before 1pm, so we joined them. The Day Before My Birthday! I immediately decided that, since lunch was the big celebratory meal ON my birthday, it was valid to count the 24 hours prior - which included this day. I finally got to the Great Wall - FOR MY BIRTHDAY! 

This particular section - within an hour of Beijing - is mostly stairs, so not everyone climbed. I'm proud to say that, although I was huffing and puffing like the 3pigs' wolf, I led the pack in the hike. BOOYAH! We climbed 58 flights before having to turn back due to time.

That flower? Duck meat. It's an art.
After that, the group wanted an authentic Beijing Duck dinner, so I had that - FOR MY BIRTHDAY! It's my 3rd time eating true Beijing Duck, but it never gets old. Even Brett, not a duck fan in the US, enjoys it here. 

Pretty cool birthday! No singing, no "birthday cake", but at the end, someone mentioned it, and the whole group did wish me happy birthday. God bless Brett, he prevented them from singing.

Next day, my actual birthday. I knew where I wanted to go for birthday lunch - to a genuine German restaurant we discovered, with quality food and truly German bier. Really, I think Germany doesn't export to the US because the primary American exported beer is Bud. Seriously. Not an impressive export.
Bier, Bavarian pretzel, spaetzel, other stuff. German.
Apfel Strudel. I have never had a pastry feel un-fattening like this.

As we walked away from the German place, I saw an amazing, huge, swan-decorated cake in the window of some place called "Black Swan" and walked closer to the window. Brett said, "uh-oh. They see you. You're getting invited in." I said, "nah, they're just working."

But his view and assumption was correct. A lovely lady opened the door and invited me inside. Into this WHOA! - Hyper-Expensive cake shop. Holy crap. There were small cakes on sale for the equivalent of several hundred dollars!  Apple Strudel or no, I had not yet had any "birthday cake" so I perused the single serving counter and plumped for a "rose-framboise" (rose & raspberry) slice of cake. The equivalent of $8 for one small piece. BUT... they served it with taste samples of several macaroons and pieces of chocolate, so there you go.
Cake, and macaroon & chocolate.

Pretty cool, for someone who never celebrates their birthday, huh?

It occurred to me that my birthday will always fall during Brett's school summer break. We could take vacations to random exotic locales every year! His birthday is stuck during school term, but we could maybe do weekend trips to Chinese places for his birthday. It could become a very cool tradition. 

This morning, after we woke up, Brett said, "It's still your birthday in the States..." and sure enough, I had a voice message from a friend wishing me happy birthday. I could get used to this.

It's a good life.