A Letter to my “Otherly-Raced, Religioned, or Abled” Friends

I am not racist. If you are a good person. Kind. Caring. Thoughtful. Honest. Polite. You will always be my friend. I don’t care what color you are, or what religion you believe. You are my friend.

I could never say that I didn’t notice your color, because I did. Just like my red-headed friend, or my really tall friend. I noticed, but I will not treat you differently than any other friend. If someone asks something, where I have to point you out as an area of reference, like “it’s over there next to the tall, red-headed girl.” I will. I may refer to your color: “See that Asian girl? It’s to the right of her.” But that means nothing about how I feel about you. We all have differences. I am short, and a little over-weight. Feel free to point that out. I don’t care. It’s who I am.

I don’t care if you go to church, synagogue, or mosque. Believe what makes you the best person you can be. What gives you hope. What makes you get up every day. Don’t try to change who I am, and I won’t try to change you, but help me grow as a person. I enjoy learning from my friends, or anyone for that matter. I love other cultures, and experiencing them.

I don’t mind a good debate. Don’t get mad at me if I don’t agree though. I will do the same for you. Mutual respect for differences is important. I have lived in an area that is populated by many, many people who have political views that are not the same as mine, for most of my life. That is not a problem for me. Again, if you are a good person, believe what helps you to be your best you. What makes you happy. What makes you thrive. I will never hold your beliefs against you.

If you have a disability, please don’t be offended if I say that word. It doesn’t mean I look down upon you, or think you are any less than me. It’s just a word. My friends are full of gifts to give the world. You contribute to society in many ways. You contribute to MY life in many ways. I don’t care if you can’t walk, talk, see, hear, or anything else for that matter. It doesn’t mean anything to me, so don’t be offended. It implies nothing, except  maybe a closer parking spot.

If you are not a good person, I don’t care what color you are. Bad people come in all colors, religions, races, and abilities. If I have a friend who is not who I thought they were. If I find out that they are not the kind, thoughtful, honest, and polite person I thought they were. They won’t be among those I call friends.  I surround myself with people who I feel have a positive effect on the world, and humanity. I don’t care what color you are, or what god you believe in.

Good people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and religions. I will take all the friends I can get. They are blessing from Heaven. Be a person to be proud of, and I will call you friend.

 

Rags to Riches- in Marriage

When I think back to where Bill and I began, and where we are now, I am in awe. We have come so far. Farther than we ever imagined. We never knew the blessings that life would bring us, and although we are more financially stable than we were back then, the riches I refer to, lie in our experiences. In sharing our life together. Today, I am focusing on the beginning.

We went on our first date, when I was sixteen years old, and a junior in high school. He was in Navy boot camp, and 18 years old. We had our whole life ahead of us. We had no idea that we would be married less than 5 years later, and we would never have imagined that 23 years to the day later, we would be standing at the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center. The second tallest building in the world at that time. We would never have dreamt that we would have three beautiful children. That we would live in China.

Although there is no big story behind the proposal, Bill did ask my dad for permission beforehand. He has always been such a gentleman. His mama did good. We were married in a park in downtown Charleston, under the “wedding tree.”  It was a huge, old oak tree with more thick, long branches than I had ever seen on one tree before, or since. The park had been partially destroyed by Hurricane Hugo, but the tree still stood proud. Nearby, a man-made pond with a bridge crossing over it. I wore a dress I ordered through the JC Penny’s catalog, and made all the bouquets myself with silk flowers from the local craft store. We were married by the Navy Chaplin, under God’s natural beauty.

Our reception was at a Holiday Inn on Folly Beach, which we were chauffeured to in our friend’s 1960’s era Camaro convertible. Cherry red. The hotel had also suffered damage from the hurricane, but mostly exterior. It provided the beautiful ocean view we wanted, and was fairly inexpensive, so it worked for us. We had invited about 50 people to the dinner, and a bunch of the guys from his boat (a submarine) afterwards.

A few of Bill’s Navy friends hired their favorite local band, as a gift to us, and another friend deejayed as well. When I caught my veil on fire on a candle, the DJ played “Burnin’ Down the House” by Talking Heads. Bill forgot the tape with our wedding song on it, so it became whatever the band knew that worked. “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton. We had a cash bar.  We didn’t do a receiving line, and we forgot the father/daughter dance (that part broke my heart when we realized it.) Our photographer was either new to the profession, or doing it for fun, so for $100 she handed me a large stack of 4×6 prints. We couldn’t afford a honeymoon. The whole event cost us less than $2,500. Too much for us at the time.

Twenty years later, at the 40th birthday party that Bill threw for me at a local Marriott, he made sure that daddy and I had that dance. He knew how much I had regretted missing it at the wedding. Twenty-five years later, we are finally getting that honeymoon. We have only ever taken two trips by ourselves since the kids were born. A weekend in Chicago at 12 years, and a long weekend in San Francisco a few years ago. This year, we will be gone for nine glorious days. Making more memories.

We began our marriage in a one bedroom apartment. We had a day bed for a couch, a hope chest coffee table, a mini-fridge side table. A mattress on the floor in the bedroom, and a red milk-crate bedside table. We had what appeared to be drug-dealing neighbors. The nighttime people-traffic to their door terrified me on the nights when Bill had to be on the boat, and I would sleep with the lights and TV on. Barely getting a wink. We had strange peach spots on our carpet that seemed to be from something seeping up through the floor, and a shower with a wall that glowed a pinkish-orange. I tried to convince myself that maybe this was due to light coming in from the neighbor’s bathroom. It was one of those big, plastic shower inserts, not tile.  Maybe there wasn’t a wall in between?  I generally only saw it glowing in the middle of the night, when they didn’t have a light on, though. When it happened once during the day, I had that neighbor come over to see. She ran out of our apartment as fast as she could. I was trying not to freak out about it. That didn’t help. We never did figure out what it was.

Bill received his honorable discharge in 1991, and we moved back to Michigan. Bill was starting his college degree, and I was finishing mine. We lived with his grandfather for the first couple of years, as we were paying for two college educations. It worked well for all of us. Grandpa liked the company, and we could help him out when he needed it. He was helping us out by saving us rent. And from glowing walls and seeping floors. We were on the next step in our young lives.

It is when I think back to our beginning,  those two kids, blind to what was to come, just trying to survive, that I am in awe. I am proud of us. We don’t live in a huge house, we can’t buy everything we want, we can’t fly off to an exotic locale at a moments notice, or a year’s notice for that matter.  We still have bills, we still have to budget. We are not dollar rich, but when I think about how far we have come, how much we have experienced together, I realize…….we are marriage rich. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running From the Law….in a Kayak

Last summer we vacationed in The Finger Lakes region of New York with our friends from Canada. This was our second trip with them, and we’re looking forward to our third this year. We have been friends since meeting in Shanghai, at the bus stop where our children stood every day waiting for the school bus. Nick and Brennan have been good friends ever since, and the same with Lin and I. We are especially lucky that after both of our families repatriated, we only live a few hours away from each other.

Last August, we rented a small house on Canandaigua Lake. The water was a mere 20 feet from the back of the house, it had a long dock for fishing, a couple of brand new kayaks, a blow-up boat-like raft, and a gorgeous view.  One afternoon, Bill and I, Lin, and her husband, Jiming, left the kids at home to go to a food festival, and a couple of local wineries. It was an overcast day, not great for being outside, so we expected that they would watch TV or play cards, maybe fish from the end of the dock…………..we underestimated their ambition.

While at one of the vineyards, I got a text from Brennan. It was vague, but suggested they had been out in the kayaks, that it had started to rain, and they had come in. Oh, and by the way, they had been stopped by the “lake po-po,” (his words, not mine) for not having life jackets. This, of course, peaked my interest, so I asked him for details. He said that they were following him, in a small boat, that did not appear to have official markings.  Or none that he could see from the front. He has always been a very cautious boy.  Constantly looking out for anything suspicious. This nondescript boat with two men in it, made him a little nervous. They called out to him, and he picked up speed. Heading for the hills. Or the dock. Certainly not towards them. They called out again, and tapped the throttle. He went faster still. In a KAYAK. Against a BOAT. With a MOTOR. As they floated up next to the vigorously paddling teen, they asked him to stop, blew a whistle, and turned on the siren for a second or two. He finally stopped. Appeased that they were not serial killers, kidnappers, or pirates. Regardless, I’m pretty sure he realized at that point, his efforts were futile.

This is how Brennan recounts the conversation. One of the officers asks  Brennan why he didn’t stop, and he responds that he didn’t see them. The officer scoffs and says, “You looked right at us.” Brennan: “Ummmmmm. Nope, I didn’t see you.”  They ask him if he has a life jacket, and Brennan says he does not. Po-Po: “Do you have one in the hull hatch?” Brennan……..”Where’s the hull hatch?” Po-po: “How are you using a kayak you know nothing about?” (Implication: Did you steal it?) Brennan: “It came with the cottage we’re renting.” At this time, Nick is passing by in the other kayak. He says, “Hello, sir” to the police, then turns to Brennan with……. “THE LOOK.” The one that says….you DON’T know me. DON’T tell them you KNOW me (in my matching kayak.)  They ask Brennan, “Do you know this person?” Brennan: “YUP!. He’s my friend.” They proceed to ask Nick if HE has a life jacket, to which Nick also says he does not. They then ask the boys where they live, and Brennan points in the general direction of a hundred other docks. Finally, the officers decide their fun is done, a warning is given, and they are “released.”

The boys pull away, relieved, and ready to go home. But first, they head out to rescue Nick’s older brother and Carleigh who have been endlessly circling in the water. A twenty-something and a ten-year old unable to get a productive stroke going to make progress. The first group to be approached by the “life vest patrol” (Carleigh was the only one in compliance).  It will be a childhood memory they joke about for years. Our children’s first interaction with the law. Let’s hope it their last.

Blessings from Heaven- A Letter to my Friends

I have the most amazing friends. I am the luckiest lady alive. My life is far from perfect, but my friends are. They are perfect for me. I hope they know that.

I have a friend that I have known since the day she was born. She is one year younger than me.  Our families are very close. My earliest memory with her is riding tricycles in her driveway. We had dug a couple of old baby bottles out of the cupboard and had her mom fill them with juice for our “bike ride.” We were somewhere between 2 and 4 years old. We traded weekends at each other’s houses. Some of my best childhood memories.  She had to move away when I  was in middle school. I still remember the day we said goodbye.  We have never lived close to each other since, but we get together every few years, if even for a day while passing by on another trip. I hope she knows how often she is on my mind. I wish we could talk more, but when we do, it’s as if no time has passed at all. We have so many memories together, she might as well be my sister. She is, really. I hope she knows I love her. I can’t imagine my life without her in it.

Yesterday, I went out to lunch with a friend I have known since seventh grade. She cracks me up. We always have a great time. She makes me smile until my face hurts. I hope she knows how much I appreciate that. We have taken very different paths in life, but we still have so much in common. We only see each other a few times each year, as she works, and I have kids going in all directions, all the time. But when she calls to tell me she has a day off and wants to get together, it makes my day. Occasionally, we are joined by another classmate. The three of us have a blast. We also happen to have worked together at a movie theater. The best first job ever.  All the more shared memories. I hope they know how much I cherish our time together.

When I joined the local moms’ club In 2001, I met a phenomenal group of women.  I hope they know how lucky I feel to have found them. Our kids are of varying ages, but when we gather as families, there are always a few who are close enough in age to hang out together. We used to have potluck dinners every month, but as the kids got older, they dwindled. Everyone’s schedules are full. Besides, us moms need a break too, so many times we go out on our own.  Last Friday night, a few of us got together for a birthday. Dinner, bowling, and karaoke at a local bar. Just the ladies. These girls are part of a select few who I would get up and sing in public for.  Turns out…..I kind of liked it. We may be back. I hope they know how long it took me to wipe the grin off of my face that night.  I hope they know they mean the world to me.

About 9 years ago, we put an addition on our house. That summer we spent a lot of time outside due to the clutter and noise. That was when I got to know the neighbor a few houses down. We had met before, through a moms’ group friend, but hadn’t had time to hang out much. I hope she knows I gained more than just a bigger house that year. We are opposites in many ways, but not the important ones. She is a strong woman who has dealt with many hardships in life. I hope she realizes how amazing she is. She moved from that house a few years ago, but I know she’s always just a quick trip away. If she’s not, I hope she knows I will hunt her down. She’s stuck with me. Forever.

As an expat for four years, I had the privilege of meeting people from all over the world. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to make friends from so many cultures, and even make new American friends, some from my home state, while living in Shanghai. I feel blessed that I still keep in contact with many of them online, meet up with a few that live nearby, and even vacation yearly with a Canadian family we met in China. I hope they know how honored I am that they are a part of my life. I hope they know how grateful I am for the ability to stay in contact through social media. I hope the women I was closest with, know how much I miss them.

Last year was a rough year in our family. We had several serious medical issues. As I sat in a hospital emergency room with one of my children, I chatted on a social media site with a high school classmate. We weren’t really friends in school, more of acquaintances who had a few classes together. I don’t know how we started the conversation, but I know that it helped calm me during a crisis. It was unexpected. I hope she knows how much that meant to me. Around the same time of year, I was also contacted by another classmate. In our school years, we occasionally talked on the bus, and our brothers were good friends, but we didn’t really know each other back then. I hope she realizes how much I appreciated her reaching out to me. I hope she knows how it touched me. I hope they both know how happy I am to call them friends.

I’ve recently started chatting online with, and getting together with a few of the younger relatives in my family. I didn’t really know them well, until the last few years. I hope they know how much I love seeing them grow up. What beautiful people they are becoming. How much I enjoy our conversations and messaging, giggling over old family photos, or whatever the topic of the day may be. Our breakfasts. Our spring break trip for a family wedding. I hope they know how much I love that I can call them a friend, as well as a sister or niece.

I hope all my friends, every single one of them, knows how rich my life is  just for having them in it. That I will always do my best to be there for them, as they have been for me. That they are irreplaceable. That they are perfect for me. That they are blessings from Heaven.

 

 

 

WINE and Milk

Today, as I wrote a grocery list for my husband to take to the store, I thought about the ways I try to relax. How I deal with the pressures of parenthood, and how I occasionally escape them.

The first thing that came to mind for my list, was WINE. I need wine, to deal with the whine. Recently, a glass of red every evening seems to do the trick. Two on a bad night. As the kids get older and want to drink soda and juice more, I tell them to drink more milk and water. I have even stopped buying juice and soda as often. But as I have reduced the money spent on those things, I have increased the funds spent on wine.

I start looking forward to my glass of vino around 3PM, but I won’t drink if I have to drive, so I usually have to wait until around 6PM.  It takes the edge off. Dealing with a pubescent  tween, and a teen, is a difficult task. One on the way in, one on the way out. One girl, one boy. Big mess. The college kid is still living at home too. This means we know if he wakes up late, gets to school or work late, doesn’t go to school or work, or stays up all night. Things we would be oblivious to if he were staying in a dorm. There is a perpetual parental lesson going on. I am constantly trying to find a happy medium for my younger two children, and give independence to the oldest to find his own way.

Every now and then, but not nearly enough, I get together with a group of friends from my city. We met years ago, when our children were toddlers and newborns, in a local moms’ club. We have grown very close. At times, they are my rock. I can say anything to them, and them to me. We do not judge. I recently started saying “I love you” to them. A lot. I do. They are amazing. I don’t ever want them to think otherwise. They make me laugh. They put me into happy hysterics. They keep me sane.

We went out on Friday night. We ate some food, and drank some wine. And some Rumchata coffee. And a few Rumchata and Fireball Martinis (Except the designated driver, of course…..and to that person, I got it next time. You deserve to drowned your worries now and then too.) We know when it’s time to stop, and we don’t do it often, but the occasional release from the everyday is bliss.

When I woke up on Saturday, I realized how much better I feel the next day, than when I did after a night of drinking in my twenties. I could actually function. My stomach felt a little off all day, but nothing like the miserable hangovers I had in my younger years. I thought to myself……I think I’ll skip my daily glass for a few days. Maybe even weeks. The thought of a drink was not appealing. When I was younger, it would have been weeks at least, before I would partake again, and I wouldn’t even make it out of bed that day. It’s not that I’m proud of my higher tolerance, I just find it interesting. When I recall back to childhood, I don’t remember my parents having a daily drink, at least not faithfully, until the first child hit high school.  It must be something about those teen years. One child affecting  you sooner than the last. A cumulative effect.

On the complete opposite side of the “party with friends” spectrum, the restorative effects a hot cup of coffee, quiet house, and a good book can have are amazing. Escaping from reality for a few hours. Living in a different world for just a bit. A warm blanket, a lap dog, a purring cat. Heaven

As I’ve gotten older,  I enjoy staying home more than going out. There are actually days that I have little battles of will in my brain. “Maybe I should have my gal pals over.”  “Ooooor….I could just snuggle into bed and watch Netflix.” “I could really use some girl time.” “Movie marathons with Bill are so nice though.” “If the kids are doing their own thing, it may be quiet.” “If not, we do have those really good ear plugs from our overseas flight days, and I’m reading a really great book.” Usually, a quiet evening at home wins. That’s what makes those girls’ nights out so special when they do happen.

This afternoon, as the tween mouth went off on a rampage, I realized one day without my glass was plenty. Cheers…. to the lessons I learn from the kids I love, the love of my life, whose always by my side, and the best friends a girl could have. None of which I could live without.

 

 

Causing a Ruckus on Dong Tai Lu…

As the days of Dong Tai Lu in Shanghai end….. I fondly remember my time spent there.

Dong Tai Lu………

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Yesterday,  I met my friend Andrea, and her friend April who is visiting from Michigan, on Dong Tai Lu, or “antique street,” as we call it. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Shanghai, sunny and 60s, and great for a walk outside.

Dong Tai Lu is lined on both sides with tiny shacks that sell anything and everything that is old,  or even “looks” old. Items are cluttered all over tables, on shelves, and on the ground, and are often dirty or tarnished. It’s like a giant garage sale with every shack competing for your business. Many of you know that I am not a garage sale-type. I hate searching through piles trying to find something I like, but Dong Tai Lu has plenty of entertainment to go along with the shopping, and I usually find a “treasure” or two anyway.

Up and down this little street, along with the shacks, are locals,  usually grandmothers and babies.  They are sitting on the sidewalk, on folding chairs, holding babies with split pants. Yes, little bottoms hanging out all over the place, at the ready for any necessary potty breaks.  Smiling grandmothers, enjoying the company of neighbors, on a warm spring day.

It is common  to find lots of Buddhist items on antique street.  There are all sorts of Buddhas, prayer bowls,  prayer sticks,  jewelry, etc. There are also books, rugs, posters, porcelain dishes, vases, and figures. Ornately carved wooden boxes, old Chinese instruments, creepy old dolls, and bird cages.

There’s plenty of jade and bone in various forms,  and this is where the “visual” entertainment comes into the picture. Along  with charms, statues, and small swords and knives that can be found, there are also many things of a more “adult” nature. One thing that I purchased to bring back and show friends, merely for entertainment value,  is something we like to “Naughty Fish.” It looks like a regular wooden Chinese-style fish on the outside,  but if you pull its head off of the body,  you’ll see “naughty” pictures carved into the piece that fits into the body. You will find similar Kama Sūtra-type pictures on bone panels that are strung together, a different picture on each panel, and on both sides. Things like this can be found on vases, rugs, and in figurine form as well. It always amazes me that they sell this stuff in such a public place.

At one point, not long after we arrived,  Andrea saw a shoeshiner that she had met before, and asked him to shine my shoes. It turns out he’s a well-known shoeshiner, who has been featured on the news and in newspapers. He had a notebook with the names of many foreigners whose shoes he had shined, and had me sign it as well.  He was a cute and animated older guy, and it was a fun thing to do. He also gave me a GREAT shoeshine for under one dollar.

Along our way down antique street, April accidentally knocked something off of a shelf, causing it to break a plate below it on the ground. The vendor wanted us to pay for it, but we argued that she shouldn’t have had plates on the ground. Andrea and I went back and forth with her for a bit, while April worried about being taken off by the Chinese police.  Luckily, to our Michigan friend’s relief, the po-po wasn’t called. Andrea and I had a great laugh, as we knew that wouldn’t happen, and I think April joined in, once her heart rate went down.

Towards the end of our trip, I bought a small wooden boat at a stall, and a few minutes later, just down the street, another vendor came up to me with a much bigger boat. It actually was much nicer than the first one, and he started talking to me in Chinese. In the middle of his rant, he called me a “Ben Dan,” or “Stupid Egg,” thinking that I would not understand him. But I did, and knew that he had just insulted me! I started loudly announcing, in Chinese, that he had just called me a stupid egg, and I could not believe he  done this. This resulted in a crowd, of mostly older Chinese women, forming. This always happens in China when something interesting is going on and can grow quite large, with people of all ages. I continued to rant back at him for the show. He apparently thought I paid too much for the boat (the reason for the insult), and I probably did, although I had looked for one all day, and it was the only one I had seen. In the end,  I bought the bigger boat, even after the insult. Although, we did make him apologize. Maybe I am a Ben Dan!

 

When We Lived on the Flip Side

From the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2011, we lived in Shanghai, China. We were offered the opportunity for an assignment in China through my husband’s company and we thought it would be a great experience for everyone, but especially Mei Mei.

On this cold and snowy February day, I thought it was time to reflect on some of our expat days in Shanghai,  where it rarely snowed. The following is a blog I wrote on March 1, 2009. Slightly revised.

Grateful……Part 1

Many have heard of the advantages of being on an overseas assignment. Some of the more widely known benefits are things like having a driver, housekeeper, paid for private schooling, a large house,  and travel opportunities.  These are what you focus on when you are about to move your family to the other side of the world. They are vague, but intriguing,  and are really all you know when you leave your home.

After being here a year, I can tell you that there is so much more to it than that. We don’t just have a driver, we have Mr. Tao. Mr. Tao is in his mid 40s, and has a wife and college-age son. He was born and raised in Shanghai, and is one of the kindest people I have ever met. He would do absolutely anything we ask him to. He’s a very careful and cautious driver, and prides himself on never receiving a ticket or causing an accident. Unfortunately we were hit by another car last month, so I can no longer say he is never been in an accident, but he was not the cause.

He is great with the kids. Mei Mei and Mr. Tao have an especially close relationship. He loves her, and she him. He is protective of them and always makes sure that they are safe. To us, he is not just our driver but a good friend that we can always count on. When Mr. Tao and I are in the car together, I teach him English and he teaches me Chinese. We joke around, chat, and play tricks on Bill. He is a good friend, and we will miss him when our time here is over.

Our housekeeper, or Ayi (auntie), is Yuan-Yuan. She’s in her mid 30s and has a husband in Shanghai, and a school-age son and daughter in Jiangxi province where she was raised. They are cared for by her parents,  and twice a year she goes back to visit. She is at our home from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. She is also a very kind person, and a valuable member of our household. She would also do anything for us. I can leave for the day and when I return the house will be clean, laundry done, dinner will be made, and the dog and cat will have been fed. She only speaks Chinese so our conversation  is limited, but the more we learn the more we chat, and we even joke around with her a bit. We have recently begun paying for her to receive English lessons. When she speaks English, and I understand what she is saying,   I get very excited for her. I know when we leave she will continue to another job, and if she speaks English she will have more opportunities, and more pay. We want to take care of her by helping her prepare for the future.

Our Mandarin teacher’s name is Qing Qing. She’s in her mid 20s and single. She was born and raised in northern China, close to Beijing. She’s as cute as can be, and is someone who we go out on-the-town with every now and then. A few weeks ago, we went out with her and some of her friends to play badminton. I have also gone shopping with her, and we have taken her out to dinner several times. She’s fun to hang around, and speaks enough English for us to socialize with, while her Chinese allows us to do things that we otherwise could not, due to our limited vocabulary. She is also a great teacher, and I’m hoping that when we leave I will speak Chinese fairly well. I hope we are able to keep in contact with her when our time is done in China.

Our children are not only exposed to Chinese culture here, but many other cultures. We are surrounded by expats on a daily basis, from a number of countries. The kids not only have friends who are Chinese and American,  but friends from Japan, Korea, India, Thailand, Germany, England, the Philippines, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Mexico, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and France. They attend an American school that is filled with children and teachers from these countries, and learn about other cultures everyday.

As part of their learning about Chinese culture and history, the middle school students go on one-week trips within China each year. In sixth grade our oldest went to Xian to see the Terra-Cotta Warriors, and in seventh grade he will go to Beijing to see the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and Forbidden City. In eighth grade he will go to Guilin, where they will see the Karst mountains, Li River, and experience a number of outdoor activities. Each trip includes some sort of community service as well.

Last summer we took a trip to Hong Kong, and saw things we never would’ve imagined we would.  We spent a few days at Hong Kong Disney enjoying the park and pool. We also took the tram up  to Victoria Peak and cruised on Causeway Bay, both are famous historic sites. Things I have read about in books, but never thought I would see. Next month we will go to Japan, and are hoping to be there during the arrival of the cherry blossoms. We will visit Kyoto and its history of shoguns and temples. We will also go to Tokyo Disney, Disney Sea, and see a Cirque Du Soleil show. In May we are hoping to take Brennan and Mei Mei to Xian and Beijing, while the oldest is on his trip to Beijing with the school.

The common impression of the expat wife, is that while their husbands work hard on these assignments, the wives are enjoying the highlife. I cannot disagree that some things are easier here than at home, but others are not. There is usually more business travel and late hours involved in an expat job, so we give up family time with dad, and spend more time alone with the kids. We also give up many of the conveniences of the States. Shopping for groceries, and basic personal supplies is never easy.  Chinese people just don’t eat the same things, or use the same products as Americans. Many things are not labeled with any English. Doctors, dentists, specialists, and medications are all harder to find, and trust. You are  inevitably going to have to deal with a situation, or many, that are  going to be hindered by the language barrier. Frustration is a daily occurrence.

Besides the fun of making amazing new friends from all over the world, getting an occasional mani-pedi, shopping, and lunches,  I volunteer at the school at least once a week, and take Chinese lessons three times a week. I also hope to volunteer at an orphanage soon. I’m trying to learn all I can about China, and hope that I can use the experience and language to some benefit in the future.

It’s hard to imagine what we will take with us from this experience, the benefits will be innumerable and immeasurable, and ingrained deeply in who we are……….For this I am grateful.