Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Since my surgery, I've noticed my emotions are far closer to the surface than ever before. I joked in the weeks after my operation that my hormones were apparently set to 14 year old girl mode, because I can go from tears to anger to joy in three minutes flat. It's crazy. It's crazy for Michael to watch but even worse from inside my head. It is however, getting much better. Thank goodness. However, I've been in a bit of a funk lately.

We have had a series of moderately stressful things drop on our heads in rapid succession over the last three weeks. Family issues in the States, unexpected financial turbulence, miscommunication (or one-sided communication) resulting in significant angst, trouble with our offspring, health concerns, a friend's terrible life-changing accident, another's marriage ripped apart, a week that brought a dozen emails and phone calls from people who personally wanted something from me, mainly a significant commitment of time, plus some other stuff I won't bore you with. I think any one of those things are manageable, but when you toss all the rest in and give it a stir, it feels a lot like standing in the waves at the ocean when there's a strong undertow.

I'm such a dreamer, always thinking about the future and the great things yet to come. In fact, I collect a bunch of inspirational art work on my phone which remind me of all there is out there on the horizon. But this past week I have not been able to even imagine what the future will look like. The truth is I had the strongest wave of homesickness I think I've ever experienced. We don't have a "home" anywhere but where we are now, and whenever people ask if we are going home for summer or the holidays, I always answer, "no, we are staying home. Here." So I guess the homesickness wasn't for a place so much as it was for people. I just wanted to crawl into the past, full of friends who've known me forever and love me just the way I am. Or maybe for a time. A time where from the lens of today everything looks far more sunshiny and full of flowers and laughter and dancing.

I have a little sign above my desk (along with an action figure of Thor, a gift from my friend Lori) which quotes C.S. Lewis: There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. I taped a photo of our family from the Macau Tower to it, just to remind me that no matter how great or glorified the past was, the future is full of promise.

Unfortunately, I just stared at that sign which has brought me heaps of encouragement over the past year and thought it was such a lie. All I could think about was the past and how awesome it was! How much easier and simpler things were. I thought about times in the past which I thought were so hard at the time, and laughed bitterly, knowing that in comparison with right now, those were mere child's play!

On Sunday I had the great privilege of hearing a friend speak about being strong and looking forward, not at the past. And about being present in this moment, instead of longing for things that used to be. To say that her talk completely gutted me would be an understatement. I was so convicted! All this current misery is only made so much worse when I'm focused on things that are over and done with and completely out of my control. The beauty of this life is our choice to respond to any situation with hope and a positive attitude, or to dwell on the negative and be overcome with self pity.

Nothing about my situation over the past few weeks has changed one bit. In fact, there are so many intricate layers of things to worry about that I don't even know where to focus. And the truth is, one day I will look back on this time in Shanghai and think about how it was surely easier than whatever I'll be up to in the future. But in an exercise in looking forward, I've decided to make a list of eight things that I am really, really excited about happening in the near future.

1. Vacation. On Monday we leave for a holiday we've planned for over a year. Talk about looking forward!

2. Dream finally fulfilled. We finally get to go to London, a trip which has been booked and cancelled and booked and cancelled repeatedly for seven years.

3. Friendship. While in London, we'll get to stay with our friends the Braden's. These are friends we've known since we both lived in Hong Kong and have spent the last eight years visiting back and forth in the various countries our two families have lived in since then. We are excited to create new memories with them for two weeks.

4. Disneyland Paris! As part of our Year of the Mouse, we're taking the train with the Braden's from London to Paris. When I push through the turnstiles at the Park, I'll be realizing another huge dream of mine... to go to every Disney theme park worldwide! We still have to hit up Tokyo Disneyland so that Benjamin (who was not yet born when we lived in Japan) can say the same thing.

5. Recreating the Abbey Road album cover while we're in London. I told the boys I specifically stopped at having only two children so there would be four of us to be able to do something I've wanted to do for over twenty years. They rolled their eyes at me, but one day they'll thank me. Right?

6. Creative outlet. I'm working on a publication about HOPE using all original artwork and text which will be put out at Christmas. At the same time, I'm also working on a short script for a Christmas production which is on the same topic. The irony of being waist-deep in intense study about hope at a time when a lot of things have felt pretty hopeless is not lost on me!

7. My birthday (Christmas Eve) and Christmas. I know, I know, it's still September. But I already have bubbles of excitement about my most favorite time of the year (we're picking up my birthday/Christmas gift in England!). It's too bad we don't live in the Philippines, where Christmas decorations go up and stay up for all the "Ber" months, September through December. Maybe we need to move there next?

Wow. In re-reading that list, I can only say I'm suddenly quite prepared to leave the past behind and get on with the future! What are you most looking forward to in the near (or far) future? Inspire me!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I'm juggling several photographic projects at the moment. Some are yearlong projects and some are just on going. I just wrapped up a project which documented Benjamin's ninth year of life from his 9th birthday to his 10th birthday while he was standing in doorways throughout the places we visited that year. I'm going to start a new yearlong project with Nathan starting on his 13th birthday, which will revolve around art (if I can talk him into it. He's a hard sell).

I have another project I'm working on continuously during our time here in Shanghai. Shortly after moving here, I noticed all the manhole covers and utility covers are stamped with the year they were created.

Pudong, the area on the east side of the river, is a relatively new place. None of the familiar buildings in the skyline even existed 20 year ago. So all the manhole covers in this area are from the late 90's or begin with the year 2000. Over on the Puxi side, west of the river, there are older communities which have been around far longer.

I started snapping photos of the covers and then adding the years to a list so I don't end up taking photos of the same years all the time. I plan to just continue this little side project as long as we live here, hoping for as wide a spread as possible in years.

The kids are used to me walking down the sidewalk and then screeching to a stop to pull out my phone to consult my list when I spy a particularly interesting cover. Benjamin has taken to checking out the years as we stroll along, asking if we already have the year he sees.

2003 was evidently a very productive year in Pudong, because it's the most common year we see printed in the concrete. It was also a very productive year for us, being the year we added Benjamin to our family! I took the above photo at his request. I know there will come a day when he doesn't want to be in any photos (I think Nat is right at the border of No Photo Town), so I never turn down an opportunity to snap a picture of him. Even if it's just his feet.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Why not both? At the same time? Is it just me, or does this seem like a strange combo for a shop? Do they graft on new eyelashes using the stuff they attach fake nails with? This is a mystery.

Um, yes. Wait, do you mean the people who worship nature are fantastical? Or is this two separate thoughts combined onto one tee? I'm confused.

So far lost in translation I can't even guess what goes on up on the 17th floor.
Hold me. I'm scared. I don't want to be appyopyiated. Or do I?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Flash Flood

Nothing but oil derricks.

There was this time during my first year of college where I drove solo up to my parents' house, four hours north, at night in a heavy rain storm (sounds like the start of a mystery novel!). To get to their house, you could take a significant short cut off the main highway through a very desolate and rural area filled with oil derricks (seen in daylight in the photos in this post). At some point after I'd left the highway, the California Highway Patrol cut off the exits at both ends of the short cut due to flash flood warnings in the oil fields. These were the days before cell phones (I had a pager though!), so I had no way for anyone to warn me or for me to call anyone if I got stuck. 

It wasn't too long before I realized I was experiencing the heaviest rain of my life. I slowed the speed down in my little red pick-up truck to nearly a crawl, as my windshield wipers beat at their fastest speed and my headlights only lit a few feet in front of me. The roar of the storm shook the cab of my truck, and the only thing that kept me from shaking myself was my complete ignorance of how dangerous storms like that can be in a region flanked with mountains and covered with miles of soft dirt as far as the eye can see. I was simply wowed by the power of nature.

The lonely road in the middle of nowhere, cutting through the oil fields.
My slow speed came almost to a stop as the road in front of me would continually disappear, and large objects like tractor tires and fence posts would zip right in front of my car in the murky brown water streaming across the pavement. It was only the power poles that flanked the road which kept me vaguely on track, I certainly couldn't see any lines on the blacktop. The short cut, which normally took about 45 minutes end-to-end, took me nearly three hours. When I emerged back out at the highway on the other end, I found Highway Patrol cars blocking the road with their lights spinning like beacons in the pitch-black darkness. As I slowly approached, a CHP officer banged on my window and when I rolled it down a crack, he gave me the lecture of a lifetime. I can't tell you if it was tears on my cheeks or the rain streaming in my window which wet my face, but I've never forgotten the mixture of anger and fear and relief that officer projected toward me at the top of his lungs.

Flash forward to this week. On Friday we had to make a quick run to a hospital a mile or two up the road for a vaccination. As we were leaving the house at 3:00 p.m., the sky began to darken ominously. Nathan and I grabbed our umbrellas though Michael declined to bring one. While at the hospital, thunder began crashing, booming and echoing off Shanghai's collection of high rise buildings. Lighting began flashing, and soon there were continuous rolls of thunder with constant lightning temporarily brightening up the grey sky. We seemed to be in the very center of the storm. Looking out the window we could see the fierce wind violently blowing trees on the sidewalk and waves of water blowing horizontally.

Our business concluded, we made our way downstairs to the street in the hopes of finding a taxi home. At first, the rain was just filling up the gutters. We saw this lady, shielding her son from the storm under her skirt.

A few available taxis passed us right by, and then we weren't "local" enough to forcefully grab the one that did finally draw near enough to jump in, getting aced by a middle school aged girl and her sister? Mom? who put her in the taxi and then ran back into the hospital behind us.
We tried crossing to a different corner of the intersection, but every open taxi driver would shake his head and speed away. The thunder and lightning continued violently, and then the skies really opened up. As we stood on what had just been level ground, we found the water was suddenly over our ankles. The two umbrellas were no help in keeping the three of us dry, as the rain just pushed at us horizontally and splashed up from the ground. Michael finally dashed after an open taxi, temporarily losing a sandal to the boggy street, and Nathan and I sloshed our way over to it, completely drenched.
Even driving slowly down the road splashed up streams of water higher than the taxi. I felt bad for the people on their bikes and scooters. The water level quickly rose. Please note how in this blurry photo you can at least see the yellow curb, with brown water filling up the gutter.

This is the same block, moments later. Notice the curb is completely under water!

The intersection at our street was completely under water, and street equipment left out was floating down the road. A man in knee high galoshes was wading out to try and retrieve something I couldn't identify. I think we only cleared the intersection by floating. We finally made it to the front of our building, which has a large glass overhang to shield you from the rain as you get out of your car. In this photo, taken outside our taxi, you can see where the standing water is rippled from the falling rain, and where it becomes still and glassy, under the overhang.
We paused a minute to watch the waterfall of rainwater coming off the edges of the overhang, and in those quick moments, that lake of water had risen all the way to the entry doors of our lobby!
We quickly went inside and changed our clothes, all the way down to our soaked underwear. We compared notes with other friends on Facebook who'd also been caught out in the sudden deluge. One friend in an adjoining complex had to walk down the 52 flights of stairs to the lobby to retrieve their kids from a stranded school bus, as water had somehow broken through into the elevator shaft, creating a waterfall and rendering it completely unusable. Several shanghai Metro lines were temporarily closed due to underground flooding.
This morning we found an article in the paper stating what we could have guessed, Friday had brought the most intense level of rain seen in four years. Our neighborhood actually recorded the highest hourly precipitation of 124 millimeters (nearly 5 inches). In a city made completely of concrete and asphalt, it was just like a flash flood... the water simply had no where to go.
We've seen areas of the Philippines affected by flooding so fierce that entire valleys were under water, and we're thankful that though very intense, this storm ended quickly. I wish I could say all that water left the city nice and clean, but the truth is all the roads the next day were covered in brown sludge, and our windows on the 38th floor are streaked with grey streams of dried pollution.

The good news is we didn't get lectured by anyone for venturing out in a storm warning we knew nothing about!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Waste not

This pile of bikes can be found in a little alcove on the side of our building. It's right next to a grassy patch where we take Lucy Rocket to do her business. I noticed it right after we moved in.

Whenever I would see it, I would think about how sad it was that people would just discard their bikes in such a haphazard manner. I thought of it as a graveyard for rusted and unwanted bicycles. Bikes here are so cheap (seriously, a decent adult bike can be found for under $50 USD), it made me think they are almost disposable, and treated as such. 
One evening after dark, I went down and happened to walk past this little alcove and discovered the bikes were all gone. I figured the junk hauler had come along and loaded them up.
But the following morning I passed by once again, and all the bikes were back! As I was standing there, I watched a tiny Chinese woman ride her bike up and toss it on top of the pile. I paid close attention for a week or so, and discovered the bikes primarily belong to the day workers, the housemaids (ayi, pronounced ah-ee) who come each day to mind babies and clean houses and cook for the people in our building. As there is no convenient place to lock bikes up, they just toss them in a pile. I suppose it is both a deterrent from theft and a way to keep the front of our building from looking like a junkyard.
Though my initial impression was of bikes being discarded and disposable, I've noticed that everything here has a far longer usage period than other places. At the point where I'm ready to toss something out due to wear or disrepair, our own ayi will show shock at the waste, rescuing our cast-offs for a second life. Or third life, as much of our household goods and appliances came from other departing expats, who probably got them from still other departing expats. 
I hear a lot about waste in China, especially industrial waste. But when it comes down to the consumer level, there is such a small amount of waste. Even the communal trash bin on our floor which serves two flats is no larger than a kitchen waste bin. We brought our large kitchen trash can from Macau, and finding trash bags to line it has been nearly impossible. When I do find them, I stock up like crazy.
I'm trying to be mindful of this longer-than-normal shelf life for consumer goods, especially as the season is changing and I'm starting to put away my summer things and pull out my cooler weather clothing. I look at these clothes I feel like I've worn and worn for over three years, some of which are actually showing wear, and think about how they'd have long been retired to the Good Will or Salvation Army if we were in the States, replaced two-fold to fill up American-sized closets. Though feeling sick of just about everything I own, I hesitate to get rid of anything, knowing how difficult it is to replace with appropriately-sized (and reasonably priced) clothing here in Shanghai.
I've changed much in this area. At least I can see progress anyway. I won't be darning socks and sewing my own undergarments anytime soon.
And where do we store our own bikes? Same place everyone in a high rise building in Shanghai does, right outside our front door, locked to each other just to make it that much more difficult to walk off with them. Not that you can even get into the elevator to get to our floor without a key card, but it helps me sleep at night.
Now let's talk about how many plants I keep killing... pretty wasteful indeed!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Speaking of Apples...

Me, to the barista at PCC: Does your coffee have apples in it?
Barista: No.
Me: Apple juice?
Barista: No.
Me: Do you ever sell apples?
Barista: No.
Me: Do you have any apple smoothies or juices?
Barista: No.
Me: Why do you have an ad featuring apples?
Barista: This is healthy thing.

Makes perfect sense.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Apples to Apples

Fall is upon us, and many food blogs are sharing about apple picking and apple pies and favorite kinds of apples. I would like to share with you my own personal type of apple.

Green, soft to the touch, a product of Mexico, and perfect for making guacamole. And clearly apples, as labeled there by the grocery store. I'll take a bushel, please. But maybe not for the approximate price of $5.50 USD for two pieces...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Yangpu Bridge

I love the look of bridges, when I'm safely on either side of them. We've lived near a bridge or three in every country we've ever lived in. I have quite a few funny stories from my past which revolve around bridges. Taipa, our home in Macau, was an island, so the only way on or off was one of three bridges from the Macau Peninsula. Being afraid of heights, crossing bridges are not my favorite. Even the ones that sit close to the water make me nervous. I've seen too many action films which feature a car spinning out of control and crashing off the side of a bridge.

The Yangpu Bridge is one of several bridges which span the Huangpu River. The Huangpu River flows through Shanghai, dividing it into Pudong and Puxi. Pu means river, while dong means east and xi means west. So Pudong, where we live, means east of the river, and Puxi means west of the river. This is my favorite bridge here, the towers rising out of the water reminding me of the wishbone pulled out of Thanksgiving turkeys. It gives me some warm feelings that help whenever we have to go across it. Our home is flanked by two traffic tunnels which traverse the river, as well as two ferry terminals which can get us across in a minute. It's quite rare that we ever actually cross the river on any of the many bridges. Which means I won't be featuring a whole lot of photos like this one. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Depression is not a dirty word.

Fair warning, this is a long, serious, and intensely personal post.

Did you know that today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day?

Per the International Association for Suicide Prevention: Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the world, especially among young people. Nearly one million people worldwide die by suicide each year. This corresponds to one death by suicide every 40 seconds. The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined. 

My life was affected by suicide from an early age. My fourth grade teacher at a private school in California's San Fernando Valley took her life during the school year. A close classmate from the public school I attended in 5th and 6th grade took her life in 7th grade after I had moved away. A boy I knew in middle school killed himself. A close friend in the 7th and 8th grade attempted suicide, and my mom took me to visit him at the hospital a few hours from our house. A high school boyfriend's mother repeatedly attempted suicide, and was confined to a mental health institution several times during our relationship. Just typing these few sentences brings new waves of grief and even anger over the loss and near loss of these precious people. I look at my 5th grade and 7th grade sons, and realize that by the time I was their age, I was already quite intimate with loss from suicide.

This year's theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is "Stigma: A Major Barrier to Suicide Prevention." An organization I support phrased it more simply, Challenging Stigma. In researching more about what that means, I read that because of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, people who most need help will often not seek it. A significant number of the people who die by suicide suffer from mental illness, which includes depression. One quote on the IASP site was quite sobering, "Many health professionals who feel uncomfortable dealing with persons struggling with mental illnesses or suicidal ideation often hold negative, prejudicial attitudes about such patients. This can result in a failure to provide optimal care and support for persons in crisis." So the stigma of mental illness doesn't just come from the community, it's coming from people within the medical health professions. Pardon my saying so, but this is very depressing!

Per a quick search, a stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. And of course, the dictionary gives an example (which could not be more pertinent to the point of this post), example: the stigma of mental disorder. So how are stigmas dealt with? According to the IASP, they must be confronted and challenged so they won't continue to be a major barrier to the treatment of mental illness and the prevention of suicide.

In doing a quick check of Google stats on this blog, I have about 300 people throughout the world who stop by to read every day. (Whoa, really? Hello!). That isn't as huge a platform as many other blogs, but I'm using what I've got.

Allow me to get really personal and let's confront and challenge the stigma of one type of mental illness, depression.

In late 2005, our family moved from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. The project my husband had been working on had ended, and instead of pursuing more opportunities abroad, we decided to be good parents and settle in for the long run in one place so our children would have the kind of stability which comes from not moving around the world every 9-12 months. Michael started seeking out a job which wasn't directly related to live entertainment (because face it, entertainment doesn't scream family friendly) and I joined the PTA and volunteered to work in Nathan's kindergarten classroom once a month. We started looking at houses to buy, thinking that was a stable and responsible move, something stable and responsible people do. And then something weird happened.

I've suffered from insomnia my entire life. It takes me hours and hours to fall asleep, if I ever do. Even as a tiny kid, my parents would put me to bed a full hour before my little brother because it took me so much longer to fall asleep. So that's the norm for me. But during this time period after Hong Kong, I found I was sleeping all the time. And despite all this extra sleep, I could never get enough of it. I would wake up in the morning to get Nathan ready for school, drive him over, then come back to the house where I'd spread a blanket of toys on the floor for Benjamin to play with while I'd curl up behind him and fall asleep. I had an alarm set on my phone to remind me to go pick up Nathan, and almost every day I would remain sleeping until that alarm went off. I'd go get him and return home, then put Ben down for a nap. Half the time I would crawl into bed beside him because I was so tired, despite having slept the day away. After preparing dinner which I could barely bring myself to eat, I'd leave the boys' bedtime routine to Michael because I was yawning so hard. I'd excuse myself, get in my jammies, and suddenly it was morning again and I'd have to drag myself out of bed, fighting the overwhelming and persistent fatigue with all I had.

At first, I dismissed it as jet lag. And then reverse culture shock from being back in America (something I experienced greatly after living in Japan). After about six weeks I was still sleeping for about 18 hours of any 24 hour period. While I felt no sense of alarm, Michael was growing concerned. In the few hours of the day when I was actually awake, I noticed a strong sense of being emotionally numb and distant (which explains why I wasn't alarmed). When Benjamin would cry, I would look at him and feel no connection whatsoever. He could have been any kid, or even an inanimate object. When Nathan would get home and want to snuggle, he himself would wrap my arms around him and I'd look at them, puzzled, like they weren't a part of me. More like a photograph of a mother holding her son than something I was engaged in. 

In a dreamy manner, I mentioned to Michael how I didn't feel like I was actually there at all, that I was just a hologram. And that everything seemed remarkably drained of color. This really bothered him. Thinking there was some physical illness, Michael dragged me to the doctor for a full check up. Every panel and test was run and it all came back perfectly normal. Michael expressed his concerns, and the doctor asked if I wanted to hurt myself. I thought that was a silly question, for I didn't have the physical or mental energy to even think of harming myself. All I wanted was to fall asleep for a really, really long time. And maybe, if I was really honest, to stop existing. But not to do anything so concrete as die, and certainly not at my own hands.

I left with a diagnosis of depression, a prescription for antidepressants, and an appointment with a therapist. Because I was so numb and removed from myself, I felt no shame at sharing these facts with my family and friends. I wasn't aware that depression and mental illness can provoke extremely strong reactions in people, and many people hold on to hurtful opinions which they aren't afraid to share.  

My parents, I believe, were quite broken hearted that I was taking medication for depression. Part of this is generational. But we are also a strong family who pull ourselves up and move on in the face of adversity. Medicating symptoms away instead of just getting over it felt like an inexcusable weakness. Our family has dealt with everything from teen pregnancy to Hatfield & McCoy-type feuds with gun-toting neighbors and taken it all in stride, even sharing laughter. But me being formally diagnosed and treated for depression nearly unglued everything.

We belonged to a community of faith, and when I spread the word there, I was told by many people, quite unhelpfully, that it was my own fault. It was all in my head. I'd brought it on myself through something I'd done. Or hadn't done. People who would bring over a casserole if you had a hint of a physical ailment were quite condemning of a mental one.

Well meaning friends would tell me I just needed to exercise or eat better or take supplements or just get over myself. I was told if I wanted to get better I simply needed to act as if I was better and move on. I struggled to put my numbness and inability to do anything into words they could understand. The closest description of my predicament: if I was sitting down and knew all I had to do to be fully and forever cured was stand up, I still couldn't do it. The chains and locks of depression kept me tightly bound in that chair.

At the same time, other people in my life who had struggled with depression and mental illness came out and shared their stories. Some with tears of relief running down their faces, like an older man also in our community of faith who had hid his diagnosis for years. Some people, like my in laws, didn't understand what was wrong, but without judgment stepped up in a physical way by taking Nathan to school or making dinner when the pull of my bed or the couch was too strong to resist on yet another day. Other people showed curiosity and asked me lots of questions and really tried to see it from my point of view rather than immediately condemning me.

The medication helped. I started eating again, and packed on a significant and shocking amount of weight. But I saw that after so much numbness, the fact that I actually cared about the weight was a positive sign. The talk therapy actually helped me see that there had been other periods in my life where I had been suffering from depression, though in far milder states. I found out my larger, far extended family has a rarely-discussed history of mental illness, which completely explained my parents' broken-hearted attitude toward their daughter's depression. I am curious, creative, and artistic with a melancholy personality which gravitates toward the dramatic. Science has shown there is a correlation between depression and people who share those traits. There is no blame, no one at fault.

After a year of treatment, I had improved so much I actually felt like the antidepressants were holding me down. Together with my doctor, I tapered off the medicine. I have seen the occasional counselor in the years since. I have carefully learned the difference between a healthy sad reaction or a big life change, and one that requires intervention. I am very careful not to engage in self-destructive behavior and thought patterns, and I completely abstain from alcohol and anything else which artificially changes your mood. I exercise, express myself creatively, and take stock of my feelings regularly.

Following my little tumble down the rabbit hole of depression, Michael and I realized buying a house and staying in one place f o r e v e r is a perfectly stable and responsible thing to do for some people. It is not the right thing for everyone. Especially someone like me, who thrives on change and adventure. Every day I encourage people to follow their dreams. After experiencing the crazy yet exciting challenges of living and thriving in Japan and Hong Kong, the idea of purposely and intentionally choosing to never live abroad again and to settle into a life I clearly wasn't made for was too much for my mind to handle. It just shut down. Michael decided to continue pursuing his passion, opportunities in entertainment, and simply knowing we were following our dreams instead of trying to fit into a box not made for us made a huge difference in my mental state.

Though never mentioned here on the blog, depression is something I'm never shy about discussing in real life. I do care about what people think about me, but perhaps not enough to change my open and honest personality. The more I talk about it, the more people share about their own experiences, and together we fight the stigma of depression. The expat community is filled with people taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. This kind of life can take a lot out of you. I had a recent extremely frightening experience here in Shanghai, and no less than three people quietly stepped forward to offer me a Xanax from their personal stash. They were all people who I look at and think they have their act completely together. It can happen to anyone.

My motivation for finally putting this out in cyberspace is someone very precious to me who struggles daily with a vicious form of depression and constant suicidal thoughts. This person has come up against an unspeakable amount of stigma in battling this issue. For two years I've watched this person and knew I needed to write this. The fire that finally got me to sit down and put the words out there are the many recent headlines involving high profile people taking their own lives. Being a wealthy and successful movie producer or the son of a world famous protestant minister does not put you out of the reach of depression or mental health issues.

In all cases, including my own, people feel terribly alone and isolated in their suffering, which can allow that depression to sink its claws in even deeper. I wanted to use this small platform to be able to say if you suffer from depression or other mental illness, you are not alone. And if you are someone who blessedly does not suffer from these things, please look around you and realize someone in your life probably does. And that your actions and words can have a profound effect on the outcome of their story.

If I could have put into words what I most wanted and needed to hear from the people in my life, and what I would say to someone else today who struggles with mental health issues and depression, it's this: I may not understand this, but I will stand by your side as you go through it. You are not alone. You cannot be replaced. Depression is not a dirty word.

I support a group called To Write Love on Her Arms. Their mission statement: To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery. They are some of the coolest people around, and if anyone can help destroy the stigma of mental illness, it's them. If you need help yourself, please see their list of resources here. You can find additional resources here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

September Issue

My fabulous in laws sent me Vogue's September Issue, which I am positively giddy about.

While my years of being remotely fashionable have passed along with my subscriptions, I still love to peruse the glossy pages of the year's thickest fashion magazine. There's so much inspiration, with exotic locations and artful photography. Yes, the American edition of Vogue magazine is available here in Shanghai, along with most other international editions. But the cover price in America is $5.99. And the cover price here in Shanghai is over $30. Which is a painful habit, even if it's only an annual one. So I was happy when one of Michael's coworkers came to Shanghai on a business trip and hand carried some items from the States over for us.

Yes, I posted this photo on Instagram, and someone pointed out that I could just get Vogue digitally, instantly, for much cheaper. This is true. And I take advantage of e-everything these days. But some things are better in paper instead of onscreen. And the September Issue is one of them. (Have you seen the documentary called The September Issue on Netflix? So good if you like documentaries, fashion, publishing, or photography.)

I haven't yet cracked open the magazine. It's just sitting here, a shiny rectangle of fabulousness staring at me from the edge of my desk. Knowing I have to make it last a whole year, I'm relishing the anticipation of finally flipping through it the next time the weather turns really rainy and miserable and I'm in desperate need of something bright and colorful to pull me out of the doldrums. I hear there's rain in the forecast...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Stuff on Scooters

We see all sorts of stuff being toted across town on the backs of scooters and bikes. I promise when the weather cools down, I'm just going to go sit on a corner and photograph every weird thing that comes by in an hour.

Here's the scooter brigade last weekend, waiting for the green light at an intersection.

Do you see what I see?
Would you like a closer look?
Here you go.
Maybe you don't see it. I'll zoom in.
As often as I see cars and bikes/scooters tangled up, I know that's one piece of cargo I wouldn't want to come into forceful contact with if all I'm wearing is regular cotton pants! Ouch. At least it looks a little dull, right?

Saturday, September 7, 2013


As we waited to pay our bill in our local branch of our mobile phone provider, I took some time to play with the iPhones. As the minutes ticked by and our number was nowhere close to being called, I started reprogramming all the iPhones from Chinese to English. Michael figured out how to work the automated payment machine just as I finished up with the last phone, giving me no time to change them back. Oops.

Good thing I didn't have any more time though. My next step was going to be to take a bunch of selfies and change the wallpaper to my photo. Which would have probably got me banned from the store, standing out like I do, and giving them photo evidence of my mischievousness.
Not really such a good example for my kids that day. But I know it's the kind of thing my own troublemaker Dad would do, and I am my father's daughter, so I'll blame his influence if anyone asks. Okay, Dad?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Passport to Adventure

As a kid, all I ever wanted was to travel the world, living an adventurous life. When I'd exasperate her, a favorite frustrated phrase of my Mom's was, "Heather, what are we going to do with you?" My response never varied: Send me to Germany! No clue why my answer was Germany, but the ironic fact is Germany ended up being the first non-American country my feet touched, years later.

I've grown up to do exactly what I dreamt of, traveling the world. Of course, it's a far slower pace than I'd like. And a far slower pace than many of our fellow expats who are off to new countries every month or two (or every week, depending on their job description). What we're doing looks a lot like traveling by way of living in individual countries a year at a time.

But we recently hit a specific milestone that I have been longing for since I was a young teen, holding my first blank passport in hand: to fill up all the pages. In my young mind, that was the benchmark for living an adventurous life.

We're preparing for a trip to Europe in a few weeks during the Mid-Autumn Festival holidays. We'll hit a few countries (and Disneyland Paris!), and realized we have very little blank space for visa stamps. This is frequently frowned upon as you go through Customs in a new country. Especially China, who despite our visas, stamps our passports every time we return here from another place.  So we made an appointment with the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai to have additional pages affixed into our ink-filled official travel documents.

This made me a little emotional (actually, post-surgery it doesn't take much for the emotions to show) to see a very specific childhood dream come true. My children are far less impressed with this milestone. After being dragged around the world and moving, on average, every twelve months, I fear their childhood dreams will be something along the lines of "live in one place until I die."
There were two options, and both were the same expensive price. You could get a twenty-four page addition, or forty-eight pages. As children under age 16 have to renew their passports every five years, instead of ten years like people over 16, we went ahead and got the twenty four pages for the boys. We'll be back at the Consulate in another year to renew theirs (yikes, that will be Nathan's fourth passport, though only Ben's third. This life is expensive!). But since Michael and I have quite a few years before ours expire, we went ahead and added 48 pages. It adds quite a bit of bulk!
If we manage to fill the extra forty-eight pages (and there was someone there during our appointment who had!), then the only option is to get another passport. No more pages can be added. I don't think it'll happen. But it's nice to dream, right? Because dreams do come true.

I'm holding proof in my hand.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013 Shanghai Disney Resort Moon Cakes

You may recall my post from last year about the Mid-Autumn Festival. It's coming up again, and Michael recently brought home this year's edition of the mooncakes from work. One is a fruit pie, the other filled with coconut paste (see last year's post for identical images of the mooncakes themselves). Adorable packaging, yes?

Funny, the day before he brought these home, I tossed the packaging from last year's mooncakes as part of my purge/organizational project in the home office. Still slugging along with that never-ending time of joy. At least I have some pretty new stars to keep for a year before tossing!

Monday, September 2, 2013


My husband had a very Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy birthday this year.

He turned 42, which everyone knows is the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
He's pretty much my everything! Happy birthday Michael!

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