Wednesday, June 25, 2014

First swim of the season!

The pool across the street has opened for the season! We joined up with three other families (only one other family shown below) and decided Tuesdays shall be Swim Day. 

Shanghai has mostly completed its seasonal mass exodus of the expats, who all generally return to where they came from the minute school lets out, returning a day or two before it starts up again. Not us however! We are here for the duration and enjoying weekly planned events with those like us who call Shanghai home year round instead of just first of September through first of June. Not that we wouldn't also enjoy doing some summer travel... But sadly flights go up, up, up whenever there are expat holidays, and the provision of Michael's contract doesn't include a paid annual trip "home" like many others (I have one friend whose work contract includes four paid home leaves per year. Which makes me wonder, is Shanghai really so bad that people feel they have to vacate it every season for the place they came from? And if so, then does Shanghai ever really have a chance of feeling like home if you spend so much physical time in another place that you always refer to as home? I'm guessing no. Which must make for a miserable experience here). 

But the truth is, if we do go to the States, we gotta pick times when the cost for the four of us does not equal the price of a compact-sized car purchased new off the lot... 

Last year was our big travel year, working our way around the globe to visit all the Disney theme parks worldwide. This year we're staying closer to home, seeing more of Asia. And next year? Who knows. For now I'm content to lounge by the pool every Tuesday and enjoy the city in summer.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow, Today

When the going gets tough, the tough bury their sorrow in a couple of hours of entertainment. Edge of Tomorrow, with Tom Cruise, just opened here recently, and I am a huge sucker for science fiction. So off Michael and I went to the theater.

Knowing that frequently the people selling the tickets do not speak English, we've made it our practice to snap a quick pic of the movie poster for the film we want to see so we can just flash that instead of getting very lost in translation and ending up in the wrong picture. Of course, since none of the signs here are in English, we sometimes forget the names of films, as we are not exposed to any type of marketing that would make the names stick. And honestly, we didn't really know the name of it, we've just been calling it that Tom Cruise movie. As in Michael saying to me, "Hey, my boss just saw that Tom Cruise movie that just came out. It's totally something you would like."

We waited our turn in line. "Two tickets to this movie," we said, holding up two fingers and Michael's iPhone showing the photo.

"Okay. Tomorrow?" said the lovely young ticket seller.

"Um, no, today," I said, quickly scanning my brain for the word today in Chinese, but only coming up with the word for tomorrow, mingtian.

"Okay, yes, tomorrow," she said.

"No, no, today," Michael said emphatically.

"Yes," she said, pointing to Michael's phone, "For today. But this movie is called Edge of Tomorrow."

"Is it?" we said, looking at each other, and then bursting into laughter with the charming and patient ticket seller. Oops!

We also bought tickets for the real tomorrow, as in the day after today, to see Maleficent with the boys. That's a name that sticks when your paycheck is signed by a certain Mouse!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I Louvre You.

Remember how I mentioned that the Mona Lisa is just a tiny painting? The curators decided to balance her petite frame by facing her with one of the largest paintings in the Italian wing, Antonio Campi's The Mystery of the Passion of Christ. In the top right corner there is a controversial image of what many people think is a planet or UFO. When looking it up, I found all sorts of conspiracy theories about it. I'm sure the Mona Lisa has plenty of time to ponder the Mystery while the museum is closed!

Following our rendezvous with La Gioconda, we consulted our map to seek out another famous lady, Aphrodite, who is better known as the Venus de Milo. We walked through a lot of marble statuary to find her, and arrived right as a huge number of tour groups converged on the scene.

This time we patiently waited it out, as the tour groups were just interested in checking it off their list before moving on. Not much different from what we were doing, to be honest, but considering we were looking at a sculpture that's been around as long as the Great Wall of China, we thought we'd spend a few moments just gazing in awe. 

But then it was time to see the sphinx. The Great Sphinx of Tanis to be exact. I'd read that this is the largest sphinx housed outside of Egypt. Since we've not yet been to Egypt, I thought it was going to be quite large.

It was actually no bigger than a minivan. But it dates back to 2600 BC, so we won't disparage it's size because its age inspires serious awe. Nathan was quite happy! 

Fun fact: when the Great Sphinx became part of the collection at the Louvre around 1853, there was not yet the machinery to lift and move it's hulking 26 ton weight. So to get it into place, they tore a hole in the side of the Louvre and then pushed and pulled it into place, and then patched up the hole again. 

Our last stop was Ben's choice, down into the deepest subterranean parts of the Louvre to find the ancient medieval moat which was the original construction on the site back in the 1100's. I'm not gonna lie, I was so happy Ben chose this to see. It was dark and freezing cold down there, and I was having massive hot flashes as we raced around the enormous museum. Michael and the boys shivered while I stood against a large air con vent, sighing contentedly. Here is the bare dirt floor where the moat once was long ago. We stood on a suspended catwalk, looking down at the sign. Seeing the tennis shoe imprints in the dirt was disappointing. Surely knights didn't wear Nikes when the moat was drained?

And here is the remains of a corner of the original fortress, which stood from 1202 until 1546 when King Francis I decided he wanted bigger digs. Every monarch since then added on a bit until 1789 when it became a museum full time and ceased to be a seat of power for the government. 

Sometimes we see something like this and don't really think about it. But as I paused in that blessed stream of icy cold air, I realized that the bricks I was looking at have been sitting there, nestled together, for over eight hundred years. The country of my birth is less than 250 years old. Its history is just a blip compared to just about everything we saw in both London and Paris. It gave me a different perspective on some of the struggles going on in America right now. We're really still in our infancy, aren't we? 

After completing our circuit of the four things we absolutely had to see, we left the museum and headed for the next stop on our speed tour of Paris. We stopped for gelato at a small cart in the courtyard, and I could not help but turn back and look at the beautiful Louvre, with the French flag flying in the breeze.

There's really no doubt in my mind that I'll be back again some day. But I fear it will never be as perfect or magical as this first trip, fast as it was.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

That time Mona Lisa photo bombed us...

As I mentioned yesterday, during our trip to Paris last October we visited the mother of all Parisian art museums, the Louvre. It's actually one of the largest, and certainly the most-visited museum of art in all the world. There were 9.344 million guests in 2013. We make up four guests in that enormous number!

The day we visited the Louvre was like a dream. We started the morning with a quick stop at a Starbucks for the free wifi so our maps would work, then we found our way to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which started construction in 1163. That is over 600 years before the United States of America was born! As often as we travel to places usually seen only on post cards, it's hard for me to still get goosebumps when looking at a building. But the beauty of Notre Dame actually made me short of breath. It also made me all hot and sweaty, but that was a constant theme throughout our trip to London and Paris, which took place just three months after my surgery when my hot flashes were out of control.

We chose not to go into Notre Dame for a couple of reasons. First, the cost was high and the wait was long, and we had precious little time to explore all that we wanted to do in Paris. And second, while in London, we visited a cathedral which was so breathtaking it will get a post all of its own. And because it amazed us all so much, I didn't want to muddy my memory of it by visiting any other cathedrals in Europe on this two week trip. Plus, the outside of Notre Dame is so rich and detailed it was completely satisfying to just view the exterior.

Most of the large and famous buildings and sites in Paris have lots of outdoor seating where people come and bring their lunch or a book to pass an hour or so on their lunch breaks. This alone made me want to claim Paris as our next home! My friend Dora in Macau gave birth to her twin daughters just adjacent to the Cathedral. I would definitely want to stay in hospital longer if this were my view from the birthing suite!

There are hundreds of saints pictured on the exterior. Though hard to pick a favorite, I'm going to go with Saint Denis, who got his claim to fame after being decapitated in the year 257. He stood up and collected his head and then walked six kilometers before collapsing. Pretty heady stuff, huh? Heh-heh. Here he is, hat and head in hands, flanked by a couple of angels.

Here's the side of Notre Dame, which was actually one of the first cathedrals in the world to use flying buttresses, those arches that help support the weight of all that rock construction.

As we left Notre Dame, we strolled up the Seine River to make our way to the Louvre. All day long, wherever we were in the city, we could see the Eiffel tower. In fact, we somewhat circled it during the day, and finally ended up in its shadow during the magical twilight hour to take our annual Christmas card photo (seen here). We live on the Huangpu River in Shanghai, and must say the Seine is far less polluted to our non-trained eyes! It certainly smelled better...

After a leisurely stroll past book sellers and art hawkers, we finally arrived at the backside of the Louvre. Once again, walking in the courtyard and seeing the iconic glass pyramids took my breath away. I felt like my eyes were guilty of gluttony, taking in so much beauty which I'd only ever previously seen in photographs. And look at that sky! My heart is filled with longing for that rich blue on what is a pretty yucky grey day here in Shanghai.

We made a quick stop for late lunch, early dinner at Cafe Marly (just out of frame to the right of this photo) where our friends Francois and Kellee were engaged a few years ago when they lived in France. Sparkling water and a Croque Monsieur taste so much better in a place of such beauty!

The glass pyramids hold the entrance to the Louvre Museum. The were designed by I.M. Pei (who also designed the Macao Science Center) and opened in 1989. This site dates back to medieval times, and far in the most subterranean sections there are the ruins of a moat from that early 12th century. Because you can spend a week in the Louvre and still not see every piece in its vast collection, we prioritized. Everyone got to pick one thing. I chose the Mona Lisa, Michael chose the Venus de Milo, Nathan chose a statue of the Sphinx, and Benjamin chose the original subterranean moat. We had roughly two and a half hours to see just these four things, so we raced to our first destination, the Mona Lisa.

The museum helpfully posted signs with arrows guiding you straight to her, with her proper name, La Gioconda. Or in French, La Joconde. Though they didn't really take us straight there. It was a very winding, circuitous route. I suppose they were hoping guests would stop to appreciate some of the lesser known, but no less beautiful, works of art on display. But we were not persuaded to stop! We arrived short of breath in the gallery which held the very petite work of art. Can you see her? On the far side of the room behind the crowd?

Upon entering such a crowd, you may think our enthusiasm for getting a close up view would be daunted. But no! We've been living in Asia for the last three years, and life in China teaches you about how to get to the front of a crowd with ease.

 I looked at the boys and said, "see you at the front," and we all waded in for a front row view. You know what surprised me the most? The teeny-tiny size. You could make a screen print of the painting + frame and it would still fit on the front of an adult tee shirt.

This was as close as we got. There was a waist-high barrier with a closer area which this blonde teacher entered with a docent and a group of tiny school children. I was far too tall to pass as school child, so I was content with my view.

And of course, Michael and I paused to take a selfie. Because that's what one does when you're in the presence of such a celebrity. And of course, the celebrity totally photo bombed our selfie.

That Mona Lisa. She's always gotta be the center of attention, doesn't she? We'll pause here, and let her have her moment! Back soon with more from our whirlwind race through the Louvre!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monet in Shanghai, good for the soul

In October we had the amazing experience of visiting Paris. We had only four days there, and two of them were spent at Paris Disneyland and the Walt Disney Studios as part of our Year of The Mouse experience. Which left us with just two days to explore the rest of the city. We jammed in so much! It was very surreal... I expected to like Paris of course, but I did not expect to fall in love with it. How cliche, yes? Ah, but I was bit by the bug which latches on to so many who have the City of Lights tucked away in a small or large part of their hearts! I confess, as we sat on our train speeding our way from Paris back into London, I shed honest-to-goodness tears, which rolled down my cheeks as the gorgeous countryside whizzed by far too fast. We will go back! Of that I'm sure.
(Yes, there were tears in my eyes when I took this photo from the train as we departed France.)
While there, we had time for just one art museum. And deciding to go big or go home, we hit the Louvre, racing through the halls just a few hours from closing to push our way to the front of the large room holding the tiny Mona Lisa. What we missed in exchange, however, was visiting the Musee de l'Orangerie, home to some of the large panels of Monet's Water Lilies. We did speed past the entrance to the l'Orangerie on our way through the Tuileries Gardens as we made our way up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. But alas, a leisurely visit must wait until our next trip. Le sigh. But Claude Monet and his lilies still had a hold on me, despite not seeing them with my own naked eye.

Cut to February, back in Shanghai. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Franco-Sino diplomatic relations (which is French-Chinese), a selection of Claude Monet's paintings, along with several by his contemporaries where placed on display in a gallery here in the city, from March 8 through June 15. I became very excited, and then promptly forgot all about it. Which happens. And then while cleaning up my pile of papers on my desk two weeks ago, I found the original postcard advertisement and became excited all over again, knowing we still had a week left to see the paintings in person.

My excitement was doubled, as I'd just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. (Side note: it's a great book. Read it.) In the book, there's an entire chapter devoted to Monet and his French Impressionist friends, who were the wee little shepherd boy David, going against the Goliath Salon system of judging and displaying art and gaining recognition. Monet and the French Impressionist movement is something little school children today know about because of the way they rebelled and branched out on their own. Rebel artists? Be still my heart!

One week before the exhibition closed, we high-tailed it across the river to see 52 Impressionist paintings, including a portrait of Claude Monet painted by his buddy Pierre-August Renoir. A big surprise to me was the inclusion of Monet's green-tinted glasses, pipe, and a palette covered in oil paint. I found this image of his glasses on the internet... I wonder if the blurriness helped give his paintings that dreamy feel?

The exhibit was arranged somewhat chronologically, and shared much of the story of his life. The place was absolutely packed. Having lived in Asia for the last three years, we're used to having bodies pressed up against us, but I will say it's not the ideal way to view and appreciate art!

When we finally arrived in the hall which contained his floral and garden works, I stopped in the middle of the room and burst into tears facing a giant painting of Water Lilies (the final photo of this post). It was just so overwhelming to be standing in the middle of such a body of work from someone who believed so strongly in what he was doing that he was willing to face ruin and ridicule. Looking at his innocuous-to-2014-standards work, it was hard to believe that the work of the Impressionists made such huge waves in the art world of the 1870's. I guess my tears were just the overflow of emotion from the way we all have the opportunity in our lifetime to make waves ourselves, changing the world for people in generations to come.

I'm so grateful for this season of living in Shanghai. I loved Macau like crazy, but the opportunities for viewing art and culture were limited, requiring us to head to Hong Kong to see most anything of note. But in Shanghai there is so much to see! The only downside is the way things are advertised... I only heard about the Monet exhibit at all because I'd found a postcard advertisement in my local corner Starbucks way back in February. I never saw a single print ad anywhere else. The postcard itself was completely in Chinese except for the reproduction of his autograph across the Water Lillies painting (see above with Ben), I had to actually google "Monet in Shanghai" to find out about it! But seeing the exhibition, and being so very moved by it, has allowed me to reignite my efforts in seeking out these opportunities. In fact, I just got back from a wild taxi ride across town to hunt down tickets to see a Tim Robbins' directed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream which arrives in Shanghai on Thursday (sorry if you're local and reading this, I literally grabbed the final four tickets to the sold-out run). My plan is to soak in culture until it oozes out of me! Be careful... if you check back here often enough, you just might get some on you!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day 2014!

Hey all you Dads! Today we celebrate your awesomeness! This morning our resident chef, Benjamin, made scrambled eggs for the family. Then Michael opened his gifts, which were the retro complete collections of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Robetech animated series for Michael and the boys to watch together. This evening we're taking Michael out for a steak at New York Style Steak and Burger, one of three favorite steak places we rotate through for his birthday, Father's Day, and our anniversary (a week from today!).

As per our usual tradition, we went downstairs to capture a photo of the boys + dog with Michael.

And here's my favorite photo of my Dad and I, when I was 18 or 19. We're at Disneyland (of course!) in front of the Matterhorn. This was a really rough time in my life. I'd had some big issues with my reproductive system and I'd just been told by a well-meaning OBGYN that I would probably never be able to conceive a child. I don't think that's the kind of news that a single young woman even knows how to process. My parents knew what to do though, they took me to Disneyland and my Dad made me laugh all day long. I tell you, I love to laugh more than anything else in the world, and I was raised by a comedian! Look at the contrast in our skin tone! I definitely got my ginger mama's skin! And P.S., my story had a happy ending as you can see by the photo above with my two sons who were both conceived naturally.

I don't have a photo of me with just me and my Father-in-law, so instead I will tell you a story. First of all, Michael's family are far more sedate than I am. The first time my Father-in-law, Jim, made lemonade from the lemons in his backyard for me while Michael and I were just barely dating, I went all crazy, praising it as the best thing I'd ever tasted. And it was you guys. I practically sang a song about it. I don't think I'd ever had fresh squeezed lemonade in my life before then! But I think I went over the top (which means I was probably holding back in actuality) because Michael's parents later told Michael in private that I had an "awfully big personality" and they were concerned that I was mocking the lemonade rather than enjoying it. Considering we're about to celebrate 18 years of marriage, I would like to hope they've become a little more used to that bigness (which has only grown with time I'm afraid)! But anyway, keep that in mind for this story...

One night during our engagement I was at Michael's parents' house. I had a terrible migraine and felt just horrible. My mother-in-law told me I could tape some dimes to the pressure points on my forehead for relief. Willing to try anything, and especially wanting to get in good with my future in laws, I let her tape the money to my head. The four of us sat in the living room, watching television. I don't think I'd heard Jim say more than about a dozen words at that point since I'd met him, and I was still trying to figure him out. I don't exactly remember what we were watching, but something totally ridiculous came on the telly. I went off on a mini-rant about how stupid and crazy it was. The headache did not hold me back! I was on a roll! I had never, ever seen anything more ridiculous in my life and I was ready to tell the whole world! I finally paused for a breath, and my normally silent father-in-law chimed in, "Are you really the best judge of what's ridiculous? After all, you're the one sitting there with coins taped to your head."

I drew in a sharp breath, and then burst into laughter that I think is still echoing through the cosmos today. I think that was the day my father-in-law earned a place on my top ten list of the funniest people I know. He may be very, very quiet and not have much to say, but I now know it's just his mind spinning, waiting for the right opportunity to slip in a zinger. He's a master at it!

Happy Father's Day to my husband Michael, my Dad Marty, and my Father-in-law Jim. Hope you all have a wonderful day filled with lots of laughter and love! And the same for all you Dads reading along at home! You're the best! Have a great day!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Why my pancreas hates Starbucks

Starbucks in Shanghai does these tricky things to get me to buy their product. Like for instance offering a fully decadent Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappucino which tastes like Heaven in a frosty cold cup. But they only offer it for a short period, such as the month of May. And then, as if the drink itself wasn't enough, they also give you a punch card which they stamp every time you purchase one of their limited-time-offer beverages. Collect enough stamps, and you get a bracelet. Collect even more, and you get charms for the bracelet. 

Something you must know about me, I'm a sucker for bracelets. And I come from the school of more is more, stacking several at a time on my wrist. The quirkier and more uncoordinated (both with what I'm wearing and with each other), the better. (Side note to family and friends: yes, they make the perfect gift for me. Only 193 days until my birthday!). So when this year's bracelet from the Shanghai Starbucks was a brown leather cord with a silver accent, which is unlike anything else I currently own, I knew I had to do whatever I could to obtain one. Including drink a whole bunch of Frappucino beverages during the month of May. 

The bracelet itself required seven stamps, the last of which I acquired at the Shanghai Pudong airport when I took my visiting friend Lori back to catch her flight home. I was pretty excited. Or it might have been all the caffeine and sugar racing through my bloodstream. 

To get the first charm to put on the bracelet, a miniature silver Frappucino, you had to get an additional five stamps. There was a point that I didn't think I was going to make it. Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappucino beverages are best enjoyed in moderation. Not as a daily treat (didn't I just write about a recent weight gain? Shame on you Starbucks for exploiting my love of caramel and bracelets!). 

But as you can see, I slid in under the wire, collecting my mini-Frap charm on the very last day of the promotion. 

Want to know how many times I've been back to Starbucks since then? Zero. I don't think my body can take another Frappucino any time soon. My friend Jen did an early morning coffee run for me, taking my punch card with her to get me that precious stamp, and she watched them make it. "Here is your diabetes in a cup. Don't blame me if your pancreas tries to kill you." Yeaaaaaaaah, not a good idea to drink an entire day's worth of calories in a single sugar-filled cup. Maybe next year's bracelet will be super ugly?

Here's how I normally wear my bracelets, stacked up. From top to bottom: the English Rose I got at the Tower of London, turquoise beads with silver happiness charm I got my first month in Shanghai on a fun shopping trip with a now-dear but brand-new-then friend, the Starbucks road-to-diabetes bracelet, and a string of green stones put together by a woman who escaped from the sex trade industry who now designs and sells jewelry to support herself. I have a handful of others I rotate through as well. And like I love to say, there's always room for one more! Did I mention there's only 194 days until Christmas? 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Shanghai Disneyland Resort Update!

I have been extremely careful to not post anything related to the Shanghai Disneyland Resort project that hasn't been officially released to the public. But golly (as Mickey Mouse would say), it's sometimes hard to keep your mouth shut when there's exciting news! Especially when you've been eating, sleeping, and breathing that news for two years with the guy who is working on it...

I'm happy to be able to report what was just released to the public today, the news that the Shanghai Disney Resort will feature a purpose-built theater especially made to bring in Broadway style productions (i.e. not just a "theme park" theater, but the real deal). And they just this morning announced that the first production will be THE LION KING! And hey, something even more special about this production... it will be the first ever Mandarin-language version! 

A quote from the press release
The premiere of THE LION KING's Mandarin-language production will be presented at Walt Disney Grand Theatre, a new world-class 1,200 seat Broadway-style theatre to be located in Shanghai Disney Resort's retail, dining and entertainment area, directly adjacent to the resort's Shanghai Disneyland park. Casting for the show is scheduled to begin this summer in China with a focus on recruiting and developing local talent. Shanghai Disney Resort has engaged United Asia Arts Entertainment to support the casting efforts.

Exciting news! We have seen THE LION KING so many times. We recently had the chance to see it again in London, but decided to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead, knowing there was a good chance we'd be seeing Simba and Nala cavorting about in Chinese very soon. Good thing we know the story very well, as our Mandarin is... well, let's just say our Mandarin is not happening. I wonder how Nants ingonyama bagithi baba, Sithi uhhmm ingonyam from the opening of Circle of Life will translate? 

Wondering what I'm talking about? Here's a video (with lyrics) to enlighten you. Can NOT wait! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Belly Season

Oh China... The weather is warming up (though we've found it doesn't get uncomfortable until July 1, like there's a switch on the cosmic calendar to "thermal") here in Shanghai. Which means it's time for my sister-in-law Holly's favorite time of year. The Belly Season.

It's time for all the men in China to hoist their tees up into their armpits and expose their flabby guts in an effort to cool down. Today was my first sighting of the year, as we sat at a red light in a taxi.

Of course, it's not really Holly's favorite thing, she's quite repulsed by it. As am I. I think I'd be less grossed out if they just took off their shirts completely. This just seems to draw more attention I think. Though probably the worst thing is being in a crowd and having someone's sweaty, hairy stomach brush against you while you cross the street. Holly just doesn't know what she's missing. But she's better for it, I think.

Good times. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Quote me

Are you on Pinterest? I confess I was a very late adopter. I have several friends who tried pitching it to me right when we moved to Macau (hi Rachel!). I resisted for two reasons. One, if you don't know something exists, then you can totally live without it. And living in a place where things were hard to come by (it took me six months and a plea on Twitter to find a shop that sold yarn) meant it was much better to be in the dark about the latest trends and to simply be content with what I had. And two, I felt like it would reduce my own creativity and quiet my originality if I spent hours pinning everyone else's ideas rather than spending those same hours brainstorming my own projects or even better, actually making something.

I finally jumped in about a year or so ago when I was part of a creative team that used Pinterest to share ideas for things like stage design and graphic ideas. I felt so slimy, like I was compromising myself. But I have to say it's been a really useful tool. 

Remember my New Year's goal to host 14 dinner parties in 2014? It's going great actually. I'm ahead of schedule... it's June and I've already hosted 9 dinner parties, with another one on the calendar for this Friday! Yay me! I've been using Pinterest to collect and sort recipes to try out, to ensure that every meal I serve isn't identical to the last. This has ended up being very helpful to have a starting point to launch from. 

I do try to avoid the Arts & Crafts section, as I really want to rely on my own imagination when it comes to artistic projects. Anything I pin there tends to come from the blogs I already read that I go and manually add rather than from cruising the boards of others. But one section I'm always glancing at are the Quotes. As a person for whom words carry a lot of weight and meaning, I love to collect little words of wisdom or lines of gorgeous prose or poetry. 

Today I delivered some crackers and 7-Up to a friend up the street who caught a nasty stomach bug. On the way back, I stopped into a tiny stationery store. It was about the size of a bathroom, but it was stacked full of every paper good or writing implement you can think of. I stepped in and found a journal that wasn't lined and a double-sided permanent ink marker. I'm a sucker for journals! When I got home, I decided it was going to be used to jot down some of my favorite quotes and sayings, with a bit of doodling to illustrate. I wasted no time in adding the first quote: 

I then added a second, which is very meaningful to me as well: 

I call everyone darling or dearest or love, and I adore calling people out to explore and have adventures with me. In fact, today was meant to be one of exploring with the very same friend who got the special delivery of tummy ache relief foods. She sent a text at around 4:00 am to say we needed to postpone our trip to a retro resale area which fills a city block. I was anxious to find some ridiculous and non-boring clothes. We'll get there yet! Just not when she's got a stomach bug... 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Where's the fire?

My building's lobby was filled with fire extinguishers this afternoon. 

So many questions! For instance, are these new to replace old ones? Or are they the old ones and the new ones are already in place? 

And more practically, is there one on my floor we can use in case of fire? Or my older son's question, are these for some awesome game and can he get in on it? Which makes me further wonder, what in the world goes on inside his head...

Creative Life

I value creativity very highly. We as a family do as well. We regularly do creative activities, and I try to find little things that help us to become more creative. Most of all, I love to help other people see that everyone is creative and to bring out their inner creativity. 

One of the best things I've done is to clear off the decorative items from the coffee table and instead cover it with a collection of things like colored pencils, washi tape, glue sticks, scissors, and Sharpie markers. We have people over all the time, and for the last four months we've invited the people who visit and sit on our couches to grab some of the art supplies and to make. Everyone does, eventually. Even the ones who say, "I can't draw!" My kids are more prone to draw or sketch or cut up paper and construct something because they have access to the materials at all times. 

It's amazing what can happen when the television isn't the center of your living space! 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Feeling the burn

One of the things I did on my personal creative retreat was to tear out a fresh piece of notebook paper and make a list of everything bothering me. Not things I can't change, like the high pollution levels in China, but more personal things which I could actually do something about. Here are two examples, and what I'm doing about them.

First, for the last several months I've had this overwhelming sense of being left out, or not quite fitting in. No matter what I'd do, how much effort I put in, how many people I invited over, I'd still feel like I was out of the loop, a dollar short and a day late. I've been stood up on several occasions by people who invited me for coffee and then ended up finding something better to do, but forgot to mention it to me. I'm a big girl, this is not the type of thing that makes me cry into my pillow at night. But it does start to wear on me, especially when there was a two week period where I was stood up six times by four people (yes, two people actually stood me up twice)! 

Let's face it, there's only 24 hours in a day, and we all want to use our time in meaningful ways. And the experience of sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for someone who never shows up feels like a huge waste of my time! It was partly that experience which led me to come up with taking a rest from social media. 

How are they connected? Well, I don't know what your Facebook feed looks like, but mine was filled with photos of friends together with their other friends, doing fun things. It's fun when you're the person in the photo having a blast. It is markedly less fun when you've been left out, on purpose, accident, or because, you know, you live in China and they don't. It made me wonder if my own collection of photos might be making someone else feel as left out as I do. I thought it was time to give it rest, live a little less online and more in real life. 

But how has this solved my problem of feeling left out? It's only been twelve days of my social media break, but I've already found that when I'm not busy building an "audience" through clever sayings and cute photos, or spending my time looking at all the people doing something fun without me, then I actually have both the time and the focus to be able to interact with the person right in front of me. I'm not thinking of a funny status update I'll write later, I'm just actually living in the moment. There's also the unintentional side effect of people here in Shanghai claiming they desperately miss those witty posts of mine who have reached out to take me to lunch or do some some exploring. It's hard to feel left out when you wholly inhabit what you are doing in the here and now! I also realized that in trying hard to fit in, I'm giving up what makes me awesome and unique. After speaking with my husband, a new friend here, and my Mama (thanks Mom!), I realized it's time to do a little trailblazing, to create something new, rather than trying to fit into something that already exists. So hooray for new ventures! 

The second thing I wrote during my retreat was how much my weight was bothering me. It's been almost a year since my hysterectomy. I was told most women gain an average of 20 pounds in the year after that surgery. I have very, very slowly been gaining weight. The tricky thing is that my clothes are snug but still fit. So unlike past years when I'd gain weight which immediately went to my waistline, I seem to be gaining in a whole new pattern, all over. It kinda snuck up on me. So what to do about it? Well, gym memberships are very pricey here. And I'm already doing almost all my own cooking, making healthy choices for myself and my family. 

I made that list of things bothering me the first afternoon of my retreat. And on the very first night I laced up my sneakers and went for a four mile walk at a quick pace. Not a jog, but not a leisurely stroll. And I've continued every day since then, walking for an hour at a quick pace. I skipped one Saturday which was so packed with other activities, and even though it was an "active" day, missing out on that walk meant I felt off all day. I know I could do more intense workouts and lose weight more quickly, but I need something I can stick with and enjoy for the long term. And taking a whole hour out of the same 24 we all get, using it to indulge myself with some solitude and a healthy activity does serious wonders in so many areas. 

There were many other things on my list, along with paragraphs of possible solutions for almost all of them. I'm not normally a list maker at all (I leave that to my husband), but this was an incredibly cathartic exercise! It was inspired partially by the quote above from F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'm not getting any younger. Every day I live is substracted from the total number I get. We move so often, change is thrust upon us so frequently, that we regularly get the chance to start over. But here we are, two years in the same place, with several more stacked up in front of us to go. So what happens when you realize you have to make a change yourself if you want to see one? I don't know yet, but I'm twelve days into the experiment and willing to find out! 

Oh, and P.S., I don't miss social media even one little bit so far. I thought I was going to have withdrawals! But instead I have so much peace in my head, I fear I may never want to go back! What a beautiful thing! 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Just Ducky

I'm back from my personal creative retreat, feeling so great! I spent my time writing, reading, painting, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and walking over 15 miles through gorgeous mountains and nature around a lake. I had lots of time to think and daydream. It was astonishing how peaceful it was. 

Our vacation style is to go cheap on lodging because when we go somewhere, we go-go-go and try to jam pack as much as we can into each day, using our hotel room just for sleeping and showering. This time around, I splurged on the lodging, booking a room with hardwood floors and marble, overlooking a lake in the mountains. There was no Starbucks within walking distance (or really any commercial enterprise). I booked in for a massage and facial in the hotel's spa, at crazy non-Shanghai prices (I've been so spoiled by the cheap massages here in China!). 

Thankfully, there was also a huge lack of guilt for being so blatantly self-indulgent. My husband pushed me to take this time and was overwhelmingly positive every time I touched base with him back home. This whole trip was luxurious... From the heaps of time that I was able to "waste" just gazing off into the distance, to the fancy complimentary bedroom slippers and enormously thick down-filled duvet. How grateful I am for this mini break!

I feel a thousand times more centered and at peace, creatively recharged and ready to jump back into things in my daily life which have been dragging me down. Also, coming back home after my self-imposed Social Media Summer Break had already begun (and wisely not bringing social media with me) means the peace will hopefully continue for awhile. This is my fervent prayer anyway!

Here's to tranquility (with a touch of whimsy)!

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