Culture Shock

DSC_0042
Cute baby picture just because

This time around, coming home was definitely more of a culture shock for me. Last time I was too busy being pregnant (and honestly just glad not to be in China any more) to really notice culture shock. Although it was a bit strange to be able to look at menus and not have to summon up my little stock of Chinese to try to order something and figure out what I was eating, that quickly passed and I figured out how to order in English again.

But maybe because in a lot of ways England is a lot like America–they’re both rich countries, speak English, Western, and have similar lifestyles, I found I noticed the differences a lot more when I came home. America definitely has its perks (like family and friends), but there are a lot of things I’ve been missing about England.

  • Food quality and prices

I don’t miss the restaurant food: that was pretty nondescript and mostly too expensive for our budget anyways. But just regular grocery store food in England seemed much higher quality and was so much cheaper. I don’t even know how to shop here since so many of the things I got used to buying and cooking over there are suddenly way out of my price range. So here’s hoping Singapore has Cadbury chocolate and custard creams! Also, American grocery store eggs are nasty. They’re so pale and flavorless.

  • Walkable cities

American cities (at least the few I’ve been in) are so poorly designed for walking. They practically force you to drive places just so you don’t get run over while trying to walk somewhere. In most of Europe, though, we could walk 5-10 minutes and be at a grocery store without endangering ourselves by trying to cross ridiculously busy highways without crosswalks. I know it’s the American way of life to have a giant car and always drive everywhere, but maybe if cities were planned better more people would be able to walk!

DSC_0074

  • Not knowing which way to look when crossing the street, and not knowing which side of the car is the passenger side or driver’s side

It’s not so much of a problem now that I’ve been back a few months, but for the first little bit of traveling through Europe and coming back to America, I was terribly confused as to which way I should look when crossing the street. Eventually I just gave up and looked both ways twice to make sure no one was coming. It didn’t help  that in Europe they don’t print helpful messages on the pavement for which way to look!

And I had the same problem with knowing which side was the passenger side of the car. I didn’t often ride in cars in the UK, but apparently I rode in them enough to thoroughly confuse myself. Why don’t they just standardise these things?

  • People talk to you in trains

When we got back to D.C., so many random people would just start up conversations with us. They’d ask about the baby, talk about the weather…and didn’t seem to have any idea that you just don’t talk to people on trains! In London, no one ever talks to anyone else on the tube, except maybe to offer someone a seat. It’s just one of those things that Is Not Done.

  • Light switches

One of those things you’d never think of but is actually pretty confusing are light switches. When I got back home, I would constantly search for the bathroom light switch on the outside of the door, only to realize it was on the inside. (People who put light switches on the outside of bathrooms must never have had little brothers, is all I can think.) Not only are light switches located in different places, but they also move backwards, which has led me to hit the switch several times just trying to figure out which way is on or off.

  • Language

One of the biggest ways I felt like a foreigner in England was my accent. When everyone else is speaking in nice posh British tones with all kinds of rounded vowel sounds and without “r”s and all that, I felt like my American accent stuck out a mile. It’s pretty impossible to blend in when every word you speak loudly proclaims you a foreigner. Of course, this was even worse when we traveled around France and Germany and couldn’t even speak the language (every time I thought about German I would come up with Chinese instead!).

  • Getting used to friends and family being in the same time zone again.

When you’ve only been able to call your friends in the afternoon for a year, suddenly being able to call or text during any waking hours is slightly strange. I often waited till the afternoon to call just out of force of habit! It’s awfully nice to live in the same time zone, though, and not have to worry about waking people at 3 am or so.

Untitled

There are a lot more things, such as grocery delivery, beautiful giant parks (definitely the best part about England), and not having any plugs that fit in the sockets when we came home, along with location restrictions on Netflix (some of the shows we really enjoyed are way too expensive here) and strange dinner hours in Europe.

It was a great year, England: thank you for having us. Now on to ever newer adventures–I’ll keep you posted as to what Singapore is like!

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes!

 

Advertisements

The Life of a Tramp, part 2: Cumbrae Island

Of all the places we visited, Cumbrae Island was definitely one of our favorites. We stayed at an adorable little village in Scotland called West Kilbride, and our hostess recommended we see Cumbrae island.

So we headed off early in the morning on the ferry and hoped it wouldn’t be too chilly since I’d gotten rid of all my jackets. That’s what happens when you put all your stuff in one carry-on sized suitcase.

DSC_0891

But even though it started off cold and gray, it became beautifully sunny when we got there. And I have a ton of pictures to prove it.

DSC_0896

When we got there, we thought about being cheapskates and just walking all the way around the island (about 10 miles), but decided to take a bus into the town of Millport and rent bicycles.

Cumbrae island

It was an adorable little town (and super cheap housing prices!) and we were almost convinced to buy a beach house there for summer vacations.

DSC_0900

It was so much fun to cycle around the island on the most beautiful day ever and feel the fresh air and see the gorgeous scenery. I might have enjoyed it a little.

DSC_0902

DSC_0903

We stopped and ate lunch overlooking this view.

DSC_0906

JQ sat on a rock and supervised.DSC_0907

Then it was off for more cycling and enjoying the view.

DSC_0912

What can I say, except that it was gorgeous and you should go there if you ever get the chance?

DSC_0914

DSC_0919 DSC_0920

DSC_0927

 

How to Travel London Like a Pro {Guest Post}

Today’s post is brought to you by my sister-in-law Mara, who visited us in London for a few months. I’m making it a tradition that if you visit, you have to write up a blog post about your time here. Sadly, she just left us for the greener pastures of Oregon. . . where things are a lot less hectic. 

Looming skyscrapers, double-decker buses roaring down the wrong side of the road, seas of rushing people, zooming trains—it’s all a bit much for Alaska-born, small-town-raised, me. Well, it was at first. Now, I am as much a Londoner as anyone from here, or at least I like to pretend I am. I’ve figured out the meanings of knackered (think exhausted), squiggle (“squiggle up the queue”), squidge (squishy!), and dodgy (Brits’ favorite word meaning sketchy) and I know what bin lorries are (just plain old garbage trucks). I know how to get anywhere, and often find myself giving lost people directions.

Visiting Sherlock

. . .like how to get to Sherlock’s house!

The trick to getting anywhere, even if you can’t pronounce where you are going and you aren’t sure where you came from, is to look confident. If the signal on your phone fails, or your trusty Piccadilly train line workers go on strike for the third time this month, just flash a British guy a smile and ask how you get to x (I don’t recommend this advice for guys). “Sure love, you just . . . ” is the usual response. These British men know how to be gentlemen (not referring here to the ones that say f*** every other word).

Speaking of striking, it’s a favorite pastime for train workers and everyone else. Six months paid leave for having a baby (which you just had at the hospital for no cost to you), paternity and adoption leave, paid public holidays, plus six weeks paid vacation for everyone, workable healthcare that doesn’t cost so much that you have to live in your car. . . the conditions are so abominable that if I lived here I’d be striking every other week too.

Apparently, some places in the world still celebrate Good Friday–it’s a national holiday here, which means trains and buses have different schedules, or sometimes don’t even run. I found this out the hard way when I was left waiting an hour for a bus at the train station 4.5 miles from my appointment and a taxi driver was kind enough to tell me that the buses were not running that day. Unfortunately, he just wanted to drain my bank account. I walked. I did contemplate hitchhiking, but I didn’t want my mother getting wind of it and having a heart attack.

Untitled

Or you can just climb a twisty old oak.

If you really want to give your mum a heart attack, just take a trip to Rome. End up dreadfully sick, realize you better go to the hospital (before the housekeeper discovers you dead on the bed), find the hospital where no one speaks English, nearly stop breathing, get pumped full of oxygen and meds and spend the next week barely able to get out of bed with bronchitis, coughing, throwing up, and cooking with a fever. [Ed.: it takes a real fever to be able to cook with it!] If that doesn’t scare your mummy, I don’t know what will.

If you prefer to not have such enervating adventures, I found the circus back in London was a much more relaxing option. The lion tamer, I mean house cat tamer, and his ferocious beast put on quite a show. Never mind that the lion’s roar sounded more like “meow.” I considered getting my Exceptional Talent visa to be the circus unicyclist as they didn’t have one. But after watching the knife thrower tie up the poor circus girl and nearly take off her head, I decided I didn’t want to get roped into any such ridiculousness. I’m kind of attached to my head too.
IMG_2947

Museums are also a great way to spend your free time. If you really want to become one of those obnoxious museum snobs, just spend the day looking at all the dinosaur bones in the Natural History Museum. After making great friends with the T-Rex, go over to the British Museum where you can chill out with the freakishly real-looking wood/wax Huns, then nip over to the Victoria and Albert to examine all the fine dishes, dresses, and couches while getting overwhelmed with gold things. Still want more? That’s okay, there are about a billion museums left to see.

My Hun Friend

My Hun friend at the British Museum

And if you get tired of dusty museum history, you can always go over to Hyde Park or Greenwich Park, where you might still find history but in a more natural setting. But be careful–if you’re bad, you might get tied up to Queen Elizabeth’s Oak overnight as a punishment.

Now that my senior thesis on the History of British War and Police Dogs is finally all researched and written, it’s time for me to attend graduation, get a job, pay off loans, and do all the general responsible adult-ish things. So now, I’m headed back to the skyscraper-less grass fields of home, where a traffic jam means six cars behind a tractor. But a piece of my heart will be left behind in beautiful, diverse, adventure-filled London, in the church-turned-flat, with Brother and Annikins and Baby Bear.

DSC_0358

Seth Goes to the Big City

It’s me, Seth, again!  As many of y’all know—or don’t as the case may be—I am Annika’s (pronounced: A-Naka [ed: don’t you believe him]) little bro-ski, and in that official capacity I was able to biff off and visit sizzors in London a few months ago. The official reason I was sent was to see sister and Jared and JQ, but the real reason was because mother wanted to go, but she needed me to go with her and keep her from getting smashed by a double-decker bus or a bin lorry.

Anyway, having never done much flying, the nine-hour flight had already soured me on London before the plane even touched down. The flight wasn’t that bad; it was my lack of ability to sleep that made me completely miserable on this first flight of any duration (the flight back was lovely and Morpheus closed my eyes more than once for an hour and a half nap, which made  quite doable and even enjoyable). Upon my exit from the plane I was at once introduced to that famous damp weather that apparently London has a monopoly on. This did little to ease my sleep deprived mood. Next, we had to pass inspection by the border control personnel. This accomplished—after I cleared up some misunderstanding having something to do with them not getting some joke I made about coming to the British Isles to cause a ruckus at #10 Downing Street—we made our way across the city to Annika and Jared’s flat, which, I was surprised to see, was actually quite three-dimensional and very lovely. By this time I was ready for lunch. While I was still extremely tired, this in no way affected my ability as a trencherman. In short order I was cracking the chicken bones and sucking the marrow out of them, which was slightly odd because Annika had served us roast beef.

Picture 1

By this point in time, my tiredness had become acute, and I was quite relieved when Mum and Sizzors biffed off to the other room to examine the stuffs mum had brought Annika and JQ from the states, and Jared biffed off to continue his studies, leaving me alone to take a nap. Well, not quite alone: JQ was there too. This presented complications as he was asleep on the only suitable piece of furniture there was to take a nap on: namely, the couch. I have often observed that babies have perfected the art of taking up the maximum real-estate they with their small size can muster, and I would not be surprised if some scientist discovered that the square footage a baby requires could expand into the double digits. I settled into the small corner of the couch left for me, and soon found myself desiring a more comfortable position. Being stretched out on the floor was no better, and soon I found myself coveting JQ’s spot on the couch. In short order, I found myself comfortably ensconced on the couch with JQ lying in the crook of ma’ arm. This worked quite well, and we both got quite a long nap.

Picture 2

By the end of my time in London we were quite good friends and he even began copying Uncle Sethy.

When I awoke, London was looking much better. Anyway, over the next nine days we walked all over and saw lots of interesting things. The first major sight Annika took us to see was Tesco. It was absolutely amazing—it was there that we were introduced to British culture right where it counted; food, clothing, house goods, etc… and the admission seemed to be quite reasonable. To sweeten the deal, they even gave us a few heavy sacks full of various things to take to the flat. From there we walked around the square of the Woolwich Arsenal—for the cheapskate readers I would recommend the square because the admission price is a quite a bit less.And to make it an even better deal they only made one take a sack of fruit; apparently these British tourist destinations have so much stuff they can’t wait to pawn it off on helpless Americans. (ed.: Tesco is a British supermarket, and the square is the British equivalent of the American farmer’s market, but I did not want to let on to Seth that I knew this mostly because he would have balked at the idea of wasting sightseeing time to shop…)

Tesco

The next day Annika was beginning to get that look in her eye that one sees a welder develop as he realizes the shower of sparks and slag coming from his arc are finding their way inside his glove, and me and mum figured the prudent thing to do would be to get out of sister’s hair. Which is almost impossible to do in a two room flat. So we found ourselves exploring London solo. We continued this daily pilgrimage for at least a few hours every day and saw many strange and wonderful things, of which I shall only mention the highlights.   Jared took us around his college, and in the vicinity of the college we found this little shop, which Mum, being a Dickens buff, had to enter.

Picture 3

But the final laugh was on her, as it was only inhabited by a grumpy Asian man selling shoes.

After we got over our disappointment, we took a cruise on the Thames and went to the Greenwich Observatory grounds and saw the laser arcing through the fog to show the meridian. We saw the maritime museum, several old important buildings that some guy named Parliament built, and next to them a big honking church built for some guy and gal named West Minster and Abby respectively. We went to famous London preacher C.H. Spurgeon’s church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for our Sunday morning service and heard a rousing sermon by Dr. Peter Masters. We also went further afield and took a trip to Gloucester to see friends, and had a delightful lunch and tour of the grand old town. I for one was glad to get out of the city for a bit and cool my heels in a place where it was not so easy to lose mum. The last notable place we visited was Dover with its white cliffs, and all the rest I shall leave without comment except to say that Mushy Peas look and taste exactly like they sound.

Dover Beach
Everyone but me on Dover Beach. I’m sure ya’ll are quite relieved that I am on the proper end of the camera.

In our many jaunts around London I was given to wonder why I had always wanted marry a spirited Lass. Mum is among one of the most spirited adventurous women I have ever met and at times it was with the utmost difficulty that I kept from losing her as she would move with the crowd to get on the bus or train—the wrong bus or train, or even worse when she would begin to cross the road having looked the “wrong way” and almost get smashed by an oncoming bus. I especially pondered this question as mum would duck into many little shops to examine small things (flowers, parks, paintings, baby clothing etc…) as I wanted to go look at bigger, better, more interesting things.

Picture 4

Like this dredging bit. . . for some reason mum found its charm elusive.

I came to realize that it was for the same reason that the cat goes and eats grass when it is sick; namely, because it knows what is good for it. I dare say I would not have had a hundredth of as good a time if mum had been less adventurous. In fact I probably would have been content to sit in the flat bugging sister and holding JQ. Thus, the moral of the story is, always take along a spirited woman when you set off to see the world—or else you probably won’t see it, although look at it you might.

I found it fascinating to watch the inhabitants of London who, despite their many differences, all seemed to have one thing in common—they are always in a hurry! Secondly, it struck me as slightly disorganized in its general layout, and for the most part, a hodgepodge collection that had evolved into its present state over a long period of time, which, while not providing for the rapid assimilation of the American tourist, did lend a particular je ne sais quoi to the overall mystique of the city, and aids the adventurous in finding new roads. Thirdly, I had to marvel at the transportation directors and their splendid work in organizing the publick transportation for so many millions of persons every day, so that even a backwards American farm boy could get around quite easily . Lastly, London struck me as a place where I would not like to live—as I far prefer open fields and the clean air of country life. But for all that, London is a fascinating place full of great history and well worth a visit.

Picture 5

Home sweet home on the Colorado Plains

 

Homeless

I still remember the first time I visited London: 14-year-old me was awestruck at the old buildings, the British accents, the  aura of history that pervaded the place. I, a kid who had lived on a farm her whole life,  felt as though I belonged in London. London felt like home.

Untitled

Now, nine years and three moves later, I live in London. But the London of now doesn’t match up to my teenage dreams. When you live in a place, the glamour wears off quickly. It’s the difference between love at first sight and that same love ten years later–as you live with someone, you find they have rough edges and sharp corners too, but you love them even more for all that. As a child, my world was stable. I lived in the same house for the first twenty years of my life. I knew where home was. But now that I’ve lived in three different countries in as many years, “home” is more of an abstract concept. I don’t know where I belong any more. Travel is great. We’ve learned so much from living in new countries, far away from everything familiar. We’ve found out that what we’ve taken for granted all our lives–small things like ovens, big things like freedom of speech and unfettered access to the Internet–are not the same for everyone everywhere. People do things different ways, have different values, and sometimes even use “rubbish” as an adjective (as in, “This is a rubbish blog post”).

Untitled

But traveling has made me evaluate what it really means to be American, or Chinese, or British. I see how different each culture is, and yet, in many ways, how similar.

Growing up, I thought Britain was just another America across the ocean where people spoke with cool accents and had ancient castles and stuff. Now? I don’t know what Britain is–but I know it isn’t that!

Untitled
 

 

Sunny Iceland

I know, I can’t believe it either. I’m writing a new post only a week after my last one! Ya’ll should give me a big pat on the back.

So a lot has happened in the last week. First was a long plane ride (only 5.5 hours, but it still felt long), and then we stopped in Iceland.

DSC_1165
It was beautiful.

Imagine a place with only 300,000 people, clear sea breezes, and the bluest ocean you’ve ever seen. That’s what Iceland was like.

Reykjavik
View of Reykjavik from the top of the Pearl

One of Jared’s friends from Iceland (I know, who has a friend in Iceland, of all places? It’s amazing the people you can meet in China.) met us and showed us around Reykjavik.

First, we went to the Hallgrimskirkja (Hallgrim’s church), which is a large Lutheran church and something like the sixth tallest building in the city.

Hallgrimskirkja
View of the front

It was strange inside–one of the barest tall churches I’ve been in. All the pillars were just plain white concrete reaching to the sky. It was like the plain Puritan aesthetic met a Gothic cathedral.

Hallgrimskirkja
View of the organ (and crooked, to boot)

According to Jared’s friend Helgi, Icelandic churches are pretty nominally religious. Most people go for their confirmation around 13 or 14, but that’s mostly so they can throw a big party and get some money and gifts. And after that, nobody attends church.

After seeing the Hallgrimskirkja, we went up to a giant tower that was built to give good views of the city. I didn’t take any pictures of the tower itself, but I got some great ones of the city looking out to the harbor!

Reykjavik
Reykjavik

Everything was so clear and blue. It was amazing, though a little chilly. Temperatures were around 50 degrees, I think, which was fabulous after coming from steamy Virginia, though a little unexpected.

Icelandic hotdogs were another treat we got to try. Apparently they’re unusual because of the toppings put with them–fresh onions, crunchy fried onions (which were way better than French’s, in case you’re concerned), “ketchup” (which looked and tasted nothing like American ketchup), and mustard, which tasted more like mayonnaise. President Clinton himself got a hotdog at the same hotdog stand we did, though apparently he got them without the toppings (now it’s called a “Clinton” in Iceland).

Icelandic Hotdogs
Icelandic hotdogs
icelandic hotdogs
The first kiss bite

The next highlight was getting to see the house where Reagan and Gorbachev met in 1986 to discussing loosening Cold War tensions. And of course Jared had to reenact the historic handshake. Perfectly thrilling.

Reagan-Gorbachev 1986
Ronald Reagan on the left, Gorbachev on the right.

Other highlights of Iceland included getting to go to the thermal swimming pool (it was warm and felt lovely), jumping into a 41 degree tub of ice water (on Helgi’s dare) after being in a 104 degree hot tub, eating Icelandic pastries, seeing the Icelandic foreign minister randomly walking down the sidewalk, hearing Helgi’s father on the radio, and seeing the weirdest paintings ever in the Hallgrimskirkja.

This was some Icelandic artist who was having an exhibition in the church for that month, and he had some strange conceptions of art. Below is one of the less strange ones (viewer discretion advised).

DSC_1130

And after all that, we got on a plane and flew off.

Reykjavik Harbor
Sailing off into the wild blue yonder

And a sneak preview–guess where this was taken? (If you can’t guess, you’ve been living under a rock your entire life.)

Big Ben
Guess where?

P.S. If you come visit us, you too can stop over in Iceland at no additional charge if you fly Icelandair or Wow airlines (I think). It’s a great place to see a little of, especially if you have a friend who can show you around!

7 Things Pregnant Women Should Never Do

This summer has been like a time warp for me–somehow I expect it to still be June or July, but here it is September! And leaves are turning colors and everything, while I’m still expecting to hear about the green beans getting ripe or the squashes finally coming on. How is it already apple and raspberry season?!

Anyways, enough about me being clueless about what time of year it actually is (maybe it’s just denial that I’m going to have a baby in around 8 weeks. . . ).

Let’s talk things that clearly were not designed for pregnant women and should be put on those randomly restricting lists that float around.

  1. Wash dishes. This one should be obvious–who really wants to do the dishes, especially when they’re pregnant? But the reason it’s on this list, besides the fact that you all know my true feelings about dishes, is that every sink ever made is at the exact wrong height for the belly of a pregnant woman. And who really wants to stand at a sink trying to wash a dish from a foot away, while simultaneously trying to keep water and soap and grease spots off their convenient spot-attracting shelf? So I say, let’s put dishes on the list of “dangerous things for pregnant women” that includes things like picking up a jug of milk because it’s too heavy.
  2. Pick things up off the floor. Who really wants to bend over when there’s a gigantic baby in between your waist and you? Either you can bend at your hips and spread your legs apart and pray that you don’t fall over, or you can try to bend like you used to and get about half as far as you used to, or you can do what’s “recommended” and squat, praying that you’ll make it back up. All three options have a pretty good failure rate, in my opinion. So either build conveniently placed shelves around all the walls of your house to put everything you’d usually stash on the floor on, or just leave stuff on the floor. It’s better for your health! (At least, your mental health.)
  3. Do laundry. Getting stranded on your belly as you gracefully fish for the last few pieces of clothing stuck in the very bottom of the washing machine isn’t my idea of a fun day. If it floats your boat, then by all means, go ahead and fish! As for me, maybe I’ll stick with a front loader instead of a top loader so I don’t have to grow my arms a foot longer.
  4. Sit up. When you’re laying in bed and somehow have to get your feet off the bed and on to the floor, it’s oh-so-tempting to try to do it while keeping the rest of your body laying flat. Unfortunately, for those of us who weren’t gymnasts in our former life, 90 degree angles don’t come easy to our backs. At the same time, with abs stretched as far as they can go, sitting up takes a herculean amount of will-and-muscle-power. I have yet to find a solution to this problem, but rest assured I will keep trying! (I’m guessing “have the baby” is the only solution out there.)
  5. Live in hot, humid places. I thought I was doing great with summer heat. . . until I came to Arlington, Virginia. Days in the 90s combined with 50-60% humidity (on a good day) do not lend themselves to the cool svelte look. My advice? Stay someplace nice for the summer, where there’s no humidity. Maybe Australia would be nice for the months of June-August.
  6. Drink ice water. Actually, I have nothing against ice water. This was one of the crazy Chinese prohibitions that I think probably every American pregnant woman has broken at least once. I actually had a Chinese woman take an iced drink away from me and chew me out (in Chinese) for drinking a cold drink while pregnant. I basically listened to her and then took it back and finished drinking it. Baby’s still fine, as far as I can tell (it would be tough luck on all those American babies if ice water really were harmful!).
  7. Read pregnancy advice blogs. Writing them is fine, as long as you have GOOD advice to give (like mine obviously is!). But when every other pregnant woman out there is certain they’ve figured out the secret to _______ (fill in the blank with your choice), or has a horror story of that time they nearly died because their baby kicked them in the ribs (totally making that up, but you could probably find it somewhere on the internet!), it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So basically? Stick with nice bloggers, like me, who don’t post very often. Then you can’t get overwhelmed.

And, in the words of the immortal Bugs Bunny (I have a nagging fear I’ve used this line before, but can’t remember for sure), “That’s all, folks!” Oh, and here’s a bad mirror selfie of me because I haven’t taken any other pictures this month.

Linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum.

DSC_1094

Call Me Crazy

So ya’ll have probably been wondering what I’ve been up to this last month and a half. Besides neglecting my blog completely, I’ve been busy doing a million other things, like going across the US from the west coast to the east coast, seeing friends and family, and preparing for another international move (after which a baby will make his appearance–we hope not too soon!). So call us crazy: since July first, we’ve been on six plane flights (if you count layovers), six US states (three only in airports, though), said hello to about a million people we hadn’t seen in a year or more (I exaggerate only slightly), said goodbye to all of the aforesaid people, and are currently working and saying hi to a few thousand more people in the DC area before we head off to another new continent, at which point it will be only slightly more than six weeks before JQ is due to make his appearance. Stressful? Not in the slightest.

So, we started out in Oregon, where Jared made delicious molasses cookies (hey, I’m pregnant–I can think about food, and cookies are obviously some of the most important things in life).

DSC_1025
Don’t they look tasty? (They were!)

I had to take a picture of them because they were so shiny and chewy looking.

Besides eating cookies (did you know there’s good iron in blackstrap molasses?), we also went on various random hikes to see waterfalls,e

DSC_1012
This is what happens when I try to put up a picture of me–it’s either blurry or glowing or both. Enjoy!

and more waterfalls,

DSC_1015
Isn’t that pretty, though?

and some strange trees.

DSC_1020
They do weird things to trees in Oregon.

We also went to the beach, where I tried boogie boarding for about 30 seconds and decided it really wasn’t comfortable to try to lay on my (increasingly expanding) stomach while a giant wave washed over me.  My thoughts on the ocean apparently haven’t changed much. Jared, on the other hand, enjoyed it.

DSC_1071
Doesn’t he look happy?
DSC_1072
I got me a handsome one!

Then it was off to Colorado, where we enjoyed gorgeous sunrises and sunsets,

DSC_1084
God knew what he was doing when he created mountains!

great company (have you ever noticed how nice it is to be around people who actually care about you?)

DSC_1080
Chillin’ with the littlest sister.

and fabulous conversations along the lines of: “Annika, would you rather have Jared or a shark?” The decisions these people want me to make!

DSC_1079
Jared enjoyed the back porch.

It was great to be back on the farm for a while and able to see long distances again. Beijing just doesn’t have a wide expanse of sky.

DSC_1081

So here we are on the east coast, enjoying its particular brand of beauty as well (sorry, no pictures yet). It’s been a great trip back in the US so far, and we’re looking forward to our last month of it. And who knows–I may even blog a little more frequently now that my brain isn’t being assaulted with all the decisions like, “Would you rather have JQ or a mosquito?”!

In Which You Get the Scoop on the REAL Me

Goodness, it’s been quiet around here lately. Only a few finals left till the end of the semester, though, and I’m wondering, is that like being a few fries away from a Happy Meal or a few screws loose on the steering wheel? Let’s hope not.

Anyways, this blog has been a lot of me blithering about me and China and everything else I could think of (which, granted, hasn’t been an awful lot, especially recently!). And while nothing has been happening for us here in China, back in America there’ve been funerals and graduations and weddings that I’ve had to miss. So for a change, I thought you could hear from other members of the family. Enough of me talking about me–now you get to read what others think about me.

So without further ado, here’s my younger brother Seth’s take on farm life in Colorado.


Greetings from the beautiful state of Colorado! My sister Annika being ‘blogged’ out currently and ensnared with the worries and cares of this life has expressed a wish for me to fill some dead air and thus I her little brother Seth will be writing this post. If I do a good enough job, methinks I shall be added on as a regular contributor, which would be fitting seeing as how I introduced ma’ sister to the concept of milk and pickles in the first place. Be sure to let us know in the comments if you think I am “succ-Seth-ful.”

At this point some introduction is probably in order. I am Seth. If you met me in person I probably would tell you something along the lines of, I am a simple sheep farmer who is seeking to reflect the face and affections of God in my life albeit imperfectly—as any of my siblings would gladly tell you (at least about the imperfectly part).

As Annika hasn’t discussed much of her past life on this here blog, I thought ya’ll’d like to see a side of her she doesn’t let on about—the tough older sister who isn’t above doing some spinach picking until her back is sore. A large part of my life includes farming, which is a little different from the gentrified city life Annika’s gettin’ accustomed to here. Well, a typical summer day on the farm starts at 4:56 AM when you wake up and shut off your alarm before it rings because as everyone knows a ringing alarm is the worst way to start the day. Incidentally, even if you don’t set an alarm you will still wake up no later than 5:30 because that is always the time you get up. You then go read the Scriptures. After this time of reading and prayer you go get some “starting fluid” (water, orange juice, or for the strong-stomached, V8), and head out the door to begin the day’s work.

At the field this time of year, me and my ever hardworking younger brothers Abel and Hans (note: names are the same but attributes have been changed to protect the guilty), go out the door, grab a hoe, and begin working like David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, or A Tale of Two Cities (i.e., like the Dickens). (This is one of the attributes that has been changed, never fear!)

abel hoeing
Abel working extremely hard. Notice how he is outstanding in his field.

But it is not all hard work and early mornings. A few years back when Annika was still at home and she did not appreciate something I was doing—I don’t remember what it was, probably something quite annoying as is the wont of little brothers—anyway, she didn’t like it, and next thing I know I was being chased through the cucumber patch with a crazy woman behind me brandishing a large cucumber as a fearful instrument of war. If we are perfectly honest with ourselves, I think Annika could teach Attila and Genghis a few things about striking fear into the heart of the enemy. It is not every woman that can strike mortal terror into the heart of the enemy with a cucumber. But Annika did not always have to use fearsome weapons: she could also strike fear into the heart of her little brothers—or anybody for that matter—with a look that would in the middle of August freeze every lake in Orlando solid.

Fortunately, Annika did not always freeze us solid all the time, and to be perfectly honest with ourselves she is truly a wonderful older sister. When I wasn’t making her mad enough to chase me with my enormous cucumbers, another exciting thing to do was teach Annika how to drive a manual transmission. She practiced and practiced and when she got good enughf we finally let her have whack at driving a manual transmission with a pickup under it. However, she disliked this “beast,” my beloved first vehicle. For some reason, the two inches of mud on the floorboard, the gaping hole in the dash where the radio was supposed to go, or the seat whose only padding was the old jean jacket, gunny sack, and other oddments that the previous owner had stuffed in there left her immune to their endearing charms. In fact, she thought it was treacherous to her just like Brutus to Julius, liable to leave her stranded in the middle of the highway any time she needed to make a left turn. O All of its charms, such as its rugged good looks and perpetual cleanliness were lost on her and she could only see its faults. Alas, thus is life.

Well I have probably driveled on enughf now so I will let you all get back to your lives. I shall leave you with this quote from the great Groucho Marxs “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Well, have a blessed day, toodles!

Growing Up Is Hard to Do: Becoming an Independent Adult

DSC_0813
Our neighbors here have the most amazing roses. They’re so beautiful.

When you’re young, you think once you hit the magical age of, say, 18 or 21, you automatically become an adult, with adult ideas, responsibilities, and respect.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There’s no magical age at which you cease to feel like a child and begin to feel all grown up. I sort of suspect that even when I’m in my thirties and forties I’ll still feel some of the same insecurities and childishness I did when I was twelve.

When I was four, I was adept at spotting self-centered adults. Generally, they were the ones who didn’t have any children of their own yet, or the ones who were high on their own importance. They were the ones who told me I couldn’t have a tiny cup of coffee even though I knew my parents let me, or who wouldn’t let us climb four feet in the air on our playhouse because DANGER, or who yelled at us for being kids and talking somewhat loudly in a hallway. They didn’t care to get to know me, to learn that I was, in fact, the world’s most cautious child (and also generally obedient) and would never do anything that was in the least frightening. Getting me to climb four feet in the air was a real feat. Now that I’ve grown up, I think I can manage five–on a good day.

DSC_0815

Of course children need adults in their world, people to give them boundaries and security and love. But with an overbearing culture of adultishness, where adults are always right and children are always wrong, how do we expect these same children to grow up and have opinions and ideas of their own? As a four-year-old, I felt miffed because no one thought that I had ideas or was a person. As a twenty-something today, have I gained the right to personhood yet?

So here are some suggestions for those twenty-somethings (or teenage-somethings) who are hoping to gain their independence, but don’t know how to balance that fine line between respecting authority and making up their own mind.

1. Start making your own decisions about small things. The small things are a great place to start for people who aren’t confident in their decision-making abilities. Decide what books or clothes you’ll buy or when to do your homework and when to hang out with friends. Don’t always rely on your parents or friends to tell you what to do.

2.Don’t always ask advice from people who you know will tell you the same thing. Seek out different viewpoints and ideas, because how can you really grow if you’re hiding behind other people’s opinions? And once you have the advice, it’s up to you to make the decision.

3. Learn to say no to people. This has been a hard one for me, especially, as I don’t like disappointing people. But sometimes you just can’t take on that 32nd violin lesson, even if you DO have an open hour right at that time. So say no if you have to, even if it might make someone sad or upset.

4. Learn to take responsibility for your own decisions. It’s your decision, not your parents’ or your pastor’s or your friends. And if it goes wrong, saying “The parents you gave to me!” in a whiny voice to God doesn’t make you any less culpable for a bad decision, and it’s not any cuter than when Adam first blamed Eve. Of course you should still honor your parents—and respect their ideas. But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, and it definitely doesn’t mean that they’re still in control of your life once you’re an adult.

5. So, you should transition from asking permission to seeking advice. Parents should become friends instead of authorities, wise people in your life who you seek to learn from instead of people you fear who seek to run your life.

6. Don’t be afraid to make different decisions than other people around you would make, or even than you would have made a few years ago.  Ending up in China was never my original plan–when I got married, nothing was farther from my mind (or from Jared’s mind)–but it’s been a good decision. We’ve met new people, found a whole new culture, and started learning a language. So don’t let fear of the unknown or of public opinion stop you from making a decision.

7. After all, good or bad, decisions have to be made. And what most of us forget (at least I do!) is that doing nothing is also making a decision. Inactivity can be worse than boldly stepping out and taking charge. And who knows–it might just lead you to your same hometown doing what you’ve always dreamed, or it might just lead you to China!

And since there are conveniently seven points,  I’m linking up at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes this week!