Grading, Spit-up, and Decorating

It’s been kind of quiet around here lately. Yes, even where I live, even with a baby. Though for a couple days last week, he broke his “good baby” streak and got a little crabby as he was sick. No, I won’t rub it in for those of you who have babies who cry every evening for four hours without fail. Two days of that was plenty for me, thank-you-very-much.

Other than baby getting sick, I’ve mostly been grading essays. Last year, I taught six writing classes and had six sets of around 120 papers each. I could usually get them all returned by the time the next class session rolled around–and I thought I was a pro at grading papers. But mix in an international move and a baby, and suddenly those papers don’t move so fast off the desk. Now, as soon as I start grading I’m interrupted by baby waking up or wanting to eat or needing a diaper change, and my concentration is gone like that. I’m ashamed to admit how long it’s taken me to grade only 32 papers. But finally, finally (probably feels like forever to my students) I’m  done with one set–now on to the next set of 32! (And then they turn in one final set this weekend, so it’s not over yet.)

I’ve also been monkeying around with Photoshop the last few days, watching YouTube tutorials and all that. I figured out how to do that black-and-white with a pop of color thing, see?

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Pretty snazzy, huh?

Now I can mess up my pictures for the blog here, and ya’ll can be tortured by them.

Now what you’re really here for–the Christmas decorations. This is how we decorate for Christmas:

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Red bowls? Check. Pretty flowers? Check. Red flowery glasses? Check. Baby? Check.

He adds a certain flair, don’t you think?

In case you don’t like the baby in the window option, I have option number two for you:

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Introducing: the baby as the dinner table centerpiece. The piles of books and papers are essential for completing this look. They help to ensure that the baby won’t go anywhere. (Ignore the food–I take really bad pictures of food, as we all know. )

And, you know, I mentioned spit up in my title, so I’ve got to talk about it for a minute. Not that there’s much to say about spit up, except is it one word or two? And it lends its unique smell to everything it touches, which, as of now, is everything. I consider it a good day if my shirt has only been spit up on once. Jared considers it a good day if his hair doesn’t get spit up in it. He’s considering patenting a new conditioner–after all, they make soap out of goat milk, so why not regurgitated breast milk? Makes your hair smooth, shiny, and strong!

Oh, and a few pictures of London for you too. We were on our way to church yesterday and kind of got lost on our shortcut through the park when we ran into this view:

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It’s pretty amazing to live in a place where you can find a view like that just getting lost (it’s from the Greenwich Observatory, by the way, and our church meets in one of the buildings in that square down below).

I tell my students they need to write good conclusions that neatly wrap everything up, but how do you wrap up something so random? Maybe a pithy phrase will do it: have a good week, and may the spit up stay out of your hair!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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Icelandic hotdogs
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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.

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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).

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

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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.)

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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!

The Great Crumbling Staircase, Commonly Called the Great Wall

We’re not in China anymore! We decided to surprise everyone, including ourselves, and come back to the U.S. for the summer. Currently, we’re relaxing, enjoying all the amazing smells and clean air you get when you’re no longer in a big city, and loving our summer fruit like blueberries and raspberries. And blue skies almost every day? Bring ’em on!

But before we left China, we had to hike the Great Wall of China. . . or at least a small part of it. Let’s just say that small part was plenty for me and I’ve no desire to go back for more at the moment. I may or may not have had nightmares that night about falling down a steep staircase and being unable to stop. And if you were wondering if you should hike the Great Wall when five months pregnant–don’t. Unless you’ve been hiking every day for the past five months. Then you’ll probably be fine.

Why this general pessimism about the Great Wall? Well, take a look. I recommend clicking on the pictures to get the best look at a wall.

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A picturesque view of the Great Wall

Apparently, most of the touristy parts of the Great Wall are kept up–the bricks are replaced if they crumble, they make sure the walls won’t fall down on top of you, the stairs are mostly intact, all general things that most U.S. citizens expect from their tourist destinations.

The section of the Great Wall that we visited, however, was not one of the touristy locations. We started our hike in a little village in the middle of nowhere, where two mentally disturbed ladies got into a fight in front of the us (including punching, scratching, rock throwing, cursing in Chinese, etc…our guide managed to break them apart), and hiked one of the oldest sections of the wall. It also happened to be made of local rock (I think limestone or sandstone) that was turning into sand.

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The village we started from.

So yes, we started from a little Chinese village where people mostly tended their crops and sometimes ventured into the hills to hunt wild pigs and rabbits (our guide told us). The tour website had this hike listed as an “easy” hike, and I’ve done my share of hiking before up some pretty steep slopes and all, so I wasn’t too worried.

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See what I mean by ruined?

The beginning of our hike was this neat little path next to all kinds of apricot trees and flowers–it was a nice gradual slope with a little ascent, but nothing bad. We were just enjoying the sunshine and the fact that we weren’t surrounded by giant buildings and cars and people anymore (though the smog was still there).

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Close to the beginning.

We stopped to look at some lovely views, admiring the hills and the village down below with its colorful rooftops.

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Starting to see the wall.

And then we got to the actual wall. Giant steep staircases loomed ahead of us, daring us to try to climb them. Rocks were missing in some places, crumbled to sand with erosion and age. In pictures, the wall doesn’t look that steep, but let me assure you–it was!

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Just one of the many hills we climbed that day.

Let’s just say I was quite relieved when we got to our first resting place after climbing in the sun for what felt like forever. Some not-so-helpful hikers coming the other direction apparently assured us that the hill we had just climbed was the worst one, and everything else was easier. I’m not sure where they were coming from–but they were wrong!

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Relaxing in the breeze.

This little guard tower was amazing. It was at just the right angle to catch all the breezes, and was about 20 degrees cooler than it was out on the hills. I could have stayed there all day if we didn’t have to get off the mountain.

But get off the mountain we did, and a helicopter lift wasn’t an option. Though I almost considered it when I looked out the other side of the tower and saw this giant staircase I had to go down:

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Yes, we went all the way down that, and then went up again.

Finally, after what seemed like it took all day, though I think it was only around four hours or so, we started climbing down again to the village. And we climbed, and scuttled down steep hills and tried not to fall over, and slid on some patches of sand, cried a few times about how hard it was, and occasionally even walked on a flat piece of ground for a minute or two (those occasions felt blissfully easy!). We finally made it–7 bottles of water, 1 bruised foot (from slipping), and many shaking legs later.

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You feel like a conqueror after mastering all this.

If you want to visit China, I dare you to outdo us! Maybe try to hike the Great Wall when you’re six months pregnant instead of just five.

Customs of the Chinese Post

By far, one of the more laughable things about living in China is the postal system. People tootle around in little bicycle trucks with China Post or EMS or Amazon on the sides, delivering packages and letters to their destinations. Once they get there, they call your phone and you go collect your package. It’s really rather a smart system, for things within China. For things coming outside of China, though, they don’t do so well. The number of packages and letters that they’ve lost for us amounts to nearly half of the packages and letters that have been sent here. Maybe they like the poor Americans to feel even lonelier amid their thousands of people. Or maybe we just don’t know enough Chinese to get our address right.

The latest edition in the silliness of Chinese Customs, however, was just recently. My parents sent a small box a couple days ago (full of stuff that I’m too much of a cheapskate to buy, like clothes–seriously, everything nice here I’ve seen has cost around 600-800 RMB. No thanks!), and FedEx customs wanted to know every detail. Could I send them my passport? Done. Could I fill out a form with my name and address and passport number, signing away my rights to inspect the package? Done. Could I tell them, in minute detail, what the contents of the package were? Not really. But I tried, using my stereoscopic X-ray vision that can zoom in on a package I’ve never seen that’s somewhere in the middle of Beijing and determine what EXACTLY was put into it back in America. I’m cool like that.

Actually, I just made it up, based on my rudimentary knowledge of what I was expecting to see in the package. So Mom, you better not have stashed anything illegal in it. May I suggest, oh dearest of dear Customs people, that you think up a slightly smarter system for finding out what’s in people’s packages? Like, I don’t know, maybe asking the person who PACKED the package, instead of the recipient? Except they do that too. Maybe they like playing mind games with people.

Other than spending time obsessing over when (or if) I will get a letter or a package or some reminder that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth and become one of your dear departed, I’ve just been up to the usual craziness. Eight classes. Midterms. Biking. And taking pictures of spring flowers, with which I will leave you:

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Cute Girls and Spring Flowers

I’m back! Did you miss me?

It’s spring here! Earlier than anywhere else I’ve lived, even though it’s no farther south.

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Color!

Last fall, I was assured that winters here were terrible–extremely long and cold. It made me think we wouldn’t be seeing any warmth until maybe mid-June. But apparently, they were wrong. (I think the moral of the story is, don’t trust a Seattleite’s perception of winter. Any winter with more than two weeks of below-freezing weather seems long and arduous to them!)  Mid-March is really early for spring, in my opinion.

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But it’s not all beautiful blossoms and 20 degree weather (of course I’m talking Celsius!). Along with the (one week of) warmer weather has also come more mosquitoes. And guess who they’re after? Yours truly. There must be something about my blood that makes it like crack for mosquitoes–if it’s a contest between me and Jared, I win 95% of the time. You can call me attractive.

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Not on the spring theme, but funny anyways:

In the middle of Beijing, what’s the last thing you’d expect to see?

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Yes, it’s a horse. In the middle of Beijing. It’s generally there every weekend, though I have no idea where it lives or how far they have to come. Sometimes it even has a mule and donkey pal with it. They sell oranges out the back of that wagon, though I’m pretty sure they weren’t grown locally. Some things are just a mystery.

And this little girl was just too cute. She was standing and talking to the horse, and then she leaned over and tried to kiss the horse.  As you can see, it was unimpressed.

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Jared says the girl in the background is like someone from a science fiction movie. You’ll have to ask him for clarification on that.

Any spring flowers yet in the frozen wilds of North America? Or horses trotting down your city streets?

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in the middle of a city?

More Pictures of Xi’an: Bell Tower, Drum Tower, Terracotta Warriors

You’re all probably getting tired of hearing about Xi’an and seeing all my gazillions of pictures, but I think I’m finally running out of them today.

Last things? Drum tower and bell tower. They look a lot alike, and were used for about the same purpose. The drum tower was for beating the hour on giant drums and making sure the watchman was still awake.

The bell tower also seemed to be for beating the time on a bell. And I think there were watchmen on both.

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Giant bell. Jared reminded me several times that they used to make cannons like this too.
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On the tower.

They had really neat performances for both places–some college students playing drums in the drum tower, and then playing all sorts of traditional Chinese instruments in the bell tower. Both groups were extremely good at what they did, and very laid-back about it. They showed up precisely five minutes before the performance and threw their costumes on over their street clothes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything capable of taking a good video, so you get blurry pictures.

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The blur is just how fast their hands were moving.

And then Jared insisted we go up to the top and walk around the edge, like fifty feet in the air. He may or may not have had his hand nearly squeezed off. But there was a good view, except for all the smog.

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The roads there were beautifully straight.
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Looking down on Muslim street. It was a bit too early for the crowds of people.
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But you can still see all the lights.
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From the top of the Bell Tower.

The very last thing we saw in Xi’an were the Terracotta Warriors. They were pretty amazing, and apparently every single one has a different face. Part of me can’t help but wonder if the emperor didn’t have anything better to do with his time and money than make clay soldiers modeled after his real army. But still, they were very neat.

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These ones are ones archaelogists are putting back together because they were all broken.
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A man and his horse.
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After the farmer discovered the warriors, they built this huge structure over them to protect them from the weather.
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Because they’re made of clay, some of them have broken heads and stuff from when vandals broke in.
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Our guide was very helpful in explaining the different hairstyles–topknots are regular soldiers, caps are officers.

I promise this will be the last of the travel posts for a while, since the only place we’re still planning to go is the Great Wall. You can’t be living in Beijing and fail to see the Great Wall. That’s nearly criminal!

Small, Ugly, and Alone

In China, people love their pets. Specifically dogs. Dogs everywhere.

Now, I’ve heard that there are three categories for being a Chinese dog:

1. You have to be small

2. You have to be ugly

3. You have to be off-leash

Oh, you say those categories fit your small child? He might possibly be a Chinese dog.

Anyways, let’s examine a few pictures and see if they fit those criteria.

Example 1:

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HI.

Definitely small, definitely ugly, and there is definitely no owner in sight. Yet the dog looks very purposeful. Chinese dogs always have a goal in mind and know how to achieve this goal. So, this dog fits our criteria like they were made for him. (Whaddaya know!)

Example 2:

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Obligingly posing for the camera. Except without his face.

Small? Check.

Ugly? Check

Alone? Check.

Folks, we have found yet another Chinese dog.

Example three:

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Look at it waddle!

I know this looks like nothing more than a ball of fur with a tail stuck on it, but rest assured it is a dog. However, I was unable to get a picture of it with its head, so pardon me.

Anyways, by this point you oughta know the drill: small, ugly, and alone? Bingo! (And the fact that it has little rabbit legs sticking out from under its fur doesn’t hurt anything, either).

Now that you know what Chinese dogs are, let’s move on to another example. Crazy Chinese dogs with crazy owners.

This lady (below) had about six dogs. All on the sidewalk. And she loved herding them and making them do “tricks.”

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Yes, that IS a doggie chair. And Jared says the dog in the forefront is not a Chinese dog (too good-looking), lest you should think that I am simply a dog hater and think all dogs are ugly.

Now, we were peacefully walking down the sidewalk minding our own business and getting sticker shock from clothing prices (600 Yuan for a shirt? No thanks!) when we saw this dog family. At the moment, the owner was getting paid by a customer. When most of us get money, what do we do with it? We put it in our wallets or our pockets or our safes, right? Well, you’ll never guess where this lady put it.

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Yes, that is money.

That’s right. She gave it to the dog. And for the next 10 minutes, he carried that money around.

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Who says having money doesn’t make me king?

Anyways, he played around with it for a while before finally getting bored and dropping most of it all over the sidewalk, and then leading his owner on a merry chase before surrendering the money.

After that little show, the dog owner decided we needed to see them doing some real tricks. So she got out her dog treat stuff, and they all surrounded her and stood on their hind legs. Pretty unimpressive after the whole money thing!

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Notice the bored dog on the chair–he’s not falling for any of it.

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After all of that, I expect you to be an expert on what makes a Chinese dog, so tell me: which one of these is a Chinese dog, and which one is American?

A:

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B:

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I have faith in your intelligence, so tell me in the comments!

Which One Is Beijing?

When you first go to China, you assume that everything will look Chinese: red lanterns, curvy roofs, narrow streets with hordes of people walking down them.

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Sorta like this. You immediately think “China,” right?

You think things will possibly be dirty, crowded, stuck in the 1800s and the era of the emperors, where everyone wears long pigtails,or at least in 1950s and the era of Mao, with everyone wearing blue or gray Mao suits.

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Obviously, they don’t!

You think maybe people will still get around in rickshaws carted by Chinese workers, and maybe women still practice foot-binding, and maybe they’re still cooking over fires or something.

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Totally unrelated cool house. I want to live there!

And then you get to China, and you see what it’s really like. And it’s nothing like what you imagined. Tall skyscrapers tower into the air. Cars overrun the streets. People are everywhere, and they wear American clothes, and many of them even speak English.

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This is what most of Beijing is like.

It’s a modern city now, and as such, isn’t very different from cities in the U.S. Obviously it’s a ton bigger and has a gazillion more people–but it’s still a modern city. And it even has a modern skyline.

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See? Skyscrapers. (But it’s not usually that pretty with blue skies and such!)

So don’t let your historical assumptions created by reading Gladys Alyward or Hudson Taylor fool you–China has changed!

12 Photos (plus a few) from 2014

I think the theme of this year could almost be summed up in flowers. Starting in January, I kept the house stocked with all the fresh, springy-looking flowers I could find. So be warned–if you don’t like pictures of flowers, you may want to skip this post altogether!

Back in January, we had no idea that we’d be in China for the next New Year. We spent our holidays with family, and then headed back to Arlington, Virginia for the final semester of Jared’s Masters program.

Apparently, in January I only took photos of flowers. You get a little tired of nothing but bare trees after a while and need something to brighten up your day.  So enjoy some irises. Spring will be here in about another three months!

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In February, my mom came for a visit. As I was a bad photographer, I took pictures of some food, and someone got a picture of me–but somehow we didn’t get any pictures of her visit.  Apparently food is more important than people? Anyhow, since I’m rarely on the business end of the camera, you can admire one of the few pictures of me.

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And, I’ll include an extra photo of some of the food. You’re welcome.

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Key Lime pudding with fresh berries. Very February-ish. (The roses are left from Valentine’s Day.)

In March, my longing for fresh flowers remained. And I took about a million and one pictures of them. But judge for yourselves–aren’t they adorable? The little orange pitcher was a gift from Mom’s visit.

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Begonias. They’re just the cutest flowers! Just looking at this picture makes me want some.

In April was Easter, and we got (or tried to get) the obligatory family Easter picture. I need to work on this timed-photo business, apparently.

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Can’t even get the camera straight!

In May, Jared graduated. One Master’s degree down, two to go!

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Isn’t he handsome?

Apparently June wasn’t as exciting of a month: according to iPhoto, the main thing I took pictures of was foxes. I think in June we also decided for sure that we were going to China.

We did celebrate our first wedding anniversary in June–and were able to go home, to the place of real mountains and actual sunsets, for it. There’s not much that’s more beautiful than a range of 14,000 foot tall mountains.

THIS is the sort of solid ground I'm in to.
THIS is the sort of solid ground I’m in to.
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And since you can’t just put a picture of mountains for an anniversary picture, here you go.

In July, I started this blog. Apparently July was also the month in which I posted the most–8 posts total!

We started out the month by going to the beach, and then my life was over for the next month when I started an intensive CELTA course. Since I don’t have any photos of CELTA, you can look at a picture of the beach.

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In August, I finished up my CELTA course, and it was bye-bye to Virginia for us (after packing for what seemed like eons). We were off to Oregon to spend a little time with family before taking our big trip.

There are so many beautiful pictures from Oregon (click the links to see them), but I think this is my favorite:

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I love the lighting of this picture!

There’s just something about the colors and the sunlight and the waterfall that makes you think of fairies and elves and magic water.

In September, it happened. We moved to China. And somehow, with moving to China, I didn’t blog much. Part of that may have been that we didn’t really have reliable internet for a while–and I’m sure part of it was that moving halfway around the world takes time and energy. Not to mention jet-lag!

So I give to you: the last picture we had taken in America (and one I look like a dork in).

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In October, we got a little more settled in to our China routine and began to learn a little Chinese. We did a little more touring (since we had another holiday in October), got eaten alive by mosquitoes, went shopping, and taught classes (well, I did. Jared TOOK classes).

The trees also started to turn fall colors, and we did a few fall things like make and eat apple crisp.

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In November, we finally got rid of our mosquitoes when it got cold enough to kill them. Never have I been so thankful for a first frost.  I took lots of pictures of fall leaves, did dishes, and went to the zoo. We also had our first Chinese Thanksgiving–which was a lot of fun.

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Also in November (and December), everybody decided it was time to get engaged. Seriously. In one weekend in December alone, nearly six couples decided to get engaged.

Beside the romance, December was full of Christmas lights, Christmas concerts, Christmas services, and Christmas dinner(s).  I finally got our Christmas tree set up and looking somewhat less forlorn, and even decorated our house a little.

Favorite December picture!

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Well, you’re probably exhausted after reading all that, so I’ll let you wind down. I promise not to barrage you with any more pictures until at least a day or two later!

Linking up at House Unseen, Life Unscripted.