Thursday, March 28, 2013


A couple from our branch asked us to stay with their older kids while they went back to the U.S. for a few days, and we were happy to do so! Not just because they live in a super nice house, and not just because the idea of having an actual fully stocked pantry at our fingertips made us giddy, but also because we love their family and we knew we would have a blast.

Which, of course, we did. These kids are some of the most mature, well-behaved kids I have ever met. We enjoyed "playing parent", and we REALLY enjoyed that because of how awesome they all were that meant almost no actual work on our part. Basically Spencer and I made sure they did their homework and that they went to bed.

"Ok, everyone do your homework!"

"Ok, time for bed!"

Other than that? We played. The best day was Saturday. It happened to be the warmest day of the year so far at 80 degrees, and we all LOVED lounging around in shorts and tshirts. And then they had the brilliant idea to involve water. Enjoy.



Family picture with their "baby"

And as a special bonus, I caught someone singing while doing dishes one night...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'm Married to Santa Claus

Remember when I told you that I would give more details about Spencer playing Santa (here)? Well I didn't. I totally forgot. But I would like to now, because it will probably be one of my favorite memories from China.

In December we were privileged to travel with the Sunshine Project, students from Nanjing University, and members of our branch to Gaochun, for a service project at the Gaochun Special School.

This school is amazing. In a country where disabilities and differences are widely feared and even ostracized they have created a safe space where these children can grow and learn. Some are deaf, some suffer from cerebral palsy, and some have Downs syndrome, among other things.

But these kids are just about the cutest and happiest kids I've ever seen. And we wanted to them to experience Christmas. We started out with meeting Santa and decorating Christmas trees. The kids LOVED Santa. They kept saying hi and loved punching his big belly. A lot of them were smart enough to figure out that his bulging stomach may have gotten some help from a stuffed backpack :) And they loved decorating the trees. What kid wouldn't?

Next we had a Santa craft (here) for everyone to do. It took a little time for them to understand what they were making, but after a few times of holding them up to our faces and then pointing to Santa they finally figured it out, and boy did it make them laugh!

Explaining the craft

We followed up with singing some Christmas carols and doing the hokey pokey, a song they had all learned before.

Jingle Bells!

Then we cleaned up and broke for lunch. And if you think cafeteria food is bad in the States then don't come to China. I didn't even recognize half of the food. But I tried a little bit of everything and then filled up on rice and veggies.

One of my Primary girls helping out

After lunch was the best part. For the few months before this some of the women in the branch (and lots of people back in the States) had been working on making beanies/hats that we could give to them (as previously mentioned here) and the Sunshine project had been been stocking up on candy and ear muffs. The students from NU brought crafts and helped the kids with them, and we took all of the presents from classroom to classroom and Santa delivered them to each little girl and boy. The kids absolutely loved it. It was so funny that we tried to take the right number of "boy-color" items and "girl-color" items to each room but then even some of the boys were fighting for the pink earmuffs. Oh China.

I made this hat!

It was such a fun, beautiful day. I loved having the opportunity to serve, and to feel the love of so many happy kids!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Food, Glorious FOOOOD!

You may remember back at the beginning of our China excursion when my biggest challenge was food (here and here). I had the hardest time finding anything familiar to eat. Figuring out what was available and what we could cook for dinner was the worst part of my day. What used to be the simplest and cheapest options were suddenly either completely unavailable or ridiculously expensive.

I am pleased to report that this is no longer the case.

We tried new things. We learned new things. We talked with the other couples. We patiently combed each and every grocery store aisle and found hidden treasures. And we slowly but surely built up a collection of recipes that we could pretty easily make here in China.

We eat good. And no, I don't mean well (sorry Grandma). We eat GOOD.

So what exactly do we eat, you may ask? Behold, our list of regulars:
Hamburgers (technically pork burgers)
Sweet and sour chicken
Fried chicken
Chicken Tikka Masala
Chips and salsa
Breakfast burritos
Sesame chicken
Fried rice
Orange chicken
French toast
Potato chowder

...Just to name a few. I have realized that the key to success in the kitchen here is to learn to make everything from scratch. And to improvise. Following a recipe exactly is a luxury we can't afford, so figuring out substitutions and making things work has been a requirement. But it has paid off, and I'm so glad that we don't have to eat the same three things over and over. Unless we want to. Which sometimes we do. Stop judging.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Something Better

There was once a little girl who lived with her loving mommy and daddy. The little girl had many toys, but her absolute favorite was a fake string of pearls that she wore almost everywhere. One night her father came into her room to tuck her into bed, and he asked her if she loved him. “Of course I love you Daddy” she replied.
“If you love me, can I have your pearl necklace?” he asked. 
The little girl was horrified. “Not my necklace Daddy!” she exclaimed, “You can have my dolly, but please let me keep my pearls.” He smiled and kissed her goodnight. 
The next night he asked her again if she loved him. “Yes Daddy, you know I love you.” 
“Then can I please have your pearl necklace?” 
She thought for a moment, and then said, “Please no Daddy, do you want my teddy instead?” He tucked her in and kissed her goodnight. 
Again at night when he came to tuck her in her asked her if she loved him. "Oh yes Daddy, I love you very much," she said.
"Then please sweetheart, may I have your necklace?" he pleaded.
She paused - struggling - then slowly shook her head. "I love my necklace so much Daddy. Please, take my favorite book instead." He sighed and kissed her head, and said good night.
Finally, the next night, the little girl shuffled up to her daddy in her nightgown, weeping. She held out her hand that clutched her beloved necklace and sobbed, “Take them Daddy. I love my necklace, but I love you more. You can have my pearls.” 
Her father scooped her up immediately, hugged her tightly and kissed her wet cheeks, then picked up a box from the side table. He opened it so she could see the beautiful, real pearl necklace lying inside. “I wanted your old necklace so I could give this to you. I needed you to give it up so I could give you something better.”

Friday, March 1, 2013

Venice of the East

So usually when I travel I like to have a plan. Which is totally opposite from how I do everything else. But traveling is the exception. So when a group of us decided to randomly take a day trip to a nearby town with just about as little preparation as there possibly could be I was a little nervous. And super excited.

First we took a taxi. Then I experienced my first high-speed train ride. Which was not nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be. Give me a break, I had never ridden a train before, ok?

Then we took a bus. And we accidentally stole other people's seats. Oops. Apparently bus seats are assigned in China? Then we took a shuttle. And we finally arrived in Tongli.

Tongli is a small water town near Suzhou. Like any of you know where that is, haha. Anyways, by the time we got there it was around noon and we were all starving. Unfortunately Tongli had been described to us as the worst food in China. We finally found an only slightly sketchy-looking burger/fried chicken place that we could all agree on. And it even had a seating area. If you can call it that.

After eating the greasiest food of my life (though better tasting than I thought it would be) we started to explore. Tongli is known for its beautiful gardens, classic Chinese architecture, and for being built around a large canal that the city thrives on.

The best part by far was the gondola ride. It was a beautiful day, the company was excellent, and it was really nice to just be out and seeing new things. And as we were buying our tickets for the ride we got caught up in a very colorful (and loud) Dragon parade.

The canal is the life-force of this town. They wash their clothes and food in it, and it is their major source of tourism and income.

After the gondola ride we explored the gardens. They were so beautiful. When we are being honest though, all Chinese buildings start to look the same. Luckily the gardens break up the monotony.

Our favorite garden

After getting our fill of Chinese architecture and gardens we started wandering around and just enjoying a day outside before we headed back to Nanjing.

Spencer being "pretty"

Taxi, train, bus, shuttle, gondola, shuttle, bus, train, subway, bus, home!

It was a great day with great friends at a great place. We were fortunate to have no transportation issues (phew) and it was one of my favorite days in China so far. I'm so grateful for good friends who are willing to be adventurous with us, and for the opportunity we've had to be here in China and to experience so many wonderful things and see such amazing places.