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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Meeting Gabby

I've never met a famous person before. I saw Rupert Grint in an airport once on a layover to England during the height of the Harry Potter craze, within minutes he was swarmed by a mob of girls. I remember thinking back then, that must be so obnoxious.

A year later we moved to China, a year after that we had our first kid. And it was then, I got a taste of celebrity life. People were always staring, taking pictures, and touching my blond blue-eyed baby boy. It got really old, really quick. So, I guess, in the back of my head- if I ever saw a celebrity in real life, I'd want to just let them be. Except I didn't!

I was beyond thrilled when I had heard that Gabby Reece, the professional volleyball player, would be speaking at  #Blogher17.  During the keynote session, I was just tickled to be in the same room as THE Gabrielle Reece, my childhood hero.




Seeing her reminded me of my big dreams of being a professional volleyball player.

With the exception of volleyball, I don't care much for sports. I don't root for teams or players, I don't watch it on tv, or go to games. In the nineties, Micheal Jordan was everywhere. My brother's room was covered in Chicago Bulls paraphernalia. Full disclosure, I don't think his 8 year old self actually watched basketball once. But it seemed that every little boy looked up to Michael Jordan for more than his athletic ability. Michael Jordan represented persistence, hard work, and success. Where was the girl version of that?


In 4th grade, I started playing volleyball and FELL IN LOVE. Volleyball was life! How can I do this forever? Can volleyball be a job? I wondered. And then, I discovered this female athlete named Gabrielle Reece. She was beautiful and strong and SO good at volleyball. She was breaking records, pushing boundaries, and being amazing. I wanted to be just like her! In volleyball practice, while running laps, thoughts of Gabby kept me going. Gabby wouldn't complain about these laps. Gabby would keep going. So I did.



Me, dreaming big in '95

Fast forward 20 or so years later, long after I changed my career path from professional volleyball player to teacher to stay at home mom. I'm walking through the Hilton lobby in Orlando and there is FRIGGIN' GABBY REECE!!! No big deal, just casually having lunch with a crew of famous female athletes after her keynote panel discussion. About ten feet away, I stopped with my jaw dropped, looking at Gabby, questioning if this was real life. Pro surfer Jessi Miley-Dyer (also NBD, right!?) motioned for me to come over and talk to Gabby, "Come on, you should do it," she whispered across the table. Like the biggest fangirling nerd, I told Gabby I loved her before I even introduced myself. I felt like I shrunk into my ten year old self (and because she's so tall, it seemed like I was a little kid) She put out her hand, with a flattered smile she said, “Hi, I'm Gabby.” I briefly explained how I looked up to her when I was little, thanked her, and apologized for interrupting her lunch. And we hugged and took a picture!

Clearly I'm excited. Thanks for making time for me, Gabby!!!

It had been years since I thought about volleyball and Gabby. After meeting her, I kind of wanted to see what she had been up to. Go figure, on social media she is still being awesome: being a wife and mom, writing books, creating a new fitness program, hosting a podcast, all while advocating a healthy lifestyle. It's kind of EXACTLY what I need at the moment.

 In the #winningwomen keynote session Gabby said, "Be the person you can feel good about. Be loving, be strong, badass women."

Once again, like the 10 year old me, I find myself asking what would Gabby do? She would keep going! I guess she'll always be my number 1 role model. Thank you Gabby. I still love you. 💛

Monday, July 3, 2017

#BlogHer17 Reflections

or, feeling like a human for a second.

I think it was about seven months ago when my longtime friend and fellow blogger, Bri suggested that we go to a blogging conference together. It sounded quite appealing to me, first and foremost because it was held in Orlando, an easy three hour drive for me. Early bird prices were affordable enough, and once I committed Hubs to rearranging his work schedule so he could take care of the rascals, I was in. Sure, why not?



Once I made the big purchase, I began to feel completely intimidated. I'm not a professional writer, photographer, or video editor. I don't know the ins and outs of the world wide web and HTML. This is going to be such a waste of money. I'm bush league! What the heck was I thinking?

I immediately had to change my outlook. There were three huge reasons that this was so awesome and TOTALLY worth the investment.

1. Learning. This entire thing was new to me. Speakers, sessions, networking, expos, being a professional: I learned every step of the way. The speakers inspired me to really figure out my purpose in blogging. The sessions kind of clued me in to so many elements of content creation that I hadn't considered. And the networking, oh man! Talk about a self confidence boost. How completely refreshing it is to have someone ask "What do you write about?" instead of, "How old are your kids?" It felt AMAZING to be Brittany, and not Mommy for a weekend. And I met so many amazing women that I realized after the fact that they were are a pretty big deal! The expo was fun. I had absolutely no expectations for partnering with sponsors, so I just observed and snagged freebies. I'd say the biggest lesson I learned about blogging is that I should not give up. It's hard work, but possible to be successful. And, success looks different for everyone. I have no interest in having ten million followers on social media. That freaks me out actually. I need to figure out what success of The Flip-side of Zen looks like for me.

Chelsea Clinton and Cecil Richards


2. Reunion. Bri and I go way back, maybe we weren't BFFs back in grade school, but we found ourselves together in two very intense, life changing times. First we were roommates in college. Personally, I went through my awkward junior high stage late, like in college. So there's that. And Bri was testing the waters of college romance. You really get to know someone when you live with them (Sorry Bri!). Nearly 10 years after that, we happened to both be living in Shanghai, China,where we both had our first babies, and the crazy birth stories to go with them. How great it was to start from right where we left off, not missing a beat. So now, after having an amazing weekend with one of my forever friends, and no kids to worry about..... can we please do this every year!?

Thick as thieves


3. ME time. I got to do what I wanted ALL WEEKEND LONG! I got to pee alone, I got to eat food that wasn't cold, I got to sleep in my own bed and wake up at a decent hour. I got to float down the lazy river with an overpriced beverage in hand. It was GLORIOUS! (Do you hear a choir of angels singing? Because I totally do every time I think about it.) So yeah, I definitely think this needs to be an annual thing.

No fights to break up or butts to wipe, a real vacation.

I am so glad that I stepped out of the mundane not only to do something new, but to do something new for me. I've been in such a rut with this blog (and let's be honest: life). When I used to see all these professional "mommy blogs" I'm over here like, who is watching their kids? When do they sleep?! But they've managed it somehow. And I can too. I didn't even realize it until I got that weekend to think, breathe, and only worry about myself as a human being, not a mom.

Tune in next time for an exciting blog on SELF CARE! ;)

Friday, May 5, 2017

10 ways to reuse IPSY Glam Bags for MOMS

All my friends told me that I just had to try out Ipsy, the monthly make-up subscription. (Check it out HERE) I'm not really a make-up person, but I admit, it is pretty fun. My favorite part about the whole thing is that the monthly samples come in a cute “glam bag.” I absolutely love these adorable make-up bags. But, after subscribing for almost a year now, these bags are starting to pile up. What do I do with all these bags!?


I looked online to find new uses for them and I came across so many brilliant ideas. You can use them to store jewelry, feminine hygiene products, sunglasses, the list goes on and on for ladies. But I'm here to share with you ten ways you can reuse your glam bags specifically as a mom with young kids.

1. Small Toys


 I have two boys, and said boys love filling glam bags with their plastic bug collection and tiny dinosaurs. Legos and Hot Wheels often find a home in my old makeup bags too. I would imagine glam bags would be ideal for Barbie's clothes, shoes, and accessories. The sky is the limit for this one.




2. First Aid Kit


Be prepared for scrapes, cuts, and bug bites. I include alcohol wipes, sting relief pads, antibacterial ointment, cortisone cream, band-aids, gauze pad, and a pair of latex gloves. Adding a few lollies and stickers to stop the tears will also be useful.

3. Kids' medicine


Baby medicine bottles are great because they are small and TSA approved. To best prepare for almost anything, include children's antihistamine, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. A thermometer is also very useful to have on a trip with the kids. I can tell you, having pain relief for a teething toddler on a 13 hour plane ride was a life saver. 


4. Kid's purse


I cherished my pink purse as a little girl. I can only imagine the excitement the daughters of Ipsy subscribers have today. Some recent glam bags are styled as clutches. I've also seen crafters add purse straps on Pinterest. The glam bag is a perfect place for a little girl to keep all of her treasures.

5. Pacifiers/teethers


Keep these necessities easy to find in a big diaper bag. Bonus tip: include a package of pacifier wipes for all the times baby spits the paci onto a dirty floor.


6. Batteries


So many toys require SO MANY batteries. Keep them all in one easy-to-find place! In our house, it seems that one AAA battery always seems to disappear from the TV remote and for that, we are always prepared.

7. Boredom killer bag 


This is especially useful while waiting for food at a restaurant. Include blank paper, crayons, stickers, deck of cards, small toys that kids don't get to play with normally. (Silly Putty was a huge hit!) Drawing and talking with your little one will keep them entertained and engaged. And from personal experience, it's way easier to put down crayons than trying to take away an iPad when your food arrives.


8. Road trip goody bags


One of my fondest childhood memories was the long road trips our family would take to visit relatives. These were the days long before cars had DVD players and headrest screens. My mom always made family trips fun by including fun toys and activities for my brother and I to do on the road. Glam bags are great to fill with unique travel games, toys, candy which you can present at different legs of the journey. And of course, they're reusable.

9. Snacks/Bribes


You find yourself out with a hangry toddler that needs something this instant, pull out a granola bar. Your preschooler refuses to use the potty in Target and you have a 40 minute ride home. Bribe him with candy. Desperate times call for desperate measures, Mama!

10. Toothbrush bags


If your kids frequent sleepovers at Grandma's house, leave a glam bag with a toothbrush, floss, and travel size toothpaste for each child. Most glam bags are smaller than a regular toothbrush, but a kid's toothbrush fits perfectly.



There you have it! I hope this list helps you repurpose your own glam bag stack. If you have any other great ideas for Mom's old glam bag, let me know below in the comments!



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hi, I'm okay.

What's new with me? Well.......

I'm still treading water, and not drowning yet. Life has been busy but good. I got a new surge of motivation to work on this blog, and if you haven't noticed, there's a shiny new domain name in the address bar. Yep, www.theflipsideofzen.com is MINE!

I'm constantly reevaluating what I want this thing to be, so in the meantime we will just call it a project.

But anyway.

Tonight I'm just writing a short blurb about what's going on in my life for the handful of you who care (mom, dad, grandma S, grandma C, and Breanne).

A couple weeks ago was our one year anniversary of becoming Floridians! And, as our lease was expiring, we began looking for a house to buy. We found one, we had a contract, but upon further inspection and negotiating, we backed out of the deal. I'll save all of those details for another day, but man, what a roller coaster. Thankfully, our landlord was willing to let us stay if the deal didn't work out. In the midst of the crazy house it would seem that we both kind of forgot that dear hubs was supposed to be studying hard for his first of several exams of the Master Brewer certificate. So, we sat down, made an intensive studying schedule for the next 12 weekends, which means I'm momming hardcore these next few months.

Also, I lit a fire under my own butt to get cracking on this blog. In June, I'm going to a blogging conference with one of my dearest friends. I cannot wait!



Even though I'm going to be working overtime taking care of my wild little rascals, I am making a very conscious effort to make time for me and specifically a creative outlet. Below find my list of things I've done for myself since my last post (which was 5 months ago):

I went to see Star Wars Rogue One (December)
I went out with girlfriends for my birthday (January)
I overdid it on the Ipsy offers and now have tons of makeup I'll never wear (two weeks ago)
I read ONE WHOLE BOOK (last week...the first in a couple of years I think!)
I went to Target (always. And always a treat, am I right?)

It's not a bad list. But I'm not doing anything to keep creativity flowing or my brain sharp. And so that is what I'm vowing to myself to change!

While on a recent Target excursion, I found a really cool sketchbook titled "300 Drawing Prompts." Today I finally got a chance to sit down and do a few silly drawings. And while I did this for 30 or so minutes, Trigger and Nutsy completely trashed the house. Toys dumped all over the floor, books pulled off the bookcase, hot wheels stuck in the couch and chairs, smashed grapes in the pack n' play. I was disappointed and frustrated for sure, but they didn't die. I was there, they weren't getting into too much trouble. And we are all okay.



It's all about balance right?




Sunday, October 9, 2016

Bee Girl

This week, my "Discover Weekly" Spotify playlist included "No Rain" by Blind Melon. I kind of giggled to myself as I remembered the video of that cute little girl in the bee costume, bopping around, trying to figure out what to do and where to go. First she is on stage,  tap dancing with great confidence, only to get laughed to tears off stage. Then she goes wandering, dancing, and encountering people who just don't get her.

*Spoiler alert* In the end, she discovers a garden filled with other bees. Her people.


Finding your bees can be so hard. Especially when your previous life experiences are vastly different that everyone you seem to encounter. Middle school was hard for me. I wanted so much to fit in, and didn't... and it took a long time to find my bees. We have been out of Shanghai for over six months now, and I still feel so unrelatable. I think part of it is the transition from East to West, but an even bigger part is the switch from city to country. I'm hoping former city dwellers can attest to that.

China has made me crave spicy food always and take my shoes off indoors, among other things. City life has made me expect diversity and culture around every corner, oh, and taxis. Why aren't there taxis driving around these country roads looking for passengers!?

My Shanghai bees


This week I went to a MOPS (moms of preschoolers) group for the first time. On Sunday, I began to meet fellow churchgoers in a small group. I've also become acquainted with some moms in the area via Meetup.com.

Maybe I haven't exactly stumbled upon a group of people dancing around in bee costumes that I can identify with at first glance. But, I've met so many moms. And we can be as different as night and day (some of us are). But you know what we have in common? Birth stories, sleepless nights, teething, potty training, and whatever is next in this wacky freak show. Motherhood will always provide instant camaraderie if you allow it. I found my new group of bees just by having kids. That was easy enough!





Saturday, July 2, 2016

Provisions

Tomorrow, the rascals and I will be flying up to STL to visit my parents. As I'm making mental packing and to-do lists, I realize I have picked up a pretty interesting personality trait from living in Shanghai.
I've kind of become a doomsday prepper/ hoarder. It's not extreme enough to do a reality show about me. It's pretty subtle, but I am. When I first stepped foot in the Winn Dixie after our move to Florida, I wanted to buy 10 of everything. Danny's birthday is in 6 months, I better get a cake mix and icing. Oh no, we lost one of Benji's pacifiers that we got in America I better get 5 more just in case....Oh, wait...

From my time in Korea and research from various online sources, I knew what China would and would not have available. Some items that are not readily available: tampons and stick deodorant. There are other things, that I can't quite recall. And there are some things that probably are there, but I have no idea where to even look. To save myself the frustration of trying to find specific items, I packed them on our initial journey over. And to this day, this is the list of stuff I would recommend anyone (mostly the ladies) to take to Asia.
  • stick deodorant
  • tampons
  • over the counter meds (not that China doesn't have their own, but the last thing you want to do when you have a cold is try to figure out where to go and what to say to get some equivalent of Dayquil)
  • make-up (most women know what they like and what's the point on going on a wild goose chase if you can shove an extra mascara in your bag. And also, American brands are EXPENSIVE in Asia, more on that later...)
  • favorite spices, hot sauces, small cooking ingredients that will last (just having Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning made a world of difference on my breakfast eggs)  
  • an unlocked smartphone (I didn't bring this, and had a heck of a time with a jailbroken iPhone)
The above list was pretty much all I brought besides clothes, laptop, etc. Now, we were in China for 3 and a half years. At first, we primarily ate Chinese food: lots of rice, veggies, pork, and dumplings. As the years went on, I began to really miss American food. I came home to visit each summer and we also had several visitors. When you are allowed 2 checked bags each, you make the very most of it.

I became an expert at packing.

Our way back to Shanghai last summer. I think only one suitcase has our clothes!


Anyone who has actually lived in China (especially Shanghai) knows that you can get anything you want on Taobao, the online marketplace. In the past we've bought all kinds of stuff from pancake syrup to fake ugg boots. I have a friend who actually bought a plecostomus fish for her aquarium! For imported food and goods though, you're going to pay a lot online or in a store (2-5 times what it costs in the States). Near our home in Xujiahui was an import grocery store called City Shop (locations all over the city). It was there you could get most Western comfort foods. They have a deli, bakery, and all the American, European, Asian pantry items you could want. It was the most cost effective to hand carry these items from the States. My first trip back, I was pregnant so I had one bag loaded up with baby stuff. Then I just filled the rest with food: brownie mix, spices, cereal, coffee, baking ingredients, granola bars, Velveeta cheese, you know, stuff that I could ration until my next trip.

This stocking up mentality is just starting to go away. Yeah, I don't need 12 boxes of cereal. Put 11 of them back, Brittany!

I'm also having to adjust my thinking about our little trip up north. They have Costco and Target in Florida, Brittany. You don't need 200 granola bars. Chill out. All I need to do is enjoy regional delicacies like Imo's Pizza and keemao noodles from the Thai House. Oh, and savor all the time with my dearest family and friends, duh.

Another pretty exciting thing about tomorrow's trip: I don't have to do my standard emergency readiness prep for a 14 hour flight across the world and 12 time zones with two babies. Instead, I've got a 3ish hour direct flight with only a one hour time change. I really can't imagine anything easier.

It's so good to be in America.  Seriously, there's no place like home.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You lived in China?

Being new to the area, there's a lot of introductions in my life these days.

Hi, I'm Brit.
Where are you from?
I'm from St. Louis originally, but we've just moved from Shanghai, China.
Wow! You lived in China? What was that like? Did you like it?

If my husband Josh is with me, we usually look at each other, smile, and simultaneously start with a drawn out "Welllllllllll......"

So, while it's still fresh on my mind, let me answer your most challenging questions about my life in China. And remember, this is information from my personal experience. I'm sure all my friends in China would have completely different answers from their Shanghai experience.

Can you speak Chinese?
Josh can. He says he's "functional" I say he's fluent. He worked with almost an all Chinese staff. He can even read and write the characters! I on the other hand, cannot. I could do basic things, like give the taxi driver directions. And I could understand way more than I could say. Especially when people are constantly critiquing my parenting by telling me my kid is not properly dressed for the weather.

Are there really so many people that it's crowded everywhere you go?
OH YES! Shanghai is one of the most populated cities in the world, and you can feel it. Seriously. I would go out in the afternoon, and think, no one will be out because people are at work. How are there this many people not working in the afternoon, really? It's insane! The one exception is the massive migration for Chinese New Year, in which everyone in China goes to their hometown to be with family for the holiday. It's quite nice. Shanghai feels like a ghost town, similar to, say, Indianapolis.

Are you in the military?
Nope. And actually, there are no US military bases in China. China is very strict on who they let into their country. There are so many hoops to jump through to get even a tourist visa.

Were you missionaries?
Nope. And even if we were, we couldn't tell you. It's not permitted to evangelize. Religious organizations must be registered with the government and are closely monitored. I attended an international church in Shanghai, which native Chinese were not allowed to attend. You had to show your passport at the door to prove you were a foreigner.

How long were you there?
We were there for three and a half years. August 2012 to February 2016.

Going to and returning from Shanghai  2012/2016


What brought you to Shanghai?
We originally went over as English teachers the first year. But then my husband got a job as a brewer at Shanghai Brewery, so we stayed a couple more years.

How did he get into that?
Our boss at the school was extremely difficult to work with so we started brainstorming career changes. When we were at one of our favorite hangout spots, Josh got connected to the owner, and the rest in history.

What's the beer scene like in China?
(Josh would be better to answer this but I'll do my best.) You can find big western names like Budweiser and Guinness. Most of mainstream Chinese beer are lagers. Popular brands include Tsingtao and Harbin. Microbreweries are relatively new in China. When we first arrived in China, Shanghai Brewery was only one of a couple breweries in the city.  As we left in February, there are now more than 20 microbreweries in the Shanghai. The demand for craft beer is high partially because there's such a large expatriate population. The locals are even getting into craft beer. Little shops are popping up all over Shanghai that exclusively sell imported craft beer.  New microbreweries are also appearing all over the country. Anheuser Busch has been working on producing Goose Island in China.

Did you continue teaching when Josh changed jobs?
I completed my first year, then got pregnant with Danny (he's 2 now). I did a little tutoring and worked at a learning center on the weekends.

Did you have your son in China?
I had both of my boys in China.

What were the hospitals like?
There's a wide variety of hospitals in China. You can pay just a few bucks to see a doctor at a local hospital, or you can pay $100+ at an international hospital.  Both of my sons' births were crazy. You can read about their birth stories here and here. After it's all said and done, I'm so happy to have had my boys in China.  We were able to have a lot of control by being difficult foreigners. We questioned everything, and we stood our ground on what we did and did not want to do. This was important because I felt some of the procedures were very questionable. But the best part is that it was SO cheap to have a baby in a local hospital. You can pay as much if not more than you would in America to have a baby in the international hospitals. We did not have that kind of money or insurance. We did have enough cash to shell out for a VIP private room in a local hospital. There's nothing VIP about it though, besides the lack of a roommate. The room was worn out, my hospital pajamas had holes in them, and it was obvious that nothing has been updated in that room for the last 10-15 years. The second time around, we opted out of the hospital food. The last thing I wanted after giving birth was congee and a hard boiled egg. 

VIPs chillin' after birth (hospital pants are way too short)


Do your kids have dual citizenship?
They do not. The only way a baby can get Chinese citizenship is if one of the parents is Chinese. And if that's the case, they must give up citizenship of the other parent's country. My boys are full on Americans, made in China. They have Chinese birth certificates which we took to the US consulate to get "Birth Abroad" Certificates, passports, and social security numbers.

Passport photos! Danny/Benji, both at 2 weeks old



What was it like raising young kids there?
My experience raising kids in China is short lived (just over 2 years) but anyone would assume it's so much different than in the US. There are a lot of cool things and a lot of really crappy/annoying things. One good thing is that help is cheap! Many families hire an ayi, which is like a household helper/nanny.  For a short time, we hired a lady named Lola who came a few hours each week. She would watch Danny while I went out to run errands, and she cleaned my house for me! And, it was so nice to be able to have a babysitter whenever Josh and I wanted to go out on a date. Danny loved her. Another thing I loved about living there was that my kids were exposed to so many different cultures. At two years old, Danny has friends from all over the world. And he's tried (and likes) such a wide variety of food at such a young age. He loves kimchi!

Danny the Kimchi Monster

For me personally, I found that there were more cons to raising kids in Shanghai. As neat, exciting, and unconventional it was, there were a lot of negatives. For one, I didn't like how terribly far we were from family. Not that we are that close now, but at least we're on the same continent. And there are a few other concerns that I often had to put out of my mind to save my sanity. The continual smog is my biggest annoyance. China is notorious for having the worst air in the world, and I can tell you it really is terrible. It's not all the time, but occasionally, the air is so polluted that you can feel it on your skin, and in your eyes and throat. We were there in November 2013 when it reached a record high, off the AQI chart. I hated thinking that my kids could become asthmatic just from living in the city.

 One perk to city life is access to public transportation. This is phenomenal if you don't have two babies with you. The subways and buses are not stroller friendly. And, you can't just haul car seats around with you after riding in a taxi. We did not have the luxury as some expats to have a personal driver. When I only had one kid, I frequented the subway and buses with the baby carrier and it was simple enough. Once I became really pregnant the second time, I had to have a stroller for Danny. Every little outing became such a hassle. So my options were A. Carry the stroller up and down 80+ steps to use the subway. B. Awkwardly lift a stroller with kid onto a bus with my big pregnant belly. Or C. Take a taxi which is super unpredictable especially at a busy time of day. And once I'm in a cab, I had to try to keep my toddler from climbing all over the backseat. I usually opted for the bus. (Read my scary bus story: here). I can imagine that raising older kids in Shanghai would be so much more enjoyable and rewarding. They'd remember these great experiences and they could walk! And I imagine my physical exhaustion would be less. I should have made the most of having groceries delivered, but I found myself walking my big pregnant self to the grocery store 20 min away with the double stroller. It was a great system and a good practical workout; except for the times it rained. I'm so thankful to be back in the US. In America, the the hardest part of grocery shopping is getting the kids in and out of the car! Easy peasy!

Caught in the rain on the way home from Carrefour
One thing that kind of sucked with little kids in the city is the lack of children's activities. There are "Mommy and Me" classes and indoor play areas which are all way too expensive. I couldn't make a habit of paying 150RMB (over $22) for my kid to play inside a mall for an hour. When the weather was nice, we could walk to Xujiahuai park which has a playground, but it was always so crowded. And we got way too much attention (I'll get back to that.) It was nice to have so many other expat moms and kids live nearby. We made the most of play dates. Last summer, we discovered a pool in the neighborhood. And it seemed that no one even knew of it's existence! It was expensive, but we splurged on a month long pass shared with friends.

Cooling off in the hot city summer

A really weird thing about being an expat in China, was all the attention Danny would get. And it got even worse when Benji was born. When I was out on the street with them, I always kept a brisk pace. If I slowed down, I would be swarmed by people just wanting to see these unique blue eyes and blond hair. I can understand their curiosity, but I did not appreciate them rudely taking pictures or touching my kids without asking. I'm telling you, it happened everywhere we went.

You won't believe how many pictures I have like this actually.
I decided to use this special attention to Danny's advantage. He had a short lived modeling career while we were in China. This was great because because he loved it and it was something fun and random to do. Also, we were able to start a savings account for him.

Is that ironic that D modeled car seats but never actually used one?


What is the food like?
Most everyone knows that American Chinese food is nothing like true Chinese food. I mean, it is similar. And there definitely were dishes that reminded me of food from home. It's not even a fair assessment to tell you what Chinese food is like when every part of China has such different food. From the little I've had, I've noticed a lot of grease. So much oil is used almost always. Probably our favorite of the Chinese fare is food from Xinjiang (western China), which in Shanghai is normally advertised as "Muslim Restaurant" This food is superior, and very very similar to middle-eastern food: lamb, hummus, beef, peppers, garlic. I have never had green beans like the ones at the Muslim restaurant in our neighborhood. I'll take a barrel, please! Dumplings are one of the most popular foods from China, and one of the things most people miss most when they leave. But not me.... I tried and tried to like all of them, from the little boiled ones (xiao long bao), the soup filled ones (sheng jian bao), or the puffy steamed buns (baozi). Nope. Can't stand them. I'm super grossed out by the ground up whatever that's inside. Some other things I stayed away from were the chicken feet and straight up pig fat. Although, I must say, I have become a chopstick master. You should see me peel a shrimp.


Best green beans ever.

My favorite Chinese food (besides the green beans) are all the veggie side dishes. Most Dongbei (north east) restaurants serve family style, meaning that, if you order green beans, it's big enough for everyone to have some. There are so many tasty dishes: eggplants, peppers, green beans, and/or potatoes, usually covered in a salty but delicious gravy. And a weird one I've come to love is tomatoes mixed with scrambled eggs. There is also a soup version of this. We've also really enjoyed these Xi'an style wraps in which a dude carves off some roasted meat off the kebab wheel and mixes it with greens and hot pepper sauce into flat bread.

Another great thing about Shanghai that I really miss is the food delivery! Ordering McDonald's online was just way too convenient. It literally would arrive 15 minutes after I ordered it. There isn't only fast food delivery either. So many local and foreign restaurants will deliver. Taco Mama's is the best Mexican food in town. And they even deliver margaritas! How I miss that!

Can you find American groceries there?
Absolutely. But most of them are so expensive. What I've seen is that imported foods cost between 2-5 times what it costs in the States. Some of my little splurges included:

cheese ($5 for 200 grams which is less than half a pound)
brownie mix ($6)
cereal (between $5-15 per box)
microwave popcorn ($5 for 3 bags)
chocolate chips ($8 a bag)
butter ($5 for 250 grams, or roughly two sticks)
Hunt's pasta sauce ($4)

Vegetables, fruit, and meat were always affordable (with the exception of beef). Milk and bread are available everywhere for 4x what you would pay in America. We ate out a lot because it was less of a hassle, and sometimes a lot cheaper than cooking at home.

Some of my very favorite Christmas presents!

Why did you leave?
 After Benji was born, we were starting realize how difficult it was with two little ones in the city. As I said earlier, I think living there with older kids would be way easier. I was worried about their little lungs, and all the pollution they were exposed to. And I hated the dangerous traffic. I got accustomed to the crazy flow of traffic, but a toddler can run in the wrong direction in an instant....you know. Also, I hated that they were so far away from their grandparents. There is so much growth and development in the first few years of life. I don't want our family to miss out on all that. Besides that, I think China kind of hardened us. It was time for a change of scenery and breath of fresh air.

What was it like?

I think I elaborated with previous questions, to give you a good idea of what it was like. In a word, I'd say it was surreal. Sometimes it seemed so normal and other times, it had to have been a dream.

 Did you like it? The million dollar question!

Never in all my years, did I even want to visit China. And off we went living, working, and having babies in China. Some days I feel like it's where we belong. Our fellow expat friends are in the same boat. It's easy to have camaraderie and completely fit in with other misfits. They just get it. I learned a lot about the world, life, faith, relationships, and myself in China. Already, the details are starting to become fuzzy. The negative memories are fading, while these uniquely beautiful memories shine even brighter than when they were first taking place.

So, yes. I liked it!

Visiting Yu Garden, December 2012