Monday, September 24, 2012

I miss my friends

For the first week that I was in the States, I literally did not want to talk to anyone. I had used up all my words, all my social capacity, in the weeks prior to leaving. The introvert in me was crying, "Uncle!" and I couldn't imagine a day when I would actually want, let alone need, to interact with people again.

Ok, so now I can.

I am immensely grateful that we are here staying with family. Right now that also includes my brother and sister-in-law who make life fun and meaningful. I've missed them terribly. My oldest, dearest friend Laura lives just minutes away and that too is very good. I love that I can text and call my stateside friends now (although I keep thinking about the time difference before I call, which is unnecessary).

But I still miss my friends. I am reading Addiction and Grace, and I wish I could talk to Karen about it because she read it too. I know that my friend Sung is moving and I wish I could be there to help her pack and watch her kids and consult with her on how to cover the landlord's left behind furniture. My friend Tammy's family had yet another trip to the hospital (they should really open a new wing in their name) and I wish I could be there to process it with her. I want to hear about Martha's trip to Thailand in person. And on and on it goes.

I am thankful that God is surrounding us here with people we love. I am confident that in Orlando we will find new friends. But I can't help feeling that I don't just want new friends - I want my old ones here! This is when I start praying that they will all feel strongly led to move to Orlando. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A New Normal

An angry outburst. Wild energy. Quick words to cut down a sibling. Yet another crazy game sure to end with tears or yelling.

They might all seem like normal child behavior, but I have no gauge for normal these days. We have no normal right now.

So I remind myself to stop and ponder what lies beneath the behavior. I wonder what emotions are tucked away in a corner of their hearts, needing to bring drawn out in more positive ways. I remember that without other playmates as outlets, they have only each other for entertainment. It can't be easy, and it can't feel right. I know I need to step in more as buffer, comforter, companion. I try to weave these things together into a basket of grace for the kids and me, to help us as we try to define a new normal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reverse Culture Shock

Every good expat has heard of the dreaded Reverse Culture Shock. That's where you go back to your home country and think, "This is weird! I don't get it! I feel like an idiot!" and other unpleasant things like that.

I came back to the States fully expecting that at some point we would have this. I've had it before - those moments where I was paralyzed in the bread/toothpaste/deodorant aisle incapable of making a decision because there were so many choices. The awkward times when I hand the clerk my credit card and then am informed that I can (and should) do it myself. I still forget that, and for the record, I don't like it.

This time I feel like all those potentially odd things that are different from Asia, to this point, don't strike me as anything but quite pleasant. I like that there are lots of choices. I like that driving doesn't feel like a test of my survival skills. I like that there is no one else on the streets in the morning when I exercise. I could get used to all these things.

But yesterday I hit my biggest moment of reverse culture shock. I went to IKEA.

I have never been to IKEA in America, only in Asia. So I was quite frankly weirded out by seeing prices in US dollars. It felt eerily empty. At no point did I feel like I was swimming against traffic. There wasn't a single Asian person anywhere. I kept thinking, "Look at this - it's all the same stuff. They brought it all from China." (Yes, I realize this is not true). Actually, it felt like I was still in China and just happened to go to IKEA on Foreigner Day.

Megan's cluing in to the reverse culture shock as well. In the bathroom the other day she said, "Mom, this toilet is really small. The toilets at Nonna and Babba's are really small too. Wait - maybe ALL the toilets in America are small compared to China!" and continued on in this vein for awhile, supposing that people would think she was weird because she's been using big toilets.

So we realize things are different, but so far we're generally of the opinion that they're good. I just don't think I'll go back to IKEA yet. That was weird.

Land of Sky Blue Waters

Did you know that Minnesota means "Land of Sky Blue Waters?" Actually, I think the original Native Americans meant it more like "cloudy waters" but we like to ignore the cloud part and just focus on the awesome blue skies. Minnesotans are positive that way.

When most people think of Minnesota, they think things like, "Why would anyone want to live there? Doesn't it snow most of the year? Isn't that in Canada? Is that even a state? Where is Minnesota?" All valid questions. Sure, the winters here last about 5 months and they can get so cold your nose hairs freeze together, but the rest of the year makes up for it, and that's what we get to enjoy right now.

And enjoy it we are! I'm not an outdoor girl. Honestly, I could live in a bunker and it wouldn't affect me much as long as I had enough room to run around. But there's something about Minnesota in the fall that does a soul good.

The mornings here are cool - this morning I could see my breath at 7 am. The days are temperate and sunny, you can smell fall in the air, the leaves are changing. The pace of life here is slower, people you don't know wave at you from the other side of the road or greet you as you pass by. When shopkeepers tell you to have a nice day, they actually sound like they mean it. And look at this picture, taken while visiting some friends who have a cabin near our cabin. This is a picture of the pond in front of the lake where their cabin is. This is their view, and what a lovely view it is.

All of this restores my soul, as it says in Psalm 23. God is using Minnesota to re-stock my soul with life-giving things.

God knew He was making a good thing when He made the land of sky blue waters.

The Homeschool View

One of the most frequent questions I have heard throughout our transition is, "Are you going to homeschool in America?" On the one hand, the thought of homeschooling in America sounds SO much easier than doing it in China, so why not? Hello libraries! Hello fast internet! Hello Amazon Prime that comes to my door in two days! Hello even more people who homeschool! Wow - that looks like I'm really excited, and also, quite friendly.

On the other hand, there are schools here. Schools that don't ask me to decide between sending my child to 5th grade or her freshman year of college for tuition. Schools where our kids could learn things I don't teach them, where they could have experiences they don't get at home.

I've never been a hard core homeschool mom. Our decision to homeschool was more out of necessity than choice. That said, I don't regret doing it; I see only good things that have come from it.

But as we look to Orlando, we're considering the options. Florida itself is not known for its stellar education system (#48 out of 50?!?) but there are other choices besides public schools (and even those we haven't ruled out). When we head down there in a few weeks, I hope to look at one of them in particular. I had previously written it off, but it's run by someone we know and our dear friends' kids go there, so our kids are all for it.

For now, we have three baskets full of books, binders and curriculum in the kids' bedrooms. They mostly work at the desks in their rooms or on their beds. So far so good, but who knows how much longer we'll have this view? 

Monday, September 17, 2012


I'm a little in disbelief that I can say an article I wrote about transition was published recently. You can check it out here if you're interested. :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lest you forget

"And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers . . . with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant - and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord." Deuteronomy 6:10-12

The first time these verses struck me (as Christians why are we always being "struck" by scripture? It seems so violent) was our 5th year overseas. I was in a great place. My mojo was strong - the kids were getting out of the tough toddler stage, my language skills were decent, I was able to use my gifts in fulfilling ways; in short, I loved my life. So I knew it was going to change.

I knew it, not because I think God is out to spoil my fun, but because of these verses which I had been studying at the time. I knew I was in a place where I was really comfortable. I didn't feel like I needed God. I was in danger of forgetting Him. So God saw fit to move us, four months later, to Singapore, where . . . well, let's say I felt my need.

But that was then. In reading this again now, I think of our current situation. This is the land o' plenty, and I feel like I could get pretty used to it. I like showers with consistent water temperature and washing machines large enough to hold a person. I like blue skies and non-threatening traffic. I like speaking English. I like friendly Minnesotans.

So how do I not forget God here? How do I stay aware that even in the seemingly best, most comfortable, most easy places I am in desperate need for Him? I don't have the answer to that yet; it's what I'm pondering this morning. I just know that He is God here as much as He was there, and I need Him.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Who will you be?

Sometime in the summer I was reading the story of Moses sending the spies ahead into Canaan. All but two of them came back with a report that, although the land was flowing with milk and honey, the people there were strong and the cities fortified and large. These latter things were unappealing to them.

But then Caleb stepped up and said, basically, "We can do this." Joshua seconded that with, "If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us . . . the Lord is with us."

I read this story around the time when Ethan seemed to be struggling the most with our future life in America. He's a realist, like me (it sounds so much better than pessimist), and he was seeing the difficulties of transitioning to new friends, new places.

So I shared this story with him, because when I read it, I felt clearly that God was saying, "Who will you be like Gina? Will you look ahead and only see the obstacles, or will you look ahead with faith and hope because you believe that I am leading you to this place?"

It's hard to go into an unknown place after one you've loved so well. But this morning as I sat on the deck, warm sun on my face, I was encouraged by recalling this story. I'm not saying Orlando is the promised land :) but it is the place to which He is leading us, and we will trust in His goodness as we anticipate life there.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

If They Only Knew

This morning I was just another runner in a race on a typical Minnesota fall day.

I was just another mom watching her kid play soccer.

In both, I felt a little like the secret weirdo.

I mean I was the only person who didn't blink an eye when I saw that the three stalls in the women's bathroom didn't have doors. I was probably the only one who was breathing a lot easier during that 5K, or noticed that people were cheering in English.

During the game, I have to say I was pretty proud of Megan, who despite her only experience in soccer being bi-lingual coaching from a Swiss German with dredlocks alongside a gang of Chinese boys, seems to be one of the most skilled on her team. If not, then at least the fiercest and most determined. I didn't feel like explaining all that to any of the other moms.

Let them all think this is as normal for me as it is for them. They don't need to know how many times I've used bathrooms in the full presence of strangers, how I'm used to people staring at me like I'm insane when I run. They don't know that we've never seen this many American kids playing soccer in the same place before, or that Megan's not used to her teammates calling her name.

If they only knew.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Finding Home

Home. Where is it? It’s become a nebulous concept for me after all these years. Why is it that we have such a need to call something a home? I don’t know, but we do, and when we don’t have it there is a lostness, a feeling of not being tethered.
In our last few days in China, Megan cried to me a few times that she wanted to go “home.” She meant our recently vacated house. It is still your home when someone else’s belongings now fill it? As we descended the escalator at the airport that took us out of sight of our friends, she again cried, “I want to go home!” It broke my heart to keep leading her away from it.
Our next home awaits us in Orlando, although right now it is an empty house. How long will we have to be there before it feels like home for us?
Last night I was praying for someone I know who recently moved to Orlando. She posted on her blog about some of their transition stress, and as I was praying for her, I felt led to pray that they would find that sense of home in Orlando.
I prayed it because that is my desire for our family as well. We are in that in between place where our roots have been pulled up and have not yet sunk in elsewhere. It will be awhile before we find home again, but I know we will.

Tap water and other novelties

America is novel to me right now.

This morning I watched a line of 5 cars creeping along behind a truck on a quiet road. The road was wide enough for three cars, and I thought, "In China, all of those cars would have gone around him, even if there had been oncoming traffic."

Last night I threw a melatonin pill in my mouth and immediately realized it was not the kind you suck. Ack! Ack! What to do? And then I realized - I can drink this tap water. I have to say it wasn't the best tasting water seeing as it was in the bathroom, but people, it was tap water. I walked around feeling weird about that for a little while.

Did you know that they make peanut butter Cheerios? And vanilla nut? Or something like that. I feel a little badly for regular Cheerios, like they aren't good enough.

They have Crystal Light single packets that come in mixed drink flavors now like margarita, because nothing says, "Soccer mom who'd rather be at happy hour" like fake alcohol in your water bottle.

The grapes are big but there are no seeds, and the skins don't feel like something you need to cut through with a knife!

America really knows how to do paper products. I feel like I'm wiping my nose with a blanket.

The internet is crazy fast here!

Yeah, I'm enjoying it all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ready, set, go

I really didn't want to run this morning.

Usually, the night before, I am looking forward to a run. I envision myself running farther and faster, people staring in awe as I fly by (actually that last part would never happen, but that's ok). Come morning, I am a little less enthusiastic.

This time, I wasn't even excited last night, so I didn't have a great deal of hope for the morning. It was only the fact that I am running a 5K on Saturday and don't want to fail miserably that I forced myself out the door.

To my surprise, it was a good run. It helps to have a gorgeous route and cool temps. At the turnaround point I was tempted to go further, but decided not to push it. Good thing too because I always forget how long and steep is the final quarter mile back to the house.

Why am I telling you all this? Well because it perfectly illustrates how I am feeling today about homeschool. In all the craziness of packing to leave 13 years of life behind, this "having to teach to the kids" thing kind of snuck up on me.

I really don't want to homeschool this morning.

Yesterday I was a madhouse of planning, preparing, and buying last minute materials. I am hoping to ease into it this week but with the amount that we are going to be disturbed in our schedule this year I know we can't afford to not dive in head first next week. I don't want to say goodbye to all my free time and hello to being a teacher again, but we can't have feral, uneducated young'uns running around.

But who knows? It could be good. It has been before. Yes, it's tough, and there are steep hills to climb, but I think we'll get into a groove soon enough.

So here we are. Ready, set, go.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Project 365 August

Here is our last month in China, in pictures. I missed a few because of all the moving craziness, but I caught a lot of our last moments. 
Cool gate along a country road

Guyaju cave dwellings

Longqing Gorge

Fruit vendor

relief on a hot day

Taking a bath

Scout Court of Honor

Hutong door

Old hutong

Ancient woman in the hutong


This is MY toy

To do list


Garage sale

Our door

mowing the grass with a weed wacker

Someone's collecting branches

A game of cards

Reading the news



Waiting to be taken

A last bag of my favorite snack

Where the white boards were

This is how boys say goodbye

Scout looking forlorn as she heads across the ocean

Nope, I didn't take this but it was worthy of inclusion

Last photos with friends

When Does It Feel Real?

I live in America. I live in America. I live in America.

No matter how many times I think it, it doesn't feel true. Granted, I've been on American soil just over 24 hours, but it doesn't feel even remotely true. When will it?

I have moments when I realize that it is true, but mostly I have to remind myself. Like when I feel this need to buy everything we need in a mad rush like we usually do when we're back for a visit. When I sign up for cell phone service, and not just the one month kind. When I see a clip on the Today Show about China and have to tell myself, "You don't live there anymore."

I suppose it will become more real when I pick out paint colors for our house. Certainly it will be more real when we move our furniture in there right? When we change our permanent address, when we buy plants for our yard, when we get a year long membership at the Y, when we hunt for a church, when we get Florida driver's licenses.

Then will it be real? 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What We Won't Miss

There were things we loved about being in China and things we didn't love. I guess I had this feeling that as we left we would be clinging to all those things we loved (and we did - our friends being the primary thing) and forgetting all the difficult things. But then, right as we left, China decided to throw in a few doozies just to make us a little more willing to go. I'm not sure who to thank.

The first thing happened as we were leaving our house. We had just started off but had to run back because Erik had forgotten something. We double parked right at the mouth of where two roads converged, with the car running. After a few minutes we heard the unmistakeable crunch of metal against metal, and realized that a woman had tried to pass us on the left and scraped our front bumper.

She fared worse than us
She tried to insist that it was our fault that we were parked there, but I pointed out what seemed to be the obvious fact that I was IN the running car and she could have just asked me to move. Not ready to give up face, she insisted that we call the police and have them decide. Eventually we were able to convince her that the police didn't need to get involved and that we could deal with it all ourselves. Ethan crying and my anxious, "We really need to leave" face might have helped matters speed along.

So we sped along directly into a traffic jam. Not just any traffic jam, mind you, but my favorite, favorite kind, caused by someone doing something illegal without considering the ramifications for other drivers. In this case, it was the classic, "I don't want to wait in this long line. I'll just go into opposing traffic and drive to the front" move, only he managed to front end a bus which was rear ended by a van which was rear ended by another bus. And then to make it even harder to navigate the police car who came chose to park in one of the two lanes on our side of the road. This meant that people turning left onto our road had to try to drive down the one lane that we could use. Brilliant.
The van that caused it all. Notice that he is on the other side of the double yellow lines and the silver car is on OUR side of the road
Finally, the police car realized his position and moved, and we were able to grab onto a little bit more time with those friends we love and will miss dearly. The other things, yeah not so much.


One of the greatest lessons I feel God began teaching me in China and I'm sure will continue to teach me until I die is the power of vulnerability. Not just transparency - I think many of us are good at that - but vulnerability. A friend once explained the difference as this, "Transparency is putting all your junk in a window display for others to see. Vulnerability is letting others go into the storeroom and pull things out to be on display." It's a whole lot more frightening when you don't have control over what is shown.

So when I saw the following quote about vulnerability from an article (see full article here) recently I was encouraged because it resonates so much with what I've been learning:

"Vulnerability is not weakness, nor is it optional. We can't opt out of the uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks that are woven through our daily experiences. Like it or not, vulnerability is coming, and we have to decide if we’re going to open up to it or push it away.

The only choice we really have is how we're going to respond to feeling vulnerable. And contrary to popular belief, our shields don't protect us. They simply keep us from being seen, heard, and known.
If there's anything I've learned over the past decade and experienced firsthand over the last year, it's this: Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose. 

Even if letting ourselves be seen and opening ourselves up to judgment or disappointment feels terrifying, the alternatives are worse: Choosing to feel nothing -- numbing. Choosing to perfect, perform, and please our way out of vulnerability. Choosing rage, cruelty, or criticism. Choosing shame and blame. Like most of you reading this, I have some experience with all of these alternatives, and they all lead to same thing: disengagement and disconnection.

One of my favorite quotes is from theologian Howard Thurman. He writes, "Don’t ask what the world needs; ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." Vulnerability is not easy, but it’s the surest sign that we’ve come alive"
Brene Brown

The View From Business Class

It has always been my dream to fly internationally in business class so that I could actually sleep on a flight. I am genetically programmed to only be able to sleep prone in dark, quiet places. I usually get to the other side of an international flight looking like a zombie.

So when Erik got upgraded to business class on our way back and offered it to me, I couldn't have been happier if I had just won the lottery. All I could think was, "I will be able to sleep!" And then I discovered that business class is so . . . much . . . more.

Maybe you know this, but business class is where they keep the nice flight attendants, the ones who joke with you and tell you their first names and offer to help you. It's where they put a tablecloth over your tray table and bring you warm mixed nuts in a bowl while you wait for your meal. It's where they offer you champagne, orange juice, or water, and you can veer off course and ask for a mimosa (I discovered this when the girl next to me did. Then I felt like I lost out a little by only getting water). It's where food looks like real food and alcohol is free as my seatmate made fairly clear (I joined her with a Bailey's at one point). But best of all, it's where the seats lay flat and that's what I did for 6 whole hours people. 12 hour flights go by quickly when you sleep for half of them.

So now here I am on the other side still wide awake at 11 pm because I just woke up at 3 pm, but that's ok. It was a great view.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

That's Our Cue

A friend just told me that in the movies, rain signals change.

This morning as we look out, the rain is pouring down.

I'm disappointed that it thwarts my plans for one last run, one last walk around the neighborhood with my camera to capture the Sunday morning activities. I hope it doesn't keep us from enjoying our last lunch with friends before we go.

Last things. Time to go. The rain is falling so I guess that's our cue. Goodbye Asia!