littlewrenderings - littlewrenderings

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Preface...

This site served as my blog for the last year of our peace corps service in China. Our last day in China we found out that we were going to be expecting our own little "wren". March 2nd we were joined with our dear little made in China baby, Florence "Wren" Louise Peterson! I have my blog elsewhere now so this site is for my during and post china thoughts and Wren pictures! (So much easier to do albums on here!)

Photo journal

Moving to a new location

so many new locations actually!!! I'm transferring my bloggish writtings to an easier to access place = blogger. My new address online is littlewrenderings.blogspot.com. In other news... there is a new address to our names. China treated us wonderfully but it is sadly no longer our home. We are returned to the US and are living in a suburb of Philadelphia Pennsylvania near our families. Life is changing quickly and our little peterson clan is growing! I'll be posting images of our new American journey on the other page where I hope you'll join me.

Put on your lipstick, we've got company coming...

Good friends of ours live in a town a few hours away... And whenever I’ve been there or talked to people who were there, they’ve said the weather is absolutely beautiful. Pretty amazing, actually, how pleasant of a place it is. One of our friends there referred to his town as “Xing Yi put on her lipstick for the visiting foreigners”. Recently we had a friend come to visit our city, and as we road in on the bus I noted to myself that our town doesn’t have lipstick. This particular day our town was recovering from days and days of misty rain... Meaning every surface in our town is covered with about a quarter inch of slick mud. This slick, feces smelling muck is drug into every building and smeared all over the floors... Making a wet marble floor exponentially worse with the slippery mud all over it. This afternoon when I had climbed the 6 stories to our apt. the floor at the top was already slick with mud! How does it travel so far? It really feels like we are on the set of some scary sci-fi set of a "the blob" esque film! I'm gonna have nightmares tonight of it seeping out of our closet! Eeeeek!
It was then I realized that our town’s lipstick is this dark earthy brown slime. Our home has a much more natural approach to beautifying products... The people in our town are wonderful enough,we don’t need lipstick. We need to smear poo on everything to prevent everyone in the world from coming to live in our little bit of paradise.

food store dreams

I’ve woken up the past 2 mornings filled with joy and all smiles. I’ve been dreaming of shopping at a food store in America... Any food store in America, and buying cheese, Jell-o, real milk, and cereal. This past night I dreamt up some very large blue and pink /his and hers top hats made completely of Jell-o. My dad got out his tripod and camera to take a photo of Dan and I wearing these lovely numbers. In my dreams the blocks of cheese are the size of those cardboard bricks they have in kindergartens and church nurseries everywhere. I eagerly run, nay, dance down the aisles grabbing cheese, rice krispy treats, and sour candies...

I realized after my second night of these kinds of dreams,  why I am dreaming of food all of the sudden. I have been talking to my freshmen classes about food in America. Turns out they think we eat “Beefsteak” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I explained that steak is expensive and is not a common part of someone’s diet... With that off their list, their list only had hamburgers, apple pie, and milk left on it. We talked breakfast... I tried to explain what cereal was... And they looked at me like I was crazy!
By the time we got to lunch I had one student insisting on Americans eating rice everyday for lunch... Some do... But I explained that most people eat sandwiches for lunch. When asked what people eat in their sandwiches, my students were totally stumped! Bread? Uh... Yeah, a sandwich has bread for the outside... Not usually as a filler...  Uh, beefsteak? They asked... Yeah, some people do eat beef in their sandwiches... What else? Uh... Turkey? Pork? Chicken? Cheese? ... Eventually we got some of the big sandwich players up on the board. Then I really stumped them... I wrote up...  P B & J .... The room fell silent. They had nothin’.
I helped by adding Jelly... A student asked butter and I wrote it up for them...  Then I got one of my favorite responses in a while... Uh, Pie?
I tried not to laugh... But the thought of a butter and Jelly sandwich with a piece of pie in it was too good of a picture for my silly brain to handle... “Yeah, they slice it real thin” is all I could muster...  Who knows, maybe somebody will make a fortune selling Pie, Butter, and Jelly sandwiches...

I know from friends who are already home that coming home to all the reckless excesses of America can be absolutely overwhelming... So, I suppose I am just getting some of my culture shock out through my dreams...
If I come home to Jell-O hats in the grocery store, I’m already prepared! :)

The wheels on the bus go round and round...

My students ask why Dan and I always take the train. "The bus is faster", they say trying to convince me. I realize it is faster and only a little bit more expensive. It is, however, always the kind of Chinese adventure I try my best to avoid. I avoid it not just because it is full of cultural differences, but because people always tend to behave wackily when they are on busses...

I think I can sum up why I dislike busses in a story about a bus trip from my time here. 

It started as most bus stories do, with me getting onto a bus. In this particular story Dan was not around, making it even more difficult. I sat down next to a friend and the bus station worker got on the bus to make sure everyone on the bus had the appropriate ticket and that all the seats were filled. We pulled out of the lot and no more than 5 minutes passed when the bus pulled over to collect some new passengers. Yes, there were no more seats, so these new comers would sit on the floor in between the rows or casually lean on the people around them. The people we picked up were a man and his chicken, a woman with her grandchild on her back in a baby carrier, and her husband. The woman stopped next to my friend, I assume because she thought she would be a fine person to lean against, and proceeded to lean on her for the next half hour.
Our county is full of these lovely egg carton mountains and weaving in and out of them can sometimes be a tumultuous affair. After about a half hour of the weaving in and out and swaying back and forth and jamming on of breaks and speeding, this woman started to feel sick... she knelt down, baby on her back and began to vomit. So did her husband... and baby followed shortly after. Luckily these busses had windows that open, so we opened ours... and after a brief encounter with one of the plastic bags filled with her breakfast, we were fine. Then, as if on cue... everyone started tossing their cookies. People walked ashen faced up to the front of the bus to ask for more plastic bags, and walked back to their seats with handfuls for themselves and their friends. The bags went flying out the windows after getting filled...(If you see a plastic bag on the side of the street in China, don't pick it up...) I was feeling it, but was doing my best to hold it in... 
Until the man in front of me opened his window and stuck his head out, for what I thought was a healthy dose of fresh air, but what was really a "stick my head out the window because I don't have a plastic bag and I need to THROW UP". Being one of those people who is not terribly quick all the time... luckily I was quick on the draw when it counted this time. I slammed shut the window just as the man in front of me's vomit slapped all over my window.
My throat tightened and me and my friend both groaned and held each other... Too much for me... I was able to hold the rise of stomach contents down and held a scarf up to block the vomit from my line of sight for the rest of the ride. I swear, as soon as the vomit hit my window that Chicken began to laugh at me from the overhead compartment where it (body wrapped tightly in a feed back) had been shoved.

I'm sure there are benefits to taking the bus over the train. You usually arrive much faster, but with the accidents and bodies I've seen, the smoking in busses without openable windows, and yes, the vomiting, I realize that the train is truly my favorite way to see China... even if it includes a long march!

April Fool's!

I am not a planner aheader... But today, on my sweet first nephew’s second birthday I couldn’t help but succumb to the world of playing tricks... Specifically on my sweet husband! I got home from class just about an hour before he was due home after his book club. I spent my time very usefully... I remembered a little bag of jingly bells that I’d bought for Christmas time. Anything that makes it sound, smell, taste more like Christmas is of course welcome! I’d somehow forgotten about them sitting in a little black plastic bag in the corner of our Christmas cabinet. I found them again in February when putting away tacky snow globes and Houses to put candles in... (the level of tacky has really thrown off the idea of how nice Christmas can be. The Chinese have been making us the UNBELIEVABLY tacky items we designed, ordered, then paid them for. Now, well, now they have started to slightly celebrate this holiday... As in, putting up SCARY looking santa posters in January and decorating giant Styrofoam cones with lights and glitter encrusted disco looking santas and creepy snow men I would never want lurking around my yard! I think they were thrown off with the tacky we had them make... I always remember thinking, what must the Chinese think of us when they are working to make us all this useless garbage? Well... They think you need it to celebrate Christmas, I guess!)
I decided, what better way to get back at my sweet husband than to sew these jingle bells in all his clothes. I rushed home this day, literally giggling at how funny this would be... Perhaps a bit too confident, but can you blame me? I giggled as I sewed little tiny jingle bells in all of his underwear, and bigger ones in the back of the collars of his teaching shirts and hidden behind pockets in all his pants. I got his t-shirts, his pockets, and just to be cute, I sewed some decoratively on his old beat up undershirts. We usually go to bed around 12, technically the next day... Technically APRIL FOOL’S DAY, so to kick the whole thing off I sewed them into his PJ’s.
There was only one hitch with my plan. As soon as Dan got home we decided to go get some dinner, so he went into our bedroom to change out of his shorts... It was getting cold outside. I went in and tried to urge him to just wear the shorts, but he picked up the pants he had set aside for his teaching outfit... I had sewed a bell in the cuff... And I watched as he  shook them a bit, then shrugged it off. I, being the most indiscrete person ever, had to make up some excuse to go to the bathroom. When I got back, he was walking around, then shook his hips, and asked me, “Is that me?” I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing! Then he realized he’d been had. He shook his legs until he found the offending bell...
I knew for sure that he expected the rest of his wardrobe to be peppered with these little jinglers, but somehow he thought that was the extent of my trick and we left for dinner.
Getting ready for bed was the best. He grabbed for some clean underwear to take to the shower and comically pulled out pair after pair of jingling pants! Upon return he found bells in P J’s, undershirts, shorts...

I don’t think of myself as a trixy lady. I can rarely get away with anything! Whenever I bought my sister anything for her birthday I’d tell her... I’d get so excited... Even now I’m the first to push my Christmas presents at everybody. I LOVE watching people opening gifts. (I vaguely recall nobly wrapping up my toys as a child and trying to give them to my sister or parents... Who probably didn’t want plastic necklaces or barrettes.) This time, I made it to the point of him pulling out the clothes, then I couldn’t help myself, I opened his closet grabbing his shirts in a big bunch and I shook them... The resounding jingling was fabulous!

All in all, I think he liked it. He wore his jingle bell pants to work... Bell still intact.  I suppose, if he tries any tricks on me now, at least I’ll hear him coming... Jingling all the way! :)

Mmmmm... Tender!

I have gotten way to used to being applauded during my classroom entrances. I’m used to the “your hair is just SO blonde” and the “You are so lucky to have such white skin”. (Though I’m used to these last two they are still a bit baffling. Growing up with a sister with beautiful golden tresses, I’ve never once before this trip gotten “blonde”, also, this white skin has brought me nothing but ridicule over the years, except from family, but even they have to wear sunglasses when they talk to me on the beach, lest their retinas be burnt out by the gleaming reflection of the sun’s rays right into their faces. If nothing else I help them all get better tans, reflecting all that light!)
This week I had one of my weirder encounters with observant students. We teach for 2 hours with a 10 min. break in between. During the breaks with my sophomores, they tend to want their space. They have seen the Waijiao (foreign teachers) for a year now and are too busy texting the weird things I say to their boytoys than to inspect me. In my freshmen classes, however, they still have “the waijiao zeal”. This particular class, a few students asked me to come and sit with them and tell them everything... (Which usually means me asking them about their classes, families, hometowns, etc. This is also a good time for them to ask about College life in America as well as pick my brain about their relationship issues.) I sat down and talked for a while when I felt the presence of the student whose seat I’d taken when I was ushered to sit with the girls. She is a good student and a fun girl. I thought she was playing a trick on me. I turned around just in time to catch her hand right near my neck. She burst out laughing, then stuck her finger out and touched my neck, standing maybe a foot away from me. (apparently there is no word for personal space in China) She petted my neck for a second then said,
“Mmmmmmmm, Tender!”

I laughed, as I quietly explained that in America, at least, this phrase would most often be used while describing meat. I asked if she planned on eating me. With all the vampire movies/books around this was laughed off as a funny joke, but sometime I hope to get back around to the point... That generally speaking, it is probably inappropriate to touch a foreigners’ neck and then use a term in their culture used to describe a piece of delectable meat.

I know I am taking a risk publicizing the tenderness of my neck. But it’s worth the vampire threat to be able to get the joke out there... 

Irish food

Our students have proved very interested in what americans eat for dinner. They are endlessly interested in "What constitutes American food" mostly, I think, to find out why we are so fat/what not to eat so as to not get fat like Americans. This Christmas season we had group after group of students over (aprox. 3 groups every week in december) to roll out, cut, and decorate Christmas cookies. They were generally shocked to find out that they were eating BUTTER in these cookies... but many asked for my recipe and were very excited to eat American sweets. During these visits, students swirled tornado-like through our little apartment. Going through our refrigerator and cabinets. If we'd left our bedroom door open I'm sure they'd find out if we prefer Fruit of the loom over Hanes. I was able to calm the assault by gathering some of our nosier guests around our spice shelf in our pantry. I had them smell and guess what the ingredient could be. They responded to every one the same... (Hua Jiao... or numbing pepper. We LOVE this spice, but I'm not sure why they thought anyone would have 15 different little bottles with the same thing in them.) The smelled basil, oregano, ground cinnamon and nutmeg all for the first time. They had a very difficult time distinguishing them. Besides herbs de Provence smelling like traditional chinese medicine and a few people breathing out into my spice jars as well as in... it was an educational experience for all!
We have had students over a few times for dinner, mostly with the same outcome. Our students, felling very comfortable being honest with us (which is great! Really!) turn their noses up after a few bites and then push the bowl of (you'd think dog poo) "American Food" away and ask if we have rice. I took it personally when I'd made our delicious fresh tomato cream soup... there were lots of full bowls on our table after they'd left... but now I know better. I'm not sure I'll ever be bold enough to ask someone if they had anything else I could eat... that's a bold move!
Last night was a different situation that usual. We had 5 of my favorite people in China over for dinner... my art club girls! I cooked "Irish food"... it was a variation of corned beef and cabbage. It is near to impossible to get beef here, let alone corned beef, so we had to alter it a bit. Chunks of "the butt of the cow" --the woman who sold it to us pointed to her derriere after dan asked which part of the cow it came from-- potatoes, carrots (my new favorite veggie!), little spring onions, and of course, cabbage, stewed in the pot and made our home smell like I should get some kind of American overseas homemaker of the year award!
And... the students
LOVED it... Together we polished off the whole pot! I think I will willingly cook for them again! Next time: MEXICAN!!!!

Jamberry!!!

With no heat in our Apt. besides our little space heater, we can see our breath and are constantly wearing our winter outerwear inside. I can't help but feel like I've lost my figure over the winter. I've put on winter weight around my middle in the form of the giant down ski jacket a previous volunteer left here. I am hoping my waist is in there somewhere. I'll find out as soon as it is warm enough to shed the Parka. 
Needless to say we are dying for spring! The other day we were walking in our warmest clothes to the store at the end of our street. We passed by our friendly fruit lady and on her hand pushed rough wooden cart was a pile of red so bright in the gloomy snowy/rainy weather it caught my eye like a neon sign. The winter is cold and our lack of fresh raw veggies and fruit was effecting me more than I knew it could. Everything feels pretty grey this time of year, but somehow this pile of cheery strawberries hadn't gotten the message to be gloomy for a bit longer. Nobody told them the groundhog didn't see his shadow. I know strawberries can't sing, but they were sirens to dan and I.
Instead of going to the end store we turned around to go home to wash and devour these bright little rubies!
We've had them three times this week already. My favorite book as a child was a book about children and a friendly bear riding in canoes through blueberries and swimming in strawberries... I always loved the idea, I loved the images, the fantasy of it all, but now I feel I really understand. When someone asks "who wants to be the first to swim in the strawberries?", I'm not going to raise my hand, I'm just going to JUMP IN!

My husband is a wonderful man. While I do my sewing he reads to me so that I can have the mental stimulation while I keep my fingers busy. There does, however, come a time when his voice gets scratchy and I end up sewing with nothing to listen to. Luckily I found an audio copy of a wonderful book I'd read a few years back. This book, Animal Vegetable Miracle, By Barbara Kingsolver, quite literally changed the way I think about food and about my interactions with it. It also changed my career path. It is because of this book that I spent a wonderfully informative and meditative year working on an organic farm.
Reading it again has proved to have a similar impact on my mindset. (since i finished it this past time I've actually read it again, and again, and listened to parts I like, over and over... it's so interesting... and hearing about veggies again is like being told stories about friends) I've already written about our inability to eat raw veggies here (probably too many times). The Night Soil problem really makes it dangerous to eat veggies, even after they've been cooked. But one of the very best things about the Chinese veggie situation is that we don't see strawberries all year. In fact, we only have them when they are in season. Last year we went for a long hike with students right where they grow our local strawberries. In China they don't spend tons of money and gas and environment on making everything available all year round. Instead, they eat what is in season... and in our case, we eat as much as we can get, before the strawberry plants are plowed back into the soil and they've moved on to another crop.
So, even though the forecast is for snow and every laugh from our mouths issues a billow of visible breath, we have fresh, sweet, tart, strawberries. And for now, that taste of spring is just what we needed.

Bickering little wrens

With almost no access to shutterfly over the past few months I’ve done almost no updating... Sorry. I’ve decided to push myself into it and do it at home and load it when I get to an internet café (more like an internet pit with the lighting –or lack thereof, the smoke, and the unsavory company.) Forgive my inconsistancy.
So, today is the first day of our last semester in China. I woke this morning to something not too pleasant. Our neighbors were arguing loudly. Clearly they were anxious about the first day of school starting and were taking it out on each other. They bickered so loudly it was impossible to sleep in until the alarm woke us. It was so loud it sounded like they were on our windowsill. And, in fact they WERE on our windowsill. This same bickery pair of birds sits on our bedroom windowsill almost every morning. I should say that I am familiar with this idea of having a feathered alarm clock. In college I would
 wake  to a pair of preening doves cooing to each other lovingly as they watched the sun come up from my windowsill. I loved waking to their gentle words to each other. Here the locals feathered alarm clocks are less genteel.
After the birds woke us up I started to notice all the other VERY loud noises here. At 7 the number 11 bus starts to really get running and with it starts the honking. You can hear the number 11 bus coming from almost anywhere in town. We have known drivers to honk through the entirety of a red light... (usually if there is no car in front of them they will just drive through the middle of the intersection without batting an eye... Don’t get me wrong, we bat our eyes, the other drivers bat their eyes... Or they’ll get smushed! I secretly think that the 11 bus drivers must own the city... Cause they do whatever they want!)
Another unsettling bit of noise pollution is what they call around here, “Crazy English”. If this sounds interesting you should look it up online. To my understanding it was started by a fairly bad student who decided he wanted to “conquer” English. He spent a year with a rock in his mouth trying to learn English placements for the tongue... Or something like that... And was known by his friends and fellow students as the crazy kid who would SCREAM ENGLISH. He’d get up early in the morning and scream English. This man has now made a good amount of money doing seminars around the country encouraging people to scream English in public places because it will help them conquer it.
Now this is a seemingly a great thing for English teachers everywhere. Finally a motivational tool that will really get students excited about studying English. But in truth this is a very strange way to come at a language and has a fairly negative affect on it’s “followers”.
Our students that are interested in Crazy English (this is really what they call it) are the students who have the worst pronunciation and are the most unmotivated in class. Doing crazy english gives them an excuse not to participate in class. They learn through their reading in Crazy English that classes are irrelevant. They may stand on the mountain behind our home every morning and yell English... But because they learn from books written by a Chinese man, printed in China the pronunciation is Wacky! It is almost impossible for me to understand a word my Crazy English students say.
Usually when we study a language there is an attitude of respect for the language and culture. This program is based on this man’s disrespect and dislike for Americans and the English language. The idea is that he wants to Conquer it so that he proves that he is better than it. This mentality is unbelievable to me. According to my students, he encourages followers to speak very quickly in Chinese to prove that Americans are too stupid to understand, to make Americans lose face, so that the follower can prove their superiority. Weird huh?
Finally, the text that the students learn is a weird mix of communist ideals and strange personal issuses this man (I assume unwittingly) is airing publically. We hear these students reading LOUDLY their English, over and over and over, book up towards the sky.   Students yelling anything from “I will brush my teeth every morning” to “I will be a good member of society by supporting my government”. The reason I say this man has issues that he has spliced into his material is because phrases like “Mother, Mother, You do not know what you are talking about.” come up. 
The other sound that pulls us out of sleep is one that I hope I’ll never wake up to again. It’s the sound of high heels slapping against the pavement under our window. Many students wear heels everyday. There is a clapping sound that shoes make, it’s normal, but here, the shoe makes contact with the ground in one flat step... Resulting in a resounding “CLAP”. I wear heels rarely. My 5’9” self is tall enough, thank you, but there is a way to walk quietly with heels... Here, with all the other noise pollution I’m not sure anyone but me even notices it.
Our birds are noisy when they bicker and gripe in the morning, but I’m not sure they can be blamed for this. Our society has been increasing the noise level, and especially here in China, where yelling on your cell phone in the middle of a crowded bus is an all day everyday occurrence, I can understand the birds need to up the volume. What is the point of a birdsong (or bird argument) if it can’t be heard over the constant din. They are forced to up the volume just to keep up.

Cryptic conversations

Dan’s phone has swum in our washer twice since we’ve been here, Its been dropped, sat on, carelessly tossed while serving alarm clock duty, but it’s only been since this past week that it gave up all together. It rings, and will let him hear phone calls but will not allow the person on the other end of the line to hear his responses. That person is usually me. We’ve developed a certain strategy. During one of my long monologue phone conversations his face grazed one of  the buttons and I heard the beep! It only took us a matter of seconds to develop our code. 1 beep is yes, 2 is no, 3 is either “I don’t know” or “I love you”... Whichever fits the context. Secretly any three beeps is “I love you” in my mind. The ironic part is that our home is currently in possession of 4 cell phones. One was one my father bought on his arrival in China so we could communicate with them. In an effort to have internet that actually works, Dan spent 4 hours battling language differences and a bureaucratic system that would impress the dmv. He was told he needed to purchase a cell phone to get wireless internet in our apartment, or at least this was the cheapest route. He came home from that trip utterly exhausted and skeptical. True to his concerns it hasn’t worked once. Our internet did resolve itself, thankfully, and we are debating if it’s worth it to slog through the bureaucratic mumbojumbo to get our money back. Is there any amount of money worth that?
Unfortunately our time here has been full of trips to the bank because they didn’t enter your name right and they need to see your passport so they can change it to your real name even though after 2 hours they will enter it incorrectly again and give up, shrug, and hand me back my little bank book with them having crossed out the old with a pen and written my name in incorrectly in a new way. (yes this really did happen).
I know I’ve said this before, but when I applied for Peace Corps I envisioned a hut with a mud floor, digging wells, teaching bookmaking to women, helping to end human trafficking, etc. I think any of that would have been easier for Dan and I. In America it’s calling in a change of address to the bank, visiting the dreaded DMV, renewing teaching licenses, and pretty much any kind of “pick up the blue form at the bubble window, fill it out, bring it to the square window, get it stamped, get the pink form from the woman growing mold behind that window, fill it out.... And on and on and on and on....” that makes my husband rub his forehead and makes me twirl my hair. Over our 1 1/2 + years in China it’s been the run-ins with overly bureaucratized scavenger hunts that have been the most frustrating and draining. Peace Corps is a great resume write in, a token in your pocket on the road to a position in government, a little badge of honor to wear and throw into conversation to impress people, but for us, it’s the two years that gave us perspective on our frustrations with hoop jumping in America. Upon our return, I’m not sure it will even phase us!

That lettuce is done up right perty - cook your veggies, a sequel to wash your brown rice

My students and I snuck away from the busyness that is life on a college campus, away from studying and the pressure of impending countrywide examinations... (like the SATs for all different majors, and like standardized tests in the US, they prevent students from doing much actual learning)
We decided to walk around the lake behind our school. Most of the path is paved and quite easy walking, even on a somewhat muddy day like it was this particular day. There is, however, a stretch of path that weaves through peoples’ gardens. The path runs VERY close to the lake here and with mud it is a little bit of a challenge not to slide right “into the drink” as my dad would say.
As we walked through, carefully choosing our steps, so as not to lose our footing, I admired the beautiful green lettuces. The lettuce here is vibrantly green and lush. We admire it when we go to the market, but rarely eat it. Lettuce here is thrown into stews and soups. It is never eaten raw. On this particular walk I saw why.
It is common practice to use compost on veggies. The compost of popular choice and easy availability here is manure, or really humanure... Yeah, every countryside toilet has two openings, one for the “stuff” to go into, and another where a bucket can be lowered and the “stuff” can be pulled out by the bucketful, then ladled onto their veggies. Holes where people relieve themselves are not pretty places ever... In America we use drinking water to wash the sides of them... (can’t help but think of what a waste that is) Here, you can literally smell them from a mile away! Dan and I have been caught behind a person carrying a bamboo pole with two buckets hanging from its ends on the way to our local market. He, seemingly oblivious of the odoriferousness of his cargo, was off to make happy his garden patch.
As disgusting as “night soil” is... (this is the common term for poo drenching your veggies) the plants look very happy, dirty as they are.
On the day of this particular walk with my students, watching every foot placement because of the mud, I noticed the ground littered with rubbish. A closer look at the lettuces clarified what we were walking through. A beautifully green lettuce had a feminine hygiene product coyly draped on the side of its head as if it were headed off for some grasshoppers at the Kentucky Derby. These lady lettuces were wearing floppy hats of unmentionables! I was shocked and looked at our students for their responses, but their faces registered nothing. I watched my steps for mud and the debris on the ground but said nothing. I did however make a mental note to REALLY WASH EVERYTHING. “Maybe” I thought, “I’ll wait to eat until we get home.”

Wash your brown rice. No, really, wash it!

In recipes there is always that step (or steps, depending on how loosely you interpret your recipes) that you kind of shake your head at as you skip ahead to step 2. For me, It was always “Rinse the rice”. The more I learn about food standards in America and the chemicals used commonly on everyday products, I’ll become rice rinser in the states. Here, there is no skipping of this step available.
Rice grows almost in our back yard. The varieties of white rice are plentiful. We eat a variety called Nuo Mi (I always remembered it as Nuevo Mi... Mi is rice) Its a delicious spicy sticky rice packed with tofu, potatoes, peanuts, little pickled veggie bits, and lots and lots of la jiao (spicy spicy SPICY red peppers!) This is the usual suspect of our diarrhea, but we can’t stop eating it. I think this will be the food from China I miss the most.
In any store you can buy long grain, short grain, sticky, or whatever is in between... We usually go with short grain, it’s easier to eat with chopsticks I think :)
Rice is a staple in everyone’s diet in our area. People commonly stereotype Chinese people as eating rice everyday. Around here, that’s true. Up north, however, their staple is a delicious type of pulled or sliced noodle... Rice isn’t on every Chinese table every day!
The pure white rice has gotten a bad rap in the US. Everyone seems to be pushing towards brown rice because of nutrition and flavor. Here in Riceland CN it’s hard to find any non white rice. The other day, however, while I was digging around in the bulk seemingly titled “weird grain” section of our supermarket I found some short and long grain brown rice! Horray! I was really excited! We love our brown rice in the states so the chance of having some here sounded great! I brought it home and cooked it up that night. I had to check on cooking times, It’s been a while since I’ve made it. I saw the “rinse the rice” part of the recipe and gazed down at the comments all saying “I never wash my rice and it turns out just fine!” I decided I’d better give it a quick rinse before I cooked it... In the first quick rinse I pulled out about 10 little rocks that made it through the sieve. Then I noticed the little brownish looking bit of rice with a pointy nose... A common black rice beetle that we find in bulk rice everywhere. The brown part of the rice was rubbing off on him making him perfectly camouflaged! I spent about 30 minutes pulling out about 25 of these little buggars and developed a good technique, I thought... When soaking the rice they float unwillingly up to the top of the water where you can skim them off with little trouble. I didn’t realize that the heavy rice was pinning a few of them down to the bottom of the pot. We did, however, realize this when we were eating the rice and encountering little carcasses...  Only 4 or so... I did a pretty thorough job, but then again you always have to wonder, like when you bite into an apple and see half a worm...
How many of those little guys have I ingested? And how are they getting along with all the other weird things crawling around inside me? :)

the abandoned church

The other day we were walking around our town. We stopped at a recently refurbished temple that they've had closed off for a few months now. As we walked around inside I noticed a tiled cross peeking up over the top of the temple courtyard walls. There was only one church that we knew of in our town and it was a good distance from here so we were a bit baffled. We walked over to investigate. As we reached the entrance there was a big sign in English and in Chinese saying "Catholic Church". Though Dan and I are not Catholic, we have a great deal of interest in Churches and religion in China. We ventured into the courtyard to find it lined with small apartments. Women bustled in and out of the first few wearing white robes. At first we thought they were priests or some sort of elders. Then we realized that they were doctors, serving at the clinic belonging to the church.
The church building itself was big and newish. It held none of the Chinese architectural charm that we usually see in our town. It looks like a foreigner with it's very western shape and windows. The neon lights in the shape of crosses in the stained glass windows did indicate its current location, but the three doors at the entrance and lovely flowers looked flown in from Europe. The petunia's were like seeing old friends! I haven't seen them in China before.
We wanted to go into the church, but all the doors were locked tight. One broken window offered us a view into the church. Kneeling benches facing an altar and a very large statue of the Virgin Mary- a beautiful reminder with Advent so close! She looked lonely, imprisoned in there, dust making her face almost indistinguishable.
We asked if they had services there on sundays, but the woman we asked said that the church was closed and no longer functioning. We asked what happened, but she didn't want to talk about it. She was too interested in her snotty nosed son being friends with dan. :)
We looked around a bit more, then went on our way. We walked down the road from the church and soon came across another gate with a large cross over the entrance. It too was a large, white, tiled cross. We had to walk through someone's living quarters to get to the open area beyond the locked gate. As we passed through I saw a doll, neatly tucked under a blanket, taking a nap no doubt. We tried to be as quiet as possible. Her mother, who was maybe 6 years old, buzzed outside the door and went in to check on her. As we walked in further we asked a young man what this place was. He said it was an old folks home. We walked in and found a gated garden that looked like it may have been a cemetery before. The edges were overgrown, but the middle was covered in neatly planted cabbages. The whole scene was overseen by a large statue of Mary. The plants surrounding her had long since invaded her space and hid her face with their leaves. Perhaps this was the parsonage? As we walked through we saw some older people playing games and talking and laughing. I yearned to know more about the history of this place but didn't want to intrude. This was their home. It is sad to see a church gone, but exciting to see it being used to take care of the elderly. How appropriate! As we walked out I saw a third tile cross. It lay on the ground in a pile of rubble. It was smashed and broken, with rebar hanging out like guts. I felt myself choke up.
This feels a bit like religion in China. Our students are all atheists. They find religion absurd and religious people crazy. They think have no need for religion but they have religion in their way. They have a new religion of things and money creeping in...
It's hard to see Mary alone in a cavernous room. Its hard to see a cross smashed and laying in a pile of rubble. What happened to the priest who loved that parish? More importantly, what happened to the congregation who worshipped there?
Dan and I plan to brush up on our specific vocabulary so we can ask these questions. I want to bring my guitar to the old folks home and play a little and listen a lot to see if I can find out what happened to this piece of Anshun history that has disolved.

It's Play Time!!!

I've been searching for a really exciting project to do with my three sophomore speaking classes. I usually do some sort of 2 class long activity that requires one class of working in groups (speaking English... which is hard to enforce since they are sneaky little buggars!) and then a presentation class. I've done some good activities, but since this is my third semester with these students I think maybe we need a change of pace... something to spice up the relationship!


Christmas is coming soon so I started thinking about what we could do on the subject of "The most wonderful time of the year"... I thought of the common stories of Christmas and thought they could modernize them... but then realized they don't even know the common stories of Christmas.

Then it hit me like a load of bricks... I could have them act the stories of Christmas!!! Horray! i searched the internet for scripts... but only found 2. I found "The Christmas Carol"... ooo, I think dickens may not like our chinglish version of his masterful work... I also found the tale of the grinch that stole Christmas... should be good... 

I looked for others but hit a wall. What I did find was A script for a version of the wonderful British number: ROBIN HOOD! oooooo yeah! This week I am showing the movies to my students. They are pretty excited! As we watched Disney's Robin Hood together I worked to decipher who gets which role.... I worked  and finished right before the movie ended. As i walked home I read the list to myself and found myself so entirely delighted with my casting ability that I was laughing out loud. When I made it up the 6 flights of stairs to our apt. I read the list to Dan. He laughed and declared it perfect. I have found my new calling! 

I had my students read annie dillard... and I was scared I'd be in another pearls before swine situation.

Annie Dillard's writing style is so divinely descriptive that it makes me want to be a writer! I love how the death of a moth can bring such vivid imagery to life in my mind and it makes me want to write something that will make someone else's mind go to "picture show mode". My students are in a peculiar situation. They have vocabulary, they have basic sentence structure... but they have none of the specific vocabulary or any of the experiences that make american/western writing personal, accessible.
I've been trying to foster a love for creativity in them, even a tiny bit of ability to create, since it is extremely new to them. I approached this first with art criticism, then with the self portraits, and now... creating images with their words.
I love text in art and the images that a series of well placed words can create in my mind! Both are forms of visual art. For me it is easier to start with creating concrete images and then stepping back into the abyss and trying to create images with this multitude of words the english language provides us with.
Poetry is a great way to start in with imagery and language. But while american poems are chock full of playful word pictures, Chinese poetry is much more abstract. A chinese poem may consist of only 5 characters: Moon, Lake, Mountain, Flower, Rain... The rest is up to the reader's memory of whatever Chinese story/myth/fable this is referring to. Originally I thought this would be an incredible creativity fostering activity... Amazing right? But it seems that students all come up with the same story, they know the rest, the imagination is not necessary for them, though it is for me! (maybe I have this all wrong... maybe chinese poetry nurtures creative growth, but i've got classrooms full of students who have never expressed themselves before, who can't come up with their own perspective until pushed... pushed so far that they resent me! ha!)
I feel that I am gifted in the art of teaching people how to express their feelings through a medium. The one medium I am least confident teaching is the written word.
My mom is the queen of getting students to express themselves. She enchants, she inspires... and this week I needed some inspiration for my image filled writing class... So I called in the master. (Actually I wish I could have! I love watching my mom teach, and I wish I could have had her in to teach my class... and I could just sit and soak it in with them) By called in... I mean on skype. I picked her brain for a good hour and she very patiently walked me through some great ideas! she opened her old log bag... (that brown bag she would fill with Sunday school supplies and teaching props... I remember that bag!) and pulled out all the tricks she has for writing.
My favorite idea (though I got so many good ones) was having the students walk around outside and pick a tree. Usually my mom uses this with 3rd graders... but my college juniors got pretty into it! They had to pick a tree, describe it, tell me if it could speak what it would sound like, what would it say, how it would move, where it would go, what it would do if it was free to roam?
Some students plopped their lazy butts down on a bench 40 or so feet from their tree, and though I prodded them to get close and look at it, they were too old for this business. 
But to contrast, many others took it very seriously. They circled their trees, observing, looking for signs of life, for signs of age, for signs of battles lost and branches broken. They claimed their trees and if another student came near, they'd fight them off. "This is my tree! Go find your own!"
I've always been told that when you are drawing a picture from life, you should look more at your subject than at your drawing. If you spend more time looking at your drawing, it will come out looking like a mutated version. If you spend time focusing on the subject, often the drawing will be decidedly more realistic.
As I watched and sketched my students working, and wrote about them in my journal, I noticed the students who are better writers, the ones that are able to express their opinions, the ones who are able to express themselves, spent the majority of their time looking at the tree. The students who have trouble coming up with an original thought sat crouched under their tree, using the dictionary in their cell phone as if it were a better tool to them than their tree and their brain combined. They might as well be writing about a tree in antarctica. The were that far removed from it.

Me, I watched, observed, and got stuck on one tree and the student that it seemed to have picked. I'm not sure she had any say in the matter!

this is what I scribbled in my journal:
     The students write about their trees -spending more time looking at their papers than the trees. The use their cell phones to find "that word that tingles in their mouthes like the bright red sour hawthorne fruit they eat kabob style here at festivals - the way we eat corn dogs.
     Serena spends her time on her phone and at her paper, but she's attentive to her tree, glancing at it every minute or so. She is the only one I see who is really embracing this new forced relationship. She picked the one in the queue of almost identical firs that is a little dead - and thus drastically different looking. It's bushy hair is a vibrant pumpkiny orange, as if it saw all the other trees showing off their colours this time of year and yearned to reveal it's own vibrancy! Peeking over the building nearby are the tip tops of some big old Sycamore looking trees, their leaves very yellow. They act as if they are taunting the line of firs, and Serena's clearly isn't taking it lightly.
    Serena is not unlike her tree. She yearns to stand out, to say what she thinks even when the rest of the room gasps. She is the bravest of our students and we have seen her strength
inspiring her fellow students over the past year. We've felt it inspire us a bit too! This bold tree, it's beauty in death called to her, drew her in...

In my opinion, if a project reaches one student it was worth it, and on the day of the tree project, I watched it reach someone. I watched her get sucked into a relationship with an inanimate object, and I saw a dying tree ignite creativity. 




English Corner

English corner usually happens once a year when the students realize they want to have an outside of class time to practice their english. Usually its open to all the students in the school, and usually our school forgets to have them. Some schools have them every week or every month... we... well... we're lucky. English corner is arranged by the student leaders in the department... now, I use the word arranged lightly. "Arranged" means they get all the students in one place so we can edutain them. (no... not a mistype... educate and entertain...) Edutainment is a big part of what we do here, and when you have a group of 80 students you have to do 3 parts education and 7 parts entertainment to keep their attention and also to keep yourself sane!
A few students came to us and asked if we could do an English corner. We said "sure" when we heard there would be about 30 students there... (yeah... we expected about 75... when you hear 30, you always expect WAY more)...  We asked the students what they wanted us to do there and they said... "It's up to you".... aka. "good luck finding something to entertain us, cause we have no idea what will happen! That's your job!"
Dan and I talked about it the day before and decided to put them in groups of about 6-8, depending on the size of the group, and do a sort of Family Feud game with them. We'd do some research on Americans' top 5 most popular things in certain topics like: college major, jobs, pets, modes of transportation, music, foods, etc. Some of these we approximated and others we looked up on the internet. I was surprised at some of the results that we found. I was also interested in our students' thoughts.
When we walked in the room we counted 88 students! good thing we were prepared! WHEW! We got the game started with picking team names. This is always a funny activity with our students. They come up with the weirdest stuff. "The Barbies", team"Spongebob", The "winners" (which when they say it, it always sounds like weiners!) "hand in hand", "Big Bang", "Team China", "Team rainbow", "Relaxing Penguins", "Chanel", "Team Pumpkin"... pretty strange stuff... almost as strange as their answers! : )
By far the best responses were for the question of Americans' Pets. What do you think are the 5 most popular pets in America? Think about it! Our students guessed the number one the same as we did... a Dog... NOPE! number 1... cats... blegh! number 2? fish... hmmm... maybe because if you have fish you rarely have just 1... number 3? DOG... whew! ... being rabbit lovers our students know that we have rabbits at home... but rabbit doesn't have a place in the top 5...  Many of our students had dog, cat... maybe bird (really number 4)... maybe rabbit... then they got a little bit stumped. I heard lots of, "Pigs? do americans have pigs? I think so" conversations as I walked around... but not many of them wrote that down... instead, most of them came up with ... at number 2: MONKEYS! how many people do you know in america who have monkeys as pets? Pretty funny! There were a few votes for pigs as pets... an alarming number of monkeys... but nobody guessed number 5... which is actually horses! crazy huh? that many americans actually have horses? maybe? who really knows!
When our students heard this they were up in arms... Horses? Americans having horses?... then I realized why. They see americans as living in NYC or some other giant cool city... and horses here have such a utilitarian role in society... perhaps they are picturing the horse carrying the business woman's groceries home from Weigmans after here long day at work. Yeah... not so much huh?
The food was pretty funny too. most of them wrote "Beefsteak" which reminds me of Slater from "Saved by the Bell"! At one point in the show there was an asian student there who always called him "Beefsteak" instead of beefcake... ha! Cheese was up there, and Chocolate... the weirdest were "Sweet meats"... EW! who eats sweet meats? What does that even mean??? sounds disGUSting!  Pizza was not on anyone's mind... nobody got pizza at number 1! crazy! they just have never had good pizza... pizza here has corn, ham, pineapple, ketchup for sauce... needless to say it's pretty disappointing!
At the end of the night we were so relieved to get it over with! It's Exhausting!

advent calendars

so... today I was looking on the pottery barn web site... trying to get some ideas for Christmas decorating. Last year I hung strands of newspaper cut snowflakes around our home... but I'm always looking for new ideas!
(My first encounter with newspaper snowflakes was when I was studying in Italy. I was walking around on a day trip into Rome, when I saw a row of book sellers. I love a good used book cart so I walked along looking through for an interesting book to get images or ideas from. As I was flipping through pages of an old volume with crazy old photos in it, out dropped three hand cut snowflakes, cut out of Italian newspapers. I was in love! The gentleman working at the stand watched as I oooooohed and aaaaaaaahed at the delicate paper wisps. I asked him how much they costed and he said "for you, they are free!" (In Italian of course... which I then understood... now I can only think in Chinese... it's prettier in Italian, but then isn't everything? :)  From that point on those newspapery delicate snowflakes have haunted my dreams! Come December first I have to hold back because I yearn to hang them simply EVERYWHERE!!!!!)
As I was looking at the potterybarn website I saw something that made me crazy! I saw a cheap imitation of our favorite Christmas gift to put together and give. I saw bucket advent calendar. (we usually use the plastic craft take out containers for each day of the advent calendar...) we made them the two years before we came to China. The first year we made them for my sister and her husband and an old high school friend and his new wife. The second year we made them for dan's three siblings away from home at their colleges. They are really fun to make and quite the unique gift... OR SO WE THOUGHT!!!! You can buy your very own on potterybarn.com for only $300.00!!!!!!!!! WOW! we only spent like $40 for each. I am in love with this idea! Yet another great way to celebrate the coming of CHRISTMAS!!!
If you have the extra cash hanging around... I guess the pottery barn version is ok... In my opinion... these are much more wonderful when made at home, for your family, with personalized tiny treats in each one!
And me? well... I suppose I should be flattered that Pottery Barn picked up one of my ideas! (I guess I'll just be waiting for that royalties check in the mail... though I think I might be waiting for a long time!)
I'll ask around to see if there are any pictures of our homemade advent calendars.

self portraits

Today we displayed our self portraits in class and everyone went around and looked at them. Then everyone went around and wrote one sentence telling what they learned about the student from their piece of art. I walked around with the rest of them and wrote a sentence for each too. Pretty amazing how much work some of them put into their pieces... pretty amazing how much vulnerability some of them showed in their pieces.
Of course there was the occasional student who drew a cartoon tree and a flower... in true 3rd grade fashion...  There was also a pair of boys who very intelligently downloaded pictures from their computer's screen saver... hmmm.... (I'll have to remember to make them put their pictures up for the whole class next week!) Overall I was totally impressed by the images they chose.
I know they'll be happy to get out of the art classes... but I'm so glad we could do this! I feel like I've been able to see into their hearts in a way I've never been able to do before.
Teaching art is the best job on earth! :)
Attachments:
my self portrait
Lola's portrait
Melissa's portrait
April's portrait

The music of my neighborhood

(I think this title sounds like a sesame street song!)
The other day I came home after a long day and was irritated. I walked into our apartment and vented to dan... he is such a support to me these days! He listened, empathized, then, like a good friend, gave me perspective.
Dan and I have been good friends for a really long time. Actually we met around this time of year... what was it... my 10 grade year... so... about 11 years! Wow! I feel old! So, for about 11 years he's been a really close friend to me. He drove me home from school and to parties with our friends. He'd take me to lunch. He'd carpool with me when we worked those summers at Elwyn... (we worked at a summer day camp for emotionally and mentally disturbed teenage boys... it was hard) and because it was so hard our relationship intensified with the intense days we had. We spent our drives home talking each other down from the crazy events of the day. We were practically inseparable that summer... but we weren't dating. We learned wonderful things about each other and we became really familiar with each others' weaknesses. I'd never let someone outside of my family see me that way before... and that vulnerability that we both showed each other is the foundation of our marriage. Those conversations, those rides home showed us who we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with. We've been inseparable ever since!
The "perspective" my husband gave me that day was letting me in on the events of his day. This particular afternoon my sweet husband had been sitting on the couch working for the past few hours composing a worksheet for his literature class. The whole time he'd been working, a student had been practicing the saxophone in the nearby music building. 
With our windows open we wake to high heels clicking on the pavement below our window. We have trouble sleeping because of the trucks moving (and often dropping a whole load of) bricks for the new dormitory they are building on campus. We are constantly bombarded by the bum bum bum bum bum bum of basketballs on the court right behind our building. And starting at around 7 in the morning the music majors go on over to the music building and begin practicing whatever terribly annoying scale/arpeggio/song they are working on butchering!
This particular day, this saxophone student, (probably ignorant of the fact they were annoying the snot out of my husband) was practicing Disney's ALADDIN's "A Whole New World" over and over and over and over and OVER AND OVER!!!!
When I looked at my husband after he said this I noticed how harried he looked! He looked as though he hadn't slept for a few days. Because of this crazy saxophonist my husband had aged a good 5 years!
Ever since that afternoon when he brought it to my attention, I've noticed it playing all day every day! It's the mandatory soundtrack to our daily activities. I have no real strong feelings against Aladdin or his buddies... BUT... there is something about Kenny G that makes my blood boil. I ABHORE the saxophone! There is no place for them or their awful mullety sound anywhere in my life! Even in an elevator for the brief moments I spend in those... It's time enough for me to want to rip off my ears!
It's just when I am getting frustrated that I think of those Peace Corps volunteers living in mud huts. I think of the volunteers who suffer through crazy temperatures, natural disasters... and I realize... "This is OUR Peacecorps"... this saxophone really makes me feel like a peace corps volunteer! : )

Traditions

I think it's really important to have traditions to help celebrate holidays. Traditions make Christmas Christmas when you are all the way across the world from home. (quite literally in my case) Traditions make a holiday you maybe thought very little about before seem yours. My family did not really celebrate halloween when i was growing up. I remember trick or treating a few times... but we never really did anything for it. My mom has a magic arsenal of dress up clothes so a costume could quite literally be whipped up at the drop of a hat. "Mom, I need to be a moose in the school play tomorrow"... (silence, looking me up and down to see what would fit me)... "no problem. Though you should have told me sooner." Needless to say my class projects were the envy of everyone else in the class! boo-yah! (though she always made me spend a lot of time on my projects... she didn't do them for me like some of my friends' parents!)
So... Halloween... The past two years in China I have learned more about halloween, told more scary stories and talked about halloween more than I ever have (or have ever wanted to) in my whole life put together! I didn't really care about halloween before, and to be honest I don't care very much now either... I have however started a tradition, my OWN little tradition. All by myself to let me celebrate Halloween in my own special way.
I get incredibly debilitating "intestinal distresstinal" Me and the bathroom spend long hours together making the halloween holiday special. Last year it ended with me in the hospital getting an IV for two days! This year I nipped it in the bud. Asked Grammy to mail me some jello for the festivities... Dan ran out and bought some juice and dumpling soup.
He doesn't really appreciate my way of ringing in the new all saints day! I think maybe he just really doesn't want to "catch the excitement".
I've been pretty busy for the past 3-4 days so I haven't written, but I have had plenty of time to think... (Bathrooms are good for that!) ... I realized something... when you are feeling your very worst there are always things to keep the moment light! for example... I think your body knows when you are in pain so it compensates for the misery by entertaining you! I've never laughed so hard at noises made by my body! Just when you think you're going to explode your body lets out a weird "WRRRRRRRRRPPPPPPPPEEEEEE" and you find yourself unable to hold back the laughter.
Laughing at farts is a very natural thing... when babies fart they often laugh or smile. It's a natural response. Often men are pegged as being pigs or disgusting for farting, when in fact they are simply entertaining themselves and allowing their bodies to equal themselves out naturally. Once in High school a girl said that she never farts... and my favorite and I looked at each other and she said... "That poor girl, no wonder she's always in such a foul mood!" I've never laughed so hard... (my favorite is... well... she's just that. She is my dearest friend, she is the soundtrack to my life, she is... just so wonderful... she's my linda) 
so... yeah... I've been ringing in this Halloween Season in true emily fashion... though I must honestly say that I hope this is a Chinese Halloween tradition. I do not want this to continue year to year! I've had about enough already for the rest of my life. (except the jello! the jello can continue! :)
well... happy halloween! enjoy it in your way... I wouldn't recommend my new tradition! Hope you had fun dressing up, eating candy, and partying. 
I'm sure it was SPOOKTACULAR!!!! : )

Art club

I have a group of girls here at my college that are very interested in art so we meet once a week and spend time together creating. Last semester we spent most of our time out in the nearby fields and up in the mountains sketching the landscape. This semester I wanted to start with something a bit more conceptual. I wanted to encourage them to use their art to express their opinions on a subject. We talked about different issues that China is currently facing. Issues that they as Chinese students are facing. This is the list we came up with:

Modern China's relationship to Ancient China
China's international face
Pollution
Confucius' theory and how it affects China today
1 Child Policy and how it is affects family
Boy:Girl ratio... 
America's bad influence on China
China's care for their Elders
Migration to cities
Grandparents taking place of working parents

It was great to hear their thoughts and hear what they were most passionate about. Of course they know more than I do so i just listened and played record taker. Their passion for their country is obvious and it is inspiring to see so much patriotism and such strong feelings of responsibility.
Today we met and shared our thumbnail sketches. It has been a busy week so we had a small group. It was amazing to see how much thought and how much of themselves they put into their art. I was blown away! One of my dearest student/friends drew what her life was like being raised by her Grandmother. What a beautiful BEAUTIFUL pictorial description! Another student said it was like looking at an album of her life. It was. I was so moved... we all were. Her grandmother passed away about this time last year. I had no idea what she had been through and we all ended up crying together... It was amazing to be able to see into the heart of a student through their art. I am honored to be privileged with this opportunity to look so intimately into my students' hearts.
For my advanced writing class we have looked at art for almost 4 weeks now. To finish this topic I asked them to create a self portrait and write 100-200 words explaining it to me. I want them to know that I understand what they are going through, so I too created a self portrait. As I sat with my sketch book and drew I struggled to find what exactly I wanted to share with them. I struggled with how to present myself... I still have to put some color in the drawing and fix some lines... but I'll put it on here so you can see. I feel that I grew from having to figure out how to portray myself. I really hope my students take on this challenge and grow themselves. It is on of those projects that I'm not sure I'll reach more than one or two people, but to me, It is worth it for those students! I am fed, invigorated, inspired by creating art... 
I hope I get to see my students come out of this process moved, changed, fed, invigorated, inspired! 

prayer flags

During our time here in China we've seen prayer flags strung up to be tickled by any passing breeze. I love the way they look when their colors have changed from the bright bright reds, greens and blues, to the pastelly sheer wisps that even a small breath could convince to dance.
I first really learned about the purpose of prayer flags once I'd been in China for a while. The idea is that every time the wind blows the prayers written on the flag are blown up heavenward. I'm not sure how I like the idea of this theologically... but what a beautiful tangible image to have in mind... the way a prayer looks as it drifts up toward heaven. In the same way that Christians talk of the prayers of the saints being like sweet smelling incense. I love the way smoke drifts and dances from the end of a stick of incense, and I can see prayer going heavenward in a similar fashion. Dancing daintily up... circling around a bit, then drifting up out of sight.
As Thanksgiving comes upon us here I think a lot about a time when I will have a harvest. I think about pulling carrots, potatoes, beets... about picking tomatoes, lima beans, and squash... I dream of my garden and i dream of sharing it with my family. As I looked at the prayer flags when we were on our hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge I realized how much they reminded me of the strings hung round a friend's garden to keep the deer and animals from partaking from too much of their garden. As I thought about this I really started getting excited about the idea of writing prayers on flags each thanksgiving, giving thanks for that year's harvest. And as the garden got in full swing the next year, we could use those flags as boundaries for our garden. As we see them dancing in the breeze we would remember just how much we have been blessed. We will remember to be thankful for the bountiful harvest all year, instead of just remembering for one day a year! I imagine kids' handwriting on pieces of fabric expressing little thanks for the blessings of fresh food. I imagine a collection of flags documenting the childhoods of our children... each year charting new growth...
I can't wait to enjoy the growth of fresh veggies, the growth of our family, and the growth of our ability to truly appreciate the gifts we've been given!
Attachments:
IMG_3598.JPG
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Punkins

So, It's beginning to look and feel like autumn around here! The leaves are starting to change colors, the air is beginning to smell like pumpkin pie, and the blustery autumn days are begging me to pull out my soft cozy sweaters. I've been dying to have a beautifully carved pumpkin on our table... lit with a candle and beautifully flickery! Unfortunately the pumpkins in our town are less like the typical round pumpkin shape and more like a giant butternut squash shape. Pretty and orange... but a bit unruly to carve. Yesterday we went to the market and asked about the typical roundish punkins... but apparently they know that these only exist in america. As in all situations here in China, our buying of the pumpkin was successful because we found a good (though oblong) pumpkin, but also because I bargained the socks off the man selling the pumpkin... and though you'd think that would make him upset... he encouraged a crowd of onlookers in commenting how good my Chinese is... pretty awesome! We also bought some long luo buo... turnips... because I read that the first jack-o-lanterns were actually made from turnips not pumpkins. Turnips in China are the same white woody color as in America, but they are a good 6-10 inches longer!
When we got home dan and I got started carving away. Hollowing out a foot long turnip is a bit of a chore, but not as much of a chore as trying to get the seeds and meat out of a giant oblong pumpkin!
As we were working on this project we both reminisced about our first pumpkin carving together. In college I was an RA and in our school we had to arrange "Pick a dates" or, when your college roommate would pick a guy for you to go on a date with. The RA would plan an elaborate plan for the evening... so my job... and my poor boyfriend at the time (now husband) was to plan an event for lots of picky girls. I'm not your typical girl... I don't want to sit and flirt with somebody I don't know. I don't want to go on a formal... I really don't want to dance! So... I looked for fun easy ways to keep the "troops" entertained... and also to keep myself from being bored out of my mind. As I looked for things to do I found a place in rural Indiana (where I went to school) where you could shoot corn cobs out of a corn cob gun at Osama Bin Laden. Now, please understand that I am from a suburb of Philadelphia and I'd never heard of a corn cob gun before and I certainly didn't understand how shooting a corn cob at Osama Bin Laden was productive or possible. As far as I knew they though he was in Afghanistan somewhere! I was however, intrigued! This place also had a corn maze and a place to buy pumpkins. I planned it so each couple could pick out a pumpkin and work together to carve it... then we'd have a competition. (Being an art education major made me confident I could successfully get a group of 50 college students to carve pumpkins without too man injuries, and also... being an ART education major... I was certain i could come VERY close to wiping the floor with all their pumpkin carving attempts! i'm a little competitive!)
The night went off without a hitch. Nobody cut their fingers off. I tried to shoot a corn cob at a piece of plywood with a cartoon Osama Bin Laden painted on it... but it turns out I'm a lousy shot!
At the end of our night of autumn decorating here in China, after carving our pumpkin to look like the bird's nest in Beijing... and carving 4 scary turnips... we lit the candles in the turnips and pumpkin and enjoyed our creations. I love the smell of burning pumpkins and turnips! : )
Attachments:
punkins
bird's nest punkin

The way to a man's heart...

Bread! The way to my man's heart is bread! I've addressed before how bread here in China is nothing like the bread we eat at home. My husband is decidedly a sandwich man... turkey sandwich man to be precise! (also... yeah, no turkeys around so...) so the least I can do is give him two good slices of bread to stick some gross spready cheese and sliced numbingpepper covered pork between.
I've always wanted to be that wife... that mom, that made the family's sandwich bread every saturday. I want to be that organic, conscious, delightfully bakery-like woman. Here is my perfect opportunity to be that lady! Thursday is my day with no classes so I've started making bread for my little family. I have what is essentially an easy bake oven and tiny sweet bread loaf pans... and even when I half my husband's new favorite bread recipe...(white bread... if you keep your pleasures simple you'll never be disappointed!) we still almost can't finish it all... 
I've become that wife that hands her husband piping hot bread with a brushing of butter on it... and my reward is that I get to be the recipient of countless ooo's and ahhhhh's and the unnecessary (and perhaps somewhat exaggerated) praise! I love to be able to do things myself and do them well... 
A buttered slice of warm bread makes me see into the blurry place that is my future. I see a little English cottage kitchen (ha! fat chance!) I see a big garden outside my lace curtained kitchen windows... (that have lavender growing in their window boxes.) A garden with which I can provide for my family... I can feed my family fresh veggies and be able to make a big impact on the ones I love and a little impact on the environment.
For now... well, for now my mid thigh high counters in my grubby tiny closet of a kitchen look out on the lone basil plant that survived our last house sitter's negligence. But I can see beyond the smeary glass. And the view... well, the future looks pretty good!

art criticism

Tuesday we had our first Art club in a while and it was AWESOME! sure we were missing some members... but for the most part it was a great time for conversation. We talked about some of the issues currently hot in China and the World today. I showed my students the pictures and explained my ideas about the plight of the bumble bee and it seemed to be pretty inspiring for them. We talked about some of the different issues and we each picked one to address and are creating 6-8 thumbnails for next art club.
I haven't had too much of a chance to share my art passions with my students... in art club or in classes, but this week I've had access to the computer rooms so I've been able to show large images and really get some discussions going. Today I showed images to one of my very favorite classes and, though the occasional student drifted off, my art club students, and some students I never thought would care really REALLY responded!
The most amazing part was watching my students see pieces of art for the first time. Watching them meet my old friend "Starry Night". Watching them meet and fight over Duchamp's "Fountain". Seeing them stare in consternation at Sandy Skoglund's goldfish... and then become TOTALLY ENRAPTURED and ENCHANTED by Andy Goldsworthy's use of leaves and their autumnal colors. Finally... showing them the Giant spoon and Cherry bridge. It was incredible to watch them seeing and responding to these things for the first time EVER. So much of my students' education is based on repeating, repeating, repeating. Their writing is regurgitation, their thoughts are mostly regurgitation... so for them to see something they have NO thought on whatsoever... nothing to repeat... I watched them use their creativity... a part of them that is RARELY tapped into. And I saw them Blossom, get excited, get heated, get angry, get... well... comfortable expressing their own opinion!
It was wonderful.
I was proud that they were willing to make themselves so vulnerable. I was proud that they really put themselves out there while trying to understand these pieces of art.
I really believe in the power of thinking creatively and exercising that part of your brain, especially for our students here! It felt like watching a first step, hearing a first word. My students found a new part of themselves today.
And I was honored to watch and facilitate!
Attachments:
art,goldfish,installation,revenge,sandy,skoglund-6d3007c6c934202715d5c2ccf80f53c6_h.jpg
autumn-leaves1.jpg
spoonbridge1.jpg
starry_night.jpg

The Plight of the Bumble Bee

These are a few of the pieces floating around in my head. Whenever we take walks near our school we pass tons of bee hives... yes, my first impulse is always to run screaming waving my arms wildly above my head... but honestly Bees are something that China does so so well! It's awesome that they are actively pursuing keeping the honey bee population under control and healthy! I appreciate that so much!
The other night I was laying in bed unable to fall asleep and I was thinking about the issues of the dying bees and some ideas of some pieces came to mind... I thought about it for about an hour and then brainstormed for a few hours over the past few days. I can't wait to start working on these actual pieces...

The first one I thought of was the encaustic painting... a style of painting using wax and oils to create a texture and depth that is hard to achieve on a strict 2D surface. I love the lines of this ... It reminds me of a mix between the Biblical assumption of Elijah and Honey's place in scripture... and yeah, also a little bit of the first scene in the Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy... 

the second piece is the woven Lenore Tawney-esque hanging that looks like a swarm of bees... though the bees will be ... not sure yet... maybe a variety of dead insects, perhaps small replica bees hung from nooses... or simply hung upside down... a swarm of dead bees...

the third piece... a very stereotypical bee hive (plastic??? maybe a real hive) with a Deli like take a number roll coming out of it... and honey coming from the ceiling over the hive and onto the pile of numbers on the floor into a puddly mess.

the fourth piece... a set of three or four lighting fixtures.... golden honey colored glass beads hung from strings to create a honey cluster looking light... progressively the beads get fewer and fewer and end up smashed on the floor underneath. I'd like to use the actual ratio of bee's we've allowed to die over the past years. the pieces will be lit from above... letting the bountiful honey beads shine brightly while by the last piece there will be only a few...

the fifth and maybe one of the more ambitious pieces would be to create a ceramic honeycomb grouping that is a little bit bigger than the actual size... this piece is to be called the wailing wall... in the same way as the wailing wall in Jerusalem... in the holes and cracks will be stuck prayers, pleas... 

As I was processing all these pieces I thought about a title for a show... as if that would ever happen... (Just have to find somebody who would want to show this stuff... ) I thought about what music would be playing... I thought of the flight of the bumblebee and laughed... and then came the title! Not sure I'd use the music.. I think I'd like to have only the buzzing lightly playing in the background... not sure exactly... want something to compliment the mournfulness of this topic.
Attachments:
the assumption
the swarm
honey lights
Welcome to the EPA. Please take a number...
the wailing wall

Christmas time is here!

well... It's sort of here for us! This weekend we are tirelessly working to get all of our Christmas presents bought for family and friends in America. It takes about 2 months for packages to get to America. (There are faster ways but those ways exceed our meager Peace Corps salary.) We made our Christmas list a few weeks ago and have been slowly acquiring "the perfect gifts" for our dear ones over the past weeks. It's difficult to find gifts that people really want from here. Should we get that hilarious Chinglish shirt from our town, or perhaps that batik wall hanging with the lovely Chinese characters on it? Should we get one package of chicken feet for each family or one for each person?
Despite all the difficult decisions being able to justify extending Christmas into October is the most wonderful thing EVER! My passion for Christmas is a bit crazy and perhaps a bit too eccentric for some people to understand, but if you had a taste of what Christmas was in my home growing up, if you could see the effect Perry Como's voice has on me... you'd smile, perhaps shake your head... but you'd excuse my childish, whimsical, Christmas obsession!
After being married for 4 years Dan has become accustomed to listening to Christmas music all year. Recently I downloaded Burl Ives' Christmas Cd. My very patient husband has found his breaking point. It's playing right now and he is asking me if I "hear the horribleness?" "Emily, Everything is wrong about this!" "I feel like I'm at open night mic. I'd rather listen to Brittany Spears than this." "If you make me listen to this you'll give me an ulcer in my brain"
Not much brings out strong feelings from my husband. Now I know that Burl Ives is the way to... well, not my husband's heart... but to a nerve! hmmm... In general he is so abundantly patient so I suppose I can overlook this one little thing...
I have to support that there is a certain... oddness to this gentleman's vocals. I like it because in my childhood the preferred sleepover movie was "Summer Magic" with Haley Mills. If you haven't seen it RENT IT... if it's been a while, pop it on the next time you have a few hours to waste! I taught one of the songs from that movie to my students in my speaking classes. They were so excited about the song that I ended up performing it at a "party" (code for concert. fully equipped... yeah, there was a fog machine and a bubble machine that were both used to create the mood for my song. Puuhhhhh leeeease!). It is such a sweet song... "On the front porch with you". Good thing I had the bubbles to set the mood! : )
So, Burl Ives is no longer crooning in our little family room here... and that's ok, It just means it's time for some more Perry Como!
"CHESTNUTS ROASTING ON AN OPEN FIRE..."  mmm! Merry early Christmas everyone! : )

(also... posting two newish projects on Burdastyle!!! I'll put pictures on here soon too. Neither of these projects are particularly "new". I've worn both of them multiple times. My passion for plaid is growing! I LOVE it! mmm!)

(ALSO also... I had a great idea (or I think it's great) for an art exhibit. I couldn't sleep the other night and I started thinking of ideas for different pieces addressing the issue of the dying bees in america... I think I might try to do a project on this with my art club this week. I'm interested to see them address social commentary in their art. I can't wait to see what they will come up with. Hopefully tomorrow I'll get some sketches whipped up and I'll post them online so I can have my unfinished virtual exhibit open for comments!)

Looks can be deceiving...

Going to the supermarket here in China is always an adventure. When we first moved to China we longed for the american staples of pretzels, cookies, juice, milk, cheese, brownies, pizza, chicken... the list goes on and on...
Our first trip in our nice big food store was filled with met expectations... or so we thought. We indulged in all the things we were missing. We found pretzel sticks... (called pretz). We bought some cookies with double cream in the middle, chocolate and peanut butter, we got some orange juice, we bought laughing cow like cheese, something that looked like rice crispy treats... which is the closest we could find to brownies, a frozen pizza and some chicken halves... hmmm...
when we got home we broke open the packages and sampled our loot... the pretz... we failed to notice had a shrimp on the side of them... they were shrimp flavored cracker sticks... DISGUSTING! The cookies turned out to be most similar to ritz crackers with uber sweet cream in the middle... very salty greasy and sweet... BLEGH! the Orange juice we discovered was orange drink... so we didn't find juice, but we did find Kool-aid! The cheese was very much like laughing cow... pretty good... but hard to swallow when you have been yearning for extra sharp cheddar! The rice crispy treats, turned out to be meat flavored. The fluff on top was pork floss... gotta love that!
Bread is a whole different level of misunderstanding! although the bread here is good... steamed buns with meat in them (bao zi)... all the bread is steamed, all the bread is so light it feels like eating bland marshmallows for a heavy firm bread addict! Dan and i had our worst Chinese bread experience when we bought rolls to eat our SKYLINE CHILI on (if you don't know SKYLINE CHILI you should plan a road-trip to Cincinnati JUST for the chili! (actually, stop at GRAETER'S for some delish icecream too!!! mmm, that's what dreams are made of!)) we bought some "hot dog rolls" and brought them home... made the dinner and when I sliced them open they were FILLED with SWEET RED BEAN PASTE! BUMMER!!! they were sweet even after I painstakingly scraped all the red bean paste out of them. Dan compared it to cleaning out the bunnies scent glands. (pretty gross but a disturbingly accurate analogy!) 
Our strangest meat escapade occurred on our little family Thanksgiving. Turkey does not exist in China. (To our students a Turkey is almost a mythical creature... Like someone eating a phoenix) I wanted to make stuffed chicken breasts... but of course our store (the only place we trust enough to buy meat at) was ALL OUT of Chicken breast... the only thing they had were funny looking legs... I bought them because I had bought everything else for the meal and what is roasted chestnut and mushroom stuffing, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (thanks dad and mom!), peas, and of course pumpkin pie, without TURKEY??? I brought home the legs and pulled off the extra feathery stuff... eww! and stuffed the stuffing under the skin... While we were eating dinner we realized that these were way too big to be Chicken legs... So... it wasn't a Peking duck... but stuffed Anshun duck... Happy Thanksgiving to us! Can't wait to see what happens this year! : )
In the meantime... enjoy those pretzels for us! 

Philosophers and Thinkers

Today we were telling my parents about our trip over the Chinese national day holiday and they asked about what the train rides were like. Dan and I looked at each other, as if to ask... where should we start?
Dan started in talking about how in america people don't like to be bored. If they take the train an hour to work they bring a book, their ipod and kindle, they bring something, ANYTHING to do! Here it's not that way! there is LOTS of thought put into what you will bring to eat on the train, but very little thought put into what you will do for the 10 hours you spend on the train. People run and push to get to their seat... (even though the seats are assigned) and they push others' luggage out of the way so their bag has a prime spot, then settle into their assigned seat and... well... and nothing... they just sit. Dan and I bring a book, a deck of cards, I bring sewing, he brings other interesting reading material, I bring my sketchbook... and there are times when the ride seems it will never end. MOSTLY BECAUSE WE ARE EVERYONE ELSES' ENTERTAINMENT!!!!! Because people usually bring nothing to do (and that was true on our last trip) we spent 10 hours in a little cabin with 7 other people and people coming from all over the car, nay train, to come and stare at the Americans... NOPE... the american woman! In the first moments of our trip leaving Anshun, Dan admitted he thinks I'm just more sensitive to the staring than he is... within the first half hour on our first train he saw this was not true and so so much more so throughout our trip. I'm not sure if it's all the skeevy pictures of american women around... posing on billboards in their brassieres looking crazy skanky! I find this unbelievably irritating that american women are portrayed as loose! Most KTV joints have images of young American women on the signs... posing alluringly in very little clothing. How infuriating! Many of the people we were on the train with had never seen an american before! that says something about why they were staring too... 
Though I try to keep all this in mind when we are in situations like this, it doesn't make it less infuriating! surely no less infuriating!
We bought tickets to go to the town of Lijiang in northern Yunnan and the only tickets we could get were during the day. This feels like a waste of a day sometimes, but since my husband and I went to college about a 12 hour drive away from home we have learned to love time in car together! We're pretty good at entertaining ourselves! We enjoy the time together. We enjoy it more when there are no 7 more people crammed into our compartment who have nothing better to do than to observe the behavior of the foreigners. At first there was a man in the car who spent his whole time staring at me... I'm not even sure he bothered to blink. Luckily he was only on the train for the first 5 HOURS! yeah people, I'm saying, and my husband can testify, that I was stared at for a good 5 hours straight... from close range no less! we're talking leaning forward so he was maybe 3 feet from me!
There was couple on the bench across from us that went the whole 10 hours with us... they spent the entire ride eating. They ate for 10 HOURS STRAIGHT! I find that simply amazing! how do you do that??? In China people bring round fruit when they travel, have babies, visit somebody in the hospital, come to your home... when it doubt, bring round fruit. This couple, who appeared to be on a college break and sneaking off to have an unapproved vacation together in romantic LiJiang, ate so much food! we laughed because they had so much food with them when they got on... but they ate it ALL! First there were pears, maybe 5 of them... between the two of them they only lasted about a half an hour... then... THEN came the Pomegranates. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants... they are delicious... They are, however, quite messy... and this couple... boy were they ever messy eaters! Emily Post would have wet her pants and jumped out of the train's unopenable windows (fresh air is very bad for you on trains... much better to breathe the same air that everybody else is recycling! BLEGH!!!! we insisted that they open a window on our way back and everybody was up in arms... then took over the open window because the air conditioning was broken... we couldn't even get close to it! but fresh air can't be that bad! huh???) These stinkin' pomegranates involved sucking first... wet sloppy sucking up the little pieces... then loud noisy slopping in the mouth... then the dribbling and spitting of the seeds into the plastic bag... the occasional dribble down the chin affectionally wiped by the hand of the other member of the twosome... It was an auditory purgatory!
After the pomegranates came a number of other fruits and then the sunflower seeds... that the cracking noise can only be compared to cracking bones... (dan said that after a couple on our return train ate sunflower seeds for 4 hours straight right behind his head!) When we pulled into the station they had just polished off the end of their pear supply. Good thing. I can't imagine what they would have done without! We didn't see them again after the train... but I imagine they jumped into a cab and directed the drive to take them to the first good restaurant he could find! : )
Certainly the staring can be a bit jarring, but I think my husband's comment about it was brilliant, "They must all be great thinkers and philosophers to just sit and think for 10 hours straight!" Dan is a philosopher himself, but he couldn't think of the last time he just sat and thought for 10 hours straight without doing something else! Wow! That is patience! I suppose, when looking at the hours spent on trains years ago in China you begin to understand the running to get a seat on the train. I begin to understand the admirable patience.
The staring... I'll never understand that... but then again I'm on the receiving end of that. Who knows... I have one year left. Maybe I'll be that guy on the train too before I leave??? You never know! : )

6 hours of teaching and I'm exhausted!!!

What a different world the work world is here in China. I know many people work good and hard everyday in China... my occupational world is so EASY compared to the rest of the world! I teach 16 hours every week... and am exhausted at the end of every day! Today I had my longest day EVER! yeah! 6 whole hours teaching! Two of the classes were new to me so introductions galore! Also, I gave out about 110 new names today! I looked up the most popular names of 1989... which is the year I thought most of my students were born... turns out most of them are 91ers... but oh well... it's all the same, right?
As my first class picked their names I realized how many names end in the EEEE sound... and how many of my female students gravitate towards names that make them sound kind of teenybopper... like, Brittany, Tiffany, Lindsey, Kitty, Tracey, Stacey, Lacey... wow! I feel kind of bad for letting them pick from names like that... although some gravitated right for the oldies but goodies... like, Diana, Linda, Nancy, Emma, Mavis, and Judith!  Good strong salt of the earth names! Love it!
A few of our students have been requesting hippy names... like, Rainbow, Cherry, Smile, Hero, and Happy... and although I am a PCV... and although I LOVE a good hippy name myself... I feel a certain sense of responsibility here to help them pick names they will not be embarrassed to write on a resume in America someday!
My very favorites were the boy who asked to be called "Justin Bieber" and, the ultimate, a boy who wanted the name: "BATMAN"! AWESOME! Imagine reading that on the resume at the top of the pile (probably wouldn't be on the top of the pile with a name like that!) He ended up picking a much more suitable and grown up name, Keith. (Though everyday for the rest of our teacher student relationship I will refer to him strictly as BATMAN! That makes me super happy!
Boys are kind of a novelty in the English department. There are not too many of them around so it's interesting to see what kind of boys get filtered into our classes. Usually they are kind, gentle, innocent types. There is the occasional GIGANTICALLY STYLED HAIR. but in general they are very normal guys. Typically they don't want to be English majors and have very little motivation, what, with all that estrogen in the room all you can do is crawl in the room and slump your lifeless body on the desk... using as little energy as possible to preserve as much testosterone as you can in your body while the girls around you giggle and gossip! Good thing they have Dan around! Finally someone to empathize with them!
After two 50+ student classes this morning I was so excited to spend time with my sophomore speaking students! One of my very favorite groups of students! They are WONDERFUL! Like a vacation from talking really really really really slowly! AWESOME!
After class I wandered over to find Dan's basketball team. We both got conned into being a part of the faculty basket ball teams for the English Dept. Poor women's team... I'm pretty tall and you look at me and you think.... maaaaaaybe... but NOPE... can't play a lick of basketball! Not ONE LICK! ha! Dan on the other team plays more than all the other players on his team put together! running all around like his pants are on fire! (not really ... I just don't really get basketball!) I heard one of the women's games but didn't have the pleasure of seeing it. It sounded like a bunch of women clawing at each other and screaming and beating each other with their purses. Dan was there... and testified that that was pretty much accurate! Ha! glad I wasn't there! 
I guess that's part of why we're here in China. To extinguish flaming stereotypes of Americans... all americans are good at basketball? NOPE! All americans watch the NBA? Nope again! All Americans are crazy and full of energy and call their students Batman? well... maybe we're starting some stereotypes of our own here!!!! : )

My em pay san is not in my pocket... oh no!!! did I leave it at that den of an internet cafe???

so... I went to my second art criticism themed writing class and go figure there was no electricity... (the storm that knocked it out was totally worth it! not having electricity so they can see the images stinks... but a HUGE storm with big lightning bolts and loud thunder and a night of playing games in the candle light is totally worth it!) ... so I had to run over and email the images to my students after class. I had to head home first because I haven't learned to carry even a little bit of money around with me anywhere! silly emily! I could only find a few kuai... enough to pay for an hour. I got to the internet cafe which is actually a smoking den where college and middle aged men play middle school level video games on the computers. NICE! CLASSY! so... I asked the guy how much five minutes was... he said 2 kuai... not bad... usually how much it costs for an hour but I didn't want to fight him... so as he was signing me in he said you can only have 3 minutes... 2 kuai for 3 minutes... it was then I knew this guy was trying to cheat me! how annoying! I plugged in my mp3 player/usb (mp3 is pronounced em pay san)... I emailed my students and looked at some pictures of my nephews in the three minutes I was given! what a joke. I left and came back home and was there for an hour when I got the urge to listen to some christmas music while I put around some halloween decorations... (anything can inspire listening to christmas music) since our electricity was out I looked for my mp3 and realized I'd left it at the "den". I quick ran back and walked in, asked the boss and we looked and it was gone! GONE! ahhh! it had only been like a half hour! I know my students' mp3s get stolen all the time... but I didn't think it would happen to me... with my sticker encrusted bunny charmed english MP3 player! the creepy guy playing video games next to me while I worked was still there and he said he knew the guy that grabbed my mp3... I wanted to punch him! why did you let him just take my mp3 player??? you creepo! the boss asked him when we could get it back. the guy said to come back that night.
I told my two close friends/students and on our way to dinner we stopped to check. The owner went to the place where the guy worked who stole my mp3... only like 5 stores down... but the store was closed... he told my friends he didn't know the guy (really?) and that he didn't have his phone number (no way! not possible... of course he has his number) but my students are good hearted and just gave in... I saw that the man was being deceptive and I knew he cheated me earlier so I pushed the issue. I demanded that he take me now to the place where the guy was. The man gave in and started to turn but my students thought I was really upset and were physically holding me back. I was so confused that they were responding like that. As foreigners we need to be firm about being treated correctly and equally. People think we have so much money so they don't feel bad taking advantage of us. We literally have to fight for the right to be treated correctly, especially in our town! My students thought this man was being very honest with them even though he was treating them very poorly... as men do sometimes to women here! They refused to stand up for themselves or me... they wanted to be very sweet and nice and get what they wanted that way. If I was alone this never would have worked but since they are chinese women they felt like they needed to act this way and it worked for them. I tried to explain why I was acting the way I was... (I realized I've never been shopping with them, we've never really been given trouble in front of them before, though we've spent more time with them than any of our other students) They couldn't understand that I was acting direct but was not very upset... they kept saying I understand you are so upset... but I wasn't... it's just an mp3 player... it was 100 kuai and I don't need it... it was frustrating being cheated... but that's not why I responded this way... it's because it's the way we have to act. we HAVE to! we would be kicked out of taxis and cheated up and down if we didn't fight... it's not an emotion, it's an action...
It was then that I realized that our students will never know what it is like to be a foreigner in their country. They will never know and they should never know. I thought to myself... and am glad i didn't say... when I was explaining how we need to act sometimes to not get cheated... This, the boss knowing who stole someone's property, would not happen in America... letting things get stolen and stay stolen and not holding on to someone's forgotten property... this is the difference between a developing country and a developed country. If our students came to America they would feel something very different than we are feeling. We see our country as developed... we see it as a place where these kind of scenarios don't usually happen. If they came to our country they would see their country as developing. That is never easy to see or admit. 
It's not easy to admit differences or see them or understand them. It's harder not to be able to talk to your friends about your frustrations because they can never and should never understand. Sometimes I forget they are Chinese... I forget they aren't experiencing China like I am... and then a situation like this happens, and I am redirected... I am reminded that I need to keep experiencing what I'm experiencing, and let my friends/students experience their China. 
Today we went to the hair dressers that stole my MP3 and my students asked them to give them the mp3 since it's in English and they couldn't use it. The hair dressers saw me and gave it back, stickers and bunny charm and all! my students said if it was in Hanzi they men would never have given it back to me. (hopefully they both turned their mp3s to english!) After all this they told me that the Chinese way of dealing with this was better than being direct... and yes, for Chinese people it was... for me... well... I'm in a foreign land and I am foreign in it. I will have to fight to be treated fairly... but they don't need to admit that this is a place that requires that... this is their home!

There's a sale on leeks!

I was on my way back from the market the other day and out of my bag peeked some leeks. As I was walking home a woman who runs a store that seems to sell... shoe inserts, mosquito coils, rags, maybe lighters... ok, so I have no idea if she if even trying to sell those things... she tells me that I could have gotten a good deal on those leeks if I'd bought them at the beijing hualian... our big walmart esque super store in town. You can get 10 of those for like 3 kuai, she said... yeah, yeah, I thought, I know... but I paid too much because I'm a stupid american... BUT then I had an AWESOME realization... she wasn't telling me that I was stupid... she wasn't even implying it (you can tell we get that quite a bit here...) she was telling me that there was a sale on at the store... she was being...
A NEIGHBOR!!!!  Finally I have become a part of this community enough that this nice lady that I always wave at and talk to her grandson (or daughter... they buzz all the kids heads in the summer so their heads won't get too hot) she sees me as a neighbor, a friend, someone she wants to help out and tell when there is a sale on leeks at the food store!
I'm finally IN! :)
(at least in that lady's mind!... and that's more than I hoped for!)

bouquets of sharpened pencils

so, classes have started again and again I find that we are settling into a routine here in our town. Classes began approximately september first. I should note that no one, not the administration not the students, nobody, knows when the first day of school will be until the day before, so you can understand how frustrating that is to our students from out of province. For some of them it takes around 3 days to get here... so if they miss the first or even second class we are told not to mark them absent! (fine by me!)
It was great to see our students again after the long summer. We were so glad to get some time with our students/friends. It's been great fun to be able to hear about summer, catch up on all the social news, and just enjoy time together!
I'm teaching all oral english classes except for one advanced writing class. I'm learning that teaching skill classes is the worst! I love creative writing (as you can see from this blog) but the students level is sorely below the level of "creative writing". Teaching art unfortunately translates much easier into creative writing than it does teaching writing skills... not to mention my spelling is atrocious! (took me two tries to spell that correctly!) I am meeting them halfway by teaching art criticism and giving them images to look at and write responses to. Exciting!
The first week in October is class free because of China's national day! Horray! no school for us meant going for the week to neighboring province Yunnan. We went up north and did the most amazing hike of all time! It's called Tiger Leaping Gorge, and it is by far the most beautiful place I've ever been to or ever have dreamed up! Giant mountains with snowy peaks and a wild flowing river way down below the trail. The trail climbed up and over one of the mountains and then weaved back down to the river at the end of the 2 day long trek. It was amazing... grueling, but amazing!
Life at our college is very much the same as it ever was... one thing is a bit different... With all the new incoming freshmen, many of whom have never seen a foreigner before, the staring has gotten a bit out of hand again on campus. Where we can usually retreat from all the staring and people saying "laowai" (foreigner)... now we're not quite so free from the attention here. I just keep reminding myself that this too shall pass... soon they will be so tired of seeing us they will just walk on past like all the other students! Can't wait to be ignored! : )
so... back to the same old same old! Hopefully I'll get better at keeping up with this whole "blogging thing"... sorry for falling off the face of the earth for a while there... I'm back... for those avid followers of littlewrenderings! both of you! :)

Medical Examinations

so... we went for our medical exam the morning after the long march. I am not a doctor friendly person. I hate going to the doctor and only do it unless entirely necessary! This Guizhou requirement not only felt unnecessary but I was quite frustrated that Peace Corps didn't intervene and do the tests for us. They said they'd checked the facility and that needles were sanitary and destroyed after use... but I was still very very uncomfortable. When we got to the place we realized that we not only needed our passports, we also needed a certain sized picture for the examination report! WHA??? As we were figuring this out, a man came up and introduced himself as an American who has been dying to meet some other Americans in this country. Turned out he'd been working on getting this exam and paperwork completed for a while now, and was finally getting to the point where he would actually get examined. He and his friend took us to get our pictures done, and helped us decipher the Hanzi on the forms for Americans. (why not do them in English? you have to wonder...) we all paraded up to the examination floor... and it was then I looked at the paper. Under Physical it had boxes for, chest x-ray, Joints, eyes... ok, pretty normal... then it had ANUS... I'm uncomfortable... GENITALATIA, ROMBERGERS... WHA???? I told dan that if they even tried to fill out this part I was going to run for the door... (while we were filling out forms on the bottom floor people where staring at us through a little window... no, I'm not being paranoid... it was a little glass free hole with a guy on the other side staring at us! ) This felt so incredibly intrusive and unnecessary. Dan agreed to do all the steps together, and he went first... I asked the woman taking our blood to change her gloves after she texted on her cell while wearing them... gross! During the ECG... EKG... come on, get your signs right! I told the woman she needed to clean the sharp metal suction cuppers... she refused until I tried calling Peace Corp medical... (thanks for not answering PCMO!!!! : ( *sigh*) She finally took my instant hand sanitizer and sloppily wiped the rusty ancient machine. BLEGH!!! We got to the eyesight and then, then we got to the physical exam. Dan went first... The man pushed on his abdomen, felt his glands, took his blood pressure... ... then filled out the form!!!!!!! scratching right through Anus, Genitalatia and Rombergers... (what is a rombergers? whatever it is, I wouldn't have let them check it!) WHEW!!! After those parts being unnecessary, well... I just felt better about the whole thing, though it didn't stop me from calling and writing Peace Corps about the ridiculousness, the intrusiveness, and the unnecessariness of this whole thing! BLEGH! Then we went to lunch with our new friends from the medical experimentation center.
It's days like this when you realize that life is just crazy!

The long march...

So, it has been a while since I've written and I need to do a bit of catch up. My husband and some fellow volunteers did a summer project in a small town about 9 hours away by bus/car. Our life here in China is never dull... and this trip was no different. Even from the very moment we got off the bus at our town train station...

Dan put his pack (big hiking backpack) and our computer bag (small day pack-ish bag) down next to me on the stairs outside the train station and went in to buy our tickets. I guarded the bags as best I knew how. In a town where foreigners are quite rare, and the foreigners that do live in our town, live on the other side... well, needless to say within minutes a crowd of about 15 men were semi-circularly crowded around me. Finally one of the mustered up the courage to ask me a question. (Up to this point they had all been staring at me, then started walking away and just when they turned their back to me they said VERY FEMININELY "Hello!") So, the brave one of the group with all the other men nudging at him to say something... (these men did not all know each other before, by the way! Foreigners bring out intense feelings of strength in numbers!) ... said, "Where are you from?" in Anshunhua - the local dialect. I have learned to pick up some of this, but in China the language differs greatly depending on where you live. In America, if you go from boston to New Orleans you can still understand what people say... even if it sounds a bit weird! I studied Putonghua... or standard Chinese... which is very different than the very pig-latin-y Anshunhua! We get the same questions a lot so I can understand most of what people say in this crazy dialect. After I answered the question in anshun/putonghua the other men would ask the "brave man" what I had said, and he would repeat it word for word... why didn't they understand when I said it? well... most Chinese people look at me and think I speak English (which is fair, since I do), so when i start speaking Chinese, they think I am speaking English and don't pay any attention! Ha! It gets old pretty fast!
So, after about an hour and forty five minutes of this back and forth, interrogation, whatever it was, Dan finally came out of the ticket office. I was frustrated that he took so long, UNTIL... until I saw his face.
My husband is one of the most peaceful, patient, kind, loving men I have ever met or heard of... But the hour and forty five minutes in that line... His face was flushed, his knuckles were white, and he was rubbing his forehead... He went on to explain that after a while in that endless line... (our train station is like a specific kind of hell for impatient people. I am a foreigner and my language isn't perfect, but it takes me half the time it takes a Chinese person to buy the ticket. During the rush, all the workers seem to be on lunch break at the same time. Dan has gotten all the way to the front of the line, literally it was his turn to buy the ticket. He started to talk, and the woman turned off the lighted sign above, and put a sign in the window saying "closed"... there were 35 people in line behind him. The worst part about the lines is that people feel "exempt" for whatever reason and simply walk up the side of the line and just get in front of other people. My favorite (and this is usually with 70-100 year old women) is when they take you by the arms and MOVE you out of the way, and then take your spot!!!! )
So, on this particular train station day, a man (who we'll meet again later-- we'll call him "new line former guy") walked up and stood NEXT TO a man about 8 people in front of Dan. A few people saw him standing there... and get this... STARTED TO FORM ANOTHER LINE ALONGSIDE THE FIRST LINE!!!!! No one said anything!!! Dan called over to the police who stand around sleeping with their eyes open, and pointed to this unusual and rather ridiculous rule violation, and the cop shrugged and walked away. The whole time this is going on "new line former guy" and the man he was standing next to were physically leaning on each other, pushing, trying to be the first one in line... Folks, we're talking like 45 minutes, at LEAST, of two men pushing each other side to side while in line to buy a ticket.
Finally Dan was the first in line and got us standing only tickets... ironically they had sold out of the seats... *sigh*. We went to the waiting room in the train station and got watched until our train came. Luckily we found some vacant seats on the train and sat down to rest of the past frustration.
BUT...
Rest was not in the cards! About forty five minutes away from our destination of the capital city, the train chugged to a halt. A conductor came into the car after we'd waited about 15 minutes and announced the train was hui le... broken! and that another train would be there in two and a half hours... The people on the train took this pretty well, yes, it was hot and with no movement that meant no air flow into the very crowded cars... so, most of them sat back, took off their shoes, put their feet up and proceeded to stink up the tight space! A few people started getting up and getting off the train. We talked to a passenger and a conductor and found out that we could catch a public bus only a short walk away. We weighed our options, stay on the train and breathe foot fumes for then next two and a half hours, or take a short walk in the countryside and catch a bus to the city. We both had our packs, and our small computer back pack, AND dan had hurt his ankle pretty good a few weeks before and was still recovering, but at that point anything sounded better than staying in that footy train car! We crossed the tracks and climbed up the side and began our "short walk". The short walk, with our bags, in the sun, with all those people ended up being about a forty five minute walk! Our long march was made up of men in their suits, women in high heels with umbrellas to keep away from the big mean sun, and yes, two overburdened Americans, all walking on dirt paths up and down hills, through corn, rice, and sunflowers! We LOVED it... from the high heel prints in the water buffalo piles, I'm not sure everyone else did too! At one point going up a steeper muddier place, Dan pointed out that the man walking in front of me was "new line former guy"... I know he knew who I was, I know he knew dan was unhappy with him, so... I proceeded to teach a quick lesson... I, with my pack on my back and the computer bag on my front, tailgated... then I passed, and slowed down... the man did nothing because he knew how awful he'd behaved to all the people waiting in that line. Felt good to know that, yes, he'd passed us in line, but now he was walking through water buffalo poop behind the people he'd pushed past earlier!
Finally we got to the road and we all seemed to realize that there were literally hundreds of people waiting for that supposed bus. Everyone, again, resigned to their fates, got some shrink wrapped chicken feet at the local store, and sat down to wait it out. We, being the americans that we are kept walking and tried to hail any vehicle that might take us. I waved at a truck, and he looked at me, smiled, and pulled the horn... Not what I was looking for, but I'll take it. After only a few minutes.. before we could give up and sit down and cry... a man drove past and stopped (when I almost jumped in his window... desperation may have begun setting in) and let us ride with him to Guiyang. We jumped in and found out that he is the head of a major construction company in Guiyang. He told us about his family, his wife, and told us he'd drop us off anywhere we wanted to go! He picked up his wife along the long ride to the city, and they were so kind and generous! The dropped us off in the middle of the city, and refused to take any kind of money or gift. After the long day... their generosity brought me to tears. What kindness! We were so blessed! Since we wasted so much time in line and our train broke down, we missed the window to do the Guizhou medical exam that we came into town to do in the first place... Yeah, we'd fasted for the whole morning so we could do the blood tests... we were starving and exhausted... so we treated ourselves to Pizza Hut! Nothing ever tasted so good. (the pizza here is all pretty much gross... Papa John's is the closest to home... but China doesn't know how to do pizza... sad... but despite this, it was life changing!) After that we made it to our friends house... crawled up the stairs and flopped into bed. Thank goodness for friends who welcome you into their home when you are grumpy, really sweaty and only want to sleep!
That night... as you can only imagine... I slept like a log!

Bazaar Birthday Shopping!!!

With the language/cultural differences we encounter in China almost everything we do, even day to day tasks, have an element of the Bizarre... Today I spent a few hours shopping for birthday presents for Dan... (ringing in year 27 tomorrow!) and it ironically involved both a Bazaar and quite a few bizarre things as well! (some in the bazaar itself!)
Before China I'm not sure I actually encountered a genuine "bazaar"! The one in our town is less beautiful, bright colored, and spicy smelling as the one in my ideal imaginary land in my head! (There is a stinky tofu guy that sells stinky tofu in the bazaar... so there's that...) Our bazaar is half inside a giant plastic/galvanized metal roofed shelter that resembles a gigundous carport, and half sprawled into the surrounding alleys and streets... The floor (even though it's covered is always quite muddy... even on the driest of days!) In our Bazaar you can buy almost anything! Mosquito coils, gloves, disposable plastic shopping bags, sleeve protectors, aprons, underwear, jeans, traditional style clothes, giant rubber waders for rice planting, and my personal favorite = traditional hand woven fabric! Didn't buy any today because I was trying to focus on my guy's birthday! (Plus I have an abundance of fabric right now... the stack should go down once I buy that new SEWING MACHINE!!! Can't wait!) So... what'd I get'im? well... first I got him Mazhong... (pretty sure thats not how you spell it...) its pronounced ma-Jong, and it's a traditional Chinese game that has recently been outlawed in many places like college campuses because of the incredible amount of money people lose playing! (We're not gamblers... but we do love the game itself! really fun!) The next thing I got him was, yes, a traditional Chinese shirt... not sure if he's gonna love this or hate it... but... I did get the return policy... (a woman gave me her word that if he didn't like it or it didn't fit he could get another one... If he doesn't like this hope he likes something else she has there! : /  hmmm....)  The last thing I got him was the first four seasons of the tv show The Wire... he's been talking about it for so long that I was excited to get it for him... pretty sure this is my surprise factor... (the one I'm sure he'll like!) I am trying my best to make this a birthday he'll remember, a birthday he'll love, and mostly, a birthday where he won't miss home too too much. I know some missing home is always present... but I hope the day will be special! (his dear mom sent a special birthday cake mix... if he doesn't like any of the presents and everything else goes wrong... duncan hines birthday cake mix can NEVER go wrong! : ))   The other no fail birthday wonderfulness is going to visit our dear friends in the capital city! Playing games, relaxing, and talking with them is one of our favorite things to do! Good food, good cake, (hopefully) good presents, good company, good health, and good life, all add up to make a really good ringing in of the new year! : ) 

Oh the smell... I'm afraid it has infected me

so... this is a probably miss quoted Kierkegaard statement... I can't say I've never feel this way about our home here. Usually when you think "Peace Corps" you picture an African dirt floored hut. The thing that is the most "Peace Corps" about our life here is the smells. Yes, there are the days when the freshest breezes come over the mountains behind us, but more often than not our nostrils are bombarded by *other smells*... Probably the most distinctive smell we've had was the day our first visitors came to our town/home. We were cleaning our apt. up, getting ready to have more people sleeping in it than we have beds... nice! And Dan smelled something that "caught his nose"... after looking out the window he saw what it was and called me over to check it out... The sewer pipe behind our apt. had Exploded and was pouring brown... well... textured liquid all down our street. The "liquid" had to go somewhere... It all gathered in the low area under the windows of one of the dorms... by the time the leak was fixed they had at least 4 feet of sewage just sitting under their window! WHEW!!! We watched three men try to deal with the problem while they waited for the professionals to come. Two were in bare feet... one had sneakers on... they were knee deep in sewage... first they tried blocking the pipe with their hands... only the hole was maybe one foot by 2 feet... so instead it only sprayed the spewing sewage all over them! EEEK! My favorite of the solutions was when one of the barefoot men went right over to the hole and... in an effort to plug it, used his butt as a cork... again, only forcing the sewage up around his body in a spray! WOW! Eventually the fix it guys came... but then there was a need for some pretty intense clean-up! The clean-up crew  was surprisingly... THE FIRETRUCKS! their goal was to use the fire hoses to spray the sewage off the streets and down into the valley below our school... Now... this could have been brilliance... I'm not sure what I would have done... but... the force of the fire hoses sprayed the residue on the road... the hard bits with GREAT force into the bushes along the street. The first thing I thought of when walking down the street to bring our friends to our house from the train station, was the book we had when we were young... when Amelia Beddila "prunes the bushes..." sticks prunes on the branches... : ) ha!!! Life is funny!
Other smells that intrude on us are the abundant trash days... no, not trash pick up, but trash burning! and with the intense amount of plastic and styrofoam that is used here... I'm sure it is infecting me! BLEGH!
The other... and most prominent smell in our lives is the smell of, yes, Chinese food! I loved Chinese food before I got here... and now... well now I REALLY love Chinese food. The smell pervades everything! We wake up to our neighbors making it first thing in the morning, at lunch, and of course at dinner ... and... well... it just never really goes away. I have the feeling we'll get our suitcases home to America, open them, and get a wave of homesickness for China, a wave of hunger for good Chinese food, and then have to throw away all of the clothes we bring home from here! : )

Perfect day for Laundry...

Today marked a milestone... the first day in as long as I can remember that contained neither a thunderstorm nor dark menacing clouds of any sort! Today the breeze felt like a dream! Cool, fresh, wonderful... and with the sun shining in our back porch windows... it was truly the perfect day for doing laundry. Over our time here laundry has been quite the chore! Our washing machine... yes we have one... is less than ideal... but in our home... laundry takes hours! Today I dedicated my day and some of my wrists to it! As a long time violinist... those hours of practice when I was young took its toll on my wrists! I use them for so many things that not having full use of them would be emotionally, mentally and artistically crippling! Carpal tunnel was one doctor's diagnosis... I try not to think about it or let it affect my everyday activity... guess I'm just living in denial...
Today was the day of all days for my wrists... yes, laundering... but I also made some (very delicious if I do say so myself) bread! The kneading, the rinsing, the sewing... My wrists need a well deserved vacation, which I think they will receive soon! Either this Thursday or Friday I am going to be purchasing my VERY OWN SEWING MACHINE!!! I am so excited! I think my productivity will skyrocket once I get a machine that accomplishes in 10 minutes what it takes me an hour to accomplish by hand! Pretty exciting! : )
The wind is still making the clothes on the back porch dance. Most of them are dry and have been almost since the moment they were hung out. What a great reminder that summer is coming... the cold is gone (for now) and we are entering the world of quick drying clothes, and hopefully the world of less wrist exhaustion! 
Three Cheers for SUMMER!!! Hip Hip HORRAY!!!

Getting a thumbs up never felt so good

Whenever we go to the market behind our school we always see the most wonderful older woman. Whenever we see her she greets us with a big thumbs up and such a beautiful smile! She comes up and helps us find our way around the market... if we say we need to find tudou (potatoes) she takes us to the vender with today's best taters... She is absolutely the sweetest person in our town!
This morning I got to catch up with my Grammy over skype! We are so blessed to be able to keep in touch that way! It was so good to talk. Felt like she was right here! One of the hardest parts about being here is being away from our friends and family. It's hard to see life moving on without us. Hardest during the holidays. Grammy talked about what she would make us for birthday dinners... (dan's birthday is coming up soon! : )... mmm her delicious roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, and jello pie... she is a master baker... anything grammy makes is the best! Every time I see an older person here I miss my Grammy and Pop-pop, and can't help but smile at the people passing...
China's older generation has a pretty complex relationship with Americans. We've been hearing more and more about how tense the relationship was when the older generations were college age... They were trained to hate Americans... I would expect that when people see us now, something in their past would be triggered and they would respond accordingly. Our experience has been quite the contrary! Before they know we are volunteers, before they know anything about us, if we smile, they give us big smiles and shake our hands, give us thumbs up.. We are so blessed by this openness! We are so blessed by these smiles, these touches!
Today as we were getting off the bus from a quick errand running trip in town to our big grocery store, I saw that our dear friend from the market was walking in from town too! she came right up to us and smiled and gave us a thumbs up, and walked arm in arm with me up to the front gate. we talked a little, then parted ways. What a beautiful reconciliation of China and America we made walking there together arm in arm! 

a new look on life...

When I was a little girl, every 3 months or so I would get a new idea of how I wanted my furniture placed in my room... I'd beg beg beg, and my very patient mother would help (do most of the moving) of my furniture. Looking back, it was probably one of the only times I thoroughly cleaned my room willingly! I'd scheme... measure... and help my mom move my furniture... as best I could.
When it was done I'd look at my very organized, and now CLEAN room... and feel like everything in the world looked a bit brighter now. Everything was going to be fresh and new... because tomorrow I'd wake up in a room that was totally new, and yes, clean... but NEW! 
Last night I was inspired to do something about that horrible new "light fixture" if you can even call it that... and so... I started my scheming. I straightened up everything in the room... got boxes of teaching books ready to take over to our office... then broached the subject with the husband. His having only one leg that works well and us having a gigantically mutant sized TV were a point of question... but i figured it out that we could flop the tv on a chair and drag it across the room with little problem... I told him I could do most of the moving myself... and he very lovingly complied! I packed up the books... and started moving things. Some of the furniture has been in the same place since we moved here a year ago... so it was wonderful to get at those corners with some bleach and a mop! When all the pieces were finally in the place we intended for them we both realized it needed a bit of adjusting... after scooting the couch back and forth a few times... we settled on the initial idea... I am enjoying a very sweet breeze sitting on our couch in it's new niche under our windows! The light in the morning is so sweet! : )
True to my memory... I woke up this morning, opened our bedroom door and looked at our living room. I gasped! It is really that new and nice! I'm totally happy with it! Change is certainly good!

(there are a few things that still need a little work... one being that stinkin' PVC lighting installation... I think i'm going to find or make some lanterns to hang around it to make it look like clusters of lanterns... that may or may not be trying to cover up a hose-like pole! : ) The other issue is a huge blank wall where our bookshelf used to be. I'm thinking a skinny bamboo ladder! mmm! with some blankets hung on it! yeah... I'll have to go looking! : ) But the few works in progress pale in comparison to the goodness of the NEW!)
Attachments:
Dan reading... notice the pvc above the bookshelf! UGLY! but... it sticks out less now than it did before! whew! so ugly!
Dan and the other chair... on it... the template of the words for my dear Lijah's quilt! Can't wait to start getting those words on fabric! : )
messy couch under window picture... yeah... we're still trying to get everything together! : ) also... these are all reversed... mirror imaged... so that is weird too! : )

Xiao Wenzi

Although this was my affectionate nickname growing up, (given to me by my Pop-pop... it means little mosquito... I was a long little guy with long skinny limbs) I have no affection for those little buggers! None at all! Last night Dan and I stayed up late playing crazy jin and phase 10... and we saw the very first of the Anshun Mosquitos... Our town has notoriously few mosquitos... but as it turns out something about us draws them in... blegh!! I have always disliked mosquitos somewhat. I guess I'm just too sweet, cause when nobody else had a bite I always had 20! Annoying, frustrating, gross... but my dislike for Skeeters grew significantly during our time living on the boat.
The boat we lived in was basically a camper, that leaned to the left... (port side), had no heat even during snow storms, during storms or even wind... the boat moved so much it was practically un-live-in-able! We had so many long and difficult evenings living there... ( I know... why would we live there if it was so bad? well... I worked for a tiny salary, free food and free "housing" we didn't realize until later that "housing" meant a crazily superficial refinished dilapidated houseboat... the brand was "holiday mansion" ha! laughable!!! the type of houseboat was a "Coastal Barracuda!!!" sounds fearsome! and it was! most ironic thing about the boat was... since we lived in Maryland at the time... we realized that the boat originated in Media PA... where we lived the next year... and only a 5-10 minute drive from both of our childhood homes! Wild!) -- sorry that was a long one!
The worst experience we had on the boat (maybe second only to the wasp infestation I discovered 2 inches from my face the first day!!!!!!! EEEEK!) happened the second to last night we spent on the boat. We'd gone out to dinner and then were walking down the long dock to where our boat was... We realized we'd left a light on... but since the electric was so incredibly low it didn't matter much... I climbed on to our boat from the dock, opened the screen... walked down the two little steps to where our bunnies were chillin' in their cage. (Yes, our bunnies lived on the "Coastal Barracuda" with us! The are both loyal and adventurous!) I peeked in on them, opened the door to their cage when dan said, "EM!" His voice is almost never stressed... he is entirely chill... great contrast to my overly excitable self... but this... this was... not chill! I looked at him, but he was not looking at me... his eyes were big and kinda wild... that was the first and probably the only time I'll ever seen him look like that! He said... "Look Up!"... I looked and the back window of our boat was LITERALLY COVERED IN MOSQUITOS... It had rained the days before and my theory was that a skeeter laid eggs in the trough of our back sliding window/door... (every opening on a boat is pretty much an exit...) I inhaled quickly... what to do? Dan suggested we turn off the light and go to bed. WHA??? those little buggars would find us! They fly towards heat, smell... HUMANS! EEEEEK! We decided that sleeping in the boat that night was not an option. so on our second to last night sleeping on the boat we slept in one of the farm buildings... that smelled exactly what I think a mouse outhouse might smell like! BLEGH!!! As I was falling asleep that night I concocted a plan to get rid of those skeeters!!! The next morning... a little worse for wear, we went back to the boat and smeared the curtain for the back door/window over the whole door... We got every mosquito! yes, our window was smeared with blood and guts of those nasty little guys... but it was such an incredible victory for all of humankind. Tonight the skeeters are sneaking around us in our apt. They move pretty quickly here... The hunt is on! tonight... Humans 6 Mosquitos 0.... let's keep it that way! : )
Attachments:
the back window/door of mosquitodom
the boat in wintertime!
another view inside "The Coastal Barracuda"!

Today I worked all day long and accomplished...

NOTHING!
literally we accomplished NOTHING all day long. We woke up at 8:30 and spent from 9 until 6pm trying to buy plane tickets for my parents' and our travelings this summer... and it all came to NOTHING! We spent literally hours looking, hours trying to figure it out, hours with a student and our waiban and now... at 7:15 we have NOTHING to show for it at all!!! A seemingly simple task... pick the flight you want... type in the names and passport numbers of the people flying... enter the credit card info... and WHAMMO! Done! : ) .... but there were no smiles today. First they would not take our credit cards... only Chinese credit cards... OooooK... so we borrowed our Waiban's credit card... and then the site said... no, the problem was not with the card... but our low quality internet here in Anshun! really? We called everyone we could call... but we'd have to run to the capital city to pay them in cash and get a paper ticket in the next 24 hours... and we just can't do that... blegh!... so thinking the internet connection might be better in our office we went there to try to fix the problem... but trying to help, some staff members jumped on our computer, never having bought *anything* online before, aka... not having any clue what they needed to do... eventually it didn't work there either. *surprise surprise*... 
what did we do wrong? did they know we are Americans and they just didn't want us to succeed in leaving lovely China? (I doubt it... but when you succeed at NOTHING... well.. you wonder!)
Its days like today you realize nobody is to blame... Days like today are just proof that this is still a developing nation. Things like shopping online are really uncommon in our province- even when people have money and positions of power. This day, although it makes me want to crawl into bed and not wake up until my life is less pointless... makes me realize that being in this country, that sometimes doesn't feel to me like a developing nation, is necessary... well... not only do they want us... we can do some good here... we can help. We are meeting a need.
After hours of working together with our student Winter to get these tickets (all in vain...) we took her out to get dinner with us... and she told us about her dream to study in America. She is an excellent student... one of our very best... and I sensed the same sense of defeat in her voice when she talked about studying abroad... It's difficult, yes... but here is a way we can help... maybe we can't make buying tickets online easier... but finding ways to get a great student to an english speaking country to study? that is something we can help with! 
On days like today Dan and I get back to our house, sit down and let out a deep breath... a deep breath we've been holding all day long, and one big exhale isn't enough to get the stress out of our bodies... after 9 hours... its in our bones. we look at each other, vent about the day, and try to find a way to create a little america here in our apt. tonight. make cookies? watch a movie, make popcorn, play dutchblitz...
no matter what we do Chinese culture does penetrate our american shelter... right now there are very loud high male vocals out our window... soon the students will go back to their dorms and the neighbors behind our apt will put on their lousy pop music and turn their giant speakers so they face out their window... so we get to enjoy the music too... but... this is why we live here... this is what we are here to experience, this is what we are here to learn... and, though living on a college campus in rural china sometimes has it's aspects that make you crazy... I'd much rather be on a campus here than in America! : )
Today I decided, when I get back to the states, I'm gonna buy airline tickets online just for fun! log into internet explorer... and 10 minutes later... get my confirmation email... man I miss the simplicity of american internet sometimes!

battle wounds...

Today was a day that left its mark on us all. My proof of battle is on both my palms... and though tomorrow I won't even remember it was there... now it still stings a bit. Our bathroom... well, our bathroom has proof of the war that went on in there all over the floor! Dan's battle wound was simply an irritation of a previous injury. Our living room's wound... well... Our living room's wound will haunt me until we leave a year from now.

I'll start with the story of our poor bathroom. This morning I had my very last class of the school year. While I was having class we expected some electricians to come to our place and fix our washing machine (if you can call it that... it is more like a big spinning canister... spins the soapy water and clothes around and around... and then the rest needs to be done by hand... rinsing soap out of clothes by hand takes its toll on ones wrists! The washer does have a companion spinner... and if you leave your clothes in it for the full 5 minutes they will shorten and widen significantly! Recently our washer has turned on us... reach your hand in the water and you are more than likely to get shocked! eeek!!! I unplugged it before I ventured near the water before...)  Today the electrician worked (and hopefully) fixed it!!! But there is a CRUCIAL difference between having people come and do work in your home in America and having people work in your home in China. Here... well, the lovely gentleman left giant piles of stinking mildewy lint he'd pulled out of the bottom of our washer... he left scraps of wires, scraps of what was formerly deep in our machine... the worst part of having people work in your home in China is the tracking in of LITERALLY POO!!! In China it is common for people to take off their shoes when they enter a house... However, somehow this rule doesn't apply to workmen... or they feel it doesn't??? I struggled with this a lot when i came here... why do I need to take off my shoes... Then I looked at what I walk in on a daily basis... yes... the streets, the indoor hallways, the classrooms... all have a slimy layer of brown filth...  On our campus people empty the piles of waste from the female restroom on the side of the road... the water buffalos leave distinctive tracks... big round wet ones... wherever they go... people hack and cough an spit... everywhere... (only happened once in my class... ooo... but did see it on an airplane once! wow!) all this is getting tracked into your home... onto your floor... I think I'll have a really hard time adjusting to having people come to my home someday and wear their shoes... I always thought people who asked people to take their shoes off were W-E-I-R-D... but now... I'm on board! If you come to my house someday, would you mind taking off your shoes? would you be offended? Thoughts???
so... the bathroom was totally tracked with disgustingness and all the scraps of the work that was done...
Our living room... *sigh* since I was not here to facilitate... a lamp was put up in a dark corner... you are thinking... come on, how bad can it be? ... Dan was the only one home... and as soon as I got home from class he opened the door for me and looked like something happened that he couldn't help... but I wouldn't like... I peeked around the door to see how they had hung the IKEA lamp we'd bought for more light... It is... Well... Let's just say a man definitely hung this lamp! The men were too afraid to hang it from the ceiling... we are on the top floor... so if they hung a light from the ceiling the rain would probably come in through the hole... (I'm thinking... HOW THIN IS OUR CEILING????) So, the men threaded the cord for the light through a very garden hosey looking piece of PVC pipe and drilled a hole in the middle for the cord to hang out of  with the lamp at the end of that. They then placed the PVC straight between the two walls at the corner... It looks like a pull-up bar... or a projector screen - just pull on the light bulb... they also hung it a foot and a half above and behind the head of the person in the chair it is over... meaning if you are reading or sewing, your head makes a shadow over what you are trying to concentrate on...  exhaustingly inconvenient! I pulled it out and rehung it 2 feet up... (as long as the cord would allow). They did put a little light switch RIGHT NEXT TO THE CHAIR!!! like your own personal chair/light combo! I rarely come across a situation in a home where I can't find a way to cover, mask, redeem a weird feature of my home... but this... I've got nothin'!
the last battle wounded both dan and I... I was on my way into the kitchen when I spotted a GIANT Mutant Cockroach!!!! it was part cockroach part water buffalo! like 4 inches long! It looked like the big fake one my mom used to have! Crazy! Dan went to kill it... it is the man's job... at least in this home : ) He went to stomp on it and put all his weight on his bad foot... aww.... poor guy... the Giant bug scurried under our refrigerator... BLEGH! Dan pushed back the fridge and it ran out towards me... luckily I was armed with a little wooden stool... I had it firmly by the legs... as that giant insect ran towards me I let out a barbaric yawp... AND SMASHED IT TO SMITHEREENS!!!!! HORRAY FOR ALL WOMANKIND!!! I DID IT!!! However in my panic I gave myself some intense marks on my hands... ouch! still a little red... but after typing this the pain has subsided!

Today was filled with the battles that are part of learning to live somewhere new! Even on days like today, there are high points! When I was a kid we had a cassette tape recording of dogs barking jingle bells...(our dog used to go crazy with all those dogs running around her house... so she thought!) a few years ago I bought it on itunes... just as a memory... good to have around! Today it came on while trying to deal with everything... and dan and I realized that if I take the high parts and he the low parts... we do an amazing job lip syncing that song! I think we'll definitely have to find a venue for this new talent! : )
Even with all the frustrations... live is good! : )

PJ McRomperson

So I just finished my romper PJs... Posted them on Burdastyle... Yeah so it turned out a bit different than I'd thought it would... but I'm happy, and It's so wonderfully soft... It wasn't at the top of my list... but I got started and couldn't stop till I finished it! : )



Pajamas are meant to be soft, comfy, snugly, perfect... and I have to say I own the perfect pair of PJs! My mom bought them from the LLBean catalogue and gave them to me for my 14th birthday. I was too embarrassed to wear them to friends houses because they were so frumpy, but I loved them because they were so comfortable. When I was packing my stuff to move into my new apartment with my new husband I looked at them, and threw them in the trash... they were old, frayed, quite frumpy, yes, and...  just my favorite pajamas EVER... I quickly ran and fished them out... apologized to them and threw them in the wash. They came to Saskatchewan with me, to England, to my semester in Italy, and yes, now to China. I just had my 27th birthday and figured out that they are... yes... 13 years old! whew! some old pajamas... and though I still wear them and love them it's time to add a new member to my pajama drawer.

Rompers? I said to myself disgustedly as I looked at the magazine. I have fond memories of the ones I wore in elementary school... that one with pastel bubbles on it... and those collared ones with cherry print... they weren't so great...  The more I saw, the more I liked what I was seeing! On a recent trip to Thailand I found the romper for me and couldn't help myself... and last week I realized I needed more! Thus the birth of this lovely, soft, comfy, petal dusted romper. I didn't use a pattern, just figured it out. 

My struggles were... making the bottoms way too long... and then making the cups way too small. I ended up adding an extra band in the middle which made them a bit bigger than I'd usually like (I asked my husband if it looked too much like an old lady swimsuit up top... he just said I looked beautiful... which could be evasion, if it came from anybody but him... he's good at giving me constructive criticism... thank goodness!! : )   I love the buttons on the back and the wide straps that cross just a bitty bit. Just enough that the straps won't slip while you sleep! : )

I'm really excited to wear it on nights when the breeze can't get through our mosquito netting... It'll be nice and cool!

The white flowers? well... the magnolias are in bloom here... I get caught looking at them on my way back from class... get caught looking out our window at the tree behind us... the are so beautiful... couldn't help preserving a few of them on my pj's!



home

Today I woke up in a bed with a mosquito net around it in a room where the window looks out on a mountain with water buffalo grazing on it. I came out to a living room with bits of my aesthetic on the walls and my best friend trying to find out if USA won the soccer game the night before. I went to a bathroom that smells like intestines... with "poop flies" (little bugs that come out of our drain... the drain that connects to all the squatty potties below us... they fly right at you when you are taking a shower... blegh! and all you can think is... I know where you've been you little poop fly you!)... and then I get myself some tea from a kitchen with itty bitty counter space that is incredibly low... low enough that if I am cutting veggies for long enough, my back hurts the next day.
Despite all of these things that make this apartment "distinctive", "frustrating", "exasperating"... This is home. I think my idea of home used to go along with the smell of our house when we got back from vacation. I associated home with walking up the front path to see our dog peaking out the front window... smiling! (my family dogs have always smiled! I've never seen it before my childhood dog Maggie. Whenever I'd come home she'd get so excited she'd show her teeth, wag her tail, and sort of sneeze like... So sweet! Now my parents' dog Annie does it too! What lucky pet owners we are!) I associated home with grapefruit on Christmas morning, weeding in our gardens, raking leaves, and making cranberry bread for Thanksgiving with the family.
We've lived in China for a year and it has become home even though we have none of the previously mentioned things. I am realizing that home is less of a place, less about your surroundings and more about who you are with when you live. My home is not this apt. It was not the boat we lived on. My view of home was all the wonderful time with the people I love inside the building we called our home... and now I realize it's just a house. The home is the people, the conversations, the memories. All that is still my home, but now home has grown to encompass my husband, my sister's husband and lovely boys, my bunnies... Home has become broader... but stretching to encompass these new members doesn't stretch it thin... there is room for even more.
There are so many days that China does not feel like home. So many times I wish i could jump into my car and drive to my house growing up and sit and talk to my parents. But China doesn't need to be home. I brought home with me. Home is Dan! Home is talking to family on skype. Home is reminiscing about childhood and making cookies.
Tonight as I look around me I see a place still somewhat unfamiliar. I smell smells I will never get used to. I eat food my intestines will NEVER forget! But, no matter how foreign things around me are... with dan I am still home. 

hospitals make couch potatoes of good men...

I woke up this morning and started working on my sewing... like every other morning... and worked until Dan went to play basketball with some students. I was sitting quietly finally watching "dancer in the dark" the movie my college roommate recommended the first time we met. I've always wanted to watch it through... but never had the time... today was that time. I was watching and enjoying my sewing when my cell rang.. I looked and it was a student, a student that I like, but I didn't want to have company. I was in my stretchy non-student-friendly yoga pants... (they don't need to see me looking schlubby or exercising... ) I didn't answer... but when it rang again I began to think... Dan's playing B-ball with students from another class... what if this kid is playing too??? It is very normal that students will call twice... thrice... even 6 times when they just want to say hello... I knew this... but answered anyways... My student answered and said.....
"dan is heard" I heard dan in the background saying "I twisted my ankle and I think it might be broken!" I ran and got dressed... tried to do something with my hair ( trying to grow it out... and I read this article that said you should give your hair a break from being washed... fast from shower for a weekend... so my hair was... is... pretty grungy) I grabbed keys and cell phones and ran to the basketball courts... (they all... EVERYONE calls it the "playground". So weird! how did that get lost in translation??? I'm going to go play with my friends on the playground... meaning we are going to watch guys poorly imitate Kobe and Michael Jordan... sigh... we'll work on that next year!) I got there and scanned the "playground" to find dan... the students had moved him to a wall nearby... he was sitting there with one shoe off and a very big sock filled with swollen foot... We called all the people we had to call then made our way to the hospital... by Taxi... (the first driver was very sweet... used the meter... drove fast and safely... the taxi on the way home... not so good... our town is full of such sweet people... but the taxi drivers here... well, they are just the worst!) When we got to the hospital our Waiban (director of foreign teachers at our school... and super sweet guy!) was waiting for us at the gate! So sweet! He took us in and got us right into the doctor and then the xray... interesting that you have to go to the 5th floor first, to get checked by the doctor, then the first floor again for the xray, then back up to the 5th floor for a doctor to read the xray... hmmm... guess they save on physical therapy by making you cover all that ground! When we went into the exam room they took one look at dan and I and ran to get a wheelchair for him... It was the grandest wheelchair I've EVER seen! looked like they ran to Scotland to get it for him. It was covered in the McIntyre plaid and when dan sat in it the only thing he was missing were the bagpipes! (sadly when I was running out of the house in such a hurry I forgot the camera!) When we went for the Xrays the doctor let us stand right in the room with him... which is why I was able to remind him to get that big heavy body shaped blanket to cover dan's vital organs... good one em! I also was able to get a very good look at my husband's foot bones! sweet! I saw where he broke his foot before and saw where a spot he hasn't washed in a while made the xray unclear... just kidding about that! After the xrays were done we took them up to get examined... all clear! While they were examining dan and the xrays... well... we were also being examined by a LARGE number of onlookers and gawkers! Dan has a fan club of ... well lots of people. there was literally a crowd at the door at one point (they followed us up and in after we got the xrays...) so I closed the door... then they could only peek through the window! ha! no problems with privacy laws here! : ) My sweet husband was diagnosed with a pretty bad sprain... and was told he can't walk on it for 3 WEEKS! I've known him since high school and I've never seen him sit still that long! I think he'll last a few days! : ) I won't mind... well... I will notice... he does so much for me, but it's nice I'll get a chance to take care of him for a while! So, dan got a mandatory vacation and a set of "the most expensive" crutches! : ) good thing we live on the 6th floor! whew! 
when we finally got to the top of our building/our apt... I started the running around... finding ice, washing our sheets so we can have a nice clean place to sleep tonight, making the cookies that dan requested! (funny, as we were leaving our waiban pulled me aside and told me I need to cook dan healthy food... since he is sick... ...as opposed to the crap that I usually feed him??? Is this a comment on my cooking, my taste, or my husband? In the end we ate Jiaozi (dumplings) and yes, I made my husband some cocoa-ee oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. That's healthy right? Well... for the next week poor dan is stuck on the couch... I'll have to think of good ways to entertain him... maybe learn a new song on the guitar and sing to him? maybe let him watch me sew??? : )   any ideas??? let me know! I'll have used up all my tricks by tomorrow afternoon, no doubt! well...  here goes... let the entertaining begin! : )

The magnolias are in bloom

Whenever Dan and I walk around campus these days we are totally captivated by the gorgeous magnolia trees! Their abundant giant flowers are totally entrancing! We've both caught ourselves dreaming of Magnolia trees in our yard someday. Mmmm! As a former farmer (ha! I like formerfarmer!!! sounds funny! say that 8 times fast!!!) I dream of land of my own... maybe I've seen the movie Far and Away too many times, but I "want my land" (said in an Irish accent of course!) I dream of how I'll arrange my gardens... my companion planting, what flowers I'll plant under my windows to make our home smell deliciously verbeena-ee : ) I will have abundant basil and tomatoes... and we'll make more of that delicious home made mozzarella! Some people dream of mansions, diamonds, nice cars... I dream of a yurt, fresh veg from my own garden that I don't have to worry about getting pesticides in my from it, and... yeah, maybe a car that runs on cooking oil! : ) Everyone is allowed their dreams, right? I think the first thing i'll plant will be chard, tomatoes, and basil!!! mmm! I can taste the harvest already!!!
This has been one of those weeks in China where we really feel like life is different from the US. We had some miscommunications with our boss here, and since this is a VERY indirect culture this is common for us direct americans to misunderstand... I now know that finals are hard to organize in every culture! We also were planning to travel 17 hours by train to work at a summer camp... However, not enough kids signed up so they will not be needing us. We were bummed for about 15 seconds... then we realized that not doing the camp means so much more time here to hike, explore, make fart noises in my husband's elbow-pit (if you have never done this, revert your mind to about the 3rd grade level... find a friend... and blow air in their elbow-pit! I find that upper arm skin makes a delightful guttural fart noise! TRY IT!!! we've had so many good laughs... maybe we've been overseas too long! : ))  all in all we are excited for the opportunity to finish up our year by sleeping in and having our students over to watch movies and play games.
So... I made a list on this site of all the projects I've started and am trying to finish... I have at least 50 more in my head dancing around... This week I've been flopping back and forth between working on a new pair of PJ's... my old ones are SO old! I resolved to throw them away when I was getting married... they made it in the trashcan... but I fished them out before 5 minutes passed! They are not sexy, flattering, even remotely stylish... but they are so soo soft! I brought them to China because they are the most comfortable item of clothing I own. My mom got them from the llbean catalogue for my 14th birthday... wow! those Pajammers just turned 13!!! awesome! Happy birthday PJs!!! wow! I didn't calculate their age until right now and I am amazed! they are soo old! (maybe I'm the one that is so old!) ... sorry, so the pj romper... finishing the dress for my friend... really REALLY gotta get this done!!! a pink dress for myself... and of course!!! the quilts for my nephews!!! I am moving so slowly on these... I really wanted to get them done by august, but i'm beginning to see that is unrealistic... embroidering bunny rabbits and words all over them... It's gonna be a while! : / oh well! fun work for the most wonderful little boys in the world!
for now... I'm gonna get back to these PJs! : )

It's raining it's pouring the bunny is snoring...

aw... yeah, never heard a bunny snore before but I bet if there was a bunny that could snore it would be our bunny Linda... or Linners as we started calling her before we came to China. Linda and her companion Pete did not come to China with us... we are sad, they are not. They moved from Philadelphia area to the big city... CHICAGO... They were very excited for a change of scenery and humans. My friend and college roomate dar is their current mum and best friend. I envy them sometimes for being able to live with such a fabulous woman, and feel a little like they will never want to see me again since she is much cooler than I am. Our linda has been having some health problems after we left... certainly not because she misses us... certainly! but just the same, they are just two more things to think about and miss home!
The thunder is rattling our windows and the rain is really really coming down. I think this may be the wettest place we've ever lived... even wetter than the boat! (we lived on a boat for a year when Dan was in graduate school at St. John's College, and I was working on an organic farm... it was... well, much more difficult than living here!!! I'll say that!) Because of all the rain here the rice seems to be growing at incredibly fast! Farmers love rain! : )
SO, this past weekend I didn't write, and I wish I had, so much happened that I think I'll have a hard time collecting it into one (not too long) journal entry. One of the biggest highlights for me was going fabric shopping in our capital city with my dear friend CL... (yes, the one I made the dress for that I still have to take pictures of and finish all the way... the matching tie for her husband is finished, but her dress took more time than I thought it would... I still have work to do! I'll finish easily before I see her next though! She tried it on and it was totally FAB! she can wear anything and look great, but she is perfect for the dress I made her! : )  On our trip I got some fabric, (yes, obviously) but I also investigated the wonderful world of sewing machines. I've been sewing for 7 months in China with no sewing machine. I feel I've accomplished a lot with only these fingers! I have been getting all kinds of comments from my students about them wanting to learn to sew clothes and them asking me to teach them to make dresses etc. In Peace Corps you have your initial job... mine is education... but you are also required to have secondary projects... I have an art club and a small group of students that come and meet with my husband and I... but so many students have expressed interest in a sewing club. I'm thrilled! I am picturing group cutting sessions and then one on one sewing lessons on the machine. I'm picturing fashion shows!!! Before I get anywhere I need to get a sewing machine, because my students are not patient enough to hand sew everything... and with the little time they have outside of class and studies, I understand them! All this to say, I was expecting a sewing machine to be quite pricey... but after looking into it a bit more I'm realizing just how doable it is! A man in our capital quoted me 420 yuan for a new sewing machine. That's only 60 dollars. while that's a lot on my budget, I can find a way to scrounge 60 bucks from our home bank account. I'm scottish, so I'm a bit too frugal sometimes. Here! This is why I have scrimped before= to buy this for me and my girls! I can't wait!!
The rest of our weekend away was fun and busy. It's amazing how comfortable and homey people can be. Our friends that we stay with are home to us! Their home is safe, quiet, and a place that is easy to feel at home in. Whenever we are there we feel like we're as comfortable as we are in our own home. There are games to be played, delicious food to be made, and de-stressing conversations to be had. We feel so amazingly blessed to have made such good friends here. 
Now we are back in our town, back in our apartment, back in the rain. And it is good to be home. We have 2 more weeks of finals and grading and then we may or may not be off to Sichuan to teach children how to care for pets for a week long camp. I say "may or may not" because we got an email saying they may use us or they may not have enough campers to do the camp. Not sure what we'll teach if we do teach, not sure what we'll do with the extra free time if we stay here... maybe i'll get to know that sewing machine! I may have to go buy it! :)
I'll be sure to post some preliminary pictures of the things I've made recently... It's hard to get pictures of things when you are giving them away! I'll just have to pester them until they get some pictures for me! : )
Sorry if this entry was a bit... well... scrambly/rambly... that is pretty accurately how I feel today! : )

Polka McPlaiderson is finally totally finished!

I wish that I could say I'm finished everything else I wanted to do today. I was so desperate to get my work done today that I even made myself a list. Whew! if you are family or close friend you know that lists are my arch nemesises... (or whatever the plural of nemesis is... hmmm) I have always felt that lists are a sincere way to cramp my natural style, pace, and order. If I have a list automatically everything on it becomes dreadfully boring. I brought some paint chips from home thinking they will work wonderfully as bait for making necessary life lists... like grocery shopping... I've grown rather comfortable with that one. Christmas lists... I start making those around February first... I LOVE Christmas! But making a "to do list" well... that makes me just about want to barf! Today I picked a paint chip called peppermint tea. Its a lovely light blue and with a name like that, well, the list already made my day feel a little bit fresher! My list was full of exciting things like: make bread, finish dress and tie, clean up, make grapefruit honey iced tea, do yoga, take pictures of the finished projects... Now I feel about my list, the same way I feel about most "to do lists"... I feel depressed... Yes, I made two big loaves of bread this morning, one of which was piping hot when dan got back from class... I really kicked my score for wife of the year up a couple of notches with the whole coming home to warm bread with butter! : ) but almost everything else on the list was done halfway at best. I finished the blouse, I almost finished the dress and tie set... and tomorrow morning we have to leave early to catch a train... I'm ready to finish my projects in the cosy little coffee shoppe in the main city, (despite the awful smooth jazz they always have playing in there! makes me want to explode!) I can get them all done in time, but going to bed with them unfinished and then on top of that, having documentation that I wanted to get it all done and couldn't... this list is proof of my incomplete day... "sigh"... 
oh well... Life is about finishing and leaving things undone so you have something to do tomorrow... so I'll have somethings to concentrate on tomorrow! I've been trying to blog every day... but this weekend might be difficult... we'll see what I can do! : ) I'm going to put up a picture of the blouse for a friend in the picture folder on here.. there are some pictures of other items I've recently made in that folder too! hope you enjoy! : )

a time to wear and a time to throw away...

This morning's speaking exam feels like 2 days ago. As soon as I got home from the most boring exam I've EVER given... I buckled into sewing. We leave saturday morning for the capital of our province and I have to get everything done before we board that train. The capital's only an hour and a half away, but it's quite a bit different than our town. One big difference is that they have cheese in that town... we have... well, we have the giant block of velveeta we've been hoarding since my parents mailed it a while ago! : ) We also have a little bit of mozzarella in our freezer that we are saving to make the most wonderful pesto pizza this side of China has ever seen! 

After my class this morning I have been, yes, sewing... but I've also been working on getting a great deal of laundry done. Our laundry pile has been growing and growing... I think we brought too much with us to China... Today I worked on taking down that pile to a reasonable level... I barely even made a dent. I washed darks... and being the usually diligent color separator I threw in some light colored underwear (thinking, "come on! no big deal... they are under your clothes for a reason, they don't follow the rules of separating darks from lights... they are only underwear afterall!) It was a mistake... I'm not sure whether it was the dress I bought at that bazaar in Thailand or those jeans I got in San Francisco... But whatever spewed all that navy dye really got a grip on my underwear... literally. My not very impressive buy a pack of 5 at k-mart for 8 bucks underpants are now a disgusting shade of "oops I pooped myself" brown/grey... Sad... But it is going to force me to venture into a world I never thought and always hoped I wouldn't have to go near... Buying underwear in China! Hand washing has done a number on all my clothes... but somehow I figured I'd just be able to slip through these two years without having to go through the pain and torment of buying underwear. I have tried to buy shoes... but there is something different about having people laugh and gawk at how gigundous your feet are and having someone look at your butt and openly marvel (with the hoards of onlookers) at how huge your behind is! "What a giant butt! You'll never get that big caboose in any of OUR underpants!" or worst of all... the simple mouth open stare... well... I have seen people with bigger butts here than mine... and I think I'm gonna do it! venture into the wild and potentially very embarrassing world of underwear shopping in China.

Tomorrow is the day I must finish my sewing. I believe... I think, that I can finish it all! I will post some pictures after I finish... so I can prove that all this writing about making clothes is not just delusional verbosity... there really are clothes... I promise! : ) or at least there will be soon!

We're sitting at home and the thunder is rumbling all around us...

Living in the type of landscape we do, (I call them jello mold mountains... they are somewhat like an egg carton turned upside down) thunder does fabulous things! The sound bumps and wobbles between mountains, echoing and shaking and... I love thunder storms to begin with, but here, they are my favorite thing! Laying in bed and seeing the lightning and tensely waiting for the thunder... then BOOM booom boom.... Its amazing!!! On nights like this I remember the thunder storms in good ole' PA when I was a kid! My sister and I running into our parents room and crawling into their bed and listening to the thunder and watching the ceiling fan defy it's route every time the lightning shot in the windows. I remember the really big bolt and thunder the time the lighting hit the tree down the street. These memories are so vivid, but over the years they have also become a sort of a smell, an essence, a... every time it thunders I'm transported to a place of family, a place that smells like home, a place that is so safe, so wonderful. I am transported to childhood... I think perhaps I live too much of my life in childhood as is. (I brought blankie, a close acquaintance/security blanket to China with me... I listen to Christmas music at least twice a week... [listening to it now : ) ] I am enthralled with things like buttons, Christmas lights, picking queen anne's lace... ) My husband doesn't seem to mind my child-like antics... probably because he shares some of them! : )
Being transported by thunder here in China is just one more way to stay close to family, to be with them when they are so very far away, to be children in neighboring rooms with my sister and be able to live life so closely. I'll take every opportunity I can get to be transported back to that beautiful time of life!
Sewing is going very well... I finished the shirt for my friend, mostly... I have a bit of finishing left to do on the bottom, but the neck and sleeves are all completely done and beautiful! The anniversary presents will definitely be finished in time! The front of the dress for my friend is pretty much put together, the back I still have to figure out... hmmm... criss cross straps? I'll have to think about it some more! : ) The tie is finito... besides some absence of iron work I have to do... I hate ironing, but i'm thinking of seeking one out around here! : ) If all goes well, I'll be able to get all this finished in time to whip together the dress I've been working on for myself in time for the symphony... we'll see!
I'd love to write and process more, but the thunder is calling me...

shirt, CHECK! tie, CHECK! dress... well... still working on the dresses :)

ok, so this may be a bit of counting my chickens before they hatch, buuuut, I have all the major construction of the blouse for my friend finished. I only have to do the finishing of edges... and since I french seam *everything* the finishing just means the neck, sleeves and putting on the bottom panel! It looks pretty great though! She saw my "Cascades Mcplaiderson" on Burdastyle.com and asked me to make her one! The one I made was from thick hand woven fabric that DOESN'T breathe. I bought a printed lighter fabric in our town and it is so much lighter weight. Its lovely. I think I'll have to make myself another out of a similar material! : ) Maybe a dress??? hmmmm.... oh no! I need to finish some of the projects in my brain now... I'll leave that for another month!
Yesterday, with dan's help, I bought the fabric for our friends' anniversary gifts... Pete's tie is almost done! Looks pretty cool too!!! also, I have plenty of matching fabric left so I can really make anything for dear CL! That will be the fun part... finding a good idea and then running with it! : )
With no classes yesterday and today I've had so much time to sit, relax and sew. In our home I am the cook and dan takes care of the mess my being the cook necessarily means. He was in the kitchen working and I brought my sewing and our computer and put on our "news source" - Wait Wait Don't Tell Me- on NPR... (we download it every week) Eventually it ended with him and I both crouched on way too small stools in the kitchen listening and laughing... Sometimes I don't realize how precious times are when I'm amongst them... I look back at the trying times in our life and I realize that the most precious times are the hardest and the simplest... Our life on the boat and our life here are both simple and very difficult... but we have so many amazing times, memories, laughs... we are so blessed.
On a culinary note... tonight we tried an new veggie in my stir-fry! Don't know the real name, but dan dubbed it the "old man" veggie... because it is wrinkly and the bottom of it looks like it's missing it's teeth. My opinion... liked it! soft, kinda gourdy, green, and a great addition to our normal veggie stir fry! I really enjoy that we get to cook with and eat so many fresh veggies here. In order to get to our market we need to walk along all the fields (and through some poo... but who's counting!) It is frustrating at times because we have access to all these beautiful fresh veggies and fruits, but have to peel and cook it all since they water their plants with night soil. (night soil is a pretty name for the art of putting a bucket into the whole in the out house that everyone squats over and carrying it along with another bucket, hung from opposite ends of a stick on your shoulder, then pouring it, in all its stench and chunkiness on your veggies... *sigh*) Sorry if that was too graphic... but it is actually what we wash off our veggies when we get them from the market. Lets just say it inspires you to clean, peel, and cook everything before you invite it to become a part of your life! : ) Mr. Old Man Veggie... I'll wash you, peel you, cook you, and eat you again soon! 

Explorations around home

Today was one of those days I really really wish I'd been home. My family gathered around the computer and I gave "computer hugs" which is me stretching out my arms around the camera on the top of my computer. They are not as good as real hugs... not by a long shot! It's my mom's birthday and I really wanted to be there to give her a hug, make her a cake or a dress or even a sandwich... and be able to show some love and honestly... to get some too! Seeing my Grammy and Pop-pop and being able to see them playing with my nephews was amazingly therapeutic! Dan likened what we were seeing to a big game of musical chairs, sans the music!!! I think that may have been more therapeutic! Like being able to watch what is going on around us! ... like we're in the room. Man I wish I could have been in the room... but... again, without SKYPE... I don't even want to think about it!
After talking to family I was missing home... so Dan got me out walking around our town... today we took the 8 lu (bus) to the only American-ish fast food they have in our town. It always feels a little wrong in our stomach after but the taste is worth the later intestinal distresstinal! After that we visited my favorite fabric sellers! (Two women who sell woven fabrics from little stalls, with a yarn store sandwiched between them.) The women like each other and sit and talk all day (everyday I assume, they are always there when I'm there). They are some of the sweetest women I know! We have had some really great interactions with them... like them sewing on buttons that I lose, them critiquing my sewing (they are very generous!) Today I bought some fabric to make anniversary presents for my friends! I'm going to make the husband a tie... and his dear wife, haven't decided yet... maybe a pretty blouse... maybe... I'll just have to look around for a good design for her! : ) I also stopped by the knit shoppe and saw the cutest little hand made baby sweater... had to buy it for my little nephew. The one I loved had a little mark on it. The woman asked if I could come back in 2 days so she could wash it for me! So sweet! Can't wait to give it to my little Bryson! : ) He'll be so cute! It is interesting to see the gender neutrality of the color pink here. The women kept suggesting very pink sweaters to me even though I told them my sister's baby was a BOY! Thinking about it now, I've seen men wearing pink shiny suits. Many of my male students will wear pink shirts. In general I find that men here are much more comfortable with each other than in America. Holding hands, hanging on each others' shoulders, arms around each other walking, 4 men on a motorcycle... it feels a lot like west side story since many have very styled hair and bomber jackets are all the rage here! I've gotten used to seeing this and barely notice when I see the noodle guy at the end of the street in his slick lavender suit.
After sitting and chatting with my friends in the "fabric district" :) we went on to wander around a part of town I've only been to once, dan has never been. On the way there we passed the Mosque again, knocked, an again, no one. We walked down into a new part of town and went to the church there. Again, knocking, asking, again no one. We've wanted to visit quite a few times, never getting there in time for a service. We'll try again soon. We wandered in the area of the church and it is such a cool place. Dan said it looks like what you picture when someone talks about China. It's lovely, old, and a little broken down which makes it even more endearing! we walked until we reached the biggest bookstore in our town. It has a pretty good English section and i had a wonderful time getting lost in the art section today. I've been trying to look into finding more modern Chinese art... most of what I can find is very old school... I bought two books with both modern and antiquated bits to them... that seems to me where our part of China is. Where I am. : ) As we walked back through our town I snapped some pictures with my Holga. I left mine at home thinking I'd never get the film developed here... and maybe I won't... but i was dying for one so my dear husband got me one for my birthday. I asked one store if they could develop the film for me there... they said no, but gave me hope that maybe one other shoppe could! I'll keep my fingers crossed!
Today I sewed a zipper in a dress I've been working on, and am now setting it aside to finish the shirt I was commissioned for for my friend... I need to have it finished by this coming weekend. I have it all cut and some sewn, I just have to finish putting it all together now! ... and the tie, and the other shirt... whew! I feel no dread... I am excited to do all this sewing! : ) all by hand it is a little daunting, but what a feeling of accomplishment when its done!... well... here I go! : )

I love yawning in class and watching everyone catch it! Tonight Jonathan yawned, Dan caught it, then I caught it from Dan!

Many nights when I crawl in the opening of our mosquito netting and finally let my head sink into my pillow, I think about the day I had and I feel like maybe my life here is no different than life at home. I feel like not much happened. Like I sewed all day but have no dress to show for it. Today is not one of those days. We have been busy every minute today and most of this week for that matter. It is in fact a Sunday, the day of rest, but today was the last and busiest day in my 7 day week. This coming Wednesday is the dragon boat festival in China so our students have monday and tuesday off... so we had to make up for those days by teaching this weekend. My schedule is not by any means strenuous but living in a different country things that are not normally challenging have a different dimension than home. This morning at 8 I gave my speaking class their exam... they presented reports on states in America. I wanted them to be able to get a sense that America is not full of "gossip girls" and "baywatch" and "Prison Break". My morning started with a student drawing a very stereotypical Native American on the board and announcing to the class that everyone who lives in the state of Indiana dresses like this everyday. It was only wearing a grass skirt and a few strategically placed feathers... whew! I dispelled this myth with authority since I went to college in Indiana and did not dress like this or see anyone who dressed like this there.
After class my husband and I came back to our apartment and talked to friends and family on Skype (the best invention of all time and the only reason I am emotionally stable here). Then we went to our afternoon class together and watched some documentaries and talked about some of the issues facing North Korea today. Our students had some great insights and it was so interesting and exciting to see them trying to find ways to help. I am so lucky to have these students! After class Dan and I went for a long walk through the countryside and around the lake behind our school. IT STOPPED RAINING JUST LONG ENOUGH FOR US TO HAVE A WONDERFUL WALK IN THE FRESH AIR!!!!! we are so blessed! As we walked through the fields we really were able to see the changing seasons. It is rice time, so everything is watery and reflective. The few fields not yet planted were being plowed old school style, with water buffalo and plow and farmer on the end guiding the rough tool. Seeing this type of life and talking with the people and seeing their joy... it makes us wonder if man is really happier without society. Our life is so simple here, we are (besides missing our family... which is awful) very happy here. The walk, the air, the conversation was divine. (there was of course the poo we had to sludge through at times in our dress shoes and teaching clothes... but to get out in the air, in the open... It was perfect) As we got closer to school the clouds started to gather and our stomaches started to rumble along with the thunder. It was dinner time. We walked towards our building and out front in her little pink sweatshirt was one of our innocent marauders from the night before!!! She recognized us and came running and waving. Just as she approached the school bus returned containing one of our other little mei-meis (little sister) and her mom. As the girls talked we had a chance to talk to the one girls mom. It was great to let her know the girls are welcome anytime and that we enjoyed their company and that we are trustworthy enough to have her little girl in our house. It was an amazingly victorious moment for me because it was the first 20 minute conversation where I understood almost everything that was said and was able to respond totally in putonghua! I was so proud of myself! We said goodbye and told the girls we'd see them later. And in true form later was after we'd been in the house for 5 minutes! The two little girls and I sat on the floor and looked at the very small library of young children's literature that we have here! I summarized the stories into chinese for the girls... That was a challenge. After an hour hunger won out and we said goodbye... after giving them each a dum dum lollipop that my grammy and pop-pop sent us! The were so excited and happy that I almost didn't catch them in time before they threw their trash out the screen of our front porch window. (we live on the 6th floor... can only imagine how that looked to the neighbors below, as american trash flutters down past their windows!) We grabbed dinner and finished just in time to have one of our dearest students stop by for some podcasts and videos to borrow. We ended up having a great conversation for almost an hour.
When I finally put (drop) my weary head on my pillow tonight, I'll be glad to be here, glad to be in bed, yes, but in Anshun, glad to have had the small victories today, glad to have the conversations, glad for the walk with no rain (it's raining now... again), glad for the rain, glad for our little friends, glad for excellent students, glad for no school for 3 days!!!, glad to have Dan here with me, glad to be alive. I will fall asleep thinking, I am so blessed.
One more thing... (I know I've already written too much... but,) I've been looking at the traditional Korean women's clothes and am totally intrigued and inspired... last month it was the mongolian clothes that were getting me excited, this month Korean... I'll post some sketches sometime soon! :)

what can I say... I love Christmas music!

Tonight I was jullianning veggies and listening to Christmas music when our door bell rang. Dan went to get it and there was no one there. All he heard was laughing... little girl laughing to be specific. He started to close the door but heard footsteps... he closed the door and opened it right when he heard the doorbell again. In ran three little girls. I'm not sure if their directions got mixed up in the surprise door opening or if they really meant to come in, but they looked like they meant to take the quick 50 cent tour of our place... they came in and each ran into a different room... one was inspecting our bedroom, one was carefully taking the inventory of our living room while the other ran into the kitchen to find me! They stayed for a while looking at pictures of our families! (Dan asked if they thought his brother was "shuai" and they responded without missing a beat that yes he was quite handsome! as soon as I pulled down the picture of my sister they all ooooed and ahhhhed at how beautiful she is! They have good taste!) They stayed for a while looking at how the mei guo ren (americans) live... after sampling some of our american candy we save for guests and the gas man... (we laugh every time our waiban calls him that! he's the guy that replaces our propane tank) and after we regifted some keychains with bugs trapped in plastic (supposed to look like amber???) and a purple hourglass timer, they moved on their way. We told them to come back again and see us. I told them they are my little sisters and they loved that! Out the door they went and I went back to my jullianning. Not five minutes went by before our doorbell rang again. Dan answered it and told them we needed to eat dinner... we didnt' know coming back later meant so soon! They were not persuaded to leave until i came back out to talk with them from the kitchen... Dan's convinced they thought I'd left or disappeared... they needed to see me before they could go! Adorable! reminds me of how our dog growing up would nervously wait by the second floor bathroom door... she was convinced you would climb down out the window without her... nope still here... every time she looked relieved all over again!
Anyways... listening to Christmas music is the best way to get wonderful little presents in your day! I feel so blessed!
On an artistic note... I've been working all day on the quilts for the boys... and learning a new song to sing with guitar... and a funny pleated hot pink dress with green embroidered ribbon made by a local minority group! I am bad at sticking to one project at a time! It's more fun this way! I really should be finishing up a blouse i'm making for a friend of mine! I need to give it to her next weekend. Dan surprised me with a trip to hear the symphony in our province capital. Maybe if I get the shirt done AND the pink dress... I can wear one and give the other! We'll see... don't want to get too ambitious!

bartering for everything...

I realized today that I am perfecting an art form that I will most likely never use again once I get back to America. Dan and I have gotten a bit addicted to watching 24 lately, and we just finished the 4th season. It's been a little while since our last episode so we decided to go to our local dvd store to see what they had. Amazingly, they had season 5, all ready for us. When we brought it to the counter the woman there gave us a completely ridiculously high price... even beyond the exorbitant price the isle helper at the store gave us. In moments like these I find myself transformed into the defender of the laowai (foreigner). Whether it be against the clerk that wants more money or the really nasty cab driver who is trying to charge us 3 times the amount on the meter, I am the police. And I will have NONE! Many people here see us and think we are tourists. They think at least we get paid. NOPE... we are Volunteers... so, it is not only to defend the laowai honor that I fight and barter, its to make sure we can live on our non tourist salary. I fought the woman down to a very reasonable price... still too much, but much less... by reminding her that she has our business and that it is a good thing to give us a good price. We are loyal customers. and... she agreed! I was so proud of myself and justice-- for prevailing. Sometimes it doesn't... lousy cab drivers, but when people are honest to the laowai... well... it makes me want to give them a tip... a big one! : ) and they give us crazy looks when we do!
One more thing... its pouring... been raining all day. And today was the first time I realized why it is raining. Clearly I am supposed to wear my very cheery wonderful cherry red shiny rain boots that I bought at our big bazaar in town from a very very sweet older man! (didn't cheat me after I told him all about how I am an american and a volunteer and that I loved his boots and wanted to buy them... he gave me a seat by his stand while he got the perfect pair of boots out. Our town is mostly so friendly!) Clearly it is raining because soon it will be too hot to wear rain boots... So I am getting some more days with them now before the sun comes to stay! My students think the rain may have something to do with my Chinese name... xia yu... summer rain... it's totally my fault! but i'll wear my red boots and smile and I do my puddle prancing! : )

I'm a big beautiful woman!

I was teaching one of my favorite classes this morning and I remembered a very funny moment from a previous class with them. My students were doing a conflict resolution role play where they were given three perspectives on a scenario from three different characters. Their job was to create a fourth character and perspective and then act the play out and resolve the conflict. One of the characters I had them act was a big red suitcase... we talked about personification... they made very cute suitcases! So one of the groups got up and introduced themselves... and the first girl stepped forward and said very loudly "I am a Big Beautiful Woman", totally straight faced, and stepped back. Whew! I guffawed... then clapped loudly to cover my very unteacherly mistake of laughing at a student. I suppose if Anne of Green Gables did it I can excuse a guffaw or two! : )
On a note from today, I have been looking at the website arthousecoop... and I am totally smitten by the sketch book project. I wrote 2 different emails asking if they could offer a discount for a poor volunteer and her art club... I have received no response. The ideas at this site are so ingenious and totally inspired... sharing sketchbooks and taking them on tour... I am convinced they receive my emails and are simply too busy inspiring the art world and too under staffed by starving artists that they have no ability to respond... or they totally would! Anyways, I'm so inspired by the different themes that I don't know where to start... I literally can't pick one. Every time I have one picked out... another one lures me in with its mystery and intrigue! What will i do? : ) "figuring you out", "a record year for rainfall", "grids and lines", "lights in the distance", "it's raining dogs and cats", "jackets blankets and sheets", "facing foreward"... and so many more... I just can't decide!!! Or I could just do the daily news project where you create art using newspaper everyday for a month. I want (but I'm afraid, currently lack) this kind of discipline. I feel like blogs are for those who have it all figured out. Regretfully, that will NEVER be me. I think that clinches it... figuring you out it is! I'll start today... and we'll see where it leads... whenever the sketchbook gets here from the far away land of america! Hopefully soon!
On one other note, our particular part of China has been particularly wet the past few days/weeks. We've been praying for an end to the drought that has been plaguing our farmers for the past few months, but now that the rice paddies are full and the rice has all been planted, our lives are starting to smell damp and well... like we could use a few days of bright sunshine to dry us out. I relish in the gloomy rainy days. It seems to be the only weather that can genuinely express emotion. Days of bright sunshine almost feel fake to me... but there is no mistaking how a dark grey gloomy sky is feeling. Days like this make me feel honest. Honestly I enjoy the melancholy brooding skies, but a few days of shallow sunshine would inspire growth and get that natural damp smell out that we've been steeped in for weeks now

First day of blogging...

Pretty much just like every other day here in that I've spent way too much time sewing for my mental emotional and ocular well being! I've been working on too many projects at the same time these days for me even to be able to keep track of what I'm making. I keep looking at the top of my sewing basket (the large basket I bought at bamboo street in my town, hosed down, dried out in the sun on my back porch, and lined with dirty old sheets that were left here by a previous volunteer)... and seeing half done projects in piles... and in true emily fashion, I started a new one today. In my defense, I've been feeling guilty for not starting it for days. So I just went and got the first/most painful step over with. (besides actually *finishing* the project, which I have learned is near to impossible for me!!!) My new project is a dual project. Almost twin organic quilts for my almost twin adorable nephews. I dream of having them done in time to send home with my parents so that my sister can use them before my nephews are all grown up! I have dreams of what they will look like but I'm not sure how they will be realized.
One way today was different than our usual days here is that we were without electricity since we turned out the lights last night before bed. Usually this is no big deal but yesterday we had no water, so... understandably I didn't shower, and today with no water heater... lets just say I'm beginning to realize my dream of that hippy peace corps experience. I admit, when my husband and I talked about Peace Corps I had visions of dreadlocks and hippy clothes and yeah, the freedom from the pressure of daily showering! Peace Corps in China has a bit of a different feel. Being a Chinese college professor and that whole hippy thing are not entirely compatible. I'm only 27. I still have time! Hippyland will still be there... for now, I am going to have to put down my needle and thread and make my way to our very Peace Corps bathroom and get myself presentable for class tomorrow! 

Littlewren

I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rural City China who is daily creating new things. I am a printmaker, drawer, ceramist, painter, designer, sewer, quilter, inventor, chef extraordinaire, wife, organic farmer, reader, thinker, art teacher, english teacher, etc.

Favorite sites

http://www.arthousecoop.com

Current projects I've got going on...

Anniversary presents
Matching tie and dress to celebrate our friends' first anniversary!!!
Pink and Green pleated dress

cascading polka dots for rachel
my first commissioned item!
plaid karate sundress!!!

periwinkle romper
I'm not a huge fan of rompers... but this fabric is just dying to be made into something fun loving!
black linen coat - turned black linen asymetric one shoulder dress...
with bright shimmery lipstick red buttons down the back
mongolian inspired tunic dress

eyelet over blouse

PJ McRomperson
I bought some scrap stretch knit fabric and it is so soft... I'm just dying to have a new snugly pair of PJ's out of it! Started working on it the same day I bought the fabric... I just can't help myself! : )
mongolian inspired dressy dress...

plaid high waisted teacher/sailor skirt
starring some fab buttons and the same wild plaid as the karate mcplaiderson... booyah! love the high waisted skirts! The button front sailor style is so cool! gotta get that translated to pants someday!
blue pants
modeled after a pair of jeans that I love... my first pair of pants... besides those fuzzy peach easter pants I tried to make once... can you believe that I "tried to make" a mistake like that! : )
old guy plaid button front shirt
loved this plaid at first sight!
bep dress coat
horray for lovely blue coats to match my sister's love blue eyes!
Korean mix blue plaid dress
modeled by my dear annabelle!
boxers...
have a pattern for these... seems like a money saver in the long run if I can sew my husband boxers instead of having to spend the money! : )
mom Christmas dress!
if she'll ever give me her MEASUREMENTS!
CHRISTMAS TIES!!!!
don't be disappointed if you get a tie for christmas! : )
skinny dark plaid dress with visible teal zipper!
booyah! just have to mix and match patterns to get the narrow skirt and the simple top : )
matching jammies for me and dan
so... not surprisingly he's not real keen on showing off his Pajammies. My mom mailed us some blue sleepy pattered fabric probably for me to make something for my nephews out of... however, since I have no kiddie patterns and absolutely no kid to measure or try to make wear my clothes... I used the incredibly soft fabric for sleepy pj top for me and yeah pj bottoms for dan!

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4/23/2014 10:51:50 PM