Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New blog URL

And it will never get blocked!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sneaky, Sneaky

As you may have guessed, blogspot is currently blocked in China. For the moment I've found a way to sneak onto the site (but not to post pictures). I'm also trying to see if another website might work better for me this fall.

I've now been back in China for exactly two weeks, and home up in the northeast for a little bit less time then that. We had a week of team building meetings and I began teaching on Monday. This semester all of my teaching hours are jam-packed into Monday and Tuesday, leaving the rest of the week "open" for planning meetings, grading, lesson prep, graduate work, student meetings, and cooking. Yes, I consider cooking right up there with my other responsibilities. :) It's amazing how quickly the time fills up, though! Hopefully I will be self-disciplined enough to take advantage of the more open days.

In the meantime, I'm just enjoying being home again. It's amazing how "normal" life has become here, and how life in many ways seems easier (with the exception of doing laundry). I was thrilled to return to fresh fruit sold by my neighbor, my egg lady who grins whenever she sees me, and garlic sold cheaply by the pound. It's nice to again be able to walk to most places I frequent, and to hear the chorus of, "Look there's a Russian" echo behind me (in case you haven't heard me say it before, EVERYONE thinks I'm Russian. Everyone. From the old ladies in the park to the primary school kids on their way to class). I just somehow fall more in love with this place each year.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Homeward bound

Tonight, I'm doing a little dance...kind of like this...
...because I'm homeward bound in the morning. I have a couple days of meetings in Beijing and then it will be home sweet home. I must admit, I'm quite eager to get back. When I left China at the beginning of the summer, I didn't have access to this blog, so we'll see what the situation is when I get back. There's a chance I'll move sites, but I will have someone post the new address here if that's the case. In the meantime, I hope you all are enjoying the last fleeting days of summer!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

First time Aunt

I'm a first time Aunt. I have one darling nephew. I only get to see him at most two weeks out of the year. In case you haven't realized it yet, I love taking pictures. Consequently, I'm currently sorting through hundreds of pictures I took while I was down visiting my sister and her family. I apologize for the sheer volume of Ethan pictures that are going to be appearing on Flickr in the coming days. If you have something against incredibly cute toddlers, I recommend you stay away for awhile.

The last time I saw Ethan, he was only 3 months old. His personality (and hair) was just starting to come out.This summer, I got to see his personality out in full force. One of the things I quickly learned was that he loves to be involved in everything...and I mean everything. His favorite part of the day is helping with chores. You are simply not allowed to sweep, do laundry, or do dishes without his participation.

He loves helping transfer clothes from washer to dryer.
He analyzes each piece of laundry...just to make sure the colors are correct.
He is quite meticulous in his examination.And shoves them all the way into the dryer.He makes sure things are spinning correctly once the dryer starts.
And then makes sure he didn't leave anything in the washer.After that it's time to do dishes.Doing dishes involves one of his absolute favorite materials to be found on planet earth.
Water. Ethan LOVES water. Water in any form. He gets very upset if he sees or hears water and can't touch it.Consequently, you absolutely cannot wash dishes without him.

I wonder if his love of doing chores will last?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Always be prepared

I should have been a boy scout...perhaps then I would have learned the lesson to always be prepared. And then I would have had more than a 50 prime lens with me when Zoe and I made a spontaneous stop at the Jefferson memorial. Don't get me wrong, I love my 50 prime. It's my favorite lens. Its portrait capabilities (see nephew post below) are stunning. But it's not so great for wide landscapes. Hence, all of those beautiful shots I had in my head as the sun set at the memorial were quite impossible to actually capture. Consequently, our trip to the Jefferson memorial ended up being a portrait shoot of Zoe. Which, to be honest, I didn't mind at all. I snapped this one when she wasn't paying attention to me. And promptly teased her for posing like a superhero. Doesn't she look like she's about to fly off to save D.C.?
Zoe and I go way back. The first time we met I believe we were in middle school. She remembers the meeting. I don't. We discovered during the week that this is the case for a lot of our history. Apparently, I have a horrific memory. We met at a youth group new year's eve party in Columbus. After that brief encounter, the next time we met was the first day of school our junior year of high school. We were both new students at the school, having recently moved to Indianapolis. She instantly recognized me; I had no clue who she was. It took us awhile, but we finally pinned down our fateful first meeting to that party in Columbus. With both a shared history and the shared experience of starting over halfway through high school, we were destined to be friends.It had been four years, and a lifetime of experiences in China, since I had last seen Zoe. But we picked right up as if no time had passed at all. A friendship like that is truly special. The great part of taking pictures of someone you have history with is you know their stories. You know how to make them laugh.
You know that exact embarrassingly funny moment in...was it econ? bring up in order to get that deep belly laugh.
Which is sure to be followed by that beautiful natural smile.
Perhaps even more beautiful than the scenery itself. The scenery you couldn't capture because you weren't prepared like a boy scout.
I even let Zoe take a few pictures of me before we headed out. I hate having my picture taken. I much prefer to be behind the camera. But I decided it wouldn't hurt to have some photographic evidence that I was in D.C.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

On hold

I had grand plans of writing about some of my adventures in DC. Perhaps I still will. But for the moment, I'm preoccupied with this.
Oh those eyes! I love those eyes...and...
His voracious appetite for watermelon.His finger chewing grin.Those expressions...
and chubby little hands.
Can you blame me?

Updates will just have to be put on hold...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Just a quick note

I'm currently finishing up an amazing week in DC. I came out to see a good friend from high school, who I hadn't seen since moving to China four years ago. It's been great to catch up and reminisce, and I've had plenty of time to traipse around the city with my camera while she's been at work. Pictures and updates will be forthcoming.

Several of you mentioned a desire to help the two kids from the orphanage with club feet. They are now down in the south of China at the center, and they need your help! While we were able to raise the funds for their travel costs to and from the center, we are not paying for their treatment. The amazing part of An Orphan's Wish is that they will not turn away kids. To see their beautiful faces and to see ways to help, head on over to Stefanie's blog for more information. Her most recent post (Lookie, Lookie) is dedicated to the kids at the club foot center. My orphanage's two little ones are Joey and Lexi. And yes, tears pooled in my eyes when I discovered them on her blog this morning!

Friday, July 24, 2009


I'll go ahead and admit it. I'm a little bit of a snob. I love a good glass of wine, a good meal, and a good dose of culture. Due to the fact that for a majority of the year I live in a small city in China, where art museums and free opera in the park are hard to come by, it's been a treat to indulge in a bit of snobbery this summer. I have been frequently jumping on the treadmill in the attempt to justify caloric extravagances such as linguine in a white wine and truffle oil sauce with grilled asparagus. Let me tell you, that was well worth a two mile run.

Earlier this week my mom and I headed out to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. She patiently waited (and wisely brought a book) while I soaked in the surroundings with camera in hand. It was a delightful afternoon, as we moved from appreciating the artistry in the petals of an orchid to the metaphor of thousands of hands supporting a floor. Below are a few of my favorite shots from the day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's all about the people

The last two weeks have been filled to the brim with good classes, good food, and most importantly, good friends. Wheaton is always one of my favorite stops of the summer because: a) I'm a nerd and I like going to class and writing papers, b) Chicago in the summer is just about as good as it gets, c) I get to see dear friends who serve across Asia and show them around "my town", d) I get to worship with a community of people I love, e) I get to sit and talk and just be with amazing friends. Most of the time I was too busy drinking in the moment to pull out my camera, but here are a few shots of the people and places that made the time pretty much perfect.

Like I said, there's nothing like Chicago in the summer. Perfect temperatures. Beautiful evening. Free opera in the park. Good friends. Yes, please.

I was blessed by the hospitality of Greg & Noel, who fed me, provided a comfy bed, made mudslides, taught me a new card game, and got me addicted to hewering orcs on PS2.

Every summer Rachel cooks at least one meal for me, and every summer I'm reminded why I keep her around as a friend. :) Ok, even if she wasn't an amazing cook, I'd still be her friend. But it sure is a nice perk! That and the fact that we can talk for hours on end.
These are just a few of my classmates who are graduating from the program this summer. I'm going to miss learning with and from them!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In love

I have fallen head over heels in love. Undeniably, unequivocally in love. Ok, I know in the English language we're not supposed to profess love to inanimate objects (for an interesting discussion on why it's just fine to say you love things like parmesan cheese check out C.S. Lewis' Four Loves--an excellent book). Ahem, side-tracked. I apologize. Getting side-tracked is the reason I can't sit here......for more than ten minutes without finding something better to do than write graduate papers with impending due dates.

I'm partly distracted by the desire to take out and use my new love. My new love does this:Alright, you've probably guessed it! I've recently acquired a new lens, and I am super excited about it. I'm looking forward to trying it out as a portrait lens on all those faces I love in Wheaton. I make the drive up this Friday.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More end of the year

I'm currently sitting in Panera bread, surrounded by the hum of multitudes of people. Internet has been down at my parents' place, so I headed here with the express purpose of doing research for a paper with a due date sooner than I'd like to admit. Instead I'm updating my blog. I need a serious injection of motivation...stat. But while I wait for the caffeine in my coffee to work its magic in substituting for sleep (last night the total was three and a half body's a little out of whack...there's no one to blame but myself, I totally broke my no naps in the first week rule), I thought I'd clue you in on a few more end of the year activities.

Before the final push, the team took a long weekend retreat to the coastal town of Dalian. I was incredibly thankful for two 9 hour train rides where I had nothing to do (like updating my blog) other than graduate work.
We spent some of the time reflecting on the year, and a lot of time just hanging out and eating Western food. I must admit, Starbucks was likely the highlight of the trip for me. There is just something I love about curling up in a Starbucks armchair early in the morning, starting my day off with a Caramel macchiato. Pure bliss.
We visited the local "amusement" park in Dalian, where the kids (big and small) enjoyed many overpriced rides.
We also headed to the aquarium, which we were herded through in the midst of massive crowds of people just trying to make it to the end of the aquarium in time for the dolphin show. The crowds were massive. I live in China. I'm used to crowds. This was...well, I seriously began to feel claustrophobic in the underwater tunnel exhibit. After seeing the show, we snuck back in the front of the aquarium for a much calmer view of the place.
While in Dalian we also took time to relax on the "beach". As a midwesterner, I know I shouldn't be picky about my beaches. But really...I find piles of pebbles hardly noteworthy. I guess I've been spoiled by the sandy shores of Thailand. Regardless, the kids seemed to enjoy the plethora of rocks available for throwing into the water.

After returning from the retreat, we had a few weeks left which were jam packed with (but not limited to) the following: grading, giving finals, more grading, team leader appreciation day, teammate goodbye party (to Sarah and Vance, who won't be returning to Siping), end of the year banquet with brothers and sisters, foreign affairs department end of the year banquet, Senior performances, saying goodbye to seniors, arranging the details for the orphanage, packing up all of my belongings in my small office, and a little bit of sleep.

One of my hardest goodbyes this year was with my tutors of two years. Both of them are moving away and I will greatly miss their friendship!
Caffeine is beginning to work its magic. Time for this day's attempt at productivity!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Orphanage raffle outcome

After two weeks of selling tickets for the orphanage raffle, we opened up the foreign teacher's library to draw the winners. Excitement was in the air as we drew winners for everything from dinner to a trip to the Great Wall. Below is the winner of the trip to the Great Wall with Mark. She was allowed to choose one person to go with her. We felt bad for her, as we were sure many roommates and friends would vie for the coveted position. She ended up taking the safe route of not offending anyone by choosing to take her mother (who has never been to Beijing). Smart girl!But the most exciting part was the fact that we raised just over 7,000 RMB ($1,000) for the kids. If all goes according to plan, the two kids will be on their way down to the south of China July 5th for treatment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Long time no see!

As you may have guessed, blogspot got blocked the last couple weeks in China. I'm now safely stateside, without my luggage, but happy to be home. There will be lots of updates in the coming days! Sorry for the silence! For now, here are the dates & locations of my summer. I'd love to see as many of you as possible!
  • June 20-July 3: Indianapolis
  • July 3-July 19: Wheaton/Chicago
  • July 19-July 25: Indianapolis
  • July 25-August 1: Washington D.C.
  • August 1-4: Indianpolis
  • August 4-17: Tampa, FL
  • August 17-20: Indianapolis
  • August 20: Head home to China!
Random funny insight from my travel day...I arrived in the Indianapolis airport and totally thought for a minute that I had boarded the wrong plane. The airport wasn't familiar at all! Little did I know Indy had opened a brand new airport earlier this fall...

More updates after some sleep and father's day celebrating!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Best Chocolate Cupcakes. Ever. Seriously.

Growing up, we always used cake mixes in our family. I distinctly remember my mom telling me that there was no sense going through all the work of making a cake from scratch when it was going to taste better coming from the box. To a certain extent, I agree with her. Cakes from box mixes taste great. Cakes from box mixes are easy. I may never have ventured away from them if I hadn't moved to the Land-Of-No-Boxed-Cake-Mixes. Actually, the more honest title would be Land-where-cake-mixes-require-a-4-hour-commute-and-cost-a-large-percentage-of-my-salary. But then that title is just ridiculously too long. Anyway, desperate places call for desperate measures (Yes, I know I altered the idiom. No, my English is not that poor...yet.). I realized a couple years back that I needed to learn how to make a good cake without a mix. I searched through piles and piles of cookbooks, I searched through hundreds of websites, I interviewed gourmet chefs...

Just kidding. All I did was look at this:

And immediately inspiration hit and I created my own recipe! Ok. Not really. I turned the package around and found this:
"Hershey*s deems this the 'perfect' chocolate cake? That's worth a try!" I mused. Hershey*s doesn't lie. These cupcakes turn out light, moist, and with the perfect amount of chocolate-ness. I've been making these for over two years now, and they never last very long. They are a favorite on the team.

For the first two years, I'd top the cupcakes with Dreamwhip packets (very convenient for those living in the Land-of-no-cool-whip). However, about a month ago to please a chocoholic teammate, I wanted to top them with chocolate icing. Icing from a can is absolutely wonderful. The texture is perfect. Unfortunately, it is as rare and pricey (or more so) as cake mixes. I turned once again to the trusty cocoa package and sure enough, there was a perfect icing recipe to go with the perfect cake. You're thinking: "It took you TWO YEARS to figure that out?" I think I had looked at the recipe way back when I started making the cupcakes, but due to the fact that I didn't have the key ingredient of powdered sugar, I had abandoned all hopes of perfect frosting. However, thanks to a loving father who has shipped me powdered sugar by the pound, I was now equipped. Once again, this frosting is as good as its name claims.

I made up the cupcakes last week for Sarah's chocolate-themed "Kiss me I'm 23" birthday party. I added a slight twist by putting white chocolate stripes on some of them to make the famous hugs and kisses.

I don't know that those of you living in a land of convenience will ever make a cake from scratch...but in case your car breaks down, your bike has two flat tires, you're out of cake mixes and you just have to make something for your second cousin's are the recipes:

2 c. sugar
1-3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. cocoa
1-1/2 t baking powder
1-1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1/2 c. oil
2 t vanilla
1 c. boiling water

Mix all of the ingredients, excluding the boiling water, on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Stir in the boiling water and don't be afraid when the batter is very runny. Bake the cake about 30-35 min., cupcakes about 20 min. at 350.

1 stick butter
2/3 c. cocoa
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. milk
1 t vanilla

Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa. Alternate adding the sugar and milk, beating on medium speed. If not the desired consistency, add more milk.