Stay Tuned!

It’s the busy season for us. Between Brett and I we will have been to 6 countries in 2 months. So, writing will have to take a little hiatus. But oh, do I have so much to share with you!

Stay tuned and in the meantime, please check out our comings and goings on Instagram, and Facebook.

Just to give you a sneak-peak of what’s to come, Here are some photos of our family vacation to Koh Lanta, Thailand last week.27912912_1748643281854087_6179773266196307462_o27983075_1748908375160911_6266011326482601818_o28070547_1751060478279034_629171965260620998_o28070706_1753119328073149_3479403851579456444_o28235481_1753859011332514_7333357971112447549_o28336633_1753108428074239_3051830571559503622_o

Finding the EXTRA in the Ordinary

Sometimes something happens that is extraordinary. You may have experienced it a hundred times before, but this time it is different.

Last week it snowed in Shanghai. Some people referred to it as a blizzard. Schools across the city had a snow day on Friday. In reality, snowfall totals were about one inch. Back home in Michigan, we would hardly bat an eye to such a small amount of snow. However, here in Shanghai, one inch of snow is enough to shut down an unequipped city.IMG_7629

Now back in Michigan we are used to a few snow days per year. Schools actually add a week to their calendar to allow for such days. But a snow day here? Unheard of. A bad air day, perhaps, but never a snow day.

You can imagine the palpable excitement amongst the children when they woke up on Friday to find that not only did they have the day off of school, but upon looking out their windows discovered there was actually snow blanketing the ground. The neighborhood was buzzing with excitement and snowmen were popping up everywhere. This excitement was not limited to the children. Gardeners walked around in awe admiring the snowmen and trying to figure out how to clear snow from the roads. Some of the children in our neighborhood had never seen snow. In fact, some of the workers had never seen snow either. People stopped in their cars to take pictures of trees, and snow-covered rooftops. Watching others enjoy something for the first time brought new excitement and joy to me as well. I found a sense of newness in something I had experienced many times before at home.


Along these lines, I was reminded that since we are living abroad, away from our every day, things become new again. You are afforded a fresh perspective on life. It is such a blessing. Many times we fall into a routine knowing what to expect out of people, out of the weather, out of our errands, etc. It is such a huge opportunity to see things anew again and to get excited over the ordinary.IMG_7660

There is an old saying: “the devil’s in the details”. I beg to differ. I say God is in the details. When you look at life through fresh eyes, you experience new richness and detail you may have only walked past before. I took two long walks during our snowfall. Walks I had taken many times before. However, things look different when covered in a blanket of snow. A quiet hush falls upon the earth allowing you to walk and just be still. A bridge I have passed dozens of times before caused me to stop and take it its graceful lines and architectural detail. It looked beautiful dusted with snow. A small green bush with red berries dazzled in the sunlight because it was coated with a layer of ice. God is in the details. I am thankful for the snow. Because it was such an extraordinary occurrence here, I took the time to slow down and see His artistic hand upon the ordinary things I pass every day.

The snowstorm also reminded me to never give up hope. Sometimes we need the confidence of a child to remind us how to have hope, and that sometimes finding answers to your prayers may come when looking at the outcome from a different perspective. My 11-year-old, Jack said to me on Wednesday night, “tomorrow will be a snow day”. To which I responded, “it’s highly unlikely, don’t get your hopes up”. The next morning we woke up and school had not been canceled although it was snowing outside. While I thought Jack would be completely forlorn, he happily looked out the window and said, “see, I told you it would be a snow day”. Well, he was right! It was snowing, so it was technically a “snow day”. The next day school was actually canceled due to the snow. Jack simply said, “see, I told you we would have a snow day”. Wow! What an example of child-like faith, and always looking at things with a positive perspective. I know it sounds simple, but it was a powerful reminder to me to always have hope no matter how unlikely the outcome may be.IMG_7568

Every day things happen that are ordinary. My question to you is how do you take those things and make them EXTRAordinary? Take time. Slow down. See things from a fresh perspective. Find beauty in the details. Most importantly, never lose your child-like faith, and always hope for the best. One last thing, if you have snow where you are, put on your snow boots, get out there, and build the best darn snowman you have ever built before!


Shanghai Walks: a trip back in time

There is something in Shanghai that is very exciting and alive – the idea of a city with two different souls, one from today and another from a long time ago, is amazing.

-Alessandro Michele

The city of Shanghai paints a somewhat unusual picture. It is difficult to describe the discrepancies you find here on so many levels. The have’s and the have-not’s; old art-deco buildings amongst new futuristic skyscrapers; glitz and opulence a neighborhood away from street food, entire families sharing a two-bedroom apartment with no heat and laundry hanging from windows. All this and more is what makes the city such a fascinating area to explore.

Last weekend we pulled out our trusty Shanghai Walks book and did a walk entitled, “Suzhou Creek & the Real Shanghai.” For about 2 1/2 hours we wandered up and down the streets behind The Bund learning about the British and American Settlements in Shanghai in the 1920’s, as well as the Jewish migration from Europe and Japanese take over in the late 1930’s. To walk the streets of so much history is fascinating.

Our walk began on The Bund. For those of you who do not know the area, Shanghai is essentially divided into two parts by the Huangpu River. On one side sits the new section, or the Financial District, also known as Pudong. The other side is the old section, called Puxi. A river separating the future from the past. You don’t get any more literal than that. So, our walk began on the historical side of the city. We walked out to the river to look across at the towering skyscrapers that make up the iconic Shanghai skyline. The Oriental Pearl Tower looks like something you would find on the moon with it’s three bubbled levels and smooth silver detail.IMG_7411

From there, we turned around and headed into Puxi. Our first history lesson was that in the 1920’s the British and Americans established settlements in neighboring areas of this side of the river. Just looking at the buildings along The Bund convey the strong British influence during the time. It seems more like you are walking up and down the Thames than the Huangpu River. Gorgeous neoclassical marble buildings with ornate detail all convey an old-world European charm.

Money and culture flooded into Shanghai during this time. Theater, religion, and recreation all became popular pastimes amongst the ex-pats and wealthy locals living in the area. It is fascinating to walk along the Art Deco buildings in this section of town and feel so far removed from Asia. These buildings hold many stories, and opulence remains with stores like Cartier, Patek Philippe, and Gucci lining the streets.

It seems the British and Americans lived in harmony with the Shanghainese until Japan invaded in the late 1930’s. At this time, Japan bombed the city then proceeded to invade, taking over the once peaceful area. The lower-class Shanghainese were forced to move a bit farther away from The Bund, establishing their own neighborhoods. Our next walking point took us through these communities. What a contrast to the wealth we saw a mere two streets closer to the water. Dirty streets, laundry hanging out to dry from every window, local street food vendors offering some great (and not so great) looking dining options. No Ferraris or Rolls-Royces roll through this area. Here, they are replaced by scooters carrying entire families, chickens, and who-knows-what. But even in this section of town, the culture is rich. Perhaps not rich in monetary terms, but in their deep culture. I’m sure just as we observed in the streets closer to The Bund, these roads have changed very little. I can imagine walking down this area in the 1930’s and experiencing many of the same sites, smells, and customs that we do today.

Turning back towards The Bund is a large area under construction. Out with the old, in with the new. The remnants of thoughtfully designed Art Deco apartments stand in a crumbled heap. If those walls could talk, I’m sure they would tell tales of the glory days when the future looked bright and money and opportunity endless. I understand the push forward to make new and refresh cities, but it saddens me when there is not a middle ground. Back in the day buildings were not necessarily made to last here. They were put up quickly and lived in hard. Many of them could not be restored even if building crews wanted to, so they must be torn down and built anew. I suppose you could look at it as an opportunity. New walls to hold new stories. But I love the past and grieve a bit when it is not preserved.


Our walk concluded back where we started, standing in front of the Peninsula Hotel on The Bund. We put our pinkies up and went in for a much deserved afternoon cocktail. I thought as we sipped our delicacies what a contrast it was to an hour earlier when we paid 25RMB for our lunch made by street vendors on the local streets.

Shanghai is deep and layered in its history. It was fascinating to walk the streets and imagine life here in the 1920’s-’30’s. Shanghai is also a contrast of past and future, of the wealthy and the poor. But through it all, despite our history or backgrounds, we still manage to come together and make the city special.

Our walk opened my eyes to many things I have passed time and time again but never took time to really “see”. If you have the chance, step into history. Don’t just read about it in a book. Walk the streets. Stand where you are and take it all in. Imagine a time of days gone by when life was different, yet somehow much the same as today. I am thankful we did, and I know you will be too.

Special thanks to Barbara Green, Tess Johnston, Ruth Lear, and Carolyn Robertson for walking the Streets of Shanghai and writing The Streets of Changing Fortune: SIX SHANGHAI WALKS so we could too!IMG_7522


Take A Walk

I lived out my teen years in Hawaii. For a few years, we lived up the road from Pearl Harbor. Like, literally right up the road. You could see the famous harbor’s sparkling water sitting right at the bottom of our hill. Do you think in the 5 1/2 years I lived there I ever went down my hill to visit the historic location? Nope. Not once. The same went for Diamond Head, surfing, and visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center. Ok, I will chalk some of my anti-sightseeing attitude to the lack of coolness I perceived in the role of playing tourist. I was a teenager, after all. But, now that I am grown I view it as a tremendous missed opportunity.

One of our goals in moving abroad has been to see and experience as much as we can in the short window of time we have here. As you may have read, we have already done some fantastic things. Check out a few of our crazy adventures here: Get Lost! (in Nusa Lembongan), Terrific Tucson, 2016: Changes, Chopsticks, and Chicken Feet But, recently we took a step back and realized we were going out having all these amazing adventures in other places, but all the while not fully exploring our own city. Living here for two years found us settling into a routine: going to the same restaurants, shopping at the same markets, and doing the same things each weekend. I didn’t want to look back on this experience as I do Hawaii, regretting not exploring our own hometown.IMG_7397

And what a hometown Shanghai is. At 2,448 square miles and 25 million people, there’s a lot to see! Not only are things constantly changing, but the history here runs deep and can be found in practically every corner of the city. I have learned through our travels over the past two years that many times the best way to really see an area is to get out there on your own two feet. Sure, you could take a drive in a car or a bus and get a feel for the area. But taking a bike, a scooter, or best of all, walking affords you such a richer experience. You can take your time looking at things of interest, or pull over at will and really explore an area that might merely whiz by from the inside of a car. Getting outside allows you to hear the sounds, and smell the smells. I’ll admit though, while it sounds cool, this is not always the best experience in China…imagine smelling what you think might be cooked dog, and the incessant hocking of big, juicy loogies. But my point is, you can just stand in one place and take it all in, allowing your experience to be deeper.

You would totally miss a sight like this if you were driving by in a car…well, maybe that’s a good thing. 😉

That being said, Brett and I have laced up our tennis shoes on a few occasions, pulled out one of our trusty Shanghai Walks books, and headed off for an afternoon of adventure. It has been so enriching walking through neighborhoods, learning about the history, architecture, and life of the area. Our appreciation of this city we call home has become more layered and deep as a result.IMG_7434

We have driven through the neighborhoods of our walks countless times and missed so much of the detail within their walls. Getting out of the car and taking a walk allows us to really learn and experience a small part of this city we call home. I highly recommend you take a walk; whether it be on your next trip, in your home city, or even just around your own neighborhood. Sometimes slowing down to take it all in can offer a rich and rewarding perspective on a pretty interesting little nook of the world you may not have noticed from the inside of a car.

Be sure to check out one of the 5 Shanghai Walks books by Barbara Green, Tess Johnson, Ruth Lear, and Carolyn Robertson. They are very well-written, and the walks are detailed and easy to follow. You can find a link to the first one here:

730 Days

It has been two years since we moved abroad. Many of you have come alongside us on our journey through this blog. You have read about the ups and downs, the adventures and the challenges. It has been quite a ride since my first blog post ’tis Christmas Day two days before our big move to Shanghai. We have learned and experienced so much. 

Since you have heard all about my thoughts on how our transition has been going, I thought it was time to check-in with a couple of those left behind. Our daughter, Autumn, 24 (today…happy birthday my dear!), and Hunter, our 20-year-old who is in college back in Michigan. How have they adapted to our move? How have the past two years affected them? I asked them to give me a little synopsis of their thoughts. Here is their take on our 730 days living as ex-pats.


I believe that my family moving abroad has been an overall positive experience for all of us. It’s had its rough patches. But the opportunity has opened up doors we didn’t even know existed, and that makes it all worth it in the end.

This big change happened right when another big change in my life was happening. I got married, so I already had some adapting to do. It was honestly the best time for them to move since it really gave my husband and me the chance to start our own lives and begin to figure out things on our own. And since I had already lived away from home for four years, the biggest thing to get over was the time difference.

Thanks to technology, we still talk at least once a week and even though I see them less, I am able to try to keep up with their comings and goings. However, there are times where I feel more like a distant aunt than a part of the immediate family. Not so much when I talk to my parents, but with my brothers. I missed a lot of growing up, which is by far the worst part about this whole thing. Since they are teenagers and see little to no value in talking to their sister, my conversations with them end up like a relative during the holidays. “So, how’s school going?” “What sports are you playing?” “Seen any good movies lately?” It’s surface and a little forced. But I have a feeling it would still be that way if they didn’t live on the other side of the world.

The perks have been incredible. I still can’t believe all the amazing things I’ve seen and done since they moved abroad. We’ve seen so much and so little of the world, and it’s just made us hungry for more. It’s completely changed our outlook on life and what we want from it.

But I think the best part about my family moving abroad is how it has changed them. They’re happier now. They laugh more and have an adventurous streak a mile long. Their boldness and courage have grown to amounts I can barely comprehend. And after all the wonders we’ve been blessed enough to see, their transformation is the most incredible by far. 



When my dad told me that my family was moving halfway across the world I was confused and excited at the same time. I was confused because our family didn’t seem like one that would take big risks. We had only traveled in the United States, lived in the suburbs of a normal town, and enjoyed ourselves there. This was also the reason why I was excited about the move. With me going off to college, I was happy that my family could also go off and explore parts of the world that they hadn’t seen before. They are now exposed to so many different cultures in the melting pot of Shanghai and have been loving every second of it.

Of course, with me being left back in the US there were a few problems that arose. At first, I was worried that my family was so far, but luckily I have my sister living just a 20-minute drive away from me. In addition to that, I was sad that I wouldn’t see them as much anymore. However, I am still able to see my family every summer and during the holidays and now they have plenty of crazy stories to tell me about what has happened since I saw them last. The only problem that I haven’t been able to get over yet is the time difference. It is weird having your family 12 hours ahead of you. You can’t always contact them immediately if something goes wrong, or if you just want to talk.

Other than that, I think this move was the best decision my parents ever made. (Except for having me, of course.) Living in a completely different culture has opened their eyes to the world and shown them things that many Americans have never seen. It’s nice to know how much they are enjoying it there and that I can come and visit whenever I can make the trip work.

I am so thankful that my two children “left behind” view our decision to move half-way around the world as positive, all things considered. They recognize the difficulty, but also appreciate the rich rewards that have come with us living in China. It has truly affected us all. I was so worried about leaving them behind and days like today (missing Autumn’s birthday) are tough. But we have all benefitted so much from this move. They have become independent adults and have pleasantly surprised me with the way they handle life on their own. We remain close, talk often, and share amazing adventures together that would never happen if we did not move here.

730 days have flown by and oh what memories we have made! I hope you have enjoyed the ride as much as we have. Here’s to 730 more. Who knows what the good Lord will have in store. I’m sure it will be amazing. So buckle up, here we go!

12 Things to Bring on Every Trip

Traveling can be tough. It’s stressful to pack your world into a bag and leave home. Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole sightseeing bit of travel, and would never turn down an opportunity to see the world. But the entire packing and living out of a suitcase bit really stinks.

We all want to make traveling easier. For our family, living abroad has led to many travel opportunities. Over the past two years, I have developed some tricks of the travel trade. They have streamlined the whole packing process and even help keep us organized while on the road. I hope they will help you make the tedious job of packing and the frustrating attempts at staying organized while living out of a suitcase more tolerable.

1. A Travel Book

Before you even pull out your suitcase, sit down and organize all your travel details into a book. This makes all of your important information easy to access at a glance. I like to include: an overall itinerary, contact information, confirmation numbers, hotel/airline/house rental/car rental information, things to do in the area, tipping or local customs, etc.

2. Your Medical Information

Similar to the travel book, We have a medical binder complete with passport and visa photos, copies of insurance cards, immunization records, and any allergies or essential medical information. It becomes an easy item to grab in case of an emergency situation, especially when traveling overseas.IMG_6272

3. A Passport Holder

It is always so helpful for us to have a central place to keep all of our passports, entry/exit cards, boarding passes, etc. I develop a bit of OCD when we travel, and tend to check and recheck I have all of our necessary documents. Having all our documents in one easy to carry location makes this process much more manageable.

4. Bag O’ Cords

Successful traveling requires a lot of organization. I have found it very handy to keep all of my charging cords, extra batteries, plugs, adapters, converters (basically anything electronic) together in one bag. It makes it easy to find these items both on the plane and at our destination.

5. Luggage Scale

I cannot tell you how many times we have been on a trip, bought souvenirs, packed them in our suitcase, then wondered if it was overweight. Throwing a luggage scale in your bag will dispel any concerns as to whether or not your suitcase is too heavy.IMG_6254

6. Extra Packable Bag

Along the lines of souvenirs, I also cannot tell you how many times we have been on vacation, bought our souvenirs, then realized they wouldn’t all fit in the suitcases we brought. Or even worse, they would fit, but made our suitcases overweight. So now we just pack an additional duffel bag in our suitcase just in case. I mean, we can’t say no to a perfect memento from our trip!IMG_6258

7. Travel Meds

I get a bit paranoid when we travel, medically speaking. This is especially true if we are going to a foreign country and I don’t know what medications will be available. So I like to think through every illness or injury that could possibly occur and bring every medication we could possibly need. As you can imagine, all the different pills and creams I brought were taking up a lot of precious room and became difficult to find in a pinch. So I streamlined all our pills into small travel pill containers that fit inside one larger case. Although the case fits a lot of different medications, it still fits comfortably in my carry-on, and we have all we could possibly need readily accessible.

8. Travel Toiletries

When possible, buy all of your toiletries in travel sizes. Space and weight are precious commodities in luggage so the lighter, and smaller, the better. Some items like shampoo may be purchased pre-filled, or you can buy empty travel bottles and fill with your own favorite things. For example, I like to fill empty bottles with my brand of hairspray and face wash.IMG_6262

9. Toiletry Bags

Each person in our family gets their own hanging toiletry bag. They are responsible for making sure everything they may need is in their bag. Once we arrive at our destination, I hand out toiletry bags. They hang them in their bathroom, and everyone has their own individual needs taken care of. Of course, the boy’s bags are way smaller than mine. 😉IMG_6256

10. Suction Cup Hooks

These have been so handy if a few of us need to share a bathroom. The worst thing is when you are sharing a shower and can’t figure out who’s washcloth is whose. We bring suction cup hooks with initials on them. They stick right onto a shower wall, and we never get our washcloths confused. Unless of course, my lazy boys don’t follow the rules and leave their washcloths in a ball on the edge of the tub, but that is a different issue entirely.IMG_6264

11. Bags That Stand Out

Pretty much everyone seems to have a black suitcase. To quickly spot your suitcase in the baggage claim, buy one that is an unusual color, and tie a colorful ribbon to the handle. Also, in addition to putting your contact information on a luggage tag, put it inside too. This way if your bag gets lost and the luggage tag falls off, there is still a way for the airline to find you. Finally, take a picture of all your checked bags before they go. I like to do this because I am usually exhausted when we arrive at our destination and appreciate a visual reminder at baggage claim in case I am not thinking clearly.

12. Shacke Paks

I am going to go on a total PSA right now. Shacke Paks have revolutionized the way we travel. I’ll be honest, the first time I looked at these packing cubes, I wondered if they would live up to the hype. I mean, on they have been given 5 stars with over 5,000 reviews. Now that’s saying something! That being said, I felt like I had to give them a try. So at the beginning of last summer, I decided to test them out. By the middle of the summer, I had purchased Shacke Paks for every member of the family. They make packing and staying organized while traveling so much easier. If you are a geeky organizer like me, these things will be right up your alley. When all of your different clothing categories are sitting neatly in little cubes in your suitcase, it is hard not to look at it with a huge sense of pride. In addition, we all have different color Shacke Paks, so I know at a quick glance who’s clothes are who’s. When we arrive at our destination, I hand each person their own Shacke Pak and put them in charge of unpacking and repacking their own things. I’m telling you, you will wonder how you ever lived without these fantastic things! Click on this link for more information and try a few for yourself. If I could be a spokesperson for this company, I would. Pure genius!IMG_6257

There you have it. Use these travel tips, and your trips are bound to be easier and more successful. We’ve done all the hard work for you so you can streamline and organize your trip in no time. Now get out there and enjoy your travel!

A Trip to the Market

Perhaps one of the most fun aspects of living in Shanghai is the many types of markets available for shopping. Fabric, fake, pearl, photography, electronics, produce, you name it, there is a market for it. Our favorites are the fake market and the fabric market. Pretty much anything you could need or want can be found in one of these two markets. Except for Bath and Body Works soaps. Oh, how I miss those. But I suppose if they did sell them they would be fake so maybe not the best idea. Who knows what ingredients would actually be in them. Anyway…

Last weekend we took a trip to both the fake and fabric markets. These places do have actual names. I think one is AP Plaza and the other, South Bund Spinning and Fabric Market, but really, who has time to say all of that? We like to keep things simple. We have even simplified names for some of the locals we buy things from. The lamp lady, jacket guy, pancake lady, DVD guy, etc. Mostly because we couldn’t pronounce their names if we tried, but you get the point.

So, our first stop was the fake market, and I was on a mission to buy some Christmas presents. Now one does not walk into a local market and purchase an item at face value. No way! Part of any good Chinese market experience is the haggling.

Not only does Jackson have to negotiate with the vendor, but also with his wife. Which will be the tougher sell? Then there’s Hunter with no money. Sigh.

My ultimate goal is to walk away feeling like I got a good deal. Negotiations usually go something like this,

Me: “How much is this?”
Vendor: “It’s 460 RMB.”
Me: “No, way too much.”
Vendor: “Ok, I give you good friend price. 380 RMB.”
Me: laugh and shake my head, “no way. Still too much.”
Vendor: “Ok, ok, you give me price.”
Me: “150.”
Vendor: Look of utter shock, “You joking me. No way. How about 350?”
Me: “No. Forget it, I don’t want it anyway.” Turn and leave store
Vendor: Chases me down the aisle. “Ok, ok 200 RMB.”
Me: “No, 150.”
Vendor: “Fine, fine, you are killing me. Ok”. Followed by a substantial amount of muttering under the breath while putting my item in a bag.
Deal done.

I walk away knowing I paid what the item was worth and the vendor plays the anger card but knows he/she also sold it for what it’s worth and they will get a lot more from the next sucker who walks into their store. So back to my mission. I knew I wanted some travel wine cups (apparently all the rage this year) And I knew I wanted to pay 22 RMB for them. After walking away empty-handed from two stores, without even so much as a chase down, I was in luck in the third. After a tough negotiation down from 50 to 23 RMB. I figured this was close enough to the price I wanted to pay. When I told her I wanted 36 cups her eyes nearly popped out of her head. Subsequently, I got the, “you’re killing me,” and “I make no profit” line quite a few times so I know I got a good deal.

Now how am I going to carry all of these?


Christmas presents bought, we were onto the fabric market to get some things made. My husband, Brett, wanted a sportcoat made, so we went to a lady he has used many times before. Although she has his measurements on file, she looked at him and said, “we measure you again.” When she wrapped the measuring tape around his stomach, her eyes grew wide, and she said, “you got much bigger.” I snorted, then almost fell on the floor laughing. Poor guy.

The lady who noticed Brett’s “larger” stomach. And yes, Jack bought this hat at the Fake Market. Quite a find!

But hey, don’t ever get too much of a kick out of someone else’s misfortune or karma will get you back. Next, we went to my “shirt lady” so I could have a couple of, well, shirts made. Brett and the boys stood outside the store while I wheeled and dealed my way to a reasonable price. After we left, Brett showed me a picture he took while waiting. This was the sign on the store:CC2FE866-C3D4-4BD3-A36E-5EFB366119EB-11883-000004C6B690F516_tmp

At the end of the day, we all had a laugh and chalked it up to just another adventure in China. Every day there is something new to make you giggle. We certainly are lucky to call this place home.