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!


What a Year!

Happy new year!

We are back from our Christmas vacation and returned relatively unscathed. Of course, we did have to go out with a bang when Jack, our youngest, came down with possibly the worst illness of his life the day before we returned home. I knew when I checked on him at 3:00 that afternoon, and he was still sleeping that this one could be a doozie. It certainly didn’t disappoint. 10 hours before our flight, he was running a high fever and vomiting. Just what you want to deal with when you need to embark on a 12 1/2 hour flight, right? We didn’t know what to do. Postpone the trip back? Gather all his strength and just get him home? Finally, we decided to bite the bullet and continue on our scheduled flight. To say it felt like the longest flight in history is an understatement. I swear the plane was suspended in mid-air for at least five hours. Kidding. But we made it. Jack may have used up all the vomit bags on the plane, but he did it. We made it home, and he didn’t move from the couch for the next four days. The boys finally went back to school today, and I have reveled in a peaceful, quiet house.

Survival mode


But this post isn’t about Christmas, it’s about 2017. What a year it was! When I take a moment to look back and take in all of the blessings bestowed upon us throughout the year I am truly humbled. So let’s get to it and recap The Bunch’s adventures over the last 12 months.


Chinese New year came early in the year which means, three weeks after returning home from Christmas, we were off again. Our daughter, Autumn, came out to Shanghai to join us on an incredible journey to Siem Reap, Cambodia, then onto Halong Bay, Vietnam, and finally ending our journey in Hanoi, Vietnam. It was an excellent trip full of history, gorgeous architecture, and even a cruise. But no trip would be complete without all of us contracting some form of (what I call) the plague and one by one we all succumbed to the nasty illness. Poor Jack went in and out of a high fever and vomiting the entire Halong Bay Cruise that I doubt he remembers much of it. Hmm…there seems to be a theme with him, traveling and getting sick.



Autumn returned home but not before meeting our new puppy, THOR! (And Puppy Makes 8) What a joy. He adjusted quickly to our home and has become a very loved member of The Bunch. So February was spent with sleepless nights and living according to a puppy’s schedule.


A month filled with travel. Brett went on three work trips. My Mom came to Shanghai for a visit and to watch Jack and Thor so our third-born, Elijah and I could go to Abu Dhabi. Back in October he auditioned for a highly selective choir festival, and was chosen! Of course, I couldn’t let him go to a foreign country alone ;), so my dear friend Diane and I packed our bags and joined the school choir on a fun-filled week in Abu Dhabi. We even managed to squeeze in a day trip to Dubai. What a fun experience!



Gosh, April was actually a relatively quiet month. We spent time getting back into a routine after all our travel. I had a friend come visit for a couple of weeks, and we had a great time playing tourists around the city. We even took a tour on a Barbie bus. Brett was offered an extension from a three to a five-year work assignment in Shanghai. This resulted in a decision to sell our house back in Michigan.


What a blur! Our oldest son, Hunter came to Shanghai for the month. I said a quick hello to him and took off on a plane to Michigan to meet my mom and prepare our house to go on the market. It was a challenging job to get everything ready in 2 weeks, but we decided we didn’t need sleep and attacked it with everything we had. By the end of the month, the house was sold! Again, back to Shanghai to say a quick hello and goodbye to Hunter who had to return home.


Two weeks later, the boys and I went home (we were able to stay in our house for the summer-woo hoo). We were there for 3 days, then drove 11 hours to Virginia. I dropped them off with my in-laws for almost two weeks (they are saints), while my mom and I went on a fantastic trip to Scotland. It was incredible and so special to have time spent with just her. Read about our awesome adventure here: For the love of Scotland! Two girls take off on the trip of a lifetime. Back to Virginia and into the car to drive another 11 hours back home. This time a little less jet-lagged, but not by much.


Two more weeks working on moving things out of the house and it was time for Brett to fly from Shanghai to join us. We spent a week on the west-side of the state in South Haven and had a great time with Brett’s brother and his family. When we returned back home we had 5 days to finish moving out of the house, then we headed off to the wild west on a quick trip to Tucson, Arizona. It was Brett’s grandmother’s 100th birthday, and despite everything going on, we couldn’t miss such a huge event.


Back home for one night, slept on the floor, and moved the rest of our things out the next morning. We sobbed a tearful goodbye to our empty house (well I did anyway) and headed off to the west-side of the state again but this time to Grand Haven. After a week there we went to Seattle, Washington for two days to spend a bit more time with Brett’s brother and his family. Finally, we dragged ourselves onto the plane heading home. We spent the rest of the month recovering from our summer, starting school, and giving our poor lonely puppy lots of extra snuggles.



This month was all about getting into a new school routine, but of course, we had to throw some travel in as well. Jack and Elijah went on school trips. Jack had a four-day team building trip to Moganshan, China and Elijah had a 7-day faith-building trek through the mountains of Beijing. Really, do these kids have any idea how fortunate they are?IMG_3652


One full day after the boys returned, we boarded a plane for Nusa Lembongan, Bali. What a crazy trip, but also relaxing and rejuvenating for us all. We drove scooters, relaxed by the pool, and even went white-water rafting. Read about our trip here:Get Lost! (in Nusa Lembongan), and A Day on Bali.



Elijah joined his school’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in which he played Mr. Bingley. Half of November was spent with play busyness. Whew, it was a significant commitment for all of us! A couple of days after his last performance, he went on another week-long choir trip, this time to Guangzhou, China. A bit less glamorous than Abu Dhabi, but pretty great just the same.IMG_5174


In the blink of an eye, it was the end of the year, and we were headed back to Seattle, Washington to spend Christmas with some of Brett’s family. No longer having our home in which to spend the holiday concerned me but we rented a house on Bainbridge Island and enjoyed the Christmassy feel that came along with spending the holiday in the evergreen-covered Pacific Northwest.IMG_7241

If you managed to follow all of that, I give you credit. I am exhausted just recapping everything. We had a busy but exciting year filled with family, travel, and adventure. It was truly fantastic. While I hope 2018 will be a little more settled, I know it is doubtful. This crazy ex-pat life is rarely settled, but look at the memories we have made. Here’s to an adventurous, happy and healthy new year. May you be blessed!

A Different Kind of Christmas

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
-Bing Crosby-

Although living an ex-pat life means constant change and adaptation, there is one tangible thing that has kept me grounded. Our home back in the U.S. I always knew no matter how many different life scenarios we faced while living abroad, we always had the comfort of our house to return to whenever we went home. A place where, for 12 years we hung our hats and made memories. A place where our kids grew up, traditions, and routines were created. I knew where everything was, painted every wall, hung every picture, planted every tree. Yes, our home remained a place of comfort and stability in our ever-changing world.IMG_2809

Now, while I say this, I will admit, it is a bit of a glorified picture of our house back in Michigan. I won’t even go into the headache of owning a house half-way around the world. Renters that did not keep up with maintenance, mail that got missed which led to overdue bills. A yard that was not properly tended to. It seemed every time we went home I would play catch up on all the things that had been neglected over the course of six months. It was a hassle and a lot of work. The last time we went home, I traveled there alone with two of our boys. After a 14-hour flight and arriving home utterly exhausted, all I wanted was a hot shower and cozy bed on which to lay my head. However, we arrived to find the hot water heater broken. Many hours, tears, and dollars later, it was replaced, and I was able to relax. Things like this seemed to happen every time we went home.

Last spring, we were blessed to be given a chance to extend our assignment overseas. We had been hoping for such an opportunity as we wanted to get our oldest child here to graduate high school before we headed back home. Since we knew we would be staying longer than initially anticipated, and keeping our house back home had proven to be such a headache, among a host of other reasons, we decided to sell our house. I will admit, while I knew this was a good idea for every reason imaginable, I am not always practical. My heart tugged at me and made it difficult to leave our memories behind. Silly, right? I mean, you can always take your memories with you, but there is a lot to be said about seeing those memories within the walls in which they were created.IMG_0525

But the decision had been made, and I knew deep down it was the right one. So I took a two-week trip home to prepare the house to go on the market. My mom met me there, and we went right to work. After many hours of purging, organizing, and staging, the house was ready. Thankfully, sheer exhaustion kept me from becoming overemotional about the reality of what we were working towards. I became cutthroat in deciding what needed to stay and what needed to go. But still, everything I touched required a decision. 12 years of clutter is not easy to rummage through. But we did it, I went back to Shanghai, and the house went on the market. The first day we received an offer, and the house was sold. It was a blessing, and a heartache but I had prayed God would be very clear in His path for this part of our lives, and I know this was His answer to my prayer. It’s difficult to argue with that kind of clarity.

So the house sold, we moved out, I cried, but we continued to look forward knowing this was what we needed to do. Then came plans for Christmas. All of a sudden my confidence was shaken. No Christmas in our home? No Christmas tree in the corner of the family room? No kids sitting at the top of the stairs waiting impatiently on Christmas morning for the ok to run down and look under the tree? What had we been thinking?

We began talking about all the different ways we could spend Christmas. It wouldn’t be fair to pick one parent’s house over the other to spend the holiday. Our daughter’s house is too small to squeeze all of us in and really, did we want to pay money for a house rental in Michigan in the winter? Who in their right mind would choose such a cold vacation destination unless they had to?

So after going around and around, we chose Seattle, Washington as our Christmas destination. My husband lived there as a child and still has family there. It is warmer, and we figured it would be a bit easier for us to get to; but at the same time allowing easy access for the rest our family to come join us, if possible.

Decision made, we announced it to the family thinking, of course, everyone would want to come spend Christmas in the Northwest. Well, our daughter and her husband could not get the time off of work to travel across the country. Again, I wondered what we were doing. Why did we sell our house and lose the opportunity to spend Christmas with everyone? But, once again I needed a reality check. Sure, we saw all the family when we went home, but it was only for a day, maybe two, tops. Is that really a reason to keep a house? One you have outgrown and can no longer consistently take care of?

So this year we will be celebrating a different kind of Christmas. It is the first one we will not spend with our daughter and, like any mother, it kills me, but also like any mother, there needs to be a time when we let go of our children, no matter how hard it may be. Our daughter now has the opportunity to make her own holiday traditions and memories, and although I will miss her dearly, I am happy for her. I know how special it is to sit in front of your own Christmas tree, bake cookies in your own oven, and hang stockings in front of your own fireplace.


As for us, I don’t know how the holiday will go. Being in a house rental in an unfamiliar place is going to be very different. Will it just feel like a vacation? Will it feel like Christmas? I know, Christmas is supposed to be about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior surrounded by those you love, and we will.IMG_5304 Our oldest son and my mom will be joining us. But I am such a traditionalist. Despite having all the boxes checked in order to have an enjoyable holiday, will it still FEEL like Christmas? I don’t know. It will be yet another way living an ex-pat life has given us cause to adapt to any and all situations. Sometimes that is easier said than done.

Although this Christmas will be different, I am happy and excited to have the opportunity to visit yet another new place. Despite the fact that we will not be in our own home, I know we will continue to make new Christmas memories. Who knows, we could love it so much with all the pressure being off all the Christmas “to-do’s” that we may want to continue this tradition in the future. We will see.

I wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and hope you are surrounded by those you love whether in your own home or elsewhere. Merry Christmas to you all!

Forget Black Friday, Let’s Celebrate Cookie Friday! (Christmas Sugar Cookies)

In America, many people spend the day after Thanksgiving shopping. We call it Black Friday, and it is THE best day to stock up on Christmas gifts by hunting for the best bargains of the year. However, because we are a family who tends to avoid crowds at all costs, we began our own Black Friday tradition. Instead of Black Friday, we participate in Cookie Friday.IMG_7640

The day after we stuff our faces with turkey, we gather as many neighborhood kids as we can rustle up (a.k.a., my minions), and begin getting in the Christmas spirit by decorating sugar cookies. Not just any sugar cookies, mind you. The best sugar cookies you have ever tasted. Thick, chewy and soft. Topped with sweet icing and a lovingly painted design. Well, I do have kids painting these delectable morsels, so I will admit, not every design is lovingly painted. Having as many boys as I do in the house, I should have realized cookies in the shapes of people were bound to get creatively turned into something…ahem…inappropriate. The first year of Cookie Friday led the way to a new tradition quickly adopted by every male participant. The bikini. Not exactly Christmassy, but they sure do get points for creativity.IMG_1986

The yearly gathering for Cookie Friday happened in our home every year for 12 years. None of my immediate family members were allowed to even whisper the word “shopping” until nearly every cookie was decorated. It became a very special tradition not only for us but for our kid’s friends as well. Come to think of it; perhaps I was acting as a babysitter so that other parents could go shopping. Hmmm…maybe I planned that all wrong. That being said, Those 12 years were very special. We welcomed old and new friends, and slowly watched them grow up. But through it all, no matter how old the neighborhood kids got, they always came together on Cookie Friday to usher in the Christmas holiday together.

Since we have moved to Shanghai, Cookie Friday has been put on hold. It is too difficult to execute here. But I’ll be honest, although it was a lot of work (I baked hundreds of cookies, hence the need for my minions), it is one of the things I miss the most about being home.IMG_5111

I hope this recipe makes its way into your family traditions. It is a family recipe that has been passed down through generations. Gather around, call all the kids, put on some Christmas carols, and enjoy making memories of your own. And, if a bikini-clad sugar person makes its way into your traditional Christmas Sugar Cookies, consider yourself all the luckier. 😉


Christmas Sugar Cookies


3/4 C butter
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 C flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt


Mix butter, sugar, eggs, & vanilla. Blend in flour, baking powder, & salt. Chill at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Roll dough 1/2” thick. Cut with festive cookie cutters and place on ungreased baking sheet.


400 degrees for 5 minutes.
Make sure the cookies are only slightly browned on the bottom. They taste better when they are thick and chewy.


2 C confectioners sugar
2 egg whites

Beat to spreadable consistency. Separate into small bowls. Add food coloring. Paint cookies with frosting. Get creative. Top with sprinkles and a big heaping of love.


10 Reasons Why You Should Live Abroad

We became an ex-pat family nearly two years ago. I still vividly remember how terrified I was at the thought of uprooting all we knew, leaving two children behind, and boarding a plane into the unknown halfway around the world.  Read my inaugural blog,  ’tis Christmas Day to see just how emotional that time was. To say we were all a wreck is an understatement.

How would I live without seeing these goofballs all the time?


Yesterday I wrote about The Dark Side of Living Abroad. Things to think about when considering a move abroad. It is not a choice to be made lightly. Everything you know will change. You will be uprooted from all the comforts of your life. But for us, this change has been positive. Sure, we have had ups and downs along the way but I don’t think any of us would be willing to give up the experience we have had living as ex-pats. I am now a firm believer in the idea that everyone should live abroad at some point in their life, and these are the reasons why.

Your world gets bigger

Before we moved abroad, we didn’t even own passports. The United States was our home base, and we didn’t have much desire to leave. Now that we have moved to China we have been to 10+ countries and have seen so many amazing sights. I continue to be in awe of the beauty and diversity of the world. My understanding of differing cultures has broadened 100 fold. My kids have been exposed to so many different aspects of ways to live that their entire view of life has been expanded. It makes us see how blessed we are by seeing how many people throughout the world live without even the basics we take for granted.

Your world gets smaller

I can’t tell you how many people I have met who live close to our house back home, or whose children went to the same school as my older kids. When talking to one friend, she began describing her house back home. The more she told me, the more I thought it sounded familiar. Come to find out she lived on the same street as my son’s girlfriend. What are the chances? It is nice to be so far away and be able to talk to people about things (or even places) back home with a common familiarity. It brings comfort and helps ease a bit of the homesickness that can come from time to time when you realize it’s not such a big world after all.


Possibly the most significant change that comes with moving abroad is the necessity to become adaptable. Life is never settled. It is next to impossible to fall into a rut or a routine. Schedules are always changing, travel is frequent, and there is constant adaptation to your new culture. I was a very structured person before we left The States. I thrive on schedules and predictability. Learning to be more flexible was challenging, but I am so thankful to have embraced that skill. For the most part, things don’t tend to bother me like they used to. I can “roll with it” more which makes life more easy-going.


Besides adaptability, I consider the most significant changes have been made in my confidence and faith. I have had to go out and navigate a world in which I am entirely unfamiliar. The language, way of life, and customs are different. This takes guts. In addition, my faith has jumped by leaps and bounds. I have to rely on God to get me through each day, keep us all healthy, and keep those back at home safe. Your God is bound to become bigger when you move overseas.


There are now so many ways to keep in touch with loved ones and friends back home. I can’t imagine moving overseas when the only method of communication was through a letter or phone call. The age of social media has broadened the avenues of keeping in touch. Facebook, email, texting, WeChat, Instagram, etc. We can share our lives with others at the touch of a button. I can see my kids through video chat, so it doesn’t feel like such a long time since we have been “together.” These options make it easy to stay connected and not feel so far away.

A recent group chat with Autumn after she cut her finger and ended up in the ER


Quality time

One of my biggest worries about leaving my children, family, and friends behind was that I would never see them. However, for the most part, I was wrong. Our first summer here our kids were able to come visit. Hunter, our oldest son, came for two months and Autumn, our oldest and only daughter came with her husband Jackson for one month. It was awesome! We traveled and spent time together without the distractions of being at home. We didn’t have to share the kids with anyone. Not work, school, in-laws. No one. We got them all to ourselves, and it was so special. Since then, Hunter and Autumn have come back, my mom has come to visit, as well as friends and we have experienced the same one-on-one time with each of them.


Our boys attend a fantastic (and very expensive) American school here in Shanghai. We would have never been able to afford such a prestigious education for them at home. I know not everyone will have the same luxury when moving abroad but we have been so grateful for the stellar educational opportunity that has been given to them. We even asked to extend our assignment in order for our high schooler to graduate here.IMG_7801

Independent children

As a result of our move, all of our children have had to grow and adapt very quickly. Autumn and Hunter had to learn how to truly live life on their own. We moved to Shanghai a few months after dropping Hunter off as a Freshman in college. How’s that for a quick introduction into a life of independence? But you know what? They have impressed me so much with their ability to handle all life has to throw at them. Elijah, our oldest here, went to Abu Dhabi on a school trip last year. He was in charge of his passport, luggage, checking himself in at the airport, and shared a hotel room with a fellow classmate. I would never have imagined even sending him to the next town overnight when we lived at home.

Elijah is in there somewhere!



It’s true when you live overseas your friends become your family. We rely on each other heavily and “do life” together way more than at home. We need each other for support and tend to form fast friendships that last a lifetime. Many people who repatriate have a tough time trying to create friendships like those they experienced while living abroad, only to find people too busy and independent to foster that kind of a close bond.

goofball Tai-Tai’s
jumping for joy over an awesome workout!


All of us have developed the “Travel Bug”. My husband, Brett, and I joke that we need to get all of our traveling out of our system now because when we return home, we will once again be on a tight budget with little extra for trips. So we have taken full advantage and as a result, have seen so many incredible things. Follow our travels through photographs here. I remember when we were planning our first trip as ex-pats Brett said we should go to Thailand. I laughed and told him no thank you, that I had no interest in going there. Well, we did end up going to Thailand, and it was absolutely breathtaking. If we didn’t live where we do we would most likely never journey to this side of the world. And let me tell you, this side of the world is pretty incredible.

Koh Samui, Thailand


If you are given a chance to live abroad, I say take it. It will change your life by allowing you the opportunity to grow in ways you never thought possible. Our entire family, both at home and abroad have become more close and richer with new experiences we would have never had if we stayed at home and lived our lives as we had before. So stop worrying. Take a leap of faith and go experience all the world has to offer!

If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.

Rachel Wolchin

The Dark Side of Living Abroad

Most of the time living abroad is pretty great. We have a driver and a house cleaner. Eating out happens more regularly. We have the opportunity to travel and experience new things. Yes, it is an experience I would highly recommend. Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Live Abroad to see why.

However, there is a dark side to living abroad. Things you need to really think about before considering such a big move.

A few weeks ago my phone rang. It was my oldest son, Hunter on the other end. He is still in the U.S. While it is not unusual to get a phone call from him at 1am his time (he is 20 and never seems to sleep before 2am at the earliest), I detected an odd sound in his voice. “Hi, mom…so, I don’t want you to worry…”, Were his first words. Well, as any mother could relate, within 5 seconds I had thought through every possible scenario of what could have possibly happened, as well as 50 ways to get home as quickly as I could. He continued, “so, I’m on my way to the E.R.”, followed by a nervous laugh. “I, um, was at a concert and got slammed into a wall and hit my shoulder and my head really hard and now it hurts to lift my arm.” Oh goodness, more scenarios went whirring through my mind. Would he need surgery? What if the doctors wanted to operate right away? Should I go ahead and book a plane ticket? Wait it out? What should I do?!?! He assured me he was fine and sounded it, but my mothering instincts wanted me to be there hugging him tight and be his advocate at the hospital. The fact that he is away at college and I wouldn’t have been there even if we still lived at home made no difference. The point was that I couldn’t get there quickly even if I wanted to.

Thankfully Hunter was fine. He handled it like a man, and I was impressed by his maturity. The next weekend our daughter (also in the U.S.) cut her finger and raced off to the E.R. to get stitches. I joked we needed to rent a standing room for the two of them since they live in the same town. But really, the dark side of living abroad hit me hard, and I thought it would be a good idea to give you some food for thought in case you are considering becoming an ex-pat.

On a side note, don’t worry, I’m not depressed or hate life. It’s all good. Whenever you say anything negative, people start to fear that an intervention or something of the sort is in order. But it’s ok. I have been able to tuck my worry away again and will soldier on with lots of prayer for safety and fortitude.

On another side note, experiences living abroad are vastly different. I know some people move overseas without much to their name. We have come on a very generous package from my husband’s company so I can only speak from our experience.

The dreaded phone call

To be honest, phone calls like the one I received a few weeks ago are a consistent fear for ex-pats. We pray something drastic will not happen while we are thousands of miles away, but we know it could so we constantly live with a nagging fear in the back of our minds. Sure, most of the time we push the fear aside and go about our daily lives. I mean, we simply couldn’t live if we didn’t. But if most ex-pats are like me, that fear hovers right under the surface and can explode when even the smallest of issues occur. Possibly one of the biggest things to think about when considering a move abroad is that you are going to be far away from family and friends. You realize very quickly that you honestly have no control over significant life circumstances. I know, none of us have control over the big things no matter where we live, but it is easy to fall into a false sense of security living within close proximity of your loved-ones. When you think about moving thousands of miles away, you need to be ok with the fact that it will take you a long time to get back home. Possibly even days. Are you ok with this?

A few of my loved-ones far and near


A temporary life

An ex-pat’s assignment almost always has an end date. That means not only will you be going home at some point, but the friends who become a huge part of your life will be too. Goodbyes are always painful, and they are constant when you live temporarily. We are continually adjusting to old friends leaving, new friends coming, different routines, trips, etc. We just never seem to feel settled. Are you ok with this?

Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable

Moving abroad means not only uprooting your family and leaving your home but moving to a foreign country where things are going to be very different. Many times this is great. You learn about different cultures and how they live. However, there are also times when it is pretty terrible. Here in China, we have to deal with squatty pottys in public restrooms, and people openly staring at us almost every time we leave the house. And darn it, we never found that ranch dressing we searched for during the first few months of our arrival. For more insight into our adjustment to a new life abroad, click here: The Good, the Bad, and the Hunt for Ranch Dressing. I know, first-world problems, right? So, while we have found our way, there have been many bumps in the road, and it hasn’t always been easy. Some days it can feel overwhelming. Ex-pats actually have a term for it that is widely used over here: Shang-lo days. Honestly, they can be pretty tough, and all you want to do is go home. Are you ok with this?

Now these look like classy squatty pottys


Living on a roller coaster

The above being said I would compare our emotional well-being to being on a roller coaster. Most of the time we are going up. Things are good, and we are excited about our lives here. But all of a sudden we get to the top and go careening down at break-neck speed. It could be the day. It could be the situation. I don’t know, but I have seen so many people here live on such emotional highs and lows. I mean, just running an errand can ultimately defeat you. For about the first 6 months after we moved here, I would set out and try to accomplish one thing a day. Just one thing. And you know what? Sometimes I couldn’t even do that. I would return home empty-handed and in tears because everything felt like it was just too difficult. It is much easier now after two years of navigating my way around, but there are still some days I return home empty-handed and utterly frustrated. Are you ok with this?

Medical issues

I continuously pray we will not have a life-threatening issue while living here. Ambulances are not available, we don’t have our own car, and we have to use specific hospitals, the most commonly used facility being 45 minutes away, without traffic. Any emergency would be very complicated to handle quickly. So yes, this is a real fear of mine. I rely heavily on prayer and faith that God will provide as needed. I have spoken to many people who live here with a child that has a food allergy and give them so much credit trying to feed their child safely while living in a foreign country where English is not the national language. Obtaining medications is another concern. Some are impossible to get here. We always buy our medications when we are home, especially those requiring a prescription. This involves a lot of preplanning and forethought. Are you ok with this?

A dog bite led to a trip to the emergency room for me 😦



I can’t even begin to tell you how skilled I have become with hand-gestures. Not in the profane sense…goodness people (insert eye-roll)! But as a useful tool in explaining what I want to someone who does not speak English. You may argue that we should learn the language of our host country and Lord knows I have tried. But it is just so hard! Terrible excuse, I know. That being said, many times communicating what you want besides asking how much something costs can become extremely difficult, if not impossible with a language barrier. So yes, hand gestures, pointing, I have even resorted to calling my driver and asking him to translate. But it is frustrating especially when it should be simple. Are you ok with this?

These are a few things to consider when contemplating moving abroad. Honestly, the list could be endless, but I have tried to hit the most significant issues we have faced, and continue to face on a regular basis. Most days are great, but some are not. A move abroad should not be taken lightly. You must weigh the pros and cons. Ultimately for us, the benefits of living a life abroad have vastly overshadowed the negatives. We love the opportunity we have been given and are very thankful. I wish you luck in your decision. It may not be an easy one to make, but in the end, you need to be comfortable with, and excited about your choice. Life can be an adventure no matter where you choose to live, whether moving overseas or choosing to stay put and live it out in your own backyard.



A Series of Unfortunate Events. 10 things to do when times get tough.

To say I’ve had a crappy week is an understatement. It began with a dog bite (just to clarify, a dog bit me, I didn’t bite it), moved onto a series of 8 shots for rabies, a subsequent dog injury caused by my dog (he wanted to play with a rather grumpy old dog who was less than interested), and finding out that my old ayi left us for another job all the while telling me she had to leave Shanghai to help her mother who had a stroke. All this and the sad thing is, it’s only Thursday.

Sometimes living abroad is really hard. Everything here is more difficult than back home. Need something from the store? You have to wait 45 minutes for your driver, finally get to the store, just to find out they no longer carry the item you are looking for. Three stores later, you return home empty-handed and in search of another meal idea you can use for dinner. Need a doctor? Sure, no problem. First, call your international SOS agency. Wait for a doctor to call you back to tell you to go to the hospital. Wait another hour for a subsequent call back with which hospital to go to. Arrange your driver to pick you up and drive to the hospital (which, by the way, takes an hour because traffic is so bad). So, you get my point. Many aspects of living abroad are pretty awesome, but others are just plain awful.

So if you are having a “Shang-lo” day (a.k.a. a really crappy day), I’ve come up with a few tips to keep you going. To help get you over that hump of self-pity and back on your way to loving your ex-pat (or non-ex-pat) life.


1. Get on your knees.

Ok, so I know this may sound cliche, but the power of prayer is a real thing. I could not have got through many difficult times without my faith. It is so freeing to give your issues to God and let Him clean up your mess. And trust me, He has had to clean up quite a few doozies of mine!IMG_1837

2. Cry.

Don’t be afraid to cry. It’s ok. We all need to let out a few tears from time to time. Crying doesn’t make you weak. It’s cleansing and (besides the puffy eyes and runny nose), can be quite therapeutic. Honestly, after this week, I don’t know how many tears I have left. Perhaps that means I’ve lost a pound or two?! Yeah, we’ll go with that.

3. Lean on your community.

Someone told me, “you’re all desperate here together,” and she’s right. Ex-pats have a bond. We become each other’s family, and it’s ok to get real with each other. Living this life can be hard, and we really need to have someone who will help you get through your crappy feelings. Honestly, they have most likely felt the same way or gone through the same thing as you so don’t be afraid to let your guard down and open up.IMG_0287

4. Be honest.

Don’t put on a happy face and pretend like everything is fine. It’s not and if you bottle it all up inside it will just grow and fester. Honestly, what good will that do you? You have people in your life who care about you and would like nothing more than to help you work through your stuff. So be honest. Let it all out.

5. Seek out the right council.

Ok, I know I’ve told you to be free and talk about your problems, but it may not be best to tell them to the most gossipy person around. Yes, we have gossipy people overseas too. Instead, seek wise counsel. Someone who will lead you down a positive road, who will honestly tell you if you are being ridiculous, and someone who will offer you good advice.

6. Attitude is everything.

I’ll be honest, this is the most difficult for me. I tend to wallow in my unfortunate situations. Poor me. Why me? But I always need to remind myself that someone always has it worse than me, or the situation could have been worse for this reason or that reason. Whatever. Our attitude really will affect how we react to a situation. If we are in the right mind no matter what the issue, we will be able to deal with things that come our way in a much more effective and healthy way.

Always try to see brightness through the darkness.


7. Hug it out.

There is great healing power in a hug. I’m pretty sure there is scientific evidence to back me up on this one. Trust me, getting a big bear hug makes everything better.IMG_4815

8. Play music.

There’s something very therapeutic about music. Find a playlist that you love and crank it up LOUD. Sing along at the top of your lungs and don’t be afraid to rage dance. Just leave it all on the floor. Sure, some people may find this kind of release in going to the gym or going for a run, but I seriously think they are a little twisted and should never be trusted. Juuuuust kidding. One word of caution, if you are cutting loose in your living room, you may want to close your blinds. I was getting down to some Ed Sheeran…like big-time dancing (for anyone who knows me, this may seem hilarious since you know I don’t dance). When the song ended, I looked up to see one of the gardeners staring at me through my window. Oops, my bad!

9. Eat brownies.

Ok, don’t go scarf down an entire pan or else you will have to go join the crazies out on a run. But don’t be afraid to treat yourself. I know brownies can’t solve world hunger (or can they?!), elect a different president, or really make your problems go away, but they are really tasty and can put a little smile back on your face. And hey, while you’re at it, add a scoop of ice cream. You deserve it!

10. Laugh at yourself.

So things are pretty terrible. I know at times like these the last thing you want to do is laugh, but finding humor in the situation always makes it a little bit easier to deal with. After all, you can either laugh or cry, right? Maybe a little bit of both. Last year I was having one of the worst days. Like, just crawl into your bed and shut out the world kind of a day. But I had an errand to run, so I tearfully dragged myself into the car only to discover right before I got in, my driver farted and stunk up the entire car. As I sat there trapped in the noxious gas, I busted out laughing and silently thanked him for helping me get past my wallowing.

So there you go. Your definitive list of how to make lemonade out of lemons. How to live a life of sunshine and lollipops. How to put on a happy smile, and all that other cliche business that is easier said than done. Really though, life is hard. It’s messy. I’ve had a week from hell. Still, I am strong. I can get through this, and so can you. Just take it one step at a time and remember that every day is a new beginning. This too shall pass, and you will be stronger and wiser as a result.

Life is messy. Just take it one day at a time.


So go take on the world. You’ve got this, and so do I. Now bring on Friday!!