Friday, February 22, 2013

The 3 F's

Family + Friends + Food = Happy. And Fat. Ok, 4 F's.

After a little over two weeks back home, I think it's allllllmost time to stop pigging out. Almost. It's been deliciously fun, but I'm seriously starting to feel it.

Well, let's see. The first week back home was pretty productive with buying a car and finding a place to live, but the second week was both productive and loads of fun. I moved into my apartment (easiest move in the history of all of my moves, of which there have been plenty), and I got a job with my old company in Denver, working mostly remotely from Illinois. Couldn't be happier about that. Plus I think my sleep is nearly back on track. Now I'm no longer waking up at 2, 3 and 4am because of the jet lag, but now I'm waking up at 2, 3 and 4am because my downstairs neighbor is playing music loudly at those hours. We've talked about it and exchanged numbers, so hopefully this is a temporary thing while she adjusts to finally having a neighbor upstairs. Apparently this apartment has been vacant awhile and she got used to living neighbor-free.

I love my new little apartment. It's furnished, clean, cute and the perfect size for all of my lack of belongings now that I've downsized my life. I have great cell service and super-fast internet, which are basically my only two requirements after living in China and totally reevaluating what living conditions I need in order to feel comfortable. Oh, and I have yet to see any mold or cockroaches. Bonus! And while we're on the topic, here are some other everyday things I'm totally appreciating now more than I ever did before…
  • A bed without springs poking into my spine and other random organs that shouldn't be poked by springs
  • A 4-burner stove top (now I can cook separate things at the same time!)
  • A fridge that cools my food-stuff
  • Being able to drink tap water
  • Not having to wear shower shoes
  • Not having to wear rubber flip-flops indoors (seriously, everyone in China does this…maybe because everyone has tile floors and they get dirty so fast? I really don't know why, but you just have to do this.)
  • Being able to flush toilet paper (hooray!)
  • Oh, and being able to go grocery shopping and buy terribly unhealthy things that taste oh so terribly good

Here are some highlights from the past week or so...

Last Wednesday I went to my niece Josie's school to speak to her 6th grade Social Studies class about China. Her teacher invited me in to speak because they just finished studying a unit on China, so it was perfect timing. They learned all about ancient China so I came in to speak about modern everyday China. I brought in lots of things to pass around, like books, money, Chinese New Year decorations, chopsticks, etc. etc. And I taught them some words, which seemed to be the thing they liked the most, well, besides the money. I was teaching them how Chinese people can count to ten on one hand by using unique finger gestures for each of the numbers, and one boy asked, "Do Chinese people have more than ten fingers?" He was completely serious. And I had to be the adult who doesn't laugh at such questions, and politely answer in a way that made him feel like it wasn't a silly question and also so the rest of the class wouldn't laugh at him. Most of the other kids, however, did groan and slap their palms against their foreheads.

Then on Thursday I went to East Peoria to speak to my other niece's 4th grade class. They had so many questions I could barely field them all quickly enough. I love how curious kids are, and how they ask questions that wouldn't occur to us to ask. I handed out candies I brought back from China, and the kids loved them. But then later during the discussion a boy raised his hand, and he looked pretty sad, and I called on him and he said, "That candy you gave us gave me really bad heartburn." Aww, he was too cute. I apologized.

While I was in East Peoria I got to hang out at my sister's house before heading to the school, so I force-cuddled her cute dachshund...

until she no longer wanted the forced cuddles...

Then on Friday I went to my nephew Justin's Valentine's Day party and helped out with the various activities. He's in first grade...

I even got to read a storybook to the class, which was always one of my favorite parts of teaching in China. There really is an art to reading to a group of kids, and it's more than just reading the words on a page.

Then on Friday night my nine-year-old niece, Emilia, spent the night and we had a blast ordering in yummy pizza, playing games, walking to the park and goofing off, and making rootbeer floats.

Then on Saturday I caught up with an old classmate I hadn't seen in about 18 years, since high school. And on Sunday I visited my brother, sis-in-law and 1.5 year old nephew Mason, and then my six-year-old nephew Justin and my eleven-year-old niece Josie spent the night since they didn't have school Monday for President's Day. We went out for pizza, played games, made more rootbeer floats, walked to breakfast the next day, walked to the park to play, made Jell-O in orange peels, made brownies, and watched the original 3 Star Wars movies back-to-back in the background while putting together a Star Wars puzzle and playing games. Here are the Jell-O treats we made, and then realized we should have made jigglers because the Jell-O seems to soak in and shrink more making it the original way. It's supposed to be flush with the edge of the peel so that you can then slice them into neat orange slices...

Then we mixed all four leftover flavors into a big bowl of Jell-O fruit punch. Here are some collages I made on my iPhone of pics of all four nieces and nephews (and a photo of confused birds flying north already) that we took over those few days...


Josie told me about the cool collage app for iPhone so I downloaded it and tried it out. It's a weird feeling when I was always the tech geek of the family, and now my little nieces and nephews are out tech-geeking me. I've been letting them download lots of apps and games to my iPhone and iPad and it's amazing how quick they are to pick up new technology. They're even teaching me new tips and tricks on my iPhone, a phone I've been using for two and a half years!

I came home the other day to a package at my door, and lookie lookie what was inside...

A huge thank you to my good friend Tom, who knows the way to this girl's heart. I never was a big drinker, but in my old(er) age I've grown away from the girly sweet drinks and now really enjoy a good beer, good wine and good American whiskey. The only fru fru drink I really enjoy nowadays is a really good Manhattan. So anyway, spending a year in China not drinking anything (I think I had watered down beer a couple of times while out karaoking with friends, and a glass of red wine on two occasions)...this is a much appreciated housewarming gift.

Yesterday I woke up and craved pancakes, which is one of the only foods I had yet to eat since returning to the states. So I made some from scratch. Not from a box mix, but from scratch scratch extra scratch (don't think I've ever done that before). And I added a sprinkle of cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla extract, and holy cow they were good...

The only thing I truly miss from time to time from all my belongings that I left behind in Denver a year and a half ago is my big collection of poetry books. So I went to the library, got a card, and checked out a few. I've been reading the Spoon River Anthology this week, which is a book I had always heard about growing up here in the Spoon River Valley, but never took time to read.

The author grew up around here and wrote this really neat collection of poems that are spoken from real people (or characters based on real people he knew had lived in these parts) from their graves. It was such a uniquely creative idea for his time, and the poems have an air of brutal honesty about them, maybe because the voices of the dead can be completely honest. The poetry itself isn't mind-blowingly beautiful or anything, but the stories these voices tell seem a little more special because they are so specifically about a place that I am connected to. The poems are a bit pessimistic…or the voices of the speakers in the poems seem pessimistic. What's funny is that through the pessimistic tone, a subtle optimism emerges, like a hint of something lying just beneath the surface. Kind of like how we can sometimes infer something deeper by those things not said, precisely because they were not said. Things that lie in the contrast. Like reading between the lines.

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