The Freedom To Roam

When in Rome (or Beijing), do as the locals do.

I saw very few motorized tuk tuks when we lived in Beijing seven years ago.  Now, though, I see them everywhere around our little rural hamlet.  Locals and expats alike motor around at moderate speeds, from place to place, taking care of business.  At first, I didn’t see the value in owning one, but it didn’t me take long to realize that a tuk tuk would open up a new world around town for me and give Horatio more frequent access to our car, once we have access to it.  I borrowed one from a friend for a week or so, and quickly learned to love it.

So, yesterday, less than 6 weeks after our arrival, my friend took me out, and off the beaten path, to purchase my own sweet ride.  We went to an area less frequented by foreigners in order to ensure a more authentic experience (read: better price).  Of course, looking the way we do, we don’t expect to be treated like locals, but we can try.


This shop is less than 10 minutes, by car, 20 by tuk tuk, from our house.  They sell everything from fancy tuk tuks to bare bones bicycles.

I immediately spotted the vehicle I wanted, but was careful to not appear too eager.  I needed a tuk tuk that could fit the maximum number of passengers, which meant finding one with a driver’s seat and two facing back seats.  Each seat can hold two people, so theoretically, our whole family could venture out and about in it.  That scenario is highly unlikely, though, with two teens and a tween among us.

I walked through the store and then, in Mandarin, asked the cost of the vehicle I was eyeing.  The shop manager told me it was 3,200 rmb (about $480 USD).  I hemmed and hawed and said it was too expensive, and walked around a little longer.  I asked if they had any used vehicles; they didn’t.  I inevitably returned to the tuk tuk of my desire and asked for a lower price.  Having done my research, I figured I’d probably end up spending 3,000 rmb, but knew I had to start lower in order to get to that price.  I asked if I could pay 2,800 rmb.  He countered with 3,100.  I went up to 2,900 and he went down to 3,000.  A fair price; in cash, of course. The highest currency used in China is 100 rmb bills, so I handed over a stack of 30.

Before I knew it, the manager and another worker were installing a battery, pumping up the tires, cleaning it up and testing it for me.  For the price, I also got a floor mat, lock, charger, motor bike poncho and pump.


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Soon, I sped off, following my friend toward home.  The whole process took about an hour, door to door.

Dwight, Bob and Harold were extremely happy to take our sweet new ride to the bus this morning.  It’s only a bit more than 1/2 mile from our house, but it’s nice to have a bit more quiet time at home before school.  It would have been nice to have had the vehicle on Tuesday, when I had to take Dwight to the doctor, about a mile away, to tend to his broken finger (rugby), but better late than never.

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We are free to roam now, and wouldn’t you know it?  The government released our car to us today!  Sweet Freedom.

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GREATER, The True Story of Brandon Burlsworth. Walmart Gift card Giveaway

Greater_Poster (2)

GREATER is an inspirational movie based on the life of Brandon Burlsworth. Brandon had one dream – to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Unfortunately, Brandon was a clumsy player who lacked the physical prowess to make the team.  He was written off by coaches and teased by his fellow teammates.  Undeterred, Brandon continued to show-up for practice.  He woke up before anyone else and worked harder than anyone else, until his determination paid off.  Not only was he given an opportunity to walk-on and play football – he became one of the greatest players on the field, and was drafted to the Indianapolis Colts.

The film opens in theaters this August 26 and Brandon’s story reminds me that any dream is possible.

The film made me think of my own personal goals and dreams, and those of my loved ones.  GREATER reminded me that sometimes, the accomplishments that we have to work hardest for are the ones we most appreciate.  Not everyone who works hard will achieve the dream they have in mind, but remembering that anything is possible makes it so we all keep trying.

I teach my kids that, whether we like it or not,  failure is a necessary stepping stone to building our dreams.  I teach them by showing them in the way I live.  They see me getting out in our new host country, speaking the language, haltingly at first, then gaining confidence and skill.  They saw me go from walking on a treadmill, to running a 5k, and running nearly every day.  Big or small, our dreams have merit.  If we fail 100 times along the way, we are just figuring out the best way to realize them, and along the way, we can marvelously touch the lives of countless numbers of people.

Toward the end of GREATER, Brandon says, “It’s the first time in my life that something has come so easy.”  His coach responds, saying that the moment was easy but it was years of hard work that led to that moment.  “You are living proof that when you do the right things, good stuff happens.”

GREATER is a touching true story.  Don’t miss it.

Watch the Trailer:

Leave a comment on this post answering the question, What goals have you worked hard for, through setbacks, and what advice would you offer to someone who is struggling now?  If I select your entry, you will win a $25 Walmart Gift Card!


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Making a House a Home

My first goal, upon moving into a new house, is to make it feel like home to our family.  Typically, the houses, provided to us by the government, are pretty generic, so I like to make changes to personalize them.

Of course, as soon as our shipment arrives, I put up our personal artwork and photos, I toss around our throw pillows, and put out our knickknacks, but it’s more than that.  I, personally, don’t want to live in a place that looks drab, and lived-in, by someone else, so I like to change things up a bit.  I can upgrade little things, even in the kitchen and bathrooms, to make the houses more appealing.  I don’t mind spending a little money to make our abode shine a bit, and I don’t have to spend much to do it.

I visit home improvement websites to find fixtures and accessories to make our place look better and feel more comfortable.

Let’s face it, we all spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so upgrading fixtures to improve its appeal is definitely worth the effort and a bit of money.  My kitchen sink faucet leaves a lot to be desired.  It’s really plain and dull, so it’s the first thing I want replace.  I don’t have time to wander around our new city, looking for kitchen and bath fixtures, so I shop online and then get someone to install them for me.


Won’t this look better?



Another simple thing I like to change, in every house we move into, is all of the toilet seats.  After all, it really is a simple way to freshen up the place and make it feel like ours.

Relocating constantly can make for an unsettling lifestyle, but working a bit to improve the look and feel and functionality of our houses is worth the energy.  As I walk through my house for the next three years, if I’ve made personal changes, I can really feel like it’s mine.

This post was sponsored by PlumbTile

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Courage is not living without fear, courage is acting, despite the fear.

As a military spouse, I have had to appear to be #LivingFearless more than I ever imagined I would.  I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding the fear and pushing through it with courage.

From childhood to adulthood, I studied, at various times, several different languages: Hebrew, Spanish, Russian and Mandarin Chinese.  From the start, though, I feared speaking with native speakers.  I lacked confidence in my skills.  I feared that if I tried to use my limited language, the person to whom I was speaking would assume I knew more than I did, and would start speaking more, and I’d get lost. I let that trepidation keep me from venturing out and experiencing new things.  When Horatio accepted his first assignment in Beijing, China, in 2004, I realized I’d have to change.  We spent two years in Washington DC before arriving at the embassy in Beijing, in 2006.  I studied Mandarin once a week, with a tutor, for about a year and came away with some basic knowledge of survival, and cocktail party, language skills.


We landed in China and I knew, right away, that I’d have to vanquish my fear, or never leave my house.  Actually, I  couldn’t even count on the safety of my house to shield me from having to use Mandarin, because our household helper (ayi) did not speak much English.  So, after the initial shock and awe of planting my feet and settling my young family in an extremely foreign land, I hit the ground running (the trauma of the move lasted about three months).  I ventured out any chance I got and forced myself to speak the language, to the best of my ability.

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I discovered I was right.  When I spoke Chinese, the locals spoke back to me, assuming I understood much more than I actually did.  But, I was also wrong;  this phenomenon didn’t hinder my progress, it actually worked to my advantage.  For one thing, in a society where the person with the upper hand wins, every time, showing confidence in the language is half the battle; and two, by forcing myself to interact with vendors, security guards and other locals, I broadened my vocabulary and quickly improved my language skills, and was therefore able to adventure out more.


Now, 10 years after we first moved to China, we are back and I am back at it.  I speak Chinese every day.  We’ve only been here for two weeks and I’m out and about most days.  I shop, explore and figure things out along the way.  Our household helper (ayi) speaks even less English than the one who worked for us last time did, and I actually find that I don’t mind having to speak to her in Mandarin.  When my vocabulary stores fail me, I resort to google translate and learn more new words.  I find the courage to push out of my comfort zone, and am usually happy I did.  #LivingFearless isn’t as hard as you’d think, and it’s absolutely worth the effort!


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Honeymoon Phase and Perspective

When our family arrived in Beijing, 2 weeks ago, and drove to our new home, it felt mostly familiar and only a little new.  That feeling continued when we walked over to the shopping center for dinner that evening.  After living up on the mountain, in Taipei, where choices were basically non-existent, we were all very excited to have so many dining and shopping options so close to home.  The most exciting part of our first evening back in our old neighborhood was Bob discovering that the international grocery store, just a mile from our house, sells Hot Pockets.  He was overjoyed!  They aren’t cheap, but comforts from home are priceless.

As is typical here, the problems with our house have persisted.  Every day has brought another phone call or email request to have something fixed.  Two nights ago, our water dispenser quit working.  Having a water dispenser might sound like a luxury, and not a big deal if it’s out of service, but we cannot drink the tap water here.  It contains Lead.  So, we were all a bit concerned about the thought of not having drinking water.  The next morning, Zack, Dwight and I worked out at the neighborhood gym and filled our water bottles there.  After an email to a new friend, who happens to work at the embassy, a new machine was delivered that afternoon.  It was a huge relief to have renewed access to drinking water.

On Tuesday, I had a great day with a new friend.  Leslie picked me up in her tuk tuk and we went to a local market.  Our intention was to buy some cleaning products and a few groceries and then head home.  What played out, though, was much better.

Dwight driving the borrowed tuk tuk.

Dwight driving the borrowed tuk tuk.

We found the cleaning products in a shop among a row of identical shops.  A cultural characteristic, here, is that shops selling specific categories of products are all grouped together.  So, we walked through the narrow streets of: household products, curtains, and small electronics; each with its own block.  Then, we came upon an opening to a larger building and pushed in to find it was a wet market.  There were rows and rows of fruit and nuts, and the prices were significantly better than at the market near our house.  Using our survival Chinese language skills, we bought dried kiwi and dates, as well as peaches, grapes and apples.  When Leslie was trying to ask which type of apple would be sweet and crisp, a local man spoke up, in English, offering to help.  He translated for us and then said he wanted to help us find other things we were looking for, around the market.  We expressed our sincere gratitude and he said he likes to help because he’s a Christian.  Leslie and I smiled as we replied to tell him we are Jewish and we like to help, too.


We ended up spending about 2 hours with the man who, we learned, goes by the English name, Eric.  He helped us find fresh tofu and chicken and an entire building filled with vegetables and spices.  We will definitely return to these markets for our produce needs.  Leslie, (whose blog you can find here) suggested we take Eric to lunch, so we did.  He guided us to a tiny shop where we sat at a low table, on stools, and ate meals of vegetables, tofu, and noodles (or rice), and the total cost was 23 RMB, which is about $3.50 USD, for the three of us!

street food

After lunch and an exchange of contact information, we parted ways and headed for home, braving traffic in the tuk tuk.  It was a great day; one that reminded me of what I loved about living in Beijing.  I know there will be some good days, and some not so good days, as we continue to settle into our new normal here, it’s to be expected.  I’m moving on to the Culture Shock stage of remembering to keep things in perspective.

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Culture Shock- Revisited

People typically go through four clear steps of cultural adjustment when relocating to a new country.

The first step is known as the Honeymoon Phase and can be described as:

—Initial Delight and Exhilaration

A new arrival can expect to be intrigued by all of the sights and sounds, and all sorts of new sensory input, of their new home.  It can be fun to visit cultural sites, and experience the location, as a tourist would, with superficial experiences.  A newcomer might find amusement in similarities and differences to his/her former home, and be motivated to learn and integrate into the new environment.  During this phase, many people feel immune to the negative effects of culture shock.


We’ve been in Beijing for 10 days and I progressed very quickly through the honeymoon phase.  Upon arrival, I was excited to see how things had changed, as well as, remained the same.  The international area in which we live is home to people from all over the world and it is easy to find familiar restaurants and products, though the costs can be prohibitive.  The number of convenient establishments off all sorts has more than doubled, our new home is beautiful and we are settling in; but I quickly moved on to Stage 2 of adjustment.



The Second Step is known as:  “Culture Shock” and can be described as:

—Exasperation and Loathing.

Perhaps my experience is due to the fact that we are not entirely new to Beijing.  We lived here from 2006-2009.  (You can read about our adventures here.) I already know the positives and negatives of living here and for now, I see mostly the negatives.  Going straight from our previous post to our new post means we missed our respite in our true home.  I did not expect to miss it as much as I do.

The novelty of living a new place has worn off, and the differences between what we are comfortable with, and what we are living with, are becoming increasingly more clear.  Small difficulties feel like catastrophes and they are numerous.  So far: we’ve had a power outage, poor circuitry in the outlets of the bedrooms, spotty wifi, a flood in the kitchen- caused by taking showers on the second floor, a broken washing machine, numerous cases of missed translation, and Westley the 3 Legged Wonderdog has escaped twice!  In a country so foreign to Americans, small hiccups can feel enormous and insurmountable.  The language difference, alone, is cause for numerous blood pressure raising moments every day.

Lucky for me, I know that these phases are just that: phases, and are, by definition, temporary.  I know that this stressful period will pass- hopefully sooner than later.  I remember that I loved many things about living here last time and look forward to getting back to that feeling of comfort.  I’m already venturing out of my comfort zone and making new friends, and am happy to be back

I’m eagerly awaiting the time when I reach Stage 3: Gradual Adaptation, Amusement, and the All Important- Perspective.  I’ll be sure to write about it when I get there.

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Season 2 Premiere: Born This Way– Don’t Miss It **Target Card Giveaway

I’ve met some inspirational people over the years.  As an autism parent, I’ve seen friends and family members with disabilities overcome great obstacles, and now, A&E Television has a show about men and women triumphing in life, despite the fact that they were born with Down Syndrome.


BORN THIS WAY chronicles the lives of a group of young adults born with Down syndrome as they pursue their passions while defying society’s expectations. The series also follows their parents who share their own journey of joy, sacrifice, and unconditional love.

Season 2 premieres tomorrow, Tuesday, July 26, and you can stream season 1 now.

The show is truly inspirational and will draw you in from the first clip.  You’ll be introduced to men and women who are living lives you’d probably not have imagined possible.

Meet Rachel, for instance.  She’s 32 years old and she holds a job and, despite living with her parents, she lives a very independent life and hopes to live on her own one day.

Watch the clips and then enter my Target Card giveaway by telling me, in the comments, who, in your life, inspires you.  You can get a second entry by “liking” the post on Facebook, using the button below. I will choose a random winner one week after the Season 2 Premiere of BORN THIS WAY.


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4 Tips to Stay Connected Through Deployment

Guest Post and Photos From United Through Reading


At United Through Reading, we work with military families who are doing their best to tough their way through deployments, annual training periods, or mobilizations — whatever pulls their service members away from home for a while. They are checking off days on the calendar and counting down the days until their loved ones are with them again. They know that for their service members it’s important to focus on routines and to stay a part of family daily life, as much as possible, while they are away. Here are a few tips on how to keep your military spouse connected with family at home.



  1. Leave a keepsake at home
    Before your service member leaves home, have them pick a few special articles of clothing, a favorite book, movie, or CD, for the entire family to hold onto while they are away. Reading their favorite book or listening to their favorite song while holding on to that favorite sweatshirt will help the kids feel like they have an important piece of mom or dad at home; that can help the distance seem a little less far, for them and for you.
  2. Share calendars
    Your spouse is away, but that doesn’t’ mean they have miss out on soccer games, piano practices and important test days. Help them keep tabs on the family calendar, and stay a part of the routine from far away so they can check in on all that’s going on while you’re apart. Likewise, when family at home is as aware of the service member’s day-to-day schedule (as much as OPSEC will allow), you will stay more in sync and involved in each other’s lives, even while you are separated.
  3. Stay United Through Reading
    United Through Reading offers service members who are away for their families for deployed, trainings or other assignments the opportunity to be video-recorded reading children’s books to kids at home. By taking advantage of the service United Through Reading provides, families can keep up bedtime story routines even while mom or dad (or an aunt, uncle, or sibling) is away. The program gives family and kids at home the privilege of seeing the service member and hearing his/her voice whenever they are needed the most. Learn more about United Through Reading by watching this video ― and then visit org to get started and record a story for your family! Though it is not available yet, UTR recently announced plans to develop a mobile app which will allow military parents pre-record books, or read together over life video chat with the book on each user’s screen. Learn more about the coming UTR app here.
  4. Encourage your family to keep up the family traditions
    If Sunday night’s game night at home, and now a member of the family is deployed, don’t quit! Keep it up. Creating a sense of routine and normalcy for kids who are without one parent for a the length of a deployment, will help to reassure them that everything is okay, and that their parent who is away is safe and sound, and will be home before they know it to rejoin them for game night. Keep up the tradition and encourage your deployed spouse, or family member, to call home and ask who won last night’s game night!

Guest Post By Taylor Monaco
Director of Communications

United Through Reading

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On The Road Again- Moving tips

As a military family, we have moved homes 11 times, so many people assume, and feel free to comment, that we “get used to it.”

We don’t.

The 12th move might be easier in terms of the fact that we know what to expect, but it is not easier in any other way.  It’s just as hard to organize our belongings, just as hard to know what to get rid of/donate/throw away, and just as hard to separate the items into the different shipment categories.  It will also be just as difficult and overwhelming to unpack on the other end.

We are three weeks out from our departure to Beijing.  The movers will show up to work their magic in less than two weeks.  Coincidentally, Horatio will be out of the country for the 3 days of packing.  I’m certainly not the first, and definitely not the only, military (or other) spouse dealing with a pack-out/move on her own, but it’s as much of a formidable task as it sounds:

Two teams of movers for two shipments: one by air and one by sea; three days of packing; and I should probably mention that the movers will not speak English.  While my Mandarin is adequate, the language barrier definitely adds an element of challenge and angst to the process.


In the weeks leading up to the pack-out, there are many things to do to prepare.  Since we have two shipments, as well as about a dozen suitcases full of things we will hand carry, we will label everything to indicate how each item will get from point A to point B.  As the movers won’t speak or read English, the labels have to be creative and very clear.  I am opting for color-coded post-its: Yellow for the sea shipment, purple for the air shipment and orange for the hand-carry items.

Most of the furniture in our house is provided by the government, so it stays in the house.  Beds will have to be moved around on moving day, though, since we brought our own king sized mattress from the US, and it sits atop two government issued twin box springs and bed frames.  A queen bed will have to be moved from Bob’s room to Horatio’s and my room, and the twin beds will go into Bob’s room and Harold’s room.  Harold currently has bunk beds we shipped from the US, and they will get packed up, but the mattresses are government issued, so they stay.  This weekend, Horatio will dismantle the bunk beds and bundle all of the parts, segregating the hardware in a ziploc back, to ensure that all elements of the beds make it to the other side.  It’s a task he undertakes with each move and it’s worth the effort.

We must inventory every item in the house so that we can account for everything on the other end.  Since we are moving from one country to another, we have to consider customs issues.  As the movers carry the boxes from the house, they will place each one on a scale and note the weight.  We have a strict weight limit and will be financially responsible for each pound our shipment is overweight.


Here are the key tips I can offer after my years of experience:

  1. Hand carry anything that you want to have immediately upon arrival at your new home.  For us, a set of sheets for each bed is a comfort for which I’m happy to sacrifice suitcase space.  Also, the boys each carry a video game console and a laptop in their carry-on baggage.  Other items we take on the plane are:
    • Essentials for the dog
    • Swimming gear and toys
    • Medical Records
    • School Records
    • Medication
    • Thermometer
    • Family Calendar
    • Umbrellas
    • Lots of clothes
  2. Air Shipment Items
    • Remaining Bed Linens
    • Towels
    • Bathmats
    • Laundry baskets
    • Laundry hamper
    • Computers
    • TV (if small enough, since the air shipment has strict size restrictions)
    • Favorite items for the kids
  3. Sea Shipment Organization
    • Organize by room
    • Put like items with like items
    • Supervise to be sure fragile items are well packed
    • All small parts should be put in ziploc bags before the movers arrive

Most important…  If you don’t want the movers to pack something, isolate it in an area the movers won’t encounter.  Seriously.  I’ve heard stories of many odd items that have accidentally gotten packed:  trash, mouth retainers, a sandwich, a book someone was reading, and worst of all…. PASSPORTS!

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