An Unlikely Champion – Target Giftcard Giveaway

Disney’s QUEEN OF KATWE is based on the inspiring true story of Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi. Phiona was a young girl living in the slums of Katwe, Uganda. One day, she stumbled upon Katende and a group of children playing chess in a makeshift church. Through the guidance of Katende and the game of chess, Phiona was encouraged to believe in herself. Eventually, she found herself not only competing in local chess matches, but winning in international competitions. Robert and Phiona’s story celebrates the notion that champions can come from the most unlikely places.

Champions are often hard to find, but I don’t have to look far for one in my life.  My cousin, Loren, is a champion for disadvantaged children.  When her life took a turn and she found herself single and teaching at an alternative school, she decided to become a foster parent.  She took the necessary classes and began to mentally prepare herself to take in a child who needed love.  Before she knew it, the State asked her to care for an 18 month old boy who needed to be removed from an unsafe setting.  Loren formally adopted J.B. as soon as she could and she was on the road to supermomdom.  Over the past 17 years, Loren has taken in, and adopted, 12 children, all of whom have overcome battles of their own (Read about one here).  Loren’s eldest child is 20 years old, and the youngest is still a baby.  She devotes all of her time to caring for these children and she does it with grace and patience.

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Loren and some of her children

When I begin to feel busy and overwhelmed in my life with four kids, I often think of Loren and wonder how she does it, day in and day out.  When I see her in action, as a strong, single mom of so many kids, who all know she adores them, I am in awe.  She is definitely a champion for her kids and a role model for moms everywhere.

In honor of the September 30, nationwide release of QUEEN OF KATWE, I have two $25 Target giftcards to give away.  I’m going to send one to Loren and you can enter to win the other one by commenting on this post.  Tell me about an unlikely champion in your life. You can earn a second entry by “Liking” Deployment Diatribes on Facebook and leaving a comment on the link to this post.

I will select a winner for the Target Giftcard on Wednesday, October 5.
 

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Get childish Glow in the dark stars – Product Review

Another way to make a house a home is to make the kids’ bedrooms more fun and welcoming.

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I received  Glow in the Dark Stars in the mail last week and put them up after my kids went to school one day. They were so surprised and happy when the lights went out that night, and the stars and planets glowed in the dark.

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The sticky putty made it super easy to put up the stars in any design I chose and because they came with a guide book, I was able to make legit constellations, which my science minded 3rd and 7th grader love! Because the kit comes with the sticky putty, the stars will be easy to remove when we move to a new house, so for a military family, they are perfect.  The putty doesn’t leave a mark when it is removed from the wall or ceiling.  I can tell they will provide enjoyment for the next years in this house, and the kids can rearrange them as they please, because the putty makes the process simple.

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#GetchildishGlowinthedarkstars

I received my Glow in the Dark Stars for free through Tomoson Promotions in exchange for my honest review.

 

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On the Road- For Real

I drove to the US Embassy today.  Young Harold needed his final rabies vaccine, so I had to take him to the embassy health unit.  That might not sound like much to write about, but for a foreigner like me, driving in the center of Beijing is more than a little intimidating.  Even though we lived here for before, for three years, I have never driven downtown.  In fact, I was so intimidated by the crazy driving in Beijing, I hired a driver from 2006-09.  Now, though, the cost of a diver is prohibitively higher, and today I found myself on the road with 1000s of other drivers, making my way through the crazy roads and busy expressway.  I borrowed a friend’s GPS, so I felt less than completely panicked about finding the embassy itself.  I remained pretty worried about finding the right entrance, and getting into the well guarded gates, though.

Thanks to the GPS, and guidance from Horatio and several friends, I made it with barely a bump along the way.

Before I left our house, I told Xiao Lu that I was a bit scared because it was my first time driving the car to the embassy.  She reassured me, told me to not be nervous (at least that’s what I think she said,) and implored me to go “slow.”  She said it in Mandarin AND English.  The only other word I ever heard her say in English is the command, “sit,” to Westley, the Three Legged Wonder Dog.  So, I figured it must be important advice.  She was right.  By driving slowly, I could watch my surroundings and drive defensively against all the chaos around me.

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I feel as if I’ve conquered another fear, and while I remain cautious, I’m ready to get out there again and get myself wherever I need to go.  I just hope I don’t ever get stuck in one of the infamous Chinese traffic jams like this one:

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Life Hacks, Adapting to the New Normal

We received our air shipment last week, finally.  Our household was packed up in Taipei July 5 and 6.  We had two shipments:  one went by air and the other by sea.  Neither should have taken very long to reach us, and we were told we’d have our air shipment in about a week.  We arrived in Beijing on July 14.  The air shipment took about 6 weeks to reach us.  I learned that this was because the person, who was responsible for forwarding the shipments after pack-out back at the origin, forgot to expedite the shipments.  That’s right.  She forgot.  We only learned of this error several weeks after our arrival because Horatio was so busy from the day after we arrived, he hadn’t had a chance to check on the status our shipments.  Of course, he really didn’t think he’d have to check up on them; after all, it’s one person’s sole job to forward shipments.

We’ve been living with only the items we brought with us in our suitcases, in addition to the hospitality kit that the embassy provides.  The house is pretty bare.

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Wednesday morning, the truck arrived with our seven air freight boxes.

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Arrival of the air shipment is one of the best parts of the overseas moving process.  It’s a small, manageable, shipment, and of course we always forget what some of the contents are, so it’s like opening birthday presents; lots of surprises.  Our air freight consisted primarily of kitchen items, linens and video games.  It might not sound like much, but it’s definitely enough to make life a little easier.

Unpacking took very little time because the shipping company opens and empties each box and our helper/ayi helped me put everything away.

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Of course, it is this point when I realize the mistakes I made in planning the two separate shipments.  It hits me what would have been more useful to have sooner than later.  For instance, our ayi made dumplings/jaozi on the night of our delivery and if we’d had the wok in the air shipment, she would have been able to work much faster.  Instead, she had to use a medium size frying pan.  Also, on Thursday, she made jian bing, a traditional Chinese street food.  It’s sort of a savory pancake with meat or vegetables inside, and it’s delicious.  However, a rolling pin is necessary for rolling out the dough, and I did not anticipate needing/wanting the rolling pin so soon and did not put it in our air shipment.  Xiao Lu, our ayi/helper, had made the dough before it occurred to either of us that we might not have the rolling pin.  Fear not, this military spouse, mom, expat can figure out how to overcome most any obstacle, so this was no real trial.  I remembered a life hack I’d seen on the internet.  I grabbed a wine bottle and told Xiao Lu to use it to roll out the dough.  She balked at first, but then asked simply that I give her an empty bottle, rather than a full one.  So, I took one from the fridge, emptied its remaining contents into a hospitality kit mug, and she got to work.

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She’s a great cook and is quick to improvise when necessary.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the jian bing.  Now we just wait for the sea shipment, which has arrived in a port in China but will take several weeks to reach us.

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jian bing filled with carrots, egg and a green vegetable.

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Dwight, eating at the kitchen counter. Too delicious to take the time to go to the table to sit. Also in the photo are our newly delivered toaster oven and Keurig coffee maker from the air shipment, plugged into the transformer, which allows us to use our 110 electronics in a 220 country.

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Harold, enjoying the jian bing. Behind him you can see the refrigerator photos and magnets. I included them in the air shipment because they help make our house a home.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Won’t this look better?

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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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#LivingFearless

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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