A Fish Out Of Water

In early September, Horatio, Harold and I ventured to the nearby Bei Dong outdoor goods Market, where we bought some house plants and took the plunge to buy a saltwater fish tank. I’ve always coveted reef tanks, and as they are more affordable here, than in the US, we seized the opportunity to fulfill my small dream. Before we made the purchase, we asked several vendors, multiple ways, if keeping saltwater fish is difficult and were told, “no,” by each one. Of course the conversations were in Chinese, so some aspects might have gotten lost.  As this is China, we were able to arrange for the shop keeper to come to our house to assemble and set up the aquarium for us two days later.

Placing the rocks and coral.

Placing the rocks and coral.

Adding Water

Adding Water

Of course, each and every one of the sea life vendors misled us. Keeping a saltwater tank up and running is challenging, but it is worth the effort– if the fish live through the learning process.  In addition to regular feedings, maintenance requires adding water every few days in order to maintain the correct salinity level, as well as cleaning the protein separator every other day so that the tank remains clean.  One also must add liquid coral food to the water every three weeks, and turn off the protein separator for four days immediately following the coral feedings.

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We had some fish deaths, early on, but got through that phase and the tank thrived. I began to research reef life and decided to get a starfish, both for its beauty, as well as its ability to help to maintain the health of the aquarium.


When I went to see my “fish guy,” he told me that I should get a heater for the water, as the outside temperature in Beijing is steadily dropping. I asked him to come back to my house to set up the heater and to check the salinity levels of the water. Two days later, he came back to my house and did just that.  He explained to our helpful ayi, Xiao Lü and to me, what he was doing and why, and she translated, into more simple Chinese, the fish care lingo for me.  It was a scene to behold: two people speaking to me in Chinese, one trying to translate, for me, what the other was saying, but in the same, foreign, language.

In the process of checking the tank and adding salt, unbeknownst to me, the fish guy slightly unplugged the oxygenator. Slightly, though, is the same as completely, when it comes to plugs, and for about 18 hours, the water was not being circulated. By morning, two of the remaining fish had died and by the next day, our hardy clown fish had also died. All that remained is the starfish and the large coral.


I sent a message to my fish guy and told him what happened. At first, he denied having unplugged the essential piece of equipment. I turned my phone over to Xiao Lü, though, and had her explain, in detail, the accidental unplugging. She was very stern in her wording.  She was as upset as I was about the fish deaths.  Eventually, he accepted responsibility. I took some accountability, since I didn’t notice the mistake, and had Xiao Lü tell the fish guy that I want four new fish and will pay for just two. He agreed to the deal. (Horatio is pretty sure I’ll just end up paying double for the two fish I pay for, but, ever the optimist, I don’t think that will happen.)

Now, I am awaiting arrival of new fish. I’ve given the tank more than two weeks to adjust to the new temperature and salinity and am hopeful that I can get the habitat up and running again so we can enjoy its beauty.

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IGNITE Opportunities For Military Connected Women

Women Vet/Milspo Entrepreneurship Will IGNITE this November 18th in Savannah
Learn, Network & Meet These Successful Women Veteran Entrepreneurs!
By Sarah O’Connell


Kristina Guerrero could hear her heart pumping as the doors opened to the Shark Tank conference room on ABC’s popular TV show “Shark Tank.” The show’s five sharks, all well-known and accomplished entrepreneurs and business leaders, waited to critique her business. Kristina was nervous, but was ready to pitch her startup venture, TurboPUP – which makes complete K9 Meal Bars – on national TV. Luckily, her time flying C-130 TurboPROPS in the Air Force prepared her to stay calm under pressure and believe in herself. Also, she had attended the Institute for Veterans and Military Families’ (IVMF) Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) program in 2012, where a conference speaker taught her the most essential skill for Shark Tank – how to pitch. After making a deal on the show with Shark Daymond John, Kristina was able to grow and showcase her business to a national audience. To this day, however, if you ask Kristina how pitching to Shark Tank felt, she will respond with one simple word: “terrifying!”

  1. What do you think was most important when growing TurboPUP into what it is today?
  2. Taking it one step at a time. In the Air Force we used to say ‘Flexibility is the key to air power.’ I think it’s that way with entrepreneurship.” –Kristina ignitephoto1_turbopup

Two years after Kristina attended V-WISE in 2012, a US Navy veteran with a “standard of excellence” attended V-WISE New York City 2014. Connie Gorum is the CEO of the CL Russell Group, a learning and development consulting company that partners with organizations to help them achieve high performance. “I knew working as an employee would only limit my creative abilities and growth potential,” says Connie when asked why she wanted to start her own business. She admits being an entrepreneur is not always easy, but that she enjoys inspiring others in the women veteran and veteran community.

  1. What is your favorite part about being an entrepreneur?
  2. “The freedom to explore new possibilities, inspiring others, and know my only limitations in life are the ones I set for myself” –Connie

“Entrepreneur” is only one way to describe Kaylenne (Kay) Brown. She is also an activist, health enthusiast, vegan chef, personal trainer, hip hoppa, choreographer, and USMC veteran. Her business, Sweat N Swag Fitness, a transformation coaching business, offers fitness training and nutrition coaching that helps clients get their “swag” back. Prior to owning her own venture, Kay spent over twelve years in the Marine Corps learning how to perfect her organization and leadership skills while working with various personality types. After learning how to market her business at V-WISE New Orleans in 2015, Kay won the MSNBC “Grow Your Value/Know Your Value” competition where she received $10,000 to build her business and brand.

  1. What does the “Grow Your Value/Know Your Value” competition mean to you?

A.” It was a life changing experience. I really honed in on what my value was a woman and entrepreneur. This experience from the program really catapulted my business.” –Kay

In just a few weeks on November 18th, 100 more women veterans, active duty service women, and military spouses/partners will get the tools to create their own success stories as they explore the opportunity of small business ownership during IGNITE, presented by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University and Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE).

Over the course of this day-long entrepreneurship training event, participants will be exposed to a robust team of nationally acclaimed speakers, expert instructors, and military friendly business resource providers. During an exciting day of learning, networking and growing, program participants will get the once in a lifetime opportunity to sit down for a Fireside Chat with Kristina, Kay and Connie – three fellow women veterans who have found success as entrepreneurs.

Now leaders in their chosen fields Kristina, Kay, and Connie all started out with just an idea and a strong desire to achieve their goals. While all three women experienced their journey to business ownership in different ways, they can all agree on one thing: they could not be more excited to inspire and be inspired at IGNITE.

WHAT: IGNITE – Aspiring Women Veteran and Military Spouse Entrepreneurs, presented by IVMF and V-WISE

WHEN: Friday, November 18th, 2016, 8:00 AM-6:30 PM

WHERE: The Hyatt Regency Savannah – 2 W Bay St., Savannah, GA 31401

REGISTRATION SITE: https://vwiseignitesavannah.eventbrite.com/ (Use code BLOGPOST for $10 off registration fee!)

EVENT WESBITE: https://sites.google.com/site/ignitebyvwise/


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All In A Day’s Work in the Expat World

Last night, before bedtime, I realized I’d be at the school all day the next day and had to plan for dinner.  In this odd life, that has a different meaning than it did when I was teaching back in the US.  Two plus years ago, I’d put something in the crock pot or plan something simple or get take out.  In this diplomat life abroad, though, I am fortunate that we can afford to have household help.  So, all I have to do, usually, in this situation, is decide what we want to have for dinner and our ayi, Xiao Lü, will have it ready by the time she leaves our house at 5:30.

The boys are tired of chicken, pasta doesn’t keep well, and we really don’t trust any other meat here in China, as we are unsure of its safety.  So, after thinking about it and talking with Horatio and the boys, we decided on my beloved friend, Martha’s, Cuban bean recipe.  We all love it, but it’s a bit of a procedure to make it, so I knew it would take some effort to prepare the kitchen and explain the process to Xiao Lü.

The first thing I did was edit the recipe to increase the chances of accuracy when I copied into google translate.  After I translated the recipe, I printed it out in English and Chinese.  She does not speak or read English, but since I cannot check the Chinese translation for exact accuracy, providing the English copy allows the opportunity for her, if she has any questions, to can take it to our clubhouse to ask for help from one of the bilingual reception workers there.

I set out the recipe on the kitchen counter, with the spices and the correct measuring spoons.


Next, I took out the food processor and plugged it into the transformer.  China uses 220  power, while the US uses 110.  Plugging the American appliance into the wall here would fry the expensive piece of equipment.  I figure it’s better to be especially prepared, and safe, than sorry.

Then, since I’ve never shown Xiao Lü how to use the food processor, I took a video of the process and sent it to her on We Chat, (the texting app EVERYONE here uses.)  I also sent her the recipe and shopping list, so that she could go to the market on her way to my house in the morning.  We Chat has a translation function, so I can type in English and she can translate on her end.  I can do the same when she responds to me in Chinese.  I always word my texts to her very carefully, in hopes that the translation will be clear.  I never really know, though.


Something is often lost in the translation, but the gist is clear.

I’ve done everything I can to ensure that the process is smooth.  I never really know what to expect, though, and I’m generally not surprised when things don’t go according to plan.  I hope for the best, but prepare for less than that, to minimize the disappointment.

This evening, hopefully, I will arrive home from school to the aroma of Cuban Black Beans, and we can sit down to family dinner together and enjoy the meal.

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Help Other Military Families and Earn Amazon Gift Cards

I want to share the news about the great support website for military families:  MilitaryTownAdvisor.com.  The site has been redesigned to really help families like ours, and you can earn Amazon gift cards by adding your own information to the site!

The aim of MilitaryTownAdvisor.com is to help military families BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER a PCS.

  • Before you get orders, research where to live by reading neighborhood reviews, school ratings, and military housing reviews.
  • During the PCS, find and contact a Military Friendly RELTOR and search for homes.
  • After you PCS, find new restaurants, fun things to do and great local businesses, that would otherwise take months, if not years, to discover.

Not only can you use the site to get helpful information during a move, but you can earn Amazon Gift Cards by helping others!

Whether you live in Kentucky or Korea, Georgia or Germany, there are military families who want the information you have, so take a few minutes to post a review and start earning points!

This is how it works:

Write a review and earn points. Once you earn enough points, you earn an Amazon gift card. You can spend that gift card however you would like!

How to earn points:

  • Neighborhood Review is worth 3 points
  • Apartment Review is worth 3 points
  • Condo/Townhome Review is worth 3 points
  • Area of Town Review is worth 3 points
  • Military Housing Review is worth 3 points
  • School Review is worth 1 point
  • Local Business Review is worth 1 point
  • Thing To Do Review is worth 1 point

How to earn Amazon gift cards:

  • 25 points = $10 Amazon gift card
  • 30 points = $15 Amazon gift card
  • 40 points = $25 Amazon gift card
  • 60 points = $50 Amazon gift card
Don’t wait!  There are families settling in to new military towns right now, and they need your help.
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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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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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