The Nine Becomes a Zero

Birthdays, especially decade-commencing ones, lend themselves to a bit of introspection. Popular culture tells us that rolling over from an age ending in a 9 to one ending in a 0 is a traumatic experience, and we can’t totally discount the wisdom of popular culture, after all, it is “popular.” Popular culture has brought us musical gems as “Baby Shark” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” It has graced us with cinematic marvels like Sharknado and Aquaman. Popular culture has also brought us the abomination that is the Kardashian empire. I realize that it’s quite possible that none of this is making my case that we must follow the dictates of “popular culture.” Regardless, it exists and it tells me I should fall apart with abandon this week. On a positive side, people’s current obsession with the KonMari method is a bright light in popular culture. While I am not on that bandwagon- moving every two years keeps my things at a naturally more minimalistic state and I cannot abide by the idea that I should have fewer books- it does seem like a good overall life-view. Blame it on pop culture or not, major birthdays do summon a bit of nostalgia and contemplation.

It hasn’t been a major dwelling point (Venezuela-living has put enough other things on my plate this last month), but there was no avoiding that the 9 was rolling over to a 0. I could easily get bogged down in the negatives of another candle being added to the cake, but in reality, I’ve got very little to complain about. When I turned twenty, I was newly married and in the middle of working on an English degree at a well-respected university. I was happy, but definitely living month to month and paycheck to paycheck. (Those were the days that we had to check the bank balance to see if we could splurge on a trip to Taco Bell and wandering the Super Target near our house counted as weekend entertainment.) My twenties expanded into wonderful years of teaching middle school English, a job I loved, and then a sabbatical from that passion to follow another, more budding one- travel. Two years of Peace Corps rounded out that decade- a period that forever changed the direction of my life. While teaching was still enjoyable, a bigger world was calling my name.

My thirties brought a whole lot of life changes. I went from being a home-owning middle school teacher in suburban Idaho to living a nomadic lifestyle interspersed with semi-regular periods of unemployment. When my husband joined the United States Foreign Service as a diplomat, I walked away from teaching (with original thoughts of returning, which for a whole variety of bureaucratic and personal reasons has not happened) and started a new life that means frequent moves, a revolving door of friendships, and a whole lot more adventures around the globe. Since I turned thirty, I’ve lived in Idaho, Washington D.C. (twice), Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur, and Caracas and visited countless (okay, not countless- I could count them up, but the list is probably only interesting to me) other cities on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve earned another graduate degree and my annual Christmas card list has addresses on it from six out of seven continents. (Antarctica is really a sticking point for me!)

If anything, my anxiety about turning forty is more about how much I will miss the incredibleness of my thirties and hoping that the next decade lives up to the last.

So, forties. I am just not riding the struggle bus on this one. (I’m not saying there is no twinge when I realize I should be a bit more diligent about the nightly face moisturizing routine or that those internet articles labeled “Hairstyles for yours 30s” and “Worst Fashion Faux Pas in Your 30s” no longer apply to me. Rather, I just am not losing sleep about being “old.” Forty is the new thirty, right? Right?) I recognize the significance of the change, but I’m excited to see where the next decade takes me. As we continue with the foreign service lifestyle, we can expect to live in three to four more cities in the next ten years. I have high hopes of doing something more with this blog, especially the book review part of it (somebody help me!) and I can’t wait to find a way to check that final continent off my travel list before 5-0 creeps up on my calendar. There is little to discourage me about this next 0-9 set of numbers. Maybe my random arthritises (not a word, I know, but I feel entitled to a bit of word-fabrication at that point in my life) will ache a bit more often (that’s what drugs are for!) and maybe it’s time to finally said adios to soda forever, but those are small prices to pay for what I can only expect to be bigger and better yet!

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
― William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

R & R and a Few More R’s

R & R.

Rest and relaxation. (It serves as a much-appreciated break from work and the daily stresses of living abroad.)

Recovery and rejuvenation. (It serves as a much-needed break for our lungs. For a few weeks while we were in Idaho, I didn’t taste the air once!)

Running errands and retail therapy. (I definitely did my share of shopping while I was home. Neon colored running shoes, a brightly colored purse, a rainbow of tops and a raspberry-colored skirt all squished in to my suitcase next to the new tri-barrel curling iron and hot curlers, to make the trip back to the Middle Kingdom.)

But, getting home from being Stateside for a few weeks requires a bit of readjustment.

Of course, there is the unavoidable jet lag. Our original journey was to be twenty-eight hours from wheels-up in Boise to touch-down in Chengdu. After a problem with the plane at LAX and a transfer to a different aircraft, we left Los Angeles over two hours late, which caused a chain of events that pushed our twenty-eight hour trip to closer to thirty-three hours. Wheels finally met tarmac in Chengdu at 2:30AM, meaning we finally fell into bed at 3:30. The good thing about that terrible arrival time was that for the first night, there was no need to fight the sleep. We dropped our suitcases at the door and were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows. Too few hours later, my eyes popped open and I was wide-awake. Granted, 8AM is a normal time to roll out of bed on a weekend, but not when it was pushing 4AM before sleep and I were reunited.

I had great plans to battle the tiredness, trying to avoid the lingering effects of cross-hemisphere travel. Needless to say, by noon, I had given up all attempts at starting my week off on a normal schedule. I considered putting more effort into the fight, but then decided one of the great thing about being a grown-up (other than getting to eat frosting straight from the tub without getting in trouble) is I make my own bedtime. If that means the blackout curtains get drawn at noon for a four hour nap, then so be it. A comatose nap I will take! Throughout the rest of that week, I slowly pushed bedtime (and as a consequence, waking time) back later and later. A week of Chengdu under my belt and I was back to a normal sleep pattern!

It wasn’t the jet lag that was the biggest adjustment coming back though. That one is expected. It was the milk. Yes, you read that right- the milk.

While I was home, I enjoyed a lovely bowl of Marshmallow Ladies each morning. (These are the generic Lucky Charms, officially branded as Marshmallow Maties, but my four-year old niece is convinced they are Ladies, so that is what we go with.) Each morning, after filling my bowl with cereal, I turned to the fridge which always housed several gallons of fresh, 1% milk. This was milk that required refrigeration. This was milk that went bad if left on the cupboard for months (or days, or hours.) This was milk that was a perfect companion to freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

This was not China-milk.

Over our first eight months in Chengdu, I had gotten used to the taste of boxed-milk. I have a case of it delivered to my house occasionally, which sits on my cupboard. I transfer small boxes of milk to my fridge as needed. This milk is sufficient for topping a bowl of cereal, especially if I drain the excess off the side of the spoon using the edge of the bowl as a guide.  It is not a respectable substitute to accompany freshly baked brownies. Needless to say, my taste buds had quickly reverted to their love of American milk upon arrival in the US and the conversion back to boxed milk has been a little rough.

Now, with my sleep schedule back to normal (normal is relative, as I am usually curled up in bed under a pile of blankets by 9PM, giving me a good hour or two of reading time before it’s lamps-out time)  and my taste buds realigning to the flavor of never-go-bad milk, I’ve hit the ground running on a variety of projects at work.

Settling in may be done, but it isn’t slated to be long-lasting. The suitcases may be recently stowed in the closet, but they won’t be collecting much more than a light coating of dust. In just two weeks, Thad and I are flying to the Maldives for some highly-anticipated sunshine and blue skies. I’m already planning THAT readjustment period to include soothing a sunburn and cleaning sand from the nooks and crannies of our baggage.  And if that’s “readjustment,” I’ll adjust, readjust and then adjust again!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

No, No! Happy Birthday to YOU, Dr. Seuss!

Many American kids grow up on a steady diet of Dr. Seuss’ rhymes, but when one of your parents is a second grade teacher and then an elementary school counselor, your personal food pyramid is particularly laden with green eggs and ham.

As Friday would have been Dr. Seuss’ 108th birthday, the man who encouraged kids everywhere to count “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” was on my mind. There was no way the day can go unmarked by my family each year. The celebrations are always concocted by my mother, with a bit of help from the girls and a healthy dose of groaning from the boys. Before her retirement from the Caldwell School District, Mom organized and pulled off a spectacular Dr. Seuss birthday party at Van Buren Elementary School each year. It was an evening event that included pulling in a variety of local policemen, firemen, politicians, community leaders, etc. to read to students and their families. On top of that, there were free books to be handed out to kids, there were treats galore and a festive atmosphere that made it impossible to not fall in love with reading! (There was also a fabulous Cat in the Hat costume, donned annually by my mother, which totally made the evening worth attending!)

After hanging up her red and white striped hat, Mom just couldn’t walk away from the wonders of Seuss and with a growing herd of grandkids, Dr. Seuss night was transferred from an official school duty to a grandparental one. It now consists of dinner at her house where invitees are encouraged to come in their pajamas. (Adults who wear less than appropriate pajamas are encouraged to come in comfy sweats. No birthday suits allowed at this birthday party.) After a dinner, not made of green eggs and ham, as there would be rebellion among the adult children, but rather potato salad (eggs included) and hamburgers (close enough!)  my talented cake-decorating sister-in-law always provides a Seuss themed confection to be enjoyed by all. Dr. Seuss night lives on in the McDaniel household.

Distance (just a country’s-worth at this point, but soon to be several continent’s-worth) makes attending this year’s Dr. Seuss birthday party an impossibility, but to commemorate the author who introduces so many kids not only to reading, but to creativity and lands of imagination, here are three of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

-This is my personal favorite! It not only encourages reading, but couples it with another of                      my favorite things-travel. The only thing that could make it better would be a shout-out to shoes or accessories!


“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The Lorax

-This one is for my older sister, a science teacher and Lorax lover. While it comes from a book that was before its time on environmental issues, the spirit of it can apply to anywhere a positive difference can be made.


“When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles
and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles…
…they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle
bottle paddle battle.”   
Fox in Socks

-Finally, my favorite lines from my all-time favorite Dr. Seuss book. I called eternal dibs on this one for Mom’s annual Dr. Seuss night at Van Buren!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.




Eleven Times Three

While the day is just now arriving, my birthday celebration officially began several weeks ago, on New Year’s Eve, when while home for Christmas break I had the chance to share the festivities with my older sister, Melyssa, and my niece, Audrey, both of whom have end of December birthdays. Being the “big kids” out of the bunch, Melyssa and I deferred to the desires of the sprite-like Audrey, whose wishes included a very pink, very princess birthday party.

In grand fashion, we enjoyed the house swathed in Pepto-pink.  (While I am a total pink girl myself, my tastes run in the direction of raspberry more than cotton candy.) From balloons bedazzled with Disney princesses to a sparkly, pink-pearl embossed cake, it was as if we had fallen into monochromatic land. Colors no longer existed, just shades.

As the big 3-3 has finally arrived (years that are multiples of eleven seem a bit more grand than the others),  in honor of it here are, in a totally random order,  thirty-three things I’ve learned over the last three and a third decades:

  1. There is no appropriate place on a resume to put elementary school perfect attendance awards, but I am sure that the lack of missed days contributed to future job offers is some way, shape or form.
  2.  Not only is it okay, but it is brilliant to buy that cute pair of shoes (or perfect fitting pants or adorable top or cute necklace) in every color offered.
  3. Studying abroad in the Caribbean is definitely a good choice when the options are either northern Utah or Dominican beach in January.  Learning experiences aside, snow-capped mountains always lose to white sandy seashore.
  4. Icy Hot and sunburns should not be mixed. (A small fact I picked up on during the sojourn mentioned in #3.)
  5. Sometimes checking the “no preference” box is the best option. That little box is what landed Thad and me in rural China with Peace Corps for two years and we couldn’t have chosen a better site on our own.
  6. Being a picky eater is fine, as long as you can justify why you don’t eat certain foods.  Reasonable explanations may include “too pointy” (usually in reference to the ends of bananas), “too knobby” (mostly used for chicken strips that are strangely bumpy) and “looks too much like a trashcan” (always for tater tots!).
  7. Just because you already own three copies of a single book does not mean you shouldn’t buy another one when you find it on clearance table for a dollar at a library sale.  You can either shelve it with its compatriots or give it away to someone in need of a great read. There is no such thing as too many books.
  8. 8th graders are the world’s most fascinating species. On one hand, they are still kids, willing to do nearly anything for a sticker, and then on the other hand, in the exact same moment, they are sending texts that would make a madam blush.  (Just don’t combine the two halves or you will face a whole different terrifying predicament!)
  9. Soda pop out of a fountain machine is always the best. I think it has to do with the straw. The fizzy drink hierarchy goes: fountain, bottle, can.
  10. My experience tells me that old people can get away with nearly anything. With little repercussion they can speak their minds (or what is left of them.) They act with near impunity. No one corrects the geezers.  As I inch closer to those grand days myself, I am taking this opportunity to wield the old-folks’ license and do what I want.  No one, myself included, wants to read a list of thirty-three anything, so…enough!

Age has brought wisdom. It may not be not conventional wisdom, and is definitely not street smarts, but an acumen all of its own. The princess party is nothing more than a memory and another year of wisdom has been added to my mental file cabinet. Thirty and three has arrived.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Are You Ready for Some Football?

The quickly creeping up end of October also means Thad’s birthday is just around the corner. Since he is slightly traumatized from his childhood days of birthday gifts wrapped in black and orange and filled with miniature candy bars, I figured I had better not get him anything with cute pumpkins or witches on it. I thought about adorable bat-covered goods, but decided a winged gift of another kind was more in order- tickets to the Eagles/Redskins game. Long a fan of the Philly team, this was the perfect opportunity for him to see them in person with just a jaunt up the blue line.

This was not Thad’s first Eagles game (he and Jeremy went to one in Seattle a few years ago, during which Shannon and I opted to partake of the downtown shopping opportunities instead), but it was mine. I have watched countless hours of pigskin frolicking on TV over the years, but this was my first live NFL experience.

The game itself was a success.  The Eagles had several interceptions and enough points to come out on top as the final seconds of the game ticked away. Although the game was at FedEx field, home of the Washington Redskins (how is this an appropriate mascot?!?), I was surprised by the large number of Eagles fans in attendance.  It was the makings of a massive flock to say the least! Our seats were in a section that was pretty even as far as red and green jerseys, so it seemed like every big play garnered both a standing ovation and a groan of despair.

Out of all the experiences at an NFL stadium, I was most astounded by the noise levels! When we watch football on TV, the announcers are always yammering on about the “12th Man” and its impact on the game. I guess I always assumed they were full of bologna and just liked to hear the sound of their own voices, but after sitting through it, I think they may actually know what they are talking about. The Redskins fans sitting directly in front of us were next to a column that had a metal grating around it.  The lovely man, whom I nicknamed “Kicky” for obvious reasons, took every possible opportunity to stand up and slam the heck out of that grate with his foot. That poor hunk of metal endured abuse when the defense needed to take a stand, when the offense made a fabulous play or just whenever Kicky felt some pent up rage. There was A LOT of that.

The only thing I can compare the stadium noise level to is an experience from a good many years back.  When I was in the sixth grade, like all tweens of the time (keeping in mind that this was before the term tween even existed), New Kids on the Block were just about the greatest things going.  I skated around the cement roller rink in Nampa innumerable times to catchy tunes like “Hanging Tough” and “The Right Stuff.” NKOTB posters covered the walls of the bedroom I shared with my older sister, Melyssa, and our cassette tape organizers always gave them top billing. The winter of that opening year of middle school, my Aunt Laurie decided to get my sister and I the most coveted gift for girls our age- tickets to the upcoming concert!  Not only did she get us tickets, but they were second row, floor seat tickets!!!  Melyssa and I couldn’t wait for the day of the concert to come and after an interminable wait, it arrived.  We were bundled off to the big city of Boise for our first live concert. After fending off the pleas of middle aged women wanting to buy our seats, we were there, front and center.  I remember little of the concert itself, but I do recall that the music was so loud that I could really only hear it by plugging my ears.  I think my little sixth grade self lost a bit of hearing that evening!  Although it probably wasn’t as bad as my memory recalls it, I remember the noise being excruciating.

New Kids on the Block and FedEx Field- more in common than one would imagine!

Game and noise level aside, there was one other thing that must be mentioned- the restrooms.  Like at most large events, there was always a line in the ladies’ bathroom.  The stadium had enough stalls though to keep things moving at a fairly decent clip.  The problem arose once the waiting was over.  The bathroom I went in had probably fifteen stalls in a row, but it quickly became clear that only maybe four of them were equipped with an all-important necessity- toilet paper!  At this point, the banter between red jerseys and green jerseys quickly stopped and a solution made everyone members of the same team.  A TP bucket brigade was formed!  The folks with paper in their stalls began tearing of sections and passing it under the stalls.  Each person passed it on until it reached the end, with another handful following it.  As the passing was happening, the women still in line figured out what was going on and took matters into their own hands as well. When I stepped out of my stall, having been both a participant and a beneficiary of the brigade, I noticed that all of the ladies in line had paper towels in hand.  (Paper towels are never a first choice, but there are worse options.) What an odd little happening in the middle of this crowded stadium…

Once the game came to an end, I gladly bid farewell to ol’ Kicky and silently wished him a sore foot in the morning.  We made our way back to the Metro and crammed in to a corner of a blue line train for the forty-five minute ride back to Crystal City.  Thad’s birthday gift ended up being a success- the Eagles came out with a win and he wasn’t inundated with orange and black covered knick-knacks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.