In Search of the End of the Sidewalk: The Best of 2014

It is that time of year, where all bloggers worth their salt come out with their year-end roundup lists and since this blogger likes sodium chloride as much as the next writer, I’ll continue the tradition here at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. (This is the 4th edition. You can click here to see reviews for 2011, 2012 and 2013.)

So, without further ado, here is the best of everything 2014! (“Everything” might be a bit ambitious with just a single full day left on the calendar…)

Best Books of 2014

Thanks to my trusty GoodReads account I was able to quickly go over my literature intake since January 1. If my count is right (remember folks, I’m working on a degree in literature these days, none of that fancy math nonsense for me!), this year my total book count is a whopping 153!! Keep in mind, several factors play into that overwhelming large number, including the fact that I have been unemployed for the last seven months and I’m working on a literature degree, which means not only am I reading for fun, I’m also reading for class. Oh, the books! The books! (Although, I must be doing something wrong when I add books to my “read” shelf. GoodReads had a cool link to show your books for the year, but when I clicked it, it showed I had read a mere two books this year. I read that many in a week sometimes! Anyone know what I am doing wrong?)

{Don’t forget to click on the links to related posts!}

5- California by Edan Lupucki

4- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

3- Redeployment by Phil Klay

2- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

1Hard Choices by Hilary Rodham Clinton

(This was a hard list to make. Next year, I may have to break it down to top five non-fiction, top five young adult and top five fiction, as it is hard to compare/judge the two genres.)

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Best Outings of 2014

(*In no particular order)

5- Hawaii. We started 2014 off with a bang, meeting my parents in Hawaii for a seven-day cruise around the islands. Between snorkeling, whale watching and kayaking, we found time for lots of all-you-can-eat buffets and nightly shows in the ship’s auditorium. Happy 2014!

4- Hong Kong. This was our last “China-vacation” before leaving post and what a great way to wrap up our first tour with the Foreign Service. While I didn’t love the cable car, the Buddha at the top was worth the terror and the funicular up Victoria’s Peak was a ride much more my style. We stayed at a great boutique hotel just a short walk from the metro and loved the ease of getting around this crazy, bustling Asian mega-city.

3- Kuching, Malaysia. By far my favorite city in Malaysia. What can beat a cave filled with bats, a day of rainforest hiking or a visit to wild orangutans?

2- Nampa, Idaho. Home leave! It is a fabulous perk of the Foreign Service, that after a tour abroad, officers and families are *required* to spend some time back Stateside. While for some this can be a burden, we’re lucky to have lots of family and friends willing to let us crash with them for days/weeks at a time.

1-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, of course! A new country, a new city and a new home! It is always exciting (and intimidating, tiring, frustrating, invigorating…) to move to a new post, but so far, KL has been a great city to call home. Not only have we explored various parks within the city, but this year was the first time we’ve hosted a Thanksgiving, complete with friends, old and new.

*Honorable mention: New Meadows, Idaho. While on home leave, we bought twelve acres of beautiful mountain top just outside of New Meadows. Right now it is home to bears and deer and lots of small mountain mammals, but maybe when we retire in a million years, it will be home to us too!

Best Moments of 2014

(*Again, in no particular order)

5- Birth of our newest nibling- Camden Byron McDaniel, the youngest (and last?) child of my brother and sister-in-law. His arrival makes for a grand total of twelve niblings: six on Thad’s side and six on mine. We’ve yet to meet in person, but I see his chubby self on FaceTime every week or so.

4- Volunteering at the UNHRC school for Chin students in downtown Kuala Lumpur. This was a great opportunity to put my teaching skills to use and to introduce not only American vocabulary (Malaysian English tends to be quite British), but also talk about school culture in the US, where many of these students hope to be resettled.

3- Going back to school. This fall, I started an online graduate program in literature and writing. It has kept me busy, but I am loving the reading and writing and discussions with my classmates. Nerdily enough, I even love writing the term papers! (A big thank you goes out to my two editors: Matt and Angie!)

2- A new job! Technically, this won’t happen until 2015, as I start in mid-January, but getting hired in 2014 is a win. It was not easy to find work in Kuala Lumpur and it definitely wasn’t easy to get multiple rejection emails, but in the end, things seem to have worked out and soon I’ll be having to roll out of bed and get dressed with the rest of you!

1- Meeting the First Lady of the United States. It was a lot of work to prepare for her visit to Chengdu, but it was all worth it when the Consul General called me over and said to FLOTUS, “Michelle, I’d like you to meet our Michelle.”  She said she wondered who the tall blonde woman was and I told her I had spent the morning being her stand-in for height measurements!

So there you have it, the 4th edition of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s year-end roundup. As I look ahead to 2015, big plans are bouncing around my gray matter (although I think it is more pink than gray, which we all know I prefer anyway), looking to claim a spot in my continued search for the end of the sidewalk.

Happy 2015!

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An Introduction That Wouldn’t Have Happened in Idaho

“Michelle, I’d like you to meet our Michelle.” That was my personal introduction to the First Lady of the United States last Tuesday morning. Pretty awesome! I’m not a bucket-list, resolution-type, but ever since the 2008 campaign, I’ve always admired Mrs. Obama for her outstanding education, her push for our schools to nurture healthier kids and her continual advocacy for young woman to be successful and strong and independent. (Of course, her amazing wardrobe isn’t hurting her cause, but there is so much more to her than her fantastic off-the-rack fashion.) To have the opportunity to meet the First Lady would definitely have been on my bucket list if I had one. Imaginary box checked on imaginary list!

(When I mentioned on Facebook how excited I was for this upcoming opportunity, I got mostly positive responses, but did receive one dripping in sarcasm about how “lucky” I was. I would just like to point out that I would have been equally as interested in meeting Laura Bush when she was First Lady of the United States. I absolutely love that her “platform” was literary achievement and how supportive she was of school libraries, local libraries and reading teachers. Her love of reading segued into a personal mission to improve literacy rates in low income areas and to get more books in the hands of more students. I may not have voted for her husband, but I respect her work and would relish the opportunity to shake her hand and thank her for making literacy a cornerstone of her years in the White House.)

But back to our current First Lady…

Not only was meeting FLOTUS an amazing opportunity, but preparing for her visit was eye-opening and definitely a learning experience for me. (You know how the proverbial “they” say you should learn something new every day? In the couple of weeks leading up to her arrival, I feel like the fire hose of information was turned on full-blast, aimed right at my brain!) Over the course of fortnight, I had the opportunity to work with White House staffers and Secret Service agents and was lucky to have a good crew assigned to my various venues. Coming into this visit, I was worried that my lack of government experience, rural-Idaho nothing-is-every-super-formal background would make it difficult to keep up with what was going on, but the team I worked with was always happy to answer my million questions, walk through my site one more time and review my role on game day in detail. While the whole experience was definitely stressful and heartburn inducing, with a different team assignment, things could have been much more difficult. (As someone who is easily kept awake by stressful situations, there may have been a night or two that I downed a sleeping pill before crawling into bed. I wish I had learned that trick for the night before the first day of school when I was teaching!)

In the end, everyone at the consulate logged a whole lot of extra hours, but the FLOTUS visit went off beautifully. The First Lady was able to see the pandas, visit a local school, eat at a Tibetan meal (that was Thad’s venue!) and visit the consulate for a Meet and Greet event (my site!). (Yes, she did get to hold a panda. I’ve been in China nearly four years and have yet to hold one, so I am a tad bit jealous of that part of her trip. With just eight weeks to go, I’m not sure the imaginary panda holding box on the imaginary bucket list is going to get an imaginary check mark.)

It’s nice to be on the flip side of Mrs. Obama’s visit. It was a fantastic experience, but one that I’m glad has moved from anticipation to memory.

“Michelle, I’d like you to meet our Michelle.” This Idaho-girl will take that introduction any day!

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A Fantastic Five

As a firm believer in always looking on the bright side of situations and appreciating the small wonders on a daily basis, last Friday shaped up to be an absolutely fantastic day. One after another, little bits here and little bits there fell together to make it a perfect end to what was a super busy and tiring week. (With our big FLOTUS visit just a week away, there’s a lot of overtime being logged in Chengdu! I always know the stress is ramping up when I start to have dreams about work and Saturday night, all I dreamed about was the million ways my “meet and greet” event could crash and burn: kids out of control, a ballroom without air conditioning, forgetting flags, a podium, a stage…if it is a possible disaster, it has run through my head over the last week.) Regardless of my out of control stress-induced dreams,  last week ended on a series of high notes.

1) It was Friday! That in and of itself was a nice little gift, even if I did have to work Saturday morning.

2) When I got up and put on my brand new dress, I discovered it had pockets. This is about as great of a start to a new day as I can think of. I got the dress as a birthday gift when I was in Hawaii back in January, but it is just now starting to warm up to the point where I can consider busting out those summery clothes I wistfully bought in the middle of winter. So, Friday morning, the tags came off, the dress went on and EUREKA! Pockets!

3) Sunshine. Actual rays of sunlight were coming in the window of my office on Friday morning. It was absolutely glorious and I took every opportunity to get out and about that I could. I went to Noodle Alley for lunch, and then ran back out to go to the bakery for bread when my jinjiang rousi ended up being 98% green peppers and only 2% rousi! Later in the afternoon,  there was a pile of welcome packets that needed delivered to a hotel that is a few blocks from the consulate, so I jumped at the chance to deliver those. (I may have walked slower than necessary for that little errand!) All of this was done sans jacket! So nice. I had planned to walk home on Friday (about an hour walk), but my walking buddy was caught up in FLOTUS visit issues and my MP3 player was dead, so I did opt out of that chance at some sunshine, but still, skies were blue, clouds were white and the warmth of the sun on my skin was a much needed mood booster after the long, gray Chengdu winter.

4) Fridays are mail day, which makes them great on thier own, but then when your best friend gets a giant package filled with boxes of Girl Scout cookies from her mom, the day is pretty much made. She busted into the box while we were still in the mailroom, handing me a box of Thin Mints and one of Samoas. I sure did open up those Thin Mints, step outside into a patch of sunshine and enjoy what was possibly the best meal of the week!

5) Finally, when I got home from work, I opened the sliding glass door in my living room and the window that sits in front of treadmill and enjoyed a bit of fresh air. (And by fresh, it was pretty close to fresh! I think our AQI dipped down into the 60s on Friday afternoon.) It was nice to have a literal breath of fresh air coming in the window as I ran on the treadmill, rather than the status quo where I just pretend that the air being displaced by the air purifier is a breeze! And, after a winter of total lockdown, just a bit of new air circulating through the apartment put a smile on my face. (Granted, my face was red and my lungs were burning from the treadmill, but I’ll take that pain with the windows open any day!)
Any one of these things would have made my Friday magnificent, but when you add all of them together, it was one of the best “regular” days that I’ve had in Chengdu and it makes me glad that spring is finally showing her face. We’ve only got about ten weeks left in western China and if each of them has even one day half as good as last Friday, it is going to be an extraordinary end to our two year tour.

Now, enough of this jabber- back to FLOTUS planning!