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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Drinking the New Year’s Resolution Kool-Aid

Fireworks exploded over Sydney Harbor. The ball dropped in New York City.  My motherland dropped a giant potato as the clock struck midnight. And I went to bed at 10PM with a good book.  Yup, 2014 is officially upon us. I know that I have previously stated that I abstain from New Year’s resolutions, as I have the willpower and focus of a 5 year old (eating habits too!), but then I realized with such a big year looming ahead of me, maybe I should give in and go jump into the resolution lake with both feet.

If I don’t make (and break!) some stereotypical goals for the next 365 days, who will?

Not wanting to overload myself (all the self-help sites say I should take it easy on the goal-setting), I’ll stick with three of the most commonly set resolutions at the start of a new year. So, in no particular order, here are my official resolutions for 2014:

1)      Lose 10 (or 200) pounds- Who doesn’t want to lose a bit of weight? This is especially true for a Foreign Service family facing pack out.  As I look around my apartment, I realize that there is going to be some super serious spring cleaning going on starting in about April. (Who am I kidding? I am a freak about organizing and packing, so it will probably start in February, but then it is winter cleaning, which just doesn’t have the same ring to it. So, for the sake of this blog, and Thad’s sanity, I’ll say April. After that, I can’t be responsible for my actions.) Between clothes that I haven’t worn in two years and those that aren’t going to be necessary on the equator, my floor cleaning woman is going to hit the jackpot. There will also be some paring down of unnecessary odds and ends that have collected over the last two years, as well as the giving away of whatever random items remain from our consumables shipment. (I plead innocent on that one! It was my first time doing consumables. It will be done differently next time.)  I’ll definitely be hitting the ten pound mark and probably coming closer to 200 when it is all said and done, although sadly, none of it will change my jeans’ size.

2)      Stop smoking- You’d think for someone who has never lit a cigarette this wouldn’t need to be on the list, but after two years in Chengdu, I definitely have smokers’ lung! When I cough, I sound like an old woman with emphysema and chest colds cling as if I had a multiple-pack-a-day habit.  Getting out of Chengdu for a bit will definitely delay my need for a portable oxygen cart!

3)      Make more time for “me”- Considering I’m going to be out of a job in less than five months, I should be able to find a bit of time to pursue my hobbies.  Come July, my faithful readers will either be seeing a blog post a day, as I have all the time in the world to ponder and write, or they’ll never hear from me again as I sink into depression, never changing out of my sweatpants and forgetting to brush my teeth, all from a lack of schedule/motivation.

While they are definitely the stereotypical goals as the last page of the calendar turns, they are certainly not traditional! So, along with Pink and a bit of my much-loved pop music,  I will raise my glass since I am wrong, in all the right ways, and welcome 2014 knowing that I am too school for cool and always happy to party on my own.

Here’s to another year of searching for the ends of sidewalk and the adventures that I stumble into along the way.

Happy 2014!

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Ringing in the Year of the Snake, Chengdu-Style!

Yes, I just posted new writing a few hours ago.

Yes, it is well past midnight and I’m exhausted.

But no, I cannot go to bed without sharing the utterly amazing and chaotic skyline that is Chengdu on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

The fireworks have been popping off after dark, at random intervals, all week long. Last night, we got in on the action with a trip to the Marine House for pizza and fireworks on the roof’s patio. At the time, we were pretty impressed with the display of fireworks that would never be legal in the US, let alone be shot off in the middle of a city, with a porch full of kids. (Granted, we had the kids behind a dubious perimeter of plastic lawn chairs. Safety first!)

Over the past few nights, what we thought was a lot of noise and flashing lights didn’t even qualify as a preface to the show that took place tonight.

Living on the 24th floor with a balcony that overlooks the river, we had an amazing view of the city. We weren’t boxed in by Chengdu’s ubiquitous skyscrapers, but rather had a line of site across the city’s horizon that was unparalleled. People were putting large boxes of mortars in the middle of the road, lighting the fuse and letting them rip. There were a few times I felt the need to dodge/duck as I watched the show in my bathrobe on my porch.

Imagine a fireworks grand finale that blankets the horizon, from left to right. Imagine reds and greens, golds and purples, lighting up the nighttime sky. Add on top of that the deafening roar of mortar after mortar and the high-pitched popping of firecracker after firecracker.  As I type this, my ears are still ringing from the incredibly loud and incredibly close show. I think I may have just shorted my ear’s lifespan by a year or two, but it was worth it! (Much more so than the New Kids on the Block concert I attended in the 6th grade. Those second row seats were awesome to my 12-year old self, but in retrospect, I’ll take Chinese New Year hearing loss over boy-band hearing loss any day!)

The utter, but beautiful, chaos outside is subsiding, but I can’t go to sleep without giving our adopted hometown a shout-out. Well-done this evening Chengdu. Well-done!


Resting and Relaxing

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk has been on a bit of a hiatus this last week and a half, and for the most part, will continue to be sporadic for another couple of weeks, as the sidewalk has taken me to Idaho for a bit of welcome R&R.

Rest and Relaxation time officially started last Sunday (China-time), and yet it didn’t really kick in until we touched down on the runway at BOI, sixteen hours later than we had planned. Again, it appears that United Airlines and I will forever be frenemies. (If you follow this blog much, you’ll remember that I’ve had my gripes with United several times over the last few years, but due to the Fly America regulations, I will be a regular customer of theirs, just a very frustrated, slightly unwilling, one.)

This last week has been filled with an array of activity. I’ve been to the Boise Towne Square mall twice in seven days; I don’t think I had been to that mall twice in the previous seven years. But, when every store has something in your size, it is hard to resist the call of consumerism. (My total purchases at said mall amount to less than $50, but I know there is at least one more trip to it scheduled for this next week, so I may still be able to do more of my part to help boost the Idaho economy while I am home.) I’ve been to a hockey game, camped out in the third row for an action filled match against the worst-ranked team in the league; seven goals for the Steelheads was an admirable showing and allowed for multiple rounds of “Hey goalie, you suck!” chants while I clutched my hot chocolate and people-watched to my heart’s content. I’ve been to my favorite blogger dentist ( to make sure all is on-track with my Chinese Invisalign and get my teeth squeaky clean; I’ll see her one more time on this trip, as it appears a small filling is in my future. I’d like to say I am surprised. I cannot.

When I haven’t been out running around, sucking in massive amounts of fresh air and marveling and the continuously blue sky, I’ve used my time wisely. Sometimes you can find me curled up under a blanket on top of a central heat air vent, book in-hand. (Oh, how I miss floor vents!) Other times you’ll find me curled up next to the fireplace, book in-hand. It’s possible, although less probable, that I may also be found spread out on the couch, book in-hand. (I’m a sucker for direct heat sources- heat vents, fireplaces, electric blankets…)

Rest? Relaxation? Working on it! So, please excuse my sporadic posts for the next couple of weeks. I’m spending the start of the new year re-exploring the well-worn sidewalks of home.

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Planner Paradise

A new year is always exciting. It is filled with hope, opportunities and unseen adventures.  I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions, as I’m self-aware enough to realize that I am not going to stick with something just because the calendar says it is January 1. I tend to just do something once I decide that is what I want to do rather than wait for a seemingly arbitrary date to commence the undertaking.  (If we are going to set capricious dates though, we should make every February 29 Outrageous Resolution Day!  Rather than going with the yearly normal like “lose ten pounds” or “go to the gym four times a week” or “volunteer more,” every Leap Year Day can be for crazy, over-the-top resolutions like “I will wear polka-dots and stripes in some combination every day for a month” or “I will only eat blue food until Easter Outrageous Resolutions Day could become an instant hit!) Although I don’t do the resolutions thing, there are other parts of rolling from the old to the new that I do love.

One of my favorite things about saying goodbye to the outgoing year and welcoming the new one is that the turning of the last calendar page means it is time to chuck the calendar I’ve been staring at for the last twelve months and replace it with a fresh, fabulous new one. I love calendars of all types- wall calendars (especially the ones with organizational pockets and stickers), daily desk calendars, and planners.

While I have transferred many of my daily activities to be technologically based (everything from keeping in touch via Skype/Face Time to reading nearly all of my books on my Nook), this organizational tidbit of my life is still firmly in the land of paper/pencil.  I love perusing the stores right after the new year, when everything is 50% off, picking out just the perfect planner to see me through the next twelve months. Color and pattern are at the top of the priority list, but design and construction are not to be forgotten. This year, the winner has a dark brown background on which are embossed pink and orange butterflies surrounded by spring green flowers. Both the elastic band to close the book as well as the font inside are a pretty raspberry pink color. This is the planner that will see me through the fanatical list-making that is sure to happen in the next few months; it will be packed and hauled to just about the opposite side of the Earth; hopefully it will utilized as my close companion in the transition to a new job once we get to Chengdu; and it will serve as a way to keep track of when all of our guests are coming and going from their trips to the Middle Kingdom. (Hint. Hint.)

After getting my colorful, sparkling new planner home, I immediately want to begin organizing life for the upcoming year. This means finding some pretty colored pens and filling the book with relevant birthdays, anniversaries and appointments that have already been set.  As many planners these days are 18-month ones, it also means that January doesn’t fall on the first page, but rather several months in, the booklet having started in July. This means I need to dig through my assortment of color-coordinated school supplies and find a matching butterfly clip (the winner is spring green) to hold the already used pages out of the way, clipping them to the front cover.  (I’ve been doing this for years, but only within the last couple did I realize that this wonderful technique is not one I dreamed up myself.  It took a bit to realize where I got it from, but once I did, I can’t believe I didn’t see it all along. I have vivid memories of sitting, after school, in my dad’s counselor’s office at Jefferson Junior High School.  When it was time to pack up to go home at the end of the day, as he gathered his things to go, one think that always got packed up was his dark blue Lifetouch daily planner.  I can clearly see the giant black and silver butterfly clip holding the used pages to the front of the planner itself.  While my planner and clip are definitely more fashionable than my dad’s ever were, apparently his sense of organization unconsciously rubbed off on my all those years ago!)

My love of calendars stems from two roots: first, my obsessive need to be organized (I call it prepared, Thad calls it bossy) and second, my love of all things fluffy and florally and girly.  There is little that combines those two wonderful concepts like a calendar, fresh out of its plastic wrap and ready to help me put a whole new year in its place!

A Year of Transition

With just a few hours remaining in 2011, there is no time like right now to pause and reflect on what has happened over the last 365 days. There is only one word to sum up this last year for us- CHANGE.

2011 was a year of transitions for Thad and me. It started with Thad being on the register for a job with the State Department, but also with him still facing the final hurdle- passing a speaker phone-proctored Chinese test. (I can’t understand English over speaker phone half the time, let alone trying to decipher a second language that way!) Only a few close friends and family members knew that he was in the midst of this process, so as the year started, we harbored secret hopes of major changes in our lives. After many hours of practice and preparation, he successfully completed the phone test and bumped to the very top of the register. Within weeks he received a job offer and we broke the news to our bosses, colleagues and others who we had kept outside the loop and began plans to move to Washington DC.

2011 saw me quit (for a second time) the job I loved! After nine years of teaching 8th grade English and reading in the same classroom at Marsing Middle School, I left my job to move east with Thad as he embarked on a new career path. Nine years in one classroom is much like moving out of a home you’ve lived in for a decade. I had hundreds and hundreds of young adult books to sort through, all sorts of posters and wall hangings to divvy out to my fellow teachers, binder upon binder of teaching materials to sort and decide which would stay and which would go with me and several closets full of random personal items that needed to be packed up and hauled home. The sorting was the easy part of the process.  The goodbyes were not. I thought I was going to keep it all together, but that resolve lasted about three whole minutes. Saying goodbye to my wonderful colleagues who had become more than just coworkers, who had become my friends, was not an easy task. I had my dream job, worked for an outstanding principal and loved nearly every minute of what I did.  It was definitely not easy to turn in my keys and walk out of my building one last time.

2011 was a year of downsizing. We moved from our beautiful home in south Nampa (which is for sale, if anyone is interested!) to a 600 square foot apartment in Arlington, Virginia. While clothes went with us to the new place, the rest of our belongings are in temporary and long-term storage, awaiting the next phases of the diplomatic lifestyle we’ve undertaken. We sold both of our cars and are now beholden to public transportation for all of our conveyance needs. My endless bookshelves of books mostly went to charity, and I get my reading fix from the much smaller, much more portable Nook e-reader.

2011 saw Thad get his first diplomatic posting- Chengdu, China.  We couldn’t have been more thrilled, as that was our number one choice off of the bid list. It has also seen him spend countless hours in Chinese class and even more hours at home studying in preparation for the upcoming move.

2011 was a year of travel for me. After the move to Virginia, I flew home for my dad’s birthday in July and then flew to New England to meet up with my parents for a road trip in the fall. We visited several US states and a few Canadian provinces while we were at it. The year rounded out with a trip to Idaho for the holidays.

This last year has been filled with so many changes that it is hard to keep track of them all, but they have all headed us in a positive direction.  I know that, for many people, this last year was one of hardship and frustration.  Thad and I have been very lucky that the changes that have come into our lives are ones that we initiated and wanted to take place.  We are excited to welcome this new year that is just a couple of hours away.  It is going to be another year of transformation as we finally move abroad again, as I search for a job to replace the career I am leaving behind and as we tackle a new country and lifestyle.

As 2011 fades into the background, 2012 is emerging on the horizon, filled with endless possibilities and opportunities. Welcome!!


Taking the Field

Juice boxes… lunchboxes… lunchrooms… homerooms… homework… workbook… book bag… duffle bag.

This August is the first time since I was five years old that I am not going through the rituals of the back to school season. First it was twelve years of public school, defined more by the people and events than the books and papers.  While I managed to pick up the facts along the way, when the fine line between adjectives and adverbs became clear in my mind or the differences between stalagmites and stalactites attached themselves to my brain aren’t nearly as vivid as the memory of the check Miss Stritzke wrote to me for the Christmas tree stand my dad built for her when I was in the second grade or the dangly skeleton earrings sixth grade teacher extraordinaire Mrs. Reece got for me on her vacation because she saw them and thought of me.

Next came four years of private university. There semesters were nearly the opposite of the years before.  I can’t recall a single professor’s name.  (Wait.  That isn’t entirely true.  Professor Shakespeare taught, what else? Shakespeare!  But he wasn’t even my teacher for the course.  I had some stodgy older lady that possibly based her doctoral research on personal primary source materials- her attendance at the Globe!) Student-teacher relationships slipped away as school became about books and facts and papers. The learning happened, but I was connected more with the books and notes and ideas than the people who fostered them.

After ten semesters in four years (summer terms are neither more lovely nor more temperate than traditional ones)it was time to change the school dynamic one more time.  This reincarnation of the theme came with a twist- me being on the other side of the desks, assignments and relationships. It was time to mesh the memories of those teachers that really took the time to connect with individual students and the notebooks I’d compiled during college that were filled with pedagogy.

Eleven times I’ve experienced the sleepless nights leading up to the first day of a new school year.  Eleven times I’ve spent hours fretting over new bulletin boards, new class syllabi, and new seating arrangements.  Eleven times I’ve heard that first bell of the school year ring, taken a deep breath, plastered on a smile and energetically welcomed a fresh group of students to the school, as my stomach knotted with nerves unseen by students.

I’m sitting on the bench as this new school year begins, but as my team of fellow teachers takes the field, I wish you the best of luck!  May your year be filled with consistent forward progress, few turnovers and the successful hail-Mary when needed!  GO TEAM, GO!