Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"A Michigan Lifestyle"

"Dear all,

This week we have invited our last special guest of the year, Mrs. Carol Johnson, wife of Gordon Johnson from Purchasing, to speak about life in Michigan. We believe Carol will help us understand more about the hobbies and habits of our North American colleagues.

This could be quite useful for building relationships with US colleagues or helping us to understand more about US culture. Hope we can see you there!!"

The preceding blurb was sent out to the FORD employees in the Big Guy's office building the day before my December 2 presentation.  The English Zone (EZ) occurs every Friday from 12 noon-1:00 pm presented by Morgan. She invites a roomful of Chinese nationals to attend an hour of  USA cultural awareness and an opportunity to speak "English only" to each other on that weeks presentation.

Morgan suggested I enlighten the class on topics that they have expressed a curiosity about or haven't experienced.  So I put together a Power Point presentation highlighting my favorite people (family and friends) with photos through the years on the following topics:



Team Pride

Home Ownership

Seasons of Michigan

Ford Pride - Dearborn

I presented 36 Power Point slides embedded with many photos.  I prefaced it all by letting my audience know that this was "OUR Michigan Lifestyle" and just a slice of America.  It is really hard to generalize for all of the USA or Michigan, of course. We think we're pretty average.  We aren't movie stars, we don't carry guns, have relatives in the mob or wear designer clothes like the USA television shows they see. It was important to me to dispel those rumors.

About fifty people streamed into the room which I had bedecked with several seasonal decorative flags. I'm all about color and the flags livened the white boards.  There was an "M" Go Blue" flag, a half Michigan (blue) and half Michigan State University (green) flag, Carolers, Snoopy in a Rain puddle, Colorful leaves and acorns, Daffodils, just to name a few.  With the Big Guy nearby, I presented the above topics in full Johnson Family Photo Fun and described how we live(d) in Michigan.
Chatting about Home Ownership

During the Presentation I was asked: 

How much land is your house on?
Who owns the land?
How much did you pay for your house?
What do the numbers mean on the lamp post?
Where are ALL the people?
Do people in the US drive differently than in Nanjing?
How long will you be in Nanjing?
Will your family come to visit?
How many children can you have in the USA?
Do you have a gardener?
Do you have an Ayi?

I answered all the questions I could and deferred to Gordon when a topic would better be answered from his perspective. 
Once finished the audience 'broke into groups' to review the topics and discuss (in English only) their answers.  It was fun bouncing from group to group and hearing their responses and questions.
Morgan guiding a group through the questions in English

Three meguo-ren (USA people), my ex-pat friends, attended for welcome support and to interact with the groups.  (I'm indebted to "G,"  "K," and "M" for their smiles and participation.)

For one hour, 50 Chinese nationals were exposed to our little Michigan Lifestyle and ALL it's privileges and benefits. When asked if they'd like to visit the USA and Dearborn/Detroit many of them smiled affirmatively and two had been there already. They readily shared their observations.
Julia has been to Dearborn, Michigan

I emphasized some of the values that the Big Guy and I hold dear - friends, family & the importance of 'giving back' to the community through volunteering and church work. 

I lavished them with the telling of our hometown pride and loyalty to All Things FORD. They smiled  when I recalled looking out the window of Edsel FORD High School as a teenager and watching the Mustang prototypes zoom up and down Rotunda Drive. Surely it was driven by a FORD engineer who no doubt was the father of a high school classmate. 

They learned that our first 1929 FORD Model "A" was named "Henry" by it's former owner, but that the Big Guy determined that 'he' was a 'she' and so I named her "Clara," after Henry FORD'S wife.

Each of us learned something that afternoon.

My preparation and presentation underscored a personal commitment:

Being an expatriate on this side of the world, I vow to be a more engaged USA host to ex-pats when we return in 2014.

I know what it feels like to be out of my element and venture into making life work outside of my comfort zone.

Eight months into our three year assignment I have adopted this mantra:

 "Open your Eyes, Open your Mind and Open your Heart" 

 You just never know whom you will meet and what you will learn.

Thank-you, Morgan and the English Zone, for affording me the opportunity to compress and present our Michigan Lifestyle on Friday.  I was honored to be asked to speak to 50 Chinese nationals, increasing their understanding of what it might be like to be part of a FORD family in the USA.

We will venture to "the Mitten" in a few short days and share in all that is Michigan and can barely wait to "hug your necks," dear ones!

Here come the Holidays!

Thanks for Reading,

P.S.. Several of you have asked about our recent travels within China. I promise to share photos and observations in the New Year!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The Original Nanjing Normals

 As we all get more entrenched into our own lives with increased socialbility, the weekends are less likely to include every FORD co-worker who hit the Good Earth of mainland Nanjing, China in March, April or May 2011.  Afterall, it's been over 6 months, we're settling in and moving forward.  Everyone has taken more than a trip or two without each other.  No need to hang on to a well-placed knot on the same rope as we toddle forward through town. We're "SO BIG" now.

I'm referring to the original "Normals" - the 8 of us who are "Embracing the New Normal in Nanjing."  A healthy, natural progression is for us to move ahead. Everyone's friend and acquaintance circle has enlarged.  Everyone's Southeast Asia travel has increased and overnight guests from the USA have been welcomed.  So the weekends are BUSY.
With that said, I schemed that having folks over for a mid-week meal would allow everyone to stay connected and not encompass a busy weekend night. The plan was set, "Tuesday, 6:00 pm, on the way home from work, stop over to unwind with a beer or glass of wine and enjoy a home-cooked supper."  This would enable those in attendance to decompress before heading home for the common occurence and inevitability of a conference call or two with the other side of the world. (We are now 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.)

The invite floated through cyber-space and nine folks replied with "In!"   Sadly, not  everyone was in town or available, but nine was a great number around our November table.

I planned a homey-menu, made a shopping list and set out on Tuesday morning for the freshest food selection. Super markets seem much less daunting these days and I had a cart-pusher helpmate in Brad who was visiting from Detroit and was going to spend the day with me.  The produce and meat bins are always remarkably eye-catching to newbies and take some getting used to.  There are stacks of raw this and that piled atop ice chips and  some questionable metal tongs to grab your selection. 
I use the hand in a plastic bag method, to select the chicken breasts I want.  This puzzles the spectators  and helpful meat department employees who insist on showing me 'how to do this correctly with the tongs." And yes, I have pushed one away when she tried to force the tongs into my hands as I went about the less bacteria laden method I was attempting. ( See the "SO BIG" quote above.) 

With clanking wine bottles and our catch of the day, Brad and I went home where I scrubbed the ba-jeezus out of the chicken breasts and vegetables.  Kim arrived to meet Brad and visit. The plan was to prep and chop and then head downtown for lunch.  I plopped the chicken in Angie's borrowed crockpot , added the ingredients for *Cranberry Chicken*, plugged the 110 volt crockpot into the 220 volt transformer and flicked the switch to LOW. 

"Six hours on low...good to go," I chanted. And off we went to lunch.

"It should smell really good when we walk back in here this afternoon," said Kim.

"Gosh, I hope so," I replied, wondering how I would 'punt' if it wasn't so.

After lunch at Pho Saigon, a Vietnamese Restaurant, and a shopping excursion we returned to our place to a saucy fragrant smell. *Cranberry Chicken!*  From the audible gurgling sauce there was NO doubt that the chicken was well-cooked and it was only 4:00 pm. 

"I'd say, let's turn it down, but it's already on Low...hmmmmmmmm, I said."

And then Kim made a discovery:

The cord coming out of the crockpot had MELTED directly to the wasn't going to budge and we were NOT going to try. It looked dangerous!  In addition the two side handles had melted and slid down into blobs like Dumbo's ears.  I quickly flipped the switch to OFF and watched the needle on the transformer dive left indicating it was done "transforming." 

The next conversations are kind of a blur and I can't tell you which one of the three of us said the following but this is what the fly on the wall heard:

"Gee, you are so fortunate that the entire Villa didn't go up in smoke!"

"Wow, I bet it was cooked within an HOUR!"

"Do you have renter's insurance on this place?"

"How are we going to keep this on LOW for the next 2.5 hours before everyone arrives?"

"Holy Cranberries, Batman!"

"I thought you made this in the crock-pot before?"

"The Big Guy is gonna flip, he is not a crock-pot fan for this very reason."

"Oh my G*d, I wanna die."     (can you pick out my voice among these quotes?)

Then Kim made another discovery:

"Oh Look! You plugged the 110 volt cord into the transformer where it said 220 volts!"

Puzzled by her discovery I replied,"Yes, because I wanted the 110 volt to become 220 volts, didn't I?"

Okay, so there was laughter and embarassment and a whole lot of chiding and blonde jokes that ensued over the next few hours (and days.) Kim and Brad convinced me NOT to get rid of the evidence but to leave it as a fun topic of conversation for mealtime. Naturally, they were the first to show it to everyone who arrived...kinda like the sibling who can't wait to tattle on what Little Miss Perfect did today....

The chicken was still tasty although it was WAY more DONE then it should have been.The hungries who arrived ate every morsel.  There were dishes piled high in my little kitchen by 8:30 pm.  I was happy, my guests were happy, albeit the crock-pot was 'toast' and will be picked up curbside by someone as scrap metal, but let's remember that I didn't burn down the entire villa and I learned something about transforming 110 voltage to 220 voltage - all positives!

My mission was accomplished in spite of a powerful mis-hap. We  provided food, fellowship and laughter to those who joined us for Tuesday's meal.

And just like any meal for a crowd it was over way too fast. 

But I smiled within and without as friends toddled out the door and out into a November Nanjing evening. 

It seemed that each guest left full and happy to have spent more time together

in this place,

on this continent,

in our home away from home.

Yes, our Normal has significantly changed over the past several months

 but we're still in this together...
And for that I am very grateful... 

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Thanks for reading,


*Cranberry Chicken*

  •  6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
           Half package of (1 ounce) packages dry onion soup mix
           1 (16 ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
           1 cup Catalina/Russian dressing 
            OR if you live in China -  1 cup Catsup with 2 t. worcestershire sauce


  1. Place the chicken breasts in a glass or stoneware baking dish.
  2. Stir the onion soup mix, cranberry sauce, and Catalina dressing together in a bowl until well blended. Pour over the chicken breasts. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 8 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  4. Remove plastic wrap from the baking dish, and cover loosely with aluminum foil.
  5. Bake chicken in preheated oven until top is bubbly and slightly browned, about 1 hour and 15 minutes or longer if you like a thicker sauce.   
  6. Try it in a Crock-pot for 5-6 hours if you DARE!  :0*         

Suggestions:  Serve with Mashed Potatoes or Rice or Stove-Top Stuffing

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cornish Carnivore-ish

A popular pastime and topic of our ex-pat adventures here in China is the food.  We are often asked how we like it and what we are finding savory and interesting.

Upon arriving, the Big Guy's Chinese co-workers were very curious to know just how adventurous he was going to go with the taste-testing of their local cuisine.  
  • Would he eat the cafeteria's FREE lunch? 
  • Would he try the 'mystery meat' platter at a team dinner function? 
  • Could he stomach this or that without grimacing or hiding a textured piece of something in his paper napkin? 
  • Should we 'freak-out' this meguo ren (American) & watch him squirm or turn green?

Proudly, he can say he has passed many a test of the above but he has also learned that to fit in you don't REALLY have to say YES to everything that is set before you.  Thank-you, adult sensibility!

Here is a list of what we have tried or been offered while in China.
Sparing you our choices, just ask yourself if you would
taste, chew AND swallow the following:

camel meat
10-day old fertilized eggs (yep...had a chick embryo within)
blood soup
tofu in more varieties than you can imagine 
donkey meat
squid paste
lamb entrails
fish head soup
dragon fruit
coconut juice
guava juice
drinks with gelatin cubes or bubbles that sneak up your straw & slip down your throat.

Among the things we miss about home is the variety and high quality meat readily available.  Fresh ground beef has evaded us and because I married an English man who is quite meat-protein driven, that has been a challenge. The Big Guy KNOWS his meat.    With co-worker Julia's help he purchased a meat grinder to fill the gap. This also counts as a project, which the Big Guy has been lacking since we arrived. 
Here's proof of my favorite carnivore's utter happiness with his new machine:


Now that we've cracked into November and the ever so slightest breath of Autumn has whispered in my ear I've begun the turkey search in Nanjing.  Angie reports that years ago a cousin brought one in a cooler on the 14-hour flight from the USA with great success.  But that was before airport security was on 'lock-down' for such carry-on baggage, we think.  

With my wheels swiftly turning, maybe, just maybe, Thanksgiving 2011 could sport a duck instead of a turkey. That sounded both reasonable and doable at the same time.  The city of Nanjing is well-known for it's duck.

Then the thought of a long table of guests, pumpkin soup, mashed potatoes,stuffing and a petite Cornish hen on EVERYONE's plate drifted into my mind and olifactory memory senses.  That could be the answer, I thought to myself. 

Gee whiz, Martha Stewart herself would gobble up that idea!

During our last trip to the market I plowed through the frozen bin to take a prospective peek at the Cornish hens.  With a "Heck, why not try it out first," from the Big Guy, I plunked two of them in the shopping cart and rolled on.

Still wrapped they safely thawed in a bowl of water for Tuesday's supper. My friend and neighbor Kim sat at the counter while I prepped the two birds.  Both were thawed and ready to be rinsed, patted dry and seasoned to await my baby table-top oven.  Real ovens are few and far between in China and these gals may fit side by side in my Pampered Chef round baker, I thought.  

I unpeeled the plastic. Digging my two fingers into the front and back cavity I came across an unwelcome surprise. "Look at this!" I exclaimed to wide-eyed Kim. Out popped an attached hen's head and from the other end, two complete feet!  Yep, nothing goes to waste in China and I had the entire hen looking at me...kinda, sorta.  

I put on my brave face, grabbed the kitchen shears and with three deep and really hard snips did what I'm told my grandmother did. Game Over. And then I did it again on number two.. 
I know you wanna see, right?

The roasting went well and the taste-testing was worth the trauma - well, MY trauma that is. 
And the villa smelled as if it were November in Michigan which was one of my ulterior goals. This Cornish hen feast has potential.

Speaking with my friend, Franziska, she reports that across town there is a market to pre-order a turkey.  Yet another opportunity for feasting.

Cooking requires math skills.  So I put mine to work on the following equations:

Number of Guests - 13 approximately

13 Cornish Hens = 13 Hen Heads + 26 Hen Feet  = 39 WHACKS

 (this time with a cleaver, I've decided.)


1 large Turkey = 1 Turkey Head + 2 Turkey Feet  =  3 WHACKS

If I went with the Cornish Hens, I bet I could send home the 26 Hen Feet with my Ayi who would speed off on her scooter thinking she just scored BIG TIME from the wasteful American.  (That Cricket, always thinking of others...especially in November.)

Thanks for Reading,


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sew Forth and Sew On!

Living in Nanjing China without children underfoot leads people to ask,

 "So, like, what DO you DO all day?"

One thing I've been doing is sewing up a STORM!  My Janome 6600P was shipped over and so were bins and bins of fabric.  I love to create quilts.  Many are for newborns or new Grandmoms, and I've been "commissioned" to do a few for others. Babies could care less about a crooked seam or two and they LOVE bright colors.
I've definitely cornered a forgiving and playful market.

My stash (that's quilt-talk) takes up an entire wall in my sewing cave...and that's only half of what I've brought. Creative types will tell you that hoarding pallets full of the right STUFF will result in a wide-arrayed palette of possibilities. 

I've got that one DOWN, believe me...

These shelves were filled with Chinese textbooks. The landlord offered to leave them. 
 I had a more COLORFUL plan.

Just as at home in Michigan, I love that my sewing cave is out of the way. It occupies our lowest level, but still has natural light through 3 windows.  Creating anything the "Cricket Way" creates an EXPLOSION of color, books, 'pulled' fabric, sewing notions and STUFF stacked on top of more STUFF.The process is one of options and opportunity resulting in decision and design. Ever so folky and FUN!

Through the years I've learned to write things in a notebook.  Things like the best settings for my machine to do this or that. Or the measurements of my brother's rental units which I made some curtains for one summer day. I often sketch something that is in my mind and need to "get it down" on be later filled in with the details of what evolved.  I do this not because anyone else will EVER read it but it helps ME reference what I've tried and accomplished.

BuBuBu is the name of the Fabric Market in Nanjing, China. I've been twice to the two-story building. Basically there are two floors of vendors and tailors...think arts and craft fair in a very tight space.  It's hard to tell where one person's "shop" stops and the other begins.  Custom draperies and custom clothing can be made here so there are many booths with home decorating fabric or trouser-like fabric.  I was disappointed in the quality of the 100% cotton selection.  It was not the quilt quality I am accustomed to snapping up at brick and mortar quilt shops back home or online.  (Even though many of those are made here in the Middle Kingdom.)

The fabric markets of Shanghai (an hour and twenty minutes from Nanjing on a high speed train)  await my arrival.  I'm expecting trumpeters at the entrance as I enter with my hand clutching my MasterCard. They say it's amazing and I can barely wait to see what they specialize in - silks.   This is not a place I would take the Big Guy unless there was a cigar bar or a Starbucks within a reasonable walk.  He would undoubtedly ask me "How long do you think you're gonna be?" And I would have to give him the bespectacled look OVER my glasses and know that he would get the message that I have NO idea and it could be a VERY, VERY, LONG time. 

I delight in naming each one of my if they were newborns.  This appears on a tag on the back of the quilt. Along with the title is my name and date and the recipient's name too.  Just a few months ago I signed my little treasures:

Carol Johnson~Livonia, Michigan

 and now they read 

Carol Johnson~Nanjing, China

I am truly blessed to be here, in this place, doing what I love to do:
CREATE one HOT MESS and have something to show for it.

And that, my friends, is just ONE of the things I do with my day.

Thanks for Reading,

All "babies" were returned unharmed to their rightful owner.

Throughout this post you will find:

"Constantin Da Dao"      for Baby Constantin Ritz
"Go Aaron James, Go!" for newborn Aaron James Quan
"Hoo-ville"                     for Sharon Brown & her grandbabies
"Giraffe Lu"                   for Rita's friend
"Frisco Sky"                 for soon-to-be Connor Rowan (unseen because it's a SURPRISE!)

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Our USA Mandarin instructor left me with a warning. 

"Don't trust Chinese women, they want to marry an American and they don't care if he is married already or not. Watch out!"

I laughed at her warning six months ago, but human nature has not let me forget it...

About ten years ago, my dear husband came home and said to me, "Well, it's official, I'm invisible!"  Standing at the kitchen sink with my back to him, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I turned around.  As I did, I squinted through my progressive bifocals (without the telltale line, of course) in search of a super-hero cape or some other indicator of this new super power. Nothing.

"Invisible?" I replied.

"Yep, attractive women.  They look RIGHT through me, RIGHT past me, as if I don't exist and they search beyond me seeking someone worthy of their attention." 

"Uh-oh," I said, having had similar experiences in my pharmaceutical sales representative career when I had hit the 'over the hill' at 40-year old mark.

 "I'm sorry to hear that. You're NOT invisible to me, sweetheart!  We're just getting older, I guess it's to be expected.  We're not in the game. Heck we haven't been in the game in decades.  Oh well.....shake it off."  This was said with a bear hug ending, of course.

And so he did "shake it off"  until he walked back in to the kitchen a few months later. 

"Remember awhile ago I told you I was invisible to younger women?"


"Well, I'm not invisible to ALL of them anymore."

"Okay...." I said, waiting for the latest clarification.

 "Recently, I have been getting the strangest reactions instead.

"Really?  What kind of reactions?"

"Well, for some of the young, cute ones it's just a big, bright 'can I help you' sort of smile. There's also a wistful  'Gee you remind me of my Dad'  kind of a look, too!"

I tried NOT to laugh out wasn't easy. 

And so we march forward with graying hair and an extra chin and hands that look like our parents and grandparents.  But it's all good, right?  We're alive and kicking, albeit slightly achy and more apt to choose sensible shoes over fashionable ones.  We realize more than ever that life goes one way and that's fast and forward.

I've never been a jealous person regarding the Big Guy.  We've been married a very long time and I figure if he finds the need to "move on", well I'd be broken-hearted... until I met with the attorneys.

Fast forward to our 3-year assignment in Nanjing, China:

We often are in search of something besides traditional Chinese food.  The ex-pat community frequents a few "Western" type restaurants.  There aren't many in Nanjing, maybe twenty, but among thousands of traditional fan dian (restaurants) in this city of over 8 million people, that is very few.  We visit them when we want to eat something other than Chinese fare.  Additionally,  there is undoubtedly someone there who can speak English, even if just a wee bit, which makes our meal less stress-filled from the start.  

One of our favorite Western restaurants is a typical pub. They have a variety of food, great nachos and a burger that is much less suspicious than others we've tried here in town.  I contend that if you smear enough cheese on most anything it will improve the taste, right? (Garlic works too.)

So, we often find ourselves walking into the place at least a couple times of month, to meet our ex-pat friends and the guests they bring along. 

A couple of weeks ago, it was just the Big Guy and me out for the evening.   We walked in for our Western fix.  As we passed through the pub door, a diminutive, native Nanjing waitress behind the bar looked up and with her broadest smile gestured for us to have a seat.  We sat on the same side of the table so we could see who would darken the door next and still chat with each other about our week.

This same waitress approached our table with 3 items.  Two drink menus and one food menu.

With her eyes ONLY on the Big Guy, she giggled and said, "Oh!  I not see you in LONG time and I SOOOOOOO happy I forgot to bring you menu!"   She scampered back for the other food menu. [Note that I am now the invisible one in the saga - adorable!] 

We ordered and ate our burgers, trying NOT to succumb to the smoke.  (Enjoy your smoke-free restaurants and bars, dear ones...they are NOT the norm outside of the USA! )

Our meal complete and people watching over, the Big Guy motioned for the mai dan (bill).

He turned to me. "Should I ask her name?"

"Sure, why not?" I said.

She quickly returned and the Big Guy said in perfect Mandarin,

"Ni jiao shenme mingzi?"

She looked at him, wide-eyed, put her tiny hand on her heart and made a fluttery-heart motion over it.  This question, coming from him, literally took her breath away! 

Doe-eyed, she sweetly answered, "Tien Mi."  When the Big Guy replied, "Tien Mi?" as best he could, she answered, "Perfect!" 

So now we knew her name!

A few nights later at our Mandarin lessons we relayed the story to our teacher,Stefanie. She gave us that puzzled brow we've seen before and slyly smiled, trying NOT to giggle.

"What? What?", I said, as I repeated our waitress' name.

"Well," said Stefanie, "Tien Mi is NOT a traditional Chinese family name but it means, well....."Honey- Sweetie." 

"Sounds appropriate then?" I asked. 

"Oh yes!" confirmed our smiling Stefanie.

A week or so later we darkened the door once more, this time with another couple and our Nikon.  The assignment was to enjoy the evening and digitally preserve Tien Mi's photo.

 "For the blog of other reason." 

Big Guy and Tien Mi

Note that in China the Big Guy is not invisible at all!   And maybe....just maybe.....I better keep one eye on MY prize and the other on teensy-tinesy, pocket-sized, conniving Chinese chicky-poos with questionable fast and forward nicknames! 

Re-thinking this, I've decided that if he ever left me I'd take him for 'all the tea in China', half his pension, the house and his Model-A Parts.

Plus, this is now documented and each one of you may be called as a witness for the prosecution.  I just KNOW I can count on you!

See, not a streak of jealousy.  Got the message, Sugar Pie-Honey Bunch?

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mack Makes a Discovery

Little "Mack" comes to visit

Something is Moving

Discovering what's new in
Auntie Carol and Uncle Gordon's courtyard...
through the eyes of Little "Mack" our 18 month-old buddy.

See? Right there!
Ten Fish!
Here, Fishy, Fishy, Fishy, Fishy! *
Half of a pomegranate...

Okay, what else is there to do around here?

Hey Casey, let's go find a Bigger Fish Pond!

Fun to feed the Fish, but really HARD to let go of the Bread.

Our courtyard pond has been replenished with 10 new koi.**  We haven't named them, just in case the culprit who 'took-off' with the last batch returns; cat? heron? roving neighbor?   The new batch swims in a healthy environment because we spotted a six-inch crawfish in the pond this past weekend! 

 Nature is amazing! - and so is Little "Mack!"

Thanks for Reading,


Next week is Golden Week - a National Holiday in China. 
There are live fish reasonably priced for sale...I may have to have just a few more!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Tai Chi and Me

Tai Chi Circle Drill

I'm half-way around the world and learning new things and trying new things almost on a daily basis.  I started out this Monday morning at 8:15 am with an outdoor Tai Chi Class. 

An ancient Asian exercise system, Tai Chi uses slow, smooth body movements to achieve a state of relaxation of both body and mind.  It is also a martial arts form, but not on day number one in Nanjing, China.

Tai Chi uses the following moves:

  • Slowness. To develop awareness. 

  • Lightness. To make movements flow. 

  • Balance. To prevent body strain. 

  • Calmness. To maintain continuity. 

  • Clarity. To focus the mind

  • Four of us faced east in a courtyard on what is the first breezy and cool day in Nanjing in months. The lack of humidity was awesome and a light jacket proved a necessary accessory.   The breeze was cleansing and Du Yi Sheng (Dr. Du) contorted my arms in a circle of fluid motion.  I closed my eyes to help memorize the movement and feel the satin-smooth breeze.  This took me to a place I like to go to when I'm outside looking at a rising moon or a setting sun.  I can't help but reflect that this will be the SAME moon and sun that my family and friends across the planet will see within 12 hours or less, day or night.  Today's China morning breeze was commissioned to speed along my windy wish that all is well with each of you.

    That thought process seemed to coincide with the "flow" that Du Yi Sheng was demonstrating.  Allow the energy from the air and wind and earth to fill your extremities with life. Inhale slowly and exhale completely. Unclench your hand, spread your fingers and reach. Let life's energy enter into each finger and breath. Don't clutch life with a clenched fist or jaw, allow life to flow into you. Plant your feet on solid ground from which energy flows. It felt like meditation with some very structured, yet fluid movement.  


    Many of the moves were done in rotating circles.  Significant to the circle of life and the way energy should flow throughout each of us, back to the earth and back to us again.  Du Yi Sheng chanted some of this with each circular move,  "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter."  "Morning, Noon, Evening, Night."  "Yi, Er, San, Si." (one, two, three, four)

    Tense shoulders are the norm for me.  I wasn't surprised that he caught on to this and asked me to "loosen your shoulders" which I did immediately each time he said it.  What surprised me was how quickly my shoulders would tense up again without me recognizing it.  Politely, he would repeat the command.

    Du Yi Sheng was 'hell-bent' on having my shoulders relaxed and my feet planted firmly on Pearl S.Buck's Good Earth*.  My spine should remain erect, my face forward and my elbows bent and moving as I breathed in and out with my tongue gently placed at the top of my upper palate.  That's about 5 more directions then I can accomplish in a 7-direction command, by the way.  Oh...and don't forget to give a wee smile. Tan gardeners walked past in their straw hats pulling green two-wheeled carts and didn't even smirk at today's show. That's composure, people.

    Then came the balancing act of having one leg with knee bent balancing and dangling in the air as the other was planted on the ground.  Believe it or not I could do this.  Not for a LONG time, but I could do this.  He walked in front of each of us to test our "dangle."  We all passed without skinning our noses on the cement.

    This may sound like a generalization but it is descriptive to say that many Chinese people are not gentle with words or volume.  They almost "bark" at each other as they speak. They aren't necessarily angy with each other, they just communicate this way.  Our instructor was much different in his speech and actions.  Never a scowl...never a loud or sharp tone.  That alone was refreshing and makes me want to go again to his Tai Chi session. 

     He said to me as I left, "You be sore in the night time but you sleep very good."  

    My dear neighbor who invited me to the class said, "Carol, this is such a gentle 'sport' that you could do it in a wheelchair."

     Let's hope it doesn't come to that by sunrise....

    Thanks for Reading,



    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    And so it Begins...

    School has begun in much of the United States, Across the World, and of course here in China.  There is excitement from children and parents and anticipation by their teachers.  So much to learn, isn't there?

    Last week, our son-in-law, our son, and my dear husband, the Big Guy, were teaching and training classes of  adult learners within the same week!  I just HAD to share the photos of each of my guys being "lǎoshīs" - teachers. I'm very proud of each of them and if you know me at all, you know I can wear button-busting PROUD with panache!

    Son-in-law Josh -  at Mount St. Mary's University
    Los Angeles, California

    Our Son Garrett-"Train the Trainer"- for Apple, Inc.
    Austin, Texas

    Big Guy at Ford - "Negotiations Training"
    Authored and Presented

    We're putting the Mandarin Lessons with patient Stefanie on hold for a week of learning outside of our home and away from the Power Point presentations.

    After a full 5-months of living in Nanjing, China, the Big Guy and I are about to practice our tourist skills and learn more about China.  We're not going that far, just Xi'an and Shanghai, but we're packing sensible shoes and heading out of our little bubble of comfort.  Yes, it's time.

    Our first house guest, Linda from the USA, will arrive late Thursday evening in Shanghai after her flight from Detroit, Michigan and a three hour car ride to our home. Linda will grace our guest suite on a level all to herself. The towels are fluffed, the closet re-arranged for open space and her request of Crystal Light and an appointment for a Thai Massage on Friday will be granted. She will meet our friends, "the Normals,"  Ford co-workers who all arrived for a China assignment about the same time, an extended family of sorts, all "Embracing the New Normal in Nanjing!"  We'll attend an open house, strut about town and welcome her to the sights and sounds "Watch your Step!" that we have come to embrace.

    Linda is our impetus for our September learning.  She is well-traveled and confident and wants to see the terracotta soldiers in Xi'an and so we will.  We will head there by plane on Sunday. Our guide is in place and sounds like a colorful soul that I'm sure I'll be blogging about.  I'll be reporting back on what we see and do. More specifically I will share what we learn while there. I fully expect to put the Nikon to good use in doing so.  Slide Show! 

    We're never too old to learn something new and take wee risks to learn MUCH! 

    So... Happy New School Year to those who "get" that learning never stops and return to Cricket's Voice to learn something next time about Xi'an and those terracotta soldiers!


    Thanks for Reading,


    p.s. Linda is afraid of dogs...
    Our little dog is a yapping terror until she understands that the guest is here to stay and didn't arrive to drag her "peeps" out the door and down a path to their demise.   We will rise above this...we will rise above this...we will rise...

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    A Day at the Spa

    Casey - Mom thinks you need a Haircut

    I'm guessing this ear-holding is just the beginning

    It's a Long Way Down to Freedom

    I See you on the other side of the Glass, Mom...

    Groomer Bao goes-a-snipping...

    How do they expect a 12-year old schnauzer to get out of here?

    Should Have Risked it All, I suppose...

    Finally Home and With this New Super Bandana - I guess Mom Loves ME, Afterall!

    Not a typical cut, but it suits the Furnace-Like Heat of Nanjing, China!

    Stop the Photo Shoot - May I PLEASE go in and sit on my favorite Chair?

    Let's See How Mom does with HER first China Haircut!  :::::Muh-ha-ha-ha::::

    Mom multi-tasking and holding Ethan (aka Xiao Hu) the Magnificent!

    Any Guesses what the Johnson Girls Spent on their Spa Day?

    Casey Grooming $9 USD
    New Collar $2 USD

    Mom Haircut $4 USD


    Thanks for Reading,