Thursday, August 23, 2012

Travel Unraveled - Part One

If you're longing to 'get away' and do some adventuring into the blue skies, my next two entries may kick you back into a less-heightened atmosphere...

Pack it Up, Partner!

Well, I made it safely home to Nanjing.  

The Big Guy and our dog have been looking out the window for the past 7-weeks anticipating my return "any minute now."  How's THAT for loyalty?  There were plenty of happy squeals and running in circles which can only be compared to "Daddy's Home!" in a two-year olds wee world. 

It's pretty awesome.

Wait - it's the DOG that was looking incessantly out the window, squealed and ran in circles NOT the Big Guy...(is that better, dear?)

The 14-hour flight takes an entire 24-hour day of logistics and includes several worthless cat naps.
I arrived exhausted with mush-brain and blood-shot eyes.  Nevertheless, at the stroke of midnight I was in our Nanjing, China home.  It's a good thing!

* * * * *

I've met plenty of people who say they LOVE to travel but I've never met anyone who LOVES to pack, have you?  

Every time, and I mean every time, I begin to pack I start with this mindset:

 "I won't need much this time around.  In fact, I'll just pack the essentials, use this- here smaller bag and carry  a lighter load.  I'll be superior in the eyes of my flight crew and the baggage handlers.  Yes, I'll be the poster child for "Pack Brightly and Lightly," a short article I'll write for every major airlines "In-Flight" magazine."  I'll be famous and rich on residuals.  The Today Show and Good Morning America will clamor to have me guest spot on their travel segment.  Yep, I can picture it now."

With that goal and mindset the "gathering of the goods" begins on the dining room table days before departure.

This time there were two distinct piles. The Run Stitch Run  pillowcase project (see July 13 entry) has blossomed into 60 completed pillowcases lovingly stitched by some very sweet USA ladies.  Other generous ones have donated fabric and/or money to complete 35+ more for the Zeng Sheng Love Orphanage in Fuzian, China. Every bit of that fabric is destined to make a difference in an orphan's outlook on their world and it's vastness.  I am very excited about seeing this through and humbly grateful for the support that sprouted from a friend's forwarded web link.

Bag #1 - 65 lbs.

I began schmooshing (perhaps a Yiddish word?) all of that into a burgeoning bag weighing

65lbs/ 29.5 kg. 

Taking it ALL was Priority One. A small clutch of summer clothes must remain in Michigan. Time to check the website for their baggage regulations:

  • International Travel
  • Gold Medallion Status
  • From USA to Asia Pacific
Therefore I am allowed:

2 bags up to 50 lbs/23 kg

With that in mind I began cramming the 'essentials' (that now overflowed onto nearby chairs ) into bag #2.  Swiftly it was also loaded to the seams.  I decided that it would be necessary to redistribute everything for a total of 3 bags.  Surely it would be worth the added expense of a third bag, whatever it was. 

My son and father zoomed me to Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) well ahead of my 3:47pm flight departure. (I had hours before I left, but I'm getting older and that's what us old people do, so get over it and stop judging me.)  Dad stayed with the car as my well-gunned son heaved those three bags, a carry-on and my loaded backpack out of the trunk of the red FORD Fusion. 

The shiny bright floor at the International Departure Bag-Drop Off glistened. 

After seven weeks in the "Land of Milk and Honey" (see Aug 1 entry)  I was going home!

Shaking my head I asked my son, "What did we do before we had wheeled luggage?" 

"Took a lot less stuff, Mom!" 

Of course, that was TRUE.

"See you in December!" - a warm hug & kiss and I was on my own.

After queuing into the "slowest line in the history of the universe" - (you know the one?)
I approached the desk realizing  that I was also in "the wrong, much longer, goes on forever line" - (you know that one, too?)

 Over a half-hour of kicking and dragging my bags forward step by step and inch by inch, I  was met by smiling  Maria C.

" How many bags?"


She pointed to what I refer to as the SCALE of DEATH, where my packing savvy was about to be tested.

"OK., put the first one here - 43 lbs/19.5 kg"

"Second one - 47 lbs/21.5 kg "

(I smiled...not too shabby since both were under the limit.)

"Third bag - 18 lbs/8 kg"

tippity-tippity, type-ity type-ity, Maria C. tapped away on her podium keyboard.

"OK...that will be $200 USD," she said matter-of-factly as she raised her keyboard to a new height with it's pneumatic foot control.


"$200 for the third bag."

"I don't HAVE $200 for a third bag," I whined. <insert pout>

"Well, let's see."..type-ity type-ity [pause]  tippity-tippity...."Nope....can't do a thing about it.
 But, if you can get everything into the first two bags we might be able too make this work."

And that was the pivotal moment when Maria C. of Delta Airlines leapt from her well-perched podium side of life, took pity on an old woman and tried to get everything into two bags.  There were owls, puppy dogs, robots and butterfly pillowcases flying out of my feminine floral-wheeled Cath Kidston duffel and plopped onto the SCALE of DEATH.  Maria C. was like a fishwife smacking freshly caught mackerel on to a scale at the fish market.  She was relentless and determined and I wanted to kiss her cheek and write her mother about her wonderful daughter.

  At last everything was reloaded into Bag #1 and Bag #2

"What will you do with that pretty Cath Kidston floral duffel bag?" asked Maria C.

I gave her a very puzzled look.

 "You'll have to leave it behind since it is a third bag." she chirped.

Maria C. walking off with my duffel

"Hells bells,no thanks," and as quickly as I formed that silent thought, she stuffed Bag #3 into Bag #2.  Bless her heart.  Hurdling back over the counter it was time to approach the SCALE of DEATH one more time. I dragged each bag and hoisted them separately. She weighed the two bags.

She said "Well, it looks like we're okay!" - which of course if one took the time to do the math wasn't really quite true... but if it's okay with Maria C. then it's okay with little me.

Off I sped toward gate A66 to await boarding and visit with Natalie, Cooper and Brady, members of our Nanjing family who were on the same flight.

My last communication with the Big Guy before leaving that day was to ask if he knew where he put those Ruby Red Slippers.  You know the ones where clicking the heels together magically transport you home?

"The last time I saw them they were in pretty good shape and they still worked but had a lag time of 14-hours or more."

 Okay, Okay, I get it, I'm on my way, sweetheart...<click-click>

"We invite our Sky Priority members to board at this time..."

Thanks for Reading,


p.s. For the record, I have contacted Delta Airlines regarding the wonderful customer service that Maria C. provided, not mentioning that she probably broke a rule to do so.  I suggested a double promotion!

Next Week: Travel Unraveled - "Ronald, can you hear me?"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Land of Milk and Honey

We head out of China and home to Michigan twice a year.  FORD grants the Big Guy ‘home leave,' for 10 days to refresh and renew and not lose touch. So we book a flight well in advance and start planning.

Since we chose to keep our Michigan home during our three year assignment in China we maintain two homesteads. I'm sure you are not surprised that both are very different.

A community with tree-lined streets, big box stores, franchises, a few Mom and Pop places, neighborhood schools and places of worship surround our USA suburban ranch-style home. It's very comfortable there with a population of 100,000 living within 36 square miles/58 kilometers.

In China we rent a 6-level (I wish I was kidding) town home in an affluent gated community. That Nanjing home is just outside a vibrant urban sprawl & the activity of close to 7 million people.  We partake in an urban lifestyle that is markedly different than either one of us have experienced.  Taxis, scooters, street people, unusual smells and total traffic craziness is part of our everyday existence there. 

We literally have our feet planted and our toothbrushes perched in two opposing life experiences on two very diverse continents. Such a privilege.

Several of our Nanjing ex-pat friends sold or rented their homes before moving to China.
Therefore their home leave does not necessarily find them back in the
town they left.  Our choice of keeping our Michigan home has kept us feeling quite connected there. Luckily, our adult son returned from Arizona to become the caretaker of our largest tangible asset and it’s 27 years of memories. So we come home to a very familiar place.   We are fortunate.

Top 25 Things I've appreciated during this USA visit

  • Family
  • Friends and Neighbors
  • Church
  • Independence
  • Blue skies
  • White puffy clouds
  • Sunshine
  • Fragrant pine woods
  • Lake Superior
  • Breathtaking beauty of both Michigan and California
  • Mackinac Bridge
  • Mexican Restaurants
  • Target-Home Depot-Fabric stores
  • Hugs
  • Beef
  • Grocery Stores
  • Chicken Tawook & Hummus
  • Thunderstorms
  • Current TV shows
  • Clean public places and restrooms
  • Being understood the first time I speak
  • Uncensored emails and text messages
  • Speedy internet
  • Large capacity washer and dryer and so forth and so on…

Things I Miss About China

  • The Big Guy
  • Ex-pat friends and their wee ones
  • Our dog Casey Marie
  • Learning more about Chinese culture and its people
  • Our Mandarin Lessons and our instructor
  • Clean floors & bathrooms without expending my energy
  • Super fresh produce at unbelievable prices
  • Warm hellos from Chinese friends and co-workers
  • and Yes, some of the local cuisine

While out and about this USA trip and driving or walking from place to place, I kept saying out loud to whoever would listen: "Drink it in!  Drink it in!"

Immediately I/we would look up, breathe deep and be "present" in that moment with our feet planted on US soil and the rich cool smell of clean air. We are grateful.

Like you have been told throughout your life...

Our Grand Niece and Nephew

"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till its gone?"

Thankfully, "it" is not gone. The appreciation of home and life and those we
love on two continents is tangible and accessible.  This reality fills us up and
wells over on to the green grass and clear streams in the USA.  We are proud.

It has been a great home leave and I get to stay awhile longer and "Drink it in,
Drink it in." right here in the Land of Milk and Honey.

Let me be clear: Our non permanent privileged life in China ain't so bad either.

A few days after the Big Guy returned to Nanjing following a harrowing 48-hour escapade to get back to China I asked for a report on how he was really feeling.

He paused a moment and said, "Well you know, Carol, this is HOME, too."

And he is so right... 


Thanks for Reading,


A Few Highlights from our Home Leave                                < photos-AJD-RCJ-CEJ >

At the Getty Center in Los Angeles with Allison and Josh & the Original Monet's "Irises"
Great Aunt Carol and our Little Niece with her signature bow on Lake Superior
Mike and Laura

Sandy and Jim
The Big Guy playing Pin the Tail on the Moose...

...Trailing a Moose is not Easy in the Hiawatha Forest...

...with a Blindfold on...

Thank goodness our nephew Brad was there!
Round Lake Round-Up - 2012