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October 23, 2017
Happy Monday! I've been wanting to blog for a long time but have once again been having major internet issues. That's life in China. Since the internet is sporadically working today, I thought I'd do a quick favorites post.

1) R & B Hair Moisturizer- Over the summer, I went shopping with my mom and sister and saw that there was a Lush store in the mall we were in. I got a little too happy over that and went in to see what new goodies I could discover. I picked up three products, but BY FAR the best performing one was the Revive & Balance hair moisturizer, or R & B for short. This product is supposed to be good for frizzy hair, but I bought it because the water in China is so full of chemicals that it wreaks havoc on my locks. It makes my hair difficult to brush through and very dry. I also got hair straightening last spring, so my hair is a bit damaged from that too. This product works so well at helping the tips of my hair where it's having the most problems. I've always used R & B after brushing out my hair so it's straight, but when my waves start coming back I'd like to see how it works with those. Not to mention that it smells amazing--orange blossoms and jasmine. The jasmine isn't too overpowering for me like it is with Lush's Godiva shampoo bar.

2) "Praying" by Kesha- I meant to do a favorites post this summer and mention this because that is when I started listening to this song, but low and behold it's still one of my current faves. To be honest, I've liked Kesha's older songs because they're catchy, but I never knew she could sing as well as she did in "Praying." I love the song for the meaning behind it, too. She was wronged by her former producer, but the song is about not holding onto that hate and letting it destroy her life. A great comeback song!

3) Dayna Kut from the Kloth Stitch Fix Jeans- This past summer, I got my first ever Stitch Fix. I thought $88.00 for a pair of jeans was a bit pricey but bit the bullet because I liked the way the jeans looked on me. Well, my old pair of favorite jeans tore in three places, so I had to get rid of them. Which pair of jeans do you think replaced them as my go-to jeans? I seriously have to limit myself to wearing them twice a week! 

4) Sparkling Ice Drinks- My sister introduced me to these drinks when I visited her in Michigan over the summer. I know that water is obviously still the best, but I need to change it up once in awhile. The flavors I tried were black cherry and black raspberry and both were refreshing. If I could buy these in China, I would get them instead of soda. 

5) Old Navy Wristlets- Before my back surgery, I would carry around a huge purse filled with everything I needed and also with things I only thought I needed. Since I was very restricted in what I could carry after my surgery, I bought a wristlet from Old Navy and got rid of most of the items in my purse. It was so freeing! I like still being able to hold onto my purse while I carry it without it having to be on my shoulders. I bought a red velvet wristlet last year and a white one for spring. I'm hoping this winter they have the velvety ones back in stock because I'd love a black one! On the U.S. website, this suede one caught my eye. Keeping my fingers crossed that they have some available in China. 

6) The Shock of the Fall- I was in the airport in Myanmar and was trying to find a way to spend my extra kyat since I didn't want to take what little cash I had left back with me. I came across The Shock of the Fall and was immediately sold. The back reads, "I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that." The book focuses on the main character Matthew as a child and as a teenager, narrated by Matthew himself.  Much of the story is about how he copes with the loss of his brother while also being mentally ill. Interestingly enough, author Nathan Filer works as a mental health nurse so it's easy to see how his insight affected his writing. This book was one I couldn't put down! 

7) Chinese medicine- After living in China for three years, I've finally found some Chinese medicine that is really effective! My co-teacher gave me some medicine to put over mosquito bites and this stuff actually makes the itching stop. The medicine has saved me this week because the mosquitoes are BAD in Shanghai right now. Every time I take my students out for recess I get at least five new mosquito bites guaranteed. When I leave China, I'll even take some of this back home with me to the States. I highly recommend searching for this if you travel throughout China.  It can save you a lot of grief!

What are some cool new items that you've found? Any good reads to share?

Being Back in China

September 26, 2017
Well, I'm back in China and have been for about a month now. I haven't posted much because I had problems with the internet, but they seem like they're all sorted now.

My flight back was rough. It was delayed for two hours, but I was so happy to see that the seat next to me was empty. That was short-lived because the flight attendant wanted me to move seats so that a man could be by his baby's crib. Even though it would have been better for me to have had two seats because of my injured back, I felt too bad to say no since a baby was involved. Instead I just stood up a lot and walked around, which helped immensely. My new seat was pretty awful because the man in front of me kept farting and it stunk up our whole section. Nothing like smelling noxious fumes for a 15 hour flight. I tried to stay positive by thinking, "At least the lady next to me is dainty." That thought vanished rapidly when she started picking her nose without even trying to hide it. She pulled out huge boogers and then instead of discreetly wiping them into her tissue, she would inspect them one-by-one before wiping them off of her finger. WHY? Well, I'll stop with the gross stories. If I didn't have a pleasant flight, at least it was a safe one.

Being back here is different than last year, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Last year, I basically did nothing and was experiencing a severe case of PTSD. Going home did me a world of good and I feel almost normal now! Anyway, let me go on describing how this year is already different. A bunch of teachers (myself included) moved to an off-campus apartment. Everything is great about it besides the commute. It does add roughly 2 hours onto my day, but because of traffic, not because of distance. A lot of teachers avoid this by riding a scooter, but that is out of the question for me. The morning rides aren't bad, and I'm actually kind of enjoying them because it brought me closer to a friend I fell out of touch with last year. Since my friends and I all now live in the same building, it's very convenient for making plans. I feel much more included than I did last year, but maybe I get more invites because I can actually walk now!

There is also a subway stop right by my new apartment, which is much more convenient than where I used to live. I didn't like taking the subway before because I would have to take a taxi just to get to the subway station, and once I got a taxi, I would want to just stay in! The subway stop by us is just a small subway station, so it's simple and not that crowded. Since it's so far out, there are usually plenty of seats available on the train.

When we got back it was SO HOT. I'm talking sweat everywhere. My eyes were burning because of the sweat that dripped into them. Lately it has been muggy and smoldering again, but I guess that's the price you pay to enjoy a mild winter.

Now I'm back in first grade, and everything is going well so far. It is just hard at the beginning of the year because the students are all new to the school and have to learn the routines. My class is doing a lot better now with understanding the expectations.

I do miss my old students terribly! I can't believe they're in third grade already because two years went by so fast with them. Seeing them walk right next to my first graders is surreal because they look so grown up. I really had a strong bond with that class, as it was a great combination of personalities. When I see them, I just want to run up to them and give them a big hug! They just made one of the worst times in my life a lot better and were a really understanding, thoughtful, and fun class. Those students made teaching feel like one of the best jobs in the world.

In other news, I was finally able to install Didi (Chinese Uber) after multiple failed attempts. For awhile there was no English version of Didi, but now that there is one. Having Didi is life-changing! Seriously! Instead of cursing under my breath at the lack of taxis available, now there's another option. And all but one Didi driver was nice and professional. The cars are so much cleaner than the Shanghai taxis and I can pay right through We Chat.

Since I've been back, we had our welcome banquet. It was pretty low-key this year since it was on a school night, but a group of my friends and I were able to recreate a photo of us that we had taken at our very first welcome banquet two years ago. I'm so lucky to have stayed close with the three of them and am grateful that they're still here.

It was Teacher's Day in China earlier in the month and my students' parents chipped in and got my co-teacher and me some flowers. A few students made me cards, which was very thoughtful.

I've also been out trying some new (err, new to me) cafes around Shanghai. My friend Tara and I spent an evening at Cafe Montmartre so that we could plan our trip for the October holiday. It was a nice place to have dinner and get some work done.

Another quirky cafe that I got to try is called Cloudy Cafe. It has big puffy cottony clouds hanging down from the ceiling and the decor is all together whimsical. My plate of waffles was garnished with gummy bears and heart shaped fruit. My drink looked like something that Dr. Seuss conjured up and had a long, twisty straw. It was served with two mini swans and a rose. The menu was all hand-written. The cafe was just full of special touches like those, and the lady working behind the counter was adorably sweet.

I also tried Brut Cake Cafe, which again was pretty adorable with tasty food like chicken and waffles and a burger placed inside of a Chinese steamed bun. There were a whole bunch of hand-painted mugs on display as well as patchwork furniture.

I harassed my friend Lauren about organizing a brunch for awhile, and my badgering paid off because  a group of us tried Bull and Claw one Saturday. We had a large party so they gave us the whole upstairs! It was private and we had our own waiter and our own balcony. I felt so spoiled. There is a set menu of different courses and you can order 1-3 courses depending on how much food you want. I settled on two courses, as I didn't dare leave there without trying their English breakfast since it was voted the best in Shanghai. For my second course, I tried some cookies and Ovaltine, which I thought was kind of weird. The Ovaltine bit, I mean. Truthfully, that is what attracted me to that course and ever since I have been buying Ovaltine at Lawson (a convience store) and have been bringing it to work to have as a snack.

In case you can't tell, between my sips of Ovaltine (obsessed and feel the need to bring it up again), I am very much enjoying my time in Shanghai so far this year. Last year was so blah for me. This year will be nothing like that! I'm starting to get my spark back.

Finding new places to go to and exploring the city I live in always boosts my mood. What boosts yours?

Places I Want to Visit Again

September 4, 2017
Are there just some places that you could revisit again and again? For me, there are. Most of the places I want to go back to are based on personal reasons and/or because I have ties or sentimental attachments to those places. Still, I feel there is a lot to gain from revisiting somewhere you've been to before. Maybe you'll get to see an old friend again, or maybe you'll have more of a chance to get off the beaten path and do something you haven't done the first time around. Places change and with that change is more opportunity to explore.

Below are a few places I'd really love to return to!

1) Seoul, South Korea

Why I Want to Go Back: I lived in Seoul from 2003-2004 and then again from 2006-2008, so I spent three years living there in my 20's. I have not been back to Seoul since 2008 and now that I'm living in Shanghai, a trip to Seoul can easily be done on a weekend. In fact, many of my co-workers have been over the last two years. Instead, I opted to travel to places within China that I hadn't been to before such as: Yangshuo, Harbin, and Xi'an. Since I have already been to most of the places I wanted to go to in China, now I feel like it's finally time for me to head back to Korea. My friend Lauren worked in Korea, too, and we always talk about the food, culture, and our times teaching over there. She has expressed interest in going back to Seoul again, so I think it would be cool for the two of us to go over there together. One of my friends from China moved there, and I still have some friends living over there from when I was there! I'm curious to see how Seoul has changed over the past 9 years, as I'm sure it has. In fact, I heard that parts of it will be unrecognizable based off what I remember.

What I Want to See/Do: 1) I'd like to go back to a lot of my favorite places in Seoul like Myeong Dong, Insa Dong, and Hongdae. 2) The Hello Kitty Cafe is a must, especially because they closed the one near me in Shanghai before I ever got a chance to go! 3) Visit the Trick Eye Museum because it looks like a fun time with plenty of chances for photo ops. 4) Eat all the Korean food that I can, especially Korean barbecue and tuna kimbap.

2) Newfoundland, Canada

Why I Want to Go Back: The locals were so friendly here and many parts of Newfoundland were pristine and beautiful. The main reason I'd like to return is because three of my dear friends live in Newfoundland and they're all there right now. The first time I visited, I was only able to see one of my friends. Now that all three of them are back, I feel like I want to go soon because we all haven't seen each other in such a long time.

What I Want to See/Do: 1) Get screeched in. I technically did not get screeched in "officially" when I first visited. To get screeched in is a Newfie tradition involving guests to the island. You are supposed to have some Screech (rum with a high alcohol content), kiss a cod, and then learn some local slang. This is done to welcome visitors, and some places even give you a certificate. 2) Go out into the water and see icebergs. 3) Go on a road trip and stop at charming fishing villages such as Dildo. Yes, you read that right.

3) Italy

Why I Want to Go Back: Do I really need to explain this? I think most people WOULD want to go back to Italy. I miss speaking Italian and am completely out of practice. I miss the warmth of the people in Southern Italy and eating freshly prepared Italian food for almost every meal. I also have some ties there and want to see the family I nannied for years ago. Even though I lived in Italy for a year, I feel like I just barely scratched the surface of everything I wanted to see and do there.

What I Want to See/Do: 1) Go to Verona and see "Juliet's" balcony. 2) Revisit Tuscany. I did get to visit Siena, Firenze, and Cortona, but there are so many other towns in Tuscany that I'd love to get to such as: Lucca, San Gimignago, Viterbo, Montepulciano, etc. 3) Go to Cinque Terre for those gorgeous views and coastal villages on the Italian Riveria.

4) Iceland

Why I Want to Go Back: My friend Scott and I were going to go on a road trip through Iceland the summer before last, but I ended up hospitalized, so we had to cancel our whole trip. This is still something I'd very much like to do together! I've traveled a lot with Scott, but I just feel like Iceland would be "his thing."

What I Want to See/Do: 1) Go to the Silfra Fissure to snorkel between two tectonic plates. This has been something I've always regretted not doing. 2) Go to some more hot springs besides the two I visited last time (the Blue Lagoon and Secret Lagoon). 3) Explore the northern part of Iceland since last time our trip focused on the South.

5) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Picture via 
Why I Want to Go Back: I grew up in Pittsburgh and have not been back since I was 18 years old. If you're noticing the whole "I used to live here" theme in places I want to go back to, you're right. I've never been to a single bar in Pittsburgh and never got to experience the nightlife. I've barely even driven around it since I moved when I was 15, one year before I got my driver's license. My dad has been back and told me that it has changed for the better. Being back there would be surreal in a sense and would also be very "Sliding Doors" in a way.

What I Want to See/Do: 1) Ride on the incline for views of the city. 2) Eat at Conflict Kitchen. 3) Visit the Andy Warhol museum. 4) Go to a Pirates game. 5) Take a trip to Kennywood, my favorite amusement park from my childhood.

What are some places that you just didn't get your fill of the first time around? Or, what are some places you feel you feel tied to because of your past?


August 25, 2017
When my pal Rachael and I went to Iceland a few years back, Rachael said she thought it would be a good idea to start a hashtag to document our trip on Instagram. We also wanted to encourage others to use it to document anything adventurous that they decided to do. The hashtag "the adventurous way" comes from combining the names of both of our blogs: Adventures of a Dream Catcher + The Rachael Way. Rachael thought of it and asked me if it would be okay--I happily agreed, thinking it was pretty clever.

While the hashtag isn't HUGE, I was pumped to see that there were over 1,000 posts, so I wanted to do a little feature of some of my favorite posts that I felt showcased something truly adventurous. I still use the hashtag fairly often myself but have to say that my life hasn't been too adventurous since my spinal fusion. While I'm not able to do any zip lining or adventure sports, adventure to me can just mean trying out a new food or doing something outside of your comfort zone. I hope the pictures below inspire you to live life the adventurous way!

1) I love this photo because it captures adventure in two ways--both the photographer and the child are being adventurous. User didersmith snapped this shot of a child on a reindeer while he was staying with reindeer herders in Mongolia. Read his detailed caption for more exciting information about his trip.

Yes, this kid is riding a reindeer! @radical_buddhist and I spent the past 9 days on an expedition to a very remote region of northern Mongolia to stay with one of the few remaining families of reindeer herders. Called the Dukha people, they've lived in a symbiotic relationship with their reindeer for centuries. Unfortunately, there is only a handful of families remaining today. To get to their village, we had to put together a full support team (as the people are nomadic, it would have been impossible to even find them otherwise), then ride off-road for two days until the terrain became impassable. Then, we ditched the bikes and continued on horseback for another two days, until we finally arrived at the high mountain valley where the people had made their summer home. I'll release more details in the coming days - for now it's time to hit the road again. Staying with these people and their reindeer was an incredible experience I'll never forget. #roundtheworld #exploretheplanet #adventuretourism #adventuretravel #goplaces #itsbetteroutside #madeforadventure #lovetheoutdoors #outdoorsy #gooutsideandplay #adventurous #ontheroadagain #itsamazingoutthere #doyourbest #selfbelief #keepmovingforward #mindsetiseverything #takeaction | #thetimeisnow #youcan #keepmoving #anythingispossible #chaseyourdreams #roadtosuccess #fearnothing #theadventurousway #wearewanderlusters #trueadventure #rtwtrip #rtwtravel
A post shared by Didier Smith, Adventure Rider (@didiersmith) on

2) The next photo was posted by my friend Steven (stevenonthego). It fascinates me because I know I could never do a pose like this! Steven quit his job teaching to pursue his dream of teaching yoga. He trained in India and is now hoping to teach yoga full-time. Check out his account for more yoga poses along with some fabulous travel pictures.

A post shared by Steven Conville (@stevenonthego) on

3) I may be a bit biased in choosing the next picture, but I just LOVE the shot my friend Chris (cjphennessey) took while we were together in Macau. It shows the famous Ruins of St. Paul in the background. There's nothing more adventurous than taking a weekend trip to a new place and going exploring!

4) The next shot has the most gorgeous sunrise that user Upwardhiking posted before a hike in Hawaii. To me, hiking is always an adventure because you never know what you might encounter along the way: fellow travelers, new scenery, animals, etc. I think it's one of the best ways to explore a new place.

5) I can't think of adventure and not think of zip lining. This photo by Parkerlennon stood out to me because of the person zip lining right between the couple--such a neat shot! Of course being in the rain forest also helps raise up the adventure points.

I hope you consider joining in and using #theadventurousway the next time you explore!

What's your favorite picture with theadventurousway hashtag?

Ohio for the Summer

August 21, 2017
If you follow me on Instagram, you know already that I made it to Ohio this summer. When I flew out from Shanghai, it was only 11 days after my myomectomy surgery, so I was on edge about the trip. I also hadn't been on a long-haul international flight in economy class since the summer of 2015 due to my back surgery. I was still in pain from my recent surgery and sitting for too long (more than a few hours) always gives me back pain now, so I was wondering how I was even going to tolerate the flight. I looked into buying Business class flights so that I could lie down, but they were more than $4,000 round trip, so it was just too pricey for me. I decided that even if I was in pain for 10 hours, that would be better than not getting to see my friends and family. I flew Shanghai-Los Angeles, and that flight was about 12 hours long and the one I was the most worried about. I ended up having some unbelievable luck, though! The whole flight was full, except for the seat next to me. I'm sure that's because I booked so late and was all the way in the back of the plane by the bathrooms, but having that vacant seat next to me was such a blessing. If my back hurt too much, I could just lie down on the seat and while it was not comfortable by any means, it was still getting pressure off of my spine. When I arrived in LA, it was awful because I had to collect my bags. They were only about 20 pounds because I had planned on doing a lot of shopping in the States, but I was on a 10-pound lifting restriction after my surgery, so dealing with my bags was a pain (literally). They ran out of baggage carts, so I had to lug my bags, which was annoying, but hey...somehow I was able to manage. Once I went through security and got my bags re-checked, I felt a lot better and was just loving the simple fact that I had made it back to America! It was so weird being able to understand most people's conversations once again. I'm still not used to it and eavesdrop all the time. Once I boarded my flight from LA to Columbus, I knew I was in the home stretch. After landing in Columbus, my dad met me at Baggage Claim. It had been two years since I had seen him. I know he was relieved to see me in one piece after going through some painful procedures in China. My dad drove us back to my parents' house and had me stay in my sister's old bedroom, which was all ready for me.

For the first few days after coming back to the States, I just decided to stay at home, hang out with my parents, and rest mostly. My dad had read one of my previous blog posts in which I said that I missed Bob Evans restaurants, so he invited my mom and me to join him for a meal there. I got the banana bread I'd been so desperately craving in China. Nothing beats Bob Evan's banana bread! When I told some fellow Ohioans that I'd been missing Bob Evans, they laughed at me and said, "That's almost as embarrassing as Rachael missing Applebee's!" Hey, we like what we like! No shame. It turned out that the Ohio obsession with Bob Evan's worked in my favor, as my sister also suggested we go to one, and there is even one in the Columbus airport (which of course I ate at).

Besides getting my Bob Evan's fix, after a few days of rest, I did a lot of shopping. I may have overdone it, but I was just SO sick of my current wardrobe that it was worth it to me. Just going to Target for the first time in two years was an experience! Of course, I spent more than intended, but now I have some staple pieces that I can wear for a long time.  Besides Target, I ended up making purchases at Ulta, Old Navy, Torrid, Zale's, and Maurices. I even ordered my first Stitch Fix. Come to think of it, it was probably the biggest shopping spree I had ever been on in my life! Why is it so fun spending money?

The first person in Ohio that I wanted to see was my friend Scott who worked with me in China my first year there. I figured he would be a great person to see because he knew exactly what it was like over there, and we just had a lot to catch up on. The last time Scott saw me, I had just gotten out of the hospital and could barely walk, so it was awesome showing him my progress. We met for sushi, got iced coffees, and then spent the afternoon in some beautiful gardens laughing and reminiscing.

I also got to visit one of my favorite locally owned restaurants, which serves Greek food. My dad took me to the downtown location, and I have to say that the downtown area of the town my parents live nearest to is looking better and better these days. I remember when it was just a bunch of vacant buildings with a few businesses, but now there is a coffee shop, salons, more restaurants and bars, a (legit looking) tattoo parlor, a children's museum, specialty shops, and some art studios. While there are still some empty buildings, there's no denying that improvements have been made. Walking around downtown now is "a thing" and the overall vibe is much better.

The next people I decided to visit were my friends Amanda and Courtney. We worked at the movie theater together for years, so we had SO many crazy stories to share about our past experiences. Some day I think I should write a tell-all post about some of the insane people I had to deal with in customer service. At least the crazies always give me good stories to tell, even though some of them sound like lies because they are that extreme. The three of us went to Bingo. We all lost the main games but had fun regardless. Then Amanda asked me to go see 47 Meters Down with her. The movie was just okay, but I enjoyed just being in a movie theater again since I had only gone once in two years in China. As for other movies, I was able to see Wonder Woman and Dunkirk. I would have gone to see more movies, but I just didn't have enough time. Three movies in a theater in a month and a half isn't too shabby, though!

I was also able to see a few people that I studied Early Childhood Education with at OSU. Four of us met for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. It was great to hear how their lives are now and fun to compare teaching experiences. I don't envy them having to complete RESA though. I heard it is a nightmarish mentoring program that teachers with initial licensure have to pass in order to receive their professional teaching license. If I ever decide to come back to Ohio to teach, I might have to go through that, too. There have already been talks of this program getting replaced, so you never know. I've learned very quickly that when it comes to education and teaching requirements that nothing is set in stone. So many changes have already happened since I graduated in 2013.

I met my buddy Autumn one day at the Olive Garden for dinner, too. We are both fans of the soup, salad, and breadsticks. Although I didn't have a lot of time to see people, I do have to say that I DID get to see everyone that I wanted to see the most! I was also able to make it down to Columbus to meet with my college friends and got to go to Cleveland to see my friends I met in Seoul.

One of the best days I had all summer was with my friends Dre and Gregg! They requested the day off work to hang out with me, and we went to some fun and beautiful places in Ohio. Our first stop was Brandywine Falls, which is part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We also stopped at The Signal Tree, at Gregg's suggestion. Apparently, Native Americans used oddly shaped trees as meeting points, and this was one of them.

Our next stop was to go to the Hard Rock Rocksino where we had a light lunch and decided to try our hand at the slot machines. Dre and I decided that we would spend $20 max and see what happened. First, I tried the Wonka machine but lost. Dre mentioned that she wanted to play the Walking Dead slot machines because last time she won $100. When I played, I ended up winning 25 free spins, which was awesome because I just watched myself keep on earning a few bucks here and there. I also got a chance to pop character's faces to see which prize I would win. At one point, I had popped two mini prizes and two grand prizes. If I popped another grand prize, I would have gotten almost $10,000! Can you believe that? I couldn't imagine leaving a casino $10,000 richer, could you? My heart was pounding, but of course, I popped the mini and got $60. At least I came away with extra money, but I felt I was really close to getting the $10,000, or at least they made it so I would think that! I can see why people become addicted to gambling because it was really hard to make myself cash out while I was still ahead. I haven't been to a casino many times in my life, but this was my third time winning which I think is pretty good.

There is also a race track where you can watch horse racing, but it wasn't going on the day we went. We were able to see a horse outside training, though.

Next, we went to the Fannie May Harry London Chocolate Factory in Canton, Ohio. We got there a little before the tour started, so we browsed the gift shop and were offered some Buckeyes and a selection of various types of chocolates including the Mint Meltaways that I picked. Once the tour started, we watched a video explaining the history of the two companies that are now in business together. Then we went upstairs and saw a huge tank full of chocolate. It gets shipped in from a secret spot and then is used to make all kinds of delicious truffles, chocolate-covered strawberries, butter creams, etc. We got to see the workers producing various kinds of chocolate in the factory. Funnily enough, production had just started on their Christmas chocolates, and we saw them making red and green chocolate-covered pretzels. We learned that there are people who are official taste testers who check for quality control. Any mess ups are bagged up and sold at a cheaper price in the gift shop or else are given to employees. At the end of the tour, we were offered two more chocolates from a tray to try. The salted caramel one was the best! To finish off the tour, we were taken to the gift shop and sampled a small scoop of chocolate ice cream. The tour was free and I got to try so many different kinds of chocolate, which was a great way to spend an afternoon. I would 100% order some chocolates from this company in the future.

After the chocolate factory tour, we drove out to Gervasi Vineyard. I have been to many wineries in Ohio but never heard of this one until a few years ago. I have to say that it is the most beautiful vineyard I've ever been to. The grounds are so beautiful so I can see why so many people opt to get married here. Not that I even have a boyfriend, but add me to that list because it's absolutely gorgeous. For dinner, Gregg made a reservation for us at The Bistro. There was a noticeable Italian theme to the place. We were greeted with a "Ciao" when we entered, and all of the wines were named in Italian. Dre and I wanted to try a flight of them. My favorite one was a Riesling called Piove (rain), and I would have tried more but I had to drive home so I couldn't. One day, I'd love to stay in one of their villas! Not only could I try all the wine I wanted, but they look luxurious even from the outside.

This summer, I also became addicted to Whit's Frozen Custard. Omg...Delicious! I gained 10 pounds, and I think 9 of those pounds are from Whit's. Not even upset about the weight gain because I lost some weight before this trip and already figured I would gain some back. When I go back to China, I know I'll be better about watching what I eat. But back to Whit's. What really gets me are the different flavors that they change out every week or so. The next time I go in, I see that the following week has another flavor that I want to try. The best ones I had were the lemon, Key Lime, and peach. It is so good that a friend of mine who is lactose intolerant goes there anyway and deals with the consequences, ha ha.

Once I wasn't in so much pain, I did start to become more active by walking the bike trail and some other local trails. I was just glad to be outside and moving again. Who doesn't like being outside when the weather is nice?

One day I also made it up to Cleveland to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I hadn't been since about 2004, so it was like going to a completely new museum. The person I went with hadn't been before and he said, "That was the most non-boring museum I've ever experienced." We both liked that so many parts of the museum were not just visual and they played music on tv or through speakers. You can go into a theater and watch a collection of snippets of some musicians really rocking out. It was intense and one of the highlights of the whole day! There are exhibits that focus on the history of rock and roll, an Elvis Presley exhibit, and one called Cities and Sounds (think Seattle grunge, London punk, etc.). Admiring all of the costumes and artifacts that they've collected is amazing, too.

After the museum, we drove through downtown Cleveland and stopped to take in this marvelous view before driving home.

To be honest, I think I took a risk flying over here with my health problems. It turned out to be the right call, though. Looking back, I don't think I could have worked a third year in China without going home in between at all. Maybe some people can, but I'm not one of them. I'm just so relieved that everything worked out the way it did and that I could recover at home and also see people who are important to me. When I think about it, even though my summer started out lame with me having to recover from a painful surgery, it went uphill from there and just kept getting better and better. This has been a summer full of laughter, new memories, and just plain relief. I feel like I'm finally starting to get back to normal again, but there's no way that could have happened without this trip home. Sometimes there's just no place like it!