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Being Appreciative

January 16, 2017
Some of my lowest moments in life were hit this year due to challenges I've been facing with my health. Recently, I've been doing a bit better. I'm about 7.5 months into my very long recovery from my back surgery and am finally feeling a bit triumphant seeing how I was able to travel for the first time since before my operation. I started thinking about how grateful I was that I could go somewhere again, and then I thought in an effort to stay positive that it might be nice to compile a whole list of what I'm grateful for. So what am I thankful for lately?

* The ability to travel- After this was taken away from me, travel is something that I will never take for granted ever again. I was very leery to get on a plane and go somewhere new because of what happened to me the last time I traveled. I had an intense (but not unfounded) fear that maybe I couldn't handle the trip I had planned, but I just spent three and a half days wonderful days in Sanya, China for the Christmas holiday! The way I travel now must be done differently to accommodate my needs, and I had friends helping me the whole time. Just to be able to leave Shanghai again was a major accomplishment in itself. Travel means a great deal to me and is a major reason why I decided to live and work in Shanghai, so to have that back was the best Christmas present I could've asked for.

* That my surgery was successful- I joined a spinal fusion support group on Facebook, and it was eye-opening for me. I haven't been able to talk to others who have gotten my surgery, so being a part of this group is a helpful reminder that I am not alone. Even though I went through my own personal hell for some time, I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones!  I feel so awful for some of the people in that group because many of them are still in a lot of pain and some of them had surgeries that failed. I couldn't even imagine going through all the trauma and expense of a major surgery only to be in worse pain. One woman is paralyzed and says she will be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. 

* Friends and acquaintances who help me- People have still been so kind to me. Even the small things have added up to make a huge difference, like a co-worker offering her chair to me so I could sit down at a meeting. The girl who lives across from me offered to lift my water because she knows I can't. My friends who went to Sanya with me had to help me carry my backpack and suitcase. I really don't like asking for help, so when people offer it's a big relief!

* Getting asked back- Not all the teachers at my school will get asked to stay for another year. I was worried that maybe because of my bad health that the school wouldn't want me, but they do. My boss even mentioned to me how she really hoped I could stay at the school for a third year.

* Receiving very warm Christmas wishes from my students' parents- Some of my students' parents personally messaged me on We Chat or students gave me a card or gift. I care a lot about my class, so it's nice to know that the feeling is mutual.

* Still getting invited to events- Gosh, if I were some of my friends, I would have probably given up with the invites. I have turned down SO many invitations this year that I'm genuinely surprised people still ask me to anything at all. I'm so glad that I'm still getting asked to stuff because on the rare occasion, I do go! I want to go to a lot more events than I capable of attending. I'm getting there, though. Hopefully next semester will be better than this one!

* For time off- I have about three and a half weeks off of work coming up here soon. There aren't many jobs out there that offer a paid vacation for that amount of time, so I will be making the most of it!

* Getting better- Even though sometimes it is hard to notice my day-to-day progress, I do have to be cognizant of how far I've come. As my friend Lauren said, "Remember when you first tried to walk? You were really unstable, and look at you now. You have to keep in mind that you're still healing." I'll readily admit that I'm impatient, so when I'm having some frustrating moments, I need to remember that I'm still on the road to recovery. Recently, I started walking to the cafeteria again with my students, so that was a big milestone for me.

* Being able to pay off debt- I still owe my dad quite a bit of money for my surgery, but in the past few months I paid off $6,000 worth of debt! That's pretty impressive for someone who couldn't even walk in May. Thank God I can work full time again. Trust me, I am fully aware that there are those who cannot work at all, so I know I'm fortunate.

* Having people that still read my blog- I haven't been posting regularly, but it's nice to know that a few of you keep checking back. Thanks! <3

* Good books- I just read And the Mountains Echoed, and it was nothing short of amazing. I love all of Khaled Hosseini's work. He is such a brilliant storyteller, and every time I open one of his books I get sucked in for a few days. He knows how to make his audience care about the characters, that's for sure. Also, reading is a hobby that doesn't hurt my back, so there's that too!

* Funny and gifted students- My students are so adorable and being around them just puts me in a good mood! (Most of the time, ha ha.) They're always telling me jokes, stories, or just being silly in general. I got their MAP results back, and it confirmed what I've always thought. I'm working with some of the best and the brightest kids out there. I consider myself lucky to be their teacher.

* Coziness- Fuzzy socks, fleeces, duvets, hot soup, and warm drinks are pretty much the best on these cold winter days.

* The food scene in Shanghai- I love the mix of restaurants and types of foods that are available here!  There are lots of big cities in China, but not all of them have such a wide range of restaurants. I can have Mexican one day, Chinese food the next, then some French food, or maybe Spanish, Italian, Thai, or Japanese food. It's all possible here!

What are some positive things going on in your life right now?

Life Lately: Fall 2016 Edition

December 7, 2016
As you've probably gathered from the title, this is one of those "what I've been up to" posts. This fall had some ups and downs for me, but I think that's normal when one is still recovering. Last weekend, I even did something wild and went out in the city for two days, as opposed to my usual one day. I also had my first off-campus excursion on a school night! *gasp*

One day I met Rachael and the two of us went for brunch at Egg Shanghai because we wanted to try their pumpkin spice pancakes. It seems that this year I'm able to satisfy my seasonal cravings more than I could last year. Maybe I just know my way around Shanghai a bit more so I can figure out where to go to get all the best food! Afterwards, we went to Sephora and went on a little shopping spree. I splurged on some perfume. They didn't have any O de Lancome in stock, which is what I originally set out to buy. Instead, I tested out all different kinds of perfume before finally settling on a bottle of Prada Candy. I also bought a few Sephora brand lipsticks as well as The Original MakeUp Eraser Makeup Remover Cloth. Rachael had read about it on another blog and suggested we try them out. I have to say that this cloth is a game-changer for me because I just use it to remove ALL of my makeup, including my eye makeup! It comes right off, which is so awesome because I was running low on eye makeup remover pads, anyway. I might even go back and buy another one so that I can alternate them between washes.

A photo posted by Lisa (@lisak0417) on

Lately, I've also been to three different get-togethers. Two of them were for Thanksgiving, which was great because last year I didn't do anything special and just had the same $2.00 spicy soup I pretty much get once a week. Rachael hosted one Thanksgiving celebration, and we ordered in food from a grocery store and asked everyone to bring their own plates and utensils so there was no prep or clean up. We were able to get many of the traditional foods we would have had in America, and there were four different kinds of pies. We invited three of our British friends to this one, and it was their first Thanksgiving, so I hope we did it right! One of the guys kept posting pics of himself with the leftover turkey the next day, so I think it was a success. The next Friendsgiving was hosted by my friend Chris, and this dinner had so many courses and sides of delicious, homemade food. Rachael came to my apartment beforehand, and we made some food together including chicken stuffing and cheesy potatoes. I liked how both celebrations had different mixes of people and I was glad to have home cooked dishes over the weekend when I had time to prepare. During the week, I was more than happy to just order in! Everything really worked out perfectly, and I'm thankful for our little community and that this was even possible. The last get-together was at my friend Lauren's house. She says she loves hosting and whipped up bangers and mash for everyone she invited. Hanging out there was great, and everyone was just so chill. I love the kind of effortless friendships that just flow naturally and where I don't feel like I have to monitor what I say.

Last week, I signed up for a crafts class at Craft'd with Rachael, Steven, and Chris. The four of us spent the evening having dinner at a spot called Spread the Bagel and later met up to make some candles. We could pick the candle holder, scents, and colors for the first two we made. Out of the two I made, I'll probably burn one and then keep the other one for decorative purposes because it's in an adorable vintage tea cup. We made a beeswax candle and then used a hot glue gun to attach cinnamon sticks around a plain candle. It was a good evening out and the four candles are making my apartment feel cozier.

This past weekend, Rachael and I hung out with our friend Nate who moved to Korea to teach. He was back in Shanghai for the weekend, so we met him for lunch, along with a few of his other friends. It was so good to catch up with him! Afterwards, we got manicures and pedicures. I got red for Christmas. I wasn't going to get a gel manicure again because I finally stopped about a month ago, but then there was this promotion going on and it was like I would get a gel manicure for just $7, so how could I say no? That's how they get you! I never thought I'd become addicted to gel manicures, but I totally am. That night, the two of us met a larger group for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory at Disney Village. I hadn't been yet, but it was a real treat because the menu has almost everything they offer in the States! I even got a piece of chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake...drool. We did some shopping at one of the stores, but nothing caught my eye. I really need to have a full Disney day. The only bad thing is that I cannot ride anything yet unless it's suuuuper tame. Do  they have a carrousel? A train? I could probably handle those, but probably nothing else.

I've also been to two of Shanghai's Christmas markets! First, a group of us went to the French one at The Pearl. I liked the venue a lot, but it was just a pretty small event. I was able to get pie and mulled wine, and spent some time admiring the delicate, handmade jewelry there...Although now I have non-buyer's remorse (ha ha) because I wish I would've bought myself a necklace from one of the vendors. Last weekend, I went to the German Christmas market, Paulaner Brauhaus. There were all kinds of food stalls where sausages, pretzels, chili, waffles, and crepes were for sale. I washed my meal down with some spiked hot chocolate. This market was bigger than the first one, so there was more to see. I left with a pair of fuzzy socks, some candles (as if I needed those--I just told you guys how I made four!!), a souvenir cup, a French-milled soap for my co-teacher, and oh my gosh...I just remember I bought another candle! But it's completely acceptable because it's inside of a bamboo shoot and smells like cinnamon, right?

Do you have a Christmas market in your town? What's it like?

Favorite Products Found in Shanghai

December 5, 2016
I've been in Shanghai for over a year now, and it has been fun discovering new products to try...and, in some cases, taste! Below I've listed out a few of my top picks, so if you're ever in Shanghai...

Dutch Pies- I was able to sample three different kinds of pies from Dutch Pies this Thanksgiving, and boy were they all delicious! Dutch Pies uses only fresh ingredients and does not add those icky preservatives.  Now that I know about this company, I will be placing orders with them. It's the perfect dessert to bring to a get together, and the best part is that it saves me from having to cook, yet others will still enjoy it. Dutch Pies can ship the pies right to you, which is dangerously convenient. Some of the mouth-watering flavors to choose from are: cherry crumble, apple, pumpkin, banana toffee, and pecan. They also make rice pudding and cakes!

Lizzy's All-Natural- I absolutely love the smoothies from Lizzy's. Here in Shanghai, sometimes I feel like I don't get enough vitamins from fruits and vegetables. The smoothies from Lizzy's are a great way to incorporate those. There are several stores located in Shanghai, but I order the smoothies from Kate and Kimi, a grocery delivery service. Typically, I'll have one as a meal replacement, but just for breakfast. A few of my friends have done the detoxifying cleanses, too. Besides smoothies, there are different types of teas, coffees, and milks.

Little Ondine- These nail polishes are the bomb. There is very little drying time, and my nails have dried very quickly in comparison to when I use traditional polish. This nail polish is water-based, so it's not harmful to your nails. The best part is that you don't even need to use nail polish remover to take the polish off! You can just peel it, and it comes right off! I've found Little Ondine nail polish at Sephora here in Shanghai, but the company is really growing and now has a U.S. site.

Suzhou Cobblers- I've been admiring these shoes for awhile now, and think I'm going to finally shell out the cash to get a pair of custom made shoes. The designs scream China, and many types have hand embroidered patterns on them; think birds, flowers, bamboo, pandas, and peacocks. A shop in Xintiandi sells these shoes, but there are some available to buy on their website as well.  If I could fit into any of them, I would've totally bought some already, so thank goodness they have the custom made option for women who need sizes in the 40's.

Strictly Cookies- These homemade cookies remind me of some gourmet cookies I'd get back home in the States. If cookies are your thing, I highly recommend trying these, as I was hooked from the first bite. (If I just made them sound addicting, they are!!) The cookies can be found in restaurants, shops, and cafes all over Shanghai. My favorite one is called Snack Pack, and it's made with chips, Oreos, caramel, and pretzels!

This weekend I'll be heading to a Christmas market, where I'm sure to come across even more top-notch items! What local products do you love?

40 Before 40

November 30, 2016
I'm too old to make a 30 Before 30 list, so here's my 40 Before 40 one, even though just typing out the numbers 4-0 is a bit scary to me now! I do have plenty of time to work on these goals, although who knows if I'll even still be blogging by the time 40 hits. Anyway, here goes nothin'...

1) Take a course to keep my teaching license valid. 
2) Pay off my entire surgery. So far, I've paid off $2,000, but still have a long way to go. 
3) Ride in a hot air balloon. Sorry if this one is cliche and on everyone's list, but it just sounds FUN.
4) Dye my hair pink. I've been interested in changing it to a really wild color, but couldn't because of my jobs...Maybe I'll figure out a way. 
5) Take a language course in Italy. This is something I've always wanted to do just as a hobby. I know some conversational Italian, but would love to improve.
6) Go on an epic road trip. I've been on some great ones in the past, but I want to drive around in the Western part of the USA.
7) Get a phoenix tattoo. I was going to get this over my scar where I had my surgery as a way to cover up the ugly mess it left behind. I'm not sure it's such a good idea now. Because I had complications with my wound healing, there's an indentation and now I'm not sure I want a tattoo there. I'd also have to find someone who has plenty of experience working with scars, so I probably would have to wait to get this done in the States instead of in China. I opted for a phoenix because I couldn't walk for weeks, and eventually I was able to "rise again." These mythological birds symbolize strength and healing. Also, I watched a lot of Harry Potter in the hospital.
8) Get my own dog. This is something I've yearned for as long as I can remember! I want a dachshund or a mini poodle.
9) Learn to drive stick shift. It just makes sense since I travel a lot.
10) Get more fit. The other day I stood on the scale and saw the fattest number of my life, so yeah...I don't want this trend to continue.
11) Attend another blogger meet up. I haven't heard about anything in Shanghai, so this might have to wait.
12) Read 100 new books. I'm back on a reading kick again, and it's a cheap hobby so of course I want to get lost in more books!
13) Join a club. I actually really like clubs...I just need to find one that matches my interests.
14) Take a DNA genealogy test. You know the ones that cost about $100 from Ancestry.com? I'm so interested to know more about my heritage!
15) See a burlesque show. I found out that there will be one in Shanghai next weekend! Is it cheating to add this to my list, knowing that I might get to go soon? ;)
16) Get good at making a signature dish and cocktail. I'm not the best cook, but I am capable of perfecting a dish or two. At get togethers, I want people to ask me, "Lisa, did you make your ______?"
17) Take a cruise to Antarctica. It's so expensive, but truly would be a once in a lifetime experience.
18) Get a nice family portrait taken. My immediate family hasn't been all in the same spot for years. When we do get reunited, I think it would be nice to have a recent professional picture of all of us together.
19) Go to a black tie event. I've never worn an evening gown in my life. The most dressed up I've ever been was when I was a bridesmaid my sisters' and friends' weddings.
20) Watch a roller derby match.
21) Take a flower arranging course.
22) Visit Central America.
23) Host a Christmas party.
24) Go on a cruise.
25) Eat at 3 restaurants with a Michelin star or stars. I just found out that one of the cheapest restaurants in the world with two Michelin stars is right here in Shanghai! It's called Canton 8, and I want to go with my co-teacher!
26) Go on a hike more than 5 miles long. I've done this before, but it's been awhile.
27) Camp in a national park. I've never been camping in the US and have always wanted to!
28) Raise money for charity.
29) See the Northern Lights.
30) Try surfing. This one is going to be really hard for me, but a close friend of mine started a few years back and now she's really good! She has offered to teach me. (I hope she has a lot of patience).
31) Go zip-lining. While I can't do anything too adventurous this year since my back is healing, I hope that I can try this eventually.
32) Contribute regularly to a retirement fund.
33) Visit New England in the fall.
34) Complete my bucket list for China.
35) Go vegan for a summer.
36) Get a chemical peel.
37) Get my teeth professionally whitened.
38) Start swimming on a regular basis.
39) Refurbish a piece of furniture.
40) Go a week without technology (tv, phone, computer, i-Pad, etc).

There you have it! Some of these will be easier than others, that's for sure.

Do you have a signature dish? Any suggestions or tips as to what I can use as mine? What's on your 40 Before 40 list?

Traveling Confessions and Mishaps

November 28, 2016
My time spent traveling has almost always been an incredible experience overall, but there were some moments when events don't go as planned. Today I'll be keeping it real by sharing a bunch of instances that I'll never forget, as well as a few confessions.

* I've been to more countries than states, which tells me I need to get out there and explore my own country soon.

* I'm an anxious flier and have only ever fallen asleep on plane once in my whole life. That was when I took some prescription strength sleeping pills while flying from Indonesia to San Francisco. Best flight of my life because I don't remember any of it!

* Speaking of sleeping pills, when I flew to Greece, I took some Tylenol PM in hopes that I'd fall asleep like I did on my flight from Indonesia that I just mentioned. It wasn't working, so I took a few more. I never fell asleep, but felt extremely out of it. In fact, I felt so loopy that I left my passport on the plane by accident after I disembarked. I was at customs having a panic attack, and feared I wouldn't be allowed to enter if my passport didn't turn up. They had to sweep the plane for me, and the lady working at customs was NOT happy. Thank goodness it was found, and trust me, I have not taken one Tylenol PM since then and always obsessively check for my passport now.

* After a trip, you know how you tend to get stuck with some extra foreign currency you might not use again? Previously, I put some of those coins in my class's treasure box, and my students loved them!

* Even though it's insanely expensive, I hope to go on a cruise to Antarctica one day. This might be an impractical dream, but it's still a dream nonetheless.

* I know solo travel is all the rage, but I think I prefer to have a travel buddy come along with me, especially after what happened to me in Urumqi. Personally, I think traveling in groups of 2 or 4 is ideal because sometimes with three people one person might get left out. I have done some solo travel and had a good time, but I 100% prefer to travel with just one other person or a few other people.

* I've had McDonald's in the States, the UK, Canada, Italy, Korea, China, and India. Mind you, I did live in four of those countries! Of course I make an effort to try the local food, but sometimes when I'm hungry, it's just nice to know what I'm going to get and the price range of the food.

* About 10 years ago, a couple of friends and I got stuck in Menaggio without meaning to. We took a day trip from Milan to go to Lake Como, and later decided to take a ferry across the lake and explore Menaggio. Once we got off of the ferry, we thought we were being really responsible by purchasing our return ticket then and there. It was only the late afternoon, so we wanted to spend a few hours there and then return to Bellagio in the early evening. When we asked when the last returning ferry was for that day, the ticket seller pointed at the ferry that had just departed for Bellagio, and said,"That one." We had a hotel room in Milan to stay in that night, so we thought about just staying out all night to save on money rather than booking another place, but we eventually decided to get another hotel room in Menaggio because of our mistake. Whoops!

* I've missed a flight before. A friend and I were flying from Manila to Caticlan to try to get to Boracay. We asked at the front desk at our hotel how early we should get to the airport, and they said to leave two hours before our flight, even for a domestic flight. By the time we got to the airport, we were still an hour and a half early, but before we could enter the airport, all passengers had to wait in this long line so that our bags could be x-rayed. Because we were traveling around Christmastime, it was SUPER busy, and we were about to miss our check in time for our flight. We went to the front of the line and explained the situation, and the security guards let us through. When we arrived at the check-in counter, we were told we had made it just in time, but then the worker took our tickets and wandered around with them for 10 minutes or so saying he had to check something. After he took off with our tickets and came back, he said that we had missed the check in time by 5 minutes. We pointed out that we were there in time, and that he left with our tickets, which caused us to be late. However, they overbooked the plane, and his suggestions weren't very helpful. He told us that we could fly stand-by, but that we would likely never get a later flight, as there were tons of others ahead of us in line. Instead, my travel companion and I just booked a flight from the competitor and only had to wait a few hours in the airport. We were really lucky that there were still seats left on other flights!

Sunset at the White Sand Beach in Boracay, totally worth it once we got there!
* Now I'm going to tell you about one of my scariest times traveling. It was when I was taking a boat back from Koh Phi Phi to Phuket. The ferry my friend and I took to Koh Phi Phi was so nice, clean, and huge with a food stand. It looked sturdy, and our boat ride over was very relaxing. On the way back, we had a small, rickety looking boat. It was okay at first, but then the water got really choppy. Waves came up so high that water was coming in through the windows of the boat. People around us started putting on their life preservers, and several adults started to cry. My friend Ashley and I were really nervous about the possibility of the boat sinking, but in the end we were fine besides the fact that we were a little shaken up.

* This next one is rather funny! A friend came and visited me in Italy, and we decided to take a trip to Vieste, a prime beach spot on the Eastern coast. Not only was it raining all day, but when we tried to buy our return ticket, no one would sell us one. They kept telling me a word I didn't understand, but once I looked it up, everything was clear. The bus drivers had gone on strike! Again, I was stuck in a town (ironically with the same friend I got stuck in Menaggio with). We tried hitchhiking, but when we saw who pulled over for us, we decided we valued our lives more than chancing it. I couldn't get ahold of my boyfriend at the time, and no one could come and get me. We decided we were just going to stay up all night again, so we went to a grocery store and got supplies, and then sat on a bench eating mozzarella di bufala laughing at our luck. Eventually, the guy I'd been dating came through for us and drove in terrible weather conditions to come get the two of us. I'm rather glad he did because the it was starting to rain harder.

It's true that some of my mishaps were annoying, but I can't deny that they have all turned out to be adventures, most of which are funny to reminisce about these days. Part of the reason why I love traveling so much is because of the unknown and all of the possibilities!

What are some obstacles you're faced while traveling?