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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?

A Tour of my Apartment

November 22, 2016
Today I'll be showing you my living space as an expat in China! The school I'm employed at has provided me with a furnished apartment. I'm aware it could look a lot cuter if I invested more money in decorating it, but I know that me being in China is just temporary, so I don't want to shell out more cash on making my place look better. I'd rather save the money for traveling or put it towards my debt. Next year, I'll need to decide if I should keep my place or move somewhere else, so I'm going to list out what I like/dislike about where I currently live.



LIKES

It takes me just a few minutes to walk into school. A couple years ago I had to spend three hours of driving time commuting to and from work, so I love having more time to myself at the end of a long work day. Each morning I don't have to rush around, either. 

It's just plain convenient. Besides the time it saves me each day, the proximity to the school comes in handy because there have been a few times where I've forgotten something I needed that day. I was easily able to walk home and grab it during one of my breaks. If I lived farther away, this would be impossible. I also live close enough to pop by on the weekend if I have some extra work to do, but of course I usually try to bring work home to avoid this! Sometimes we have meetings or half-days, so I'm able to just go home for awhile and then go back to school. 

Other teachers and my friends live near me. This makes it easy to meet up, split taxis, and have get togethers. Since other people are around me, I do feel rather safe, too.

Speaking of safety, there are guards at the gate, so not just anyone is let in. There are also cameras everywhere. This makes me feel a lot more secure, not that I typically ever feel completely unsafe in a city like Shanghai.

My place heats up/cools off pretty nicely. Personally, I find it difficult to be cold all the time. It makes me never want to leave my bed! It can get nice and toasty in my place in a short period of time.

I have a balcony that doesn't face other buildings that are used for housing. I need to make better use of this and have a friend or two over for brunch when the weather is nice.

The apartment is furnished, which is ideal for expats. My place came with three chairs, a desk, a small table, a tv stand, a bed, and two little dressers. A refrigerator, hot plate, tv, washing machine, some bedding, and a water dispenser were also all included. I was given a couch from a teacher who left, and even though I'm not much of a host, it just makes me like my apartment so much more! Since I have to lie down a lot for my recovery, at least I'm not just confined to my bedroom. 

I'm on the top floor, so I don't have to hear anyone above me. Luckily, the guy below me is never there, so I don't have to worry about being loud. Even though I'm sure I'm not, it's just great not even having to have that cross my mind!

The apartment is newly remodeled. The appliances are all new and the walls are covered with fresh coats of paint. Nothing looks dingy, and there's not evidence that tons of other teachers have lived here before me.

The street by me is full of cheap restaurants within walking distance, so if I want to save money, I can just go to any one of them and fill on up. There's also a Starbucks, a Wal-Mart, a few pizza places, and a McDonald's close by. 

It's single housing! I do like living alone, although having roommates can be fun, too (as long as I have the right ones).  

The best part of living where I do is that everything is free! Not having to pay rent makes it worth it for me to teach in China. 



DISLIKES

While there are tons of cheap restaurants nearby, I, along with many others, have gotten sick from a few of them. I think that's just par for the course, but it's never comforting to have to worry a lot about getting food poisoning. Besides the few places I already mentioned, there aren't any foreign food places within walking distance, but in many areas of Shanghai there are.

I mentioned earlier that I liked having other teachers by me. Well, this also happens to be a con because there are just so many other foreign teachers here, and sometimes I feel like I can't get away from them! That sounds terrible, but I know there are many others who feel the same way I do. 

I live in the older part of the city. While it's still busy, there's nothing super special about this area. I have to ride in cab for 20 minutes to get to some of the more desirable places. To get to the Bund, it can take an hour if traffic is bad. 

When I go home, I can still hear the students. A lot. This didn't bother me so much last year because I spent way less time in my apartment than I do this year. Every morning, I get woken up by loud screaming, and after school there are usually kids on the basketball courts by my apartment, so I hear them there, too. I work with kids all day, and when I go home I just want it to be quiet. Sorry if that makes me sound terrible, but it's true. 

I'd like for there to be more of a separation in my work/private life. Since I live on my school's campus, I feel like I can never "get away."  Just as I was typing this at home, I heard some bells ring for the students. 

We cannot order groceries directly to our rooms. This is probably the worst thing about living here, at least for me! I can't carry anything heavy because of my back, so I really, really wish that the drivers could just come to my room and deliver the groceries.


If I do decide to stay here next year, my options are to either stay where I am or to apply for some off-campus housing, but that type of housing will also be full of other teachers. Now, the off-campus housing IS nicer, but there will be a bit of a commute. It's not far, but I'd have to be up way earlier in order to catch the bus to get to work on time. A lot of people who live there just ride their bikes or scooters to work, but I don't have that choice. I want to feel like I have my own life away from work, and this year I do not have that, but part of that is because of my health, which will hopefully be even less of a concern in the future. The campus I'm at does not offer any kind of housing stipend, which I wish was not the case! There is the possibility to switch campuses to get the stipend, but I don't know if I'd be allowed, and I heard the stipend is not nearly enough to pay rent and bills. 

What do you think sounds like the best choice? What are some pros and cons about where you live? 

Why I'm Glad I Traveled When I Was Younger

November 17, 2016
The fact of the matter is that the way I travel now is never going to be the same as it was before because of my back surgery. I'm just not physically able to handle long flights anymore, and I have to be more careful when I'm traveling and will likely need additional rest. Yes, it's sad that this is pretty much the end of an era in my life, but I know that I'm still very, very lucky to still be able to travel at all. Also, when I look back and remember all of my past trips, I'm certain that I've had some incredible once-in-a-lifetime trips. I really think that if you're a young person who's interested in traveling and you have to means to do so, that you should take a leap of faith and do it! Of course, I could just be biased based on my own positive experiences, but here's a bit on how it worked out for me.


 * Traveling when I was younger allowed me to make friends from all over the world, so it inspired me as I planned some of my future trips! Because I became friends with people from other Asian countries, it piqued my interest in their cultures, and my friends from those countries invited me over to visit them.  There's nothing better than being shown the ropes by a local. At other times, my friends and I were able to meet up in a random place that was neither of our home countries. Being able to do that gave me the feeling that anything was possible, and I'm still in contact with some of these friends even though more than a decade has passed. I am hoping to go back to Japan this year, and I am going to try to get in touch with some of my friends I made so long ago. Even if it's just for a coffee or a meal, it's always wonderful to see a familiar face in a foreign land. I consider it a great advantage to have friends all over the world, and I know that these friendships have withstood the test of time.

* I just had more stamina than I do now. There are various trips I took when I was younger that I couldn't/wouldn't want to do now. As I've written about before, my travel-style has changed. I'm not saying that one is "better" than the other, but how I travel now is, of course, more suitable to my lifestyle. When I was younger, I took a lot of whirlwind trips in short periods of time, and I'm really glad that I did. Now there are lots of young teachers whom I work with that take loads of weekend trips and fly to other parts of China or to other countries close by for a two or three day weekend. I totally get why they'd want to, but I can't help but feel relieved to know that I've already fulfilled a large portion of my bucket list for Asia. So, instead of feeling like I'm missing out by not visiting say...Hong Kong sometime in the near future, I just remember the time I went there already. Now I'd like to focus on slower travel, mostly. I still will be taking some shorter trips because of the way our breaks fall, but it's nowhere near the amount I traveled before, which I'm 100% fine with.  There was a time for me to live a more fast-paced lifestyle, and it was fun while it lasted. 

* As a student or younger traveler, I was eligible for discounts.  I tried to take advantage of this as much as I could and saved thousands of dollars on train tickets by using Eurail passes.  I got many discounts at popular tourist attractions when I was a college student and showed relevant ID. Additionally, I booked some trips through STA Travel and got money off of flights for being a full-time student/under the age of 26.

* It was easier to find friends to travel with. Nowadays, the majority of my friends in their 30's are "settled down." I'm truly happy for them, if that's what they want, just like I know that they're happy for me even though our lives are completely different. Those friends that I used to call up for an adventure or plan a trip with? Well, most of them aren't able to come along anymore. Luckily, I've been able to make a few new travel buddies, and go figure--most of them are younger than me.


* I didn't have any health problems to worry about.  Again, that was a luxury while it lasted. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to sit in economy on a long, international flight. Maybe I'm just drawing false conclusions because I'm still recovering from my spinal fusion, but right now it's impossible. I was planning on just buying a business class seat so I could lie down while flying to either Hawaii or Morocco with Rachael. However, after searching for hours and pricing some of the tickets, I realized that there's no way I can afford to go to either place right now. The cheapest round trip business class ticket I could find to Morocco was $2,500. The tour was another couple thousand, and then we were planning on traveling in Spain afterward. Maybe if I were richer and didn't have debt I'm trying to pay off this would be a viable option, but that's not the case. I am probably going to go somewhere within Asia, and I'm thinking Myanmar and/or Japan. I can afford a business class ticket to Myanmar, and the flight back from Japan is short enough for me to sit in economy class. It's not my dream trip like Morocco would have been, but I'm not going to whine that I'm going to Japan and Myanmar, either! The trip within Asia will still be amazing. Also, I can still go to Morocco, but because of how expensive it will be for me to fly there, I am going to have to wait and go when I have more time off so that way I can visit parts of Europe, too. I just have to be logical and strategic in my planning, and hopefully I'll get there one day.

* Traveling shaped my personality and taught me more than I have learned in traditional education. It taught me tolerance, empathy, and even helped me learn more about my own culture. While traveling, I've had to become creative with my problem-solving, as I was put in situations I would have never been in back at home. I am positive it has made me a better person. While it's true that travel will continue to educate people regardless of their age, I'm glad I learned some important life lessons sooner rather than later. 

* Nothing in life is a guarantee. No one knows what might happen tomorrow, so when I think about my past, I'm pleased with what I've done and with where I've been able to go. This guy I knew about ten years ago (when we were both in our 20's) told me that he always wanted to travel like I did, but that he would wait until he was retired and then live it up.  Not to be morbid, but not everyone gets to privilege of making it to that point!  

* I had a "home-base" to go to, where my family and friends would be there when I got back. As I'm getting older, I have less of a home-base. People, including my family members, have moved away. Since I'm not going back there as much, my ties aren't as strong. My next point goes along with the whole home-base thing. When I was younger and started to travel, my parents looked out for me. They sent me care packages once in awhile and took care of my taxes (until I graduated college) and handled my mail. I was talking to an older teacher at my school, and he mentioned he has no "home-base" at all. His parents moved from his hometown, and he's just been away from home so long that he would just be visiting individuals if he went back to the States and not everyone all at once. When I was younger, I think I needed the support of a home-base, but now that I've been doing this for awhile, I think I'll be okay no matter what.


I'm a proponent of traveling at any age, but I have to say that my most major travel-related regrets are trips I didn't end up getting to take. Whether or not you're going to travel is a personal decision, and I know I've made the right ones in my life. 

Have you been able to travel in your 20's? Have you had any hardships that have made it harder for you to travel?

Free Things to do in Savannah

November 14, 2016

1) Sprawl out and relax in Forsyth Park- This park has got to be one of the most iconic spots in Savannah. I suggest going there during the day, and of course stopping by the fountain is a must-do. Afterwards, pick a spot in the grass to have a picnic, read, or lay out with some friends.


2) Attend one of the many free festivals- To have some fun that won't cost you a dime, head over to Visit Savannah's site and check the box for free events in the search options. This will help you figure out if anything worthwhile is going on around the time you'll be visiting Savannah. Personally, I had a great time on River Street for the 4th of July and enjoyed the fireworks display. I also had a wonderful day out with my friends Ev and Jared watching the St. Patrick's Day parade and admiring the greening of the fountains all over the city. There are so many other smaller celebrations and events to attend, so you may want to get in on the action.



3) Spend a day at Savannah Botanical Gardens- The gardens are close to Savannah's Historic District, and there's free admission for individuals and small groups of nine people or less. In addition to the gardens, there is a historic home as well as nature trails.

4) Browse the shops on Broughton Street and River Street- I promise this will keep you entertained even if you have no spending money. You can always keep your eyes peeled for something you may want to purchase next time, right? Broughton Street has boutique shopping as well as some well-known chains like Banana Republic and Kate Spade NY. One of my favorite shops to check out is the beautiful Paris Market. They have accessories, bath and body products, a children's section, and the entire downstairs is full of home decor items. You can get candles and furniture, and there's a cafe, too. I know that I stay entertained in there picking out items for my future dream house. Another store on Broughton that you might also get a kick out of is Planet Fun, which is a toy shop. Before you dismiss it for selling toys, know that it is a retro toy store and has tons of favorites from the past like Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sailor Moon, My Little Ponies, etc. My friends and I had quite a bit of fun in there pointing out toys we used to play with when we were younger. Some of my other personal Broughton St. faves are Civvies, a new and recycled clothing shop, and Savannah Bee Company, which has various kinds of honey and bath and body items made from beeswax.


If you're looking for more touristy items, River Street is where you should go. There are so many gift shops that sell souvenirs such as: Southern cookbooks, post cards, sauces, handmade soaps, t-shirts, and so on. Check out Simply Savannah and True Grits as well as River Street Market Place, an outdoor market full of all sorts of goodies. Also, don't forget to go into some of Savannah's sweet shops like Savannah's Candy Kitchen and sample pralines and glazed pecans.


5) Spend some time visiting Savannah's squares- With twenty-two squares to choose from, you can certainly take your pick. Ellis Square is one of my favorites because there's always a lot of action going on there due in part to the water fountains, which are a source of entertainment for children.  Ellis Square has more seating available than some of the other squares, too. If you want to people-watch, Ellis Square is probably one of your best bets. Chippewa Square is not to be missed for it's beauty, central location, and you may even recognize it from the movie Forrest Gump. If you're looking for something more low-key or want to know more about Savannah's squares, head over to Savannah.com where you can read about each one individually. Be sure to have your camera ready, as these lush squares make for some lovely pictures.


6) Stop by City Market- This is a rather small but happening area of Savannah. There is usually some type of live music going on, and there are various shops and galleries to visit. I suggest going into Byrd's Famous Cookies and sampling some key lime cooler cookies. Stopping in All Things Georgia is also recommended if you have a bit of extra time--I'm still craving their spicy jam which I first tried as a free sample years ago.


7) Have a beach day on Tybee Island- Tybee Island is the closest beach to Savannah, and yes, there are public beaches on the island. I went in the off-season in late December and still had a great time putting my toes in the sand with some friends.


8) Stroll along Jones Street for beautiful architecture- This historic street is home to some gorgeous homes, and in my opinion, this is one of the most picturesque streets in Savannah. I'm not the only one that thinks so, considering this street as been pictured in several films such as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Something to Talk About, starring Julia Roberts. You'll also find the famous Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room on this street.



9) Walk around in some of Savannah's famous cemeteries- By far, the two most famous are Colonial Park Cemetery, right in the Historic District, as well Bonaventure Cemetery, which is a short drive away. Colonial Park Cemetery started in 1750 and became the final resting place for many, including those who died from Yellow Fever, in addition to those who fought to their deaths in duels, which used to be a customary practice.



Bonaventure Cemetery, a place that has been described by many as "hauntingly beautiful," is worth a visit. You can drive through the cemetery or go on foot, or even take a free tour provided by the Bonaventure Historical Society. Although the well-known Bird Girl statue has been removed to be put on display in the Telfair Museum, the famous Little Gracie statue is still there. Some of the Victorian grave markers and various statues might just mesmerize you.


10) Watch sunset on River Street with the Talmadge Bridge in the background. 



11) Go on a self-guided ghost tour. Savannah has been called one of the most haunted cities in the USA, so why not explore Savannah's darker side by visiting a few spooky places? 432 Abercorn is rather terrifying and is still abandoned! Read over this list for more ideas of other scary spots you could visit.


12) Admire Savannah's collection of historic churches. The impressive Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a sight to behold. You are also able to tour the inside for free, but donations are appreciated. Personally, I love going around Christmastime because the decorations are exquisite. Another interesting church is the First African Baptist Church--runaway slaves hid there during the Civil War.


Which one looks the most appealing to you? What do you like to do for free in your town?

Reasons to be Happy

November 11, 2016
I'm keeping my fingers crossed here, but I thiiiiink my life is starting to get good again! I was totally in a slump earlier this year because of my surgery. Another reason for feeling down in the dumps was that my work is harder than I thought it would be when I was expecting to have another easy year. I also had some friends leave Shanghai, and I'm left with no gay BFF. This is rather strange for me, as I've had a gay sidekick as a significant part of my life for about 14 years, so it just feels weird and empty without a close gay friend. Of course I'm still in touch with several of these guys via Facebook and We Chat, but it's not the same. So, I was coping with those issues, and just had to turn down so many invites due to my health. Now I'm getting stronger, and as I've mentioned before, my life is becoming a little more normal. With that normalcy, I am regaining the freedom to once again do what I love!! So, here are a few reasons as to why I've just had an awesome weekend along with a few events I'm looking forward to.

* I'm co-hosting a Thanksgiving get-together with Rachael and another gal at my school. Rachael is one of the best hosts and organizers and loves having people over, so our event is sure to be fun. We talked about it, and we don't want some big get together because it's too hard to organize and can get stressful. We thought about maybe going out to eat, but I've heard from others that it can totally be hit or miss. Like a delightful meal OR the restaurant runs out of turkey and pie. (Not pie!!!) We invited 15 people, but a few can't make it, so we'll probably have just over 10 people. The best part of it all is that we're going to order in the food from City Shop, which is supposed to be delicious. We've asked people to bring their own plates, drinks, and utensils, so there won't even be any clean up.  Since Rachael's place is near where we all live, it's convenient and we can come and go as we please, and I won't be out late on a school night. Also, my good British friend Lauren hasn't ever experienced an American Thanksgiving, so I'm excited to share part of my culture with her! I also got invited to another Thanksgiving get together, so I'll have two lush meals with good company that week.

* A group of us are going to Sanya for Christmas! Sanya has been called "the Hawaii of China," so we are going to a place where it will be warm, but not too hot. The average temperature around the time we're going is in the 70's, but I'm hoping it's going to be a little warmer. We are going to relax, swim (ideally), have nice meals, read, and just enjoy each other's company on Christmas. I have high anxiety about traveling again, since the last time I traveled I ended up getting flown back to Shanghai on a stretcher, unable to walk. I'm going with a great group who will help me get through my fears. I know that once I take another trip and have a positive experience, that it will build my confidence back up as far as traveling is concerned.

* Morocco MIGHT work out for me for our Chinese New Year break! I would get to use up the deposit I put down on it already, Rachael's all about going, and the tour company has openings when we want to go. Since it's a private tour, I can go at my own pace if I feel tired or if my back starts to hurt. My only worry is the flight over there because sitting for extended periods of time can really damage my back, so I'm going to have to call the airline and see if they are able to do anything for me once I show them my doctor's note. This trip wouldn't be until January, so by then, I think I'd be even stronger. Now I can walk pretty fast, but I'm going to start walking more around Shanghai so that I can build up my stamina.

* I just had a great spa day with Rachael at Dragonfly. We got a 95 minute deep cleansing facial in our own private room. It sure was relaxing, so now I just hope that it helps my skin.


* This article on where to find all of the pumpkin flavored goodies in Shanghai made my day! I've already tried Gracie's pumpkin spice flavored ice cream at Al's Diner, and I'm still thinking about it. My next mission is to go out and get a pumpkin spice latte. Truthfully, I didn't think there would be so many options in Shanghai, but once again I'm reminded about how I live in such an international city.

* I will be going with a few friends to see the Nutcracker in December! I saw it once in Columbus, but I know that it will put me in the holiday spirit, so I'm up for seeing it again. Just being able to make plans in general is something that I'm over the moon about. Before, I just couldn't commit to stuff because I was worried about whether or not my back could handle it.

* A friend I hadn't been able to hang out with in awhile saw me this past weekend and told me it looked like I'd lost a few pounds. This was very encouraging to hear! I just want the extra weight I put on when I couldn't walk for all those months to come off. I'm walking a lot more now, so I think that has made a difference.

* Others have been commenting on my progress after my surgery and have been saying that I'm walking a lot faster now. Physically, I have felt way better lately, but it makes me feel better mentally that others have also noticed!

I'm so happy to think that my bad streak of luck is over! Even little things to look forward to can make such a drastic difference in the overall scheme of things.

What has made you happy lately?

October Updates

October 31, 2016
October seemed to whizz on by, and it's hard to believe that I've been back at work for two months already. Here is recap of what's been happening with me.

Work: At work, I've been swamped. Truth be told, I've been a bit frustrated because last year when I taught first grade, it was so easy. I had a lot of extra time to plan and had plenty of time to socialize with my students. I only ever felt stressed during the busiest times, but that was just once or twice a semester. What I liked the most about my job was that usually I left work at work, which is pretty rare for a teacher. This year in second grade, it's a bit different. I'm finding that I'm rarely caught up on work and have to bring it home at least two nights a week. I don't like the feeling of always feeling "behind," but what I'm experiencing this year is typical for most teachers. I guess I should just feel lucky that last year I had a very easy time, and the amount of work I have to do at home now is still a fraction of the amount I brought home when I was teaching full-time in the States.

At work, we also had a lot of events to prepare for. We had parent-teacher conferences, Sports Week, our annual Read-a-Thon, two days of Halloween related activities, and a Family Tree project. Whew! Even though I've been busy, I still do love my class and know that teaching them a second year in row was the right decision.

Health: Up until about a week and a half ago, I was extremely exhausted all the time. I could go home from work, fall asleep at 5 pm at least three nights a week, and wouldn't wake up until the next morning for work. I know that this is directly related to the major surgery I had in May, and it was just my body adjusting from complete bed rest to working full time. Thankfully, I've been able to stay up longer lately, and now that I don't need to sleep so much, I'm finding I have a bit of extra time. What I need to do with this time is to start exercising. By exercising, all I'm capable of doing is swimming and walking, so it looks like that's what I'm going to be doing. It's really important that I start moving around more now, especially because I put on weight after my surgery since I was on bed rest for so long.

In the end, I'm just relieved that I was able to work full-time. At first I had my doubts, it was very hard on me, and I thought I was going to have to quit or get moved to the writing center.

Travel: I still haven't been able to go anywhere, but I'd like to book Sanya for Christmas this week! This trip won't cost too much, and will be a way for me for me to break back into traveling. Also, I talked to Rachael and she's interested in going to Morocco with me over our Chinese New Year break instead of Hawaii like we had planned. I put a large deposit on that Morocco trip, and then couldn't go, but the guide told me that I could put it towards a future trip, so that is one reason why I'd like to go there first. Also, Hawaii is a lot of hiking and I don't think I'm up for it yet. The only thing I might not be able to do in Morocco is ride a camel...I guess I could ask my doctor about that.

Another concern of mine is air travel with my bad back. I'm only supposed to be sitting for twenty minutes at a time. I can sit up on short flights, but will just have to march in place by my seat or walk back to the bathroom. When a flight is longer than three hours, there's just no way I can currently tolerate sitting up that whole time. Does that mean I need to pay for first class tickets each time so that I can have a flat bed? If so, I'm going to have to alter the way that I travel from now on because the price of first/business class is so much more than seats in economy.

Social life: Since I was sleeping so much, I didn't have much of a social life! I did try to plan at least one fun thing a week, though. I've mostly been going out to eat with my friends. Last week, I met Rachael, Tara, and Chris for a tasty Mexican brunch complete with sangria at a place called Maya. I really enjoyed myself, and Rachael said that is our new squad for outings. We've already talked about doing some craft courses together and taking some cooking classes! Yay!

I was also able to get out and go to a more happening part of Shanghai and go on a little shopping spree with my friend Lauren. That's the first time I had really shopped since my surgery! I didn't break the bank, but got two cute shirts from Marks & Spencer as well as a shirt for my Halloween costume, and some makeup that I bought on a whim. Then we went to a place called Tap House for a few drinks and a snack. They had lambic, which I was pretty excited about. Really, I am just relieved and SO happy every time I can get back to some kind of normalcy in life.

During the week, I'll usually go to local places to have dinner with Lauren 2-3 nights a week. Sometimes we run errands together, and this week we even made it into dreaded Wal-Mart. As Lauren so accurately put it, "Every time I go in there I think to myself about how I never want to go back again."

On Friday night of this week, I went to a friend's house, we ordered in food, and just had a relaxing night. Mostly, we talked about how scarily accurate this personality test is! I tested as a INFJ-T, the advocate, which is the rarest personality type. The three other gals I had dinner with also tested as other diplomats. Then we watched some videos of Lauren's favorite Korean singers like CL.

Yesterday I went out for one of my first real outings alone. I got a taxi to Jing'an and was able to try Lanna Coffee which is said to have some of the best coffee in Shanghai. The coffee beans are from Yunnan Province, rather than imported. I was a little dismayed that they didn't do any latte foam art on the top of my drink because I saw some pretty cool designs on their Instagram page, but my vanilla latte was still top notch. Then, I went to Cinna-Swirl, which only sells cinnamon rolls and vanilla and cinnamon roll flavored ice cream. I picked up some cinnamon rolls to go, and they were divine. You can even choose how much icing you want to have on top. Afterwards, I stopped at Old Navy and bought a sweater and a clutch, which my British friend described as "lush." Truthfully, I wanted to walk around more, but my bags were getting heavy, my back was starting to hurt a bit, and I started getting nervous out there on my own. When my friends are with me they protect me from people that get too close and could potentially shove me, but on my own, I felt vulnerable to be in such a crowded area without my usual "body guards." At least I know that I AM able to finally go out for a few hours on my own, though. I may still have to stare at the ground in fear of tripping and I keep my distance from others, but I'm getting there!

As you can see, I can't really go out and do as much as I did last year. I'm really thankful that last year I was able to see so much of Shanghai.

Oh, and we had our dress up day for Halloween at school. Here are some of us in costume. Lauren and I went as mimes! My principal asked me if I was a cat and some of my students thought I was a clown, so I had to show them a video of a mime to ensure they got it!


The Future: Soon, I'll need to decide if I want to stay in Shanghai for a third year. Financially, it would be a smart decision to stay because we get a large bonus if we work at our school for three years in a row. Then again, I don't know what I'd do in the States. I don't think I'd be able to be a full-time teacher there yet because of my back problems, but maybe I could by next year. I just don't know that I'd really want to do that, though. I guess I still have some more time, so I'll be weighing my options. Next year, if I do stay, I need to decide where I might want to live. I think I'm eligible to apply for off-campus housing, which I would probably go ahead and do. I don't really want to commute, but I also am tired of living where I work. My apartments now are basically set up like college dorm rooms, and I'm over that!

Those where my major updates? What are some of yours?

October 2016 Favorites

October 26, 2016
It's been a hot minute since I've done a favorites post, so here I am with one to share today!

1) Bao Pals- This is basically the best thing since sliced bread. Y'all know I live in China, right? Well, China has a site called Tao Bao and you can get practically anything you want mailed to you within a few days for a decent price. The problem for me is that I cannot read Chinese characters and therefore couldn't order anything without the help of a Chinese speaker. Well, they now have a site in English for us expats to use!! It's so convenient, everything I've ordered so far comes within 1-2 business days, and I can get items that are harder to find like shoes in my size. So far, I've ordered a DVD player, a throw cushion, protective stickers for my laptop, a mug, hot chocolate, and items for my Halloween costume. The other teachers at my school and I have all been going crazy with ordering stuff, and I don't plan on stopping anytime soon. I mean, it's so much better than having to go into Wal-Mart and then not even be able to find what I was looking for in the first place.


2) Etude House- This South Korean beauty store has various locations in Shanghai. Let me just say that their branding is on point. Seriously. Every time I walk in there I feel like I'm a Disney princess or that I'm in some kind of dollhouse. Their products, as well as the packaging, the uniforms the workers have to wear, and the bags they send you out with all have some girly pink design. My friend Lauren and I went shopping there on Friday night. I didn't even need anything, but I left with a tube of Dear My Wish Lips-Talk, some pore cleaner, an eyeliner, and cotton puffs. Also, can I just mention that I looooove freebies? They put extra items in my bag every time. Recently, I got a hair brush with a mirror on the back, some moisturizer, and two mini tubes of serum.


3) Lady Gaga's new release- I'm a Lady Gaga fan, but I will say I was a bit disappointed with Artpop and didn't like it nearly as much as her first two albums. I was wondering whether or not I'd like Joanne because parts of it are a little "country" compared to her other albums, but this album has some great songs like "Million Reasons" and "Sinner's Prayer." It seems to be more personal than her other albums.

From when I saw Lady Gaga perform years back
4) Matte nails- I got my first matte manicure last week, and I like the look of it! My black and white mani is holding up well, and I'll surely be getting another matte manicure in the future.


5) New blue vase- I bought this when I went to Caojiadu Flower Market a few weeks ago, and I'm still admiring it. I do get flowers fairly frequently here, so I'm glad I don't have to use my water pitcher as a vase anymore. Gosh, this vase might even be something I (foolishly) attempt to take back to America with me when I eventually leave China.


6) Kona Coffee- My co-teacher brought me back some Kona coffee from her trip to Hawaii this summer. I'd been waiting to try it because I already had a bag open of another kind of coffee, so I finally tried some of this recently. It was worth the wait!


Have you tried any new products that you'd recommend?