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Five Updates

August 24, 2016
With summer winding down and school starting up again, my life is about to drastically change. Here are just a few updates that I wanted to share.

One// As many of you know already, because of my back surgery, I had to cancel all of my summer travel plans and stay in Shanghai by myself to recover. I'm not going to lie, it did get lonely. At times, it was incredibly boring, but it was necessary for my overall health plan. Well, here soon my friends
will be arriving back to Shanghai! Will I be able to go out and gallivant with them and spend all day walking around the city? Definitely not. Will I be able to take it slow, hang out with them, maybe go for some coffee or out to eat? Count on it! It will be so wonderful just to be able to have them come over again and to socialize.

Two// Before my big surgery, all the parents of students in my class wrote and signed a letter to my school's principal requesting me as their teacher. They wanted me to move up with the class to second grade. Because I missed the last two months of teaching my students, it made me want to move up to second grade with them more than ever. After making several requests, it was confirmed that I'll be moving up with my class! I'm so glad it all worked out. As a teacher, you never know what you're going to get, and I know that my class last year was the best class I ever had. I'll also be working with the same co-teacher I had last year. She knows everything I've gone through and is more than willing to help me out. It's probably best that we're placed together because I can't do things like I used to, and I wouldn't want a new co-teacher to think I was lazy when I'm just injured still.

Three// I love a good thriller, especially all of Gillian Flynn's books. I'm happy to say that I just read another thriller that did not disappoint! It's called Find Her by Lisa Gardner. I read the book in two days because I couldn't put it down. I don't want to give anything away, but basically it's about a woman named Flora who was abducted and abused when she was in college. Flora's story ties in with other women who are missing. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time and kept trying to figure out how this story would play out in the end.

Four// On May 1st I was hospitalized, and I wasn't able to take a shower for three and a half months. Before my surgery I physically couldn't. After the surgery, I couldn't stand at first, but the main reason why I was not permitted to do so is because I still have stitches in. The last time I saw the wound specialist, she gave me this waterproof cover to put over the stitches, so I was able to take two showers!! You guys, it was so wonderful, and I did NOT want to get out of there. The reason why she didn't give me those covers in the first place is because in China they are very hard to get. Each one costs about $20, and she was being nice by even giving me one for free. I sent my ayi to another hospital to go get me more covers, but unfortunately the ones she got are a bit too small and don't cover the whole wound, so that means I can't shower again. I just hope my stitches are removed soon so that I can take all the showers I want!

Five// I've been on bed rest for most of the summer, but last week I was able to go on my first real outing by myself since being hospitalized on May 1st. I made an appointment to get a manicure and pedicure and booked a foot massage. I was able to do these because they had a reclining chair, so I was basically lying down almost the whole time. (I'm still only permitted to sit for about 20 minutes at a time). Afterwards, I went to a coffee shop called Jamaica Blue and got an iced coffee, quiche, and an American brownie. It doesn't sound like much, but to me it was the best day ever!

What's your favorite thriller?

Fashion Trends I'm on Board With (And Ones I'm Not Too Keen On)

August 22, 2016
I can't believe I'm writing a post about fashion...What on Earth!? This summer when a friend asked me if I wanted anything from the States, I said magazines in English to entertain myself with during my long recovery from my spinal fusion surgery. Usually I read the fashion portion of the magazine, but just observe the trends and don't necessarily of follow them. While I was trendier when I was younger, these days I care more about quality, whether I personally like the item, and of course about comfort. Surprisingly, this time around, I found that there are a lot of trends that I'd actually want to wear! Don't you love it when the trends coincide with your personal style?

Trends I Like

*Velvet shoes- Oh my goodness, I adore this look, especially in burgundy. I saw these velvet ballet flats with the buckle on Pinterest and was keeping my fingers crossed that they wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Alas, they are currently being sold for $695, which is just not within my budget, but I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for a similar style that's more affordable. There's always the possibility of getting some made like this where I live in Shanghai, too!

Here are some other velvet shoe options that are easier on our wallets. Unfortunately, I'm unable to wear heels for awhile (maybe even forever?) because of my back problems. I do like the following pairs of shoes, even though I'll have to be foregoing this look.

*Chokers- This trend is appealing to me because it makes me nostalgic for my 9th grade days when I had quite the collection of chokers in the 90's. Plus, there are so many different spins on chokers that it's easier to find one that matches your own personal style. I've seen all sorts of them made from lace, leather, velvet, metal, suede, etc. There are ones that are embroidered or ones that have pendants on the end or ones with cute bows. The possibilities are endless. Right now I'm digging this Victorian inspired pearl choker from Baublebar.

Forever 21 also has a bunch of them for less than $4.00 like this layered crochet choker! 

*Tassels- I noticed this trend awhile ago, and bought myself a pair of handmade tassel earrings at a Shanghai Christmas Market last December. When I was in Thailand, I purchased a beautiful beaded necklace with a green tassel in the middle. Even my purse goes from plain to fun with the addition of some tassels. Obviously, I like the look, but I just hope this trend doesn't get so popular that we get sick of seeing them (like the feather trend a few years ago). I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this trend is here to stay, at least for a bit longer.

There are tons of really adorable purses with tassels on them at Nordstrom right now. Below is one example, but there are some great Rebecca Minkoff, Tory Burch, and Kate Spade handbags as well.

*Lace Up Flats- Being a tall girl, I tend to gravitate towards flats in the first place. So while I own a bunch of flats already, I was happy to see a different take on them when the laces were added. I think they look great paired with jeans or with skirts, and a good pair of flats can be a lot more comfortable than heels if you have to be on your feet a lot at work.

*Bomber Jackets- My favorite kind of bomber jackets are the satin ones with beautiful floral designs embroidered on them! I was really close to buying the one below from ASOS, but stopped myself because in Shanghai it goes from hot to cold quickly and I rarely need a light jacket like this. It sure was tempting, though. There are also a few in similar styles available from Forever 21.

*Ruffles- This trend is feminine and romantic, and you have the option to have multiple levels of ruffles or just keep it simple with one. The ruffles can be all over or just embellishments on the sleeves. There are certainly a wide range of ruffled options for you! It's a trend that can be transitioned from a day to night look, too. 

Trends I'm Just Okay With

*Pineapples- While some pineapple prints are cute, I can't help but feel like I've seen this trend just a bit too much for my tastes. I like pineapples because they remind me of my time in the South. Pineapples were a common motif in the architecture of Savannah and Charleston, and they symbolized hospitality. However, I think I'd prefer to keep pineapples on my stationery rather than wear them. I do think others can rock a pineapple print, but it's just not totally for me.

*Bell Sleeves- I'm on the fence about the bell sleeve trend but could maybe be sold on it if I tried on some outfits in person. I've seen some bell sleeves that have huge flares, but I think I would stick to regular sized flares if I were going to try out this trend. 

Trends That Just Aren't For Me

*The Slip Dress- Since I'm a teacher, I try to buy a lot of pieces that I could wear during my time off and while at work. The slip dress does not fit this bill, so that's strike one. The tops of my arms are probably my least favorite part of myself, and with a dress like this, I wouldn't be able to disguise them. I just don't think it would look very flattering on me with my body type.

*Rompers- I've seen SO many adorable rompers, and I am a fan, but have yet to find one that I can pull off. Being very tall, rompers just don't fit me the way they are supposed to and end up being way too short in the torso, which leads to camel toe. Pass! I decided to get a romper made at the Fabric Market in Shanghai, and that was an utter disaster! When I tried it on, it still didn't fit, even though I got measured for it (???). Usually, I'm hard on myself with clothes and my friends will encourage me to wear pieces I'm not so sure about. When I tried this romper on in front of my friend Scott, we both laughed so hard at how ridiculous I looked. I said that there was no way I could wear it out in public, and he nodded profusely in agreement. Unfortunately, I got my romper sent to me and then the whole hospitalization thing happened, so I doubt they'll take it back or make adjustments on it now since months have passed. Maybe I'll try my luck again at the fabric market, but for now I just give up!

*Denim on Denim- You know those trends that look great on super trendy fashion-forward people but might not be the best fit for the rest of us? Mila Kunis looked great with her denim on denim outfit on the cover of the August 2016 Glamour, but Mila Kunis could pull off a potato sack. While denim on denim might look great on some, it's not for everyone, including me. 

What do you think of these trends?

Spinal Fusion Surgery

August 17, 2016
I wanted to pick up where I left off in my last post and continue telling my story of being in the hospital and getting a major surgery in China.

Here are the other related posts in case you missed them:

The Worst Experience of my Whole Life
What I Learned From Being Hospitalized in China
Thank You A Million Times Over
My Life in Numbers: Hospital Edition
An Honest Look at my Expat Life
My Hospital Story

After spending almost a week in the hospital and getting tests done, I knew that surgery was inevitable. It was time for me to schedule my surgery, but that ended up being very stressful. I must've gotten asked hundreds of times if my family members were going to come over from the States to take care of me. Both of my parents didn't have a passport or a Visa for China, and I needed surgery immediately. The doctors made a really big deal about me not having my parents here in China, and told me that this might cause problems with signing the paperwork for the surgery. Once they found out that no one from my family would come over from the States, they wanted me to have my Chinese bosses sign. Um...no. The problem of signing was going to delay my surgery, and I started to really worry. My doctors got special permission from my surgeon and said that it was okay for a non-Chinese person to do it. The person I asked to sign for me came over at the scheduled time, and I thought we were all good to go, but then the doctor wouldn't let him sign because there was no translator. I told the doctor that no one told me there had to be a translator, and then he tried to get my bosses to come and do it. They thought the hospital should provide a translator, but the hospital wanted my bosses translating. Meanwhile, I was stuck in the middle of this vicious circle trying to get someone to translate for me. Later, I found out why no one wanted to translate. It's because if they translated it wrong, I could sue them. Then, the first person that was going to sign for me backed out, which is still a very sore subject for me. I had to try to find another friend to sign. Rachael volunteered to do it, which I really appreciated so much. Finally, the doctors agreed to translate everything to both of us, we signed, and they set a date for my surgery. Whew! I was getting so concerned that they wouldn't perform the surgery with the way they were talking. 

Before my surgery, it was just a waiting game for me at the Shanghai hospital. Luckily, I had SO many visitors and they brought me books, DVD's, tv shows, and delicious food. By delicious food, I mean Western comfort food. Mostly what was important for me was just the company of others! People really came through for me, this ordeal strengthened many of my friendships, and I even came out of this with a few more friends than I had beforehand. It was so nice to have guests and various forms of entertainment. At the Urumqi hospital, there was no wifi and I only had 1/2 of an unread book on my Kindle. Basically, I was bored out of my mind! 

I did have to adjust to getting woken up at 5:00 AM each day at the Shanghai hospital. That's around a time the janitor would come into my room every day and mop. From there, people were in and out of my room all day. Other janitors, nurses, the ayi, and my doctors would be coming, so there was no going back to sleep. I had to change my schedule and just go to bed at 9 or 10. At the Urumqi hospital, no one even checked on me until 10:00 AM. The reason for this is that China is all technically supposed to be following the Beijing Standard Time, which is a little nuts because China is a huge country and Beijing is all the way over on the Eastern side. That would be like NYC and L.A. being in the same time zone. In Urumqi, they do have an unofficial "local time" which is two hours behind Beijing Standard Time. This causes a lot of confusion about meeting times, as I witnessed myself in Xinjiang.  My friend who lived in Urumqi told me that usually people started their jobs at 10:00 AM instead of 8:00 AM and that they would just stay at work two hours later. 

Before my surgery, I had to try to get used to working with an ayi (caregiver). The lady I had was okay, but also kind of shady, which I'll elaborate on later. I've heard from a lot of Chinese people that hospital ayis do not get paid very much, so they might be unhappy in life. My ayi was a bit forceful. If she brought me food when I wasn't hungry, she would try to get me to eat it over and over again to the point where I would start to eat food when I wasn't even hungry just to get her to leave me alone. She also came in and out of my room so much when I wanted to be left alone. I know in her mind she was being helpful, but I'm not going to lie--there were times I would pretend to be asleep just so she would leave. She also told personal details about me to any other Chinese person who entered my room, but I'm pretty sure that is standard. There just isn't a lot of emphasis on confidentiality and privacy here. I guess she could have been worse. It's not like she stole from me or was pure evil. 

The night before the surgery, my head was spinning. I just really wanted to have a successful surgery, but I kept thinking about paralysis and brain damage or even death. Eventually, I had to just push those thoughts out of my mind and try to stay positive. 

Then, one of my doctors came in and freaked me out! He told me that the nurses told him that I owed all of this money and that since I didn't pay, my surgery might have to be delayed. I told him I was angry about this because earlier that day, a bunch of my Chinese co-workers and bosses were there from my school, and my principal took my bank card and paid off my balance for me. (The screws and cages that were to go into my spine cost more than $10,000 USD!) My doctor told me that he was just the messenger and then saw how worried I got. He said that they would make an exception and let me have the surgery no matter what and then I could pay the balance when another Chinese person visited me. Later, when a Chinese person came, I gave her my card to pay what I owed, and it turned out those nurses were completely wrong and I owed nothing! I don't really get why the nurses said that when I didn't owe anything. By the way, I couldn't pay for myself because the finance department was in another building and I couldn't walk. At a later date when I asked my American friends to pay off part of my balance for me, they were gone for over an hour and came back confused without having accomplished the task. The two friends I sent are quite capable, but it can be hard trying to understand the Chinese hospital system with only very basic Chinese! It was also a Chinese holiday, so that complicated matters further. 

On the actual day of my surgery, Rachael was there to wish me good luck and I got placed on a gurney and transported to another building. I was wheeled to this waiting area, where there were about 8 other patients in their beds waiting for surgery, too. I was getting really antsy in there so I was glad that I wasn't in there for too long. They took me to the room where the surgery was going to be performed, and I got asked some routine questions. In less than five minutes, the anesthesiologist put the mask over me and told me to take some deep breaths. I think I had about two deep breaths and I was out. Apparently my surgery was about 5 hours. I wasn't conscious again until my surgery was over and the nurses were pushing me onto a rolling bed. I remember moving onto the bed and being in an extreme amount of pain. Then I was unconscious again until I woke up in the ICU. When I regained consciousness, one of the nurses offered me some water, but I was scared to have any because I was worried about having to use the toilet. No one told me that I had a catheter in! I guess I was naive to think that I didn't, but since no one told me that I would have one, I just assumed that I wouldn't. (I realize later how silly that sounds, but please keep in mind I never had a major surgery like this before). Hours later, I saw that other patients in the ICU had catheters, so I tried to see if I had one. I was lying on a long tube, so I lifted it up to see if I had a catheter in, and to my horror it was a bag filled with my blood that drained out of my back from the surgery! I was really unprepared to see that, and wish I would have been told about it ahead of time. I had three of those blood bags. They were stitched to my skin and I'll have three scars from them. 

A doctor came over and told me that I should be trying to move around. He kept telling me to I should be able to lift my "ass." Yes, he used that word...I don't think he was trying to be unprofessional. I just think that he didn't know a better English word for it. I told him that I couldn't do that yet, and he had some nurses roll me over on my side. That was probably the most painful thing I've ever had to endure in my whole life! I begged them to stop. That's all I really remember from the ICU. I have no idea how long I was in there for. 

When I had to leave the ICU and roll from my bed onto a gurney, I was terrified of the pain. It was unreal. I was screaming and crying, and then they brought me back to my room where Rachael and a lady from my school were waiting for me. When they were pushing me onto my bed, it was awful again and I was sobbing in pain. It was so bad that Rachael started to cry because she empathized with me. Then the lady from my school started to cry, too! Rachael and I have been good friends for three years, and she has never seen me cry, so I think she knew this pain was the real deal. I'm pretty sure in the States, I would have been on a morphine drip. I've said this in a previous post, but in China, they just are very stingy with the painkillers. The nurses told me to be tough like a Chinese person and to bear the pain. They said they don't give a lot of painkillers because they are worried about addiction. I found out that before the Cultural Revolution here in China, there was a huge drug problem with many people being addicted to opium, heroin, and morphine. That might explain why I wasn't given (what I thought) was an adequate amount of painkillers. For the next few days, I kept asking for more pain meds, and I was given these pills that were like the equivalent of Ibuprofen. They didn't really help at all, so I just quit taking them. 

Rachael was seriously so good to me during this time. She would read books out loud to me to distract me from the pain and tried to talk about other topics so that my mind wasn't focused on my back. We watched some t.v. shows, too. It was just a relief to have her there! She also called my parents to tell them my surgery went well. The next day, the school gave my friend Lauren permission to miss some of her classes and to come stay with me. That was wonderful of them because they also didn't cut her pay or anything like that. We got caught up on Game of Thrones episodes and just talked a lot. Scott came for a few hours the following day. Right after my surgery, I really couldn't move much. It was hard for me to even feed myself. I couldn't roll onto my sides without it being unbearable. 

Later that week, I had some scans done to check to see how the surgery went. My doctor said that it "looked perfect," so that was a huge relief!!! Even though the recovery time was going to be brutal, the most important thing was that the surgery was a success. Although my back pain was bad, immediately after the surgery, the shooting pain that was going down my left leg from a pinched nerve was gone. 

The doctors told me that I could be discharged from the hospital two weeks after my surgery when I got my stitches out. Unfortunately that did not happen. About a week and a half later, one of my doctors said that I had a complication with the wound in my back. He said it wasn't healing like it was supposed to be. I don't know what caused this complication, but I was told several different things. First the doctors told me my wound wasn't healing because of fat liquefaction. Supposedly, my fat turned into liquid and was causing problems. Later on, the wound specialist told me that I was allergic to the stitches they used on me and that's what caused the problem. I'm no doctor, but I couldn't help but notice that whoever stitched me up left a big gap in the part of my wound that wasn't healing properly. It looked like it was missing at least two stitches! Then, later I found out that wounds can have trouble healing if the patient isn't eating the right kinds of food. At the hospital, the cook thought I wouldn't like the Chinese food, so he ordered me Pizza Hut every single night for dinner and gave me McDonald's three times a week. They also weren't changing the dressings for my wound every day. It would be going on three days and I'd have to ask multiple times for the nurses to call the doctors to clean it.

About a week after the surgery I started burning up and got a bad headache. I had a mild fever, too. The doctors on my floor told me that I had a blood infection from the surgery, and I was so worried. For two days, I was completely out of it and slept almost the whole time. When my Chinese co-teacher came to check on me, I asked her to find out more details about my blood infection from the doctor on my floor. That doctor told my co-teacher I didn't have a blood infection and that I was normal! Say what??! I told my co-teacher that several nurses and doctors from my floor came in and told me verbatim, "You have a blood infection." They told me that I had to get three IV bags full of antibiotics every day for this infection, too. When my doctor finally came to see me after the weekend was over, he explained that I just had a high white blood cell count but no infection.

For the next two weeks, the doctors monitored my wound and said it was not making any progress healing. One doctor told me that I was probably going to have to have another surgery. Not another back surgery, but just a surgery where they would reopen the wound and cut out the bad tissue so I could heal and then stitch me back up. He said I would have to be put under again for it, too. To me, this was very bad news. It felt like a step backwards, it would lengthen the amount of time I needed to be in the hospital, and I was scared about my financial situation as I'd already maxed out what the insurance would give me back. My doctors talked to my surgeon about my lack of progress, and he suggested we give it a little more time to see if it could heal on its own. About a week later, my doctors said they saw it starting to heal a little bit, so they decided to keep waiting. During this time, I still had a visitor/some visitors almost every day. My friend Kelcey told me she had so much fun visiting me, which of course I found humorous because I felt like the worst company ever. Seriously, most of my friends and co-workers did SO much for me; they're just great people and the kind I want to be around.

I'm going to end my post at this point in my story, and write a separate post about my recovery. Writing about this is helping me process and deal with everything that has happened! Thanks again for all of the nice comments and for even reading a rambling post like this.

Delectable Desserts to Try in the USA

August 15, 2016
Living in China has me missing some of my favorite desserts from back home. It got me thinking about some iconic desserts to try in the United States. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you won't be able to pass up some of these delicious treats. This list is sure to satisfy a sweet craving or two.

Photo by: mr. throk

1) Banana's Foster at Brennan's in New Orleans- I still dream about this dessert from Brennan's, and I had it over a decade ago! It's so famous at this particular restaurant because this is where it was originally invented in 1951. The owner of Brennan's challenged the chef to create a dessert using bananas, and it has been a hit ever since. Bananas are cooked in a buttery brown sugar sauce, but the real fun begins when the rum is added to this flambé dish. After the fire goes out, the sauce and bananas are added on top of some creamy vanilla ice cream. At Brennan's it's prepared tableside so you can see for yourself.

If you can't make it to Brennan's, the good news is that it doesn't take very long to make and does not require a long list of ingredients.

Related Banana's Foster Links

*Banana's Foster at Brennan's - This link will take you right to the original recipe.
*Brennan's of New Orleans Reopens with Pomp and Flaming Banana's Foster- Get the scoop on the 2014 reopening of Brennan's and look at the slideshow of the gorgeous interior.
*Video of Banana's Foster at Brennan's- There is some background noise in this video, but you can still get a good look at how it's prepared tableside.
*Healthy Banana's Foster- Have this version of Banana's Foster over some Greek yogurt instead of vanilla ice cream.
*Tropical Banana's Foster- Banana's Foster with a twist!
*Banana's Foster Bread Pudding- Combine two famous New Orlean's desserts into one.
*Banana's Foster Ideas on Pinterest- This board has thousands of ideas and recipes such as Banana's Foster French toast or Banana's Foster milkshakes, to name a few!

2) Cannoli at Mike's Pastry in Boston- While in Boston last summer, I went on two day tours with two different tour guides. Both of them raved about the cannoli at Mike's Pastry. I decided to trust the guides and bought some cannoli and got a to-go box. Before I even tried them, Bostonians were commenting left and right when they saw the box I was carrying. For example, when I bought a water at a drugstore, the cashier joked that I was so nice to bring him something from Mike's Pastry. Even others on the tour with us saw that Rachael and I had gone to Mike's Pastry and said we made the right decision. Mike's Pastry had traditional cannoli filled with plain ricotta cheese, but there were also some other Americanized versions like: Oreo, chocolate, peanut butter, chocolate chip, pistachio, and caramel. Let's just say that I was not disappointed!

Related Mike's Pastry Cannoli Links

*Mike's Pastry- The official site
*All 18 Mike's Pastry Cannoli Ranked From Worst to Best- Not sure which cannoli to try? Maybe this article will help sway you.
*The Best Cannoli in the North End- There are some other places in Boston that make delicious cannoli. Of course Mike's Pastry is on this list, but there are seven other worthy spots to try as well. 
*Video Tour of Mike's Pastry- If you're not wanting to try some cannoli, there are so many other options like their flavored macaroons (not to be confused with macarons).
*Cannoli Recipe- Want to try to recreate the traditional ricotta cannoli you had at Mike's? A blogger takes a stab at it and calls the outcome "a close second to Mike's." 

3) Ice cream at Leopold's in Savannah- Leopold's Ice Cream is very well known in Savannah and has a reputation for serving up some delicious homemade ice cream. In the summer, the line can get pretty long, but the ice cream is worth the wait. This ice cream parlor is located in Savannah's Historic District right on Broughton Street, and soups and sandwiches are also served here. Leopold's opened in 1919 and is famous for its Tutti Frutti ice cream, which is one of its signature flavors. Some consider the soda fountain inside the parlor to be one of the best in the United States.

One of my personal favorites is a mint chocolate chip sundae. While it's not officially on the menu, you can pretty much get a sundae made out of anything you want. A scoop of honey almond and cream is also one of my top recommendations. The honey used in the ice cream is from Savannah Bee Company, which has two shops in Savannah!

Photo by: Jayjay P

Related Leopold's Ice Cream Links

*Leopold's Ice Cream- Official Website
*Stratton Leopold's Hot Fudge Sauce- A recipe for the hot fudge served at Leopold's.
*The 33 Best Ice Cream Shops in America- Leopold's made the list! See the other top picks, too.

4) Cupcakes or Banana Pudding at Magnolia Bakery in New York City- The first Magnolia Bakery opened its doors in 1996 in NYC, but this widely popular bakery now has multiple locations both within the United States and all over the world. Personally, I visited the Grand Central Station location because that was the most convenient for me. Magnolia Bakery is well-known for its cupcakes, which can be ordered online and delivered within the United States. Some flavors on the current menu which include both classic and speciality cupcakes are: red velvet, carrot, coconut, truffle, flourless chocolate, and peanut butter and jelly. Upon reading reviews for Magnolia Bakery, I saw that many customers raved about the banana pudding, which I have yet to try. Just another excuse to go back one day, right?

Photo by: Larry

Related Magnolia Bakery Links

*Magnolia Bakery- Official Website
*The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook- This cookbook is full of recipes for sweet treats like cupcakes, brownies, and cookies. 
*Secrets of Magnolia Bakery: Cupcakes, Carrie Bradshaw, and Beyond- This article has some fun facts about the bakery and tells which celebrities are fans.
*Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcake Recipe- Believe it or not, the vanilla cupcake is the top seller. Learn how to make it with this recipe. 
*20 Years of Magnolia: A Timeline- July 14, 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary of when the first Magnolia Bakery opened. 

5) Beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans- Café du Monde is a favorite of both local residents and tourists. Beignets, or fried dough, are topped with powdered sugar and can best be enjoyed with some of the cafe's coffee and chicory. This open air cafe is a great place to go to for an early breakfast  or for a snack during the day. It's almost always bustling since it is a major tourist attraction, and is fun for people watching.

Photo by: Sarah Mulligan

Related Café du Monde Links

*Café du Monde- Official Website
*How to do Café du Monde Like a Local- Read about these tips and tricks so that you can avoid long lines and not get powdered sugar all over yourself.
*The Untold Story of How Cafe du Monde Stands Ended Up in Japan- Did you know that Café du Monde has locations all over Japan? Neither did I! This was an interesting read.
*Powdered Doughnuts at Café du Monde-This video shows what the atmosphere is like at the famous New Orleans location.
Bon Appétit Review- This review explains why tourist traps are sometimes worth it.

6) Dole Whip Float at Disney- A Dole Whip has got to be one of the most popular desserts at Disney World and Disneyland. Just in case you don't know what it is, let me explain. It's pineapple flavored soft serve ice cream that can potentially made even better when pineapple juice is added and it becomes a float. Dole Whips are served in Disney World at Aloha Isle in the Magic Kingdom, and at Disneyland you can pick one up the Tiki Juice Bar. This tropical treat is a must-have for many visitors!

Photo by: Mandy Jansen

Related Dole Whip Links

*#Onthelist: Dole Whip at Disney World and Disneyland- This Disney food blog gives you the lowdown on where to find Dole Whips at the theme parks and shows how they differ slightly at each location. Although pineapple is the one that's "a big deal," some venues serve up vanilla or orange versions of this treat.
*Dole Whip Fun Facts- If you want a brief history of Dole Whips or to learn where else you might be able to try this dessert, then this link is for you.
*Homemade Disneyland Dole Whip- A highly rated recipe you can make with frozen pineapple.
*This Creamy Pineapple Frozen Treat is Dairy-Free and Delicious- PopSugar shows you how to make their version of a Dole Whip in this 30 second video. Only 110 calories per serving!
*Dole Whip With Rum- A more grown up version of the snack
*The 5 Yummiest Treats at Magic Kingdom & Where to Get Them- See what else is recommended after you get a Dole Whip. 

7) Ice cream or sorbet at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio- I have to pay homage to what was my home state for many years by mentioning Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. The first Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams shop opened up at the North Market in Columbus, but there are now 10 locations in and around Columbus as well as other shops all over America. I often frequented the Grandview Heights location, as it was only a short walk from where I was living a few years back. One of the reason why Jeni's is so popular is because ingredients are fresh and there are some very unique flavors. I know there were a few on the menu that I'd never seen anywhere else! Look at this list of some of the current flavors you'll find at Jeni's and I dare you not to be surprised: Sweet Corn and Black Raspberries, Ylang Ylang & Fennel, Middle West Whiskey & Pecan, Sweet Cream Biscuits and Peach Jam, and Atlantic Beach Pie. They also have flavors that are a bit more standard like salty caramel, a few kinds of chocolate, vanilla bean, etc. If you're vegan or lactose intolerant or just have taste buds in general, try the sorbet! I love the Cherry Lambic flavor as well as the Riesling one.

Photo by: Riane Ramsey

Related Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Links

*Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams- Official Website...Check to see if there is a Jeni's near you!
*Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams Instagram Account- Nothing like artsy pictures of some drool-worthy ice cream. 
*How Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams is Fighting Waste in a Genius Way This tells about what the company has done in order to reduce packaging waste.
*A History of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams- The timeline goes from 2002-2015.
*Goat Cheese Ice Cream With Roasted Red Cherries- Try out this recipe for a memorable dessert.

8) Coca-Cola Cake at West Egg Café in Atlanta- I would tell a traveler with a sweet tooth to try Coca-Cola cake anywhere, but it's not that common in every part of the United States (although it is on Cracker Barrel's dessert menu). Since the World of Coca-Cola is located in Atlanta, Georgia, naturally there are some bakeries and cafés in the city that bake and sell Coca-Cola cakes and cupcakes. West Egg Café is supposed to have some really scrumptious Coca-Cola cupcakes, complete with the bottled soda gummies adorning the tops. Might as well grab some brunch there while you're at it.

 Photo by: VickiSee.com (*This photo is not Coca-Cola Cake from West Egg Cafe but sure does look tempting regardless).

Related Coca-Cola Cake Links

*Coca-Cola Cake Recipe- This is the official Coca-Cola cake recipe right from Coke's website. 
*West Egg Cafe- Stop here to get some award-winning Coca-Cola cupcakes if you're in Atlanta.
*World of Coca-Cola- Learn more about the attraction here. 
*Vegan Coca-Cola Cake With Fudgy Frosting- Just one look at the picture, and I'm dying to make these!

With so many other kinds of American desserts, this list could be endless. If you're a fellow dessert lover and have any dessert restaurant recommendations, please share! What's your favorite dessert to have in the States? Any New York Cheesecake lovers? Carrot cake fanatics?

My Hospital Story

August 4, 2016

This post has been a long time coming. I started to tell the first part of how I ended up in the hospital, but haven't yet finished telling the rest of the story. Just as a quick recap, I flew out to Urumqi to visit a friend I hadn't seen in 14 years. The first day I was there I was fine, and the next day I woke up and was in so much agony that I couldn't walk or even stand due to issues with my spine. While I was in the Urumqi hospital, I found out that I needed a serious back surgery. My bosses wanted me to come back to Shanghai to have the surgery, but the problem was that I didn't know how I could fly back, and there was no plan in place. It turns out that those in charge at my school was so worried about me that they flew out two of my bosses to Urumqi to see me. Isn't that crazy? I was not expecting that at all. Even though I thought it was unnecessary at the time, after looking back, I think it was probably really important that they visited me. I was going to go ahead and schedule the surgery in Urumqi, but my bosses convinced me to fly back to Shanghai and have it done. They knew about my concern with flying and saw that I wasn't able to move, so they told me about a company called S.O.S. This company would provide me with a doctor and nurse to accompany me on a flight from Urumqi to Shanghai, and it was bed-to-bed transport, so I would never have to sit up or walk. They also arranged a bed for me at one of the best bone hospitals in all of Shanghai. One of my bosses was there all weekend securing a bed for me. I'm glad that they came through for me in the end, because otherwise I would have been stuck in Urumqi with only one friend to support me.

For my last two days in Urumqi, they made me switch rooms because two patients in my room checked out, and they wanted to make my room into a men's room. My new room was NOT nice, and  it was super noisy. The lady in the bed next to me hovered over me, which was annoying at first, but I got used to it and eventually even found her helpful. She told me (in Chinese) that my mom was in America and unable to help me, so that she would act like my mom and do things for me in her place. She helped me get my IV's changed and even helped me with my bedpan.

The S.O.S people flew out from Beijing the day before I was to fly out, met with me, and explained the whole procedure. I'm an anxious flyer as it is, and knowing that I had to fly out on a stretcher was not helping my nerves. The next morning, my friend in Urumqi came to the hospital bright and early to say goodbye to me. He helped me finish packing a few things, and then my doctor gave me some painkillers, and they strapped me down onto a gurney. I was transported to the ambulance, and we arrived at the airport, and I had to go through all of these security checks. We waited for awhile at a health center, and then I had to take another vehicle to get to the plane. By the way, they kept true to their word and this whole time I was on a stretcher and did not have to attempt to move myself, but it didn't feel that great getting jumbled around every time they moved me.

The plane was on the runway, and the way to board was to go outside and walk up a bunch of steps. I had to have four men lift me up those steps, which was super scary because I knew it was probably hard to do. I could feel their arms starting to shake, and I'm just relieved that they didn't drop me! As I was boarding, almost all of the Chinese people in first class surrounded me and started to take pictures of me on their phone--it was seriously like the paparazzi! So yeah, that was pretty humiliating, and I ended up covering my face with my blanket.

There was a section of the plane in the back reserved just for me. I had nine seats just for my stretcher, but only needed six of the seats (2 seats wide, 3 seats long). They just put my stretcher on top of the seats, so I was really close to the ceiling above the seats. The doctor and nurse sat in the seats on the other side, right across from me.

Even though I did not have to move, I can't say that I was very comfortable. Because of my disc problems in my back, I had a terrible stabbing pain down my left leg. Sometimes changing the position of my leg helped me manage the pain, but regulations required that I be fully strapped down for the flight, so I couldn't move my leg. The doctor gave me extra painkillers because he saw that I was suffering.

Right before we took off, the doctor and nurse told me that there was bad news. They had lost one of my bags and had no idea where it was. I was extremely upset because I was already on high alert, and that morning I specifically told both of them to be careful when handling my backpack because it contained my brand new MacBook Air which I had just purchased a few days before I left for Urumqi. That morning, they reassured me and told me that they would be responsible for my bags and not to worry. We were supposed to take off in a few minutes when they fessed up about the mishap, and I started to cry and asked what would happen if they couldn't find the bag. The nurse told me to calm down and said, "I'm not just your nurse. I'm your friend, and I'll buy you a new computer if it's not found." In my head I was thinking, "Yeah, right!" I thought for sure that it would be gone forever because of what was inside, but at the very last minute a man came running towards the plane with my bag! Two minutes later, the wheels of the plane started moving. I seriously got my bag just in the nick of time, thank goodness!!

After that stress, we took off and the flight was a little turbulent at first. The nurse and doctor were both very attentive and asked me if I needed anything to eat, how I was doing, etc. I didn't have anything to eat and only had a few sips of water because I didn't want to have to go to the bathroom. The second painkiller started to kick in, and I started to feel relaxed. About halfway through the flight, an elderly man sat down by my doctor and nurse. He was pale as could be, sweaty, and it was obvious that there was something wrong with him. My nurse asked me if it was okay with me if she helped that man. Of course, I told her no problem. The nurse and doctor spent most of the remainder of the flight with that man. The nurse ran some tests and told me that the oxygen level in his blood was incredibly low, and he was given several tanks of oxygen. He was traveling alone, and the doctor told me that his condition was very unstable. I think it was lucky for him that my nurse and doctor happened to be on board to help out. The flight attendants were all around us, and the other passengers were staring. It was such an insane situation, and at one point, I really thought that man might die in front of us.

When we landed, there was supposed to have been an ambulance waiting for me, but I'm pretty sure they gave it to that man who was having trouble breathing, which was totally fine. He needed it more than I did! We did have to wait for a long time, and it took nearly two hours to get to the hospital. Once I arrived, one of my bosses was there waiting for me and he took my passport and some money and checked me in. I had to go to the bathroom right away, and that was an ordeal. Two nurses and an ayi (caregiver) insisted that I try to walk to the bathroom with their help, and got pretty aggressive with me. The way they were pushing my body caused me to have severe pain, so I yelled at them to stop because there was no way that I could walk to the bathroom, as much as I wanted to. (Bedpan it was...) One of the nurses later told my co-teacher that she thought I was "a pain" for this. Let's just say that in my mind I had some choice words for her!! I know that they were trying to help, but when they're yanking on my body and making it hurt worse, they should know to listen to their patient! Plus, I don't appreciate being talked about like that--who would? I told my friends about her, and they all used the choice words I was thinking of to describe her, and that made me laugh and feel better about the situation.

Anyway, my boss came back and asked me a ton of questions and told me that I should hire an ayi to care for me. In Urumqi, I didn't need an ayi because the nurses helped me with everything, but at this hospital the nurses refused to help. They said that there was no way that they would change a bedpan and basically when I was there, the only thing they did was change my IV bags and take my temperature. I did hire that ayi to take care of me, which ugh... I did not want to. It was very, very hard for me to work with her, and I'm sure she probably felt the same way about me since we couldn't really communicate.

On the bright side of matters, I was really happy to be back in Shanghai! I was also put in the VIP section, and my room was so much nicer than it was in Urumqi. The best thing of all was that I had a private room with two beds! Later I found out that I was paying $335/night for this room, which is a lot of money considering there were some rooms in the hospital for about $7/night. If I had known the price difference then, I would have opted for the cheaper room, so it's probably better that I didn't know that since having finally having my own room was vital for my sanity.

My co-teacher visited me that evening, and it was so good to see a familiar face. She brought me some special milk powder that is good for bones and met my ayi. My ayi told my co-teacher that she wanted to sleep in the other bed so that she could help me at night, but I really didn't want her to! I was so looking forward to having a peaceful night's sleep with no roommates, and I didn't need any help at night. I'm sure she thought I was weird, but hey, that night I finally had a great night's sleep for the first time in almost two weeks!

That week I met three doctors who were working with my surgeon, and all the tests I had done in Urumqi had to be done again at my hospital in Shanghai. That irked me a little since I had to pay for all of those tests a second time, but they refused to use my scans from Urumqi, so what could I do? Most of the tests were okay, but there were three painful ones I had to endure. The first painful one was the MRI. Now, of course the MRI itself didn't hurt, but they wanted me to walk from the hall to the MRI scanner since they couldn't roll the metal gurney into the room. My principal, boss, and grade one leader were all there, and it was awful to have them see my condition. Two of them had to help me and give me a chair to lean on. Walking hurt me a lot, and tears were streaming down my face because of the high level of pain. At least I was able to eventually do it. The second test that was far from pleasant was one where they injected dye into the discs of my spine so that the doctors could see the source of my pain. That one wasn't as bad as these other tests I had, which were probably an NCV and an EMG. I don't know for sure because no one actually told me. The NCV/EMG really sucked, especially because no one explained what was going on. The technician just stuck all these needles into my leg muscles and then basically shocked me with electricity to test my reactions. At some points the electricity was so strong that it would make my entire leg "jump" up from the table. This startled me because I was unprepared for it due to the lack of communication. For me, the NCV/EMG were the two worst tests I had to have, and I left the room sobbing. Again, I think if I had been mentally prepared for this, it might not have been as awful as it was.

After a week of tests, the doctors met with me and told me that they wanted to remove some of my discs, give me a laminectomy, and perform a triple spinal fusion on L4, L5, and S1 (aka my lower back). The doctors in Urumqi also told me that I needed a spinal fusion and that I had to have some of my disc removed, but other doctors told me that they thought they could just remove the part the herniated disc with a simpler laparoscopic surgery. The doctors that suggested I do the laparoscopic surgery hadn't actually examined me in person and only had seen my scans and test results, so in the end, I knew that I had to go with the more invasive surgery since two teams of doctors in two different hospitals drew the same conclusions. I was pretty upset with this information, but I wanted to get my problem taken care of. Even the doctor who examined me in the States last year told me that I had one of the worst cases of spinal stenosis for someone my age that he'd ever seen and that I was going to have to have surgery one day. I just didn't think it would be so soon.

Surgery was inevitable for me, so I was hoping to have it done as soon as possible because I wanted to get it over with and start recovering.

Since this is getting lengthy, I'm going to continue my hospital story in another post, but I just wanted to do some updates on here and let you know what's new with me. :)

What's New With You

Bad Habits

August 2, 2016
My blogging pal Lora wrote a post about her bad habits, which I found interesting. Her post made me want to think about my own bad habits and document them on my blog. I think it's important to be self-aware and to acknowledge your less than stellar traits because no one's perfect, right?

* Slouching and hunching over. Being a tall girl, this bad habit just comes to me naturally. I'll do it in group photos or by short men on purpose. When I sit, sometimes it just feels better on my back to slouch at the moment, but then I pay the price later for not sitting properly. Now that I've had back surgery, I have to wear a back brace for the next six months, so I'm hoping that will help stop the problem. I'm not going to do it intentionally if I feel like a giant around others, either. I'd rather deal with being tall than hurting my healing spine. I think I just need to retrain myself!

* Wasting time on my phone. Since I got an iPhone a few years ago, my phone addiction started. I feel obligated to constantly check my messages in case a co-worker or if a student's parent messages me about my job. I don't want to respond to a parent hours later if I can help it. My issue is that I get on and check those messages, but then I'll see I have notifications on other forms of social media, so I'll check all those accounts, too. Sometimes I just get sucked in and way too much time has passed. I really need to be better at this and put a time limit on my phone usage.

* Not paying attention to directions. When I go out in Shanghai with others, I just focus on talking to whoever I'm with. I do NOT stop and look around at my surroundings at all, and then when I have to go back to the same place on my own, I have no idea how to get there. At first I thought I was just really bad at directions, but now I think the issue is that if I don't pay attention. If I consciously try to put an effort in, I can do it. I'll admit that last year, I relied on my friend Scott a lot for directions and finding new places. He is freakishly good at finding his way around--it was like having my own personal compass. This year, I need to step it up a bit since my compass decided he wanted to go back to the States.

* Overthinking things/Being a perfectionist. When someone asks me to do something or I have a job for work, I won't just do it and be done with it. I'll look at it over and over and constantly question if it is good enough or if it could be better. While I think it's okay to be a little critical, I tend to take it to the extreme. Because I know I do this, I put off my work until the last minute. This also stops be from tackling new challenges because I can sometimes stress myself out and spend SO much time on something that could have been easy!

* Eating junk food. Now, I don't only eat junk food, but gosh...I would say I like to have at least one piece of junk food a day. I never realized how much I loved junk food until I had my surgery and couldn't leave to buy myself any! When my friends asked me what I wanted in the hospital, I'd tell them some kind of junk food or a sugary Starbucks drink. While I try to limit my addiction, I know I could be better in this area. After all, I don't want to gain back the fifteen pounds I lost in China.

* Not cleaning up after myself right away. I could just wash a dish right after I'm done with it or sweep the floor right when some crumbs fall, but I don't. Instead, I'll let everything pile up and then spend a big chunk of time having to tidy up. This year I'm going to pay an ayi to help me clean since I'm not supposed to be doing a lot of bending or twisting, but I should still try to just do everything little by little to avoid a bigger mess.

* Splurging and spending too much money out with friends. In the past, I've been able to balance splurging and saving, but this year, I'm only going to splurge on traveling and that's it. Well, I am going to try to be better, anyway. I want to be able to pay my dad back the $30,000 I owe him for my back surgery as quickly as possible. I might not be able to do it all in a year, but I would like to at least get that number lowered significantly.

* Procrastinating. My other bad habit of overthinking things has a direct effect on my procrastination. If I know I have a deadline and put things off, procrastinating tends to help me get the job done faster because I have that pressure and don't have time to waste by constantly questioning myself. That's good and bad... If I wait 'til the absolute last minute, procrastinating just causes me a ton of extra stress that I don't need. Maybe I could wait until close to the deadline for that motivation, but not until the ninth hour?

Can you relate to any of these?

Ideas of What to Do in Shanghai

August 1, 2016
I've lived in Shanghai for over a year now, so last year was the time that I went to many of the main tourist attractions like Yu Gardens, the South Bund Fabric Market, and Qibao, to name a few places. The ideas on this list are going to be a little more quirky/specific as I delve deeper into Shanghai and try to explore it more.

* Have an ice cream cocktail at CHAR Bar and Grill on the Bund and take in exquisite views of Pudong all lit up at night. I read about these ice cream cocktails in a magazine, and one of them is topped with an actual scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone. I love fancy, over the top cocktails!

* Find some fresh flowers and plants to spruce up your place at Caojiadu Flower Market, the largest of its kind in Shanghai. If you're just traveling through Shanghai and can't buy any plants, it still might be fun to go just for the experience.

* Go to The Friends Cafe. It's modeled after Central Perk, like the one featured on the show. Apparently, Friends plays on flat screen tvs and you can eat cupcakes named after the characters! Sold!

* Take classes offered by Craft'd Shanghai. Rachael and I took a stamp making class here and used our creations to produce some handmade Christmas cards for our friends. Craft'd Shanghai offers other classes that I'm interested in such as flower arranging or making your own dream catcher. There are also classes on sewing, memo boards, calligraphy, and bath bombs! Classes for kids are available as well.

* Sip some tea at Tianshan Tea City. There are more than 150 shops in which you can try out all different kinds of loose leaf tea. The famous types of tea here are: pu'er, green, black, and oolong. You can make an afternoon out of sampling tea in order to find your favorites.

* Socialize over a few drinks at a pub crawl. Pub Crawl Shanghai takes place every Saturday night at 9:30, and you get to try out three bars. You're transported from bar to bar in a bus, and there are deals on drinks all night. This seems like a good opportunity to branch out and meet new people!

* Embrace your inner child at Shanghai Disney. The park just recently opened this past June, and there has been a lot of hype. I heard from friends that The Lion King show is amazing, but just to warn you, everything will be in Chinese. My friend Rachael has already been and wrote up a nice guide on her blog, which I recommend reading if you decide to visit.

* Stroll around in Jing'an. One of my best days in Shanghai was when my pal Scott and I walked around Jing'an aimlessly and discovered some of the cutest boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. I recommend starting on Julu Lu and then exploring whatever side streets catch your eye.

* Customize your own Magnum ice cream bar at the Magnum Pleasure Store. You can select the ice cream flavor, choose what kind of chocolate you want your ice cream coated in, and then pick from over twenty four kinds of toppings to sprinkle on top.

* Soak in colored pools at Shanghai's best bathhouses. Xio Nan Guo is supposed to be a good one, according to this article on Time Out Shanghai. For around $14, you can spend all day relaxing in hot and cold pools, visiting the sauna, or going swimming.

* Stop for a drink at a Speakeasy. These hidden bars are sprinkled over the city. For some of them, I heard you need a password, but for others you have to try to figure out the secret way in. This video is worth a watch, and it shows some of the coolest speakeasy entrances in Shanghai! One of them has a phone you have to dial before the door opens, and another one has a fake bookshelf that slides open.

* Have a late night meal and try your luck at Bingo at Mr. & Mrs. Bund. One Thursday night a month, you can get a Bingo card at this restaurant and have fun playing with your dinner companion. (Two people share one card.) There may also be some drink specials that come with Bingo cards. Plenty of prizes are given out, but it sounds fun regardless or whether you win or lose.

* Dine at Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet for arguably one of the most intense and special dining experiences in the world. This is incredibly pricey, so for me it would be something I'd do once in a lifetime. It's a 20 course meal that intends to "unite food with multi-sensorial technologies," according to the official website.

What appeals to you on this list, or what's your favorite place in Shanghai?