Beijing, Part One

It has taken me some time to get to a point where I felt ready to reflect on our trip to China over Thanksgiving break. Travel writers rarely forget to touch on the subject of gratitude, maybe because once you’ve gone somewhere new, it’s difficult to not feel grateful. Even those with terror stories afar come home grateful for the experience.


I’ve wondered if this reflex comes from being raised to not take anything for granted. Every stage of my life has been peppered with adults making sure I knew just how “special this time of your life is” and “don’t waste a day of it” and “boy I wish I could be your age again”. Part of this is due to the fact that I have a dad forever living in his glory days, but the other part comes from a generation gap. Those adults sharing their life wisdom with me were most likely part of the Baby Boomers, the generation that took everything for granted and will spend their twilight years looking back. The science fiction stories of their days often sought eternal youth, ways to stop the aging process; science fiction now centers around tales of artificial intelligence taking over and fighting to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic planet. That’s a stark comparison between their world and ours. But, their lessons stuck and I grew up so grateful for every breath, every day, every meal, every age and moment of my youth.

China was no exception, and I felt grateful. Grateful to experience such a different culture on my first international journey. Grateful to walk the Great Wall with my best friends. Grateful that we were together the day we found out about Jon’s diagnosis. Grateful to be in a country where we are the minority, collecting stares from strangers and awkwardly standing while Chinese people took pictures of us and handed us their babies and giggled and pointed. Grateful to see Connie maneuvering a new country like a pro, teaching us things we would have never known without her expertise.


When Connie told me she was going to China to work as an architect right after she got her Master’s degree, I knew I was going to go see her. I wasn’t sure if Bryan would be interested, but I knew I would regret it forever if I didn’t go, and doing things alone never bothered me a bit. Visiting China takes a bit of planning, and I wanted to wait until Connie got there to buy my plane ticket because she was unsure of the details of her time there. Initially she was promised three months of work, but once she arrived, they placed her in a design team and told her she could stay as long as she wanted. I was ready to buy my ticket.

At this point, Bryan had decided he wanted to come. We bought tickets for Thanksgiving break and told Connie we were all set. When Ashley got the news we were officially going to China, she was immediately dead set on finding a way to go too. Ashley had been in Tennessee for several months and we were still adjusting to living apart. Being in China together was too tempting to pass up. It wasn’t long until Ashley and Destry had their tickets booked. Well what would Thanksgiving in China be without Emily? She knew she would be so sad in America while we frolicked in Asia, so finally, she booked her ticket as well!


While preparing visa paperwork, I noticed that you have to have the address of the place you are staying before you can apply. We all wanted to be near each other as much as possible, but I also knew Bryan and I wanted our own room and bathroom because why not? Emily found some great rentals where we could all stay in one apartment, but usually these were far from the city and lacked character. I sent them a link to the Peking International Youth Hostel, a place I found online after sifting through pages and pages of reviews. It looked really charming, bursting with fresh flowers and lots of options for rooms. Bryan and I had a room “en suite” which Connie told me means your bathroom is in your room, and Ashley, Destry and Emily stayed in a room with two beds “en suite”. Connie’s housing is on the outer edge of the city, so she was able to book a bed in the big sleeping room at the Hostel for the week we were there.

Emily, Bryan and I left from Seattle around 3 p.m. on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (November 22) and arrived in China around 10:00 p.m. Sunday night (November 23) after a 13 hour flight. We passed the time watching movies and trying desperately not to check the map to see how much longer we had. I cannot sleep on planes, so I knew it would be brutal at times. Although, watching the plane progress on its journey was interesting – I assumed we would cut straight across the Pacific Ocean to China, but instead, the plane followed the borders of Canada, Alaska, the Bering Strait, Russia, North Korea, then down to Beijing.


Ashley and Destry had arrived a few hours before us, so when we exited the terminal we were greeted with the biggest hugs and smiles that we had waited so long to see. Ashley, Destry and Connie were nearly three sheets to the wind, since you can drink beer everywhere in China and they had been crushing them waiting for our plane to land. We got on the airport express subway and a half hour later, numerous stops and transfers, we arrived in our hutong. It was quiet as we wheeled our luggage down the cobblestone alleyway, and I felt such strong contrasting impulses to explore Beijing all night and immediately fall asleep until late morning. I had some life left in me, and once we put our stuff in our rooms, I smoked one more cigarette with the group before finally going to sleep.


Monday was spent exploring our hutong and the surrounding neighborhoods. Hutongs are basically narrow alleyways that were constructed to house courtyard residences and shops. While they are packed with pedestrians and signs forbid cars from driving down the alleys, you’ll still feel a slight bump on the leg from a car slowly weaving its way through the hutong. There are no rules in Beijing seemingly, especially when it comes to traffic. That first day, we had the most beautiful blue and clear skies, something I hear is rare in such a smoggy city.


On Tuesday, we went to the 798 Art District. This was my first real experience with Beijing traffic. I learned from Connie that middle-class homes didn’t have cars until 7 or 8 years ago, so the surge in traffic was swift and poorly planned. Cars make lanes where they want, and horns are used consistently to warn other drivers that you are squeezing between. Children ride on their parents’ scooters with no helmets in the midst of 6 lane traffic, and yet we only saw one traffic wreck the whole time we were there.


The Art District was full of sculptures, paintings, graffiti, museums, shops, and cafes. It also had a really unfinished, industrial feel to it that I thought made it much more interesting to observe some of the pieces. The district spanned four (or more?) blocks, and takes you from dusty alleys covered in rubble to streets lined with delicate life-size flowers made of crepe paper. After we walked around all morning, we found a literal hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we ate some good, greasy Chinese food.




Before we headed back to our hutong, we stopped by LotteMart, the hugest store I’ve ever seen in my life. The entire store is the size of most American malls, and tiny booths are crammed on every floor selling everything imaginable. We made our way to the grocery side so we could buy coffee and snacks to prepare for our trip to the Great Wall the next day. As we left the store, Ashley found a stand selling candied fruit sticks, something she had seen people eating all over the place. Her and Bryan were not impressed, but at least they got to try it.


Stay tuned for Beijing Part Two next week.



Socker, or the easiest IKEA build to ever exist.


I have an ever growing collection of matchbooks, and this was an insanely affordable item at IKEA that I thought would be perfect for them.  But I overestimated how much space they needed, so it’s looking a bit empty.  This miniature greenhouse may be put to an entirely different use sometime soon, while I continue the search for the perfect vessel for my matchbook keepsakes.


I didn’t really expect the item to come fully built, but I also got a kick out of constructing something from IKEA on my tabletop instead of the floor.  It was the least frustrating IKEA item to build, but I still furrowed my brow too many times while putting it together.


Someday you’ll get a peak at some of my collections, but for now, here’s a top view.



“Robert California, let’s have a conversation.”

I came from a mother with a fabulous sense of pop culture and a great taste in movies, shows, theatre, books, everything.  She introduced me to the Sopranos, West Side Story, New York Times crossword puzzles, flash sale websites, and a healthy crush on Jeff Goldblum.  Her commentary on celebrity scandals has always been hilarious, and she always seems to know the next big thing before everyone else.

When she first brought home The Office (UK) seasons on DVD, I could barely understand the characters’ thick accents.  But the dry humor suited me, and after one episode you adjust to the Slough drawl.  Flash forward to the announcement that there would be an American remake of the beloved two season BBC show The Office.  I was so mad, high and mighty, saying I would never watch it.  Even a boyfriend at the time, who loved both versions, got me to watch a few episodes of this American remake, and I was even further perturbed because they followed such similar story lines, camera shots, even some matching dialog.  Were they really going to just copy this thing bit for bit?  Are we really that culturally inept that we cannot watch something from another country and have to have it regurgitated to us in “American” terms?

Then, it happened.  A few years after the show started, my friend Bill, whose humor I trust indefinitely, leant me season three of The Office.  He swore if I watched it beyond seasons 1 and 2 and saw how the characters were unique, especially since The Office (UK) never did a third season, I would be in it to win it.

Of course he was right, and I’ve loved both shows in their own right ever since.  Anyone else who loves it knows there were ups and downs, and changes towards the end that I never thought would settle in.  And the UK and US versions, to me, have become their own very distinct shows in my mind.

And if you are an Office fan like me, you see yourself in so many different characters and different moments.  (Except Pam, I never relate to Pam, gross.)

But nothing spoke to me as a person more than Robert California’s declaration that he is never uncomfortable.


Erin was scared Andy was going to fire her, so the conversation in his office devolves to their past relationship and the fact that Andy was just planning on telling Erin that he has been seeing someone.  Robert California continues to linger in their conversation, often interjecting advice and then backing out saying “I’m not here.”

Finally, Andy says “I’m sorry this must be really uncomfortable for you.”

Robert looks at Andy squarely and says,

“I’m never uncomfortable.”

No situation is too awkward for me.  xoxo


It’s pouring rain and Pearl won’t stop digging in the mud around a backyard bush.  I’m hanging onto every beautiful sunny day to get me through the rainy ones, and slowly putting away my winter coats, boots, and accessories.


I brought out the Oh Joy collection from last Spring to spice up a boring space between cupboards.  There are still a few bare walls around here, like the dining room, while I decide on something.  Photo Jojo sells engineering prints for a really great price, and the dining room has a lot of color already, so I am sorting through pictures to find a good one that B likes.  I think the faded grey/black/white scheme of it will offset the other bright items, so I’ll share the wall and space once I commit to a picture.


Our bar cart needs some serious organization, which leads me to my list of spring cleaning tasks I’ve been making since we moved in.  Horribly awful kind of tasks like cleaning the track of the sliding glass door, dusting the tops of the cupboards, all of the vents, and washing any bar glasses that haven’t been used recently (I’m looking at you, copper mugs).  I’m also going to pull out the fridge and clean the coil – I read recently that keeping a clean coil helps your fridge run efficiently and reduces any sort of fire risk.


I hate putting this Oh Joy tray away in the winter, but I only do it in the really dark, cold months.  Our dining room has gorgeous afternoon light, and I know it will be terribly hot on summer afternoons, so I’m enjoying it this spring.  Big time.

I have a very long post on China coming this week, along with some other home details and upcoming plans.  xo


No such thing as too much X-Files.


I haven’t had much to say these last weeks, as most of my free time has been spent writing cover letters and exploring our new town.  Today was gorgeous and we took a long morning walk, thrift shopped our faces off, and worked on our yard.

We’ve been watching X-Files lately, one of Bryan’s favorite shows.  I’ve never sat and watched them consecutively.  As an avid believer in the unknown, the occult, the otherworldly possibilities, I become entrenched in the episodes, feeling myself overwhelmed with the possibilities.

I just really hope the Men in Black are real.

Stay up late for China

My days this week have been filled with writing, job research, cover letters, and serious organization around the corners of the house that took the brunt of the miscellany leftover from moving.  I ordered B a huckleberry pie for his birthday at the end of March, because that’s just how high-demand the Pie Hut huckleberry pies are from Sandpoint.  The rest of my days this week will be more of the same, with the addition of some serious eBay business.


Bugs, a wedding present from our friend Liz, and a frumpy bulldog (candle) wearing a tiny party hat.IMG_3888

My travel Braun alarm clock, miniature bear rug, and a book box bedside.  This book box is quite the acquisition to me: I saw these House Doctor books over a year ago online, but House Doctor is not an easy brand to acquire in the U.S. unless you want to pay exorbitant prices on top of even higher shipping prices.  So I did what I always do when I’m on the hunt – I saved an eBay search, Googled the item occasionally, and kept it on my Pinterest to remind myself.

(Why all of this for a silly book box?  Well, one, if you know me, you know I love vessels and boxes and hidden storage.  Two, I above all value quality design and had never seen such a delicious looking secret book box.  The ones you see at places like Ross are horrifyingly ugly, and even the other books in House Doctor’s collection are not cute to me.  But this one?  This could be a real book, and the color scheme is straight out of a Wes Anderson movie.)

But the story doesn’t end there.  I was so excited one day to stumble onto the Anthropologie website and see that they were selling a small selection of House Doctor items, including these books.  I ordered immediately.

The first time it arrived on my doorstep, I received the wrong book.  The second time, I received the wrong book.  The third time, I received the wrong book.  At this point, after three phone calls and several e-mails with Anthropologie, I refused to give in.  Fourth time’s a charm right?  WRONG.  I received the incorrect book again!  Being the queen of customer service, I called them again, was totally polite and shared a laugh with them over how ridiculous a process this has been, and received the correct book finally.  They even refunded me so the item was free.  It never hurts to be assertive and now this thing is pretty much a trophy.IMG_3862The rare picture-worthy moment when all of Pearl’s toys are put away before she pulls them out again one by one.  Poor Yoda, he is no longer with us, shortly after this picture, Pearl decided he was done for.


Orange Cat Anyone?


I want an orange cat bad.  Really, just any cat.  But I think cats with orange are top notch and I don’t want a calico or black cat because every one of them I’ve met had serious ‘tude.  One morning recently, barely after saying good morning to each other, B turned to me and said, “We should get a collie for Pearl.”  I laughed at the thought of a 60-pound collie trotting alongside little 25-pound Pearl, and then laughed even harder at the fact that that is what Bryan thinks about first thing in the morning.

Either way, conversations like that in a room with these views is worth sharing.