Thanksgiving Abroad

Of all the distinctively American holidays, the one I deem most worthy of "bringing with me" when I leave the country is Thanksgiving. This year, we decided to invite 5 of our coworkers and their spouses and children (13 guests) over for a Thanksgiving meal on the Saturday before the holiday, since work this Thursday wouldn't give me the time I needed to cook.

This is what I consider the #1 rule of celebrating Thanksgiving abroad: Don't get your heart set on a turkey. In my experience, turkeys can be hard to find, extremely expensive, and, besides that, you may not have an oven. Don't stress. Thanksgiving doesn't require a turkey, it just requires food.

Also, do not be dismayed if you can't find Thankgiving-themed decorations or even craft stores to buy supplies for making your own decorations anywhere. Remember, the food is more important that decor, especially for this holiday. I did make an effort with what we had, I wrote "Happy Thanksgiving!" and "Lord, we thank you." on signs in Chinese and taped them to the wall. So, basically our house was less decorated than the average dorm room, but remember, I'm of the theory that the food is what matters.

Angel was in charge of cleaning and setting up the room and running (hey, literally running since we don't drive, get it?) to Walmart several times for last minute-ingredients. Side note: "Milk Beverage is not the same thing as 100% Milk. Milk Beverage tastes weirdly like very sweet kool-aid and I wouldn't recommend adding it to mashed potatoes.) I made the food and made little food labels for the dishes, too. I've always scorned fancy food labels, because, why do we need to be told that mashed potatoes are mashed potatoes? And I'm right--we, those who have grown up eating mashed potatoes our whole lives, don't need to be told that, but people eating mashed potatoes for the first time don't know what they're eating until they're told. Nearly everything we served was a completely new dish for our guests, so I made labels.

It's always fun to me to see how others respond to trying out some very typical American food for the first time ever. At this particular meal, the deviled eggs were universally disliked (except by Angel, who ate about 10 of them). The mashed potatoes and fruit salad and rolls were huge hits (the rolls were normal dinner rolls I bought from the Walmart bakery, but I think many of our guests hadn't had them before). One gentleman got himself a solid 3 servings of chili, which I consider a vote of approval. The baked beans were pretty well liked as well, they ate nearly all we had. Even if the cheesy buffalo chicken dip wasn't the favorite of our guests, it was a solid favorite with Angel and I, and was the one thing that there were no leftovers of by the end of the evening...because between the two of us, we finished every last amazing bite.

We loved hosting our first Thanksgiving here. I know it looks very small, but considering the fact that I'm working with a two-burner stove, no oven, and a mini-fridge, I think it was the perfect size. I'm so thankful that after less than 3 months of working at our school, we've already built friendships with these coworkers who have welcomed us into their world so heartily. Yesterday, conversations in this home were taking place in a heavy mix of Chinese and English. Several of our guests spoke no English at all--but we are so thankful that we are able to communicate with them to invite them over and hopefully make them feel welcomed and give them a taste of what American Thanksgiving is about--food, hospitality, and praising God for all things.

Also, you can't out-give our friends, so don't even try. You will lose any and all gift wars. Hostess gifts are taken very seriously in China, and every guest showed up bearing food for us at the dinner. We ended up with a total of: 20 lbs. of mandarin oranges, 3 dragonfruits, 9 apples, a huge bag of grapes, a bag of dates. a box of tea, 6 bottled drinks, and a bottle of wine. And we are only two people! I now feel the need to have a fruit party and invite people over to help me eat lots of fruit! Who's in?

Big News! Read All About It!

But before we get to the news, a quick story: Angel and I found out a couple days in advance that we had a surprise 3 days off of work from Wednesday-Friday. That was, of course, good news (as much as we love our jobs!) and we decided to quickly plan a mini-vacation somewhere. We ended up choosing the easiest somewhere available to us, and headed over to Hong Kong! The trip involved a really sketchy hostel, me bragging to Angel that I knew who Chow Yun Fat was, and a selfie with a giant panda.

 Angel said "Close your eyes!" right before snapping the photo. Apparently, I listened.

 I impressed Angel by telling him that Chow Yun Fat was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. What I didn't tell him was that the name was most familiar to me due to my long standing history as a fan of Pirates of the Caribbean because that doesn't seem to sound as cool.

 Angel is very law-abiding.

 A real panda!

Now, I promise that this story has something to do with my announcement, and that's because, if you want to hear all the details (the tragedies! The triumphs!) of our spontaneous trip to Hong Kong, you're going to have to head over to my brand-new blog:

It's in soft-launch stage right now as I work on pulling things together and lining up content, but I've really never been the type to keep a secret and say, "I have such exciting news that I can't tell you yet!!!" so I decided to just tell all of you now.

Here's what you really need to know:

1. The Random Writings isn't going anywhere. I've been wanting to branch into writing articles that include actual useful information instead of the humorous vignettes and random topics that this blog is well-known and loved for, and I decided it would be a better idea to focus my actual information posts into an appropriate niche blog and keep The Random Writings random.

2. I came up with the idea of The Vacation Plan as a site where useful travel information meets adventure meets humor meets real life. My goal is to create a catalog of the tales of real vacations--to satisfy our human curiosity about the lives of others, but to include links, directions, and all sorts of information to help others planning trips to the same location.

3. I need guest posts!!! Obviously, I do not travel all over the world, and I have no desire to. However, I do want The Vacation Plan to be filled up with information on destinations everywhere from Bali to Berlin to small towns in Oklahoma (sorry, Oklahoma, names of any of your small towns are escaping me). Vacations need not be long, expensive, or elaborate to apply. I'm just as interested in the tales of weekend trips to the next town over as I am in elaborate multi-country itineraries. Email me or mention in the comments that you're interested in contributing a guest post and I'll send you the details!

I'm shooting for a full launch of the site at the beginning of the new year (because is there really any better time?). In the may not have noticed, but I haven't actually started a blog in a really long time. I don't exactly remember all that goes into it, and I feel like technology and expectations have changed a lot in the last three years! I welcome any and all help, advice, critiques, and especially guest posts as I get this new blog off the ground. If you're interested in getting involved in this project, any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you all so much, I'm excited about my new venture into a different sort of blogging.

If you want to come along for the ride, and read about our travels in detail (including next week's trip to Hong Kong Disneyland!) be sure to follow on Bloglovin'.

Air Pollution

Fashion Rule: Always match your mask to your shirt. Or was it your belt to your shoes? I can't seem to remember at the moment.

ShenZhen isn't one of the worst cities in China for air pollution, but we've certainly experienced elevated pollution levels since moving here. We check this map and this site regularly for daily reports of pollution levels where we live. Red is bad, purple and brown are even worse. If you're curious at all about the situation of air pollution in China and around the world, I encourage you to check out those sites and explore to look at the parts of China that have a much bigger problem with pollution than ShenZhen.

We check pollution levels in order to determine our plans for the day. Angel avoids going out for a run when we're in the "red." As we understand it, on days when the pollution is especially bad, it's a good idea to stay indoors and not participate in outdoor aerobic activities that cause you to breathe at a higher rate.

When we have to go outside on days with comparatively high levels of pollution, we wear masks. Before we moved to China, I researched and decided that Vogmasks would be best for what we were wanting to get out of a mask, so we purchased those. We have the microfiber version, not the organic cotton version, because microfiber is best for filtering out the industrial pollutants that concern us the most.

When we first arrived in ShenZhen, the rainy season was in full swing, and pollution levels were comparatively low. Now, it no longer rains constantly, and pollution levels have been consistently high. We've been here such a short time, and have not experienced any negative health effects, but pollution of this sort means long-term exposure to citizens. I will say that living in a city of 10 million has caused me to become much more proactive about reducing my own personal contribution to consumption and waste than I ever was before.

Have you ever had to deal with elevated pollution levels? What are your strategies?

Never Before Seen Photos of a Bear!

Bear at the Playground

Bear At the Playground

Bear Riding a Bike

I really love photo series. Maybe they're considered overdone or overpopular these days, but to me, they're just plain fun. Maybe my love for them explains why, in my day, I've started two different series: One a series of photos featuring a bear costume, and the other an annual tradition of dressing up in our wedding clothes for a snapshot!

For those who haven't been around that long, The Bear and photos of him started up when Angel bought a bear costume on eBay without telling me. He loved wearing it and it seemed to make sense to get the most use out of it that we could. The sad ending to this story is that his head was too big so we had to leave him behind in America. We did hear, however, that Angel's little brother wore the costume for a youth group Halloween party, so we're glad to know it's still getting used!

The anniversary tradition began when I convinced Angel to dress up with me in our wedding clothes on our 1st anniversary and go out to Logan's for dinner and pretend we just got married. We balanced the camera on the bookshelf in our dining room for a quick shot before we left for the restaurant, and each year since we've gotten dressed up again. The 2nd anniversary, my brother took a picture of us in our backyard, the 3rd year, my sister did, and this year, we were back to balancing the camera and utilizing the self-timer feature again (Look for the latest photo in the series, and the first one in China, in about two weeks!). This tradition has worked well for us so far--I love dressing up again, my wedding dress is very simple and portable, and Angel needs to keep his suit in case of rare fancy occasions, anyways!

Do you have any photo traditions that you've started in your family? What's the coolest photo series you've ever come across online? I'd love your suggestions for new ones to enjoy!

My Christmas Wish List


If I were in America right now, I'd be planning on some Black Friday Christmas shopping (yes, I'm one of the people who loves it) and I'd also be making a couple guiding suggestions for Angel's shopping--which would not take place on Black Friday, because he does not feel similarly to me on this subject. Here is what would be on my list of gentle suggestions:

Disney's Frozen nail polish. Actually, I have no idea if this even exists--I haven't even seen Frozen but I've seen enough pictures to make me think that the sparkly blueish color associated with the movie would make an awesome nail polish. It exists in my mind, but I've yet to see the exact color I see in my mind inside a bottle.

White Ballet Flats. Miles upon miles of walking down Chinese sidewalks are apparently all it took to cause these $10 wedding shoes which I bought in Malaysia and have worn regularly since before we got married to begin a quick descent into decay. They have the best ballet flats ever, and never gave me blisters or rubbed my skin raw. I'm not sure if I'll ever find a perfect replacement, but I'd like to.

A Chocolate Orange and A Big Box of Red, Green, and White Nerds and Chewy Sweet Tarts. Christmas candy traditions that might not exist here but I can still dream about their goodness.

A Dress. No good reason. Dresses are just awesome. I don't have anything particular in mind.

We won't be buying any "big stuff" this year, because of the need to be able to live out of a suitcase, so that's a first for me (If my white flats do fall apart any further, though, I will have to take corrective action). I enjoy presents, and I especially enjoy clothes and shopping, but ever since our move I feel no motivation to buy stuff that we'll only get to have for a short time since we don't know if we'll be living in this apartment next year. I never thought I'd be the kind of gal to say, ahh, I don't need anything, I'll shop again sometime next year...but weirdly, that's pretty much how I feel these days. Since our move, Angel has bought one pair of dress pants for work and I've bought one pair of shorts and one pair of leggings (since he is naturally over-prepared on casual, comfy clothes and I am naturally over-prepared on fancy, non-sports-appropriate clothing, we were both filling holes in our closet!).

How do you do Christmas when it doesn't make sense to buy more stuff? We're considering going out to watch The Hobbit as our gift to each other! I can also guarantee we'll be buying some snacks (like cashews for him and dark chocolate for me) that are a little outside of the everyday budget!