Monthly Archives: March 2014

Looking Back on the Slice of Life Challenge- SOL #31

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2014 marks the fourth year that I have participated in the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers and, except for the first year, I have written a post all 31 days in March. I tend to follow a typical trajectory. I start off strong, full of gusto and enthusiasm, get stuck in the middle with “Why am I doing this? I don’t have time. No one wants to read what I have to say! What is it that I want to say anyway?”, and then limp across the finish line, weary and a little worse for wear, glad that my month of blogging is done. Ready to put it on the shelf for the next 11 months. But this year was different. This year was better.

This year, I started out strong, and I finished strong. There wasn’t a day when I wrote about writer’s block, as I had done every other year. I lived my life with eyes wide-open, ready to mentally capture the potential slices that filled my days, so that I had something to write about that evening. Somedays I had so many great slices to choose from, that it was hard to pick just one. This year, my slices centered around a few themes. Travel, my back pain issues, memories from my childhood, reflection, and of course, living abroad in a culture very different from home. This year, I learned that I can write 1000 words in no time at all. My writing has taken on a more natural feel, flowing out of me as fast as the thoughts enter my head.

This year, I realized that what motivates me as a writer is writing for an audience. Knowing that someone out there is reading my words–making a connection, learning something new, feeling a certain way–makes all the difference. Comments are food for the soul. They’re like little nuggets of encouragement, spurring me on to write each day, letting me know that what I say matters.

This year, I spread the slicing love to some of my friends. Shaggers joined me on the challenge last year, but this was her first 31-day slicing month. Congrats by the way Shags! We were each other’s biggest cheerleaders and encouragers. Daily text check-ins to nudge one another to write, revision emails swapped with “I can’t figure out this line…can you help?”, “How can I get my verb tense to match up?”, and “Ugh, poetry is so tough…please work your magic!”, and comment after comment, making connections and giving feedback. In addition to Shags, a couple of my other friends joined me for their inaugural year on the challenge. Kudos to you Jen, Heather, and Brittany! I’m proud of you! 😉 I even had one of my Kindergarten teachers write me an email saying that I’d inspired him to write with my slicing. He sent me a lovely poem he’d written as an homage to our school. Igniting that writing spark in others gives me warm fuzzies!

This year, I can’t believe how quickly the month has flown by! While some things didn’t get done as I committed to the task of writing daily and commenting on other slicers, I am proud of my decision to write daily, no matter what. Writing daily has become a habit, one that I hope to continue as we move into April. Every year I say I will slice on Tuesdays, but after about 2 Tuesdays, life creeps back in and I get “too busy” to do it. Not this year. Shaggers and I are committed. We are becoming year-round slicers. Let’s do this!

Thank you for taking the time to read my slices and share your thoughts. It truly means the world to me! Until next time…zai jian!

My Travel Essentials- SOL #30

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As a seasoned traveler, I have, through trial and error, figured out the essential elements I must bring with me whenever I take a trip, especially a long one (5+ hours). I’m posting from the Hong Kong airport, so I don’t have pictures of my items, but I’ll do my best to describe them for you. Beyond the obvious travel items one may take on a  trip, I like to bring:

  1. A large scarf or pashmina– This versatile piece of clothing serves as a traditional scarf, a blanket when you get cold on the airplane, or a wrap, which is essential in some cultures where women have to have their shoulders covered in public. I usually bring my black one because it goes with everything.
  2. My neck pillow– As someone who has trouble sleeping on airplanes, I used to lug around my full-sized pillow, but the more you travel, the more you realize how annoying and ridiculous that is. I’ve tried several neck pillows, but the one that works for me is my one made of memory foam. It holds its shape no matter what you do to it. Not only is the neck pillow great for sleeping on the airplane (or bus or train or…), I’ve used it to sleep in the airport, stretched out on the benches, as a pillow in hostels that didn’t pass my cleanliness test, and in my lap as a book rest when I’m reading on the airplane. I highly recommend it!
  3. A sleep mask– First of all, don’t laugh…I realize how ridiculous I look wearing this, but it really helps me get a snooze in when the lights are on. My friend Melissa likes to call me a ‘princess’ when I wear it. She can call me whatever she likes, but I’m a happy ‘princess’ when I get my sleep! The one I have is black, not too tight, and made of silky material. I bought it in the LA airport when I left my other one at home, and I have been a happy sleeper ever since!
  4. A comfy travel outfit– I like fashion as much as the next girl, but when I travel, I prefer comfort over fashion! My go-to travel outfit consists of comfy stretchy pants such as leggings or yoga pants, a tank top, t-shirt, and hoodie or track jacket on top (layers are key to account for varying temperatures), my scarf, socks, and slip-on Nike tennis shoes for breezing through security. I don’t wear jewelry when I travel either. More of a hassle than it’s worth, especially at security checkpoints.
  5. My iPad mini, a book, and/or laptop– I like to have plenty of stuff to do when I’m on those long-haul flights. My iPad mini is great for storing books, magazines, videos, and apps that I can play or use to research my next travel destination. I also like to have it in case I need to snap a quick photo or jot down a note I don’t want to forget! I like to have at least one paperback book with me, especially for takeoff and landing when all electronic devices need to be switched off. My laptop comes with me if I will be at my destination for a while (such as home for the holidays), I need to do some work while on vacation, or I would like to blog.
  6. Small toiletry bag– This one is so important. I have a small 3x2x1 inch bag I bought at the fake market. It fits nicely into my carry on and houses lots of important odds and ends that I may need on the flight. I have my pill box with Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Melatonin (essential for helping me sleep), and Tums. While I may not need any of those medicines, it sure is great to have when I do! In it I also keep a travel hairbrush, travel ready-to-use toothbrushes, a few mints, hair ties and barrettes, chapstick, hand sanitizer, face lotion, wet wipes (so important), Kleenex, and hand lotion. All of these items are travel sized and fit nicely into my bag that takes up less room than a paperback book.
  7. Noise-cancelling earbuds– These are great for blocking out the sounds of the screaming baby in aisle 12, the snoring man next to you, and the constant interruptions of the PA system. They also prevent you from having to use the airline-provided headphones, which make me think of germs. Yuck!
  8. Reusable water bottle– If you’ve ever traveled by plane, you know how dehydrating it can be. There’s nothing worse than being thirsty on the plane! I hate when I forget my water bottle because the flight attendants will only give you a small cup of water at a time. Since there’s no lid, you can’t save the water for later or it’ll spill. I bring my own, and ask the flight attendant to fill it up on the first drink run. As a bonus, you can use it when you are traveling so you aren’t constantly having to buy and throw away water bottles.
  9. An empty recycled grocery bag– You never know when you might need more space in your luggage. You don’t want to forgo that really cool souvenir because you don’t have room in your bag. Bringing an extra bag takes up no room or weight, but it gives you the flexibility to bring something back home that you may not have been able to otherwise. Sometimes I use it, other times it comes back empty. It’s just good to have. I’ve also used it as a day bag when  in a pinch.

What items are essential when you travel?

An Unexpected Pitstop- SOL #29

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Today I had planned a totally different slice, one that I was writing in my head while waiting in the airport in Shanghai and on the airplane on my way to Kathmandu, via Hong Kong. But, due to some unexpected changes, I have a new slice idea.

Like I said earlier, I was on my way to Nepal for a week-long vacation. One thing you have to know about Shanghai is that the airports there are notorious for leaving late. Delays are a way of life, and while they still annoy me, I’ve come to accept that it would take an act of God for a plane to leave at its scheduled time, so to allow for the inevitable delays, I gave myself extra layover time in Hong Kong. An hour plus delay prior to boarding and an hour sitting on the runway made today’s delays even longer than my layover time, and consequently, I missed my flight to Nepal. You may know from my previous post that I am an unplanned traveler, meaning that I don’t really know what is going to happen on my trips, and I tend to just roll with the punches and let adventure come my way. This was one of those punches.

Landing at ten to seven, I knew it was too late. My flight to Nepal departed at 7:10pm, and I was in row 38. There was no way I was getting off that plane anytime soon. The only thing that could have saved me was a delayed flight to Nepal, but seeing as this was Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is efficient, the chances were pretty slim. Upon exiting the walkway from the plane to the terminal, I was met with chaos. Dozens of Cathay Pacific personnel were holding up signs and shouting out locations, trying to gather up people who had missed their connecting flights. People headed to Aukland, Melbourne, the US, Mumbai, a few others, and of course, Kathmandu were all in the same boat.

Louise, the agent helping me, presented me with two new boarding passes, telling me that I’d been booked on a flight that departed in an hour. Great, I thought, I’ll get to Nepal after all. When I looked closer, I realized that I had been booked on a flight to Dehli and then a flight to Kathmandu, meaning that my total transit time had been extended another 10 hours. Hmmm…I didn’t like that. I could tell Louise was disappointed, but nonetheless, vowed to help me. After waiting a while, she presented a new plan. This one involved staying overnight in Hong Kong and flying out tomorrow afternoon. I can handle that. I mean, Hong Kong isn’t the worst place to be stranded, and my best friend lives here, so I called her up and made plans for the morning. The airline put me up in a really nice hotel called the Penta Hotel, and I am on the 30th floor. There’s even a cushioned window seat that I plan on testing out in the morning.

As an unplanned traveler, you have to expect the unexpected. Am I happy that I missed my flight and will be spending one less day in Kathmandu? Not exactly, but I’m not mad either. I get to stay in this posh hotel room overlooking Hong Kong, visit with Shaggers and Jeezy tomorrow, and get into Kathmandu earlier in the evening than I would have today. Cheers to an unexpected pitstop and the fun it brings!

Packing for Kathmandu- SOL #28

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I leave for Kathmandu, Nepal tomorrow! I, of course, left the packing for today. I typically pack the day of, but I have to leave by noon, so I figured I’d do it tonight. I am usually an over-packer, but I am trying to be better. In an attempt to pack less and avoid checking a bag, I pared down what I would normally take. Here’s a look at what is coming with me to Kathmandu:

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I’ll be in Nepal for a week. As far as clothes go, I’m taking 3 pairs of shoes (trainers, sanuks, and sandals), 4 pair of leggings, 1 skirt, 1 pair of jeans, 5 undershirts, 8 shirts, 1 jean shirt, 1 cardigan, 1 track jacket, 2 bras, 11 undies, 5 pairs of socks, and 1 scarf. I realize this seems like a lot of clothes for a week, but due to the warm days and cool nights, I’ll have to layer. Additionally, I am taking toiletries (deodorant, solid shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, toothpaste and toothbrush, perfume, and a hairbrush), a bag of wipes, kleenex, and some medicine (it is Southeast Asia after all), and a small makeup bag (powder, mascara, blush, and chapstick).

One trick I’ve learned as a traveler is to use packing bags. It really helps compact everything into a much smaller space. See what I mean…all of that fit into this:

IMG_3625 I always travel with my writer’s notebook, writing utensils, and a couple of books. I plan on spending lots of time writing and reading on this trip. I can’t wait to relax!

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Now to pack it all in my carry on. I was a little skeptical that it would all fit, but I have some mad Tetris skills, so it worked out just fine.

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Now for my personal item. I’ll be taking my backpack filled with a few other travel essentials.

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In my backpack, I’m bringing my camera in its own case, my new wide angle lens, laptop (for blogging of course!), adapters for Nepal, my iPad (in case I need more books), headphones, EOS lip balm, sunnies, eye mask for the plane (I have an overnight flight on the way back), a small pack with essentials like hand sanitizer, kleenex, mints, disposable toothbrush, and small pillbox with tylenol and melatonin, face mask for that pesky pollution I may encounter, and my passport. I’ll also throw a couple of snacks and my reusable water bottle in there in the morning.

I am so excited to go on this adventure, and seeing the weather forecast today made me even happier…

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Of course these temps are in Celsius…:) For those of you who operate on Fahrenheit, I’ll have highs in the 80’s and lows in the 50’s. Oh, and look at that sun! I am such a happy girl tonight!

What are your travel essentials? I always love hearing what people bring with them.

Writing Under the Influence- SOL #27

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Last month I attended the Literacy Institute in Hong Kong where I got to rub elbows with and learn from Kathy Collins, Matt Glover, and Carl Anderson. I know, I know…I’m a pretty lucky girl! I wanted to share a little bit of what I learned from Carl about the power of mentor texts. We all know mentor texts are important because they can give us some background on a new genre or style of writing, and we all know how important they are to writing workshop. A phrase I love that Carl used was “writing under the influence,” and I think it’s really important that we not only learn from and use mentor texts in our own writing, but teach our students to write under the influence as well.

As an engagement activity, Carl gave us 1 minute to write a poem about anything at all. I’m not joking! We had to write a poem in 1 minute! That’s a tough task, especially when you don’t have a topic, but we just had to go for it. Scrambling to think of a topic, my brain immediately went to goat cheese. Here’s my first draft of my poem (now, don’t laugh…it’s not that good!):

Goat cheese
tangy
creamy
warm or
cold
on bread
pasta
salad
pizza
in a quiche
wrap
sandwich
any way
any day
I love it

After our initial poems, we were given a poem to read– first like a reader, then like a writer. The poem was entitled “Red” by Lilian Moore. After reading like a writer, we brainstormed things we noticed about how Lilian crafted her poem. We talked about things we liked, didn’t like, have seen before in other mentor texts, and so on. Next, we were given another minute to write a second poem about the same topic, only this time we were to write it under the influence of the mentor text, “Red.” Here’s my second draft (a little better, but not quite there):

Any way
you serve it–
whether on bread, pasta, or pizza
that tangy
creamy
distinct taste
envelopes me
in love.

We shared our poems with our table, noting how it felt the second time around, when we had a mentor text to guide our writing. Most of us found it easier. I didn’t love “Red,” so I thought it was a little bit difficult, but it was definitely easier than the first draft when we didn’t have a mentor text at all. Next we were shown “Knoxville, TN” by Nikki Giovanni, a list poem that I related to as both a reader and a writer. Many of us were able to connect to the content and feel of the poem, which told a story of a church picnic through a list. After sharing what we noticed about the author’s writing, we were ready to write. For our final draft, we were given 2 minutes to write under the influence of Nikki’s poem. Here’s my final draft (the one I’m most proud of):

I haven’t always loved
goat cheese–
but once I got that
first taste,
I was hooked.
Goat cheese bruschetta,
on toasted bread–
the crunchiness of the toast
coupled with the warm
pillowy goat cheese
drizzled with honey
and topped with roasted capsicums–
was heaven in my
mouth.

What I got out of this learning engagement was the power of writing under the influence and how very important using engaging mentor texts is in writing workshop. The level of my writing was elevated by being exposed to quality texts, being able to discuss the things I noticed with my peers, and being given a time and space to write and play around with words.

What successes or challenges have you had with using mentor texts in writing workshop? How much time do you generally devote to reading mentor texts and discussing them with your students?

A Few of My Favorite Things- SOL #26

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Here are a few of my favorite things…

  • my writer’s notebook, a place where I can play with words
  • belly laughs
  • the smell and feel of a new book
  • fresh ripe strawberries
  • hugs, especially from children
  • goat cheese, of course!
  • waking up without my alarm, slowly easing into the day with some reading or writing
  • reading a book aloud to a group of kids
  • my niece and nephew, who I don’t see often enough
  • Pizza Marzano, my own Cheers, where everyone knows my name
  • a good story
  • igniting the spark of writing in others
  • friends that listen and put things in perspective
  • no-agenda Saturdays
  • Ande’s cupcakes
  • manicures and pedicures…in fact, I’m in need of one of each right now!
  • using the Internet in a non-censored country–VPN-less makes me happy!
  • putting on comfy clothes after a long day
  • English breakfast tea
  • reading in the bathtub
  • bike riding–can’t wait to get back out now that it’s starting to warm up!
  • participating in the SOL Challenge…can’t believe it’s nearly over 😦

Recharging Next Week- SOL #25

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Next week is our Spring Break, and I mean it when I say I’m in need of a mental break- a step back from work and the busyness of life. Today I have been thinking about my upcoming trip to Kathmandu, Nepal. I’ll be going by myself, which I’m quite looking forward to doing. Traveling solo allows me the opportunity to do what I want, when I want. It also gives me chances to make new friends and engage in experiences I might not otherwise.

What I’m particularly looking forward to in Nepal is recharging. This week will be a time to explore a new culture, experience beautiful scenery and nature, and give me some time to do what I love- reading and writing. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m an unplanned traveler. This goes for this trip as well, but I have planned one thing, apart from my airplane ticket of course, and that is to stay at a tiny B&B outside of Kathmandu. Nestled amid the rice fields, this little gem is quaint and quiet and surrounded by greenery. I’ll be soaking in nature, walking around the rice fields (I’ve never been to any before!), taking photos using my newest lens (thanks mom and dad!), resting, reading a few novels (already have my stack ready), and writing in my writer’s notebook. My room has a balcony with comfy chairs outside, and I plan on spending time out there writing, while sipping on some tea. Ahhh…just thinking about it relaxes me. I want Saturday to hurry up already!

If you are interested in where I’ll be staying, check out The Little House in the Rice Fields website. The pictures will show you why I’m so excited! I’ll post about my trip once I get back, so you’ll get to see Nepal through my eyes.

My First Kiss- SOL #24

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First kisses are awkward and exciting, but mostly awkward. The year was 1991. I was 10 years old, and it was the summer after fifth grade. As always, I was spending my summer at day camp. Being the daughter of working parents meant that summers weren’t really vacations. Anyway, summer camp at Sam Rayburn Middle School was typical. You know, arts and crafts, sports, recess, the occasional field trip. The difference, this year, was that I suddenly realized that I found boys cute. Prior to this summer, boys were cool, in a friendship kind of way, and I wanted to vomit anytime any of my friends went all googly-eyed and tongue-tied whenever the boys were around. Gross!

Well, this particular summer, I flirted (if you could call it that…) with Chris, a 10 year old from another school. According to my friends, he liked me, too. Back then, it was normal to send your friends on a mission to find out if someone liked you. You’d tell your friends who would talk to his friends who would talk to him. The news about him liking me back took the reverse route. So, after establishing that we were in “mutual like” with one another, the next logical step seemed to be that we had to kiss. At least these were the rules my friends told me. Who makes up these rules anyhow?

Ever since figuring out we liked each other, Chris and I had been avoiding each other like the plague. I guess, when you’re a kid, liking someone (and knowing that they know that you like them) is the ultimate embarrassment. Despite our best attempts to steer clear of one another, our friends began planning our first kiss. In order for us not to get caught, the plan was for our kiss to happen on the last field trip of the summer, when we’d head to Lake Bryan for a picnic and swimming party. The days leading up to the field trip were the worst. I was a nervous wreck! What if I do it wrong? How are you supposed to kiss anyway? What if people see us?

The day finally arrived. Surrounded by my girlfriends, who were in a tizzy about my impending step toward adulthood, I got cold feet. I begged them to call it off, but they told me I was stupid if I didn’t kiss him. This was my chance, they said. He was the cutest boy at camp (he really was). Standing near the lakeshore, I peered across the shore at Chris, who was in a similar situation. We exchanged glances. Despite the fear on both of our faces, we went forward with the plan.

Since the lake was crawling with camp counselors who would surely turn us in if they caught us smooching, the plan was for Chris and I to kiss in the lake. Floating about 30 yards from the shore was a platform where kids would climb up and jump off into the lake. The pier was held up by two floating tubes on either side, leaving a passageway underneath, with about a foot of exposed air between the water’s surface and the bottom of the platform. According to our friends, we were to swim out at the same time, meet under the platform, and kiss. Magical, right? Wrong.

We both swam out toward the platform and met underneath. As we broke the surface of the water, we caught a glimpse of one another. The next thing I know, I’ve closed my eyes and leaned toward him. Our lips touched for a split second. Literally, my first kiss lasted a millisecond. As soon as I felt his lips on mine, I pulled away, dove back under the water, and swam back to shore. Once back on dry land, I never spoke to Chris again. Seriously. The summer ended a few days later, and since we went to different schools, we may as well have lived in different worlds.

I did actually see him one more time. It was sometime in college. I was browsing the movie rentals at a local movie store when I caught a glimpse of his face. It was one of those “Oh my gosh! I recognize that face, but where do I know him from?” moments. After following him around (not in a creepy stalker way…) the aisles, it dawned on me. That’s my first kiss guy! I remember thinking how funny it was because I was totally not attracted to him anymore. He was totally thugged out in baggy, sagging jeans, an oversized white t-shirt, and red sneakers. Not exactly the cutest guy anymore.

Shanghai Supermarket Sightings- SOL #23


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Shopping in a Shanghai supermarket can be similar to the US in many ways. There’s a produce section, meat department, refrigerated and frozen sections, and dry goods located in the middle of the store. But, there’s also many differences. Here are a few things you may find when  grocery shopping in Shanghai…

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Who doesn’t need a flattened, dried out pig face?!? Haha…I’m not quite sure if people eat this like a piece of jerky or if they cut it up and mix it into soups or other food. What do you think?

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Rice in bulk, sold by the kilogram. We all know rice is a staple in China. In addition to being able to purchase it in large bags, you can buy whatever amount you need.

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Jellied candies as far as the eye can see! In the middle of the store, you can buy loads of bulk candy by weight. Of course there are chocolates (Dove and Snickers are popular), but there are also jello-covered candies in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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Oil galore! Assorted varieties and sizes of oil, taking up 2 aisles, are in abundance. If you know anything about Chinese food, you know they use a lot of oil!

How about fresh meat? It doesn’t get much fresher than this…
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In the US, we have fresh meat in our grocery stores, but the difference is that the meat is wrapped in plastic, not left out in the open air. The kicker is that people sometimes use their bare hands to pick up their fresh meat or fish. When I see things like this, it makes me happy that I’m a vegetarian. 🙂

What kinds of unusual things do you see at your supermarket?

Springtime in Shanghai- SOL #22

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Spring has arrived in Shanghai! With the sun beating down from a clear, blue sky, a slight breeze in the air, we donned our sunnies and light jackets, and began our walk. Stopping off at a park to converse with the locals selling their wares, I bought some hand-painted postcards from a young lady. I was her first customer! Eggs, toast, and potatoes mixed with good conversation and a few laughs provided us with a burst of energy! What started out as a plan to walk to Element Fresh and brunch with my friend Ann turned into an afternoon of wandering, exploring, and enjoying the beauty happening around the city. Take a trip with us through our neighborhood in Shanghai.

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The crosswalk in the middle of the road is a bit weird, but once you get used to it, you hardly notice the bikes, scooters, and cars whizzing by you!

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Buds blooming, bursting with excitement at the change of weather, anxious to make their debut, greet us as we meander.

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A stop at the “big flower” for an obligatory selfie. The perfectly-manicured lawns, with their beautiful pansy beds provide a beautiful backdrop for us.

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Pansies! 🙂

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An empty park in Shanghai on a sunny day! A rare find indeed! We enjoyed the weeping willow trees, which to us, seem very “Asian.”

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We found what looks like tulips growing on trees…they were beautiful and sweet-smelling!

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Even shoes need a little sunshine.

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Sherpa’s guys have a tough job! This one’s taking an afternoon nap in the sun, most likely waiting for his next delivery call.

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Yep, that’s a goat. On the sidewalk in Shanghai. Nothing really surprises me here anymore. 🙂

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The construction site of our new campus. While we couldn’t get in, we peeked through a partially open gate. Things were happening above ground! Yay!

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And what day of walking around Shangers would be complete without a little window shopping? Here’s a look at some of the local fashion. I’m not gonna lie, I really love the baboon sweatshirt and the dog shirt. Took some self-restraint not to try them on. 🙂

P.S. I’m so happy that I was able to walk over 8 miles yesterday with little back pain! 🙂