Thursday, July 23, 2009


Our time in the U.S. is going too quickly. It's been already one week since I travelled back from Nashville. I was so grateful for all the hugs and stories, for the girls' flowers, and all the artwork from camp when I returned. William's expression was like "hey I remember you!" Grant gave me a big hug and said "Daddy..Daddy..Daddy." It was like he was filling me in on his week.

Saturday the big kids had their last day of acting camp. They were all involved in the final filming of their movies. I was grateful that they all made friends.

Sunday evening was a barbecue at Granddad and Judith's house with Shannon and Jennifer, and friends too. Rain blew in as we were leaving. It made a nice walk home.

Monday morning, it seemed, was entirely dedicated to re-bathing and a surprise gathering of all the kids' church clothing, dirty or not. Daunting. Grandma Julia and Grandpa Bob invited us to attend the open house of the Ochre Mountain LDS temple. I'm grateful that the children made temple memories.

In the evening we played with cousins at Grandma Julia's house. Grandma Julia fed us all spaghetti.

On the way home we picked up Kyle's best friend Hunter. He is also in the U.S. now. His family is staying with his grandma because their house has renters while they are living in Beijing. Hunter stayed with us for a few days.
Tuesday we went to the Scera water park and barbecued hot dogs in the park.
Wednesday the big kids went to Harry Potter 6 with Rob and their cousin Kayla. Grandma Julia and I took the younger kids and cousins to a free showing of the Incredibles. Then we took Hunter home.

Rob ran in to Smith's on our way home. It was fun to see him come out with a big box of doughnuts, one of our favorite things to eat while in the U.S. We shared them with Granddad and their cousin Shannon Wednesday night. We watched a scary movie with a pretty bad plot. Having Shannon there kept the mood light, but a few of us still had trouble sleeping.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

silver dollar potato pancakes

These are my last morning in Nashville pictures. I had time to take one more walk toward Vanderbilt University. I wanted to have breakfast at this diner called Noshville authentic New York delicatessen. It's a chain. Here are a few pictures of some things I appreciated along the way.
I noticed this bed of Zinnias. It reminded me of our amazing little garden outside our kitchen window at Glenridge when we lived in Augusta, Maine.

Whenever I come back from China I feel grateful to see churches of all denominations, with their unique and dignified architecture, such symbols of our freedoms.

Speaking of choices, I couldn't resist capturing the moment at the Panera bread bakery. Here's an outside shot, not really a great picture but you can see some of the Vanderbilt campus. Below that, a picture of the Magnolias. The name Vanderbilt makes me think about Magnolias. So I'm wondering if the founder of this University is related to our favorite CNN personality? I'm sure you know, Mom.

Here's a picture of the Hotel Indigo. Aside from being very comfortable,it's in a great location, walking distance to all the music sites. It's also a live music venue. I went to a couple of songwriters' nights in the cafe downstairs.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Sometimes parents, like me, try to leave the house without alerting their small children, to avoid unnecessary sadness, for the child or the parent. So Sunday night I said good-bye to all the older children. They were very sweet, supportive, encouraging. They promised to help Daddy (and they have.) I didn't make much out of leaving to Caitlin, Grant, and William. You would think that leaving at 3:30 am would make for the perfect quiet exit, but not when the children have jet lag.

When I got out bed at 2:30 am, I must admit it felt like the middle of the day. Grant agreed. He looked at me like 'great idea Mom' and crawled out of our bed saying "I done." Before long we realized that all the younger children were awake downstairs, bouncing on beds and screaming about a spider. Mary came up to inform me that it was morning. Jet lag is surreal. I still didn't want to have the little ones cry as I left for the week. I didn't want to cry. So I had Rob turn on the Disney channel at 2:30 in the morning. That was the only hitch in my travel. I was grateful for a safe, easy trip to Nashville.

So there I was ready for a week of immersing myself in this amazing city of musical culture. I started out walking toward Vanderbilt University, because I love university campuses. Then I
explored Music Square Monday afternoon. This is where Elvis recorded Heartbreak Hotel.

I ate at Baja Fresh. Here's a picture for Sam. I would have loved to have shared this salad.

Tuesday morning I walked down to the river, scouted out the Country Music Hall of Fame, that I'll return to later, saw the Honkey Tonks, was tempted to buy a chocolate cow patty for the kids but refrained due to the cost...slightly more than I wanted to pay for such a small piece of poo, walked by CMT, the Ryman Auditorium, the symphony, appreciated the beautiful day.

I walked back up to the Hotel and stopped at White Castle to try one of those odd little hamburgers. I like the onions. I wished I could have shared my onion rings with the kids. Doesn't that look like the south?

In the afternoon I went to my first voice lesson. I mostly talked his ear off. Who could believe that? I was so excited to share my recordings and talk about my experiences. I was grateful for the opportunity. I am looking forward to returning for more lessons today. Brett Manning Studios is located in this house on Music Row. It's quaint on the outside and comfortable on the inside. It is across the street from the something, something songwriters' something, very inspiring, even to someone who only envies songwriters. It is the building with the little mill out front. I sat on the ledge on Tuesday and Wednesday because I was too early for my lessons. Both days I heard the most beautiful songbirds singing, and I thought how appropriate that they would live outside the songwriters' association. I'll show both sides.

I miss Rob and the kids. It is so quiet here in this hotel room. I even turned on Zach and Cody yesterday. It was such familiar background noise. Rob says the kids have been great. They are enjoying their art and movie making camps, and spending time with grandparents. I am grateful to Rob and the kids. They have been so supportive. Whenever I've called they've always been busy and safe. It's been a great opportunity for me to spend some time thinking about my personal goals.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

american trees

I am always grateful to have my feet on the ground, but especially after an eleven hour flight. The oldest six were happy to manage themselves in the row in front of us. What a blessing. And no uprisings from the kids in carseats, another blessing.
I am grateful that living in China makes us so happy to meet cousins at Del Taco, hug grandparents, drink tapwater, walk to church. I love opening the window to branches and leaves right to the glass, to breathe in fresh air, and that there really are such things as rays of sunlight.
Tomorrow I'm leaving for Nashville. I was grateful to hear the kids being crazy in the downstairs bedroom. I was grateful that they all enjoy camping out in the same room. Ben said he was more comfortable sleeping in the upstairs bedroom. Sam said "Cool Ben, you get a room with a view...of the church... that's so Mormonism."
Tomorrow the kids start art and movie making classes. Sam can't wait to get a library card.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

loveliest of treats

This week it's been a blessing to watch Bethany and Olivia enjoy being sisters. They've gone off to swim and sports camp at the clubhouse each morning. They've had fun wearing matching clothes and crazy socks and sharing snack bags. There has been more savoring than shrieking, myself included.

Yesterday I was in that anxious, should be packing but not sure where to start stupor that could only be lifted by doing something life-changing like getting going to get my hair colored. Fortunately I had plenty of cooperative white hairs. When I returned the kids had a variety of responses. Mary said I looked like the nice lady in The Mummy. Ben told me I looked like Auntie Annie. Bethany told me I looked a little bit like a Vulcan. Caitlin said I looked "lute-a-ful."
Here's where I will mention who makes it possible for me to sneak out in the middle of the afternoon. Yes, that is cheating. I took this picture of Xiao Chen to show my mom how nice this shirt looks on her. Mom gave it to me, but it was too small. Xiao Chen wears it frequently. I tried to take a picture of Lao Tien, Xiao Chen's mother-in-law, but Lao Tien was too shy to look at the camera. They are wonderful ladies. I am grateful for their help. They are a part of our family now.

Yesterday they brought us some ribs and chicken wings because we are going away for a while. The boys and I started up the barbecue around 5:30. They love building the tee pee with logs and newspaper and hunting for twigs and dry leaves in the yard. We had some difficulty because it had been a little rainy earlier, but Ben said it was fun to keep trying. We had the fire going by the time Rob came home. Ben was quite proud.
Sam made some French Quarter Beignets that Emeril would have been proud to serve. The boys also finished up a movie called Little Red Riding Boy this week. Sam has been experimenting with slow motion editing, so of course he had to hunt down the Chariots of Fire theme song. We've got it on our ipod now. The kids like to put it on while we're cleaning up after dinner. We all pretend we are cleaning in slow motion. It's nicer than when we are all yelling at each other to hurry.
Rob came home with a second package from Grandma. This one was for the boys. We had one waiting for the girls.
"It's all clothing," is a phrase that makes boys go back to what they were doing and girls go shrieking around with excitement. I was outside with Grant at the park when Bethany ran out with great enthusiasm. "I saw the loveliest dress inside."
Beth March wouldn't have said it any sweeter. The girls came outside for a fashion show.
This morning after breakfast, Sam and the boys couldn't wait another minute to watch Jason and the Argonauts. Sam, who knows much more about movie history than most of us, was excited to see the special effects that were 'really something else' in the early 60's.
More stupor for me today. Thankfully I have a eight kids that need haircuts. William's hair has a few months to grow.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

camping faces

I was grateful to have enjoyed an adventure this weekend with my family. It's true that we all swore we would never spend another Fourth of July in Beijing (see my note in my last posting about last year's untimely cloud seeding.) But we humbled ourselves and now here we are with great memories. God knows best where we need to be.
Friday morning we packed and packed and packed a bit more for our one-night campout. Sam reminded me of the book we read when he was little about the lady that takes her piano to the beach, insuating that I was over-prepared. We met up with several other families from the embassy and church at McDonald's for lunch then started on our drive. We were following our friend/camping trip organizer to uncharted territory, a section of the Great Wall we had never visited (there are many.)

The adventure always begins when we try to drive our monster of a van through village streets.

I love it when the farmers spread their grain (in Ecuador they did this with cocao beans) out on one side of the street and expect the rest of traffic to go around them. I think it would have been a great element in a chase scene in Mission Impossible 3. This time, as we neared the wall, our caravan headed up a long, narrow street lined with dried fruit, nut, shoe, plastic water gun vendors, and met up with a big green gate. We had to wait for a half hour or more while the better Chinese speakers convinced the guards to let us drive our caravan through, if only because there would be no other way to turn it around. When our special permission was granted we drove up winding hills toward the wall. We reached a bridge. Our friend got out and said "okay so here's where we take the boat to the campground." Very romantic..but very daunting with nine children...and all the stuff.
The campground was beautiful and well-worth the effort. The kids had a great time catching frogs, swimming, cooking-out. I chased Grant around. Will was happy, as long as he had his bottle. Thanks, Will. Ben got out the guitar and played the The Clash songs he's been practicing. It was great to spend time with other embassy families too.
I absolutely love the idea of breakfast on a campfire. Pancakes are beautiful on a grill and taste extra good with a little ash. I couldn't find my camera to take a picture of the pancakes, but here are Rob's eggs and the hot-water pot for the hot-chocolate...that was my job.