When asked if I would write a blog post about this, I quickly said yes. I thought about this carefully and even wrote the start of two different posts before realizing how difficult it would be to narrow down a specific approach. So. I stopped and I kept it in the back of my mind, waiting to see if something triggered me enough to write another post, hopefully the final post. So here I am. It hit me that I should write about the most important part about traveling with children, deciding to travel with them.
I had more excuses than most as to why I shouldn’t travel with our six kids, when I was asked if I was willing to move to China with my husband. We had just moved back to Michigan the year before and had yet to find a permanent home. The six kids were excuse enough for most.
What made me say yes so quickly was a patient dream that lived in my heart. I traveled as a child with my family, to Mexico in 1985, moved to Papua New Guinea for a year in 1988 and spent a month in Alaska in 1991. My father taught missionary aviation and my grandfather was a retired Colonel, traveling is in my blood. I also wanted a large family, 6 kids before 30 was my plan and fortunately for me I married young and had my kids all before 30. Knowing I wanted a large family I never pressed my desire to travel, not a secret but nothing I strived for either. Through the years my husband traveled for work while I maintained the home and schooled the kids. When my husband asked me I didn’t have to think twice, I agreed the first time he asked and never looked back. 6 weeks later we were in China.
I didn’t have to consider because I knew from experience it was something I wanted for my children. I wanted them to see first hand how varied the world is, that there is no “right” culture just different cultures. The travel would be hard, I understood. My fondest memories are from traveling and each place holds a special place in my heart. Change is a part of life and traveling is like taking an advanced course in change. I love that the world is part of what has shaped my children, that they will always be aware of other cultures outside of our town, our state, even our country. I will admit it has had even more of an impact than I thought it would.
We are currently hosting a Chinese exchange student and my oldest is fluent in Mandarin (he learns other languages for the fun of it now) my second son has begun to learn to read and write in mandarin and as he speaks it he naturally speaks with a Shanghainese accent much to his teachers dismay and surprise. My husband and I enjoy hearing mandarin again. My younger children will have the option to learn and will probably wonder as their classmates struggle with tones.
Developing an ear for accents as a child will last a lifetime. I know because my hearing is not great, but when someone has a thick accent my husband turns to me. Growing up amongst accents and listening to people speak other languages helps.
There are many reasons I could find to choose not to travel but no excuse is as valuable as children who grow up to see the world as a whole and not just our own culture. The world has so much to offer, so many tastes, so many sights and sounds.
My kids have probably benefited even more from learning what it feels like to be in a place we knew very little about, how fear can change to love just from getting to know it more. Sometimes our lives are too comfortable and witnessing firsthand impoverished countries can give children a compassionate side that could never be achieved in our comfortable middle class life.
So as I said there are so many things I could say and I know I have strayed some but in the end it all comes back to the decision to go. My decision, felt more like a bungee jump off a cliff, terrifying, exhilarating with no looking back and I have never regretted it.

The kids and I outside of the YuYuan Garden.

My husband and a few of the kids in the Forbidden City, keeping track of everyone in the crowds was a little nerve wracking at times but the experience was amazing.

The entire family posing at one section of the Great Wall of China.

Posted in Adventure | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Gubei district

Here is another peek into our life in China. These are snapshots of one of our most frequent walks, our first year in China. I am incredibly thankful for these rolling benches as they kept the kids minds off the walk. We usually were walking to the store for groceries and it usually took every one of us to get them home. Fortunately, by the time these photos were taken Wendell, had gotten his license and we could get groceries much easier. This walk was at times are most frustrating experiences in China, and at other times our most fond, as we became acquainted with the locals. It is what becomes familiar that makes a place feel like home, and I will always think of these pictures as memory of home. We’ve had homes all over and each holds a special place in our hearts. A piece of us will always be in the Gubei district.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Adventure | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Risky Restaurants

This is the reason we were quite selective with where and what we ate.  We were out exploring, when we stopped at the Qibao old town area.  This is probably the best picture we  have taken of the small restaurant’s kitchen.  Not at all the quality control standards we have in the States.  This was a common sight everytime we visited the area and could be seen through any number of restaurants open doors, visible near the front entries, so there was no attempt to hide the kitchen sanitary conditions.  I always figured if it was spicy enough and a hot enough temperature we were probably safe, but just in case we got all our shots before heading to China.

Posted in Adventure | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


One of the most frequent questions about our lives in China has been what Church was like.  I have one word to describe it, amazing.  I can only imagine how great it will be to sing praises in heaven, and attending an international service, hearing the accents blend as we worship God was a reminder of what it will be like.   I can not tell you the number of times chills went up and down me as a song spoke right to my soul.  To sit in a service with over 700 and realize the message speaks right to my heart, much like in our church in Bad Axe, Glenwood, Council Bluffs, or Newaygo, the message is still the same.  The world, has shrunk to us, we have family across the globe and one day we will be reunited.  I look forward to that day.


Ruth and Elijah’s sunday school class


Ruth and Elijah’s sunday school class, Ruth is in front with the pink shrug and Elijah is the light haired kid in the middle.


the song they sang in Mandarin

Posted in Adventure | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Changfeng Park

We came full circle with this park without even realizing it.  For anyone who has visited this park in Shanghai they might get the humor in this.  The paths intersect and allow you to circle many portions of the park, especially if you follow the signs.   Let’s just say the Chinese signage (our personal descriptive terminology) needs some work, maps and signs are just meant to confuse the public.

Less than a month after arriving in China, we visited the park with our new friends, the Hargreaves.   Less than a week from departing, China, the kids and I visited the park with our “old” (China-time, another of our personal terminology) friends, the Blains.  The first time we went we were wide-eyed and soaking up every second of the trip.  This park has held a lot of meaning to our family without us ever realizing how significant it would become to us.

This is the park where we saw our first beluga whale show, rode on our first Chinese amusement park rides, tasted our first Chinese hotdogs, and experienced our first sweet Chinese popcorn (a little shocked on our first mouthful, we were expecting salty and buttery).  This is the park, where the woman faked an accident and which led us to getting a driver.  This is the park where we met a very “interesting” elderly woman.  This is the park we could see from our balcony of our last apartment.   This is the park, where we attended Alexandra Tolkachev’s birthday party, discussing why they should move to the U.S. near us and at the very least Canada.   This is the park, where we took our last excursion with the kids, riding the  boats with the Blains, eating our last meat on a stick, and witnessing the largest gathering of preschool children we have yet to witness.  This park holds a lot of memories for us.

Posted in Adventure | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Random Picture Moment

I decided to just click on a date in my picture album and came across some photos.  So here is a picture from an evening in Shanghai, on our walk home we found a sunken fire hydrant.  We are assuming it is for all the little poodles in Shanghai.  The kids had fun posing around the hydrant, a fun moment for the family, walking the streets.


Posted in Adventure | Leave a comment

14th Anniversary

So for our 14th anniversary, Wendell and I, explored Shanghai.  We decided on going to some of the busiest places, where we usually spent all our time keeping track of our children and trying navigate traffic.  We really enjoyed dodging traffic and people, and actually soaking up all we saw.  We love our kids and we enjoyed our time out with them, but seeing the city on our own, helped us appreciate the city more and not drown in our aggravation of getting around with all the kids.  The catching taxis, riding subways, walking the busy streets, all very exhilarating, especially for two people from the middle of no-where.  Eating at one of the World’s best restaurant’s helped fortify us too.  (Had to get my Dad’s favorite word in there.) Din Tai Feng, is amazing, delicious everytime, and worth any amount of traffic.  Of course, what better way, than to end the evening with a quick trip into the subway’s local yarn shop, smart thinking, knitting is a great way to pass the time on a subway and those sharp needles will guarantee some personal space.  All in all, we had a wonderful time out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Adventure | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Missing home?

Today I miss China.  It is not often I feel the tug, but after living there for 2 years, there are smells and sights I miss….I never thought I would say that.   It never occurred to me how protective I would feel either.  I feel a sense of loyalty to the people we met.  The people who were in our lives every day and saw an intimate side yet could not even carry on a conversation.  I realize now, that you do not have to have long conversations to feel close to and miss someone.  I really miss Xiao Hong. She was with us 5 days a week for a year (minus our trip to the States).  Her presence was comforting, even though at times I was self-concious.  She knew more about me than most people get too.  I will always feel a deep connection in such a unique way.

What a blessing it was to see, to smell, and hear the people of China.  I now understand how much more of a struggle their lives are through out the country.  There was a lot of wealth, but even more poverty.  Yet, even though they were signifantly poorer than any person I know in the States, they worked hard, for practically nothing.   I cannot imagine sweeping a street day after day. I cannot think what it would be like to work in a factory and live away from home, sending money, and owning next to nothing.  We live in a nation that sends money to missions around the world.  We work hard to make sure the Gospel is spread.  After living in China, I realize, how strongly our country represents a Christian nation.  It is hard to hide the compassion.  There are companies that take advantage of the poor, but there are many more who provide above and beyond the standards set by the locals.  The American and foreign companies are some of the best to work for, better wages, and care for employees.  Millions of Chinese live on hardly anything, working long days, away from there families all week, in hope of change.  The companies bringing competitive wages will help the people provide for their families….Factory Girls by Leslie T Chang (an American journalist, former correspondent for the Wall Street Journal) is an excellent example of the struggle to live.

We are truly blessed to have so many options and so many possessions.  It makes me feel small to know that,I didn’t choose to be born in America, and and to see how others survive.  I hope I never take my life for granted and reach out to those less fortunate.

Dean and Xiao Hong, she liked to hide from the camera but I caught her in this one.

Heading to the park for Alexandra’s birthday party, Xiao is on the right.

Posted in Adventure | Tagged | Leave a comment

Shanghai, China

ImageThis is one of my favorite photos taken while we were living in Shanghai.  I hope to be as interested in knitting late in life as I am now.  If you keep your eyes open the number of older women knitting around Shanghai, is quite amazing.  It has inspired me to make use of any spare time to work on a project.  These  women would sit or walk about with the thinnest double-pointed needles sticking out of an intricate sweater or sleeve.  It seemed to be an extension of their arms not an inconvenience at all.  I hope to knit so smoothly that others do not even notice I am, maybe then I can get away with knitting in Church, at ball games, maybe even while shopping.  My knitting does seem to calm me and help me concentrate, allow my body to move and my head to listen.  Sometimes it is difficult to just sit still but as long as my fingers are stabbing at the yarn, my mind is settled to absorb.  I do plan to have a happier expression on my face while I knit, maybe she lost count of her stitches, or just annoyed at the foreigners snapping her picture.

Posted in Adventure | 4 Comments

Beijing and Back

I know I haven’t written in a while so I thought I would back track a bit and tell you all about our trip to Beijing.  We decided on rather short notice to spend a weekend in Beijing….Mother’s Day weekend.   Friends had told us how convenient the overnight train is and with the tourist packages available, transportation, sightseeing and lodging were all easily obtained.  What a trip!

We started with a our final packing on Friday afternoon, thinking we would simplify things and eat out for supper before the driver arrived to take us to the train station…simple so we thought.  We all made our way to the basement garage, the kids taking both stairs and elevators to keep it interesting, only to find that the van was with the driver.  This is when Wendell and I realized how accustomed to China we have become, with a shrug, we headed back upstairs to order some McDonald’s.  It really didn’t phase us!  We have come to expect that plans change—constantly.    With the meal out of the way we met our driver and headed to the station.

Hongqiao train station, in Shanghai, is quite nice.  Clean, secure and by Chinese standards, orderly.  We had about an hour to wait and explore the station a bit before we were due to depart.  We even found seats to sit in while we waited.  I have to admit I was very nervous as to how crowded the station would be but it wasn’t bad…until it was time to “line up” which I am using quite loosely here.  We joined the crowd pushing to get through the gate to file onto the escalator and board the train.  I’ve learned waiting your turn is not a strong suit of the Chinese, but we are learning to hold our own and stick together.  With much excitement, we climbed aboard the train and found our two private compartments.  Yes, two…we were quite happy we would have the space to spread out even if we would be sleeping most of the time.  The rooms were very clean and pleasant, not as soft as our beds at home but passable for this exciting adventure.

Settling the kids in for bed was another matter, but after trips to the bathroom (because what kid can pass up checking out yet another type of toilet) we all got comfortable and attempted to sleep.  The kids slept well, Wendell and I at least were rested somewhat.   Wendell and I did manage to wake early and enjoy some coffee while watching the scenery pass by as we drew closer to Beijing.  Thinking I had plenty of time to wash my face and brush my teeth, I was taken a back at the line of people at the sinks waiting to do the same, less than hour before arriving.  Needless to say our sightseeing that day was done with fuzzy hair and teeth!

Departing the train was even more exciting than squeezing through the gates at the Hongqiao station.  With firm stares and stiff shoulders, I manage to keep the kids behind Wendell with only a couple people sneaking in amongst us.  The station was packed!!!  We made it through yet another turnstile because though culturally lining up is unheard of, there are many attempts to enforce it.  After making it out into the open portion of the station (if you can call standing amongst 100s of people open) we located our tour guide and  joined the mass exodus from the station.  Exiting stations and airports all seem alike, we wait in a long line at the elevators because no one wants to carry luggage up or down stairs.  We tried to insist we didn’t mind, but of course we give up because the persistence required to accomplish it wasn’t worth it.  Fortunately we all squeezed into one elevator and didn’t have to wait for another.

This is about the time we realized we would be heading straight for our first tourist hot spot rather than the hotel…ugh!!!  I so regretted not making sure I had time to use the sink!  Oh, well, we were off to see the Summer Palace and another Buddhist temple (China’s full of them).    Summer Palace was beautiful and we really wished we had taken more time to just walk around enjoy the views.  The boat ride felt like a trap.  Perfect for all those who wanted pictures of this unusually large family.  Sights were great when we were not blinded by camera flashes or answering questions.  Fortunately it was a short boat ride and it gave our tour guide a chance to witness the scrutiny we endure when we are out as a family. Then we just requested to head back to our hotel to clean up and explore a bit on our own.

Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and headed back out to find a park and supper.  It didn’t take too long (an hour) to realize the park was a little farther than we thought and dinner was not nearly close enough.  With a lot of childish tears (I told Wendell to get a hold of himself!) we made our way back towards our hotel, grasping at the familiar we settled for Starbucks sandwiches and luckily found a dairy queen too.  We also found an interesting international market that happened to have a copy of Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers in Chinese!  I was stunned and it was only 32 RMB  which roughly translates to about $5 USD.  Very cool…at least I thought it was.

Now I must take the time to describe the hotel rooms.  Adjoining rooms were apparently not an option.  So Wendell and I divided and conquered again!  This was a very nice hotel, live music in the lobby slash bar area and a beautiful aquarium tank with ample seating for the free wi-fi, in the lobby.  To experience wi-fi in our rooms however, would cost us an additional $8 USD a day, and if we got a craving and succumbed to the mini bar we could buy a $4 package of M&Ms or maybe some expensive juice or water….so I found myself turning into the Nazi Mama and keeping kids away from the beautiful basket of goodies which would cost us an arm and a leg, or was it my first born.  Not worth it!  It was then that we decided to check the cost of the additional breakfasts since the room only came with 2 each.  Once again to buy breakfast was so outrageous, we put on our walking shoes and sought the first McDonald’s we could find  (which was just past the closest one).

The wonderfully cheap McDonald’s breakfast we enjoyed gave us just the energy we needed to make it through one of the longest most interesting days in our lives.  We visited Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Wangfujing Street, an acrobat show, and for the grand finale Peking Duck at a beautiful restaurant.   Whewww!  What a day!  We arrived back at the hotel thoroughly exhausted and very happy to have a mature enough son to sit with his siblings (mostly sleeping) while we snuck down to the lobby and checked out the free wi-fi.

The next morning we awoke bright and early to find us some Mother’s Day Brunch at what has become our most faithfully trusted Chinese Restaurant, McDonald’s.  Of course, because it was Mother’s Day, the family did stop at Starbucks, to get me a wonderful to go mug full of coffee (that’s just what I REALLY needed, really, I’m not kidding).  We loaded up all our belongings and took to the road with our tour guide to find the Great Wall of China.  First of course we had to fulfill another tourist obligation by checking out one of the Ming tombs and learning that the kids should never step on an ant.  (The kids found their first large ant since being here, stared at awhile then one of them stepped on it, it was our shrieking tour guide that clued us in that you should never step on an ant in China).  We managed to bury the ant, the kids did feel remorseful to have upset our guide like that, and head to the Great Wall of China.

Finally, the mountains were around us, one last stop for lunch then we would get to stand on The Wall.  Lunch was conveniently located just beyond the world’s largest Cloisonne vase factory/tourist trap.  Everyone (even Emma) was handed a coupon (which was basically just description of the place) as we toured the cloisonne process and filed into the dining room, only to exit back through the giant sale room.  We did fall for it and bought a couple beautiful blue vases, after all, it was Mother’s Day.

Now, finally, we were headed to the Great Wall of China.  It was around this time that it really started drizzling.  We made it through the gates, in awe of the mountains and stone walls above and around us.  But first before we go any farther, the girls insisted we check out the bathrooms.  It was the steps leading up to the bathrooms that really should have clued me in on how the rest of the day would be but I naively and hurriedly rushed the kids through the necessities so we could head to the wall.  We were on our way!! We got to the wall portions and stood on the first part for photos and decided to keep going, because we really wanted to be on top of the mountain.  What were we thinking!  This is where our tour guide decided to wait for us, (it became clear she didn’t expect us to climb up any of it)  So kids in tow we headed up, wow, that was crazy!

It was a hard climb up to the first tower, the view was amazing….until we looked down the steps we had just trekked up.  Dizziness hit, as did the reality that we would have to help our kids back down….in the rain.  We took our time chatting with the guards, enjoying some oatmeal raisin cookies we had brought to enjoy.  Then we headed back down. These steps are old, uneven and slippery-when-wet.  I think this was one of those rare occasions when I felt like the worst parent ever for taking my 4 year old daughter up this cliff!  It was at the bottom that our stupidity found it hadn’t hit bottom, because looking at the other side of the river (the Wall went down in a valley and up either side) we decided that the other side didn’t look as steep, and maybe we should check out that side.

Getting to the other side seemed simple, little did we know that we would go up and down old stone stairways through these fortress buildings at the base of the valley.  By the time we had crossed the river we had climbed up and down so many flights of stairs our minds had reset and we could look at the steps leading up to the next tower and KNOW that we could not drag the kids up the cliff they called stairs.  We did find a path to a newer Pagoda set on the side of the mountain and some comfortably spaced steps (did I mention how uneven the steps were on the wall—some were 4 inch rises and others 18 inches).  The view, again, was incredible.  By the time we made it back across the river and to the last of the tourist shops, the shop owners were ready to close up and our tour guide was ready for us to hit the road.  It definitely did not feel as though we had enough time.  An incredible experience that words can not describe.

I have now brought you to our final destination on our trip, the Beijing Train Station.  Now that was another interesting experience.  Unlike Shanghai’s Hongqiao station, there was not ample seating for us.  There was a completely empty roped off portion but that was for a better first class than our first class compartments.  Status is everything in this communist world.  So with seating at high premium we found a bench to drop our wet bodies upon, and exhaustedly wait the 2 hours until we could board and change out of our wet clothes.  Never did a hard bunk feel so good as when we laid down in our clean dry clothes to toss and turn our way home.  We were smarter on this train trip and made our ways to the bathrooms earlier so we could step off the train in style, clean teeth and combed hair.

I do not think I have adequately described our adventure but I could not move on posting until I had attempted to recount this amazing moment in our lives.  We never dreamed we would have the opportunity to travel with our children as we have, let alone stand on one of the 7 wonder’s of the world.  It was on the wall in Beijing I told the kids we should try to see as many of the wonder’s as we could together, what’s life, without a little hope and excitement.  We truly have enjoyed our experience and especially having the opportunity to experience them as a family.

Again, Beijing
-1215058609524DACD7_thumb -12150585436B497D1C_thumb -175061851804454D62_thumb -17506188011D411DA7_thumb -3164942301D411DA7_thumb
-3164944204B2E705F_thumb -316494513791BC317_thumb -316494354642A40A4_thumb -3164939661217935D_thumb -1826043417D2610E9_thumb
-1826044652B1363A2_thumb -1826043995900B65A_thumb -13489485335900B65A_thumb -1348948374440F33E7_thumb -134894846771FC869F_thumb
-13489484985D0B042C_thumb -13489481100AF856E5_thumb -14393810138E5A99D_thumb -14393825623F4272A_thumb 129018606351E179E2_thumb
129018622251E179E2_thumb 12901860323CEFF76F_thumb 12901864516ADD4A27_thumb 129018661018CA9CE0_thumb 33082248003D91A6D_thumb
33082263931C66D25_thumb 3308225461CD4EAB2_thumb 3308225151CD4EAB2_thumb 3308224224AC23D6A_thumb 33082232578AF9022_thumb
33082274463BE0DAF_thumb 33082290311AB6068_thumb 176494676811AB6068_thumb 17649467377CB9DDF4_thumb 17649466442AA730AD_thumb
176494680358948365_thumb 176494703243A300F2_thumb 1898836758719053AA_thumb 18988372395C9ED137_thumb 7324926905C9ED137_thumb
Posted in Adventure | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment