Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Abroad!

Because my school is technically an American school, we get Thanksgiving off, even though the rest of China doesn't. Additionally, the wonderful HR team put together a Thanksgiving party for all the staff! 

Due to a variety of things, I didn't know whether I was going or not until after the bus left from my apartment. Then I decided I would go, but first I would sleep more, because I was exhausted. But, I had the location, so I thought I would just catch a taxi. 

Now, I should mention that I've taken taxis around Shenyang lots of times. They're ridiculously cheap, and lots of them go right by my apartment, so there's no reason not to. 

Today, however, I had the wrong location. So I ended up walking about two miles around the more rural part of Shenyang. (Seriously, I don't know how a city with 8 million people can be that quiet. Shenyang is both the biggest city I've ever lived in and the closest thing to the country I've ever lived in.) 

Fortunately for me, I got there with no more hassle. 

Anyway, as is my custom, here is my blog list of things I'm thankful for this year. 

1. My Lord and Savior

The thing about God is that He doesn't change depending on where you are. I always knew that, but it's taken on new meaning for me when I'm in a culture that has such a completely different viewpoint on gods, religions, worshiping, etc., than the western culture. It is a blessing that God does not change, no matter where you are. 

2. My Family and My Friends

My mother and father were and are extremely supportive of me moving to a different country, and they've continued to give me useful advice and support. They even helped me vote!

My friends were all extremely supportive of me moving this far away. More than that, they all go to lengths to stay in touch with me. Especially the ones who are coming to visit!

3. Writing

Need I say more?

4. My China Family

There's a couple here that has pretty much adopted my roommate and me as their honorary daughters, and I always get love and support from them. More than that, the people here welcomed me with open arms. I miss my American people, but I'm not exactly lonely, because I'm very well loved here. Someday I want to introduce all of them, so I have all my families together. 

5. My Job

I don't think it's possible to get a better "first job out of school" than this one. I love all my kids, my boss is beyond amazing, I don't have any crazy parents to deal with, and it's just a nice, useful environment. I'm not going to say teaching is always awesome, because I've heard from enough people to be reasonably sure that it can be terrible. But it's not terrible here. It's pretty great. 

6. My Home

I like Shenyang! It's easy to live here, and there's plenty to keep me happy. 

7. My Country

I also love my USA. This November was an election month, and as usual, that's a poignant reminder of the true blessing of living in a country where you can vote. Where you, the citizen, have a say in how your leaders do things. 

That list is by no means exhaustive, but it's the most important stuff. 

Now I'm off to bed, because it's late here. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 12, 2018

AWESOME News Out of Turkey!

According to the BBC, the American pastor who has been in prison in Turkey has finally been freed!

I remember when I was in Turkey, one of the leaders of our group brought this up:
Actually, I remember on the bus, the guide leader led us in prayer for an American pastor in Turkey who was arrested and being held on some trumped-up immigration charges.
 I don't know when he was charged with assisting the Kurdish rebel group, or whether it was before or after May of 2017 (and, frankly, I have too much work to do to find out).

According to Open Doors USA, Turkey is ranked #31 for most dangerous countries for Christians. The country's fact sheet, downloaded here, reports that it is not illegal in Turkey to convert from Islam to Christianity,* but Erdogan is trying to push the country into a more strictly Muslim country, so Christians do face national pressure.

Anyway, that's the short version of this. A Christian was set free from a difficult situation in Turkey, and now he will return to the US.

It's worth noting that Pastor Brunson had been living in Izmir (the very Western city) for over 20 years. I'm not sure how much the USA will feel like home to him. I'm sure he will have a difficult time adjusting. But, at the same time, he is safe. I actually saw a report somewhere that he had to be moved from prison to house arrest for health reasons. What a relief to be on the way back to America!

Celebrations, commence!

*I think typical laws for Muslim countries are that it is not illegal to be a Christian in a Muslim country, but it is illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity. If I remember correctly (again, too busy to really dig into this), that comes from the Qu'ran.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Fun Halloween Music!

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that fall is my favorite time of year. The time when it's chilly, colorful, and brisk just makes me smile. It's an exciting time, it's a refreshing time, and it's just a fun time!

I'm still going to figure out how to dress up here in Shenyang, but in the time leading up to that...

There are two musicians I really enjoy listening to, twin brothers named Derek and Brandon Fiechter. They mostly make soundtrack music, so it's pretty much electronic with no words. That suits me, honestly, because it makes for great background work music. 

I just discovered, to my delight, that they added a new hour-long YouTube video of Halloween music!

This is the perfect background for me to work with!

My favorite album from them is actually called Eyes of the Forest, and this is the cover:

If you click on that picture, it will take you to their Bandcamp page. 

Just sharing something cool that I found and like listening to. Fantasy music seems to be blossoming, right along with the rest of the fantasy genre, and I couldn't be happier about it!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Wraith Mouse Magic - Graystone Spoilers!

Okay, it's finally time for me to start talking about my next book! No, it's not anywhere near done, but it's enough done that I can start making blurbs about it. 

The title, I have pretty much decided, will be Arashna, and if you've read Graystone, then you know what the main struggle will be. But here's something that will add a little more to the main struggle...

Wraith Mice have magic that lets them disappear, but the flip side of that is that they are forced to obey orders from their superiors. So that should make it easy for Zuryzel, right? Mokimshim lost all his magical authority as a king because he behaved in a way the Wraith Mouse magic will not let a king behave. This means Zuryzel is officially the queen. So, all she needs to do is walk into the palace and throw her magic around, right?

Well... maybe not. 

Zuryzel has always believed, and has always been told, that her magic as queen would be absolute, but now that she has her queenly magic, she's discovered that she can't make creatures follow her orders. Not all of them, anyway -- some of them, others must follow, but others, not so much. But Zuryzel has no idea why some of them work and some of them don't! Until she knows that, she can't risk walking into Arashna and throwing orders around. She has no clue if it will work or not!

Will she ever find out? Well... we'll see. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Just An Update

Hello, readers!

Most of what I *actually* should talk about, I'm saving for my Travel Blog. I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on how I'm doing.

I am insanely busy, of course. Teacher's first year, yay! Luckily for me, I have a great class size of only 7 kids, so it's not like it's a normal first year.

As for writing, yes, I am still working on Arashna. Rest assured, dear readers, that I have not forgotten that. I actually made quite a bit of progress over the summer.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Local Jewel - Marlaina's

Since I'm about to move to China, home is in sharp focus for me these days. Today Mom said that Dad and Karl wouldn't be home for dinner, so would I like to eat out someplace? I picked the place I like to pick with an open invitation like that - Marlaina's

It's a nifty Mediterranean restaurant (Kurdish, I think) with a nice selection of food and a pleasant atmosphere. The chef there is quite friendly, and I've seen him there every time I visited. He makes good recommendations for food and wine combinations, and I joked with Mom what an accomplishment it is to have so many wines from other countries (not that that matters to most of my readers). 

It is kind of pricey (almost $20 for most entrees, I think), so don't go there for a quick time. It's more of a special occasion restaurant, like your oldest child is soon leaving the US for a job. But it is worth the special occasion price - the food is fresh, the meat is cooked almost perfectly, and you get very, very good service. I think there's more wait time for food at the McDonald's my brother and I used to go to than at Marlaina's.

Anyway - they do deliveries to Burien through UberEats, but I highly recommend going to the restaurant in person for the atmosphere. It's such a pleasant place to eat, and the food is tasty and healthy. I joked on my Travel Blog that Turkey was the one place I ate balanced meals and actually liked them, and Marlaina's has similar food. Mom would probably disagree that what I ate tonight was especially balanced, but I think salad, lamb, and baklava is a good balance for me!

Short version - it's delicious, and healthy. I definitely recommend it for a special occasion.

So, Incredibles 2...

Tuesday night, Selah and I went to see Incredibles 2, because we got cheap tickets. Now, let me begin by saying that I was never happy with the idea of a sequel to The Incredibles, because the first movie was epic, and Disney is not known for making palatable sequels.

See the source image

But, to be fair, the Toy Story sequels were quite good, so I was willing to give this a chance.

And... it was a good sequel. I mean, for a sequel.

Let me begin by saying that I think they do a good job of making fun of Pixar tropes. I can't say too much about this because I don't want to give away any spoilers, but let's just say there's something of a reverse-Hans from Frozen moment in the movie.

Also, kind of like the first one, there's some discussion in the movie about whether "super" is actually good. The main villain, called Screenslaver, has a monologue at one point where he says something like, "You've all allowed yourselves to live through the superheroes on your screen. You keep waiting for superheroes to save you rather than doing something to save yourselves." Which is... interesting. Look, I love superheroes in movies, but, do people wait around for superheroes to save them in real life?

Which actually brings me to a third point. The movie indicates at several points the idea that being "super" isn't what makes you a hero. This comes up with Elastigirl, and it also comes up with a non-super, who has to make a choice to either survive or save other lives, and chooses to save other lives. That. Was. Awesome.

And my final good point - the movie was funny. It was cleverly written, well-animated, and just all-around funny. For example, you know that whole raccoons-look-like-they're-wearing-evil-masks joke? This movie actually made very good use of it, and had me laughing for several minutes! This probably goes without saying, but Jack Jack was hilarious.

All that notwithstanding... it was still a sequel.

The first half-hour or so feels like a rehash of the first one, but with Elastigirl instead of Mr. Incredible, and the villain is also definitely a rehash of Syndrome and Mirage from the first movie. Shamelessly so. The villain was still interesting enough, but, as Selah put it, "They couldn't do better in fourteen years?!"

Another thing that bugged me was the amount of social commentaries in this movie. None of them were so in-your-face that they were unbearable, but there were faaaar too many. Here are just a few that I caught:

  • addiction to screens, living through other people's experiences rather than through your own
  • what makes a friend (I assume this has to do with "online friends")
  • people waiting for superheroes to save them
  • what makes a good parent
  • the wrong people getting all the credit
That's just the first five I could come up with off the top of my head. I think I remember more, but I can't remember all of them right now. Also, the movie tried to conflate addiction to screes with living through superheroes (kind of the way Moana tried to conflate "know where you are" with "be who you are"), and I don't think the two are necessarily related. 

And finally, there was one scene that just bugged me. Elastigirl is sitting with Mirage 2 (I think her real name was Evelyn, but I'm calling her Mirage 2), and Mirage 2 asks something like, "Don't you ever feel upstaged by your husband? Like he gets all the glory you should have?" Props to the movie that Elastigirl said something to the effect of, "No." On the one hand, I am glad they didn't feel the need to victimize her somehow (I'm well aware that there are guys who take credit for other people's work, but it is totally unfair to say that Mr. Incredible is one of them. Come on. The guy is the most earnest guy alive). On the other hand, I wish she had said, "It's not about the spotlight. It's about saving people's lives. That matters more than all the credit." That would a) have really highlighted the whole "what makes a hero?" bit, and b) have been more right. This is sort of what Aragorn once had to say to Eowyn - "There may come a time for valor without renown." It doesn't make it any less heroic. 

All that notwithstanding, it was still an enjoyable movie. I feel like Selah's comment - "They couldn't do better in fourteen years?!" - is both perfectly fair and pretty useful for summing up the majority of this movie's problems. But, if you didn't know that they had fourteen years to make the movie, it would be perfectly acceptable. It's no Toy Story 2, but it's also not your average Disney sequel. My advice? Go see it. There are far worse movies out right now to watch. 

See the source image

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Another Girls Trip - To Middle-Earth!

Yeah, I bet you didn't know Middle-Earth is in British Columbia, did you?! Ha! It's here, and it's only a 5-hour drive!

Actually, no, Middle-Earth isn't, but Brandywine Park is. Brandywine was the name of one of the rivers in the Shire, which is why my two cousins and I pegged it for our destination for our second girls' trip.

Two years ago, before I began at SPU, two of my cousins and I decided to take a day to go exploring some part of the PNW. This year, we decided to do that again, and I fortunately didn't have a broken toe this time.

We decided to head up to Vancouver, British Columbia, first. This was kind of a rest stop, but it was also a souvenir stop. There are some beautiful little stores in Gastown, a neighborhood there, that have unique and local souvenirs. So we spent some time shopping there.

Anyway, we then drove another hour and a half or so to get to Brandywine. The area we drove through is part of the Sea-to-Sky Corridor, and we drove on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Now, I'm not 100% sure of this, but I think it's called Sea-to-Sky because the mountains and the ocean are right next to each other. The mountains just fall straight down to the water, with no valleys and not much beach in between.

Pictures from the way up:

Right around here, we drove by the Sea-to-Sky Gondola. I had never heard of it and wanted to go on it, but it was something like $30 per person, so we passed it up. Next time...

Anyway, then we got to Brandywine. The link I gave to it before says the picture doesn't show the falls' height accurately. Here are my pictures:

We were definitely in some hills, if not in the mountains themselves, so we found some other beautiful distance views:

It's worth mentioning, by the way, that height isn't the only thing that comes with hills. Another aspect of hills is the wind. The insane, wild, strong, push-you-back-if-you-jump wind. How strong was the wind? 

This strong:
My hat is not attached to anything. The wind is holding it up.
Of course, there's also wildlife. Like this snake!

I like snakes! I think they're cool. I did try to catch it, but it was too fast for me.

See how he's weaving in between the fence?!

It turns out there was also a scenic railroad. So, pictures there, of course!

After this came our full-blown exploratory hike!

The youngest of us really wanted to stop at Capilano, where the world's longest suspension bridge is, but it was out of our way and crazy expensive, so we skipped it. For the record, a "suspension bridge" is basically a rope bridge. It means the bridge is supported by being "suspended" by two high points on either side of what it crosses, rather than being supported by pillars. Capilano has the longest one in the world, but we didn't see it this time. 

But the trail we took at Brandywine promised us a route to a bungee bridge. All of us - all three of us - thought that meant we were going to a suspension bridge made out of bungee ropes. We all thought that. 

Well, we got to the end of the trail and saw that we were all wrong. It was not a bridge made out of bungee ropes. It was a bridge for people to bungee off of:

Looking down
We did not. We watched about three people bungee jump. That basically solidified my determination to never do that. Oh no. 

Anyway, then we stopped to eat a snack, and then we started the drive back.

I didn't get too many pictures, like I did with last time, because my phone battery was needed to navigate. But I had a good time, as I always do with those two. Nothing beats cousins!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Mount St. Helens!

If you've grown up in Washington, you have heard the stories of St. Helens' eruption in May of 1980. It was a massive volcanic eruption that caused about a third of the mountain to fall off in the largest landslide in recorded history and sent ash about fifteen miles into the air. I remember hearing once that the ash wasn't burnt wood, but rather little pieces of lava that had been blown into tiny little particles by the overheated volcanic gasses in the eruption. The lake at the foot of the mountain completely changed shape. Old growth forests several hundred years old simply vanished, or got knocked over and strewn about like twigs. Old glaciers melted in an instant, sending water into a giant mudflow that swept across acres and acres. Even today, the mountain itself looks almost like the surface of the moon. Ash from St. Helens circumnavigated the globe, and today in Pikes Place Market and elsewhere, you can still buy volcanic ash sculptures, or just jars of volcanic ash, from the explosion.

Amazingly enough, over the course of 1980, fewer than 60 people died from the eruptions. I know that sounds like a high number, but, if I remember Professor Finnigan's class correctly, the St. Helens eruption was the same kind of eruption as Vesuvius in Italy, which wiped out two entire towns. So to me, the St. Helens story is both an indication of just how immensely powerful nature is and how you do not mess with it, but also how humans can be smart, adaptable, and determined to survive.

I bring all this up because while family visited, we decided to take a day trip out to St. Helens. I'd been there before as part of the yearly sixth grade overnight field trip there, but that was before I even started writing Darkwoods, so let's just say my memory of it is iffy. What I do remember about that time was that the mountain was going through a second series of eruptions around the time we were there; they were comparatively minor, but the year after us, the field trip was cancelled because it wasn't safe. Ah, volcanoes!

Anyway, on the way down, we stopped off at Olympia, because it was on our way, and my youngest cousin wants to get his picture taken in front of every state capitol (why didn't I think of that when I was a kid?). I wasn't going to mention it, because I already have a post about Olympia on my Travel Blog, but Google photos decided to stylize one of my photos from the trip. I think it looks cool, so:

After Olympia, we drove another hour and a half or so to get to Mt. St. Helens. To be clear, when you "go to Mt. St. Helens", you don't actually set foot on the mountain itself; what that actually means is that you go to the national memorial park, which has a couple of observatories, vantage points, and scientific exhibits that tell you about the mountain's history.

So - cue the photos!

First are some pictures from the car. See that gray in the middle of this first one? That, we think, is one of the stretches of land devastated by the mudflow:

For context, here's a picture of the forest on a nearby mountain:

Here is the mudflow scar again
And now, the mountain itself!

The snowy mountain to the far left is Mount Rainier, the one you see from Seattle (and on the back of Washington license plates). On a good day, you can see St. Helens from Rainier, too, and you can sometimes see Rainier, St. Helens, and Mt. Adams from a plane. 

The thing about St. Helens is that it is, in fact, still an active volcano, which means there's still a lot of very hot and pressurized activity inside it. The good thing is that there are enough vents on the mountain to let off some of that pressure, so the odds of another explosive eruption happening anytime soon are slim. It also means there are clouds of steam coming off the mountain:

To the right, down the slope in this picture

On the lower left side of the crater in this one

Lower left side of the crater
Can you see the bulge inside the right side of the crater in some of these pictures? It shows up very well on this one:

That bulge is the lava dome. As in, there is live lava pushing up under that rock, that will one day rebuild the entire dome. I think St. Helens lost about a thousand feet of height, but from what I can see, that dome has made pretty good progress in less than 40 years. Who knows when it'll all be made up?

By the way, if you ever go to the observatories, be prepared to be as familiar with St. Helens before the eruption as after. It's pretty mind-blowing how much a mountain, a mountain, can change in just one day. I do highly recommend going to the observatories, because there is so much to learn there. I've hardly touched on the story of the mountain, and the observatories show the equipment they use to measure volcanic activity, a light-up model that shows all the different stages of the eruption, and a lot of information about the forests around the mountain and how the eruption affected them. It's a spectacular learning experience.

Plus, you get to see cute guys like this!

Friday, June 15, 2018

SPU Graduation!!!

For the first time since Kindergarten, I am not enrolled as a student in any school. Not gonna lie, I was too exhausted to really appreciate this until recently, but the joy is just beginning to bubble up.


Back when I was in high school and about to graduate, Mom told me, "It's all over but the shouting". In other words, all that's left is to party. So, here are some pictures of my graduation ceremony:

Before the actual graduation, there was a ceremony called the hooding ceremony, where one of the faculty members put our masters hoods on us. At WLC and for doctoral students at SPU, this is part of the whole graduation ceremony, but I guess when you have about 200 graduates, that can get long, so they have a separate ceremony for the masters.

Me looking for my favorite professor to hood me

Me getting hooded!

After hooding, with my dad

That light blue around my neck (the hood) is the color for education. Academic masters hoods are designed a certain way: the outside of the hood is the color of the discipline (education), while the inside of the hood are the colors of the school. The hoods are generally turned a certain way to show both the university and the discipline (there's one of me with the back of the hood below that will show you). According to SPU, the academic garments (hood, robe, hat, etc.) are based off of ecclesiastical garb (church clothes!). 

After hooding, with my mom (some of you have definitely met her)

This is after the graduation ceremony. That lei was a gift from a family friend. I guess leis are very popular for graduation this year! That thing smelled so beautiful that I wore it through dinner. :) 

Out in front of SPU! See the sign? That's the entrance to what I think is the oldest part of the school.

And here's the picture showing the school and the discipline. 
The best part about all of this, though, is that I officially have my first teaching job. Where? Teaching what?

Well, let's just say...

It's back to my Travel Blog!!!