Shanghai Bound

So the big news is I passed my Mandarin Chinese test. Yes indeed, I am finished with my language training (this go ‘round anyway). Having been tested in the final demonstration of linguistic acrobatics under pressure I came out on top. Hooray!

I think a few days before I knew it was going to happen because I stopped sitting up at night wondering if I would pass the test or not, but rather I lay awake wondering how I was going to get all the other stuff done for departure after I passed the test.

C’s third birthday was the day after my test. I had no presents for her as I did not want to give her a something new and then pack it up to send to Shanghai just a few days later. I actually held back two of the Christmas presents I bought her since she received so many other great gifts from family. It was going to be hard enough to pack those. Instead we met my sister, brother-in-law, and C’s two cousins at a restaurant and I brought two balloons (one Frozen, one My Little Pony) and some Frozen Anna and Elsa cupcakes. Though I had felt a bit bad about not giving her more of a party, she seemed happy with the day.

The next two days I did last minute shopping and prepping for the arrival of the movers.
I have been trying to prep C for our move to China. I bought her the DVD Ni Hao, Kai Lan Goes to China and for the past several weeks she has watched it as I explain that we are moving to China. Recently she has come to saying, “I want to go to China. I want to eat noodles,” as the characters in the show try some Chinese noodles.

I read up on preparing toddlers for a move. Some of the tips just did not seem to apply to our situation, such as trying to visit the new place before the move or having the child say goodbye to each of the rooms in the house or special places that have come to mean something to her. I used the second bedroom as a staging area for the items I bought to take to China; I doubt it holds much significance to her.

At Target I bought some plastic bins with lids and encouraged C to pack up her own toys. She got rather into it, packing up all her Fisher Price Little People quickly, pushing on the lid and announcing “Mommy, I did it! My toys are ready for China!”

On Tuesday, I dropped C off for her next to last day at Kindercare so that I could deal with the movers, particularly the packing of her toys, without her presence. She is a very different kid from the one who missed out on the packing back in June. Now, if I pick up her Queen Elsa doll to just move it she gets excited “Hey mommy, that’s my doll! What are you doing?!” I could vividly imagine the turmoil that would ensure if she were present for the packing.

The movers arrived at 11:30 and departed around 2:30. Though one of my shortest pack-outs, I still felt quite tired after the movers left. I took two hours to myself and then I went to pick up C.

As soon as she walked into the apartment she said “Oh, mommy! Where are my toys???” She ran from room to room, which in a three room apartment does not take long. I told her that the toys went to China. C did not seem thrilled her toys were gone, but she then asked me to watch the Kai Lan video. All seemed ok.

Except over the course of the next few hours and days she would ask me for certain toys.

“Mommy, where is my wagon?”
“Honey, it is on its way to China.”
“What? I don’t want my wagon to go to China!”


“Oh no! Mommy, where is baby Elsa?” (her Christmas gift from her paternal grandparents)
“Well, Elsa is going to China. The movers packed her. Remember?”
“Nooooooo! Mommy, no! Not baby Elsa. I don’t want her go to China! No!”


“Hey! Where is my Frozen book? I want my Frozen book.”
“C, your Frozen book is going to China. “
“No, mommy, no! That is not nice. I want Frozen book right now.”

C has also started whimpering, asking to be held more and sometimes at night she cries “I want to go home!” even though we are already in the apartment. Though as of today it is “home” for only four more days. This is turning out harder than I thought. I worry about her asking to go home once we are in Shanghai and though I have talked with her about our new home, she will rebel. I have heard that we should receive the unaccompanied baggage air shipment within a week or two, so being reunited with her toys should help. I hope.

Wednesday was a flurry of appointments. In the morning I took the cats to the vet so they could be checked out and there international health certificates would be issued. These need to be completed no more than 10 days before arrival in China. I brought C with me thinking she might find it interesting, especially as she had received a vet set for Christmas. I was wrong. So very wrong. She yelled at the vet “Hey, what are you doing to my cat? Stop it! Share my cat, SHARE MY CAT!” (I think sharing was the best thing she could come up with). That was a long 90 minutes.

Then we headed off to the Foreign Service Institute so I could do some final check out procedures and say farewell. C then had her third birthday wellness check-up with her “regular” doctor (as regular as you can get in this life) in Arlington.

Thursday. C’s last day at the Kindercare so that I could make the two hour drive to Richmond for the USDA Veterinary Services Office endorse the cats’ international health certificates. Although it is possible to FedEx the certificates to Richmond and provide paid return, I have heard of one too many people who did this and then ended up having to do the drive anyway, the day before departure. So I opted for the four hour round trip for the 15 minutes it took for USDA to sign the form (you have to call ahead for an appointment). The trip wore me out, but at least it is done.

Over the last few days I will be taking care of the final preparations, selling my car, cancelling car insurance, packing the bags, filling out change of address forms, putting my phone plan on hold… and trying to relax if at all possible. The next few weeks are going to be busy with getting myself, the two cats, C and my mom to Shanghai and then getting up to speed while getting over jet lag (12 hours time difference, so it will take about two weeks to adjust).

I am excited. I can hardly wait to get to Shanghai, see our new place, get settled in, don our pollution masks, and explore.


Holy Chicken and Broccoli, Is My Test THIS Week?

Countdown: Less than two weeks until departure. Whoa, how did that happen? How did 19 weeks of training get past me? The Chinese test is the end of this week.

If all goes well, then yes, I will be departing on time. I know, saying “if” in the same breath as my Chinese test is against my Positivity Plan Code of Conduct. I am supposed to say, “After I pass my test this Friday,” or “When I totally ROCK my Chinese test on Friday…” and so on and so forth.

I am trying. I continue to say positive things to myself every day. Things such as “我是一个汉语的女王” or “I am a Chinese [language] queen.” I repeat that kind of thing to myself in the car. And power pose.

I am really starting to believe my amazing Chinese teachers are going to pull this off (with my help of course), that I will blow away the testers and that the recording of my test will be used for years to come as an example of how someone with AWESOME Chinese takes the end of training test.

That does not mean I will not be bringing all my various talismans. I am not really a superstitious person. I do the “knock on wood” or “knock on [insert random material, like plastic, here]” on occasions, but that is it. This is except, of course, when I am in an FSI exam. Then I am armed to the teeth. I will wear my positive mantra bracelets, carry my daughter’s smiling daycare center photo, and even bring in a ridiculously cute string doll that purports to help the owner “kick start your life, give you courage and confidence to get things done.” I am sure it was marketed for teenage girls, but I do not care. Whatever works, right? If I had lucky undies and a bullet proof amulet, I would wear those too.

This however has been my best training week yet. I do not have to do much homework to prep for class because my reading class is “cold” reading (first time seeing the material) and my speaking class is “impromptu” discussion of topics or presentations with very little prep time – all of which simulate the test. Previously, I felt so frustrated in class after spending hours studying and still not understanding SO much. Now, I feel elated because I understand SO much without needing much preparation time.

This week I have been thinking of my language test as a half marathon. (of course, what is a runner supposed to do?) Generally, I take between 2 hours and 15 minutes and 2 hours and a half to complete a half marathon. The language test also takes roughly the same amount of time. Running a half marathon is exhausting. So is sitting in a room having a conversation or reading an authentic three to four paragraph news article in a foreign language in which you are not fluent, especially if you are being graded on that language. Also, if your language test happens at lunch time, but that is whole other issue.

In the months leading up to a half marathon, I do a lot of training. Some days I have great runs. Some days I have terrible runs. Sometimes I cannot drag myself out to run at all. But over the course of the three to six months, my long runs get longer, I grow stronger, and I am better prepared for the big day. Still, on race day I never really know how it might go. I could wake up feeling off. A few miles in I might feel an odd twinge in my knee, which may or may not cause me problems. I may need to walk through the water stops to give myself just the break I need to push through.

I think back to this fall as I dropped out of my October half marathon down to a 10K and then later dropped 10Ks to 5Ks. I thought I was out of training. But I have been training for another kind of half – my language test. Nineteen weeks of training in fact. As I sit down to begin my test, I will neither know my outcome nor what hurdles might be thrown my way. I may need to slow down, check my pace, and correct my stride.

At the very least I want to finish strong. I want to know at the end of the test that I gave my best with whatever I was given. Even better if I hit a PR (scoring above the required language score can result in incentive bonus pay), though that would just be icing on the cake, not a goal.

There are no medals at the end of this race, just plane tickets and a new position waiting in Shanghai.

Race Day: Friday, high noon.

The Resolution

In late 2013 my sister mentioned for one of her 2014 New Year’s Resolutions she planned to run 750 miles. I thought hey, now that is an idea, a mileage goal for the year. However, I knew I did not have 750 miles in me. I needed a challenge, but I needed something obtainable. As a single parent in the Foreign Service at the time serving at a US-Mexico border post, I really had to take a hard look at what mileage might really be within my reach.

In 2013 I ran a total of six half marathons (El Paso, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Boston, Massachusetts, Juarez, Mexico, and Las Vegas, Nevada). I also ran a 5K, a 10K, and a 10K as part of a duathlon in El Paso. Yet even with all those organized races I only ran a total of 200 to 220 miles the whole year. I supplemented my running with Zumba and spinning classes at my gym and the occasional stationary bike ride or exercise DVD at home.

I did a few calculations and decided on 400 miles for 2014. That came out to an average of 7.7 miles a week. It sounded completely possible.

I think it might have been the next day I screwed up my plantar fascia at the tail end of a 5K. While sprinting in to the end I felt the excruciating tear in the bottom of my foot. Holy Mother $#&@! I hobbled back to the car and for much of the rest of my Christmas and New Year’s holiday. This did not make an auspicious start.

My first run of 2014 did not come about until January 9 and I could only manage one mile. One, quite slow mile on a very tender foot. Over the course of the month I did work up to three miles, but I basically kept the mileage low, ending the month with only 20 miles in total. So there I was starting the year already down ten miles after the first month.

With a half marathon coming up in April, I needed to step things up. Yet the dust storms in Ciudad Juarez came early and I started having asthma attacks while running. I would not even be a mile into a run and I would have to turn back. It was so frustrating. I had secured a sitter for my daughter – either the nanny would stay a little later or a friend would come over. At the very least I wanted to run a 5K, but I would find myself turning back much sooner. I had to move almost all of my running indoors to the treadmill at my little gym.

28.5 miles for February.
29.7 miles for March.
All below the 33 miles and some change I needed to average per month.

Finally in April I managed 40.7 miles for the month, helped in a large part by my Salt Lake City half marathon.

The plus side was my speed increased. I think because I underwent the (&$%@ painful) bilateral vein stripping the November before, my legs no longer felt so heavy when standing or running. I had become a 10:30 or 11 minute miler after the birth of my daughter and had accepted that. Before that I was a 10 minute miler. Suddenly in 2014 I was running 9:45 then 9:30 and then even 9 minute miles.

35.4 miles for May. It did not hurt I ran a half marathon in Cincinnati.
40.7 miles for June.

I had managed to overcome the plantar fasciitis and the asthma and the child care challenges to bring my mid-year total to 195 miles. I was five shy of my goal but felt fairly confident it was still within the realm of the possibility.

You know, if I had a normal life.

I departed from Ciudad Juarez on July 1 to begin nine weeks of travel from post and home leave. I would drive through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia with two cats and my 2 ½ year old daughter. I would spend a week in Hawaii and a week in North Carolina. With creative childcare finds (thank you $50 an hour Japanese daycare, with 2 hour minimum, in the Sheraton in Hawaii and the much less expensive $6 an hour drop in daycare in New Bern) I did manage 30 miles in July. Hi-five for me.

In August we continued our travel to San Francisco, South Dakota and New York. Day care options became a bit more complicated. My parents watched my daughter one afternoon I was in Virginia in between trips to I could get a 3.5 mile run in. My friend watched my daughter in San Francisco so I could get in one hilly run. My aunt and uncle watched C in South Dakota so I could get in a few training runs and my Leading Ladies half marathon through the beautiful Spearfish Canyon. A few more runs in hotel gyms while C sat “quietly” (for a 2 year old) with her iPad and I managed total of 35 miles for the month.

At the end of August we moved into our temporary quarters in an extended stay hotel while I attended full time Mandarin Chinese training. At 260 miles with 140 to go, I was still on track. I figured the fall would be a piece of cake given I was back in Northern Virginia with its perfect fall running weather and numerous running trails. I envisioned myself on long seven or eight or even ten mile runs, jogging blissfully and easily, unencumbered and happy.

Someone must have slipped me something.

I soon found my 50 minute (one way) commute and Chinese study took over my life. I needed to take my daughter in to daycare as soon as I could in the morning so I could drive in to study before class. Trying to study Chinese while your 2 year old plays nearby is a recipe for learning zero Chinese. Oh, and daycare… My daughter had not attended before, so she was the perfect host for every toddler illness known to man. She happily shared them with me. We had cold after infection after cold after infection. We were even so lucky to contract the flu even after we had received our shots.

Still I put up the miles.
40 miles for September.
42.1 miles for October.

I was halfway through November and still not entirely sure I would make my goal. The longer I spent in training, the shorter my runs became. I dropped down to a 10K from the half in October and from a 10 miler to a 10K at the beginning of November. The constant colds and my training schedule were taking their toll.

Then my two online running groups both announced end of year challenges simultaneously. My local group announced a challenge to run 60 miles the last 6 weeks of the year, averaging 10 miles a week. My global running group threw up the Runner’s World end of year streak, running the 36 days from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, a minimum of 1 mile per day.

I dismissed both out of hand. There was my child care issue. My catching everything that passed through daycare issue. I was too tired.

But a funny thing happened. I ran the next day. And the next. And the next. I had never before run more than three days consecutively, yet, here I was managing it. Could I do it?

45 miles for November.
52.9 miles for December.

No sh*t. I did it. I not only met the 60 mile challenge for the local group AND the streaking challenge (with a total of 44 days in a row because I misunderstood the start day), but I also not only met my 400 miles for the year, but surpassed it for a total of 440 miles!

Hot diggity dog. Most of that running was on the treadmills of Juarez, Mexico or Northern Virginia, but I also ran in Utah, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, New York, South Dakota, California, North Carolina, and Hawaii. I am not sure I will ever have another year like that.

I learned a lot from this year of running.
I learned I like to do vary my exercise beyond running. In 2013, although I ran far fewer miles, I was in better shape. The cross training I did by participating in spinning, Zumba, and other classes made me stronger. I like running, but there were days when it felt like a chore. When I was not streaking, I might have only two or three days a week I could get to the gym. Because I had weekly, monthly, and the yearly mileage goals, I needed to run just about all of those days. Some days I would have very much liked to have done something else. Some days, ANYTHING else.

I learned though I can be pretty resourceful if I want to get a run in. Also, that, at least in the United States, that there are places to help the single parent out, particularly if they are willing to pay. There are many licensed agencies that provide in-room hotel child care; excellent community centers which include child care; even drop-in daycare centers.

The streak showed me that just a single mile most often can lift my spirits. The adage that just 10 minutes a day of exercise can boost energy and mood proved true for me. I also continued to push my speed and hill work. It was easier to do so when I knew I only had to run one mile. I also found my daughter will in fact sit or play quietly for at least 10-20 minutes in a hotel gym, unless of course the Wi-Fi cuts out and the My Little Pony video halts in the middle of playing… Knowing she will do this means that even if I do not have a sitter, a short workout is not out of the question.

I learned that when people tell you someone almost always feels better after a run than before it, they are really not blowing smoke up your skirt. Even with a bad cold or a throat infection or the flu a ten minute run did in fact make me feel better.

I do not yet know what 2015 has in store for me for running. Most likely I will be dialing back the miles and diversifying my exercise again, though I will incorporate the hill and speed work.  My next streak will be to study Chinese every day until my test, in just 15 days. It is time to buckle down and get to China. Once we are settled in Shanghai I will be able to consider the next challenge. The challenge other than running the Buffalo half marathon in May, which I am already signed up for…

Happy New Year and happy running!