"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing..." -Helen Keller
What kind of wonders can be found on the back street? Well, besides the Backstreet Boys (who we encountered a little too closely at Karaoke TV last night), we happened to stumble into a chocolatey surprise, here pronounced "Oh-va-tian"...

Um, can you say "More Ovaltine Please?!?!!!!!!!" Yes, friends, here on the back streets of China, we have found the subject of the ever-made-fun-of commercial, Ovaltine. I drank one cup, then I extended my cup for seconds with the enthusiasm of an Ovaltine kid. Good stuff. Drink up, friends!

But beware-- according to this poster I found, Ovaltine consumption before bed may result in an alternative lifestyle.
Photo Source: http://www.mommywords.com/2011/06/have-breakfast-smoothies-with-me-and-ovaltine-at-type-a-parent/
Contentment. 08/27/2011
I feel contentment, and it's beautiful. As my students would say, always pushing each other out of their comfort zones and trying to inspire more English practice, "For exampullll...?" Well, here's just the tip of the iceberg:

Our new home is located right by the back gate of campus, and I've found myself sitting by the window just watching students come and go. Everything is green and full of life and happy.

I love being married. I have a super fun husband and he's hilarious and so sweet in his own ways.

We have precious friends. One of them is currently sprawled out on the floor in our living room catching some "zzzs" before we dive into a night of cooking for a farewell dinner for the high school seniors we've come to know and love.

I've been dancing lately. I downloaded a dance-aerobic video and a hula-hoop video with this absolutely crazy instructor named Miss Kelli, and I've found myself just laughing hysterically as I exercise in my living room. Goo

Everything is simple and peaceful, in my heart and in my daily schedule... It's good. Really good. A really good gift.
Some oils are "Extra Virgin." Other oils fell off the right track somewhere along the way and are proud of it. Wear it, declare it. Introducing "EX-VIRGIN Wild Walnut Oil."
This year as we sit around the Thanksgiving table, I'll be giving a shout-out to roll-on deodorant. Who knew? It's fantastic! Last summer, however, our first summer in China, I was using solid sticks of deodorant. While riding the bus downtown in a big city, I noticed some man looking at my underarm with great confusion... likely because of some small bits of white that had gathered up during the daily hustle & bustle.

Why the confusion? Well, friends, apparently deodorant is not such a universal product as one might have imagined. Now, when I'm chilling in my apartment blogging with my sweet-smelling underarms, this is no problem. HOWEVER, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon when I enter a classroom packed with 80 high school students... we have a problem. Somebody needs to get the deodorant train over here. Fast.

One final note: I have no idea what's going on in this picture, but it was mildly related to the topic of deodorant and made me laugh, so here's as good a place as any, right?
Photo Source: http://www.bedbugmundo.com/bad-smells-may-fend-off-bed-bugs.html
I made a major trip to the grocery store today, and spent the equivalent of $23. Amazing.

Here, you'll find: a few cups of pumpkin cubes, a couple of pounds of oats, 20 eggs, a bag of millet, a package of cheese singles, 2 large bags of tomatoes, 2 big old packages of chewing gum, 2 bundles of asparagus, 2 mini-bags of chips, 4 small bags of assorted beans, a huge package of disposable chopsticks, 8 packages of baking powder, 2 packs of disposable plates, a loaf of bread, and probably a couple of other things hiding down there. I love not having to labor over decisions at the grocery store, because it's almost impossible to severely overspend.

(And bless the person who brought the invention of the grocery store to our town a few months ago so I can now buy my grains, veggies, snacks, seeds, & dairy in the same store!)
Panda Cupcakes 08/26/2011
One of our good friends was coming over for lunch and a birthday celebration in her honor. I figured she might enjoy panda-themed cakes, so I made these little cupcakes. The problem was, we found out the day before she came that she didn't like chocolate, which is what the lower part of the panda should have been made of for the best look. Also, she showed up 2 hours earlier than we expected and had to leave earlier than expected, so these were hurriedly thrown together in the other room... They're not all they could have been, but they were a cute idea we'll probably try again when we have more time & more interest in chocolate.

First, I used some mini yellow cupcakes and frosted them with cream cheese icing. I used a dark chocolate bar which had already melted during shopping to draw on the rings around the eyes and the mouths. The eyes and noses are made of dry black beans, and the ears are halved mini-Oreos, one of the two western cookies we can buy here.
The base of the panda body was a regular-sized cupcake (should have been chocolate). I frosted them with cream cheese frosting and sprinkled on brown cookie crumbs. Normally, this part would have been chocolate cake sprinkled with Oreo bits or left plain. I put big Oreo halves (or fragments as I hurriedly worked with whatever happened as I chopped) on the front of these cupcakes as panda arms, and added a dollop of cream cheese frosting to help secure the heads.
Finally, I attached the heads. They should have had little Oreo-half feet as well, but time just wouldn't allow. Still, they were cute & fun. I think it might have been her first theme cake!
New Diggs 08/26/2011
Well, we did it. We completed our first real move (I feel like the one from America to China doesn't really count since the airlines did all the moving for us and we only had 4 bags).

We got the key to the new place a couple of weeks back & took a look. Austin's mom was fantastic and helped clean and antibacterial-ise just about every square inch, so it was all ready on moving day.
Here were our 2 moving vehicles:
Some of our friends had volunteered to help us move, and then the morning of the move, a neighbor who we'd only talked to once before volunteered to help as well. They managed to get everything in a matter of one trip. Fantastic!

Here are a few pictures of our living room/ main room. I painted some off-white fabric & we hung it on bamboo rods. We went for simple, fun, and a cozy feel. More pictures to come... whenever Weebly's photo uploader decides to work again...
Deep Breath. 08/23/2011
I love having summers off, and for this reason if none other, I think I shall always remain a teacher. So starting somewhere around January, I start dreaming of summer vacation and setting a totally unrealistic number of lofty goals for all the free time I'm going to have... And, I don't know where the free time goes, but it goes. And so, "Oh, I'll blog so much this summer" just never really happened. But we had a great summer. Here's what we've been up to:

1. We spent the first couple of weeks doing an intense study schedule with podcasts, activities in Chinese, learning Chinese songs

2. We went to travel with some students to Sichuan province, about a 24 hour train trip to the cities we visited. We visited lots and lots and lots of temples that all looked remarkably similar to one another, ate lots of spicy food, went to a panda museum to see the beloved national treasures of China, and went to see a midnight showing of Transformers 3 in 3D (we even got interviewed by the news at this showing!) Here are a couple of pictures:
(Please note our panda-themed clothes...)
3. We took a trip up to Beijing to meet Austin's mom & Spencer who flew in. We got to see the Great Wall, eat constantly, and then we took a 27 hour train ride back to our province where we spent another several days together. We introduced them to the local specialties, got massages, and laughed a ton.
4. And most recently, we had a move across town to our new locale at the college... We're all moved in, decorated, and having a blast hanging out with students & friends... But that is a post for another day.
Photoshoot. 07/09/2011
We decided it was time for some new pictures, so we asked one of our friends, who is also a photographer, to help us out. Unfortunately, it was super hot so we were sweating like crazy. Also, I was just having kind of an "off" day-- my hair, my heart, everything, so I'm not super thrilled with them all, but her photography was really good and we have a few keepers. (I also threw in one of the cheesy Chinese shots with the two hands making a heart.) Thought I'd share a few in this slide show:
Half birthdays are a young Sirles family tradition. This year, for Austin's 24 1/2 birthday, two of his friends came over for homemade hot pockets and cake. Now theme cakes are most certainly a Lowe family tradition. Following in my mother's footsteps, I decided to get to work. This year I made a dinosaur theme cake. So fun, and altogether pretty easy!

First, I made two round chocolate cakes. The recipe will appear shortly on the "Cooking & Eating" page.

I frosted the first cake with some green cream cheese icing that was a total experiment with some cream cheese we'd been randomly given from another town. I covered the top of the cake and let the frosting hang down around the outside edges.
Then I chopped up the second round cake to get four small cirles, each one slightly smaller than the last. This was for the volcano.
I stacked those four circles and cut around them to even them out. The volcano look was a good thing and allowed me not to worry about any rough or uneven places.
Now I went into a number of toy stores looking for dinosaur figurines and could find none. The conversation usually went something like this (in Chinese, of course):

Shop worker: Miss, what age child are you shopping for?

Me: (Thinking to myself: There's no way I'm going to answer that question.) Um, I'm just looking for some small dinosaurs.

Shop worker: We don't have any.  [Kind of looks at me like I'm crazy.]

So I settled for these paper dinosaurs I had at home. Yes, I just happen to keep a collection of paper dinosaurs. I laminated their feet with scotch tape so they'd be re-usable, then I dug them in. I also placed some candy rocks from the local supermarket around the cake.
The last thing to do was to add some lava to that volcano. I made some vanilla pudding and dyed it red, then poured it down the side of the volcano.
And that was that. We had a great time. Austin loved it.
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