Here is a good old-fashioned and super-long "What I did over winter vacation" blog post.

my trusty backpack. my jet-lagged eyes.

my trusty backpack. my jet-lagged eyes.

This month I had the pleasure of helping to lead a group of 28 Taylor freshmen on a whirlwind trip across China.  Designed by Dr. Rachel Smith, the trip was part of an Honors course about Arts and Ideas in China.  Dr. Smith and other leaders designed the experience; my role was to communicate with students and parents both prior to and during our travel, and to help take care of the students while we were in China (or at least to oversee the excellent work of my two graduate assistants as they dealt with the nitty-gritty of student care).  A few days into the trip, Jack flew in and joined the group, leaving our kids in the sweet and excellent care of their Georgia family (yes, they were spoiled, but they also learned to clean like ninjas).

So what did we do in China?  It was a non-stop trip, up and out the door most mornings by 7:30, and not back at the hotel until 9 pm, so I won't even try to tell you everything, and I won't try to interpret or go into the emotions it all brought up for me, being back in Asia. But here are some of the highlights.


We went to church twice in China, and I basically wept through both services. We also met with Christians in every city we visited, and hearing their stories challenged and encouraged me.  This is particularly true of two Christians we met in Beijing who have a house church and are praying about how to develop Christian education materials for the next generation of believers in China.

We went to the Great Wall on a beautiful, clear day.  And we rode toboggans down.  Eeek! It was so fun.

best GA's ever.  also, it was cold.

best GA's ever.  also, it was cold.



We went outside of the city a bit to Songzhuang, where we met artist Zhu Jiuyang.  While we made many of the typical tourist stops in Beijing (Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, etc), hearing lectures from Chinese artists were some of the most meaningful parts of our trip. We also got to hear from designer Song Tao and painter He Chunye.

Some of the students with Zhu Jiuyang (center) in his studio.

Some of the students with Zhu Jiuyang (center) in his studio.

That night, Jack joined us, and the next day, we took the bullet train to Xian. The train was super comfortable and traveled at about 200 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the smog was so bad that day that we could hardly see a thing as we moved through the country.

The air pollution.  I guess I knew it was there, but I didn't know what it would be like.  Sometimes my eyes burned.  Sometimes I had a little cough.  Sometimes I blew my nose and everything that came out was black (TMI, I know).  But what bothered me most was the visibility.  Physically, I could handle the smog, but psychologically?  I just don't know if I could take it.

The other thing that surprised me in Beijing was what population density felt like.  I guess I had expected it to look like Manhattan mid-day, sidewalks crowded with people.  But the city streets didn't feel crowded.  What population density in China looked like was row after row of identical high-rise apartment buildings, going on for miles and miles in every direction.


An ancient capital of China, Xian is a lovely, traditional city of 5 million people with a bustling Muslim quarter.  The terra cotta warriors, Xian's most famous tourist attraction, are clay soldiers made by China's first emperor to guard his tomb. He believed his reign would last after death and the soldiers would protect his power forever. I have a lot of thoughts about this for another day.

one of three excavation sites. 

one of three excavation sites. 

We also walked along the top of the Xian city wall, where preparations were being made for the lunar New Year celebration.  We saw workers hand-sewing these gorgeous displays.



Highlights of Nanjing included seeing one of the houses where Hudson and Maria Taylor lived (on the trip, I finished reading this excellent biography of him. I like this guy because he had such high esteem for Chinese culture, Chinese people, and women - none of which were particularly common in his day.). We also met with some Christians in Nanjing who began following Jesus when they started researching the faith so that they could convert their foreign English teacher to atheism. Their stories made me cry.

Once, a pregnant Maria had to jump out of one of those 2nd story windows to escape an angry mob.

Once, a pregnant Maria had to jump out of one of those 2nd story windows to escape an angry mob.

In Nanjing, we also went to the Sun Yat Sen mausoleum on Purple Mountain.



Also karaoke.

And, on a totally different note, the Nanjing Massacre Museum.  I've now been to Dachau concentration camp in Germany, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and the Nanjing Massacre Museum, and so I think I can say this: Humans are kind of the worst.

On the bus ride from Nanjing to Shanghai, we stopped at Amity Bible Press.  This is the largest Bible printing press in the world, printing 15 million Bibles annually.


Our time in Shanghai was a bit more relaxed.  We visited Jing-an temple (while in China, we were able to visit Christian churches as well as Buddhist, Muslim, Daoist, and Confucian temples).

this is China - old and new stacked right up on top of each other

this is China - old and new stacked right up on top of each other

We walked through the French Concession (and ate some mouth-watering French pastries) and strolled along the Bund. You should probably go to Shanghai sometime.

smog, again.  That's the Pudong financial district behind us as we pose on the Bund. I really enjoyed these students.

smog, again.  That's the Pudong financial district behind us as we pose on the Bund. I really enjoyed these students.

Oh my goodness, I didn't even say anything about the food!  The food was amazing. Except for that time we went to KFC, I didn't miss my own kitchen one bit.

This post brought to you by the jet-lag that still, ten days later, has me falling asleep on the sofa at 8:30 and waking up before 5.  Cheers!

a few things in July

Every now and then, I post a list of things our family is doing. (This is a big help when it is time to write a Christmas newsletter and you suddenly think, what in the world have we done this year?)  Here are a few of the things that have marked my summer:

I've been re-reading missionary biographies written for children, examining the rhetoric they use, and whether the harder bits of missionaries' lives are left out in children's accounts.  (If you follow me on Goodreads, you can see my ratings and occasional reviews.)


I enjoyed Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park, about teenagers falling in love over mixtapes and misfortune in the 1980s, and hew newest novel Attachments, which is a book for lovers of You've Got Mail. Which is to say, it's a book for people who love comedy, romance, or the 1990s.

Making my third summer book named in this way (after Frances and Bernard and Eleanor and Park) was Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses, a totally delightful middle grade novel for adults.  That is, I don't know if it would be totally delightful to middle-graders - maybe the narrator is a tad too precocious - but I loved it. Also - do the girls always get to go first in these titles?  I'll name mine Jack and Amy, just to buck the trend.

I happily checked out Lauren Graham (yes, Lorelei Gilmore)'s Someday, Someday, Maybe, and happily read it on the drive to Georgia. Fun.

A Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon.  I know I'm late to the game on this one, but it's so beautiful, and so surprisingly funny. The book is a recipe for cooking lamb. Yes, the whole book.

Chimamanda Adiche's Americanah was another highlight - read DL's review over at SheLoves.

I'm about halfway through Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr, and while I'm fiercely underlining and nodding my head, I'm placing some question marks in the margins too.

Movies and TV

We've been waiting a long time to watch True Detective, and finally got it on DVD from Netflix this month.  We can talk about the woman problem in this show, and we probably should, but for real, the acting was just gorgeous.

I also watched the second season of Orange Is The New Black, mostly on nights when I couldn't sleep.  The second season was even better than the first, I thought.

All the babysitters are out of town for the summer, so we haven't been to a movie theater even once.  I fell asleep in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but before I did, I felt annoyed at Wes Anderson, for never (rarely) having any female characters with interesting, full-fledged personalities. They're always just symbolic objects in men's stories.

I thought Her was ok, but not as good as the hype. (But maybe the OS Samantha had a more well-rounded character than any of the women in Wes Anderson's films?)

Short Term 12, a drama about working in a group home for teenagers, was amazing - certainly one of my favorite movies of the year.


We watched Star Wars episodes 4,5, and 6 with Rosie and Owen.  That was fun. I think I can convince them to dress as Luke and Leia for Halloween.

I almost forgot Girl Meets World.  How could I forget the lovely, ridiculous, heartwarming, mindless pleasure of Girl Meets World.


Jack has our anniversary playlist just about ready to go.  I've been listening to that (and soon, you can too).  When I write I like to listen to Nils Frahm and Philip Glass, especially the soundtrack of The Hours.


I spent a week at a writing workshop at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. I think I'll say more about this later this week, but it was a very profound, difficult, and moving experience.  I listened and learned. Here are my new friends:


Jack took the kids on a trip to Cincinnati while I was at Collegeville. Rosie wanted to see the aquarium. They spent a night camping, too.

Earlier in the summer, we visited Jack's family in Georgia - Macon, Tybee Island, Savannah, and North Georgia. Just lovely.

And on Saturday we visited Rich Mullins's grave, something I'll write more about in September.


At Christ and Pop Culture, I wrote about the problematic reality-dating tv show It Takes A Church.

I also finished the first draft of my book manuscript.  So... ten percent of the way there?

Oh, and you may have noticed that my blog has moved (to add it to your reader, click the RSS link on the right hand side).  Thanks very much to Chris Baker for the layout and design.

In the Garden

So many delicious cherry tomatoes.  So many things.

I can't tell you how amazing it is to come home, after a week out of town, and go to the garden and the henhouse to find your dinner. (Swiss chard, sauteed with garlic and onion and a bit of dried red pepper - bacon, if you have it, - and a fried egg on top.  Perfection.)

Two weeks ago, we found our four hens lying dead in their yard. It seems they were killed, probably by a weasel, for sport.  I would write more about this, but I feel kind of sick writing even this much.  When I saw their stiff, feathery corpses in the grass, I crossed myself - and realized that I've become much more Episcopalian than I even realized.

Any recommendations for me?