My Own Piece of the Web

Colorado Geek has been so very kind to me.  Originally Ernie’s site, it was transformed into a place for us to blog during our year in China.  Our fantastic following here inspired my recently-published book, Awakening East.  Now I’ve launched my own website and would love to see you there!  It’s a little place where I’m blogging, listing upcoming events and posting photos. You can also buy the book there…a signed version direct from the stack sitting right here in my home office.

Take a peek!





Welcome to the World, Awakening East!

Just in time for holiday gift-giving, Awakening East is now on the shelves of local bookstores and available online.  We’re so grateful to all of you for helping encourage us along the way.  The book is receiving positive reviews from all corners….Those who love international travel or stories of family adventure.  Readers who enjoy memoirs, and those who have experience with adoption.   Will’s entire class of 7th graders has poured over it, as has Ernie’s 87-year-old grandmother.  A little something for everyone!

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

Buy Awakening East on Amazon



Hello ColoradoGeek followers!


It’s been far too long since we’ve updated you on the happenings of our clan.  We’ve been busy in our absence, and are back to tell you about our latest adventure.

We had such a wild ride in Asia, and shared all of it with you.  Well…NEARLY all of it.  Upon returning to the States, Johanna kept writing and writing and writing.  About her journey.  About the adoptions.  About the before and after of our year in Asia.  Until one day, she had a book.  That book fell into the hands of Marcinson Press, an independent publishing house, which will print it next month.  

Awakening East has a subtitle which describes the moving-the-children-back-to-China piece of our journey, but the book is about much more than that.  We hope it will be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good memoir or a story of family.  Anyone who loves international travel or just plain old wants to read about crazy adventures and where they can take you.  

The book is scheduled to be published on October 23, with pre-sales on Amazon starting a few weeks prior.  You can stay updated on the status of the book either on the publisher’s website or on the book’s Facebook page.  We aren’t too adept at Facebook yet, but if you’d LIKE us, we’d be mighty grateful.

Happy Trails,

Johanna / Ernie / Will / Eden


It has been a month since we landed in Hawaii and then proceeded to our beloved Elkhart Lake.  Whereas our life in Asia was comprised of daily confusion yet adventure, everything here seems familiar yet predictable.  Our time at the lake in Wisconsin has been filled with things we have lacked this year…cousins, late night adventures and loads of activities.  Yet we have already started to miss the things we left…friends, daily surprises, walking till our feet hurt.  We are embodying the word “transition” with each step.

Ernie and I are on the way back to Colorado.  A joyful road trip full of good conversations and much laughter.  Our nieces Mary and Frida compiled a list of questions for us in case we ran out of things to talk about.  Yesterday we got hung up on “Do you believe in ghosts?”  Today’s stumper was “When I turn 50, will you throw me a party?”  We have been able to listen to Van Halen and Huey Lewis instead of The Muppets.  Nobody has been asking for juice boxes or granola bars.  We haven’t heard any bickering about whose turn it is to sleep on the pullout couch in the hotel.  These few days of breathing space away from each other are symbolic.  The kids will be taking their first unaccompanied flight to Denver a few days from now.  And then life will return to where it was before we left.  Or at least a version of that.

As we speed across the fields of Nebraska, I have been thinking about the boxes at home that are holding the new bunk bed for Eden, fresh school uniforms and favorite snacks for our carpooling days just ahead.  Kindergarten and fifth grade are calling this year.  We suspect it will be both difficult and a breeze for the kids to adjust to school.  Their Mandarin Chinese is solid but the homework will be startling, as most days in China our non-school hours were spent climbing trees, skateboarding and traveling.

Ernie has started back at work and reported that within the first few days it was as if he had never left.  It was great fun to see his co-workers, and hit his old lunch spots.  On his plate are a pile of new responsibilities which will mark a challenging new beginning.

Someone once told me that the best part of achieving one of your dreams is that you can then come up with a NEW dream.  I hope to embrace that concept once the dust settles.  I have a few ideas big and small that I will finally have the room to explore now that both kids will be in school.  But one thing we have learned this year is that dreams can take many shapes and sizes.  Ours was bold and complicated, but I can’t wait to attack the little ones for awhile…tweaking the linen closet, taking up a new sport and planting a garden once again.

Cheers to all of you, wherever you are, with dreams big and small.  Thanks again for coming along with us this year!


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Wow.  We are here in Hawaii…and to begin to list the contrasts between our days here and our days in China just a few moments ago…well, it is a bit mind-blowing.  To begin with, what’s with all the English?  We are still getting used to clearly overhearing other people’s conversations.  Next, the food.  To drink the tap water, to not worry about what spice is in your mystery stir fry, to not have rice as a staple at every meal…all new.  Lastly, the people.  Excessive.  So many different outfits, so much jewelry, children with so many toys.  And many people are so…well…”well fed” is a good word.

In addition, just four days ago we were staying in a small apartment and our next door neighbors were a Chinese family of 10 and the chicken they planned to slaughter and eat for dinner.  We arrived here to find that the suite below us is occupied this week by a famous reality TV family also here on vacation.

Want more?  I keep inadvertently speaking Chinese to people.  The choices we have now…good god…I almost had a nervous breakdown in the cereal aisle of Safeway.  We went shopping for shoes today and the price we paid was a quarter of the cost we would have paid in Asia, but the shoes were made in Vietnam.  Nobody is staring at us.  I saw a listing of movies in the theater and didn’t know a single one.  We can use Google without worrying that we are being watched.  If fact, the use the internet is a breeze without needing a VPN.  I didn’t have to worry about bones being in the fish we ate for dinner tonight.  In fact, I don’t have to worry about the food at all.  But tipping at restaurants?  That’s a pain that I had forgotten about.

Change.  And then change back again.  It’s good and it’s hard and it’s part of the deal when you leave your comfy American life for a long time and live somewhere else.  We are letting it wash over us here in Oahu.  The jet lag we expected to encounter has been surprisingly absent.  We speculate that perhaps we crossed the international date line in just such a way that we avoided it completely.  Asia is almost the nearest point east to that line and Hawaii is almost the nearest point west…close to a full 24 hours apart.

More to come as we bump along this road to re-entry.  Aloha, America…and Happy Birthday.


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Our last few days in Kunming were full of goodbyes, purging our apartment of its belongings and trips to favorite places in town.  When it was all over, it was just the four of us standing in our empty foyer at 5:00 AM on departure day.  We were brought to the airport by Helen, Will’s tutor.  Our friendship with her will be lifelong, and we hope that one day she can travel to the USA so we can start to repay the kindness she showed us all year long.

China Eastern smacked us one more time with a three hour delay.  There is a reason this airline is not well-regarded.  But soon we were on the way.  Arriving in Shanghai was like entering a new country.  The city is modern, clean and cosmopolitan.  Easily the most Western city we had been in since last October’s visit to Hong Kong.

The next morning started fast, literally, as we took a ride on the Shanghai Maglev.  The Maglev train is a commercially operating magnetically levitated train operating on 30km of track from a station in central Pudong to the Pudong International Airport. Originally built as a demonstration of the technology, the train is still largely a ride for tourists and train enthusiasts.  We all went zipping along at 430km/h (267 mph).  It took 8 minutes to cover the 30km.  Impressions were as follows:

IMG_0911Ernie: Awesome! The ride was smooth, the train got up to speed very quickly and was amazingly quiet.
Johanna: Hmmmm….only 8 minutes from Point A to Point B…barely enough time to review my lists…
Will: Good. It was wild but scary. If we crashed, it would be bad.
Eden: Fun but creepy.

The train also provided perhaps the most humorous moment of the day.  I was struggling to remember the word for a dimple on a man’s chin.  It was a moment that demonstrated both the large population of English-speakers in Shanghai AND the fact that my English has rapidly declined…when a Chinese man across from us looked up and said, “It’s called a cleft chin, Miss.”

We were accompanied all day by Ronnie, a friend of a colleague of Ernie’s.  He knew Shanghai inside and out.  And told us his family history, which was incredible, and touched on China’s deep political history.  Both of his parents, as young adults, were individually sent to Yunnan Province, where we had just lived for the past year.  This came as part of the Down to the Countryside Movement implemented by Mao to essentially avoid an uprising.

They met, married and gave birth to Ronnie in Kunming, eventually returning to Shanghai after twenty years.  Incredible, but typical story for millions of Chinese.

Our day continued with a visit to the top of the tallest building in China, where we had lunch and took in the sights of Shanghai.  There had been rain and smog for two weeks, but as chance would have it, the skies cleared and we had blue skies after lunch and into the afternoon.  We strolled alone the Bund, a district along the water’s edge that was built by the British shortly after the Second Opium War.  To finish the day, Ernie and I visited  one more temple and Chinese garden…the kids preferring to stay in the comfort of the air conditioned minivan.  🙂

Our year in China complete, we returned to the hotel and toasted with dinner on the 30th floor of our hotel.  We laughed about how silly it felt that the year had come to a close…the time has gone both faster than the Maglev AND, at times, seemed to move at the pace of molasses falling from a jar.  There will be adjustments in our return, of course.  But after conquering Asia, we are certain that we can handle whatever comes next.

USA…here we come!

—Johanna and Ernie

Kunming Exit

The wind is at our backs now as we prepare to leave Kunming tomorrow (June 29 China Time). We are so very grateful that you have followed our journey. All the wonderful comments and encouragement have meant more than you can imagine.

Our plan is to blog a few more times as we transition back to life in the USA.  While our blog was at times more of a travel journal, the lasting part of our year is what we learned about China, Asia, ourselves and each other.  For that piece, I am chewing on compiling our stories and experiences from this year, and if that takes shape we will let you know here. In the meantime, you can find Ernie on Facebook and his blog, and Kids Yoga Speak is on PinterestFacebook, and

Safe and happy summer to all of you…


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The last image of the slideshow is what it looks like to be ready to go. . . (and yes, the internet connection is the last thing to get packed!)

Just another ridiculous moment…

Here is just an example of something we will most definitely miss here in Kunming. The unexpected. Just when you think you have seen it all, there is some ridiculous thing that happens. Ridiculous by our American standards, that is.

The other day we were enjoying a quiet afternoon when all of a sudden we heard a chainsaw. Jo and I looked at each other with perplexed facial expressions. Chainsaw? We live in the city, is that really a chainsaw? We ran to the window to find this scene unfolding.


There were many jaw-dropping things about what we saw, most noticeably the fact that cars has not been alerted to the falling tree.  There was also the fact that the tree cutter didn’t bother wearing safety goggles, a helmet, or gloves. Of course nobody here thought twice about the whole thing, but we pulled up a chair and soaked it all in. Won’t be seeing anything like this anytime soon…


Haven’t missed…

While there are many things we are looking forward to when we return to the USA, we’ll admit there are some things about home that we were happy to leave behind…and that we will not be too thrilled to return to.  In no particular order, these include:

1.     Cleaning the house.  We have been happy to have someone else clean our apartment while we have been here.  A little luxury we cannot afford at home.

2.     School politics and drama of any and all kinds.  Need I say more?

3.     Colorado snowstorms in April, and this year, May!

4.     A bigger house.  Makes #1 harder, but living in an 800 square foot apartment has at times really made us work together to maintain the peace.

5.     Television.  I am pretty sure the landlord thought I was joking when I asked her to remove the two, giant televisions from the apartment when we moved in.  After the third request she did the deed and we were thrilled to live without for the year.

6.     School functions.  The solution to this one isn’t fewer school functions, of course.  But it’s saying NO once in awhile, right?  And then letting go of the guilt for SAYING no.

7.     Driving a car in general, but specifically traffic jams and parking hassles.  And glad I will be getting reacquainted with driving in a town of 1000 people and not in a big city.  Driving a car is like riding a bike, right?

8.     Overscheduled children.

9.     Junk mail.


Vientiane, Laos

After a week in Vietnam, it was off to Laos, where we had only one day to explore.  Initially we had planned to fly directly from Hanoi back to China, but China Eastern had other ideas.  This particular airline has a thing to learn about customer service.  In March they cancelled a flight to Myanmar just 10 days before my departure.  We have frequently had 2-3 hour delays on their watch and this time, our flight home to China was bumped by a day, resulting in a 24 layover in Laos.  Not that this was a bad thing.  In fact, I had been disappointed that we were not going to get there this year.  So we grabbed the delay and made plans to see as much as we could in 24 hours.

Our cousins had been through Vientiane, Laos just a few months ago, and were able to give us the shorthand on what to see and do.  To start, they recommended we get around by tuk tuk.  This turned out to be a breeze, as the city was small by Asian standards.  It felt more relaxed and peaceful than most other places we had visited.  Our first stop was a local fruit shake restaurant where they made delicious shakes of every conceivable fruit.  We managed to order the initial four shakes, but somehow our server thought we wanted a second round.  We watched as more and more frosty glasses of shakes were delivered to our table until we had a total of seven shakes.  Not that we weren’t appreciative.  In fact, all seven were inhaled in the 95 degree heat.

The rest of the afternoon we moved by tuk tuk and slooooow walks around a few local temples and in the evening, the local night market.

Our last morning we woke early to watch the giving of alms.  At dawn Buddhist monks from local monastaries go on rounds in the neighborhood to collect food from local laypeople.  Our hotel explained to us that this is considered the first step on one’s journey to Nirvana, and not, as we had thought, an act of charity.  It is more a way to connect the spiritual world with the everyday world.  After receiving rice from the locals, the monks said a brief prayer before walking to their next stop.  I wasn’t comfortable taking a video, but luckily someone else WAS, and here is a one minute snipet of what almsgiving looks like.  Pretty humbling.

As we boarded our last flight home to China, Eden announced that for the next two weeks, she wanted me to speak only Chinese to her.  I can’t say I’m batting 100%, but I am more than happy to put in the effort.  She insists her Chinese is now better than mine, and while I can’t agree in the vocabulary department, she definitely has me beat in the pronunciation department.  What a joy to see how far both kids have come with their language skills.

We’ve entered the last 10 days here in China, and hope to have several more posts before we arrive home in August.  First stop will be two days in Shanghai next week, then a one week layover in Hawaii to regroup and battle jet lag.  Then onward to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for a month before the final leg to Denver in August.  Stay tuned…