Archive for August, 2015

Countdown to China

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

What seemed so far off at the beginning of summer is almost here. Next weekend, we’re driving our youngest daughter Jennifer Lynn back down to school in Southern California. On the following Wednesday, she’ll fly out of LAX to begin her year studying abroad in Shanghai.

Why China? Steve and I joke that one of Jennifer Lynn’s life goals is to be as far away as possible from her AARP parents and the possibility of having to live out her life in a 1600 square foot condo in Cotati. Since Pepperdine doesn’t offer a study abroad program on the moon, China had to suffice as a destination.

From Jennifer’s perspective, the reason she chose the Shanghai program is because she likes a challenge.  She is sure that assimilating to the Chinese culture and tackling the language will test her mettle much more than studying abroad in Heidelberg or Buenos Aires.  Her “bring it on” attitude is how she shows her competitive streak. When her classmates lament the difficulty of speaking German or Spanish, I know she is thinking, “Not only do I have to learn how to speak a new language, I have to learn how to write a new language. Top that!!”

While we were running errands yesterday to gather the remaining items on her list that she’ll need for living in Asia, she was describing the reactions that she gets from people when she tells them that she’s going to be studying abroad in China. She said that if she told someone she was spending her sophomore year in Italy, they would nod and smile and tell her how much she’ll enjoy the architecture, art, and history, and what a great experience it will be.

But when she tells them she’s going to be in Shanghai for a year, their face becomes very serious and they ominously respond, “You’ll never be the same.” What does that mean? She’s going to come back as a zombie? I think people have that reaction just because it’s hard for most of us to picture what life in China is like.

We noticed a BBC TV series on Netflix called “Wild China,” so as a little bit of immersion into the vastness of China, we watched it. One of the scenes showed a Chinese “pharmacy” where the patient received a remedy that consisted of a dried lizard head and bags of scary looking stuff – were those beetle exoskeletons that the doctor just scooped out of that bin? Yes, life in China – and especially Chinese medicine – is very different than we are used to. No wonder the info packet from the school advises bringing your own year-long supply of Tums and Imodium.

While it’s sad for us to think about not seeing her for eight months, we know that this is going to be an amazing experience for her. Not only is she going to learn about the art and history of China – something largely ignored in our European-centric curriculums – but she is also going where the action is in terms of today’s world economy which I think will have lots more potential for her influencing her future than learning about Renaissance artists.

Yes, she will come back changed. But I believe it will be in the best possible ways.
As a coda to my post and as a way to procrastinate packing, Jennifer Lynn created this Instagram post:

 It’s 10 days now until I leave for China and I figure I need all the luck I can get #packingprocrastination #speedpaint

A video posted by Jenny Rustad (@jennylynnrust) on



Cat Cafe

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Our middle daughter Valerie loves cats; she gets teased by her siblings about turning into a crazy cat lady when she gets old. In the five years since she left to go away to college, we’ve never been sure who she misses more…us or the cats. Many, many photos of our obnoxious orange cat Nigel have been texted to her.

Since she can’t have a cat in the townhouse that she shares in Southern California, maximizing her facetime with cats when she visits is a top priority.

So prior to her arrival for a mini-vacation with us, Valerie sent us a link to a place that she had discovered in San Francisco called . It’s a cat lounge/tea house where you can pay to play with cats.

At first, I didn’t understand the concept. Cats sleep 18 hours a day so as much as I enjoy a trip into the city, I was wondering what made visiting the cats at KitTea so special that it required reservations plus a 50 mile drive when Valerie could pet our snoozing feline freeloaders – as well as a few random neighborhood cats – for free, any day at any time?

But it’s not just about petting cats, it’s the total experience, right? So I went online and made reservations for 30 minute sessions ($15 per person with unlimited tea) for Valerie and Jennifer Lynn in the cat lounge.  Like everything these days, liability is a consideration so there’s a waiver to sign in case a kitty goes rogue during your visit.

We arrived early (and were glad we did – more on that later) for our daughters’ 11:30 appointment at KitTea in Hayes Valley. The first impression when you walk in is how bright, clean, and sunny the space is. We were greeted and told the rules – place your tea order in the cat lounge and pick it up just outside the door; health restrictions permit serving it to you in the cat lounge.

I didn’t make reservations for Steve and me – I’m fine with only petting cats that I can pet for free – so we sipped our tea in a delightful café setting and watched the girls playing with the kitties from the other side of a big glass window.

And they really were kittens (not cats!) so at this time of the morning, they were playful and energetic instead of just being fuzzy slugs. The lounge is filled with cat toys that guests can use to entice the kittens to pounce and leap. We got our money’s worth in entertainment value; we might not have felt that way if our reservations had been for later in the day.  When we strolled past after having lunch, there were some very tired kitties; still cute but lacking on the interactive scale.

Providing entertainment for cat lovers is great but the best part about KitTea is that it is also an adoption center. Twenty-one cats have been adopted since it opened less than two months ago. As much as we would have loved to make it 22, Valerie did not get to bring home a kitten for a souvenir.

The experience exceeded expectations. A big round of ap-paws for KitTea!

China is where she wants to be

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

A couple of Saturdays ago, when we were driving through the city from Hayes Valley to the Golden Gate Bridge, we happened to go past the Chinese Consulate on Laguna Street. I was pretty excited – not quite as excited as when we were driving through San Francisco and I saw a naked guy (except for cowboy boots) walking along Market Street – but excited nonetheless to have accidentally found the Consulate.

You see, visiting the Chinese Consulate has loomed large in our summer plans. Our daughter Jennifer Lynn will be studying abroad in Shanghai next year which requires a student Visa. She can only get her Visa by taking her passport and university documents to the Chinese Consulate for processing. It’s a little like going before the All Powerful Oz to find out if you can be admitted into the Emerald City of the Peoples Republic.

Finding the location of the Consulate was perfect timing because when we got home that afternoon, the paperwork for Jennifer’s Visa application was waiting in the mailbox. So Jennifer and I made plans for taking a day off work and heading back into San Francisco.

I’ve never traveled outside of the country so I had no idea what the process for getting a Visa would be like. But visiting a Consulate conjured up images of diplomats and protocol. I pictured Jennifer and me entering through the stately double doors into a sedately carpeted room where a beautiful Asian woman sits behind a mahogany desk greeting visitors and directing them to the appropriate office for Visa processing. People speak in hushed tones because important diplomatic work is going on.

So on Wednesday when we arrived at the Consulate, the sign on the door said that to get to the Visa office, we needed to walk up to Geary Street and turn right.

Okay, no problem. I was a little disappointed we weren’t going to enter the Consulate through the impressive entrance with the red Chinese emblem but at least we were within walking distance of where we need to be. When we got to the entrance, there were about 15 people waiting for security to check the contents of their bags and backpacks.

Once we were inside, my brain couldn’t make sense of what I saw. It was a noisy, crowed room with linoleum floors, metal chairs and white cinderblock walls punctuated with the sound of screaming kids. Where are the plush Oriental rugs, lacquered screens, carved Chinese dragons, and tea ceremonies? I kept blinking but nothing changed.

Then it hit me. Oh my gosh – the Consulate is the Chinese DMV! I was so disappointed. “Now serving 104 at Window 8” scrolled across the digital board in both English and Chinese characters. Jennifer had number 186.

Jennifer was totally amused at my naiveté. “You know, Mom, I’m just not that special.” I suppose that just because travelling to China is totally outside my realm of experience doesn’t mean that it is for lots of other people – especially in the Bay Area.

Visiting the Consulate wasn’t the experience I was expecting but it still was a memorable experience. Great people watching and good bonding time with Jennifer during the two hours that we waited until her number was called. And the good news?  We get to do it all again in a week when we go to pick up her Visa.