Farewell to Our Little Lao-lao: “再见, 小老老. 我们会想你.”

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It was a sad departure for my mom and me yesterday.

Not so much for the mother-daughter farewell  as I head back to China, but more for the loss of our Chihuahua, Xiao Lao-lao,  Little Old.

Despite my best efforts, and those of our veterinarian, Little Lao-lao had to be put to sleep on Thursday.  In China, we call this 安乐死 (ahn-le-suh).  The literal translation is “peaceful death” or “safe death.”  Such a nice way to say “euthanasia” and one that feels more appropriate for our little guy.

Our veterinarian office has a special room for owners to say goodbye to their furry friends.  This is where I found myself on Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m.  In a small lounge room, equipped with comfy couch and  plenty of tissues, the staff laid out a blanket for Lao-lao.  I took my seat with the dog, wrapped up in his blanket, and waited.

My stoic demeanor came close to collapsing when the staff came in, one by one, to say goodbye to our little dog and ask if I needed anything before he was put to sleep.  I was truly touched by their concern and understanding.

Thank you so much to Farm and Family Veterinary for everyone’s sympathy and hugs during that difficult moment.  I especially appreciated Dr. Ericka Yeley, who quietly walked me through the entire procedure to make sure I was fully prepared, then made sure I had plenty of time to say goodbye, both before and after, without feeling rushed.

Everyone’s process is different when euthanizing a pet, I’m sure.  Ericka’s many years of experience as an animal caregiver certainly showed.  She was a wonderful comforting presence throughout and I am deeply grateful.

Lao-lao’s Speedy Little  Gait Missed About Town

I imagine Lao-lao’s absence will be noticed in my area.

Everyone knew Lao-lao.

For 9 years, his fame has spread throughout Marshall, not only due to my articles about him in my hometown newspaper, but also my mom’s weekly column, “Walk with Me,” in which she muses on her thoughts while walking the dog.

Lao-lao and my mom have always been seen together, winding their way along sidewalks, across streets and down the center of Archer Avenue or around the courthouse.  He’s been carried into the library  and even the post office, if my mom needed to quickly mail a letter.  At the United Methodist Church, Pastor Richard Lewis and office manager Kelley Ray knew Lao-lao well as he’d pop in for visits every so often whenever my mom, Outreach Committee Chairperson, had some church duties to fulfill.

Where most dogs were excluded, Lao-lao received a pass as an honorary Marshall resident and citizen.  No frowns, scowls, side-looks of annoyance or “No dogs allowed, please!” came from any of our Marshall folk.

Lao-lao was always welcome.

I can’t paint the rosiest of pictures by saying Lao-lao was the friendliest of dogs, however.  He had somewhat of a nippy disposition in his old age, one which had him giving toothless snaps at those he didn’t like.

Even my mom and I had a few of those if we petted him too much.

He’d squawk and trill his discontent on many occasions.  We labeled these uniquely, startling Lao-lao vocalizations as his “Stop messing with me!” cues and we took them seriously.  We left him alone and let him snuggle deep down into his blanket, happy to be ignored until it was walking or feeding time.

Despite his crankiness and odd idiosyncrasies, we still loved him.

Farewell, Little One!

My mom and I will miss our little guy dearly but we know he is safe and sound, nestled deep in the arms of Buddha — the best sort of heaven a Chinese dog can ever hope for.

Here’s wishing you Ping An, Peace, Little Lao-lao.  You will be forever in our hearts.

 

 

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A Taste of Home

It happens to all of us.

While traveling either in country or abroad, there comes a point where we crave some specialty food item that comforts and soothes.  We all have our favorites, be it fresh Illinois sweet corn for those in the Midwest or, for me in China, difficult-to-get Kraft macaroni-and-cheese or Kellogg’s pop tarts.

For people worldwide, a taste of home matters.

When I brought to the States a Chihuahua rescue from China, a broken-jawed, starving, toothless little thing I stumbled across on the streets of Sichuan’s capital city, Chengdu, I sometimes wondered if he missed the smells, sights or tastes of his native land.  After 9 years living in America, did Xiao Lao-lao (Little Old) even remember his home country much at all?

The answer to that question came quite clearly while I was recently visiting my hometown for my summer vacation.

Visits to Marshall, Illinois, for Holiday

When the Chinese college I teach at dismisses for summer break, I always spend at least one month in Marshall with my mom.  We enjoy our summer catch-ups:  eating out, discussing in-depth local and national news reports, watching together our favorite TV programs, walking Lao-lao early mornings or late evenings and taking short road trips to nearby tourist destinations.

It was the day before our planned 6-day journey to House-on-the-Rock (Spring Green, Wisconsin) that it happened:  Lao-lao got sick.

Leaving Our Little Boy Behind

Looking back, I see his illness had been creeping up on him for a few days.

We noticed his eagerness for walks started to wane.  He began eating less and less.

The day before our trip, he turned to his comfy basket where he snuggled down deep into his blanket and wouldn’t move.  Getting up seemed agony, and walking onto the back deck, then down the stairs to the grass to do his business, had him wobbling and swaying unsteadily on his weak legs.  We began carrying him outside, setting him on the ground and watching him quickly use the toilet, then stand there shivering, waiting for us to take him back inside.

We had already scheduled him to be a week in our vet’s clinic, which kennels dogs as well.  What we hadn’t scheduled was us dropping off a sick dog into their midst.

Dr. Ericka Gives Her Expertise

The morning we were leaving, we delayed our departure to the afternoon so I could have Dr. Ericka Yeley examine our ill little canine and give us her input about treatment while we were away.  He had a slight fever, which she addressed by prescribing antibiotics.  A blood sample was taken and sent off to the lab, the results of which would be the next day.

“Leave him here while you’re gone.  We’ll take good care of him,” Ericka assured me, “Call us at any time and we’ll give you updates.”

Off we went, rather worried and eager to call the next day for his lab reports.

The results weren’t good: His liver enzymes were elevated, and he’d lost a whopping 1 pound since he last visited in March.  On a 5 1/2 pound Chi, that’s a lot.

The voice of Hailey, the vet assistant, sounded somewhat bleak as she gave us this news.  And Dr. Yeley likewise seemed hesitant to give us too many words of encouragement about his recovery.

Daily Reports and Our Return to Marshall

Our 6-day road trip was peppered with calls to the vet’s and worries in between sightseeing.  The day before we landed back in Marshall, we heard that Lao-lao’s meds were kicking in and he was beginning to eat but not on his own.  He needed to be primed first with hand-feeding but at least he was trying.

I was so anxious to pick him up that I didn’t even bother to swing home first. On our return Sunday evening,  I made a straight shot from entering Marshall on Route 1  to the vet’s.

Although closed, high schooler Sara was taking care of the housed animals for the day, which she’s been hired to do as a part-time job.  Pick-ups during non-business hours (such as Sundays) are usually not allowed but because we are good clients, and due to Lao-lao’s special circumstances, Dr. Ericka gave permission for our Chinese immigrant to come home.

Poor little guy was still weak and disoriented.  He didn’t even recognize me once his cage was opened.  After a few hand-smells and a pet, though, he knew he was going home.

He Won’t Eat!!

I was convinced once back in our care, he’d bounce back right away.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Lao-lao had no interest in food at all.  His softened dry dog food was a bust.  His favorite turkey  and ham lunchmeat nibbles were ignored.  Freshly cooked chicken tenders, cut into edible pieces for a dog with few teeth, remained in his dish.

At the Walmart, I picked up several different brands of wet food (not cheap!) in the hopes one of them would hit the spot.  All had to be blender-pureed, which I did with care and great confidence he’d lap up one of them.  They certainly smelled good, at least to me!

But Lao-lao didn’t share my opinion.  He barely sniffed at the food, lapped up his water and swayed his way back to his basket bed.

After using a syringe to get his liquid meds into him, I began using another syringe to feed him the pureed selections thinking that would stimulate his hunger.

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Even after several feedings, he still wasn’t interested in continuing on his own.

At Wits’ End

My mom and I were giving up.  Lao-lao was close to 13 years old.  Maybe it was just his time to go?

 

This is the sad story I passed along to our Marshall Chinese restaurant owners, who are from Fujian Province.

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The married couple speak little English and miss their Chinese magazines and snack foods, so I bring those with me to treat them  on every visit back to Marshall.

The two sympathized with me concerning the dog before sending me home with free stir-fried favorites of mine:  chicken and broccoli from the buffet, egg rolls and fried sugared donuts for my mom.

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Needless to say, I wasn’t much in the mood for food as I felt so bad for our little dog.  After all my efforts at feeding him had failed, I felt disheartened and hopeless.

A Taste of Home

I entered our house with my carry-out food items, the smell of which filled the entire downstairs.  Chinese food odors do tend to linger for quite a long time after being placed in a room.  Americanized Chinese restaurant items are no different.

As I plopped the bags on the kitchen counter, Little Old suddenly appeared in the doorway.  His ears perked high.  His dull eyes brightened.  His nose twitched.

After 10 days of not wanting to eat much of anything, was our little guy  hungry?

I picked out the tender thinly-sliced chicken, washed off the overly-salty soy sauce, shredded the meat into serving sizes suitable for a toothless dog, placed the moist mound into his dish and waited to see what would happen.

Lao-lao stumbled his way on wobbly legs to his bowl.  I backed away so as not to disturb him.  He sniffed the offerings, took a careful lick with his tongue, somehow managed to shove a small helping to his back gum area, managed to chew a bit and swallowed.

He paused, thinking.

It was apparent something familiar was rotating around in his canine brain, and whatever it was, he wanted more.

I have never seen our immigrant Chi go at his food as quickly or ravenously as he did that Chinese chicken.  I imagine memories of a distant China, ones that included leftover meals from his previous owner, came wafting back in full swing:  irresistible, tantalizing, impossible-to-ignore.

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After finishing off the sizable amount I had prepared, he started in on the pureed stuff after which came a big drink of water and a dapper trot back to his basket bed.  He hoisted himself up and over the rim, dug around in his blanket, snuggled deep into the bedding, gave a huge sigh of contentment and went to sleep.

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The Epilogue

It’s been a month since Lao-lao’s near-death illness, and 10 days since Chinese chicken was introduced into his diet. Since that time, I have been going down to the Chinese restaurant to pick up more stir-fried meat favorites which I’ve been freezing to chop up later for Lao-lao’s feedings.  The restaurant owners love to hear my Lao-lao stories over and over again:  The little Chinese  immigrant who craved his native favorite– stir-fried chicken slices in soy sauce, woked up hot and fresh by the hands of those who knew best how to prepare a little taste of home.

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The English Language Resource Center: Up and Running!!

It’s taken 15 years, but this past semester finally had the English Language Resource Center trickle into being.  

       I had plenty of help this time around instead of going it on my own, which I had at one point considered. I was advised, however, to let the school finance the Center so as not to create any embarrassment on the leaders’ part that their foreign teacher did this without their help.

       I completely agreed with that suggestion.  It was decided I would provide the resource materials with my US network of friends (that’s all of you!); the school would provide the furnishings and office equipment.

      Teacher Huang and Teacher Chen were my go-to guys in this venture.   They helped to complete school monetary request forms, receive official stamps from departmental offices, apply for school credit card use, accompany me on four trips to different office furniture stores, arrange for delivery of items and lastly, assist in moving things around for eventual room use.  I next invited students to help me clean, after which we stocked the shelves, cabinets and drawers with the many games and fun items so many of you have sent over the years.  All those boxes of supplies I’ve been dragging around for years are no longer taking up space in my apartment.  The contents have found a home!   

      In April, Zuri (our school’s U.S. Peace Corps teacher) and I were finally able to open the Center for our weekly English Corner night.   We also added private activity gatherings for our own students on other days of the week.   

      English Corner was especially well-attended, including not only the college students but some of our teachers who brought their children.  Among the kids, the card game Uno was a favorite along with Barrel-of-Monkeys and the Arts-and-Crafts area for drawing or coloring.  

      The college kids found the Center a great place to relax, spend time with their foreign teachers, browse through the displayed English books and magazines and enjoy playing language games not available in China.   

As you can see from the pictures below, we’re off to a great start!

Plans for Developing The Center

      My Center plans for the next semester include: Hosting a grand opening for teachers and leaders, having regular “Open Door” hours 3 times a week, enlisting student volunteers to help clean, monitor and assist in the room, and creating a classroom material development section.  That particular area I will constantly supply with free materials (English reward stickers, construction paper, glue, markers, crayons, tape) for the 3rd year English Education majors to use during their weeks of practice teaching, or what we in the States call Student Teaching.  Many create their own visual aids but have to pay for those out-of-pocket.  Not in the Center.  All materials will be free, with plenty of space for our future English teachers to develop their teaching aids with advice, suggestions or help from others.

       There are only two items I still wish for:  a flat-screen TV for showing English language movies (downloaded from the Net or chosen from my over-1,000 DVD collection) and a table-top printer/copier.  Discussions are underway if the school will provide these or not. I should know by October, after which I will decide how to proceed if the school feels it’s not within the budget to do so.

Here in the States:  Gathering Items to Take Back

I mentioned in the previous entry that I am currently in the States for my summer holiday.  I have  two weeks to go and am already stocking up on more games to take back with me to China for the Center.  I have collected some holiday banners from the Dollar Store and am cruising the Walmart kids’ aisles, thinking what games to add to the activity cabinet.   Such fun to be able to do this in person.

Closing with a Big Thank You for the Supply Gifts and Donations

While back, I have spoken at 2 churches (Morton UMC in Morton, IL and Mt. Carmel UMC in Mt. Carmel, IL) which I missed last summer.  Both congregations were very generous in donating items and funding for the Center so I am not only able to buy things but ship them back as well.  As some might know who have sent me things before, the cost of mailing is very, very high.  No longer does our US post office have surface mail available.  Everything goes airmail.

It ain’t cheap, folks!

What doesn’t go into the suitcase will be going  toward the postage of boxes headed for the post office.

But most exciting is I now have enough to purchase the TV and printer on my own!  If the school deems it necessary to cancel the request I’ve already placed for those two things, the gift money I have received will go toward getting them on my own.

Many, many thanks to you who have helped make that possible. Can’t wait to get started in stocking the room with more for the students to use and enjoy.

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A generous donation from Tremont UMC and Morton UMC (shown here at the church, including Pastor Gary Feldman to the left) has given me enough to see all my “wish list” items complete the Resource Center upon my return. Thank you all!!

Posted in China, From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou, Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou, Tales from The Yangtze River, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Striving for Most Excellent Vocational College Status

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   Note:  I am currently enjoying some vacation time in America with my mom in Marshall, IL.  The semester has been crazy-busy, which has made me a bit lax on postings.  Let me update you a bit on some happenings from China, … Continue reading

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My Tomb Sweeping Holiday Plans

Today is a holiday, Qing Ming Jie, or Tombsweeping Festival.

Many families for the next 3 days will be traveling to the countryside to visit grave sites of family members.  They’ll clean the area, place incense and offerings of fruit or drinks to their loved ones, decorate the mounds with tissue-papered flags and set off firecrackers.

This tradition, April 5, used to be just that: a tradition.

Now, it’s a holiday with April 5 the official day off and April 6 added to extend to a 3-day “holiday”.  I say “holiday” because government offices and schools are required to make up the Friday (the unofficial holiday) on Sunday.  Thus no church for me this weekend since my Friday classes have been moved to Sunday.

After all these years in China, I still don’t quite get the “We have a 3-day holiday!” when, actually, it’s no holiday at all.  At our school, we are also required to make up the official holiday as well.  We do that on our own time, scheduling our classes whenever we can.

Defeats the purpose of having a holiday, in my opinion, but nothing much I can do about it.

Our weather at present is rainy.  After our sweltering, 80-degree heat with roasting sunshine these past few days, we have now turned dreary and dark and wet.  Not sure how many families will be traipsing along muddy pathways, wading through weeds and muck to get to those countryside graves.  At least, not today, anyway.

A Visit to Tong Tan on Saturday

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A visit to my friends’, Chen and Che

My holiday plans are to visit a farming family, Chen and Che, on Saturday if the weather clears up. I have mentioned them before in previous posts.  The family adopted an abandoned dog on my campus, which I had been trying to find a home for.  This was 3 years ago.  SP (Stairwell Puppy) now has a wonderful life in the countryside, enjoying plenty of freedom as a rural canine.

In exchange for this kind gesture to take in a dog, I have gathered together a few people, including my mom and myself, to make sure the couple’s 14-year-old daughter gets through school, from high school to college, if necessary. The family is extremely poor and having trouble making ends meet. I feel so grateful several of us are working together to help them in this manner.

Below are a few pictures from my last visit, taken with a former student, “Angel” Zhang. Mrs. Chen’s mother, 84, was also visiting at that time and so was the girl, “Julie”.  Usually, she is boarding at school in Luzhou (2 hours away) but for that particular weekend, she returned home to visit.

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Me, Angel (former student) and Julie (Che Liangyu)

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SP. A happy life in the countryside.

Julie and her grandma, at her home.

 

Angel hears the story of living in China 80 years ago: a hard, bitter life of hunger and poverty in rural China

 

SP, always by my side on every visit I make to the family

The new addition to the home, built  5 years ago, still has the family in debt.

This is the sod house which they lived in for 22 years. Now this is used as storage.

Mrs. Chen picks cabbages to send home with me.

Every visit, Mrs. Chen makes sure we get a home-cooked meal. Here she is with her husband, Che, and Angel

The outer sitting room of the new home is spacious and very typical of the new-style of housing for farmers.

The kitchen is still traditional: kindling is used to stoke the fire for stir-frying meals.

Chen and Che: A hard life, struggling to make ends meet and pay off debts by selling vegetables or getting nearby construction jobs.

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Chen, Che, SP and me: Saying farewell until my next visit

Until next report, here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your day.

 

 

Posted in From Along the Yangtze, Tales from The Yangtze River, Travel | 1 Comment

My Easter Celebrations

I’ve had two great Easter celebrations:  One in the classroom with my students, explaining to them the religious and secular traditions of this day, and then with the Chinese church community in Luzhou.

Easter lessons had us learning the meaning of this day for Christians, including religious symbols, and then the following week, taking care of the secular aspects of the day, such as the Easter bunny, chocolate eggs, coloring eggs, and Easter egg hunts.

My display at home, which were comprised of all my classroom props.

I took a lily stalk to class, which included a drawing to see who took home the lily. Everyone, however, received an Easter seal of a lily. Thank you to all who send those to me every year! They make everyone’s day.

 

Students in English Corner hear about Easter culture celebrations

Drawing symbols of Easter on the board is a great way to remember our lesson

 

Palm-Passion Sunday and Easter Sunday

The Luzhou Protestant Church, built in 1913 and still going strong today.

Once again, being a member of the choir truly made my celebrations for Easter extremely special.

Our Chinese Luzhou church now has Palm-Passion Sunday, which was quite moving.  We had many readings by 5 pastors, 2 who were visiting, and our two choirs (the elderly choir and our adult choir) gave our well-rehearsed anthems.

Our adult choir really had to work hard on that one:  2 1/2 hours of practice on Thursday night, then an extra hour in the morning from 8:30 – 9:30 before our director felt we were truly prepared and ready for worship.

The  Palm-Passion service ran 3 hours.  Many of the congregation and choir were so moved by the readings and our fervent prayers that they cried.  We had many packets of tissues being passed throughout the choir and the congregation during our Passion-Palm Sunday.

Here are a few visuals.

Easter Sunday 

The entire week before Easter had worship being held every morning, at 9:30, for those who could attend.  Choir practice was held for us as usual on Thursday night.  No special services that evening, just the choir going over the anthem for Sunday.  Fortunately for me, our choir was singing a medley of familiar hymn tunes for me:  He Arose, He Lives and The Old Rugged Cross.  Just getting through the Chinese characters was a challenge, as always.  Interestingly enough, the choir members had trouble not with the Chinese but with the tunes.  Some Western tunes are not as familiar to the Chinese as they are for us.  While the men struggled (and I mean really struggled!) to get the notes, I was the lead for the sopranos as I had all the right notes just not the right words sometimes.

Our cooperative efforts worked out well for practice but I must say that for our actual worship, we fell flat, literally and figuratively.

Such are choirs everywhere, I’m sure.

Practice before our Easter Sunday service had us ironing out the right notes for our medley.

Easter itself, despite our anthem errors, was jubilant, especially as we had an exuberant message, baptisms, communion and stir-fried rice noodles plus a hard-boiled Easter egg were served to the entire congregation afterwards.

We started earlier on Easter Sunday so as to finish by noon.   Over 800 were in attendance.

42 adults were baptized.

Our communion went very fast, with plenty of communion ushers serving everyone in the sanctuary.

Our church ladies certainly were busy cooking up huge vats of rice noodles all morning, plus boiling over 1,000 eggs the day before so everyone could receive an Easter egg before they left.

There was also the regular evening service for the young people from 7 – 9 p.m. I don’t usually attend the evening service but I received video and photo postings on my phone of the service.

In other words, a really bustling Eastertime at the Luzhou Protestant Church.

Hope all of you had a great Easter, too.

Posted in Easter Celebrations in China, From Along the Yangtze, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou, Travel | 1 Comment

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

This posting is mostly for my Chinese students and friends.

This morning, my mom and I spent 3 hours enjoying the Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Observatory.

Short Introduction

Lincoln Park Zoo, a 35-acre area located in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, was founded in 1868, making it among the oldest of zoos in North America. It is also one of a few free admission zoos in the United States. Only 10% of the funding for this zoo comes from the city of Chicago. Other funding comes from private donations, sales in the zoo shop and special venue rentals and sponsorship of animals by local citizens.

Lincoln Park Zoo is home to a wide variety of animals. The zoo’s exhibits include big cats, polar bears, penguins, gorillas, reptiles, monkeys, birds, reptiles and  other species totalling about 1,100 animals from some 200 species.

Our Findings

In the winter, my mom and I wondered if visiting the zoo was worth it or not. Would the animals be out and about?  Would all the inside housing areas for the animals be open?  Would we really enjoy our outing or feel bad seeing animals in small enclosures and unhappy?

As it turned out, it was definitely not a waste of time.  We easily rode the bus from our hotel area, landed at the zoo, picked up a map and off we went.  The greatest treat was seeing animals up close and personal, with plenty of opportunities to take pictures.

Especially fun was seeing so many little kids (pre-school, kindergarten and grade school) taking Friday field trips with their teachers or parents.  Watching their faces light up while seeing the animals was priceless!

 

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Our walking tour through Lincoln Park also included the Lincoln Park Observatory.   This is a Victorian Era glass house, built in the late nineteenth century. It contains four rooms displaying exotic plants from around the world.

 

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We managed the entire zoo quite comfortably within 3 hours, which was just enough time to return and rest up for our evening taking in another theater show, 1/2 price tickets which we purchased from Hot Tix.

A nice way to close our last full day in Chicago.

Saturday it’s heading back down south on the Amtrak where we’ll be picking up Little Lao-lao at the kennels.  Weather reports have us from 40 to 50 degrees for Saturday and Sunday.  No worries of ice for a dog pick-up this time around. Guess I can leave my mom’s shoe-cleats in the closet.  What a relief!  I’d rather not have a repeat of last week’s harrowing icy experience in the vet’s parking lot.  I’m sure Lao-lao doesn’t, either, nor Christina.

Next reports will be a few dog stories from China, in honor of the Year of the Dog.  Ping An (Peace), everyone!

 

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