Archive 2018

Laraine and the Dumpling Gang

China Foreign Affairs University sponsored a gala the week before Christmas. They correctly surmised that some of the “foreign experts” on campus would want to learn how to make Chinese dumplings.

Laraine (second from left) enjoys some quality dumpling time with Ruth Ann Martin (3rd from left, from South Africa), Shelly (4th from left, CFAU administrator and Communist Party liaison) and Lynn (2nd from right, CFAU administrator). They are joined by some expert dumpling makers on the ends.
Ruth Ann is a natural dumpling maker
The finished product! YUM!

Is Christmas Gift Giving a Mistake?

Christmas Gifts

The spirit of giving is a beautiful part of Christmas. But when families have so many things gathering dust in their closets, the “wonder and awe” that is such a big part of the Christmas spirit can suffer. In their yet-to-be-published book, “Surviving by a Thread: Finding Joy, Abundance and Resilience in a Turbulent World,” the Chamberlains identify a survival “thread” called “Give Up and Let Go.”

Learning to give up and let go is critical to the flow of abundance in our lives. This is no more evident than at Christmastime. In the book, Jeremy recalls an unusual discussion with a young mother:

“I remember coming across someone else who seemed pretty conscious of this ‘letting go’ thing. It was the mother of a family I met once. They were getting ready for Christmas. There were several small children and their Christmas tree was surrounded by many wrapped gifts. But at the same time, they still had a good number of toys and games left over from the last Christmas in their children’s rooms. When I talked to the mother, she said something I’ve never forgotten.”

“What did she say?” Laraine asked.

“She said, ‘We love this time of year because it’s a perfect time to sort through the toys and games from years past and get rid of those that are unusable or seldom used. Our children have learned to give away or throw away their old toys at least one time every year.’ . . .

If we could help our children shift their mindsets away from accumulation towards the direction of abundance, which includes the concept of “flow,” we would be teaching them a valuable lesson. They would appreciate their toys a little more, learn to experience the joy of giving, and avoid the bad energy that comes with too much clutter.  

There is certainly nothing wrong with gift-giving at Christmas. But by taking a few subtle steps in the direction of abundant thinking, we can make the giving more positive and meaningful.

Sneaking Around the Summer Palace on a Bum Knee

China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) participated in an annual activity with other schools at the Summer Palace in Beijing. The purpose was to walk around the large lake which constitutes the majority of the center part of the property. Instead of doing the 8 kilometer walk this year, we decided to sneak off the path and see other sights there. We realized that by staying with the group, walking the perimeter of the massive estate like we did last year, we missed out on many of the wonders of this beautiful area. Because there were checkpoints located at various spots around the property, and we were wearing the blue sweaters provided by the organizers, we had to sneak around so they wouldn’t keep telling us we were lost. So we did NOT get a certificate or a prize for completing the walk. Instead, we got a greater appreciation for the palatial beauty of the area.  It was awesome. 

Danger! Deep Water! No Romping!

With his knee bothering him from so much hiking, Chuck sat at the bottom and waited for Laraine to come back from a hike up the stairs to the top of the palace. Going up would have been no problem for him; it’s the coming down part that’s bad.

Laraine’s climb was to the top of that building in the background.

The view was rewarding from the top. Here’s the sunset over the Summer Palace grounds in Beijing.

Lots of stairs to hike. Chuck and his bad knee did okay. He only chose to sit out on just one of the climbs.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon? Nope. . . It’s Usually Blue in Mongolia

Our October, 2018 National Week holiday trip to Inner Mongolia included a visit to a temple in HohHot (pronounced: ho huh hot). It differed from the more traditional Chinese temples south into the main part of China. Here, the locals tend to bring brightly colored (especially blue) cloth to leave behind as a sign they want their wishes to come true.  

It is always fun to see couples in traditional dress.

This sweet lady came up to us begging for money. Many of the handicapped there do not have wheelchairs so they sit on rollers to get around.

Sand, Gnats and Mad Max: Exploring Mongolian Sand Dunes

Part of our National Week (October, 2018) tour took place at a desert resort in the sand dunes. We did not stay the night, but enjoyed several hours at this very unique venue. We had certainly been to many American dunes, which are usually very undeveloped.  We didn’t know what to expect at a sand dunes in Mongolia. We were surprised to see a massive tourist site with able cars, odd post-apocalyptic dune buggies, a Disney-like train, a large swimming complex, camel rides, sand sleds, and even a massive tent arena all plopped into the middle of an ocean of fine powdery sand.

Most of our fellow tourists were Chinese nationals taking their week-long holiday with us. It took over an hour in line to finally climb onto our cable car ride to the dunes. During our wait in line, we were engulfed by tiny little gnats that descended in swarms. We had to cover our mouths so we could breath without sucking in little creatures. Once we got to the dunes, there were no gnats (thank heavens!)

The view from inside one of our “Mad Max” post-apocalyptic vehicles.


Each “Mad Max” sand boat (or dune buggy?) carried 30-40 people. They traveled easily in the sand and it felt a bit like floating on water.

Is it just me, or does everyone else feel like their in a Star Wars movie?

Ahead is a large tent where theatrical productions are presented.

Sitting on cushions on the sand floor of the arena, we saw a traditional Mongolian wedding with all the dances. It was very interesting and surreal at the same time.

No sand dune trip would be satisfactory without connecting to a camel. We’ve come to love our camel rides in China and Mongolia. They seem like such docile creatures, although we understand they can get quite belligerent. It was only a five minute camel ride but it was fun.

We took a “Disney” train to get us back to the gate of the gate of the resort.

Cable car rides are enjoyable when you’re with good friends. Here is Leslie Pelton, Laraine, and Barbara Openshaw. We again had to stand in line to catch this cable car back to the bus.

Family Makes a Visit

In October our second daughter, Brandi, and her fiance’ (Rob) were traveling with a tour group through China.Their few days in Beijing wouldn’t have been complete without some time with her mom and dad. Here she is trying something new . . the Chinese version of a candied apple. It is a “Hawthorn apple” candied skewer, a popular treat in Beijing. 


Taking a selfie is an art form that we do not have a handle on, as you can see. What good is it to show yourself in China if you really can’t tell where you are?

It is always nice when family comes to China. Brandi and Rob were on a tour but we did snatch them away for  a few hours.

It took a long time to find them, but we finally met up with them in Forbidden City. Maybe next time they’ll learn to hide themselves better. 

Can you picture this couple in ancient times? What role would they have played in the court of the emperor?

Rob and Brandi make a cute couple on the moat outside the Forbidden City. They seemed to enjoy themselves, even if it was with the ‘rents (parents). A strange thing happened later in their trip. Their last venue before leaving Beijing was the Summer Palace, a sprawling estate that takes several hours to walk around. It was a Saturday morning and Brandi’s parents were also scheduled to go with their university to the Summer Palace in the early afternoon. Therefore, it didn’t appear there would be any overlap, so all goodbyes were said on Friday. However, as Brandi and Rob were leaving the Summer Palace, her parents were just arriving, so their was one last hug before they left the city.

Home Buying Can Be Joyful Chaos

Home buying and selling are examples of leadership activities. I teach leadership principles to three classes at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. We recently discussed the quote: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” Students learned that leadership in the home is the highest priority. They learned that for most people, the single biggest financial decision they will make will involve buying a home.

In addition to teaching students a topic, I am tasked with giving them an experience in American culture. So, I devised a way for them to learn all of these leadership principles, practice making an important decision, learn additional vocabulary, experience the “American Dream,” and have fun–all at the same time.

I started by printing out home information sheets from Zillow. I chose the Atlanta area and filtered for homes in the $250K to $300K range. For each home, I determined an unmet need and wrote it on an instruction sheet for each pair of students. For instance, one sheet might say, “You own a beautiful home on Sheffield Way, but your mother is coming to live with you and you need a place for her.”

Students paired up while we learned how to navigate “ad speak” such as “w/frplc” (with fireplace), or “bsmnt” (basement). Students had a hard time, but with some coaching they caught on quickly. They learned some new vocabulary like: jack and jill bath, master suite, stucco, crown molding, HOA, HVAC, half bath, “as is,” and mother-in-law suite.

Once students understood the new vocabulary, each pair had to come up with a 1-minute commercial about the home they owned and why their fellow students should buy it. Their commercials were hilarious, especially since many of  the terms were new to them. Many had seen some slick Chinese commercials on TV and tried to imitate that style in their speech. Their peers found this to be extremely entertaining. If a student wasn’t presenting a 1-minute commercial, he/she was busy listening to fellow students’ commercials to see which home best fit the unmet need they were looking to fill.

Once all commercials were finished, I turned them loose to buy and sell. Their only assignment was to sell their existing home and buy another home that fit their needs. They only had about 10 minutes for this open marketplace. The excitement level was amazing, and in the end most students were able to accomplish the objective. Once in a while, however, a pair of students would admit that they were homeless and unable to buy a new home. Or in some cases, some students owned two homes.

I would call this activity “joyful chaos.” Check out the short video and tell me what you think? Any suggestions for future classes? (By the way, I tried to make this as English as possible, but some students slip into Mandarin when excited. A few students who are learning Cantonese, will only speak to me in Cantonese)




Inner Mongolia–Where a Yurt Can Hurt Ya’

Riding in the back of a horse-drawn wagon with Tim and Leslee Pelton.


Our hosts greeted us with bright blue scarfs and some tea. They also sang a song for us.

We took advantage of a week off in October (National Week) to visit Inner Mongolia. We fell in love with these people. They are hard working and industrious. They can also somehow deal with the cold!

Our journey began in Hohhot where we boarded a bus to travel three hours out to the grasslands. This was the resort where we stayed.

We spent the night in our own little yurt. It was cozy and cold. The next morning, most of the men had small red bumps on their foreheads from hitting the tops of doorways in the dark. This was especially the case for us older men who have to get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities. We affectionately called these injuries, “Yurt Hurts.”


The yurt had a TV and a table with a nice big window. Roughing it?


We had a grassland ride in this carriage.


There were at least 200 yurts at this resort, categorized in three different classes. We were in the premium one that was supposed to include “24 hour hot water” but it was too cold for that. We decided that it meant “let it run for 24 hours and you might get hot water.”


We visited a yurt family village and participated in some activities there.


We first dressed up in traditional costume and had a family portrait. It wasn’t the most flattering attire but it was bright and pretty.


We went inside another yurt to have tea and traditional bread. We stood around and watched this lady work the dough for her bread.


She stir-fried the dough and then put them in little boxes for us to eat.


The yurts had a big opening in the top of them to let in the natural light.


We learned a bit of archery. An hour into this exercise, it occurred to me that no arrows were hitting the target. I apparently forgot to load my arrows. (ha ha)


We all had a chance to try it. Imagine riding horseback, shooting arrows as you attack your opponent.


Laraine tried her hand at wrestling. Barbara Openshaw, a fellow teacher, thought she was just going to do a bit of “photo op wrestling.” She was shocked when Laraine, who took it more seriously, started to throw her down.


This is the wrestling attire. Someone has clearly found her element.


Yes, I think Laraine won. She busted some great moves!


There was even a camel on the hillside.

These rock shrines are everywhere.

Why Gratitude Can be Dangerous

Gratitude can be dangerous. Yes, you heard that correctly. Gratitude can be dangerous because it can cause movement or change in our circumstances. So if you want everything to stay the same, definitely stay away from gratitude.

Danger! Deep Water! No Romping!

It’s ironic. Take for instance the feeling of being stuck . . stuck in the same job, living in the same house, doing the same things, etc. When we talk to our inner selves about being stuck, we seldom use the word “gratitude.” Instead, we find ourselves saying words like, “mundane, ho-hum, dissatisfied, and grin-and-bear-it.”

Logic would seem to indicate a different result. If we are grateful for something, it would logically follow that we are satisfied with it, and less likely to make a change. But the opposite is actually true. In our yet-to-be published book with the working title, “Surviving by a Thread” by Chuck, Laraine, and Jeremy Chamberlain, we pay a great deal of attention to the characteristics of gratitude that help us survive and even find joy and abundance during turbulent times. The irony of gratitude is discussed in the book as follows:

Laraine thought of a different example. Leaning back on the sofa, she said, “Maybe you know people who say they are stuck in their jobs, in their homes, and in their relationships. Nothing ever changes. It never gets unbearable, but it also never gets much better. The reason people like this feel stuck is not because they enjoy their lives so much and are feeling so grateful for what they have . . .”

Chuck followed the thought. “No, they’re stuck because of fear that doing something different won’t make them happy.”

Looking at her son, Laraine asked, “Now can you imagine what would happen if these people could feel a deep appreciation for their lives? Do you think things would change or stay the same?”

Jeremy thought for a moment and said, “Hmm . . it’s almost counter-intuitive, but I think when we feel a deep appreciation for the way things are, a deep satisfaction about our lives and what’s happening, we aren’t likely to get stuck.”

“Kind of ironic, isn’t it?” Chuck realized out loud. “When we’re grateful for the way things are, we make progress in our lives and feel free to make changes. When we merely focus on making changes, we get stuck because we’re not grateful for the way things are.”

It takes some deep soul-searching to fully understand the role gratitude can play in finding joy and abundance, but it’s worth the effort.