December started with some hustle and bustle to get our house all spiffed up for Christmas.  You can get Christmas decorations in China but it’s not quite like it is at home so we opted to do a kind of “home-made” Christmas this year.
For some reason it made it seem kind of warm and cozy to get creative and whip some things up together (here).  Claire really got in the spirit of things and was working hard on some things and this is what I found when I went up to tuck her in bed:

Her own little home-made winter wonderland 🙂

Grace did a few different final projects for school with friends.

The one below was an ice chest to keep a 1×1 cm piece of ice frozen all day long for science.  She and her team rocked that one.

Guilin was our second to last weekend in China, and during the very last one we tried to take in as much as we could in our own city one last time.

We took advantage of “family movie nights” one last time:

Sad that doesn’t happen back at home, dang it!

Lu and Claire made up their own breakfast cafe one morning and served us brunch:

We finally made it to “Jing’an Temple” which I loved…this gorgeous place right in the middle of the city.  It was built originally ages ago (247 AD), then turned into a plastic factory of all things during the cultural revolution, then renovated in the 80s and again pretty recently.  I loved seeing the skyscrapers reaching up behind it.

The kids loved the hoopla of everyone throwing their coins up at the middle pagoda.

And I loved how many people were there with their incense offering up some pretty serious meditation and prayer in the middle of it all.

I loved riding on the metro for one of our last times, watching the regular take place:

Random people wanting to take pictures with the kids.

I had wanted to see the “Marriage Market” since someone told me about it a few months back and we just happened to run into it on our way to People’s Square.  This picture shows a particularly sparse area…

…it was really shoulder-to-shoulder people all lined up showing off the assets of their own marriageable children to try to get them matched up.  I guess they closed it down for a while but apparently it’s back.

Wish we did that in the states.  Ha!

We went to a few museums in People’s Square.  We loved this one with all the old pictures of how Shanghai used to look:

…compared with how it looks today.

Kinda fascinating.

We especially loved this model of the city:

Makes you realize how sprawling it really is.  So many things we’ve been to aren’t even shown because they’re even more spread out.

Man Shanghai is huge!

Tried to get a little Christmas spirit in:

Had a fun little talk right here, right at dusk, in the middle of this once-foreign city that has become so familiar to us that I hope I’ll always remember.

It kinda started out as a little bit of a lecture and then turned into a velvety discussion about how lucky we were to be right there, right then, together.

We took the metro over to the German Christmas Market next.

And we met our good friends the Nichols there.

It was like swimming against traffic upstream to get in and out of that place it was so crowded but oh-so-fun to be surrounded in “Christmas” and to be with friends we love.

My kids just adore these ones…they’re like the little brothers and sisters they never had.

One more pic. because of Lucy’s smile:

Last time at my favorite grocery store (Metro), in my most un-favorite place (the meat section).  

That smell is not my favorite.

Last Sunday.  

Our branch was so empty…everyone had gone home for Christmas back to the states except for the five or six families that stuck around.

Last Activity Days.  The girls and I were “Secret Santas” for the family and made a special meal.

I LOVED Lucy’s note she put up on the door so we wouldn’t get anyone messing with us as we cooked (especially as we made the cookie dough:)

Do NOT come in the “Kickin”!!

The girls made little notes for everyone when they set the table:
Let’s get a closer look at Dave’s:

There we go.  And gotta add some Chinese characters in there too…

One of Max and Elle’s last early-morning seminary meetings:

Such great kids, and such great leaders who made everyone breakfast for their last day before people took off for Christmas.

A little Christmas shopping with friends:

A visit from our good friend who was in China from the desert on business.  The kids were SO delighted to have him show up at our house!

…and so were we of course:)

He’s even taller than Max.  I guess this is how Chinese people always want to pose with him when they ask if he’ll take a picture with them.

One of Max’s last basketball games before we took off for Guilin:

Love this friend from Hungary who may be moving to the desert next month…SO excited!

One of our last walks home from school together.

Man I miss those!!

Trying to get in a few last workouts…

Max was super excited about that…

Impromptu dinner together while both of our husbands were gone.

Cleaning out all the mountains of school work:

This was right before Lucy got hit by a scooter…

Max’s final project for Global Citizenship…I have to figure out a way to share the video he made.  Loved it so much.

Teacher/administrator appreciation notes:

Christmas is really different in China, but they did have a day (our last Friday there) where they celebrated it at school and it was awesome.  They had several concerts I’m posting about tomorrow, and had little celebrations in their classes.

Claire’s holiday party before her portion of the concert:

Lucy’s party:

…and her awesome teachers who make me want to tear up when I look at this picture.  Love them so much!

Claire’s recorder number:

Claire’s singing number:

Claire’s best friend there:

We miss her!

Grace’s night performance:

The “greenroom:”

Elle’s very kind friends:

I have a lot I could say about that picture and how grateful I was for our conversation on the walk home from school that night but I’ll just say how the way she explained how she was feeling right then as we were packing up to leave that adventure filled my heart.  She really got it.  And I loved that she did.
Book club friends:

Claire’s wall with all her art before she had to take it all down:

A trip to the Chinese acrobat show with the Bao’s.

It was out-of-this-world amazing.  Like Cirque Du Soleil on steroids kind of good.  They rode 8 motorcycles full speed inside that ball below during one part of it.  Wow.

Last view of the city skyline:

Dinner out with these two wonderful people who took the best care of us anyone could ever imagine:

…while our kids took care of their kids.

A trip the the “office” where dave worked.  Kevin has succeeded in rounding up the kindest most considerate and wonderful people to work for him that you could ever imagine.

Oh man we sure miss these guys!

The end of Grace’s Christmas paper chain (to mark the number of days before we left):

Saying goodbye to friends at school on the last day.  I took this right after the cutest group hug you could ever imagine:

Final bag packing and we were off.

…right over the wide blue ocean.

Past the coast of California:

…to a winter wonderland in Utah with my parents.

Never before have our hearts been filled with so much gratitude.  
For Christmas lights and the glow they bring to your heart as well as extended family and American food and for Christmas spirit in general.  
We got into town late, late on the night of the 23rd and through our jet-lag and excitement we got ready for one of the most meaningful and gratitude-filled Christmases ever.

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  1. Looks like your kids got a little taste of what it feels like to be a celebrity.
    I love the notes Claire made for your dinner table, how cute and your parents tree looks HUGE!
    Glad you had a good trip and a good Christmas!

  2. Oh your posts are just so amazing that they just make me teary eyed every time! What an AMAZING experience you were able to provide for your children. I am sure they know but they are SOOO blessed to have you and Dave as well as the rest of your family. Just fabulous Shawni. Have a great new year getting back to the desert 😉

    Oh sorry…I feel like every time I comment I have to ask a question. How in the world did you navigate all the college applications/decisions? Would love to see a post on that sometime! It seems so overwhelming!

  3. Your adventures have been so comforting to me. My family and I moved to London (so much easier than China!!) in September. I'm trying to view it like you did instead of lamenting all that was left behind. Thank you for your example. What a strong woman you are – your husband and kids are so very lucky to have you. So happy for you all that you got to spend Christmas together back in the States!

  4. Please give us a recap on all you learned/your kids learned –both big and small lessons. I would love to be so brave. I like the motto: We can do hard things. Your posts have reminded me that I can. I have genuinely LOVED the story of this adventure. Your family is so inspiring!

  5. You gave your kids the experience of a lifetime! They'll always remember it and if details get fuzzy, they'll have your blogs. What a wonderful thing. Also, your parents' tree is humongous.

  6. I am laughing at myself crying at your last two pictures! I am sad your adventure is over, apparently! But I am so, so grateful that you brought us all along with you and can't thank you enough. Congratulations, welcome home, and I look forward to the last of the China posts as well as any from re-entry.

  7. okay, this totally made me teary eyed. First, we've had to do the goodbyes 3 times in the last six years (different countries every time) and while I know there is always something good on the horizon, goodbyes are difficult. You totally captured the breadth of emotions of the goodbyes!

    Second, I know a handful of kids in that seminary class!! Rebecca was one of my Young Women when we lived in The Netherlands. An incredible young woman and an incredible family!

  8. Thank you for sharing your family's adventure. I have loved each and every post. We just had our fifth child this summer – 4 girls and 1 boy. I loved seeing another family of seven take on the world.

  9. Incredible post! This will bring back so many great memories in years to come! LOVED that you stopped in SL for Christmas. It's a Christmas we'll never forget!

  10. At this point in my life I think I would support starting a "Marriage Market". I haven't been able to figure it out on my own yet – HAHAHAHA

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