Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hello, Hong Kong!

We made it! We arrived in Hong Kong yesterday afternoon, actually about 2 hours earlier than we planned. Our plane took off and landed early, and so we were able to get on a connecting train earlier than expected. That's always nice when you're traveling! We were only on the road from 7:20 am until 4pm instead of 7:20am to 6pm, like we had originally planned.

The older girls did great during the travel, were (fairly) obedient and entertained themselves, as well as sticking close to Mommy and Daddy which is always important when going through new places, customs and immigration, and getting into taxi queues. They were troopers! I'm sorry to say, however, that Christin had the unhappiest day of her life. It began well; she ate a good breakfast at 6am and then was just ready to fall asleep when we got in the first taxi of the day to take us out to the airport. That was all right on schedule. But then, 30 minutes later after arriving at our airport, she was awakened by the change in movement, and just couldn't get back to sleep. Most of the time she was happy, but then when she started fussing I tried to feed her and she refused, absolutely refused!

I was baffled. I had never faced this before with Clara Anne or Chloe and I didn't know what to do. I tried soothing her, and then offering to nurse again; I tried forcing her head into position, which only made her madder, and I tried begging and pleading with her! Nothing was working. Surprisingly, she was still fairly happy despite the fact that she hadn't eaten. Any more attempts on my part to make her nurse elicited a fresh round of angry crying.

She refused to nurse all through the flight, and then as we took a taxi to the train station and went through customs, etc, and then got on the train, she fussed on and off but nothing too serious. I tried again as soon as we were settled on the train, with no success. We finally arrived in Hong Kong, got into another taxi and by this time she had had enough: she was tired, hungry, and mad. We arrived at our flat at 4 ish with her loudly voicing her displeasure the whole way.

I tried again to nurse her and she refused, madder than ever. By now I was feeling VERY uncomfortably overfull of milk. She had not eaten since 6am. I put her down to sleep and I got into a hot shower to try and relieve some of the pain, praying all the while that when she woke up she would be ready to eat. (Of course I did not pack my pump for this trip since I haven't needed it since the first few days after she was born!)

And sure enough, about 2 hours later, she woke up, and smiled at me the sweetest smile, as if to say, "What were you worried about, Mommy? Oh, was I unhappy today? I've forgotten all about it! I feel great now!" She then nursed well and went down for the night, sleeping until 6:30 this morning with no problems.

Whew! Glad that didn't last any longer!

We had a full day today, beginning with McDonald's breakfast. What is it about McDonald's breakfast that is so yummy and satisfying?! We then took the bus down to the Harbor City Mall and spent a significant amount of time playing/looking around Toys'R Us, a couple of bookstores, and buying a stroller. John took the girls to play at an indoor arcade/play area while I fed Christin and then we had a late lunch at Triple O's (thanks Sandra for introducing us--I did have the blueberry milkshake and yes, it was fabulous!). Clara Anne fell asleep on the bus on the way home, and when we had to wake her for the final walk to our apartment she was stumbling around as if in a dream. Despite the late hour, we put both of the girls down for naps when we got home at 4:15, and they slept until I woke them at 7:30! We had a light supper and then they went back to bed at 9. I think we really tired them out today! (It didn't help them that they were awake at 6:15 this morning despite the long travel day yesterday. Maybe tomorrow morning they'll sleep later!)

As we exited the mall and made our way to the bus, toting a large package, three kids, a side bag, and the new stroller, John summed it up well: "Ah, Hong Kong. Convenient, but grueling." It's true, there is excellent infrastructure in HK--great subway system, fast buses, it always seems so convenient to get places. But yet, transit in HK always seems to take longer and more energy than we expect. I think the bus ride from the mall back to our place was nearly an hour, definitely an hour with the walk at the end. Plus we're always toting things, even if we didn't purchase anything we still have our kids! Today for a good bit I had Christin in the Baby Bjorn, John had Chloe in the Ergo and Clara was riding on his shoulders! It was a sight to see.

So, we're off to a good start here. On a side note, the furnished flat we're staying in is the same one we lived in for almost 3 months while waiting for Clara Anne to be born, then after she was born and my parents came to visit. Lots of nostalgia associated with this place!

The plan is to go to Disneyland on Monday. The girls are already excited! Check back next week for pictures!

Monday, July 28, 2008

What a week!

Last week was an exciting and fun-filled time here at our home. My childhood friend Heidi, who is my earliest memory and who grew up right next door to me for 16 years, came to our country to visit! She spent time in some of the major tourist cities and stopped at our house for a few days along the way. This was her first time to this country and she was soaking up all of the adventures!

And what a week we had. Heidi arrived on Sunday and had expressed interest in trying some local "family-style" food; the stuff the we typically eat on a daily basis because my helper, Lou, cooks for us. Lou and I had such fun planning the meals that Heidi would be there to try and give Heidi a balanced taste of all things local. I especially loved sharing my favorites with Heidi, as well as seeing her eager enthusiasm and excitement to try new things. Lou cooked up a storm and suffice to say, no one went away hungry!

What was on the menu? Here's a sampling: Chicken wings and potatoes braised in a soy sauce and pepsi mixture . . . spicy tofu with deep-fried hot peppers and ground beef . . . celery stir fried with cashews . . . egg stirfried with tomatoes . . . baby bok choy stir fried with fresh mushrooms . . . minced garlic shoots with ground pork wrapped up in tofu "peel" . . . deep fried chicken strips served with a spicy sauce made from sesame paste, hot bean paste, and soy sauce . . . glass noodles with shredded pork and cucumber . . . the list goes on! (We didn't eat all of this at one meal!)

So the food was a fun highlight--Heidi took pictures of everything and even bought some local ingredients to take back with her to the States, so she can try cooking it some of the dishes at home. She lives in a very diverse area of New York City and so thought she could find some things in small grocery stores there.

Heidi decided to lengthen her visit in our city by one day because last Wednesday the Olympic Torch came through our city!!!! I am so glad she was here for it, because honestly, if it hadn't been for her I probably would not have tried to go and see it. You know, large crowds, difficulty finding taxis, probably having to walk a long ways, as well as conflicting information about WHAT was actually going to happen, WHERE it was going to happen, and WHEN it would begin. I must have asked about 25 taxi drivers what they knew about the Torch's appearance, and finally a day or two beforehand everyone seemed to agree. The torch would be run down a major street in the south of the city, starting at the Sports Stadium at 8am.

So Heidi and I got up early, (Christin got a very early feeding), got out to the street and managed to flag a taxi fairly easily. I told the driver to take us as close as he could to the starting point. He did so and the air was crackling with festivity. People were everywhere, waving flags, selling Olympic memorabilia; everyone moving with one goal: to get as close to the main street as possible. Barricades were up in various areas and there was a strong police presence. At one point I felt a little afraid because the crowd was so large, and so excited, that if suddenly someone had discovered a way to get past the barricade there could have been a stampede.

By this point Heidi was somewhat resigned that we would not actually be able to see the torch. I was still holding out hope, though! We kept walking and finally found a place where we could get through to the road. We made our way to a small grassy knoll and thought we had a pretty good vantage point, so stayed there. It was right at 8am.

The next thing I knew, a man who had climbed a tree next to me (and therefore could see better than the rest of us!) started yelling that it was starting. We craned our necks. . . and yes! There it was! First came a group of runners, then we saw the runner with the Torch, and then he stopped and passed it on to the next runner! We saw the passing of the Torch!!!! We were yelling and waving our flags and jumping up and down just like everybody else!

(Later we discovered that they passed the torch every 200 yards or so, so it wasn't as unique as we thought. In fact there were more than 200 runners just in our city!)

Heidi and I were ecstatic. We could not believe that we actually saw it with our own eyes! And just like that . . . it was gone. A large choir was singing and a group was playing traditional drums as everyone cheered and chanted, and then gradually the groups broke up, people started moving, and the police slowly opened up the street for foot traffic. Everyone was still milling around and enjoying the atmosphere, so we joined in on the fun.

Eventually it was time to head home so we started walking and made our way through a typical alleyway where many, many vendors were selling their goods. Everything from fresh seafood and fish, to handmade noodles, steamed buns, flatbread, fruits and vegetables was being sold there. To me it is a common sight, but Heidi thought it was all fascinating and took lots of pictures as we progressed down the alley. Finally we arrived at the end and after waiting only about 10 minutes for a taxi, we were on our way home. What a morning!

We had such a great visit with Heidi. She and I reminisced over old times, had fun talking about this country's language, culture, people, and food, and talked about the future. It was such a treat to have her here! We were doubly thankful for our new place where we could accomodate her so comfortably and give her a bedroom and bathroom to herself. (John and I slept on our comfy couches!)

And now, we're off again! John has been working on our visa status for quite some time now, and it turned out that we do need to leave the country when our visas expire, which is on the 31st. So we will be traveling to Hong Kong on July 30th and staying for about 3 weeks or however long it takes to process our business visa. He's been getting our paperwork in order and it looks like things should work out. We shall see!

So there's been no shortage of excitement around here! In fact, Clara Anne and Chloe were so excited today that nobody took a nap! (Well, maybe that wasn't the reason . . . ) They do love to travel, though, and are looking forward to our trip. I am mostly looking forward to it but do hope we don't get stuck there for too long. It's always more comfortable to be at home (especially when I have Lou around to help keep things clean and food on the table!) but we will make the best of our time. We're planning to take some of our waiting days to do fun family things, maybe even Disneyland! I'll try to update occasionally from our travels. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Very Last One!

Some of you may remember all of the trouble we experienced in the States last year over the issue of Clara Anne's positive PPD test (the skin test that tests for tuberculosis). We suspected that it was positive because of the live vaccine (the BCG) that she had received at birth against TB. However, doctors in the States wanted to err on the cautious side, in case she really did have TB. So, after her positive skin test we had to go through a lot of rigamarole getting her a lung x-ray, then despite the fact that the x-ray was clear, it was still recommended that she take a course of antibiotics to make sure her system was clear. The catch? The antibiotics were a twice a day event, for 9 months!

Clara Anne quickly caught on to swallowing the small pills and was a trooper about taking them every day. After a while, she would often remind us if we forgot to give it to her! But I'm happy to say that on Friday, July 18, (my birthday), Clara Anne started off the morning with her very last pill. Hallelujah! We are ALL glad that the medicine is finally finished!

Yummy in the Summertime!

I've found a new favorite recipe to share with you all, for a yummy summertime drink! The girls and I had a fun time making it and sharing it together, I hope you enjoy it too!

Homemade Frappucino

Fill a glass with (about 2 cups) ice. In a liquid measuring cup mix 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk. Meanwhile, brew one cup of very strong coffee. Pour the milks over the ice, then add the coffee and whatever flavoring you might happen to have around--chocolate syrup (about 2 Tbsp), or vanilla coffee syrup, or I just happened to have some Starbucks Caramel Sauce on hand so I added a generous dollop of that. Pour the contents of the glass into the blender and process until smooth and foamy. Enjoy! (Or for a really decadent treat, top with whipped cream and additional caramel sauce!) And yes, the girls are sitting up on my countertop! It's always fun to "help" Mommy in the kitchen!

It will never look this way again!

Several weeks ago, (wow, am I that far behind in my blog posting?!) I tackled the final organizing task of moving to our new place . . . sorting and shelving the girls' books. At our old house, we had a very small bookshelf and so a lot of our books for older readers were in storage still. So it was a real pleasure to unpack those books and get them all on the shelf for easy access!

Here's the breakdown: Top shelf, just pictures. Next one down: Classics like Heidi, the Chronicles of Narnia, some Shakespeare and Dickens for children, and several musical books that have a CD accompaniment. Next: Lying on their side are some books too big to put up ("oversize" is the library category) as well as all of our Bible storybooks and other Christian books. The next shelf down is all anthologies on the left, including single author collections like the Beatrix Potter collection and A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. On the right are early readers (Frog and Toad, Dr. Seuss and others). The bottom two shelves were organized with the idea of helping the girls reach these books easily. The second to the bottom one has hardcovers on the left, a stack of board books in the middle, and softcovers on the left, which include several books of similar kind like Curious George, Madeline, and Mercer Mayer Books. The bottom shelf is basically all board books with some local language kid's magazines on the far right.

I look at this bookshelf and see hours of fun! I loved reading as a young child and was frequently teased by my older brothers that I read so much, I needed to take a UHaul to the library! Certainly our collection is not as extensive as a library is, but we've got a good start. Soon I will be collecting more books in preparation for homeschooling and look forward to adding those to our shelves.

Perhaps this shelf will not stay this organized, but actually I've found that the order has been somewhat easy to maintain since there is a place for everything. And the girls have seemed to respect the order and organization, so haven't had issues with pulling out tons of books and scattering them everywhere. (It seemed like that was always a temptation at our old house.) But at any rate, I wanted to give you a glimpse of the bookshelf in its present state!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Totally Terrific Two!

Chloe turned two on June 26, 2008. Wow! Where does the time go? We had a really fun day celebrating her birthday. It began with a special birthday breakfast that included blueberry muffins, some singing for her, and balloons and a princess-themed banner hanging across the window.
Our next fun event was to get the whole family ready for a trip to the swimming pool! Our new apartment complex has an indoor pool which we had not yet visited. The girls were so excited to go swimming! Chloe is still happiest if she just plays around the edges of the water, but she had a great time, and looked awfully cute in that Dora bathing suit!Christin slept happily in the stroller while we swam and enjoyed the water. How do you like Clara Anne's swim get-up?We then came home for a delicious Asianese lunch prepared by our house helper, including a cold noodle dish which is traditionally eaten on birthdays. The length of the noodles is supposed to signify long life. Whatever the meaning, they are tasty! We finished the meal with a good old western standby--birthday cake. This recipe for "Minnesota Chocolate Cake" is destined to become a favorite in our family because of its ease of preparation and use of local ingredients (i.e. oil instead of butter, cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate). Yum yum! Clara Anne thought she would give Chloe a bit of help blowing out the candles.
After lunch the girls got to play with one of Chloe's new gifts. She got one gift to share with Clara Anne and one gift for herself. The gift to share was a set of wooden blocks. Up to this point, our toy collection was lacking this basic and fun toy! We decided it was time and found this set of pretty painted blocks in a local market. The girls played with them in the same place on the floor, non-stop, for one hour and 43 minutes after lunch without disputes, without getting up for a drink of water, or to go to the bathroom, or anything!!! I was so amazed I just let them keep playing rather than enforcing nap time. (I knew the start time because they had just started playing when I was sitting down to feed Christin.) They had such fun and were so creative with the things they were building, making trains with them, and finally at the end Clara Anne had made the blocks into little people and was telling stories about them. FUN TIMES!
Chloe's other gift, for her alone, is this new bright green bike! Finally I said they had to be done playing with blocks and put them down for a late nap. Then we woke them to go downtown to pick out this bike for Chloe. She is so excited about it, though she needs to grow just another inch or two to make it really work for her legs. How do you like her fake smile here?There's the real smile, but the sun was too bright!

We love our totally terrific two year old! It is so interesting to see her personality emerge. She is our brave daredevil, very physically active. She loves to climb, run, roll, crawl, jump, and dance. She is just now putting short sentences together: "That's Daddy's chair! . . . Let's go outside! . . . Where's my blanket?" Her hair is crazy curly and she has stout, strong legs. She still loves Mater (a small stuffed one) and her pink blanket dearly, as well as a particular stuffed bear with a purple ribbon around its neck. Chloe is not a snuggler; she'd rather be running around. She loves to eat and eats quickly, especially sweets. If given a treat, she will polish it off in a matter of moments and then look at Clara Anne's portion and say, "More?". But she loves Asianese food too, even the spicy stuff!

Chloe loves Christin and calls her "Kiss-tin" but is oblivious to Christin's crying. She and Clara Anne get along pretty well but still occasionally wage possession wars. Chloe is usually pretty happy-go-lucky and so it was strange lately to see her waking up crabby from naps, crying over small things, and being generally sensitive. We think she may have some two year molars coming in which may be the source of the troubles.

We are thankful for our sweet Chloe Rachelle! She's a blessing to our whole family. Happy Birthday, Chloe! We love you!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bathing Beauty

I gave Christin a bath in the sink at our new house recently and was rewarded with lots of cooing and this beautiful smile!

She's been giggling a lot recently and today John really got her going. I'll have to get it on video and post a little clip. She's a darling! I think that smile would melt anyone's heart!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Moving, Asia Style

Friday night has arrived again. Where did the week go?! Finally, here are some pictures of our move, three weeks ago today. We've already been here three weeks! We're feeling really settled; we even have pictures hung on the walls! I'm so thankful; we're ready to be done working on the apartment and get on to more important things. We hope to invite over some of our neighbors over in the next week or two and make some new friends.

Here's one of our last pics in our old house. You can see some stuff piled up next to the chair in those plaid bags. In America, you might move by collecting cardboard boxes, but here in Asia, we just used a lot of what we call "rice"bags. They are durable and handy for non-breakable items. They're also really cheap and so when we ended up buying more three different times, it didn't break the bank. (How did we ever accumulate so much stuff?!)

More stuff!
The last picture of the girls in our old house. Our friend Amy watched them that day while all the transitioning was happening, which was a huge help! So this was in the morning just before I took them to her house. John was in the midst of disassembling the crib, where Clara Anne had slept for her whole life! We had never moved her to a big girl bed because her room was too small to accomodate one. Chole, until we moved here, had slept her whole life in a pack-n-play, so our move to this house really was exciting for the girls--big girl beds at last!

Here we are! John is in our kitchen, doing a little work above the range. Notice the sink that I was raving about in my last post! (I didn't mention there what you can see here, that looking out of my window is looking into about 200 other apartments. But looking down out of my window is the lovely nature scene previously described. That also means that my neighbors can look in at me as well! One morning, to my suprise, as I was standing at my kitchen sink holding Christin, a woman across the way in a 5th or 6th floor apartment was looking seemingly directly at me and I was just wondering if she could see me as clearly as I could see her, when she waved at me! I didn't know whether to wave back or quickly leave the room!) First meal in the new place--KFC. You can see our comfy couches and MANY trunks in the background.
The pile of rice bags made it safely! Here they're piled in Christin's room with the happy green walls.
The inaugural bath! Clara Anne and Chloe really love the new tub! (Mommy does too!) They still would rather stand up and play instead of sit down and actually bathe, however. And Chloe hollers whenever I have to wash her hair. But the idea of a bath is still fun to Chloe. Why wouldn't it be, with all those fun toys?One thing that hasn't changed--story time with Daddy in the evening.

And a final picture to share: my first cooking project in the new kitchen, which Clara Anne helped me with--granola.
Hope you enjoyed a brief glimpse of our new place! I'll post a few more pictures as I take them. Picture taking hasn't been high on the priority list as we've been getting organized, but now that we're more settled I'll do a bit more. It's starting to really feel like home. The girls have already made some new friends, playing out at the sandpit and at the playground. I think living here will be great for their language skills, and mine too! Until next time . . .


Ok, so I had some of my facts wrong. That quote about Mendelson's book was from USA Today, not People. (Does People even do book reviews? Not sure where I got that from!). And also, her pages on dishwashing come to a full eight if you count the instructions about using an automatic dishwasher, not five as I had previously written. Wowza!

Just thought I'd clarify!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Pleasure of Doing Dishes

With a new house has come some new housekeeping habits. One that is so truly amazing (and therefore blog-worthy) is that I am finding a new secret pleasure in doing the dishes. What?! How can this be?

Well, for one thing, dishes-doing at our old house was very laborious. I would first fill and heat a pitcher of water on an electric burner thing made for that purpose. Then I would pour that water into a large plastic bowl in my very low sink and begin to wash. As the water cooled I always had to plan ahead because the electric burner took several minutes to heat up. If there weren't very many dishes, often I would let myself stack the dirty dishes, thinking that it wasn't worth heating up the water. My kitchen also wasn't lit very well so doing the dishes at night was difficult--hard to see whether I was getting them truly clean or not.

But here, in the new place, my kitchen has a sink which is just at the right height, so I don't have to crouch over it. The hot water, miraculously, comes right out of the tap! I can wash AND rinse in hot water! Hallelujah! And we planned out the cupboards and counterspace so that standing at the kitchen sink is looking right out of a big window and seeing a lovely view below--a winding path with willow trees, sumac, and other trees lining it as well as a stream with goldfish and a small waterfall. It's Lovely with a capital L.

Another factor causing me to enjoy my dishes-doing task is a book recommended by my friend Gretchen. Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson was described by People magazine like this; "This book is to the home what the Joy of Cooking is to Food." I've been a devoted Joy user for a long time now (actually, mostly since we moved overseas), and so with that and Gretchen's recommendation, I knew I would love Home Comforts. It's a great book: practical, thorough, and beautifully written. She devotes about 5 full pages to how to wash the dishes--truly--I was just looking at it last night. Most of her routine is what my mother taught me, with a few refinements. And the way she writes about it makes you feel like doing the dishes is really worthwhile, a service for your family which is helping to build your home, which of course, it is.

So there's my secret confession. Many times in the last two weeks I have had a mini-retreat to my kitchen to do the dishes while thinking, praying, and enjoying the beauty outside. A big sinkful of hot soapy water--what a lovely sight! The pleasure of that is only surpassed by the pleasure of clean dishes, dried and put away and the kitchen all in order again. Who knew doing the dishes could be so refreshing?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Did they move or fall off the face of the earth?

The answer is A: we moved!

Two weeks ago today, to be exact! It's been a whirlwind since then. Unpacking and organizing, unpacking and organizing some more. We've been in the thick of things here, and this last week was annoyingly complicated by having no internet access. The guy came yesterday once and today twice to fix the problem, and so now we should be good to go, except for one fault: the internet hook up cord is in the girls' bedroom! I never realized before how much of my internet time was while they were sleeping! So I think I've been online about 20 minutes in the last two weeks.

All that to say, I have lots of pictures of both our moving and Chloe's 2nd birthday, but they'll have to wait. Check back again soon! But I wanted you all to know we haven't fallen off the face of the earth!

Hope everyone is having a lovely 4th of July weekend!