Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Outing: Children's Science Museum!

A couple of weeks ago on a Saturday, we took the opportunity of a free morning to take the whole family out for a special activity. There is a children's science museum in our city just to the east of the city square, and we recently heard through a friend that it was pretty fun. Ok, we've only lived here five years and we're just now finding out these things! That's what happens when you can't read! We had passed that big building a thousand times but never knew what it was all about inside. So based on our friend's recommendation, we thought it was worth checking out. But as with all things in this country (or maybe just in living in a foreign culture), it's best to have your expectations low. We were fully prepared for it to be not much fun and even had a backup plan.

Our morning started with a special treat--breakfast at McDonald's! You can tell by Clara Anne's silly face how excited she is!Chloe cheerfully gave me a big smile!Ah, early mornings out with the children! Everybody is still happy! Christin was giggling in between waving her arms excitedly and bouncing them on the tray.Then we walked from McDonald's to the museum, walking through the square (and of course attracting a crowd!) on our way. On the east side of the square there are many much-larger-than-life statues of famous people from this area of the world. Here's our girls posing (somewhat reluctantly) with Confucius. In the few minutes that it took for us to get their picture, about 10 other people snapped a picture too!
Inside the museum, we were pleasantly surprised! The lowest level had many different play areas, including this area with vinyl-covered foam blocks for building. The girls played here a long time!
There was also a ball pit/climbing/jungle gym type area, along with a maze, funny mirrors, and various musical instruments to try out that worked on some scientific principle. But my girls really enjoyed the clay room, where they could work with real clay and try to fashion something. They both worked very industriously and made some interesting creations! Clara Anne made "Eve" to go with John's "Adam," since of course Adam really was made out of the dust of the ground. Here they are hard at work:

Here's Clara Anne's Eve:
The finished products. I think Chloe was responsible for those many little balls.

We made our way through other parts of the lowest floor of this building (four floors total!) and even went to see a 4-D movie, in which my kids lasted for approximately 2 minutes until they were so scared they cried and we left! I am afraid I have scarred them forever; since that day they still regularly talk about "that scary movie." We thought it was going to be about fish, like an underwater adventure, but instead it started with a plane crash onto a deserted island and various animals were following the pilot around . . . that was as much as we saw and it was enough for the girls!
Christin was a trooper and took only a brief mid-morning nap in the Ergo. The girls played for a solid three hours until we said it was time to go! By that point it was past 1:30 and we still hadn't eaten lunch or anything!The easiest option was to quickly grab a bite at McDonald's again . . . I know, I know, twice in one day is really not great but we were under a time crunch. The girls were happy to eat their hamburgers and even happier to get some chocolate ice cream (chocolate soft-serve is new to our city!) for dessert!

What a blessing to have such a fun day! With such low expectations, we were really thankful to have found a great place to take the girls back to, especially now that winter is coming and it won't be so nice to play outside. The price was reasonable and I can forsee us going back there many times in the future. We had a great time and were really glad for such a fun family day!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's Go Skating!

Now that the weather is chillier, we have to dress up in our warmer clothes! Clara Anne loves her new Strawberry Shortcake coat that we found at a local market. Chloe wasn't so excited about the picture taking, but loves her purple coat too, even though it was Clara Anne's last year! The girls got all ready to go out on a date with Daddy; Clara Anne took her rollerblades and Chloe had her little bike in tow. Fun times!

Within our apartment complex there are several open areas with a city square sort of feel. Other kids were also out with their skateboards and bikes!
Clara Anne is doing great with skating! She is gaining confidence and has fun with it. She still lands on her bottom occasionally but she just gets right back up again. I have such fond memories of roller skating with my friend Heidi on our smooth driveway when we were growing up; I'm glad for Clara Anne that she has learned this new skill. Way to go, Clara Anne!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Girls and their Babies

It's been all about babies at our house recently. Everybody's got a baby to take care of!

First, there's the real baby of the house--Christin. She is growing up fast but is still, undeniably, a baby. She also acts like a baby sometimes (cries for silly reasons, has a highly developed radar system for where mommy is, drools everywhere, and of course, still needs those diaper changes frequently) which is completely normal. Her main care falls to me but Clara Anne takes a close second. There have been numerous times where I have been freed up to do something else, dinner prep or laundry or whatever, by Clara Anne asking to play with Christin! Her favorite things to do are to have me put Christin in her walker and then pull Christin around the house, or to have Christin on their bottom bed where they can read books together. It's sweet.

Clara Anne also has her own "babies" though. We've moved past the stage where she is carrying Doll around with her all the time, but now she has something even better--imaginary babies. One is named Mary (Mary's existence is based in an actual doll), and Manna, who is completely made up. According to Clara Anne, Manna is six years old and she "obeys me really well, Mama!" (I'm not sure how Clara Anne can be not-yet four and her "baby" is older than her, but that's ok. It's all in the imagination!) Mary is also a very good little baby and we hear about her quite often. Clara Anne is still my story-telling girl. This morning when I got her up, her first words were not "Good Morning," or "Hi Mommy," but rather seemed to continue a story she had started to tell last night, as if no time at all had passed. She greeted me with, "You know, Mommy, it's really hard for my baby to get good sleep because Chloe always wakes her up. . . " and the story went on. Judging by the amount of time Clara Anne spends talking about her imaginary babies, they are a well-loved part of the family.

Chloe imitates Clara Anne, as typical for younger sisters, and has found that she can conveniently make several objects into a baby. Usually it's her bear that she is lavishing loving care upon: it's a small stuffed brown bear with a lopsided purple bow on the head; he/she is also missing one ear. (The ear fell off early in the loving process). She also often wraps up her blanket just so and pretends it's a baby. This morning as I was finishing up my exercising with Chloe by my side, Chloe ran to me with her blanket and an urgent cry, saying, "Mama, mama, my baby is crying! Hold my baby!" As if I didn't have enough of real babies crying, now I'm the appointed one to take care of her baby! :)

And then there's John. He's got four babies to protect, provide for and care for--"his four girls"as he calls us! He does a great job and we are always happy to run to the door and greet him at the end of a long day. He says that those happy smiles and hugs and kisses make him feel so special, in his words "If you ever need a self-confidence boost, just leave your kids for a bit! The welcome home makes it all worthwhile!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To be continued . . .

Hi everyone!

Has it really been 9 days since I posted? Really? Sorry about that!

And tonight's post is just a cop-out, a brief update so that you don't stop reading my blog altogether. I have about five posts in line to publish but in fact, the difficulty is that I haven't written them yet. My main excuse is that we've been experiencing some technical difficulties. MAJOR technical difficulties.

Remember the new computer that was supposedly going to make our lives so much easier? Well, it's had some problems almost from the start. I won't go into the gory details but suffice to say that despite John working on it for numerous hours, it is, at this point, completely non-functioning. It had a malfunctioning file that corrupted the whole hard drive and so everything needed to be wiped clean before it could be fixed. Now it's been fixed, but the entire computer and all of its software systems need to be rebuilt. If you like that sort of thing, that might sound fun. If you're my husband, however, dealing with computer issues after being at work the whole day doesn't sound like fun at all.

Anyway, we're thankful that our old standby Toshiba is still working fine, despite its quirks. I hope to get some time on the computer in the next few days; we'll see!

Until then, good night!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Results were tallied . . .and eaten!

Here's a few pics from our fun election day voting! The choices were: Pizza, Mac-n-Cheese, or Biscuits and Eggs for a main dish, Sprite, Hot Chocolate, or Juice for a drink, and Pudding or Cookies for Dessert.

After a brief explanation by Mommy, Clara Anne was our first voter (yes, she is wearing her Disney jammy dress and her princess crown!). We did not attempt to do individual ballots, so it wasn't a private vote this time. She carefully drew a check-mark in the box of her choices. Chloe was next, as Christin watched. Her check-marks were a bit more squiggly, but clear nonetheless (thank goodness, no "hanging chads" in this election!).

Even Lou got in on the fun since we figured she had a stake in the election--whatever was chosen she would end up doing a lot of the prep for it! I explained to her the choices, though when she got to the drinks category, she couldn't remember which one was which, so she just voted for what everybody else voted for!Here's the final tally: Pizza (homemade) edged out Mac-n-Cheese by a vote of three to two, whereas Sprite won an overwhelming victory with a vote of four to one. We had a bit of ballot spoiling since Chloe found the marker later and thought she'd add another check-mark to the hot chocolate vote! The race between pudding and cookies was also close, but pudding came out on top with a vote of three to two.

This was a really fun activity to do with my girls! Clara was initially sad that none of her choices won, but seemed to enjoy the pizza anyway. :) We discussed how everyone's vote made a difference, and if one person had voted another way on an item we would have been eating different things that night. Christin didn't get to vote and was served her usual supper of rice cereal and pureed pumpkin anyway. Shucks. But the rest of us thoroughly enjoyed our pizza, sprite and pudding and I hope that the girls learned something along the way as well!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Kindergarten Update

Several of you have asked how things are going with Clara Anne and kindergarten. In a word, they're going great!

During the whole month of October, Clara Anne's class was learning how to rollerblade. The first day the teacher told us about it, we went out and bought a pair of rollerblades (with adjustable sizing to last longer) for Clara Anne as well as all the protective gear. It was the last pair in the store because of all the kids needing a pair!

The school had it set up to use their dance classroom for rollerblading, so there was a handrail to hold onto as well as a nice big open space for skating around. Special instructors were brought in to teach the kids this new skill, and Clara Anne really enjoyed it! She made good progress and can now (though still somewhat hesitantly) get around on her skates by herself! John has taken her out on the paths within our apartment complex several times since then and she is showing some good skill.

Clara Anne continues to make friends at the kindergarten, in particular one little girl named Xing Xing. When Clara first came home and told me about her, I asked her name, and Clara thought it was Xi Xi (she pronounced it she-she instead of shing-shing). Oops! But now they seem to be good friends and often would hold hands while skating. We're really thankful for Clara Anne to have another little friend!

Language is also progressing well for Clara Anne. The teachers now tell me that Clara is able to play with other kids as well as speak the local language with them, and even respond to the teacher's questions using the local language. This month they have been having some English classes, not exactly something Clara needs but fun anyway. Yesterday when the teacher asked her, all in the local language, "Do you have an English name?" Clara responded "No, I only have a [local language] name." So the teacher still doesn't know her given name! I need to remember to write it down for the teacher next week!

So, all in all, we've been really pleased with Clara Anne's kindergarten experience so far. Imagine my great surprise last week when Clara told me she could write some words in the local language, since we haven't worked on writing at all yet, even in English. She then proceeded to produce a pad of paper and a pen, and carefully wrote the words for one, two, and three. Way to go, Clara Anne! You're making progress! She's growing up before our very eyes!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


With Election Day upon us, I just wanted to post a friendly reminder to all of you in America to get out and vote! It is truly a privilege to have a say in the democratic process; we realize it all the more after being in this country where the common person has absolutely no influence on the political system. So all you Americans, be thankful that you can exercise your rights and take the time to cast your vote in this important election!

The girls and I are going to have a little mock election to help them understand what it means to vote for something--but we're going to be voting for dinner! I thought it would be fun for them to get to "have their say" and perhaps try to convince one another why they should vote for a certain item. No explanations of the electoral college here--it's a popular vote only! If it's a tie, Mommy will break it. I'll take some pictures of our activity and post them later this week!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Learning How to Eat!

I've heard it said that when you move to a different culture/country, it takes a while to "learn to eat" there. The food may be different, the preparation and methods are different, and the seasoning is different. The way of eating may be different, and the finished product and taste is almost always, most certainly, different. This takes some getting used to.

Looking back over almost five years in this country, I can say with confidence that I have learned how to eat here! Just for fun, here are some of the bumps in the road along the way . . .

Intially I loved the food. It all tasted good to me, was cheap, and I didn't have to cook it myself! (Because we lived in a dorm room without a kitchen when we first arrived.) I soon learned some of the names of our favorite dishes, with ba si di gua (carmelized sweet potatoes) topping the list.

Then pregnancy nausea hit me about five months after we moved, and suddenly nothing tasted good. I quickly lost 10-plus pounds since all I could manage to get down each day was some crackers that tasted like too-oily saltines and a fried egg sandwich that was made down in the little snack bar on the first floor of our dorm. I had to make sure, though, to ask for the sandwich without ketchup, cucumber slices or the mayonnaise which they usually put on it. (!)

At that point, all the food tasted too ginger-y and way too garlic-y, two ingredients used fresh in almost every stir-fried food I tried here. I went through several months of eating basically mantou, a steamed bread which is very bland and plain, and a few bites of veggies when I could manage it.

It was with great relief that we moved to an apartment where we then had our own kitchen. I could finally make some simple western food and that agreed with me better. But after my nausea abated, I found that I really enjoyed eating the local food occasionally, and so John and I would often order in on a night when I didn't feel like cooking.

Finally by then I got used to buying my eggs from a street vendor. The eggs in the street and the grocery store are not refrigerated, and so actually, buying them off the street is safer, since they are fresher. There was also the notable instance where we were having guests for supper and I needed some pork, and was forced to buy it from a street vendor since I didn't have enough time to travel to the grocery store. (I washed it thoroughly upon arriving home!) After cooking and eating it, both John and I declared it the most delicious pork we had ever tasted! It had probably just been butchered the night before or early that morning!

So, slowly, slowly, we've gotten used to the food. Fast forward to the present. Now, I eat local food basically every day. Rice is also a staple. (I prefer the Thai jasmine rice which is readily available but more expensive than the rice grown in this country). Because of my family's love for rice pudding, I sometimes find that we eat rice at every meal! Today for example, I had some rice pudding topped with homemade granola for breakfast, we had several stir-fried dishes for lunch with rice, and I ate some lunch leftovers for supper since John was out tonight.

As I mentioned in my last post, I really appreciate the freshness of the fruits and vegetables here. Now that we have Lou cooking lunch for us every day, we take full advantage of this. She goes out each morning to the street market and buys what just came in on the truck from the countryside greenhouses a few hours before. Today at lunch we had a delicious dish of baby bok choy stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms, as well as a spicy chicken dish, stir-fried egg and tomato, and glass noodles with shredded cucumber and pork. I have now gotten to the point where I crave the local food and feel like I am missing something if I don't eat it for a few days. It also doesn't seem like an indulgence to eat a lot of it: "Why yes, I think I will help myself to some more of that baby bok choy!"

We often find ourselves following the local custom: "zao chi hao, zhong chi bao, wan chi shao", which means at breakfast eat healthy, at lunch eat until you're full, and at supper eat only a little. So it works out great that Lou makes a great lunch for us each day--then we can eat a simple western meal or have leftovers for supper. Even our eating habits have changed from the typical western style where you just eat a bit of lunch to get by and then have a full supper. We still sit down for supper but it is a simpler meal.

So I guess I have really learned how to eat here. I practically feel like a local in terms of my eating habits--who ever knew I could love to eat tofu, or lotus root, or cabbage, or rice so much! We now have several "western" veggies that we enjoy the most in their stir-fried form. Lou, my helper, makes a wonderful dish with carrots, potatoes, and meat cut paper thin and stir fried together--it's tasty! I'm not a local, though, in my seafood-eating; I still stay away from that and fish as well, only because they hack through all the bones and no matter how careful you are, the bones end up in your mouth!, and I don't eat some of the weird stuff like congealed blood and bugs of various sorts.

Here's the kicker: last Saturday morning as a "special treat" John went out early and stood in the line to buy you tiao from a small vendor in the alley that leads up to our apartment complex. It is basically a fried dough in the shape of a long stick which puffs up dramatically when deep fried and is light and crispy. Locals usually eat it dipped in soy milk but we prefer to dip in sweetened condensed milk. It's not Krispy Kreme, but pretty good nonetheless! I also don't think it will replace cinnamon rolls in our hearts, but still . . . who could have thought I would consider it a special treat?! We've learned how to eat!