Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nomad's, a Family Tradition

John and I were first introduced to Nomad's in 2003, when we were living in Hong Kong waiting for Clara Anne to be born. It's a unique restaurant, sort of a Mongolian BBQ sort of style. There's a bar of fresh ingredients--all sorts of veggies and meat--and you can go by and pile your bowl full of whatever you'd like. At the end is an array of sauces which you can use by themselves or mix to make your own special concoction. It's really yummy, and never the same twice! There's also a pizza option--take the prepared pizza crust and top it with your favorites, then they'll add cheese and bake it for you. Nomad's is a buffet and is MUCH cheaper at lunchtime, so when we were waiting on Clara Anne's arrival we would go for these long lunches--sit and eat, talk, and eat some more. A meal at Nomad's meant I didn't have to make supper! Delicious!

What's my favorite mix, you might ask? I start with fettucini noodles and add snow peas, tomatoes, baby corn, and spinach. My favorite meat is bacon, sometimes I add chicken too. Then to the sauce: I usually make their "Mongolian" style which involves tom yam sauce (not sure what's in that), a teriyaki sauce, some coconut milk, a bit of sesame oil and hot chili oil. Add in some minced dried herbs, fresh minced garlic and ginger, and a wedge of lemon as well as a whole egg on the tray. They stir fry it all together and it is wonderful!!! This is my "usual" but there's always new things to try, too. So yummy!

Fast forward to the present time. We love to stop at Nomad's whenever we travel through Hong Kong--if we're only there for a day, Nomad's is our choice of restaurant. On our recent trip to Hong Kong, we went to Nomad's on the first full day of our vacation. Chloe fell asleep in the stroller on the walk from the MTR to the restaurant, and actually slept through the first half of the meal. Clara Anne enjoyed her pizza, and John and I found the food as tasty as ever.

The whole family, August 2009.
Not only did John and I come to Nomad's when we were expecting Clara Anne, we celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary at Nomad's just after Clara Anne was born. This picture was taken on December 28, 2004, with tiny Clara Anne only three days old!

When my mom and dad came to HK to visit us and sweet little new Clara Anne, we also enjoyed introducing Nomad's to them. This visit was memorable for several reasons. First, it was the time (the only time) that John almost dropped Clara Anne as he was unbuckling the Baby Bjorn carrier. Thankfully his quick reflexes caught her before she fell very far! As well, after our delicious meal, John was "dancing" with Clara Anne on the table and making us all laugh. I even have a picture of that! Look:

Clara's about three weeks old here!

Dancing is fun! (maybe--look at the expression on her face!)

The next Nomad's picture I have is going forward several years. It's January 2008 and Clara Anne is three and Chloe is a year and a half, and I'm (very clearly) expecting Christin. Fun times!

Love that Chloe smile!

And here we are at the present again. Chloe in her sleepiness...

Christin and I having a sweet moment...she loved the noodles, but only from Daddy's bowl because Mommy made hers too spicy!

And the family picture, which if you can believe it, is the only family picture we got in our entire week in Hong Kong. And what a picture it is! Christin is ready for her nap and clutching her bunny while sucking her thumb, Chloe is crying because she didn't want to take a picture, and Clara Anne was coloring and for some odd reason, stuck her marker in her mouth just at the time of the picture. Such is life! We're sitting at the same table where we did all those years ago with my parents and the "Dancing Baby."
I love to have family traditions. It was really special to share with Clara Anne on this trip about some of our Hong Kong traditions. Nomad's, you may never close! We'll see you next time!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Noah's Ark!

Here's the first in a series of posts of pictures from our Hong Kong trip. I'm finally getting to this!

In planning our vacation this year, we were looking for some family-friendly activities that could take place inside, since rain was forecast for a large portion of our trip. We were excited to find online a new tourist attraction which opened in Hong Kong in May, a biblically-sized replica of Noah's Ark! We didn't know anyone who had already visited, but decided it was worth giving it a try.

The Ark was located on an outlying island so we took the MTR (subway) to a pier where we hopped on a ferry to take us to the island. This island, by the way, has been recently developed. It has a beautiful new big housing complex, lovely park areas, a nice beach, even a well-stocked grocery store and several restaurants. No personal cars are allowed on the island so it is quiet. It really feels like a different place than Kowloon or Hong Kong Island, where the population density is extremely high. I must say that really enjoyed the break from the "city". It was lovely, well cared-for, and felt like a world away. What a lovely place to live! Just for fun, we googled some real estate on this island--get this: you can get a beautiful, 1500 square foot apartment there for only . . . 35 Million Hong Kong Dollars!!! (That's about 4.5 Million USD). Or, you just want to rent a smaller, simpler place? 500 square feet or so? Just cough up 33,000 HKD each month, about 4,000 a month. WOWZA! I think if you had an apartment that expensive you would have to have a job in the city to afford it, which would effectively mean that you were never actually at your apartment. Hmmmm. It was beautiful, though! I could see the appeal of living there.

The girls were so excited on the boat ride there, despite the rain.

(This was also not your ordinary ferry, by the way. It was clean and classy, with black leather seats!)

The excitement is building!

My first impression upon stepping off the ferry and seeing the Ark was, "Oh my, it's big, but . . . if the whole earth was covered in water, that looks like a tiny, tiny boat." The Ark was dwarfed by the concrete pilings supporting the famous Tsing Yi bridge right next to it.

We were so impressed with the thoughtful, truthful, detailed design of the entire park and attractions within and surrounding the Ark. We read later that there were two billionaire Chinese brothers who originally had this idea, and sunk their money as well as recruiting other organizations to chip in to the Ark effort. So the "expo areas" inside the Ark are meant to be walked through like an interactive science museum, telling the biblical story of the flood as well as examining issues like the design of the Ark, the existence of flood stories in cultures all over the world, and looking at scientific and explorer's evidence of the whole event. It was truly fascinating stuff.

On the second floor of the Ark, there was another science-museum sort of set-up with interactive displays really meant for school children. There were hordes of school kids there that day, actually, and they had fun zooming noisily from room to room (each dedicated to a subject like Music, Languages, Architecture, Animals, Plant Life, the Universe, etc.). We tried to stay out of their way! My girls enjoyed it, but I think it really would be much more interesting for school-aged children. We did manage to spend a few hours there though!
The third floor of the Ark is actually a hotel/resort--you can stay in the Ark overnight! We did not opt for this since it was quite expensive, but I could certainly see the draw.
Finally we made our way outside again to tour "The Ark Garden." Through two levels of beautiful landscaping were interspersed scuplted pairs of endangered animals. The girls loved seeing the animals, despite the fact that by then the rain had been long gone and it had turned amazingly, absolutely HOT. We used our umbrellas for shade!

Photo-op in front of the open door of the Ark.

It was really a great family activity. Spending time teaching the girls more about the Bible in such an interactive way was really fun! They loved it too! Except for Christin, who was oblivious. But that's what happens when you're one and you've missed both of your naps!

Running for the giraffes...

Those last two photos together give you an idea of the length of the Ark. It's really amazing that Noah built it by himself--no wonder it took him more than 100 years!
We finished our visit by walking back to the island's grocery store and buying supplies for a picnic supper by the beach. Yum, a sandwich with (hard-to-find) real deli meat to end the day was a perfect conclusion. What a great day at Noah's Ark!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Adventures with Numbers

We arrived home safely last night from our week in Hong Kong. And what a week it was! We packed every day really full of fun things (occasionally those fun things included a long nap or an early bedtime!) and had a wonderful time together. The girls' health improved quickly and we were able to do all that we hoped to do, and more! I thought I'd summarize our trip with a few numbers (more specific posts with pictures to follow!). Play along with me . . .

6:30 The time by which Christin was awake each morning. We shared one bedroom with all of us, so her calls of "Mama, Mama" were pretty hard to ignore. Unless you're John, and can sleep through anything. So, it was early mornings for us!

19 The floor we stayed on. Hooray for elevators! What a wonderful invention!

99 The number of high-rise apartment buildings (or so I've been told) in the apartment complex where we stayed. It is a large (and somewhat confusing) arrangement of buildings and shops!

12 The number of packages of blueberries that our family consumed in the first five days! We found them cheaper there in HK than at our home!

35,000 Disneyland's target goal for visitors each day. I think they got pretty close the day we were was BUSY! On a Monday!

3 Number of ferry boat rides that we took. The girls loved it, especially when watching the sailors throw the rope to the pier and seeing how that brought the boat near the dock. I found the sharp creaking of the rope a little alarming!

500+ Pictures taken, many of them in the same location at the same time, just hoping for a good shot of the girls. We definitely succeeded, but now I have to sort through all of the "not-as-good" ones and delete them. It was fun to use our new camera so much!

5 The number of times I made it to Starbucks. You knew that had to make it on the list, right? I like to be unpredictable at Starbucks. My drinks ranged from the classic caramel macchiato to an iced decaf americano to an espresso con panna to a caramel frappucino. The girls love to "share" my drink and though Clara Anne and Chloe weren't into the americano, Christin drank it like a seasoned veteran! There's no sugar and no milk in that, folks! She's crazy!

??? Number of hours I carried Christin in the Ergo, number of times we took the subway, and number of calories consumed! I certainly wasn't keeping track of those things!

It really was a wonderful trip. We kept busy but enjoyed returning to our flat each evening to have some down time, play games, watch movies, etc. We hit all of my favorite restaurants--Nomad's, Amaroni's Little Italy, and the Outback. We drank tons of water and sweated it all out every day! And now. . . we're enjoying being home. Everyone took long naps today (except for John, he's back at the office--work didn't stop while he was gone so now he's playing catch-up!) and thanks to my helper, my house was spic and span with food in the frig, yogurt stocked up and all the laundry done when we returned. What a blessing! After a long day of travel, it was so refreshing to come home to that!

So, stay tuned for pictures! There's lots to share!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

[deep breath]

Whew, can you believe it? It's time for that breather that I blogged about so long ago. We are packed and ready to go on our vacation, leaving our house tomorrow morning at 6am for an 8:30 flight. We fly to Hong Kong and will spend a week there, enjoying time together as a family as we visit Starbucks, Disneyland, and the world's only life-sized replica of Noah's Ark, eating western food all along the way. We are excited!

Well, at least, as excited as you can be when you are preparing to travel with two sick children. Christin was running a high fever over the weekend and then suddenly developed a hoarse, barking cough. We did research online and found that her symptoms were spot-on for croup. We've been treating her accordingly and she seems to be feeling much better, though I am still giving her some medicine for it. Unfortunately, Chloe suddenly came down with the same thing yesterday and is having a harder time. She was up numerous times during the night last night, choking on the excess phleghm in her throat and upset about it. She did a little better today so hopefully she'll be feeling even better tomorrow. We'll take things easy the first few days if we need to. She herself is also excited about our trip, so that may overcome a bit of her discomfort. Both Chloe and Christin's voices were affected--it's so pitiful to hear them trying to talk with hoarse, raspy voices!

So, we're off to have a much-needed rest for a week. I'm hoping and praying that it will be a truly restful, vacation-y week, but also have learned from past experiences not to let vacation be an idealistic idol in my mind! The truth is, even on vacation, kids can be naughty, there are still meals to figure out, the weather can be yucky and even, (gasp!) people can get sick! That's just life and reality in this not-yet-perfect world. So I am learning, slowly learning, just to enjoy the time away, make the most of it, but not to get my hopes up impossibly high. After all, true rest still remains for the people of God, and it will be a perfect rest, a ceasing from the stressful strivings of life and sin, in a place so impossibly beautiful, whole and perfect that our words will fail to express how wonderful it all is. It may sound silly, but the Hope of heaven comforts me in this and helps me just to enjoy our vacation, not being disappointed that everything isn't--and can't be--"perfect."

We're thankful for the opportunity to get away this week! I won't be taking my computer, so look for updates when we arrive back home. Have a great week!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pictures in the Park

This was a hare-brained idea if I ever had one. I'm not sure what I was thinking...taking the girls to a public place, where we always have a zillion people wanting to take our picture anyway, and hoping to get them all to cooperate, man the camera, try to stay out of the mud, and not get totally hot and sweaty in the process!

Here's a great image of how the girls felt about the idea. We can call this: Upset, Ambivalent, and Uncooperative, from left to right. I took two of my local friends with me, my helper and my neighbor. I wasn't surprised when I stopped to get the girls arranged and try to take some pictures that a huge crowd formed (probably 40 people), but they were. I was still trying to focus on getting a few good shots, but they were so annoyed by the crowd that they weren't helping me at all with the girls, just being annoyed! While they were muttering under their breath and debating if they should shoo everyone away, I was getting these shots: (which showed up here curiously grainy, I'm not sure why, the originals are much sharper)
Ok, not bad!

Fairly cute--no one is looking at the camera, but hey, you can't ask for everything! There were about 30 more, not worth posting. We then changed locations to let the crowd disperse. This bridge seemed like a perfect photo-op.

In the midst of this somewhere, I realized I have no creative ideas for photos. Line them up, stand them there, take the picture. I was beginning to despair of my own ability, not to mention the continued annoyed-ness of my friends and the girls who were more interested in doing anything rather than smile for a picture! And, my camera was doing weird things; focusing on the background and blurring the girls--I probably have 25 shots like that. In the midst of people crowding around and the girls going every which way, I didn't take time to adjust the camera. Hmmm, what to do? Ok, this one is keepable...

Clara Anne, off in dreamland...

Seriously, the best one I got of the three of them!

Something must be done! Do I give up and go home? Or. . . or . . . wait! The professional kids photo shop is right across the street! Let's go there!
So, we did. Pictures in the Park ended in Pictures at the Photo Studio. Amazingly, (after all that drama) the girls did great. Christin wasn't terribly happy to miss her morning nap, but a few candy treats helped her make it through. We got some great pictures, even with all three of them! The difference between me doing it and them doing it was clear: professional lighting and backgrounds, about 5 people working to pose the girls, adjust their clothes and hair, get them to smile, and take the pictures certainly beat my one-man show!
This time, for the first time, we used some of the photo studio's clothing for some pictures. Clara Anne was so excited about a princess dress that she got to wear, complete with a crown pinned into her hair. They set her up on a wooden swing trailing with ivy and had her lying on her tummy with her propped up dreamily on her elbows, hands to her chin. She loved it.
So, though our morning didn't quite go as planned, I am glad that we did the professional photos again. The girls are only young once and I know I won't regret having the photos later! We were all glad when it was done though--whew! My friend treated us to lunch and we returned home for some serious naps. Mission accomplished!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Half a Day Away

Last year about this time, I sat down and thought through some of my goals for the next year. I am too embarassed to post the entire list, since I definitely dreamed big and perhaps was a big unrealistic. (I.e. I didn't do well accomplishing them!) But there was one goal that I set that really has been wonderful, and that was the idea that I would take a half a day each month to have a mini-personal retreat. This has been such a blessing to me; I want to recommend it to you all!

It hasn't been anything formal, that I put on the calendar (though that would be a great idea); it has been more just when I am feeling like I really need it, I've tried to find a way to get some time away from my usual child care and home duties to spend more time in the Word, prayer, or reading a good book. As I've mentioned before, the last few months have been so busy for our family, and particularly John, that occasionally I've felt a bit "cooped up" in my domestic sphere and with the girls. Maybe you other moms can relate! So sometimes it's really refreshing to break up the routine a little and get some time away.

On Monday, thanks to the generous offer of my friend Amy, I was able to have some "get-away" time. She took my girls the whole day so that I could recharge and be refreshed. And, she made me a fabulous white chocolate mocha to take with on my mini-retreat! It was absolutely delicious! I took my coffee, books, and journal to a hotel downtown where I relaxed in one of their lobbies and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

The last few months, I feel like these retreats have been key to me maintaining my sanity! The settings have been different, usually I've stayed at home, but really anywhere you're comfortable and uninterrupted would work. On Monday, the Lord really used the time to deal with some things in my heart...everything I read really spoke to me. I was under no time pressure, so I could actually have a thought and linger over it. No one asked me questions or interrupted me, no little children needed me, ahhh, it was lovely! I spent time reading in the Psalms, a bit in Matthew and John, and also in Proverbs, just going where the Spirit led my thoughts and meditations. I read some more in my current books (In My Father's House by Mary Kassian and The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot), and was able to take the time to think through what I was reading and how it could impact my life. What a blessing!

I'd really like to encourage you moms out there to find a way to do something similar. Even if (as in my case) your husband is not able to take the children for awhile so you can do this, find a friend that would swap with you. I received such a blessing from this time away, I know you will too!

So, how did I end my retreat? I went out to lunch--by myself! I enjoyed eating my food while it was still hot, not having to share with little ones, and continuing to read my book as I ate leisurely. Prolonging the joy, I took a taxi to a nearby wholesale flower market just to go and enjoy the beauty for awhile. It was a relaxing, refreshing, and wholly enjoyable morning. Time spent with Him always is! See if you can make time for something like this in your life this month!