Monday, December 13, 2010

Shèng Dàn Kuài Lè, 聖誕快樂

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home! ~Charles Dickens

I love these bears! They're from an artist in Montana--one of those things that are every. single. place. you look in any store. I never get tired of them, though, and I covet the rather cheesy nativity that has the bears as all the characters.

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. Calvin Coolidge

I adore our Christmas tree. I never get tired of looking at it, either from across the room, or up close. Ava said our tree didn't look very Christmas-y because of all the ornaments on it, but I love hanging all the memories that come with each trinket. I love hearing them bicker over an unmarked ornament as to whose it is. I love sharing stories about the ornaments, and hearing them share their own memories. Our trips, our passions, our experiences all hang on our tree.

"And the angel said unto them, "Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, Which shall be to all people. "For unto you is born this day in the city of David A Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, Lying in a manger." -St. Luke

I'm crazy about nativities. This one is from Thailand--it's made of celadon. The color and the lack of features make this nativity feel very peaceful.

This is the only one I have from Tanzania--I was crazy not to get a wooden one, and I have no idea why I didn't. I love red and and the traditional Maasai plaid brings back so many wonderful memories.

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness. ~Bob Hope

I have to include this...I am in love with this votive--a gift from Cameron for my birthday. It's made of porcelein so fine that the light really does glow through. It looks white but next to the celadon the tiny moth picks up some green that you can't see unless it's lit. The shop had at least 8 different styles...I feel a collection coming on.
What can you say to really big poinsettia plants that cost $2 a piece? Um...something like, "OK, I'll take ten." But's that only because that was all I could carry. I'll be back for more!

This is also becoming a traditional Christmas picture--Cameron dutifully studying for exams this week. He'll do fine.

“The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. That makes all the difference in the world."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Christmas is Coming...

Haha...this is actually true here, you know! Back home, I couldn't imagine going out for Christmas dinner. We have never spent Christmas with extended family, so sometimes in the later afternoon we would head to a movie if there was something suitable, but it was always a "from scratch" breakfast and dinner on Christmas Day. Here, there is no Christmas. Despite the decorations and nods to expat traditions, December 25th is a typical work day. For the last two years (and this one, too) we have left town for a week on the 26th, so having a fridge full of leftovers is not a good idea.

So, after "from scratch" breakfast, presents, and lolling around the house we'll head off for the 2nd annual (if the kids have anything to say about it) Christmas dinner at Tairo Teppanyaki. No English, so once we have a secretary make the reservation, we're on our own. Last year, we lucked out and sat next to someone who spoke English so we got the low-down on how it all works. Far from the orderly Benihana atmosphere, eating here is more like a sport. First of all, socializing in groups is very big in China, so we'll be sharing a grill with a LOT of other people squeezed in together. It's all you can eat so you just start pointing at the picture menu and they'll start bringing it--each item on individual plates. Soon, plates are balanced precariously all around the edge of the grill waiting to be cooked. If someone decides they want theirs quicker, they just start scolding (at least it sounds like scolding) the cook to do theirs first or faster. Forget about getting food for everyone in your own party at the same time--that is NOT how China rolls. It's noisy and a bit raucous and a whole lot of good food and fun!

I guess traditions are whatever you do...wherever you are!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More 1-a-Day Blessings for November

November 11: I'm so thankful for the opportunities our kids have. Cameron's band concert was fantastic--I rushed there and barely made it after driving Ava to violin lessons and picking Noah up from volleyball. We are blessed to have so many ways to have fun and grow.

November 12: Friday night family movie night. Tonight: X-men Origins. Suitable family fare? I don't know...but you can't beat the feeling of the family squashed together on the couch!
November 13: I'm thankful for a fun and uneventful trip to town, one that resulted in me getting everything I needed without much bargaining!

November 14: My kids are all home, safe and sound. Ava is hosting her book club, Noah is drinking hot cocoa with his friend Ian and playing PSP, and Cam's vegging on the couch--he went to camp over the weekend, but then left via a driver with friends to come back to the winter formal. I'm thankful that so many of the pressures and influences that bombard kids in the States simply don't exist here. Of course, there are other challenges, but I find them much easier to deal with. I love these guys!

Novmber 15: I'm thankful for my home. With the news of the snow in Minnesota and the dropping temperatures here, we are so blessed to have a beautiful warm home. We are blessed to have a room for each child and lovely things to look at. I need to remember this more, especially when I get the "I wants" for more of I really need it?

November 14: I'm thankful for family meals together. When Mark leaves for a trip, his presence is missed most at dinner...the kids just stop even pretending to enjoy dinner after the first night. Even though there are crazy busy schedules in our house, we manage to eat dinner all together at 6:00 6-7 nights a week. ALL TOGETHER. That's fantastic!
November 15: I'm thankful for a slow start to the week. Cameron has no homework and neither does Noah! A blissfully RARE weeknight found us all cozied on the couch watching "Amazing Race." On a SCHOOL night! I think it's gonna be a good week.
November 16: I am thankful for a good night's sleep. In the worst throes of depression, I went weeks sleeping about 3 hours a night. Long before the Prozac kicked in, the sleeping pills made all the difference in the world! This year has been very stressful and I've had so many late nights! For the past two nights I've been able to get to bed before is so much better when you're rested!

November 17: I'm especially thankful for Thanksgiving. To detail what has gone down over trying to find 30 minutes in the next two weeks would be not only TMI but would likely involve snarking about someone, and snarking does NOT belong on the blessings post! Anywhoodle, I'm thankful because Saturday we will sit down to a fantastic meal (the first of at least 2 Thanksgiving dinners this year) with good food and good friends and that's fantastic. Now, if I could only find 30 minutes to see Harry Potter in the next 2 weeks...

November 18: I'm thankful for the professional opportunities that I have at work. At a time when so many people are struggling in the work force, I feel so blessed to have a job that I really love. And, since teaching gets so little respect so often and teachers struggle so hard in so many ways, to have opportunities for professional development are really not to be taken for granted. I'm going to a conference in February in Florida and almost all of it is covered by my PD fund (which I've been saving for a couple years now) and I'm so excited at the learning opportunities that I'll have.

November 19: I'm thankful for a truly wonderful friend who surprised me with a hilarious necklace as an early birthday present and who I'll have a chance to see in February when she visits me in Florida when I'm there!

November 20: I'm thankful for good friends and good food on this early Thanksgiving Day celebration. The house was warm, the food and wine were delicious, and the company was great. What more could you ask for?

November 21: I'm thankful for church, Harry Potter, and Kro's Nest pizza...sometimes the best blessings are found in routine everyday things. And, just for the record, it was fan...wait for it...tastic! We're heading back next Sunday with ISB friends to see it again--you gotta love a school where the PTA buys out an entire showing and then sells the tickets at school!
November 22: What else could be said on this day? After 23 years of marriage--and 29 years together--what could be a greater blessing than the love of a good man and a lifetime to share with him? Happy Annivesary, baby!
November 23: I'm home sick today and watched the very painful movie "Precious." I am so thankful for growing up in a peaceful, safe, predictable, family. I thought about how many thousands of children live lives like the characters in the movie and I'm counting my blessings.
November 24: Still home and very thankful that on the two days I've been feeling awful and Mark had evening commitments both nights--the school of a whole-lotta-homework mysteriously assigned very little for Ava and Noah on those two nights! THANK YOU.

November 25: How many times do you get official days to be thankful for your husband? Today is Mark's birthday--he's the biggest blessing in my life, and he deserves many more days dedicated to what a terrific husband, father, and human being he is. Look at that face--what's not to love? Besides that goatee, of course--I can't wait for Movember to end!

November 26: Ugh. What a week. I'm so thankful it's FRIDAY. Really, that's about all I can come up with.
November 27: I'm thankful for wonderful morning shopping at the Christmas Charity Fair with Ava--she's such a great date! I'm also thankful for older boys that can spend a few hours unsupervised so I can go--although they don't seem to know how to feed themselves yet!

November 28: A wonderful night listening to Ava and her choir sing at the Lido for the tree lighting ceremony. And, getting to know her Finnish friend Alva's father more while we waited for the girls to finish their dinner. And, listening to Ava and Alva madly giggling all the way home while trying desperately NOT to giggle.

November 29: So thankful that our cat, Mao, is still with us. Due to Mark's apparent difficulties in recognizing our cat from some other cat laying on the road, it was a very hard morning full of tears but a wonderful evening as we watched him (Mao, not Mark) sneak turkey off the table. I'd much rather have a mistaken husband than a missing cat!
November 30: A month of recognized blessings! How many special moments slip away because we put our time and energies toward the negative? They say it takes 30 days of doing something before it becomes a habit. I'm going to try to actively recognize the positive for another 30 days until January 1--hopefully, I'll have retrained my tendencies toward the negative in a more positive direction.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

November Blessings--1 a Day, Baby, Just like Vitamins

Being in a bit of a funk lately--Mark will be gone for a month of weekends (VERY uncool) and work is crazy and the weather's's time to focus on blessings. So here goes. One blessing a day for 30 days. I like this cartoon about blessings on the moment--it's those momentary blessings that put the spark in the day and add up to the joys of life.

I'm just going to add one a day here--if you're willing, let me know if you're doing it on your own blog...or be willing to post your blessing a day in the comments section.

November 1: I'm thankful for the opportunity to live overseas. It's demanding and comes at a cost, but our kids go to one of the top schools in the world, and I have a housekeeper. Oh, and we get to travel and see truly amazing things. Over at Derfwad Manor Mrs. G asked people where they would want to go if they had a pile of money handed to them. Places listed: African safari, the pyramids, the Great Wall, Glacier National Park, Angkor Wat...places I've been blessed to see with my family.

November 2: I'm thankful for Noah's essay in humanities. He read the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischer and is currently writing another chapter for the book in the same pattern (each chapter was a different person and a different story, with all the stories centered around the development of a community garden). He has worked so hard and with enthusiasm. And, he's really got an excellent chapter--good ideas, good execution.

November 3: I'm thankful to be an American. I didn't vote in this round (boo) but one of the things about living overseas is that you see the best and the worst about America in new ways. I'm constantly reminded about the freedoms we enjoy--and all the assumptions I make as I go through life because of them. Living in countries where those freedoms don't exist (and knowing they wouldn't exist for me if I ever got in trouble) makes me really appreciate our freedoms, and those who stand to protect them.

November 4: I'm blessed to have my husband. He never stops trying at anything. He sets impossibly high goals for himself and achieves most of them. He is always positive and sees God working so clearly in his life. It's intimidating and inspiring! He keeps our family heading in the right direction, something that I couldn't do on my own. I love him so!

November 5: I am grateful for our ayi, Xiao. Lord knows how fortunate I am to not have to do laundry or cleaning or cooking! But it really is more than just having a sparkly house. Most things take longer and are less efficient here--my washer only holds about a 1/3 of my American washer and 1 wash cycle takes 45 minutes! If I had to do those chores, it would be a huge burden over here with working and momming. Xiao comes every day and works hard, always with a smile. I can count on her completely. Because of her, I have peace in those areas. I have the time to spend with my kids on their homework. I have a house that is neat and (mostly) organized so we all feel comfortable. She doesn't just make our lives easier...she really does make our lives better.

November 6: I'm thankful for small moments of peace in a busy life. Today Noah is at camp, Ava and Mark are camping, and Cameron is at jazz practice. I've learned long ago not to feel guilty about how I spend that precious time. Right now I'm just watching TV. And loving it. There is a joy in being able to just do nothing for a little while.

November 7: I'm thankful for my children's friends. They have always had friends that have come from families that shared similar values (if not in our faith, in our common sense and parenting styles). Their friends have brought out wonderful qualities in them--and, I hope, ours have done the same for them. Cameron's friends will leave at the end of this school year, and I think I will miss them as much as he will. They are a really wonderful group of quality kids. Now that we are well into these teen years, friends like his provide amazing peace of mind to parents!

November 8: I'm thankful for Capital One and their incredibly annoying policy of freezing my credit card every. single. time. I use it overseas. Plus they only let Mark call and straighten it out. Today we got a notification that someon in the Czech Republic has twice tried to make a $2600 purchase. We had to send a photocopy of the card to a place we were staying in Cambodia and I was worried that something might happen. Luckily they caught it and notified us. New cards on the way, all is good!

November 9: Today has been a hard hard day and everything I start sounds phony. I'm not feeling the blessings, even though they are all around me. A friend of mine's mother has had cancer and she had to fly home a couple weeks ago for a health scare. She just returned this week from her funeral. Because of time and distance, having the whole family go back for the funeral just wasn't possible. I am thankful that I am not at that place. Our parents are strong and healthy for their ages and, while I think about the days that will come, I am thankful they aren't here yet.

November 10: I am thankful for my job. Teaching is a so demanding and teaching at ISB pushes me so hard in so many ways. I am thankful that I can do a job that I love--I can' imagine doing anything else. I am thankful to be in a school with such terrific resources. I am thankful to have a job in these times!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween in the Jing

I don't have any pics of the kids in their adorable costumes because they eschewed the whole costume thing in favor of just getting out and getting a bagful of weird candy (shrimp-flavored suckers, anyone?) Strangely enough, it was the 'rents the pulled it out and costumed up for the weekend...

Mark went out for a real costume. I prefer to find a few things around the house and improvise at the last minute.

The pumpkins turned out OK, though. One of the highlights was a guy admiring the Gene Simmons pumpkin. He said, "Great pumpkin. Weren't you the guys that did the Yankees logo pumpkin last year?" Noah was so happy that someone remembered his pumpkin for a whole year!

Halloween. The Chinese families get the idea that you get some kind of strange thing to wear and go around and get free candy. The little girls tend to be tricked out in princess outfits. The more Chinese the family the odder it gets--like the little child who had no costume but carried his candy in a mask. Or the moms that force their obviously frightened children up to strangely dressed grownups (it's not scarey enough that we're white--now we're wearing weird hats!) Or the moms that use their children as a diversion to stuff their own pockets with tons of candy while we're telling the tykes, "Just one." Definitely not American--but it is just enough American that we have a great time! Hope yours was just as fun!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Breathe Deep--Remind Me Why We're Here?!

This weekend we drove through this...

...and then waded through this (note the smoggy haze)... order to see some of this....

I wish I were young and irresponsible...that I didn't care about job security or savings and retirement and college funds or the effect of moving on my children. What are we doing here? This place is not for us. It's just too big, too busy, too crowded, too dirty--in short, all of the things that so many other people really love about being here. But not us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Only in Montana. And Maybe Wyoming. Or Colorado.

I am seriously having one @#$&*$ of a bad day and whatever it says about me, this made me laugh. It's seriously nice elk and picturing these guys drifting down the river with it curled up in the front (OK, so it's more "lopped off" than "curled up") definitely brightened my day. Congrats on the hunt and thanks for the giggle, Chris and Jason.


For some reason most of my picture responses on Facebook come from the foods I post. Food is so completely essential to who we are. I am still a picky eater, but I have learned to looooove so many different kinds of foods. I know that I love them when I get a craving for something. Like butter chicken and papadams from the Indian restaurant. I never really craved Chinese food and I don't really here, either, but when we are at a Chinese restaurant, I definitely look for certain things I "need" for lunch or dinner. One whiff of green curry and I'm instantly transported to a greasy table along a back alley in Thailand, slurping up heavenly spoonfuls of the stuff and washing it down with the all-necessary icy beer.

I don't think I would ever get tired of or stop missing a great pizza or a fantastic burger. We ate tons of both this summer and it never got old. Here I'm willing to drive over an hour for real "American" pizza and spend over $10 for a burger that comes pretty close to home. Other things, like Mexican, I just make do. I fall into throes of ecstasy over strange things like Twizzlers. I binge on raspberry chipotle sauce over cream cheese that someone brought to book club. I have spent over $7 for a box of cereal because...well, just because. Food is so much more than stuff that fuels your body. It's comfort. It's memories of people and places past. It's part of who you are, no matter where you go.

Which means, of course, that food is, well, different around the world. I'm not talking sea cucumbers and chicken feet. Although I do have pictures. Sometimes I'm baffled by other things. Like corn, for instance. The Chinese love it. It goes on pizza. It comes as a side at McDonald's. You can have corn yougurt. Or corn ice cream. But nowhere can you get a big juicy ear of corn bathed in butter and sprinkled with salt. And some things just don't seem to work togther. Pea-flavored popsicles? Lemon tea potato chips? Hmmm...

There are those things that fall under my "picky eater" radar. Mushrooms, for example. I have tried so many different ways to eat them, but finally gave up. I'm just not going to like them. Ever.

Tofu is another. Tried it. Get the point of it. Tastes fine, because it absorbs whatever it's being cooked in. The feel? I can feel tofu in a mouthful of anything. But this spicy Sichuan-y bowl looked yummy.

I love salty things like soy sauce. I am passionate about cilantro. I adore sesame oil. Don't even get me started about garlic. I put it on everything. Really. Even if you tell me you hate it, you'll get some. So thescucumbers...well, it's a match made in heaven. I ate them for breakfast, too. Mmmmmm.

Another j'adore is shrimp. Seriously. Can there ever be anything wrong with them? Especially these little guys, with some sort of bare
ly-there spicy batter and fried garlic. It's worth burned and messy fingers to get at the tasty parts. Although it wouldn't kill someone to just freakin' peel them before they cook them. Although the Chinese probably pop them in, head, tail, and all. But they could be more free with the napkins.

At the end of the day, it's hard to complain about: 2 plates of kung-pao chicken, 1 plate of ginger mushrooms, 1 order of fried shrimp, 1 spicy tofu, 2 marinated cucumbers, 3 sweet and sour pork, 2 scrambled egg and tomato, 1 corn with pine nuts, 2 plates of dumplings, 8 orders of steam rice, 1 plate of fried rice, 15 bottles of water and 8 large bottles of beer that fed 7 adults, 5 teens and 3 littles: all for less than $200. Seriously. What's not to love about that?!

Slices of Life

Classic China. I love this shot.

Oooooh, so THIS is why all the hotels come with slippers in the rooms. Must be cheaper than vacuuming.

This man needs a serious day at the beach. Party planning is hard work.

Hey. Who else in our family would have a giant iguana on his head?

And who else would be cuddling a kitten? Hopefully he's sleepy and not drugged, but I wouldn't be on it.

I get boats dressed up as fish, or ducks, or as other boats. This, however, looks like a Hurricane Katrina remnant.

Tiny slow electric carts with wide open sides are just the thing if you want to be assaulted by cabbage-crazy deer. Or bad-tempered emus.

Oh dear Lord, that boy looks old.