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.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another Cultural "What the...?!"

(Hey, I tried to paragraph. It's not like I LIKE the way this looks...)

IKEA. Love the meatballs, hate the layout. It's some twisted psychological marketing scheme to make you wander and wander until you are so tired that just about anything looks good, even if it doesn't sound good (I'm not so sure that things like "tryvvtynsk" are real words). Generally, I would prefer to buy my stuff elsewhere, but there really are some great things at IKEA. And now, living in China, IKEA is a great place to pick up things--no haggling, you can pay with a credit card, the standard of quality is as it is at all IKEAs.
The Chinese are starting to love IKEA, too. Where we think of it as inexpensive, IKEA is not so much when you compare it to average Chinese salaries. I think there's something about a lot of the furniture there that appeals to a more streamlined minimalist aesthetic. And, they also love the no-haggle and quality aspects as well.
The Chinese also love other things about IKEA. Going to IKEA is like going to the Mall of America. Or, like me taking my family to the Forbidden City. You might buy something; in fact, you probably will, just like you'd buy a souvenir somewhere. This is a place where people list "going to malls" as a favorite activitye with their children. IKEA is destination entertainment, folks. Pack a lunch, load up the car, and let's go!
These shots are off the internet and are tame compared to what I see when I finally break down and realize I HAVE to go there. These people may have collapsed from exhaustion (not likely, given how sloooooooooooowly people wander right. down. the. middle. of. the. aisles), but they're more likely having a little siesta after lunch or tea. You know, it's a long walk from the kitchen displays where you unpacked an ENTIRE PICNIC FOR SEVEN PEOPLE over to sofas. The packed lunch is likely to be in addition to the exotic fare at the cafeteria (don't go in there without a helment and a cup, people), although the store does tip their cultural hat and offer Chinese food as well.

This is not an ad for anything. This is a very common photo op for a woman who fancies herself to be a model. She has probably got her boyfriend snapping dozens of these shots. She's just out and about enjoying the day. Sometimes these shots involve attractive women. Sometimes they don't. You can find people posing with great seriousness all over Beijing, but where else can you go to find ready made sets, all under one roof?

Spend 4 or 5 hours at IKEA and you'll be pooped. Trust me on this one, because the 1 hour I spend there (not including the 40 minutes of backed up traffic to get there and another 20 or so to navigate the parking--and that's when I get there before the store even opens) feels like a week. Looky-loos wander at a snail's pace. Often they're looking at the ceiling for some reason. Maybe it's got some mesmerizing support beams or something, I don't know. When you see something you like, make sure you have all your friends and family members around to examine it and talk about it. Be sure to stand in the middle of the aisle. Even better if you have a cart and you can park it sideways. If it's really great, take pictures of it. Take a picture of the lamp on the shelf. Take a picture of the lamp while you're holding it. Smile! Now flash the peace sign. Now look sad. Oooh, ooh, now look happy again! Pretend to hit your friend with it. Now, let's get a group shot! You can see why you'd be tuckered out.

Um....never buy floor samples. She's just checking her messages, but couples will pull off their shoes and crawl in for a nap. Moms will change their babies on beds and changing tables. Just think before you sit. Or touch.
Ava and I went on Sunday to pick out some pillows for her new room setup. She was quite put out at what she saw. "Don't they know how rude that is? What if a person wanted to see something and they can't because someone's just sitting or sleeping or something on it?" she said (she being the person who wanted to see a tent cover for her bed, but couldn't because a woman was up there trying to get a baby to sleep). I pointed out that "rude" applies when someone breaks a rule of expected behavior. The people aren't being rude because there's no rule against doing these things. "Well," she sniffed, "they better figure out the rules if they come to America or something, because it won't be okay THERE, that's for sure."
Cultural sensitivity. One of the blessings of living overseas.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Maybe Not Such a Big Deal for You...

These pictures may not look like much (I cetainly didn't spend that much effort taking them!) but they represent a big moment for Ava and Noah. These are the first bedrooms they've ever had decorated just for them. When we lived in Minnesota Ava was a baby and had an adorable room--that I decorated. Noah shared a room with Cameron--one that he decorated.

When we moved to Tanzania, we spent the almost 3 years laboring under the illusion that we would be moving to the school site "...in just a few months." The beds were rough, the paint was weird, and there was really nothing that said "this is my space."

Here in China, Cameron sleeps in the basement, which needed some work so he got furniture and paint to create his own "man cave." It's not fancy, but then, neither is he and it suits him well. Noah and Ava soldiered on with bland walls and boring beds. This year I had them switch rooms, giving Ava the bigger room to hold her toys and her playdates and decided it time to give them a space that felt like they belonged. Courtesy of IKEA and teh New York Yankees and judging from their responses, I think I made out OK.

I don't like those decorating blogs that go 1001% for them parties where every. single. thing. is coordinated and themed and is total eye candy for the parents, but doesn't have a kid feel at all to it. I itch at people who gleefully trot out 10 or 12 tubs of fall decorations, or who change their mantle vignettes every month. One of the things I've taken to heart quite strongly is that we don't need most of what we have, that kids do not need polish and perfection to be happy, and that their stamp on something is more important than mine. Ava loves her pale lavender walls and vinyl clings. Her mosquito net is a holdover from Tanzania ("I just feel better under it, " she says) and the cushion under the bed provides a perfect space for chilling. The shelves are absolutely necessary, having lost many treasure to Chairman Miao who will knock anything off a shelf. The best part--she picked it all out. The second best part--it was cheap.

This Jeter cling is probably the most expensive thing in the room. Why can't I invent something like the Fathead?

Again, essential shelves (Chairman Miao on the prowl). The same bed (sleeping on the bottom with easy access to the iHome and a reading space on top. Everything is silver, gray, navy, and black (thank you Yankees), but there is a shout-out to the Twins on one of the walls as well. He picked it all out--and it was cheap. He loves it.
I love how my kids are content with simple things. No doubt, they would not say no to an iPad or a gaming system--and yes, they each do have an iPod and DS (hello, 15 hour plane rides)-- but I've heard kids comment to them about their things or things they don't have and all of them shrug it off easily. Things that are important (baseball gloves, a bike, an American Girl doll) are treated as special because they are. I have long struggled with the feeling that I should have more or I somehow deserve more, and I'm grateful that they seem to have taken after their dad in this respect!
I regret not making the effort earlier and the next time we move I will put their rooms first and fast. They may not have known it was a big deal, but when it was done, their reactions made it clear it was!