Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From Monkeys to Elephants

Elephants are very large. Even so, it took two elephants to carry my ginormous family. Bart, Shay and Ainsley took the first elephant. Aidan, Kyra and I then climbed the platform to board the second, an 18-year-old gal named Pinky.

An elephant is bigger than a minivan, but less comfortable. I sat in the middle of a bench that was strapped to the elephant’s back, with Kyra and Aidan on either side of me. The bench bounced with every plodding step, sending me crashing backwards into the metal seatback.

About five minutes into the ride, the elephant driver hopped off to take a picture with our camera. Then he ran ahead to take pictures of Bart’s elephant and another elephant, ridden by our friends Scott and Sonia. Meanwhile, Pinky kept walking, without a driver… right toward a steep, narrow hill.

Keep in mind that I’ve never ridden an elephant before. So I’m perched up here with a guide who has abandoned his post, wondering if my elephant knows how to get down the hill by herself. She did, but if you look closely at the photos, you’ll see that I’m replaying in my mind’s eye those grainy videos you sometimes see on the evening news, titled something like “Elephant Goes Berserk, Attacks Crowd in Toledo!”

The guide eventually climbed back up, and we tried to converse, but his English wasn’t much better than my Thai. He pointed out various sites along the way: a temple (I think), an elephant graveyard (I think), his house (I think…). Then the elephants all pulled over to the side of the road and the drivers produced small boxes of overpriced elephant necklaces. I said no, but Bart said yes (always the sucker), so then I had to say yes, too. We paid about 30USD for three little necklaces for the kids. I consoled myself with the thought that perhaps Pinky would get an extra scoop of elephant chow that night thanks to our infusion of cash.

The biggest hit of the journey? Well, when my kids are along for the ride, you can probably guess: elephant elimination. That’s right. We discovered that elephant poop is about the size of a bowling ball, and when an elephant needs to pee, it’ll create a small lake. Trust me when I tell you this is almost as funny as monkey sex (oh, I can already see the google hits I’m going to get off of this one…).

Toward the end of the ride, Shay climbed up front with his driver. Than the driver jumped off, leaving Shay alone on the elephant’s neck for awhile. He seemed to handle his time alone steering the elephant better than I.

On the way home, I asked Aidan if he remembered the elephant’s name. “Pinky,” he answered. “I’m always going to remember her name was Pinky, even when we’re back in Bangkok.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Christmas Article

Better late than never, for your reading pleasure. Stumble it, digg it... you know the drill.

Back in Beijing

When we left Bangkok on Saturday evening, the temperature was in the 80s. When we touched down at 2 a.m. in Beijing, the temperature was 21 degrees, and a cloud of coal dust enveloped us. Cough, gasp, brrrr.

Thailand was better than good. Here we are, the happy family, appropriately posed in front of Monkey Island.

Monkey Island was closed - because it was the windy season, the fishermen weren't taking tourists out. But we did get to feed the monkeys outside of a temple in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. The guide warned us not to get too close, as the monkeys will bite and scratch. So the kids threw bananas from a safe distance. That is, they thought they were safe, but the alpha male decided to sneak up behind them. I was still in the van, and I saw this huge monkey sneaking up, so I said, "Hey! Watch out for the huge monkey!" Bart turned around just as the monkey drew up even with Kyra - it was about as big as her, and it was trying to get the banana out of her hand. When Bart turned and saw this, he jumped and shouted "Holy S@#t!" The monkey fled. The kids all stared at Bart and committed the phrase to memory.

So I guess you could say the most memorable thing about the monkeys was the new vocab. That, or the fact that Shay got an eyeful of the alpha male mounting another monkey. He was, shall we say, uproariously amused.

Here we are, post monkey feeding, in front of the temple.

More to come from me later. But for now, I'm off to feed my family. Because the days of fresh coconut curry and lime soda, brought to me at my table and cleared away by someone else, are over.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from Thailand

We're celebrating Christmas here on the beach at Dolphin Bay. Not very orthodox, but oh-so-fun. We're all sunburned and sand-covered. Tomorrow we leave for an overnight stay in Bangkok, and then home to Beijing.

I'll have a lot to say when I'm not being charged by the minute for internet access, so I'll probably update you in bits and pieces upon return.

For now:
There's a big water slide in one of the resort's pools, and the boys have been having a blast sliding down, over and over and over. Kyra has no fear of the water, so we have to keep a close watch on her. There is a kiddie wading pool, and while she's happy there, she's also fond of tossing toys in the big pool and then leaning over to fish them out. Scary!

She was afraid of the water at the beach until yesterday. This made for a nice break, as we could sit in our beach chairs and not worry about her wading in. But now she loves it, waves and all. It isn't deep, so she goes in waist high and lets the waves hit her. Or she plays "coconut football:" She tosses a coconut into the waves and waits for the waves to send it back to her.

We couldn't go to Monkey Island - it's the windy season, so they don't take tourists out on the water. But we did feed the monkeys in the National Park. Cute, in a way - but it's not much different from feeding rats. They're nasty little scavengers, and they dig through trash cans until tourists show up bearing bananas.

We also did an elephant trek. Pictures to come once I return home and can download them.

Today it is about 30 degrees Celsius here at Dolphin Bay. I hear it's 6 degrees Celsius in Beijing, so I'm not particularly excited about returning home on Saturday. We'll have to start over again, saving our pennies, so we can take a vacation like this again in the future. The kids are loving the pool and the ocean and the ice cream bar. I'm loving their happy little smiles.

After the girls wake from their naps, we'll take them for one last swim in the pool, one last stroll down the beach and one last Thai dinner in the open air restaurant (complete with local dogs snoozing under the tables - someone alert the Health Department!). Tomorrow we'll check out and drive back to Bangkok - about 3 hours away. We'll probably spend the afternoon poolside at the Conrad Bangkok - it has, I think, the most beautiful pool I've ever seen.

We have a late flight out on Saturday, so we'll either try to see a site in Bangkok, or more likely just get in one last swim and pick up some souvenirs. Our plane lands back in Beijing at 1 a.m.

And then I'll be back, with stories and photos, to make you all jealous.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thailand, Here We Come...

So we're doing it. After many fits and starts and near disasters, we are apparently getting on a plane, Thailand-bound, on Wednesday morning. The family members who were supposed to meet us there won't be able to, but it looks like we're going anyway... if we can find the swimsuits and floaties and sunblock and suitcases and passports and... you get the idea.

Lots to report but little time to do it. And so many strange moments have come and gone this week, but I've had no camera to record them. Like, for example, this morning's trip to the car wash. It is so cold that the water freezes on the ground of the car wash, but the men and women who work there just slide around on the ice, washing cars all day long without so much as a lip chatter. Good times!

And there was yesterday's trek to the Chinese Catholic Cathedral. An odd experience: exactly the same, and yet completely different. Stations of the cross with Chinese captions, for example. I tried to take it all in so I could report back, but you know how it is: four kids + one church service = mom too frazzled to look around.

We'll be back on the 28th, and hopefully the clean air and sunshine will cure us all of our nasty Beijing coughs. I doubt we'll have internet access, so don't expect much from me until then. In case I don't manage to post between now and then, I'll take this opportunity to wish you all the merriest of holidays. I hope you all get everything you want this Christmas. As for me? I already have everything I could possibly want.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Greed and Giving

Shay is in greed mode now that the holidays are approaching. He keeps telling me what one thing he just can’t live without, and he’s been writing elaborate letters to Santa, even though he isn’t really a believer anymore. He’s hedging his bets, just in case.

I have to say, however, that the desire to acquire is settling down to a dull ache – as opposed to stateside, where we were bombarded with advertising from every angle until we had to have it all.

Both boys have actually impressed me with their selflessness this season. First off, Aidan’s little friend Otto turned 6 last week, and Aidan was invited to Otto’s party. Otto’s mother told me not to bring a present, as Aidan had already given Otto such a nice gift at school.

“Oh, you must mean Jayden,” I told her, knowing full well that we hadn’t yet gone shopping. But no – both she and Otto insisted it was Aidan. So I went home and asked him about it. Turns out, it was Aidan. See, for his own birthday, a relative had sent Aidan a really nice gift, one he was looking forward to using, but had set aside for a rainy day. Aidan decided that if he liked the gift so much, Otto would surely love it. So he brought it to school and asked the teacher’s assistant to help him wrap it up for Otto. You’d think the teacher’s assistant would have questioned him about this, but she didn’t. So it turns out that Aidan wrapped up his own favorite thing and gave it to someone else. When I explained to him that he couldn’t ask for it back, I expected tears, but he was quite pleased with himself for coming up with and carrying out such a plan.

Then there’s Shay. Some neighbors of ours are active at a nearby orphanage that takes in disabled Chinese orphans in the hope of fixing them up for adoptive families. The neighbors decided to hold a fundraiser for the orphanage. They’re hoping to raise enough money to help one little baby boy with a cleft lip and another who is critically ill and needs major heart surgery. We were invited, and Shay decided he wanted to donate some money to the cause. I told him I’d match his contribution, and he scraped together 38 RMB (a bit over $5) from his allowance. So I rounded it up and gave him 100 RMB. He was so proud of himself when he put his 100 RMB in the donation box – even prouder when the family members made a point of thanking him. They gave him a little paper ornament with a picture of the boy who needs heart surgery, and he keeps the ornament in his room.

Yesterday he came home and asked if we could do another matching funds donation. It seems the Roots n Shoots kids at his school are holding a fund raiser for a local animal shelter. 50 RMB covers the expenses for one dog for two weeks, and if you donate 50-100 RMB, you can basically “adopt” a dog and bring its picture home. Shay had 56 RMB he was saving to buy Christmas presents, but he decided he’d rather do this. So I gave him another 50 RMB, and he was able to sponsor a dog for a whole month. He chose “Hootch,” a rather unfortunate looking little dog, and now we have Hootch’s picture up on Shay’s shelf next to the little boy’s picture.

I’m actually rather proud of him. I asked if he was sure he wanted to give all of his present money – I suggested he might want to keep a bit of it, but he said this was more important. This from the kid who only last week was telling me he would actually DIE if he didn’t get this particular Lego doohickey that he desperately wants.

The cynical part of me thinks he just wants to impress Santa and ensure a place on his “good kid list.” But he hasn’t once mentioned Santa in connection with his good deeds. And I’m impressed with the way he – and Aidan – thought about what they could do to help someone else, and then went and did it.

Let’s just hope Shay doesn’t try to talk me into matching funds so he can get his Lego set next…

Friday, December 5, 2008


Someone told me it hit 19 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, and I believe it. I was running errands all over town, and every time I stepped from the car, a blast of dusty Arctic wind slapped me in the face. Shay was home from school, coughing, so at bus time, I bundled up to go pick up Aidan. I briefly considered driving to the bus stop – it was that cold. But instead I put on my wool coat, scarf, hat, mittens and insulated shoes (no socks, though). All of this over jeans, t-shirt and sweater. I grabbed my tea and headed down to the front gate.

The 10-minute walk there wasn’t so bad. But on the return trip, I was headed into the wind with a 5-year-old straggler. I kept pleading with him to please go faster, please. But the wind seemed to slow him down even more than usual. About half way home, he pulled his scooter to the side of the road and refused to go further, crying that he was too cold. I eventually lured him home with promises of hot cocoa and marshmallows. By the time we returned home, I couldn’t feel my legs under my jeans and my cheeks burned red.

Sometimes, you know, just sometimes, I really miss my old life back in Los Angeles.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Quick Little Update

November was NaPoBloMo, or some such thing - basically, if you participated, you were supposed to update your blog Every Single Day in November.

As you might have noticed, I did not participate.

But here it is, December 1st, and I should probably write something just so you know I'm still here.

Thanksgiving came and went. We played football - there were lots of teams, including one all female team (yours truly was a stand-out talent). My team played against the Marines. It wasn't even a contest. We beat them by so many points, I lost track. I myself got over three touchdowns. What's that? You don't believe me? Well, it's my blog, so I can tell the story any way I want, and I say I'm a natural wide receiver. Those Marines went home crying from the shame of it all.

After the Turkey Bowl, we had dinner with Bart's boss and all of the Marines. Lots of food. Lots of inappropriate video games, too. Apparently, Marines like to shoot things, even on their days off. My boys were captivated, and I had to shoo them out of the TV room several times.

We had another celebration at our house on Saturday with a few friends. We had a great time - especially Casey, who managed to steal almost an entire ham that our friend left within reach of his doggy teeth. If he could talk, I'm pretty sure he'd say it was The. Best. Thanksgiving. Ever. (Woof. Burp.)

The big news for December is that we're planning a family beach vacation. We're supposed to meet up with my in-laws and one bro-in-law at a beach resort in Thailand. Swimming pools, fruity drinks, scuba diving, pad thai, monkeys...

Of course, the other big news for December is that the international airport in Thailand has been closed - taken over completely by protesters. They want the government to dissolve itself. I just want a fruity drink under an umbrella. Who wins? The in-laws are supposed to get on a plane to Asia within the next couple of days, but we still don't know if we'll be able to hook up with them in Thailand. We've been SO excited about the idea of getting out of here for awhile. And now we're... well, less than thrilled.

Big week ahead for me, with meetings at the Embassy, holiday packages to mail, more holiday shopping to do, and all sorts o stuff.

So that's it for now. I hope that was enough of an update, because it's late and I'm off to bed.

Fingers crossed I get my fruity drink in December...

Friday, November 28, 2008

More Reading For You

I've been having all sorts of Thanksgiving adventures - cooking, eating, taking sick people to the hospital, playing football with the Marines, etc... - so I'm just too busy to write. Tomorrow we do our official Thanksgiving, with a few friends from the 'hood. So I'm elbow-deep in turkeys and desserts and all the rest of it.

But I have a new article for you to read. Thanks to my blogless friend Kim, as well as my virtual pals Simple Answer and Jill at the Perlman Update, for their insight as I researched this article. Also thanks to Jessica, who offered her thoughts even while in the midst of her move to Baku. And thanks to the rest of you who helped me out, but didn't want your names mentioned. Here's hoping I sound as though I know whereof I speak.

Please, if you like it, stumble it, digg it, or tell all your friends that I'm the next Hemingway. Or, you know, don't.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I'll be back with an update soon, I promise.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baby Lily

Some dear friends of ours had a baby on Thursday night. Little Lily Christine was born… and then she died. And I sit here at my computer, trying to think of a way to make sense of this terrible, terrible loss. I can’t wrap my head around the kind of pain her parents are suffering right now, and I can’t think of any way at all to make it better.

I know my friend’s arms are aching and empty right now. She’s far away, in Texas, so I can’t even give her a hug. But I can ask you all to say a prayer for her, for her husband, for their sons, and, of course, for baby Lily: that she is safe and warm somewhere right now, and that she knows how much her parents loved her.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Giving Thanks - An Article

Here's my latest from Beijingkids Magazine - don't forget to stumble it or digg it or whatever it is you young'uns do these days.

And speaking of Thanksgiving - I just put in my order for a turkey. $70 for a 16 pounder. Yes, you read that right: I just spent seventy dollars on a bird. I haven't even started purchasing the rest of the necessities.

Better get going...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Writing Advice

A few weeks back, Shay's teacher asked me to come in and talk to her class about writing. The kids are working on personal essays, which is kind of my thing, so I read them a story I had published about Shay, then talked about where I get my ideas.

The kids were so wide-eyed and fascinated - it made me feel like a real writer. In fact, they sent me a thank you card afterwards, and one of them wrote "you are the best writer I have ever met." Cue warm fuzzy feeling.

Today an actual real writer arrived at the school. Eric Kimmel has published zillions of children's books, and the PTA arranged to have him fly in for a visit. He is doing workshops with all of the elementary grade levels. He met with the kindergarteners today, and Aidan was just thrilled to meet him – they’d been reading his stories for weeks in preparation for the visit. Mr. Kimmel also did a seminar for parents, during which he dispensed some advice for aspiring writers. Gutsy Writer asked me for some advice awhile back, but I wasn’t sure what advice I might have. Mr. Kimmel suggested reading a lot, writing every day and starting out by pitching magazines. Check, check and check. He also pointed out that people living this overseas lifestyle have lots to offer, as we have experiences and stories that no one else out there has. True enough.

Of course, as he pointed out, you can’t be afraid of rejection. The rejection letters used to bother me, but I grew accustomed to them rather more quickly than I’d expected. Now? Eh, whatever. I’ve written plenty of stories that were rejected numerous times before finding a home. So I don’t take it very personally when I get a rejection. And I love when I get personal rejection letters, from editors who took the time to read what I sent them and offered up encouraging words. Once, when I was first starting out submitting, I wrote a story and sent it off to a little publication. The editor wrote me a personal note telling me she loved my story, and while it was wildly inappropriate for her publication, she actually sent me a list of other pubs I should query. I was floored by her kind words and graciousness to this very green writer. And the story did eventually find a home, in the Washington Post.

So – nothing new in Eric Kimmel’s advice to aspiring writers. Read. Write. Submit. Repeat. But it was good to be reminded of the work that’s involved in trying to make a living off of one’s words. I guess I’ll just keep plugging away at it and wait for fame and fortune to find me. If only I didn’t move every few years, perhaps fame and fortune could find me more easily.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Day - Juxtapositions

I had a spare hour this morning, so I tackled the kids’ drawers. I pulled out all the clothes that aren’t season appropriate (this because Kyra insists upon wearing shorts and sundresses if she sees them). Then I boxed them all up to take to the charity store down the street, figuring some hypothetical poor kids might need them.

I stopped at Starbucks on the way to the charity store and picked up a mocha (31 kuai – about $4.50!). Then I headed for the store, just a five-minute drive away, on the outskirts of the little Chinese hutong between my big house and the boys’ big school. When I pulled up, I saw a crowd about fifty deep outside the store. I parked my van next to a pile of rotten greens and crushed eggshells, making sure I didn’t run over any of the mutts pawing through the trash in search of something edible, and went to see what was going on.

Apparently, the charity store was having a sale. Normally, they collect things and then redistribute them to local charities in need. But it seems they had a lot of clothing piling up that wasn’t needed – wrong size, wrong season, whatever. So they put it out for sale to the villagers, at a cost of 10 pieces per kuai (about 10 cents). They figured if they just handed it out, someone would grab it all and re-sell it, but if they sold it, even for a very low price, it would get to the villagers who needed it.

Hence the crowd. Parent were crowded around tables in front of the store, under the watchful eye of the volunteers, looking for clothing they could use. They saw me approach and eyed my bags of clothing – probably hoping it would be dumped onto the table. But no – I dropped it off inside to be sorted.

“Ten pieces per kuai,” said the store manager, “but they’re still choosing carefully.” I’d just tossed 35 kuai on a mocha without thinking about it much, but here were these poor people, no longer hypothetical, searching for bargains out in the cold.

From there I hopped in the car and went two blocks further, pulling into the gate at my sons’ private school. From the parking lot, you can see the rooftops of the hutong where I’d just been. On cold days like today, smoke rises as they burn coal to stay warm.

The school has a heating system.

So anyway. Someday I’ll try to turn these impressions into an article. For now, just a pre-Thanksgiving reminder that I’m warm and well-fed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Did You Miss Me?

I told you I'd be out of touch for awhile. But I've just sent off the second of three articles I aimed to get done by today; the third I can finish tomorrow. The third is "on spec" anyway - that means the magazine has asked to see my revisions, but they haven't guaranteed they'll buy the finished project. Hate that! But it's a magazine I've long wanted to get into, not for the money, which wouldn't be great, but for the prestige. So we'll see. The first two stories are already sold, so of course they had my attention first.

We went to the Marine Corps Ball last night. I went to my first ball back in 1999, in Moscow. They have a traditional opening ceremony - my favorite part is when they present a slice of cake to the oldest marine present and then to the youngest. The oldest - you'll see her here - was born in 1922. The youngest was born the year I graduated from high school. The gentleman standing with them is the current U.S. Ambassador to China.

And there we are - such a cute couple, aren't we?

We were out until 1 a.m., and I still got up at 3 a.m. to feed Ainsley. So I'm exhausted. Good night; more from me later.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spring Forward, Fall... uh, never mind

Just a little reminder to those of my fans who like to call me up (that'd be you, mom): here in China, there's no daylight savings time. So we are now 13 hours ahead of east coast family and 16 hours ahead of west coasters. Right? That's what I think, anyway. You do the math.

In other news, I was randomly strolling around the internet and I came across this article by Shannon Lowe, who blogs over at Rocks in my Dryer. (Sorry I can't provide the link to her blog - it's one of those blogs I can almost never access from here behind the Great Firewall.) Anyway, she writes an interesting article about expat moms, and in it, she quotes me! I'll try not to let the sudden fame go to my head.

It's been a busy day of candy-snarfing and paper airplane contests. We had about 400 trick-or-treaters at the house yesterday - they come from neighboring areas of town, and they even bus in from the Embassy. Kyra was hilarious. I explained the concept of trick or treat, so she went to the first door, said "trick-or-treat," and then gave them the candy from her bag. Same at the second door. And the third. Finally, something clicked and she figured it out. "Look, mama!" she said, "Candy!" And she held it up to the light to admire. After that, she'd run to each door and accept their offering. Then she'd look in the bag and look back at the people in the doorway, wondering what other magical things they might do.

In other news: The Embassy has moved at last! So I had a husband this weekend, and possibly will have again in the future. Weird, huh?

I will not post much this week. I actually have three articles due by Friday. One is done but awaiting revision, one is outlined but not researched, and one doesn't even exist in my head yet. So my mornings will be full of words, but alas! none for you.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


We dressed up tonight for a big Halloween bash at a neighbor's house, complete with a haunted house and monster cookies.

Kyra had several choices of costume: princess, lion, etc. She chose Superman. The costume was huge on her and had to be rolled up several times, but you'll see from the pictures that she was thrilled.

Aidan was ever-so-excited when a neighbor lent him an Incredible Hulk costume. Only problem: we couldn't convince him that the Hulk doesn't carry a sword.

Ainsley didn't know what was going on. But isn't she cute?

And Shay: poor Shay. He was born to a very non-creative mom, and he wasn't satisfied with any of his pre-made costume choices. But I wasn't able to help him create anything. Perfect is the enemy of good, as they say, and so he stalled and stalled until he was out of options. He finally tossed on a cape and a mask in the hope of looking like a sword fighter, but he took the whole thing off before he walked into the party. Just as well: his costume reminded me of a hilarious story his uncle tells about streaking back in the day at Georgetown.

There you have it. Trick or treat is this Saturday, so I'll try to toss up some more photos over the weekend.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More Melamine

It seems that authorities in Hong Kong have now discovered melamine in Chinese eggs.

If you were paying attention, you would've heard about the scandal some weeks back when Chinese babies started dying because someone got the idea of diluting cow's milk with water, and then adding the industrial chemical melamine to the mixture in order to make it appear normal. At least four babies died; thousands more became extremely ill after drinking tainted formula. Babies and children all across China had to go to the hospital for testing. My own kids escaped relatively unscathed: we drink imported milk. But I did have to toss the yogurt, and I've switched to a more expensive organic brand.

Now comes the news that the eggs have tested positive. But no one's sure how the melamine got into the eggs. The guess right now is that melamine was fed to the chickens. Which means the chickens are poisonous, too. And perhaps the rest of the meat supply as well.

My head is spinning. There's no way out of this net, no way at all. Kids have to eat. We live in China, which means they have to eat Chinese products. Ainsley's coming up on her 6-month birthday, so it's time to introduce solids. With the other kids, I was eager to get started, but now? I'm afraid to feed her something that later turns out to have been harmful.

I could buy imported baby food, but at $2 a jar, that seems sort of crazy. I wonder: if I blend up the local fruits and veggies for her, will it be safe? Do I even have a choice?

There are so many things to worry about right now in the great wide world. I don't think I can handle any more just yet.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Shay's Soccer Tournament

On Sunday there was a city-wide soccer tournament, so we spent the afternoon at Shay's school, cheering him on. Correction: Bart cheered him on while I chased Kyra around the playground. There were 12 teams playing; Shay was excited to report that his team came in third.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Introducing Jennifer

Aidan's fabulous teacher has two travelling suitcases. Inside one is Pat. In the other - Jennifer.

Jennifer is a penguin (not a real one, silly). Pat is a platypus. Every weekend, one of the kids brings home either Jennifer or Pat. This weekend, it was Aidan's turn to bring home Jennifer. Inside Jennifer's suitcase is everything she needs for the weekend: a snuggly quilt, loads of books on penguins, a journal and an arts n crafts kit. Aidan was supposed to bring Jennifer everywhere this weekend, and read to her each night. Then, he could draw or write about their adventures in the journal.

So Jennifer read books. She watched a movie. She went ice skating, went to a birthday party, cheered for Shay at soccer, etc... Personally, I find it a bit exhausting to have houseguests like Jennifer. She's very high maintenance: we constantly had to take her picture, and remember to bring her fun places with us.

Aidan was quite proud of his new hugely-proboscised friend. I think he'll be sad to say goodbye tomorrow morning. But sooner than soon, Pat the platypus will come for a visit.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Haiku Friday

The Embassy closed.
They were supposed to move it.
But they haven’t yet.

Everything’s gone wrong.
The building isn’t ready.
Or something like that.

Until they finish,
I won’t see my husband much.
He’s always at work.

Can’t call the doctor.
They don’t have an office yet.
But the kids are sick.

Can’t mail packages.
Or pick up water coupons.
Or call my husband.

Where is everyone?
They are all moving boxes.
Back and forth and back.

It’s Haiku Friday.
In case you didn’t notice,
I’m not good at this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When It’s Bad For Your Country, It’s Bad For All of Us

I was in our neighborhood store this morning, and I struck up a conversation with the manager, John. I was looking for whole wheat flour, and they’d sold out, so he got the bakery folks to sell me some of theirs. I mentioned that I like baking pumpkin bread for my kids’ breakfast, because it’s a lot cheaper than buying cereal. He nodded and said “yes, yes, a lot of people are trying to save money right now. Our business is much slower than usual.” Well, I’ve never bought much cereal, and not just because my retirement accounts have gone south. But okay. Manager John continued “I hear it is very bad in your country right now.” I agreed, and he said “I think it is maybe better that you are here in China now.” Again, I agreed – it’s definitely a cheaper lifestyle here.

“I understand that in America, everybody is free,” he continued. “You are so free, you can ask the bank for money and they give it to you! Here in China, if you don’t have the money, you stay poor. You don’t buy a big house.” True, John, all true. Too many Americans bought too many houses they couldn’t afford. And now we’re all paying for it. Then he sighed and gestured around the emptier-than-usual store. “Yes, big trouble for your country. But you know – when it’s bad for your country, it’s bad for all of us.”

Gotta go bake my pumpkin bread now. My secret ingredients? Ground flax seed, cinnamon and a few shredded stock certificates.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Big Track Meet

Shay had his first real track meet this weekend.

He's been participating in a school program called "Great Wall Runners:" For the past five weeks, he's been staying after school twice a week to run laps and running with his dad on the weekends. His personal goal was to reach "ultra-marathon" status, the highest level, by running more than 70 kilometers. Sure enough, by the day of the track meet, he'd run over 80 kilometers. That's more than I've run in the past year.

The track meet was held at his school, and ten other schools participated. Shay ran with the 8-year-old crowd, which ran about a 2 kilometer race. Of the 51 competitors in his group, he placed 3rd, and he was rightfully proud of himself. He got a medal for his race, along with a medal and a t-shirt for completing the ultra-marathon.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


My daughter loves shoes. And purses. And hats. But especially shoes. She's always tottering around the house in my heels, which I don't think I've worn since before she was born.

So you can imagine the sheer joy on her face when a neighbor gave her this pair of hand-me-downs:

So sparkly! So red! So girly! No matter that they're a few sizes too big - Kyra has been wearing them absolutely everywhere for the past 72 hours. I make her take them off to get in the tub. At bed time, and at nap time, I encourage her to take them off and sleep with them beside her, which she does - but when she wakes up, she puts them back on before calling out to me. In short, she loves these shoes.

But she isn't all girl. She is also quite fond of her hand-me-down jammies. They used to belong to Aidan. They're warm fuzzy flannel with pictures of bomber airplanes all over them.

She's a fashion superstar, this daughter of mine. And perfect in every way.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bridging the Expat Gap

... and here's an article I wrote on how to experience Chinese culture while living the expat life. Again, please stumble it or digg it if you like it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

For Your Reading Pleasure

I've been telling you that I'm busy writing, with no proof of it. But the magazine I write for most frequently has been re-vamping their website. It is up and running again, so here, for your reading pleasure, is my latest column. Read it, stumble it, digg it, send a letter to the editor telling her to give me a raise..... I'll post past articles, too, as they go online. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Four Things

Simple Answer sent along a little four-part meme for me. She got it from American in Norway. Both are blogs I like to read, from women who are doing the overseas adventure thing. So here are my answers:

Four things I did today:

Filled out my absentee ballot – hey, I’m a Virginia resident, and we’re swinging blue this year. How cool is that?
Went to Chinese class for two hours. I’m getting better, but I’m still awful.
Took the girls to the playground.
Chopped up platters of veggies and fruit so my kids would have something to snack on while I grilled up some toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner.

Four Random Facts about me:

I first went on an airplane when I was 20 years old.
Since then, I’ve lived in Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan and China.
I’m deaf in one ear.
I have a Masters Degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures.

Four things on my To Do list for today:

Going to the outdoor vegetable market with my friend Shawna. Maybe going out to lunch with her, too.
Writing a query letter to a U.S.-based magazine in the hopes that some day they’ll hire me to write something. For actual money.
Cooking tonight’s dinner – and tomorrow’s, too. I’m feeling organized.
Making copies of a zillion dental bills to send to my insurance company so they’ll maybe pay me back for some of them.

Four guilty pleasures:

Starbucks. I’m a mocha kind of a gal.
Watching the Daily Show. Love it. I’m watching it online now as I type this up.
Reading People Magazine whenever I find it somewhere and can steal it. (or when my sister sends it to me… ahem…. Hint, hint.)
Reading just about anything, really.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Our (Wo)man in Baku

My friend and fellow writer Jessica finally made it to Baku. Ba-what, you ask? Baku, the capitol of Azerbaijan. I know, you have to look up where that is, don't you? It's actually not too far from where we were in Armenia seven years ago. If you're looking for an interesting blog, go check hers out. She's always having an adventure.

Monday, October 13, 2008


If I'm counting right, this should be my 200th blog entry. Go me!

All weekend long, we enjoyed blue skies and cool-ish fall weather. Today, though, the sky turned dirty and once again we're all hacking and wheezing. Not good.

I went to the new Embassy for the first time today, to get my new badge. Ummmm... guys? You might have wanted to actually finish the building before you moved in. Seriously. The Prez and his wife came for a visit awhile back, and they had an official ribbon-cutting ceremony. You might have concluded, if you watched the news that day, that the Embassy was open for business. You'd've been wrong.

It opens for real next week some time, but there are still wires protruding from the walls and scaffolding in the lobby and all sorts o construction craziness. And that's just the part I'm allowed to see! That's right, I can't go anywhere near my husband's office - can't even walk into his building - unless I get a job with a clearance.

We did take the kids in this weekend to check out the neighborhood immediately around the Embassy, and wouldn't you know - I forgot my camera. We took them into the shops on Ladies Street. All sorts of fish, turtles and bunnies for sale. We managed to escape without acquiring any new pets, but it was a close call. Then we dodged the cars on Super Bar Street and took the kids out to dinner.

Dinner out with a two-year-old? Really, really, not fun. For starters, the restaurant was on the second floor, and she kept hanging out the open window. There was a ledge, but still... Also, there was a darts competition going on. Darts. That's right. You would've thought they were tossing kid magnets, given the way my daughter kept hovering near the game.

At one point, she had to go potty. While I was washing my hands after helping her, she left the restroom and found the fire extinguisher outside the door. She pulled the pin and was just trying to figure out the handle when I grabbed her.

How was the food, you ask? Not really sure - I gulped mine down and asked for the check.

This all happened on Saturday. But I'm still exhausted today, just thinking about it. I'd like to come up with some clever ending, sort of tie this whole entry together, but alas - I'm fresh out of ideas. Maybe for my 201st entry? Go ahead and ask if there's something you're dying to know, and maybe I'll answer you on 201.

But for now: Good night.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Baby is the Teacher

Aidan's kindergarten class is studying how people grow, and his teacher asked me to bring Ainsley in for a real live demonstration of "the differences between babies and big kids." Ainsley was up for it, so we went in today and sat in a circle on the rug. Ainsley looked around, bewildered, while the kids discussed all of the ways she was the same, and all of the ways she was different. Example: babies have ten toes (same). But babies have little feet (different). Babies have eyes (same). But no teeth (different). Babies poop in their diapers (different). Babies drink mommy milk (different). Babies can't talk (different). Then they measured Ainsley and painted her fingers and toes to make prints on a piece of paper. They sang songs to her. She smiled at them.

We talked about how there are some things babies can't do, because no one has taught them how yet (like driving a car, or using a potty). The teacher asked the students to each think of something a baby can't do. "Walk!" said one. "Talk!" said another. "Ummmmm.... play badminton?" asked a third. True, technically.

Aidan was so proud to have his baby there to teach the class. And Ainsley seemed to enjoy it, too.

With that, I'm off to teach her the rules of badminton. Girl's gotta learn...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Day At The Market

We took the kids to the local open-air market, just to check it out and load up on veggies for a party we were planning. We took pictures of one of the vegetable vendors with her son. Also snapped a meat vendor, who then asked to see the picture on the digital screen.

This lady was one of the spice vendors. Her baby is four months old, just like Ainsley, so we chatted for a bit about our kids. Chatted - ha! All was in Chinese, so the chat was rather limited. But still.

The kids spotted the kite vendor and dragged their dad over while I was chatting up the spice ladies.

Dad was suckered into buying kites - and he didn't even haggle! - so we headed home to fly kites. All in all, an interesting day.
Please. Write your own stuff.