Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Your Mama is So Fat.... And Other Deaf Jokes

Remember those old "your mama" jokes? I guess it's always amusing to make fun of someone else's mama. I mention this because today Shay came home very upset. Apparently, one of his friends got angry with him when he didn't answer the friend right away, so aforementioned friend shouted at him "What, are you deaf? You're deaf, just like your MOM!"

Shay ran right home, very upset at having his mother so cruelly insulted, and he wanted me to go kick the kid's face in. But the thing of it is, well, I AM deaf. I'm sure you all remember that particular little trauma; I know I do, and apparently this kid knows all about it, too.

So I told Shay that I appreciated his concern for me, but that I was okay with the whole deaf thing. Next time the kid says something, I told him, just say "that's not nice" and walk away.

Was that the right advice to give him? Or should I go kick the kid's face in? What do you think?

And, while we're on the topic, several of you have asked me if I've gotten any hearing back lately, maybe thinking it would come back after the baby popped out? The answer is, no. I'm still completely deaf in my right ear, and I'm told I always will be unless I have surgery to put in cochlear implants. Meanwhile, if anything, the situation has gotten worse, because I have a baby crying into that ear all day long, which makes the buzzing from the tinnitus that much worse.

For the most part, however, I'm used to it. I don't think about it that much, except when I have a kid screaming in my other ear.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Olympics Widow

The Olympics are only about 12 days away, so everyone I meet here is in a frenzy of activity. Including my husband. It seems to me that half the politicians in the States are planning to show up in Beijing within the next week or so, and it all has to be scheduled out. That makes me an Olympics widow.

I’m looking forward to the end of these Games, when life should return to a normal amount of too-much-work at the Embassy. Well, almost normal – there’s still the move to the new Embassy, a huge undertaking as well. Hey – there’s always retirement, right?

Meanwhile, they’ve pulled half the cars off the roads, which means less traffic. But it doesn’t seem to be helping much with the pollution problem. Today’s Washington Post has a good article on the subject – according to them, we had a few nice days last week before the air quality went back to unhealthy. They’re right: we had several nice, sunny, blue sky days. But then a big humid cloud o’ nastiness settled over the city, and my eyeballs are bloodshot yet again.

Even though the air quality has been rated “unhealthy for children” the past few days, we’ve still been taking the kids to the pool. Kids are kids, and they have to get out to move around. Today, though, my boys have disappeared – their friends Luke and Alex flew back into town, and they took up again right where they left off in June.

I finished all the articles I had due. Now I need to come up with some new topics and start fresh. I’m going to try to target some new pubs if I can…. You know, in my spare time.

Ain't She Cute?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Today's Adventure

I was having trouble contacting the Beijing Railway Museum - no one answered their phone. But I needed some information for an article I'm working on, so I loaded up the boys and we headed on over. There was almost no traffic, as the Olympics car restrictions took effect this week.

It's a great place for little guys to run around, as you'll see in the pictures below. We were there once this past winter, but it was a lot warmer today.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Growing Up

Aidan's been asking, so we finally took the training wheels off his bike. He was scared at first, but after one trip up and back down our street, he got the hang of it. So much so that he started standing as he pedaled, and bouncing on the seat like the big kids. At one point he was even riding one-handed. I sense another trip to the ER in our near future if he continues to show off. But he was rightfully proud of himself.

While we were busy watching Aidan, Kyra stole the neighbor's trike. Ainsley was unimpressed - she just snoozed in the stroller.

I have two articles due at the end of the week, so that's it for now - must turn my focus to writing for $$$.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Go, Lauren, Go!

My friend Jessica has been bragging about her baby sister’s prowess as a field hockey player for some time now. Well, it turns out Jessica wasn’t exaggerating, as Lauren’s team has made it to the Olympics. Now Lauren is blogging about the experience for her hometown paper. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to compete in the Olympics, you can read about her experience here – unless, of course, you’re actually in Beijing. In that case, her blog is blocked. Go figure...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Killer Ghosts (or, Why You Shouldn’t Let Your Kids Watch TV at Night)

Shay loves the National Geographic Channel that gets beamed into our house every day. And since I’d rather he watch something educational rather than the Cartoon Network (our only other local choice for kids entertainment), I admit that sometimes I let him watch more than he ought to just so I can get dinner on the table. Usually, it’s fine, with shows about the Titanic, or about tall buildings around the world – innocuous stuff like that. Once he watched a show called “The Ten Deadliest Animals,” or something like that, and according to him, they all live in India (my apologies to Jill over at the Perlman Update, who is on her way there). He spent the better part of a week quizzing us to confirm that we had no plans to move to that deadly area of the world, populated as it is with giant crocs, scorpions, tigers, snakes that’ll swallow you whole, and so on up to ten.

Last week they had a show about inventions. Apparently, some girl invented a shoe that tracks your steps, like a pedometer, and when you get home you can plug it into the television and watch only as much TV as you walked that day. Keep in mind that I’m getting my summaries from an 8-year-old, so I can’t attest to the accuracy of his descriptions. I’ve never heard of such a fabulous shoe, but if someone did invent it, kudos to her, and where can I get one?

A couple of evenings ago, as I was making dinner, Shay and Aidan had their eyeballs glued to the television. At dinnertime, Shay started recapping a Nat’l Geo show about ghosts. Apparently, the show was trying to determine if ghosts are real or not. Not sure what the show’s producers uncovered, but Shay’s takeaway was that ghosts are real, and they kill people on a regular basis. Aidan wasn’t bothered by the program. He didn’t seem to get the main point, so he happily chowed down his soup while Shay regaled him with stories of killer ghosts.

By bedtime, both boys were frightened. They refused to go into their room, which is of course peopled with killer ghosts. So I let them put their sleeping bags on the floor in my room.

Every day since, during the day, the boys talk logically about how ghosts don’t exist, and even if they did, the dog would bite them if they were mean to us. At night, they drag their sleeping bags down the hall to my room, making sure their door is tightly closed behind them to keep the ghosts locked in their bedroom.

I sympathize, actually, because I remember being frightened of ghosts when I was little. I probably am still, just a little. Back then, I had a pipe cleaner that I twisted into a leash and collar. I imagined into being a ghost dog who would sit next to my bed, wearing that leash and collar, and scare the ghosts away. So maybe I need to find some pipecleaner and make them some ghost dogs. Anyone out there have a better idea? And no, don’t tell me to just turn the TV off – the damage is done, and dinner still needs to be made.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Nana

Sorry we're missing out on the fun. Much love to you from all of us...

How to Make a Salad in Beijing

Back home in Northern Virginia, when I needed to pull together a quick, healthy dinner, I used to run into Wegmans (oh, how I miss that store) and pick up pre-washed bagged mixed lettuce, cut baby carrots, sprouts and other fabulous little items, which I tossed in a bowl with some oil and vinegar. Throw on some shredded cheese and a can of rinsed beans and voila! Dinner. For a particularly big dinner-in-a-hurry, you could also microwave a frozen veggie burger (oh, and p.s. – as long as you’re at Wegman’s why not just pick up some sushi for lunch?).

Here in Beijing, the recipe is a bit different:

Step one: Buy spinach. Soak it in sink with vegetable cleaner (some people prefer to use a bleach solution, but the idea of eating bleached vegetables sort of disgusts me). Drain water. Repeat several times until all dirt is washed off. Drip dry or dry with dishtowel. Pick off and discard large stems. Place in bowl.

Step two: Buy carrots. Be sure they aren’t too soft, or too big, or too full of holes (hard to discern, as they’re pulled from the earth and placed in a bin at the store, still caked in dirt). Soak in soap solution as above. Scrub with vegetable brush. Peel. Cut off and discard funky top and bottom. Cut into strips, being careful not to injure self on dull knife (Back home, I always waited until my dad visited so he could sharpen the knives for me).

Step three: Repeat steps one and two with any other desired vegetables – that is, if you’re not already starving.

Step four: Shred cheese yourself – do you really want to pay extra for those little bags of pre-shredded mozzarella from the States?

Step five: Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. But don’t overdo it: oil here is so expensive you should be able to fill your car with it: a medium-sized bottle of canola oil is almost $10.

Step six: What’s that you said? You want a veggie burger, too? No problem at all… just give me an hour to make some FROM SCRATCH.

Step seven: Voila! Dinner is served. Two and a half hours after you started.

Recipe note: You might want to consider skipping steps 1 – 7 and ordering pizza instead.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Afternoon at Chaoyang Park

Yesterday was another Actual Sunny Day. Yep, if you're keeping score at home, that makes two days in a row. Unheard of! We took the kids to Chaoyang Park in the afternoon. It is, I believe, the largest green space in the city (also, the future home of Olympics beach volleyball), but with kids, you only get to see a small portion of it - the amusement park section. It was blistering hot, so Bart took the boys on the water rollercoaster. Aidan was game to go, but apparently, halfway up the steep hill, he told his daddy he wanted to get off.

Too late. You'll see the varying reactions to the ride in the pictures below.

We also rented a little boat and went motoring out on the lake for an hour. At first, the boys pronounced it "boring." But then we let them steer.

All over the park, we were quite the scene. Everyone pointed and stared, and I frequently heard the words "su ge haizi!!" (four kids!!) as we passed by.

The biggest difficulty of the day: the squattie potties. I thought it hard to use them back when I was hugely pregnant, but it's even harder with a baby in a baby bjorn strapped to my chest. And no way was I sending my potty-trained little angel in there - she had to use a pull-up all day long.

On the way home, everyone had a meltdown (including me), so when we got home, we cleaned 'em off, fed 'em pizza and put them all to bed.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Yesterday the kids had dentist appointments, and I stopped at the ATM machine on the way there, hoping to avoid having to use the credit card. It was a hot, humid day, and I’d spent the day feeding Ainsley, reading to Kyra, making lunches, planning dinner, changing diapers, working on my writing, taking the boys to swim camp and back… the usual. When I got back in the car after getting money, Shay asked “mom, where do you get money from?” So I started to explain that daddy gets a paycheck every two weeks, and some of that money is deposited into the bank, and from there we can go to the ATM, and so on. He interrupted me to ask “no, I mean, where do you get money? What do you do?”

It’s the worst part of being a stay-at-home-mom. The very people for whom you work, the people to whom you devote your days, have absolutely no clue that you’re doing anything at all. They never see their dad during the day, but they know (and are proud of the fact) that he’s a sort of policeman, so in their minds he is spending his days chasing bad guys and shooting people in the eyeballs. But me? I just seem to stand in the kitchen all day, cutting bell peppers into dinosaurs.

If only someone would pay me for those bell pepper dinosaurs… It wouldn’t be nearly so cool as getting paid to shoot people in the eyeballs, but they’d still probably think it was cool.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Headline: Mom of Newborn Attempts to Go Job Hunting

One of the pubs I work for recently hired a new editor. She called and asked to meet with me, so of course I agreed, hoping to parlay it into more work.

I’m 8 weeks postpartum, but you know, I’m feeling pretty good about myself. Only ten pounds or so up from my usual weight, so I can already fit in my “fat jeans.” Not bad for 8 weeks out.

So I thought, hey, why not try to climb into one of my business-type outfits? You know, look all professional for this meeting? Last night, I decided to try on some of my old clothes. Surely something decent would fit me.

Well, big mistake. I huffed and puffed and yanked and pulled, but nothing I own could fit on this crazy body. In despair, I threw my fat jeans (the only pants that fit me) in the wash and decided I’d have to go for the “hip young writer” look – but of course that look is sooo much easier to pull off when you’re actually hip and young.

I had to bring Ainsley with me, of course, as I’m nursing and can’t leave her for as many hours as it takes to drive in and out of downtown Beijing. So I loaded her in the car and left with plenty of time to spare – which is a good thing, as once again I got lost trying to get to their offices. Not lost, exactly – I could see where I had to be, but getting there on Beijing’s crazy roads was not easy.

Finally I arrived and pulled into the parking lot. There are about one billion people in China, and fully ¼ of them work in this parking lot. Their job is to salute you and then point you in the direction you need to go. I dutifully followed their directions, passing loads of empty spaces along the way, until the last guy (guy #250,000,000, for those of you keeping score at home) pointed left, and tried to direct me out the exit. I stopped and tried to say “I don’t want to leave yet, I still need to park, as I have an important business meeting to attend.” With my limited Chinese, I was actually able to say “I don’t want to… I need to… where can I… my car… may I… I don’t speak Chinese… I need to…I no exit…” etc. Eventually, guy #250,000,000 passed me back to guy #249,999,999, who had me follow slowly behind him, going the wrong way, until he found me a space. This despite the fact that nearly every space I passed was empty – they were just all blocked with traffic cones.

Then I had to feed Ainsley, right there in the parking garage, under the watchful eyes of guys #249,447,000-249,999,998. Finally I was ready to load her into her baby sling and set out to find my new editor. I was wearing my not-so-hip fat jeans and my baby sling, on my way to a business meeting. Very unprofessional. “Hip young writer… hip young writer…” I kept muttering to myself, trying to convince myself that this is what she’d see. Until I got to her office and met my new editor, who actually IS a hip young writer.


Still, Ainsley was quite well behaved throughout our meeting, and I never once had to lift up my shirt to nurse her. It’s a good thing, wouldn’t you agree, to avoid lifting up your shirt during a business meeting? So hopefully I’ll get some more work, despite my relative lack of hipness and my dearth of well-fitting business clothes. I was at least wearing decent shoes. And I didn’t flash her.

And then, after making it through the whole meeting, I fed Ainsley in the car once more before setting out into Beijing traffic.

Once again today the air is nasty. Yet the Olympics are just 30 days away. I don’t see how they’re going to pull this off, I really don’t. Then again, I wasn’t convinced I could pull off this meeting today, and yet somehow I limped through. So you never know.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Happy 5th of July

The 4th of July dawned smoggy and steamy. It was some of the worst pollution we’ve had thus far, mixed as it was with fog and heat. I’ve lived in some humid places, but I’ve never experienced anything this bad. I opened the front door in the morning, and a wave of steam hit me full in the face – just like when you open the door to an over-hot shower. The steam and smog built throughout the day. I went to the vegetable market in the early afternoon to stock up for our party, and the heat in the vegetable hall was unbearable – all of the vendors were soaked, with sweat running down their faces, as was I, likely, if I’d glanced in a mirror.

Bart had to work on the 4th – overseas it’s a work day for official Americans, who always throw a big party for their counterparts. He left for work at about 2 p.m., looking none too happy to be dressed up in the heat.

At about 4:30, Xiao Tong looked out the window and remarked that it looked like rain. Within minutes, the skies opened up and rain started pouring down. Trees were bending, lightning was flashing and rain was running off the roof in sheets. “It looks like cartoon rain,” said Shay, and truly it did, as if a giant were standing over the house with a hose.

At around 6 it stopped and Xiao Tong made a run for home – she didn’t want to wait for a taxi. Then, maybe 30 minutes later, it started up again. And this time it didn’t stop. Within an hour our backyard was a lake. The pots in the backyard, which are about a foot tall, were almost completely submerged. The lawn was a lake. The froggy sandbox was filled to the brim and cascading over its sides. In the front, water ran to the tops of the curb – a quick moving river instead of a road. The boys wanted to float a boat in it, but I wouldn’t let them go out because of the occasional flashes of lightning.

Eventually the bathroom flooded – it must’ve come in through a pipe somewhere. But thankfully the leak was contained there.

I called Bart at 8 to warn him about the road conditions. He was safely ensconced in a fancy hotel, and I figured he might not even have known about the rain. He told me he was leaving in 30 minutes or so for the 45 minute ride back, and I warned him to be careful driving.

The rain continued.

At about 9 p.m., Bart called. “I’m at exit 7,” he said (that’s about 15 minutes from our house), “but it’s going to be awhile. We’re trying to find a way home.” Okay, I thought. He’ll probably be home in 30 minutes or so. 9:30 came. Then 10:00. 10:15. I called his cell phone, but his colleague answered. “Bart’s not here,” he said. “We’re stuck in traffic on a bridge, so he got out of the car to scout out a route home.”

The rain continued.

Bart finally got home at around 11 p.m. – almost three hours after he left the party. Once I stopped worrying about his safety, I turned to my next worry: if the rain didn’t stop, where would I put all 50+ guests (and their kids) during our party the next day?

But the rain did stop, sometime in the night. There was a high tide mark on our driveway the next morning, marked with leaves and sticks. And the lawn was a swampy mess. Still, the weather was much nicer – no sticky heat. So we went ahead with the party. I think we must’ve been the only game in town, because everybody we invited showed up. We had the kids out front in a bouncy castle, the Marines out back manning the grill, and about a zillion other people I didn’t know surrounding the snacks in between.

The party started at 4, and the last guests left some time around 8, leaving us to bathe kids and clean up and collapse. All in all, a good party.

Yesterday, we were all tired and cranky. The weather, however, was perfect, with an actual Blue Sky! Who knew the sky could be such a lovely color? Haven’t seen it in ages. So we spent the afternoon at the pool, where the boys splashed and Kyra fearlessly leapt in and Ainsley miraculously snoozed.

That’s it. That’s all the update I have time for. Now I’m off to make chocolate chip pancakes for my brood.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Overheard at the Pool

Kid to Aidan: “My mommy has a baby in her tummy!”

Aidan to Kid: “Oh, yeah? Well, MY mommy doesn’t need any more babies. She already has one.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

“The Water Pushed Me!”

Shay and Aidan are in swim camp this week. I practically had to rob a bank to make it happen, but hey, it could be worse – at least I’m not trying to fill up my gas tank in Northern Virginia.

Both boys are loving it (looks as though I’ll be robbing another bank to send them back again next week). Shay is learning all the different strokes – he started butterfly and “frog stroke,” as they call it, and he’s been working to improve his backstroke. He’s in his element, as he is one of the older kids and so is better than most of the others. Aidan has taken swim classes in the past, and has learned to kick across the pool with the aid of a kickboard. On Tuesday, he came home quite proud of himself, having swum all the way to the end of the pool and back with nothing but floaties on his arms. Today he was even more excited, because he swam across the pool with nothing on his arms, no help at all. I told him I was proud of him, and asked how he figured out how to do it. “I don’t know, mama,” he answered. “The water just pushed me!!!” (exclamation points his).

They come back each day after three hours of swim camp happy and tired, which is just how I like to see them.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping busy. I turned in two articles this week and revised a third. My Chinese class starts up again tomorrow. And we’re having a party on Saturday. We invited about 40 people, plus their kids/significant others. So far, over half have rsvp’ed yes, and only one has said no. So it looks as though we’ll have a crowd, and I’ll be busy over the next few days getting everything ready. Pray for no rain.
Please. Write your own stuff.