Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My China Bucket List

We sat down as a family on Sunday night to write our Summer "Bucket List", which is a list of all of the things we hope to do this summer.  I actually extended the deadline to the October Chinese holiday since summer break is so short.

The summer list started some brainstorming for what Jamie and I would put on our "China Bucket List".  A list of all the things we hope to see, do and bring back to the US.  We've been here for 11 months and the time has flown by (well, most days).

Jamie's list included several destinations, which is very true to his personality.

Jamie's Bucket List:
1. Visit Hangzhou - It's known as one of the most beautiful places in China.
2.  Travel to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors
3. Take the family to see the Forbidden City in Beijing. Jamie got to visit during his MBA program, but we have not been as a family yet.
4. See the pandas in Chengdu.
5. Go up in the Pearl Tower in Shanghai.
6. Have some suits made.
7. Learn how to play Mahjong.

My list includes several experiences and mementos, which is in line with my personality.  Don't judge the consumer-driven list!

Kara's Bucket List:
1. To try cupping, where warm cups are placed on your back and the toxins are suctioned out of your body.  It tends to leave some nice round bruises on your back for a while.
2. To have a massage by a blind masseuse.  In China it is very common for the blind to become employed as masseuses.
3.  Pick tea leaves.  My first attempt at what I thought was going to be a tea-picking adventure was a big fail.  I'll blog about that some day.
4. Take the high speed train to Shanghai, just so I can get there in 20 minutes.
5. Have a traditional Chinese qipao made.

LBean when she was almost 2 years old.
Jamie brought this qipao back from his
trip to China during his MBA program.
6. Buy a Jade bracelet and preferably one that is on the bigger side so I don't have to slather on lotion to get it off and on.  Pick out some pearls for our girls to wear on their wedding day (if they want).  Maybe purchase a set of dishes for the girls to use some day.
7. Plan a trip to either Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Sanya or New Zealand.  It would be even better if we could visit them all!
8. Have eyeglasses made here for really cheap.
9. Buy a piece of furniture or have furniture made.
10. Try acupuncture.
11. Have wool or cashmere coats tailor made.  For what a nice coat costs at Kohl's it is possible to have a coat made to my measurements.

I'm sure I'll add more things to my list and we explore more and learn more from our friends here.  What do you have on your bucket list?

And...since tomorrow officially starts our summer break, here are some pictures from the first and last days of school for my girls.

First day

Last day with Mr. Lund!

First day at Casa Dei Bambini.
Last day and still loves the slide!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dragon Boat Festival

Happy Dragon Boat Festival!  This weekend China celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival, which meant that both Jamie and LBean had Friday off.  We celebrated by watching some dragon boat races and sampling "zongzi".  The festival celebrates an ancient story.  Our girls have a book called Celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival and it explains the story like this:

"More than two thousand years ago in the Kingdom of Chu lived a patriotic poet named Qu Yan.  He discovered that the neighboring Kingdom of Qin wanted to conquer the Kingdom of Chu.  He immediately told the Kind of Chu, who refused to believe him and banished him instead.  Several years later, the capital of Chu was attache and taken by the Qin.  When Qu Yuan received the news, he fell in despair and tossed himself into the Miluo River.  When the people found out, they were terribly sad.  They rowed their boats up and down to rescue Qu Yuan, but could not find him.  Then the people began to toss rice balls as sacrifices to Qu Yuan.  To make sure that the fish could not steal the rice, they wrapped the rice in reed leaves."

We went to the lake that our apartment building looks out onto to watch some of our friends compete in a dragon boat race.  The team had been practicing two times a week (I think) for several weeks.  They were rowing to win prize money for charity.  The weather was not great; a bit cool and very rainy, but at least it wasn't hot.

We met up with one of LBean's classmates and her family
to watch the races.

Not only could you see the races, but it was possible
to see bare buns through the very common-place "split
bottom pants".  It puts a twist on potty training!

This little girl's mommy was racing!

A little rain didn't dampen our spirits.

"Ji you!"  It's the phrase you yell to cheer on your team.

Those are some strong mommies and friends.  Good job!

My friends' team won second place and 10,000 RMB
for their charity.

The night before the race a friend of ours in our apartment complex shared some of the "zongzi" that her Ayi had been making.  I was very excited to see real sticky rice because I was very certain that I couldn't make it correctly!

Unwrapping the "zongzi".

Each of the "zongzi" has a filling.  These fillings could be meat, sweet red bean paste, jujube paste or other regional favorites, and ours happened to be shredded pork.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Have Children, Will Travel

I wish I could tell you my secret to traveling well with small children, but I think that it may involve a large amount of luck.  I will share a few tips and tricks we use when traveling with the girls.
1. The fun starts when the suitcases come out.  Our girls get excited when we start planning a trip and that’s great!  It’s okay to give in and let the vacation start before we leave the apartment.  

2. Each girl packs a roller suitcase (with a little supervision from mom & dad).  We include a fleece jacket (no matter the time of year), an extra pair of socks, a few books, a lovie, a neck pillow, head phones made for small children, sippy cups (so I can pour their in-flight drinks into it), gum to help with the change in air pressure, chapstick (so mommy can use it when my lips are chapped) and a few toys.

EBean and her roller bag
in the Philippines.
3. I also pack a bag with snacks and the famous “activity packs.”  Each trip I print out worksheetss based around a theme. The girls have come to expect them and get excited about what will be in the next pack.  Each girl has a plastic folder I load up with crayons, coloring sheets, activity sheets, stickers, etc.  I find some of them on  Having an iPad on hand is also very, very helpful!

EBean working on an activity while waiting to fly to Hawaii.
4. I try to remember to warn them how may lines we have to wait in.  Usually it is about three: the ticket counter, security, and then immigration.  As we were checking in for our flight to Hawaii (Meeting in the Middle), EBean looked up at me and said, “Is this immigration?” in her high-pitched three-year-old voice.  It was so cute and I wish I could have gotten a recording of it!
The day we moved to China...
in the Peoria airport.

5. Our girls are much better about going through security (and in fact they wish they could take their shoes off), but at one time they really didn’t like parting with their lovies/stuffed animals/blankets or whatever else they had in their hands as we got ready to go through the x-ray machine.  I remind them that security is “taking a picture” of their precious item and we’ll get it back on the other side and that seems to help.
6. We also like to play a game called “Can you...” and it goes something like this:
    Can you kick the seat in front of you?  Nooo!
    Can you go to the bathroom on an airplane? Yessss!
    Can you eat on the airplane?  Yesss!
    Can you cry on the airplane? Nooo!
    Can mommy cry on the airplane? Nooo!
    Can you watch a movie on the airplane? Yesss!
    And the list goes on; you get the idea.  The one that always makes them giggle is, 
“Can you be silly on an airplane?”  The answer is, “Just a little!”

Waiting in Chicago for our 14 hour flight to move to China.  What I love
about this picture is that my friend Stacey (whom I met that day) and her mom
are in the background.   She lives across the lake from us in Suzhou
and we just had lunch together this week!
7. I haven’t done this recently, but I read somewhere that it helps to have little “presents” ready in case the children start getting bored and fidgety.  I did this more when they were both under the age of three, but I think it’s a really great idea.  You can find inexpensive things at the dollar store, the $1 bins at Target or you can be really cheap like me and take the toys from their Happy Meals (that they lost interest in before even reaching home) and use them as “new” toys.  I have wrapped them in tissue paper before just to add to the excitement.  If you buy cheap toys, it doesn’t matter if they are lost, dropped, or destroyed in transit.
 8. Finally, I try to let go of my “we should” thinking.  We should require that our children eat only healthy foods (gave up on this and the whole point is just to arrive at the destination). We should save all of our goodies and activity packs for later (I have decided to just use them when we need them, even it means while we’re waiting to board the plane, and we’ll worry about what to do if I run out of activities later).  We should get to do what we want on our vacation (meaning I want to read on my Kindle).

Here is a link to a blog post that I thought was really great and insightful on traveling with young children:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What's That? Wednesday: Lychee Fruit

Pink-ish, green-ish, red-ish exterior.
Our family has "discovered" a new fruit.  We have been enjoying lychees, which are very interesting fruits.  They have a tough, slightly bumpy, outer cover, but the rind is easy enough for EBean to peel.  Inside is a juicy white flesh with a flowery aroma.  The seed in the middle is a long, slender nut, similar to a pine nut.  The lychee is native to China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.  It isn't my favorite fruit, but they are good and since strawberries are no longer in season, it's nice to have a replacement.

LBean, a little uncertain about the lychee. 
EBean ate at least 6 lychees after this dinner.

A "bunch" of lychee fruits.

A bumpy exterior

Friday, June 1, 2012

2012 Dulwich International Day

Recently LBean's school held its annual "International Day" for families and community members to enjoy.  Any country that is represented at her school was encouraged to set up a booth for attendees to learn more about each country by purchasing food and drinks that are unique to that country.  Over 40 countries were recognized!

Besides individual booths, there were performances from different counties, a used book sale, a country basket silent auction, a climbing wall and ball pit, a tombola (a raffle, I'll have to Google it). I bid on a few of the country baskets, but no luck.

A few of the attendees.

EBean pre-chocolate.  Even though she asked for the
mini-cupcakes, she changed her mind and wanted a BIG one.
Mmmm, sugar!
Post-chocolate consumption.  Much happier!

Children could purchase a passport and have it stamped at each country's booth.  One of Lilly's classmates helped to stamp passports in the Italy booth.

I wish we had more pictures, but we were not in best form.  Both girls were tired, it was the middle of the afternoon, it was hot, we forgot the stroller, and later that night EBean broke out with a fever.  A friend and her husband walked up to us when they first arrived to International Day and asked if we were enjoying ourselves and what they should do.  I must have given them quite a look of desperation because the husband laughed and said, "Just go home?"

I finished my time at International Day by volunteering in the US booth for one hour of serving hotdogs, chips and Budweiser.  I could not get over how many people really wanted to chow down on a hotdog!  I didn't have a US t-shirt to wear, but I did manage to find my St. Louis Cardinals shirt, so the midwest was well represented.