Friday, August 28, 2009

Random musings from Friday

Here's a glimpse of the thoughts and happenings in our house today:

I slept til 7:08. That's really late for me. I must have been tired.

We did school out in the courtyard today because I could see the kids were having allergies too. It takes a lot less time (only about 2 hours) to do it out there, because there are fewer distractions. We should do it out there every day.

One of the things I always missed about the States is the smell of grass. Another reason I love our complex - lots of grass that is being mowed today by real mowers! The smell is heavenly.

It feels like a Minnesota summer day! The kids complained the second we were out the door that they were cold. Really, it was about 75 and sunny, but cooler in the shade. I love this weather - the sun warms you, but not too much. Glorious.

My eyes hurt so much I don't want to blink. This is the aftermath of a horrible horrible allergy day yesterday. I broke down and took one Benadryl around noon just to take the edge off, which succeeded in doing so but also making me move like molasses. I finished myself off by taking two more at 5. From 5:30-6:30 I was happily symptom free and awake. Then I went into a coma.

Our kids have been spontaneously playing piano lately. Ethan in particular. He's memorized a few songs and has recently picked out the notes to "The Star Spangled Banner." This beats Yankee Doodle. I'm a little tired of that one. Megan got discouraged last night when she blanked in the middle of a piece, until I told her about the time I spaced completely in the middle of a piano recital. I started over and finished just fine. The lesson being, "See? You didn't mess up nearly as much as mommy did! And she's fine!"

I hear pounding in my backyard. This is the workers laying down bricks over what was previously our giant fish pond (a.k.a. sludge collector). They came two days ago with various tools, filled it in, tore down the sides, and are now providing us with a usable backyard. Yay!

I have to bake for a friend's wedding tomorrow, but I can't use my oven. I plugged it into a power strip the other day, and it melted the strip. That's one mighty powerful oven. A man is in there right now installing a new strip that can handle the heat. Hopefully he'll be done by noon so I can bake these carrot bars and gooey chocolate butter cookies (yes, those are as sinful as they sound).

Speaking of the kitchen, he's also fixing our oil sucker. I don't know what it's called in English, but in Chinese that's what it is. These are essential in Chinese kitchens if people are going to cook local dishes, because the high heat makes the oil evaporate in a big cloud. If you don't have a working oil sucker, the oil cloud will settle nicely onto your floors in a way that requires hand washing. We learned this the hard way, hence, the fix it man.

So that's what's happening in our house today. Life is good.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Better and better

We live in a new and improved China. This year our city recorded the highest number of clear sky days ever. Well, at least since they've been keeping track. I'm sure back in the days of the emperors they weren't tracking air quality. But even more than the weather is the development. The throw pillows I bought at a store here look like something from Pier 1. When we were here before, it was hard to find a diet coke. Now you can buy one off any guy on the street. Erik called about an apartment in the famous Olympic dragon building next to the water cube, just out of curiosity. The units there are 600 sq meters (about 7,000 sq ft) and are selling for $7 million. There are Chinese people who can afford those. We can't.

Everywhere you look, there are signs that China keeps getting better and better. This reminds me of a video they would play during the last Olympics when we were here. The gist of it was, "Our cell phones are smaller, our houses are bigger, our kids are smarter, the old people keep getting older, life just keeps getting better and better!"

This was evident again this morning when our refrigerator repairman came. Our fridge has been plugged in for about two weeks, and the kids have been thrilled by all the "snow" in the freezer. The man who came wore new cargo pants I might find in my husband's closet, and a company shirt, and his hair was spiked in a bed head kind of way. When I pulled out the receipt to show him it was under warranty, he pulled out his cell phone and took pictures of it. Contrast that image with the time we had our AC installed in our first apartment in 2000. Three men came wearing belts that wrapped around them 1 1/2 times. They carried their tools in old nappy bags. When one of them had to lay perpendicular to our window to hang out twenty stories and install that AC unit, they wrapped an old rope around his waist and gave the end of it to Erik. Not exactly the picture of professionalism.

Ah yes, I have to say that though a part of me misses those days because they made for great stories, I'm enjoying the new and improved China. I'm heading across the street for a Coke Zero and another bar of Dove 66% dark chocolate (couldn't find much chocolate of any kind the first time around!).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Keeping it real

It's always interesting to hear a real life story of someone famous doing something human, especially when you hear it from someone other than them. There's no one like a family member to paint an accurate picture of you.

Saturday Erik and I had the privilege of attending a marriage seminar led by Greg and Erin Smalley. At first we thought, "Hey, you lucked out having a name so similar to that Gary Smalley guy who's an expert on marriage. People might come to your seminar just because they mistake you for him." Then we thought about it for a nanosecond longer and realized they must be related, which they are. Greg is Gary's son. So naturally a few stories about good ol' dad came out and they were not only hilarious, but raised my respect for him.

Ok, first story which isn't the point of this post but I have to share because it's so funny, is:
Gary Smalley would always fall asleep in front of the TV when Greg and his brother were kids. One day they decided to urge him to his bedroom by using the dog's bark collar, which makes a high pitched squeal and also shocks the dog. One of the boys held it around his dad's neck and the other barked in his face to set off the alarm. Gary jumped out of his seat and bolted from the house. A few minutes later he came back in sniffing. Turns out he thought the fire alarm had gone off. The boys felt badly until they realized that in the face of danger, their dad's gut reaction was to leave them and run for safety. Didn't score points on that one.

But the story that did score points was when Greg witnessed his parents in an argument that sent them both off into separate corners in anger. Greg followed his dad and jokingly suggested that he could pull one of the 50 marriage books Gary had written off the shelf and read something to him. He got the door slammed in his face. Some time later, he went into his dad's office and found his dad staring at a document on his computer called, "Things I value about my wife." He had been adding to it through the years, and told his son that whenever he was angry with his wife, he'd come read it, and it would soften his heart toward her. How cool is that?

So not only am I impressed with Gary Smalley, I'm also thinking that's a pretty fantastic idea. I've made lists before of things that I love about Erik, but the idea of having a running list that I go to in order to keep my heart open toward him is a good one.

Pick a winner

Ok, so it's expected that in driving on the streets in China, you will encounter some creative and dangerous driving. Here are two incidents I witnessed recently. You decide which one deserves "jaw dropping move of the week":

1. I'm on a divided road with one lane on either side of the fence divider. There is also a bike lane, which is often used as a driving lane although it is illegal. I am at a red light, third in line, and needing to turn right. I contemplate taking the bike lane to turn right anyway. As I think about it, a car comes from a few cars behind me, and I think, "Oh, he's going to do it." But no, he drives in front of the line of cars I'm in and U turns in front of all of us, just as the light turns green. This causes a traffic jam in both directions. He is also talking on his cell phone.

2. I am driving to IKEA. There are four lanes on the highway. Ahead of me, a guy in the third lane from the right decides he needs to get off at the exit he is currently passing, so he comes to a dead stop, turns perpendicular to traffic, and slowly makes his way over to the exit. Traffic is stopped in three lanes for him to make this move. No one dies.

Who wins?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


One of the blogs I follow is Don Miller's who wrote the book Blue Like Jazz, and the lesser known but equally great Searching for God Knows What. He had a post yesterday about self-pity that hit home in light of our transition. Check it out here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Focus on the good

One of the ways I have wanted to grow recently is in optimism. I generally depend on my husband to be the optimist one of the family, as he has more than his share to grow around (one of the many reasons I love and keep him). Of course the best way to grow in optimism is to be presented with situations in which the ability to remain positive is tested. Cue "moving into apartment scenario."

I could list off my reasons why it's tempting to crawl into a hole and hope that Mary Poppins shows up and sings that magical song during which all my displaced items will jump and fly their way to appropriate locations, but it's time to think positively. So here's my list of some of the things that I'm thankful for right now:

1. Erik was home today! His presence always has a calming effect on me.
2. Although not all of our furniture is here (hence the many displaced items) what is here is beautiful, and the rest is expected on Thursday. I can't wait!
3. In the coming months, our city will get drier and cooler. Why is this good? Because the recent humidity and the arrival of our dust infested shipment has reawakened my allergies for the time being, but I am confident that it will diminish in the coming weeks.
4. We have an 8kg washer, which will definitely help with the dust mites! I know that's nothing compared to washers in the States, but it's typical to have a 5kg washing machine here, which amounts to about 5 items of clothing. I can't tell you how much I've washed (and dried in my American dryer!) today.
5. Our wardrobe appears to be able to hold much more clothing than I first anticipated. We might fit it all in after all!
6. We started homeschool today, and it went well. More on that on my other blog.
7. We found a beautiful rug for 300 kuai (about $45), I had custom couch covers (a two seater and a three seater) and curtains made for all our windows for $430. I love this country.
8. We have workers coming on Wednesday to finish little details like the outlets that don't work, towel bars and hooks that need to be put up, and a fish pond that needs leveling. So thankful that someone else can do those things, and for very little money.
9. I have so much support here! I have great friends who live in our complex, and when our kids aren't out playing in the courtyard, they are probably at one of their houses. I know if I need someone to help me with the house, go shopping with me, watch my kids, or just hear about my day, they're here for me.
10. Our kids are fed and clothed and sheltered and happy, and they seem to be taking this all in stride.

I keep thinking today, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Though I long for the day when everything will be in its place, the pictures will be hung, the house will feel lived in and feel like it is ours, I know it will take time. I'd appreciate prayers for patience and peace in the process, and for my thoughts to stay fixed on the good!

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Tonight as I wandered through our new apartment, sorting things out, I saw something on the hallway wall that made me pause. It was a gecko. Based on my extensive familiarity with geckos, I'd peg this one as a juvenile. He's definitely not a baby, but not full grown yet. I thought, "Wait a second, I'm in China right?" I've never seen a gecko in China. Cockroaches, yes. Many. The Asian kind, which are smaller than American monster cockroaches, which is fitting given that they're, well, Asian.

But geckos, I don't think those are native to China. Those of you who have read my blog for some time though know that they are native to Singapore (I really should have a tag for gecko related posts, as they are legion). So my only conclusion is that this guy stowed away in our shipment.

I tried to catch him to show the family, as they were off on a Subway sandwich obtaining adventure, but he was too wily for me. Must be all the adrenaline pumping through his little body as he's desperately trying to figure out how he got here and how on earth he's going to get home. Sorry little buddy. I don't know the life span of a gecko, but I'm amazed that you got this far alive and I'm guessing you wouldn't survive the return trip. Better pick up a Mandarin phrase book and settle into your new home. If you need a shoulder to cry on, come find me - I'm a little unsettled about this new apartment these days myself.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stuck in Taiwan

When Erik was invited to go to Taiwan to visit friends in early August, it never crossed our minds that our shipment would not have already arrived from Singapore, or that we might still be squatting in a friend's apartment. But last Monday he left for Macau, then flew straight to Taiwan for a Greenhouse (our Singapore Bible study) men's reunion. Friday morning our shipment arrived from Singapore, and it was my job to supervise six Chinese workers bringing in box after box whose contents did not match the content list we had been given by the moving company. After awhile, I wanted to say, "Your guess is as good as mine. Put it wherever you want. I don't know what's in there." Since not all of our furniture is done being made, toward the end of the day they came to me and said, "Can we just put paper down and put things on it because there's no where else to put it?" So now our apartment looks a little like our shipment exploded. I managed to rearrange the kitchen, storage room, and homeschool room, but the rest will have to wait until Erik returns. Or our furniture is made, whichever comes first. At this point, it's a toss up.

See, Erik was supposed to come back yesterday afternoon, then fly to Thailand tonight for a two day conference scouting trip. But part of their men's reunion involved a side trip to Green Island, which looks lovely in the pictures, but less lovely in the video clips of the typhoon raging there right now. As of tonight they are still stuck on the island. Erik had hoped to get a flight back to Taipei this afternoon, and come back tomorrow, but now it looks like it will be at least another day.

This is what the Chinese would call a "zenme ban ne?" kind of situation. What can you do? Nothing. Just wait out the storm, leave your stuff sitting on the floor, it'll all work out in the end.

A New Family Member

Confession: I am a little bit afraid of hamsters. Yeah, I know to them I am Godzilla and Kong Kong rolled into one, but their little pointy claws, tendency to bite, and particularly the fact that they appear to be tailless mice are all creepy to me. But today we have added one of them to our family.

I personally don't want to call a hamster a member of the family, but the kids are in love. The hamster was a gift to Megan from a very generous little friend of hers (though 3 kuai wasn't exactly breaking the bank). But she even bought her a cage! I didn't want to squelch her desire to give, so we have this hamster on a one month probation. If the kids don't take good care of her, she's out on the street. (Ok, I wouldn't seriously put a defenseless little rodent out on the street. I think my dad might though. In fact, I suspect that may be where some of my childhood rodents went, but I cannot confirm that).

The hamster's name is Nim. It was that or Mittens. Nim, from Nim's Island, which is a wonderful children's book Megan loves. She's only one month old so she's a little peep of a thing and seems genuinely petrified thus far, given that long car ride in the pink plastic ball, then being passed around five pairs of children's hands when we showed her to friends. She's currently curled up in a ball inside the mini-house in her cage, probably thinking, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home!" Well, home you are little friend. We'll see how it goes. And if I get over my fear of you.

Monday, August 03, 2009


I've figured out how to make my flickr more secure, so please go take a look at the pics from our day trips last week! I'm still in awe that we can find that kind of beauty so close to this urban sprawl.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Falling snakes, contraband explosives, and donkeys driving cars

Back in my younger days when I was oh so much more foolish, I pulled a bonehead move by passing a car so closely on a two lane highway that both the car I was passing and the car coming toward me were pulling off the road. That, I'm sorry to say, is how many overtaking experiences go down here in China. When this happens and you are the one being overtaken, it's tempting to scream something about the "donkey" driving the other car. But when it happened yesterday in our second Wild China adventure we refrained because there were children present.

We headed out of town about 100km in the other direction looking for a place called Black Dragon Pool. I decided I needed to gain more confidence in driving here so I took the wheel. It was mainly highway until the last 30 km, when it began to be winding mountain road. That's where we encountered said donkeys.

Once safely at our destination, we started hiking. Wow - we thought Ling Shan was a sight to see. This rivals stuff you see in Colorado! Beautiful rocky mountains dip down to flowing waterfalls and creeks. The kids were in heaven once we let them loose into the stream, where they became "undammers", helping the creek to flow as much as possible. Along the hike there were pools where you could rent little inflated boats for 20Y. After hiking all the way up and back, several of us paddled out, trying to get as close to the waterfall as we could. Many happy Chinese walked away that day with pictures of foreigners screaming with joy. Happiness all around.

Happiness turned to screaming on our way out though, when something dropped out of a hanging tree, landed on our friend's son's head, and smacked to the ground. It was a snake! It slithered away, thankful for someone to break its fall, and we spent the rest of the walk trying to encourage a six year old that having a snake fall on your head and living to tell is really super cool!

We decided to take the other way back home, which involved driving around the back side of the mountains. It took a lot longer but it was worth it! Wow - what views. At one corner there was an opportunity to climb up a short peak so we grabbed the chance. The second we were out of our vehicles, we were told by an ancient Chinese man standing there that the experience would cost us two kuai a piece. Ok, buddy, since you've planted your flag out here in the middle of nowhere, we'll oblige. But two kuai became so worth it when he started talking to Erik about something that would make a "boom boom" sound. He brought us over to his little cart of innocent drinks, lifted up his goods, and showed Erik the surely illegal grenade like explosives to be had for five kuai a piece. Who can pass up a chance to throw something into a deep valley and hear it explode? Not Americans! Erik pulled the pin, threw it, heard it hit the ground and said, "It didn't do anything." Two seconds later, kaboom!!

We ran into a few more donkeys driving cars on the rest of our drive. It was all worth it though to see such beautiful scenery and to give our kids a chance to roam freely in nature. What will we see next?