Bird Paradise

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Last weekend, my neighbor and good friend asked us if we wanted to go to the bird park with her and her daughter.  I have to be honest…I didn’t want to.  I wanted to stay home on my couch and read a book.  But, because we want to grow relationships, we went.  And I am SO glad we did!  It was such a neat experience!!Bird2

The girls got to hold the birds..I was just hoping they didn’t poop on their heads.  I mean, a little part of me thought it would be hilarious if that happened, but the part that would have to clean the poo was glad it didn’t happen.Bird3

My girls love peacocks.  And this was peacock heaven!  They were walking around everywhere and were so docile that you could touch them and walk around them without them even flinching.  We really liked this white one and took note of the fact that one like him would be a fabulous guest to a wedding.  30 years from now.Bird4

I love Ellie’s grin.  The bird wreaked havoc on her already disheveled hair, but it is just so Ellie that all we can do is grin right along with her.Bird5

These birds are smart!  They would say hello in Chinese and “MaaaaMaaaa”  But they would make you work for it.  So, basically, you would talk to the bird  without him replying for quite some time.  At first you would just say hello.  But then you would get louder and higher pitched, then start making faces.  When you looked and sounded like a complete fool, he would reply.  Smart, I tell you.Bird6

The park wasn’t huge, but it was just big enough to tire you out.  We saw so many species of birds.  Most roaming free.  Some chained.  The emus were big, ugly, and got way too personal.  You could hear the terrified screams from people when they got too close.  Ha!  We contributed to those screams a few times ourselves…Bird7

On our way to Bird Land, we walked through a big park that had a long fence of stone carvings.  It may have been my favorite part.  The park just looked so much like what is in our imaginations when we think of what China should look like.  Reality doesn’t usually match our expectations, but this one did.  Lovely.Bird8

These girls are also very lovely.  And a little bit like monkeys.Bird9In the middle of the mud and poop was a log bridge toy thing.  I didn’t try it out, because, well, if you know me, I wouldn’t have been able to make it across without landing in the mud at least once.  But it looked fun…until Cam decided to shake the ropes…

The storks were fun.  I was really wishing they would give me a baby, but they weren’t that sweet.  Oh!  And the peacocks…when the females came near, the males would shiver their feathers.  The girls still talk about the shaking and randomly do “peacock shiver” imitations.  This really was a fun, fun Saturday.  And to top off the day, we went to dinner at a Beijing place that may have been the BEST Chinese food we have eaten since moving here!  Success!

 

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The missing cheese.

box1My parents and grandparents sent us a box on May 2nd.

On June 7th, it finally arrived.Box2

Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge deal…we would be concerned that it was lost, but generally all the boxes eventually arrive.  This particular box, however, had a special gift inside.

Box3Cheese.  Not just any cheese, but Tillamook Cheese.

We fully expected to get a box that stunk to high heaven, but much to our surprise, most of the cheese was still edible (not the wet slices)!  I know to most of you that sounds entirely disgusting.  18 months ago, I would have died before eating month old, unrefrigerated cheese.  Now, however, the desire for good cheese trumps all the disgusting factors.  And a little in my defense, the cheese was frozen, packed in an insulated bag with an ice pack.  Yes.  I know those wouldn’t have mattered after 2 days, but let me tell myself that, okay?Box4

We were truly thrilled to open this box!  We haven’t received a box in awhile and had forgotten just how encouraging it is to open a box full of treats from home!!  We have really been living it up with all the candy that was inside…maybe overindulging a bit, but Im pretty sure there is a rule that says one can never eat too much chocolate…or colored-filling Oreos…

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Dry Ski!

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To celebrate the finish of another school year, we took the girls and their best friends to the dry ski place here in the city.  The slopes were made of little plastic knobs that were extremely flexible and cushiony, giving what I would assume is an authentic skiing experience.  We have never actually been skiing, so I am not sure how similar it is, but it was a lot of fun!  Ski1

Cam, as usual, picked up the new sport surprisingly fast.  He crashed and burned once with a gigantic smile on his face, which is more than I can say for myself, who has road rash all over my thigh…Ski2

Gracie fearlessly ran the slopes the entire time we were there.  She always had her beautiful grin pasted on her face and didn’t fall at all until she tried to jump the hills.  I hope she and her good friend made some lasting memories that they will never forget.Ski3

Faith is determined.  She faces new things with an intensity that comes from her dad.  She doesn’t give up and she pushes herself until she is victorious!  She had a blast!  She tried the tall hills and the short ones, and was looking like a pro when we went home.Ski4Ellie also skied all day long, bringing home the only sunburn of the day.  I didn’t get many pictures of her, because somehow she escaped the camera…could be because she and her bestie were off playing somewhere together.  Her friend fell a few times, and I was so proud of how Ellie “mothered” her.  She dropped her skies and ran to get her, walking slowly back with her.  She continually checked on her, making sure she was okay.  It was a side of Ellie we don’t often see, but made my mama heart happy.

We went on a Friday early afternoon, so the place was deserted.  Since we were the only skiers, the girls decided to chuck the skis and roll down one of the taller slopes.  They got away with it for quite awhile until the worker caught on and put a stop to it.  They really were pretty relaxed with us, letting us do things like taking off the knee/elbow pads (never the helmets!) and laying our skis all over the place.  It was certainly a day we will all remember with a smile!

 

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Hair. Dresses. Weird Mechanical Animals.

EllieHair

Ellie wanted to cut her hair off.  Her reason?

When she runs and gets sweaty, it sticks to her underarms.

I’m pretty sure she is exactly like her dad…

Dresses

Children’s Day was last month.  I think it is pretty awesome that this country sets aside a special day to celebrate children!  Our neighbor brought the girls a gift…traditional dresses!  Her daughter wanted to match Faith because she is her favorite.  They are also the same age with the most in common.  It is not, however, strange at all to be told which of my children is the favorite and asked which one my favorite is.  When I was asked that, I said I didn’t have a favorite and the lady leaned over and said I was lying.  Ha!  Never a dull moment…weirdanimalsThese weird mechanical animals appeared recently in our apartment complex.  They are super cheap and you get 15 minutes to ride.  They go pretty fast and your area to ride in is pretty vast.  My girls, of course, decided to turn them into bumper cars…bumping into people, benches, each other and anything else in their path.  I’m glad that they won’t be learning to drive anytime in the near future.  I tried to get Cameron to ride with one of the girls for your viewing pleasure, but he wouldn’t humor me.  Or you.  Lots of other dads ride with their children, and it never fails to make us giggle!

 

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Saturday Park Date

We haven’t been going out and exploring as much as we did when we first arrived here.  I think part of the reason is because we have just been feeling worn out and the other part is that the girls love hibernating in the house on weekends.  This weekend, however, we decided that we really needed to go out and find something fun to love.

park1We did exactly that!

We went to a park that we were told about…that we had unsuccessfully gone to before…to find an amusement park area.  It was like a little slice of Six Flags in the middle of a big, crowded city.  Come to think of it, that sounds just like Six Flags!

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We told the girls they could choose 2 rides each.  The rides ranged from $1.75- $2.50 each per person.  It adds up pretty fast with 5 people!  However, somehow they got in a few more than the original agreed upon 2 rides…Park3

They all rode the swings together, thinking that they would be fun, but just like any other swing ride.

Chinese swings and American swings are not created equal.

These go MUCH higher and faster than the ones we’ve ridden before.  I’m sure they are just as safe though.  Surely.  Then, they all wanted to ride a roller coster that spun as it went around.  I think when the day was over, this ride came out as the favorite.  The next ride they chose was split up.  The bigger girls wanted to jump on the trampolines, but Ellie wanted to ride the ride that went around the park.  I offered to take her, knowing that it was powered by the rider pedaling.  What I didn’t know was that she would be too short to reach the pedals unless she hung her body off the seat.  The seat that she wasn’t actually strapped into and that was inside a car without doors on a track above the park.  I think my heart stayed in my throat the whole time.  At one point, I really thought we were going to fall off the track and die a horrific death that wouldn’t have been worth it at all.  I was SO glad when that was over and we could move on to MY favorite ride.  The CONQUISTADOR!!  This ride, at Six Flags, has always been one of my favorites!   The only thing was that this particular pirate ship went higher, faster, and much longer.  I realized I may be getting a little too old for this kind of stuff when I almost lost my lunch and stayed nauseous for the next hour.  Getting old may stink, but parks in China are still one of the best things about living in this country!Park4

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Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday here that gives everyone a day off, so we love it!  A friend, one of my former tutors, invited my family to her home to make zongzi.  Zongzi is a traditional food made of sticky rice and a date (or various meats) wrapped in a big bamboo leaf, then boiled.  While we were there, she told me the history of the holiday.  Now, keep in mind, she speaks Chinese.  So, what I am about to tell you may or may not be translated correctly.Zongzi1

There once was a poet who was broken hearted.  He held some powerful position and something went horribly wrong.  He grabbed a big, heavy rock, then walked into the Long River, drowning himself.  They never found his body, but they didn’t want the fish to eat it.  Or maybe he got eaten by a fish.  I’m not sure.  Either way, they began to throw zongzi into the river to feed either him or the fish.  Now, on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar year, they remember him by making zongzi and having a holiday!

Zongzi2The process of making zongzi took lots of time and nimble fingers.  The rice was washed and soaked in water, but not cooked.  The leaves are cleaned and dried.  You have to hold the leaf while adding water and rice, a date, and more rice and water, then quickly fold into a pyramid without losing the rice, but letting the water run out.

We had to start over.  A LOT.

Zongzi3It was a great way to spend the afternoon and a fun bit of history to participate in.  Our hosts sent us home with a bag of uncooked zongzi and instructions on how to cook it properly (it took four hours and multiple boil/resting times).  We all tried it the next morning and found it to be not bad!  It was sticky and sweet and far exceeded our expectations.

 

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I did it again.

Remember this massage from last year?  I inadvertently had a similar experience today.

Let me back up.

Two days ago, I went to the grocery store.  The second floor of the grocery is an inferno, so we don’t go up there if we can help it, but this day I had to venture into the flames.  It is also the floor that is manned to death with workers.  Every aisle seemingly has its own squadron of workers wanting to sell you the “best” brand of goods.  They don’t care that you don’t understand them..or when you tell them thanks, but no, forty two times.  

They persist.

This day, there was a man near the skin bleaching creams that was handing out fliers.  I politely told him “thank you, but I can’t read that” and went on my way.

Imagine my surprise when I turned around on the mop aisle to find him following me.  I continued walking…faster…mumbling about needing to buy this stuff.  He said they had something free to give me.  In the spa.  Do I know where it is?  I stopped, looked at him (big mistake) and said I knew where it was.  I also said I didn’t have time and that I would go later, taking his flier.  

He wasn’t okay with this.  He went to grab my arm to pull me along, when I jerked my body back and said okay.  

I may have huffed and rolled my eyes too.

He didn’t care one iota.

Into the spa we went, where I was greeted with “Huanying Guanglin!” (Welcome) by seven people in the loudest voice they could manage.  It stopped me in my tracks.

They ushered me forward to sign my name.  I was flustered, a little scared, and a lot confused, so I promptly forgot how to write my name in Chinese.  

If you ever want to feel like you are an adult in Kindergarten, learn a new language.  It is a new kind of humbling!

After they wrote my name for me, I was pulled into a private room and told to sit.  

I thought that the lady told me she wanted to look at my skin then they would give me my free stuff (I assumed lotion).  Reality was totally different than how it went down in my imagination.  She told me lay down and quicker than lightening had my hair bound and my face covered in thick cream.  

There went that make-up.

Forty five minutes and $25 later, I went home with a free face massage under my belt and a card for both an hour long foot massage and a 45 minute back massage.  I also had a really sore face that was starting to break out.

I should have known.  I should have.

That brings us to today…when I went to redeem my two massages.

The foot one came first.  After the foot soak and all the comments about how perfectly white my legs are, she started rubbing.  When I jerked back in pain, she told me that was my digestive tract that was hurting.  

She asked if I had pooped.

Umm.  I thought she asked me if it hurt…so I replied “a little”.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had told her I had pooped a little.

She relayed this to all the people who rotated through the room in the next hour to ogle the foreigner (there was as few as 2, as many as 5).  So they all knew that, according to my feet, I needed to poop.  She also told me that if I rubbed that part of my foot more frequently, I would have really nice poop.  Isn’t that the goal, y’all?

I was told that I have bad circulation because my toes were cold.  So I should eat more red dates.  That will fix it.

And my legs are too jiggly.  I need to exercise more, then they will be better.

And, upon seeing a picture of my family, I used to be fatter. 

After the fabulous fun of that hour and 20 minutes, I hobbled to the next room for my shoulder rub.  When I walked in, I saw another woman laying on one of the tables getting her massage.  So we were going to share a room.

Americans value privacy more than other countries…

The lady told me to take my shirt off.  Oh dear.  I took it off (with all three ladies watching).  The she pointed to my bra.  I quickly said, “I don’t want to”, so she did it for me.  My hands immediately slapped my bra back to my body, while saying, “I don’t want to”.  She said, “we are all women”, then gestured toward the bed.  

Uggggghhhh.

I, faster than you could blink, dove onto the bed.  She oiled my back and started trying to surgically remove the knots with her bare hands.  The first words out of her mouth were, 

“Your circulation is bad.”

Maybe I should listen.  That is probably why my hands and feet go numb all the time…

This massage was 45 minutes of the most intense pain EVER.  At one point, I almost sat up, regardless of my state of undress and said that it was enough.  I also almost cried.  I kept saying it hurt.  She just dug deeper.  Then she started mocking me, saying it all hurts.  With a laugh.  Soon the other women were chuckling.  

I was moaning.

So, now, I feel like I have been beat to a pulp.  Everything hurts.  Everything is sore.  And I am sure my body is turning blue with bruises.  How silly of me to think that I would come home relaxed and feeling like jello!  No more.  No more massages.  Until next time…when I forget again…

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Its a new day

As I was reading this morning, Father highlighted some things in myself that were just ugly.  

Trials produce endurance.  And we must endure to be mature.

First.  I don’t like being called immature.  More than that, I don’t like when I see how immature I have been acting.  And who likes trials?  I certainly don’t!  I prefer beaches and daisies.  Hard things make me curl up and cry.  Perhaps that is why I feel like my life has so many hard things right now…because I am still curling up and crying…

Last week was rough.  I didn’t hear many encouraging words, but I heard a LOT of discouraging ones.  I let them get into my head.  I let them take the place of HIS words.  The words that tell me:

I am loved.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I am chosen.

I am enough.

Instead, I heard all the bad things and started to believe them.  I let them color my attitude.  My attitude was ugly.  It was negative.  It couldn’t see any of the blessings that surround me.  My friends had to endure the rants, the tears, the gross negativity.  I wasn’t shining for Him.  I wasn’t displaying anything that resembled the Father I love so dearly…that loves ME so dearly.

Today is a new day.  Full of His mercies.  And I am claiming victory over the trials!

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Where, oh where, is ChickFilA?

I wanted tea.  No, I  needed tea.  It was one of those days in which my soul needed iced cold, sweet tea.  The kind of tea that you get in the south from your grandma’s house and you drink while sitting outside, surrounded by lovely people with the best conversation.  

Or from ChickFilA.

A friend had told me about this place nearby that had fabulous lemon tea, if you’re into things like tainted tea.  I’m not.  I think that sometime in my childhood I mixed the taste of sweet tea with the smell of lemon toilet cleaner.  So, now, when lemon tea crosses my taste buds, I immediately think of toilet cleaner.  I just can’t drink it.

So, I went to this place thinking that I would ask for plain tea.  Without the lemon.  Because they add the lemon…it isn’t a mix.  

When I told them I wanted cold red tea, they immediately said, 

We don’t have that” (I translated that for you.  You’re welcome.)

My sarcastic side was really itching to break free at this point.  I KNEW they had red tea.  They also had ice.  And sugar.  So, I said, 

I would like lemon tea without the lemon, please”

And you know what?  They were totally fine with this idea.

*insert eye roll*

But, y’all.  The trouble was completely worth it!  It was like ChickFilA in a non styrofoam cup.  A slice of heaven that will be revisited many, many times this summer.

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A few things I’ve heard.

Chinese people are direct about some things.  More direct than I like.  Lately, I seem to have gotten a few comments that didn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies…

“You were a little fat when you lived in America.”  after looking at pictures of me.

“I understand your Chinese, but when you go outside, no one else will.”

“You should buy your 12 year old a box of condoms.”  When I didn’t understand the word, I got a demonstration of what that is…

“Your husband is cute and really awesome.”  Why thank you…I agree completely.

“You have gray hair because you don’t eat good food.”

“Gracie is so short because she needs to eat more vegetables.”  it has nothing at all to do with genetics

“You are getting old, you should exercise more.”

“I like your face”

“Your nose is so long and beautiful”  You can laugh.  I sure did.

“Your figure is perfect” said to me by a married man in front of both our spouses.

“You have holes in your jeans.  Are you too poor to buy new ones?”

Everyday, it seems, something is said, or heard, that in America wouldn’t be said quite as directly.  Or said at all.  I can’t decide if I like this or hate it with everything in me.  And it is so crazy, because this culture is actually not a direct one.  You have to beat around the bush for EVERYTHING else, but observations have no filter…

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