Monday, May 23, 2016

Parties and Travel

one of the many manholes
my "monkeys" at the zoo
It’s spring, and we’re making the most of some beautiful weather and a somewhat more relaxed schedule to get out and about—and to have some parties!  We turned a trip to the import store into an exploration of a new place to play—the former zoo that is now a public park.  I don’t know why we hadn’t been told of this one before!  The kids were nuts over the places to explore and climb; the green grass and the open sidewalks took my breath away.  It helps that this time of year everything is in full bloom, so the foliage is a stark contrast to the white concrete that is the predominant eye sore around town.  Besides the numerous open manholes, the kids were in sheer heaven climbing around on what I think was the former monkey island!  No one even minded that the construction on the roads around the park turned the 20 minute drive into about an hour both ways, and I got my shopping done and some good, clean air and exercise into my active kiddos who have been certainly experiencing some spring fever.  I’m not sure if I’ve never noticed it so much before because I’m used to them being in school during most of the hours of the day, but man, have we had a lot of extra energy and wiggles that daily need to be burned off!

That's right--an Aggie jacket in our courtyard!  Whoop!
bball in our courtyard
I’m thankful for Eli’s tendency to have a goal in mind for himself and issue a challenge to his siblings to pique their interest in also pursuing the same goal.   He’s been doing that as of late with exercise; after I’d pointed out that one of his best friends is in charge of taking the trash down from their 6th floor apartment daily to the outside trash can (no elevator in their building), he’s decided that doing more stairs is good for everyone.  So he decided that he, too, would take the stairs rather than the elevator each time he can.  He also asked me if I’d be willing to bribe/reward his siblings with two jelly beans (still a bit of left over Easter candy around here!) if they would run the stairwell with him.  So the kids have agreed to regularly go from our 8th floor apartment, all the way up to the 14th floor and all the way back down to the ground floor and then up again to the 8th—and they do this either 4 or 5 times round trip!  You’d better believe they come in the front door huffing and puffing!  I usually stand near the door with it propped open to yell some words of encouragement and be ready with water bottles so they don’t have to slow down too much.  (Of course, it’s got to be somewhat of a competition; I do have 3 boys who have had their dad model a competitive nature!)  I figure that with the number of calories they must be burning, two jelly beans are a small compensation for me to make for their hard work! 

Hud's bday dinner out w kabobs...
...and mint brownies for dessert
My bday coffee date w Eli
We’ve also had a few birthdays and other memorable occasions to celebrate.  Hudson turned 9 years old on May 2.  We had a family dinner, along with some of our best buddies out here who were hanging out with us for several days while their mom was in the hospital.  His friends’ presence made the family celebration (and the birthday brownies) that much sweeter!  His other request was to celebrate by going out to the mountains and doing a fellowship time with a group of friends there.  It was such a sweet outing!  We loaded up a huge van that we rented and 3 other cars and had a group of 30 of us make the one hour trip to one of our favorite places in China.  We spent the day visiting, singing, and charging up the sides of the mountains.  It was such a sweet celebration!  And then my birthday was a few days later on the 5th, and we had a family dinner out at a favorite Central Asian restaurant with a few friends able to join in the fun.  I also got to enjoy another fun treat—coffee with Eli!  He’s become quite the coffee lover (when we allow him to indulge on rare occasions), and one of the coffee shops nearby has started carrying decaf coffee (at my request!).  So I’ve got a favorite coffee shop now which I’m frequenting more regularly!  (In the past, none of the coffee shops had deca,f which makes it really disappointing to meet someone for coffee in the evening when I know that drinking some would affect my sleep.)  The one other big celebration was for Kevin.  He’s been working so hard at his language learning that we just HAD to have a party for him—complete with one of his favorite desserts that isn’t made often (there are too many ingredients that I can only get when they are sent in a US package).  He’s been memorizing in the new language he’s studying, and the amount that he’s memorized has me standing back in awe.  The man has a mind that is truly gifted for this sort of thing, and I’m so thankful for his diligent perseverance; he’s set records, I’m sure!  And the time and effort he’s putting into it are being used in a mighty way.  Much to celebrate there!

too much walking for Noah
in ChengDu
We took a trip to another city in China, ChengDu, for me to attend a homeschooling conference there.  It was so helpful!  Although I’ve been homeschooling the kids now for two years, I’ve never attended this sort of conference.  As Karis is getting into middle school (she’ll be in 7th grade starting this fall), there are things that I just don’t want to miss and have her fall behind in required courses, etc.  So I thought it was a good time to talk with other experts on the matter and also find some encouragement along the way (as I can honestly confess, is needed on many days!).  Kevin hung out with the kids for the 3 days that I was in meetings, and they had an absolute blast!  The first day we arrived we took them to a sporting good store that has really great quality stuff for reasonable prices.  The kids each got to pick out either roller blades or scooters (the older got the blades, the younger got the scooters).  The place we stayed ended up being such a surprise blessing; I found it online and we almost didn’t book it because it was inexpensive and was only 3 stars.  We thought it might be a total dump, but it looked like there was  a pool and I knew that would be a total treat for the kids.  It ended up NOT really having a pool, but it was in this fantastic area perfect for rolling around; it was basically an apartment in an area with a huge courtyard with gorgeous blooming flowers that looked like a European plaza of some sort.  And there was a Starbucks and 7-Eleven right around the corner (the 7-Eleven had donuts and Dr. Pepper!!!).  The city of ChengDu is WAYYYY different from where we live, so we took advantage of all the perks—wide sidewalks (so we’d walk everywhere to dinner if it was within an hour’s range or so), Tex Mex, movies in English, Papa John’s, and an Ikea (where I could stock up on a few basic home things, even fitted sheets, that we just can’t find elsewhere).  We left after 4 days feeling refreshed from the break in our routine and excited about the new things we had to bring home.

buying chicken 
picking a cut of meat
It’s amazing how every time I pull away from our “usual” routine and environment I find myself doing some major processing about our life.  We’re almost 7 years into China being our “new normal,” and yet I still find myself shaking my head in wonder so much of the time.  I’ve been trying to capture some of it on film (or digitally, I guess I should say).  This one photo shows where I buy my chicken.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I get it at our local butcher (which is such a blessing; he didn’t used to always have it but has started carrying it I think largely because I purchase so much from him each week that he knows that the frozen chicken will be sold out of his coolers!).  The only bummer is that most of the time when I go in there (or, rather, stand outside hoping I don’t need to actually walk onto the blood-dripped floor), there is a sheep bleeding out on the floor.  It’s so hard to hear, see, and smell that sight!  And this is from a city girl who grew up spending weekends on the family farm and even seeing the cattle going to the butcher house….but man, it does add an element of stress to my shopping experience!  I am also still amazed at the cuts of meat that are the select cuts in the cultures around me.  I tried to capture one as the woman getting the “yang” (which can best be translated as mutton) in front of me was instructing the butcher what to cut off.  Literally all the meat in the bag that she was purchasing was white—either bone, tendon, or fat!  There was maybe 10% pink anywhere.  How different from our higher priced, lean cuts of meat that are so preferable in the US!

Hud's 2 friends--"dinner" and "dinner"
our wheels in ChengDu
And I’m seeing the differences in my kids, too.  When we were in ChengDu at the sporting goods store, we were playing outside for about an hour, killing time before we needed to head to the Papa John's nearby to pick up pizza for dinner.  While we were there, my kids made friends with some other "English" people (Americans) who happened to be doing some shopping, too.  Karis must have talked with these two American women for a total of 10 minutes, but she evidently bonded deeply.  On the way back to the hotel, she continually referred to "Aunt Sarah" and "Aunt Laura."  I finally questioned her on this one, saying something along the lines of, "You sure only knew them for a short time to be calling them Aunt so and so...."  Her response?  "Don't worry, Mom.  It's a TCK thing." (TCK standing for third culture kid, or a kid raised in a culture that is both different from their parent's and their host culture, making their experience living abroad a "third" culture.)  There's a book written years ago by the third culture kid gurus.  I've pulled it out and am re-visiting the content.  A mom can never be too over-prepared!

Karis w best buddy in the mtns.
As I write I’m actually on my way back from an amazing weekend—of more travel!  For my birthday, Kevin sent me off on a plane to meet one of my best friends from Tianjin (where we used to live) in a city in between (Xi’an).  It was such a dear time of refreshment!  Natalie is a friend with whom I connect on a deep, heart level, so time with her always benefits me in so many ways; and we laugh a lot!  So I again got more Tex Mex and won’t admit to how many times we just hung out at Starbucks, sipping our lattes and talking about those big and little things that busy moms just don’t often get around to talking about.  The time with her was a gift that will no doubt be the emotional and social fuel that will keep me going for some time! 

figure out the meaning of this one...
And now the summer schedule for the Joseph Family School has officially begun!  Assuming the kids got their final work for the week done on Friday morning (after I left town on Thursday afternoon), we have wrapped up most of what we needed to accomplish for this year of study.  Partly because we have so little to do around where we live, the kids have agreed that doing some school throughout the summer is okay with them.  So we have this week pretty much off (except for Chinese class that they all still have 4 days a week in the afternoon), and I’ll be putting together final lesson plans for the summer.  Then next week we’ll move to a two day a week schedule, doing Chinese, starting our new language, and working on math, writing, and a bit of reading.  I’m hoping that having some structure will help us all keep our sanity and not get too bored!  We’re still waiting to find out what the summer baseball schedule will look like.  One of the frustrations in working here is the last-minute planning which is so common in this culture.  Kevin hasn’t been able to get confirmation from any of the possible field locations that they can use their facilities for the summer; so we’re on hold, probably until June when the Chinese schools get out (at the end of June).  We’re hoping for a good balance of baseball that’s not quite as intense as last year’s 5 or 6 days a week schedule.  Kevin and the kids were all worn out by the end!  Sure hoping that this summer is cooler and a bit lighter on the baseball end of things….