Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In with Xmas Coffee, out with cookies

On a dark morning of the first day of December, a visitor arrived at our house. WangLin appeared. A book telling her story was set on the table along with sweet treats and special "Christmas Coffee".

Coffee is one of those sacred things in this house. The girls, even in the midst of 2-year tantrums, will pause if told that Krista or I need to get our coffee or they will calm down if they realize the morning cup of joe is in danger of being spilled. So, when given their own special cup of Christmas Coffee (aka hot chocolate) they were super jazzed.

So started our month with a holiday elf. Her name comes from a joining of the last names of the girls' birth families and she has provided lots of entertainment. Before we head down the stairs each morning, the chorus of WangLin, WangLin begins. You see, she goes to visit old St Nick each night and reappears in a different place in the morning. It has turned into a seek-n-find each day as the girls run around trying to find where she's placed herself.

Popping up inside the book case. How did she get in there? It's under a bit of a lock down due to a couple of book case wreckers.

Helping out with a bit of gardening. The girls check on their "baby" plants each day. (Side note - it's awesome to have green onions -leeks in this case - all the time. Just reroot the base after using and stick in some soil. It keeps on growing. I'm not sure how many times you can cut it until the plant stops growing.)

Climbing the wall map; our massive puzzle that I still can't believe we put together.

Hanging out in the stockings. Krista still has hers from being a wee one herself!

Marshmallow bath. Xian was excited to try out the "bubbles".

Helping to decorate the tree.

As the sleigh ride to Christmas comes to an end, our days with WangLin also are ending. Tonight, she will hop onto Rudolph's back and take off but she wanted to make sure that we prepared for the jolly man. This morning, she pulled out the baking supplies and cookie cutters. I guess we're making cookies today!

Silly elf - I guess you couldn't help making a sugar angel.

Until next year WangLin! The girls enjoyed looking for you every morning and will be pretty bummed out that you've taken off.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Temple of Heaven

Winter break is in full swing and we are enjoying time at home. Typically, the ringing in of a vacation finds us scurrying somewhere around the world but due to the craziness at home (the little rascals are up to just about everything) we opted for staying in Beijing, enjoying time with the monkeys and getting a few outings without the monkeys.

On Thursday, Li Xin came to watch the girls and we took off for town. The subway ran smoothly and beautiful blue skies helped the sun bring some warmth on a chilly, day before winter starts, kind of day. Walking along the east wall, it seemed as if we would have the park and temple to ourselves but as we rounded the corner to the northern entrance many others joined us. However, these other folks weren't heading out to see the sights but coming to the gorgeous grounds surrounding the park for exercise and entertainment.

Many walkways snaked through the grounds and they were filled with people doing tai-chi, dancing, singing karaoke, flag dancing, hacky-sackin' and strolling along. Few tourists roamed the walkways and the temple areas seemed vacant.

Visitors were not allowed into the temple but doorways were open enough for us to glimpse the ornate decorations inside. The temple area (multiple temples are located along the sprawling grounds) were historically dedicated to good harvests.

At the southern end of the park, we came to an area built up around the Heavenly Center stone. We climbed the many stairs to find a small boy perched on top of a round stone. His family snapped photo after photo - good luck?

After walking the grounds, we headed off for a nice lunch of Beijing duck and then were off to the Pearl Market for a bit of shopping. All in all, a good day!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Months ago we, along with 20 or so others, arrived in Beijing. We stepped into the midst of summer and the humid air shocked out systems adjusted to a Portland summer. A few of us were came in from the Pacific Northwest while others came from other parts of the States, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa...Talk of a distant Thanksgiving surface among some of the Americans. Fast forward to the present and the air has changed. Humid conditions gave way to dry and cold air. Days are much shorter as the sun takes its time to peak above the horizon and quickly settles in again as evening approaches (and winter is not even here!)

Thanksgiving also quickly appeared and provided an opportunity for us to gather with others for a wonderful evening. Expat life is strange in that our families are spread far about in the world. Friendships are formed with others thrown into the same crazy situations as ourselves. Home traditions find an important place in our lives. In Taiwan, we taught at an American School and Thanksgiving was a prominent feast day. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, I remember finishing school and racing to Conakry, the capital city and home of the Peace Corps Headquarters, to celebrate Thanksgiving. So, it was with excitement that plans for Thanksgiving at our house got underway. Krista did an awesome job organizing and getting everything planned out. (Unfortunately, we teach at an "international" school so Thanksgiving is not a holiday. We feasted the Sunday before.)

The previous Monday, the turkey began its long thaw in order to be ready for Sunday. The big surprise happened on Saturday night when the oven decided to short-out. Whoops! A power cord was jiggled and back on it came. The long bake on Sunday featured several more outings but by the time everyone arrived, the bird was cooked!

It was great to have everyone over for nice company and food. One of our guests experienced her first Thanksgiving and enjoyed the November tradition. Happy Thanksgiving to all out there! Enjoy the time with your friends and families!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

LIttle Girls:Big Changes

Why oh why have there been so few posts on this blog? Plain and simple - Mom and Dad are getting run ragged. Personalities are exploding! Crafty abilities are increasing! Teamwork, conniving and problem solving have hit an all-time high! And they're taller. With more reach. More strength and more coordination. Our little girls are growing up.

November has been a serious month of change. The major struggles of potty training seem to be behind us though we'll spare the details. Both girls do a pretty good job of racing off to the bathroom as needed. They then expect high 5's and rousing cheers which the rest of us readily provide. And...drum roll, please...cribs are done with. What! Cribs and diapers (for the most part) in one month. It's been a wild ride.

The cribs were our safety net to nights of peace and quiet. That ended on the night that the girls were put into their cribs and loud sounds soon began emanating from their room. The sounds did not stop and we eventually went up (together as it was a bit frightening) to see what was going on. They were out and running around in the room. The next night, we decided to pull off a side panel of the crib and flip it so that they would not climb out. Can you say "Freeeeeeeeedom!"? We came up in the midst of party-central.

Caught in action...

Trying to run from the scene

In our nicely scheduled life (yeah, right) Chinese New Year, which begins at the end of January, would be spent gently easing the girls out of cribs and into beds. Hmmm. The girls decided that they just weren't down with that plan. They wanted their beds and wanted them...

Krista zoomed out to Ikea on a Monday night and when the girls walked into their rooms on Tuesday night they found big girl beds.

They were pretty excited!

A sign of more "fun" to come - dashing between beds.

Needless to say, the girls have been pretty excited when nighttime peaks around the corner. The begin giggling more and as soon as we leave the room, their little feet hit the ground so lead towards some sort of mischief. Several nights of off the wall craziness fortunately calmed them down but as this post was being written, "THUMP!" came the sound from above. XO logged in her first fall from bed. The excitement never stops...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fall Fun

The evening hour rapidly approached as I stepped outside our front door. Saturday was an inside day due to poor air quality and I hoped that Sunday would offer clearer skies. The horizon line offered a sneak preview as a distinct line cut across the sky. Blue skies pushed towards us as the sunlight slowly passed on. By the time that Audrey and I finished our walk, the northwest wind was picking up fallen leaves and twirling them about. Aah, there was promise for a nice day!

Winds bring clear skies while taking leaves.
The mercury has already dropped lower than anytime in Taiwan and bike commutes to work have been in big, puffy jackets. The girls seem to enjoy the cold weather and Audrey acts as if she is getting younger as she tears about on our walks (I mean, she's on a leash...).

Heading out on a cold day
With leaves falling about, we enjoyed the weekend with a few crafts and some nice outings. The girls had fun making glitter pumpkins.

A walk around the neighborhood included a stop in the play area and leaf-angel training.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Halloween 2013

A Care Bear kept us snuggly and warm while Dobby, the house elf, watched over every move. This was the girls first Halloween experience and they had a blast. Mom cooked up great costumes - great because they both hopped in with barely a complaint - that just seemed to suit each perfectly.

Meet Xian, the Care Bear. She's snuggly and warm.

Halloween was an opportunity to flash down her rainbow in a show of independence. She quickly figured out the routine: find a mob of people, climb the stairs to be with them, patiently wait, hold out bag, score something in a wrapper, say thank you, walk back down the stairs and repeat. There was little hand-holding as she took off on her own!

Xian charging it with bag in hand.

Stay away from my candy.

Then there is the friendly house-elf, Dobby, um Sage.

Not sure about Dad's carving job.
Sage developed her own strategy during the trick-or-treating experience. Understanding that a lot of giving was taking place, she often offered goodies out of her bag when at the door. People laughed and responded by giving her tons of loot. Her bag was packed!

Glowing little elf

All in all, it was a fun night. Our community had quite a few people that participated in Halloween and it was great to see the streets full of kids and to watch the giggling little ones have fun in costume.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Walk for Change on the Great Wall

Last weekend, our special treat was a return trip to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. "Each season gives a different view" is the often heard refrain when discussing the wall and this trip featured fall colors. Pleasantly warm, the day also provided clear skies with fantastic air quality. We began by waiting for students to arrive at school to load up on the buses for the trip.

The trip was part of an annual Walk for Change that raises fun for a local agency that provides educational funds for people in China. We went along as chaperones though were excited to support the cause and get the girls walking (well, XO slept most of the time).

We joined the other orange t-shirters as the climb up to the wall began. Vendors again lined the path to the entry way and local nuts seemed to be a big seller. We eventually scored some tasty, roasted chestnuts.

Along the way, we were treated to beautiful vistas.

In the parking lot, the crowds seemed to be quite plentiful but the numbers thinned out as we approached the wall and we had a great time walking from tower to tower.

A view from a window of a guard tower

Sage amazed us by continuing to climb and climb and climb

We again zipped back down on the toboggan ride. The girls were a bit disappointed at the tendency of the people in front of us to move at a slow pace. Allez! allez! allez! They wanted to fly down the path. At the bottom, a variety of "pancakes" were cooked us for us at a food cart.

What a great day!

At the end of the trip, someone snapped a photo of us all - one of the rare ones where we are all in the photo at the same time.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

International Day

This one happened a couple of weeks ago but we've been slammed! We knew that life would be busy here in the big city (um, suburb of the big city) but we didn't think things would be quite this hectic. At times we're like pinballs racking up a high score as we ding back and forth between events. International Day was a fun event. At school, the day ended with a parade involving the almost 2000 kids + teachers from pk3 through high school. Each person lined up in the area - Asia, Americas, Africa, Europe... - that they most identified with and we walked through the stadium. It was a beautiful day and after school, we hurried home to collect the girls and go back for after-school activities. Loads of people brought food for a whopping big cultural pot luck. Xian was dressed in a Taiwanese apron-esque front and sported Chucks to show off her American side.

Sage looked great in a vest from her tribe.

As the sun went down, performances began on the stage. We watched the earlier performances that showcased younger students. Xian and Sage were enamored by the kids on stage and often broke down into dance on their own.