Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Flying & First Impressions

Seriously, does anyone really enjoy travel? By this I don't mean the exploration of new places, sounds, foods, etc. but the actual act of moving from one place to another. It's a necessity but there is no glamour. Add a couple of kids and the joy factor takes a plunge. Blah!

Sage during a travel/post-travel sleep strike
Our bags packed, we waited outside of Gigi's house for the shuttle van to take us to the airport. Already worried a bit that our monumental amount of baggage maxed out the carrying capacity of the van, we watched the clock tick. Tick. Tick. Krista finally called to find out whether or not the driver was on his way.

"Five more minutes. He is almost there."

The time quickly passed without a driver. Fortunately, Aunt Carol was there to rescue us. We loaded up our belongings, called to cancel the driver - "Wait! I will come myself!" - and left for PDX. Xian passed out in the car and we wheeled her in while still in her car seat.

I always become more comfortable about the trip once my bags disappear down the conveyor belt and boarding passes are in hand. Traffic at the airport was slow and we were quickly helped as each of our eight bags flopped down onto the weighing table. 50 lbs each (please don't do the math on this one...)

Security hoops with the monster Cougar rank slightly higher than taking off belts and shoes but we soon made it into the departure terminal. The trip was on its way! For the first time, each girl held a ticket for her own seat on the plane. After a quick trip to Seattle and a short layover, we loaded onto the plane for Beijing. The McGowans filled a row as Krista and I book-ended the girls.

They hopped. They bounced. They climbed up and down. They did not sleep (well, short cat naps were taken by Xian while Sage boycotted with loud shrieks). What is in the past is in the past and we made it to Beijing to a warm welcome by people from our new school.

Currently, we are staying in nice furnished apartments. We will be here until we find permanent housing. Here is a view looking out into this western-style housing complex.

Simply put, the International School of Beijing is impressive. The campus is beautiful and the people we have met - mostly from the States, New Zealand, Australia and the UK are outstanding. The first few days dealt with orientation but moments of pure inspiration regularly pop up. There are high hopes for the upcoming year!

A few shots of places around the ISB campus.
Straight to the Elementary School - follow the mural to the MS

Krista & I both teach in the MS

I'm hoping for swim sessions in the awesome pool

Last year, ISB completed two large domes that house recreational facilities.

Finally, the absolute best part of this new beginning is meeting our girls' nanny, or ayi. She is amazing and the girls already adore her. They all spent a couple of days at ISB getting used to each other while we went to meetings.

A great end to summer

When asked about what we miss about home, the obligatory answer from a Pacific NW'er is beer and coffee. That's what we race back to the States for, right? Plenty of these good beverages exist but we truly miss the community. Returning "home" means seeing the great people in our lives even if they never email, write or find their way onto Skype. Our final summer weekend found us in Hood River spending time with Patrick, Kate and Waylon. Fabulous...

Picnic on the banks of the Columbia River.

Sage made friends on the beach and had great play in the sand while XO was determined to hang out in the water.

River babes checking out the wind surfers.

 Post-river pool time

XO pushing Sage around the park.

Waylon charging the slide.

Up next: Beijing!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Zoo Trip

Time is flashing by and good times are being had by our amazing little munchkins. A while back, we went to the Oregon zoo with a bunch of family and friends. Can you imagine keeping track of six children - 4 under two - and eight adults when animals are all over the place? 

We began in the Pacific Northwest section by watching the bears.

Next up, XO earned a front row seat to her current favorite - fish! To make the experience even better, she watched the fish swim about while munching on tasty goldfish crackers.

Photos were a challenge due to the glass viewing areas but it was fun watching this bear take a long bath in its large tub.

The polar bear is absolutely massive. His paw is unbelievably huge!

A bit later in the week, the girls spent a bit more time at Laurelhurst Park. They now roam like a couple of clucking chickens with the pen open; each heading in their own direction at surprisingly fast speeds.

Charging up the hill
Sage spent her time sliding between the backrest and the seat of the bench. Her butt easily fit through but try as she could her head would not follow. Oh, the suffering of the wee one!

A couple of sisters taking a break...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Electric Run

What?! You're going to spend your first night without kids in 21 months at a race? Running? Silly Frank and Krista - we heard those words a few times leading up to our night out. (Big thanks to Grammy for taking the girls for the night!) Well, it wasn't really a race and we didn't run, but it was a fun event on a beautiful Portland night.

First came the primping and there was a lot of it. I mean, we needed to glow and shine once the darkness settled in. Glow sticks, a black light tutu, black light paint and blinkers made it on our bodies.

We were joined by a few great friends for the event.

Noah proposing to helping Michelle with glow loops

Krista & Allison on the way to the Portland International Raceway
The sun finally set, the crowd thickened and lots of noise shook until the masses began moving.


First up, the tunnel...

Umbrella land followed after a period of darkness where Krista threw elbows to collect more glow material.

 Fairy tree world found ravers dancing in circles and jumping between trees aglow in different colors. We captured one...


The 5K course eventually wound back on itself and we began running after we crossed the finish line - to catch the MAX! The light rail car terminal was jam-packed with neon wearing, dancing crazies. When the train opened its doors, chaos ensued as people jostled to get on.

a final glow
The best part of the whole event was yet to come. When the next day dawned at 5:00 - or whatever time our girls decided to begin their day - we were miles away. Again a big thanks to Grammy!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

open season for communication

Pointing out ducks and turtles

It's an exciting time in the parent part of our lives. Both girls seem to be on the cusp of major language development. Words slide off the tips of their tongues - sometimes to be understood and other times as funny sounds - as Xian and Sage communicate with us through gestures, shrieks (hopefully fading away...), single words and recently small phrases. Both Krista and I eagerly anticipate discovering more about these girls as they increase their ability to speak.

Yet, this summer I've often caught myself feeling awkward as I speak with the girls. Why? I'm speaking French while a host of English speakers surround us. In Taiwan, the language differences did not seem to matter as the majority language was neither French or English. People mostly spoke Mandarin though Taiwanese would sometimes pop up to surprise us. Now I find myself a little self conscious. As I blab away in French to the girls, I hope to not exclude others. What's he saying? Why can't he talk English like the rest of us? Or, is a strong French speaker listening in with horror at the language I'm attempting to pass on to the girls.

I guess we currently follow the practice known as OPOL - one parent, one language - while the girls received their third language (Mandarin) from school. Krista speaks English to the girls while I do my best to dust off the cobwebs in my mind, throw out confusion regarding masculine and feminine words, make a pretense of strong verb conjugation and speak to the girls in French. Our language plan started a bit after the beginning of the new year and at first I attempted to speak only French, period. This effort did not last long though I only talk to the girls in French to the girls; Krista and I converse in English.

In Beijing, we plan to continue speaking our respective languages while the girls pick-up Chinese at home with a nanny. My big question is whether or not I will be able to maintain this practice over the years. In both France and Guinea, I was mostly surrounded by people who spoke the language better than I so proper language was constantly modeled to me. Now, I'm flying solo with the fear of passing on poor habits to the girls (i.e. French with a twist of Southern). My vocabulary needs a boosting as well. Though often able to carry on most conversations, I'm in a different role at the moment. Conversations are one sided (me running my mouth to get the girls used to hearing French) or full of the "what's that" question. There is just so much more to the world! According to some articles the important thing is for me to continue talking and the girls will, at some point if they formally study French, sort out mistakes but I hope visits from my parents and trips to France will also guide them in a better direction.

My biggest fear is that a point will be reached where I want to have a stronger conversation with my girls than I or we are able to do in French. Hopefully a few years of talking to them will improve my skills and this issue will not surface but it lingers as a faint whisper in the back of my mind - you won't be able to really communicate.

So, there goes a jumbled listing of my thoughts on the language practices in our house. Many people have asked us over the summer and I think about it a lot. The awesome part is that the girls are doing great. They follow requests in French with the same quickness as in English and verbally give us a mixture of French and English. It is interesting to note that a lot of their Chinese language abilities does not surface in the home. Xian's teacher told us that she was quite verbal in the class but she seems to be compartmentalizing her audience. We rarely get Chinese though she chooses the easier word (French/English) when talking to us. It's a process that amazes me as the girls quickly learn new words and build vocabulary. Phrases are beginning to pop out and I can't wait to hear what is next.

First Ice Cream Cones!

Xian knew exactly what the sign advertised. Alone, she quickly raced the final meters to place her hand on the cone. "Yes, peese."

Just in the last year, an explosion of neighborhood food carts appeared where empty lots once lied abandoned. The one closest to our current home boasts an assortment of food from Korean to Viking to fried chicken to ice cream along with several other cuisines. The sun pushed the mercury up and Krista's hankering for tropical fruits (it's only been a month) climbed with it. Mango smoothie for her, ice cream for the girls.

Krista armed with lots of napkins for our first timers.

Grammy joined us for the big event as visions of toppled ice cream scoops crossed our minds. The girls ate their cones like pros as each adapted their normal eating style for the melting treat.


Loving the ice cream!

XO, ever the dainty eater, barely made a mess at all. She became quite irritated when Dad swooped in for necessary maintenance on the melt lines.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In the neighborhood

The summer days quickly slip by. In Portland, mornings often begin with clouds and the impression of an upcoming, bleak day. Almost 15 years ago, I moved from North Carolina to  the Pacific Northwest. Though I grew up on the beach, we did not experience the "marine layer," or the thick cloud covering that begins many a summer morning. Patience, patience. In time the layer burns off and Portlanders are treated to beautiful sunny skies. The upside is that the remainder of the day often remains quite cool - the earlier the marine layer burns off, the warmer the day.

We've settled into a new neighborhood that is within walking distance of Laurelhurst, Sunnyside, Hawthorne, Mt Tabor  -essentially where we want to be. The girls pounce up early in the morning and if we are lucky go back to bed after an hour or so to finish the night's siesta. We then go walking. Sometimes important destinations like breakfast or the park are in mind though other times we descend the front steps without any plans. A meander you might say. On this day, we strolled through the calm back streets between Belmont and Stark.

Sage's newest word is flower and she continually points them out to, well, just about everyone.

Learning sidewalk boundaries turns into a fun game. Now you see me, now you see me running for the road.

Always the one to bring us something - such a better alternative than digging the object out of her mouth.

Mom & Xian checking out the flowers.

Xian in front of a parking strip planter.

Yep, that's a bee.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Happy 4th of July!

The skies cleared, the sun was bright and fireworks announced the 4th of July. We spent most of the day touring around neighborhoods on foot - it is so awesome to spend days without getting into a car! Towards evening, we headed over to a friend's for a cook-out. A few pics from the fun evening...

Krista & the girls all ready to go

Sage all set to trash her new dress.

Our host and his smiling boy.

Sage loving the swing

Fun at the easel
Needing a big, red wagon