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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Garden in Progress

A nice yard located along the side of our house was a key draw for me as we searched for houses a couple of months ago. Before arriving in Beijing, I had deep fears about our girls growing up in a concrete jungle and not knowing green life as they peered out of windows into smoggy air. Fortunately, the scenario has been quite different so far. I know, I know, the winter is coming and that brings biting cold and its accompanying friend, air pollution, but we've so far had a lot of outside days and are currently enjoying a great fall. This has allowed us to put in a bit of a garden.

When we first moved in, the sparse, spidery-like grass covered the yard and weeds looked for any opening to set-up camp.

Xian and Audrey hanging out in the yard
We began talking with our landlord who is an avid gardener. She liked the idea of putting in a few beds so I tore out the grass in the middle third of the yard.

Play time in the soil
Krista then worked with a local brick-layer to build four raised-beds in the area. He quickly got to work and the beds took form.

While all the work was going on, other helpers ran to and fro at lightening speed, lending a helping hand whenever possible.

I guess she hasn't heard that you're not supposed to run with pointy objects in hand.

As the brick layer finished up, he arranged for rock to fill in the area between beds and to fill the beds up with soil.

The first bed is currently designated as kid play area. The girls love digging through the soil, planting rocks and working with their tools.

We've planted one of the back beds full of veggie seeds and are hoping to get things started before the cold sets in. The hope is to build some cold frames to keep the little guys warm. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Babies on Board

Upon arriving in Beijing, we immediately saw the need to purchase a tuk tuk. The bicycles were great, but the tuk tuk offered us the opportunity for carrying more than just wee ones. We’ve been beyond happy with the purchase; however it appears as if the tuk tuk craze is just now catching on in Shunyi. Our red machine often has been parked next to its twin -one containing a golden cat whose hand is perpetually in motion. Ours sports two large car seats along the back bench seat. Although cute, we were hoping to add in a bit of flare, some personality to the mix. Enter Justin Canterberry, an extremely talented high school student.

On a shopping trip a month or so ago, I happened to be paired up with the IB High School art teacher who recommended Justin to us. She mentioned his talent and said he would do whatever we wanted-flowers, etc. At the mention of flowers, I shuddered a bit internally. I wanted my tuk tuk pimped out not prettified. Totally alt, graffitied fabulousness was what I envisioned. Still, I connected with Justin. Pleasantly surprised, I learned that Justin’s medium of choice was spray paint and graffiti. PERFECT! Frank and I were stoked to give him free license and were anxious to see his work.

Our tuk tuk arrived yesterday, totally pimped out. SLM for Sage Lynn McGowan dons one side, while XO, Xian Odile, is splayed across the other. 

In a stroke of creative genius, he came up with the design featured below.

So now, I have to design the interior and we’re all set! I’m thinking fringe is definitely in order, a bit of leopard print, and a chandelier.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

It's an Art Party!

The easels silently lined up and made ready for the kids who would be soon painting with a frenzy. Colors marched round and round and deposited themselves in empty palettes. Brushes descended into place. The mastermindress and her helper bee raced a bit here and there as the morning vanished.

XO turned the big two on 10.4.13 but Saturday was the day to call over the other wee ones and do a bit of celebrating. Northerly winds provided a helping hand and the morning yuck factor disappeared to a gorgeous fall day. The kiddos first enjoyed themselves by playing in the garden - flinging soil clods is awesome! - and stringing up fruit loop necklaces.

The birthday girl eating 'em as she strung 'em.
Sage, it's still a bit too big for you. Soon, my little one, soon.

Painting was next on the agenda and we went upstairs where the easels were all set up. Each easel had a cool upcycled t-shirt smock for the artist and a canvas with the artist's name taped down. We enjoyed watching the kids paint. Each one had their own style. There was the brush stroke, the fling, the jab and the finger swirl.

Xian kept returning to her canvas while Sage quickly worked and then stopped. She flat out refused to return. Hey! When an artist knows she's done, she's done.

Here are their finished pieces in our new kids' art gallery stairwell:

Finally, cake time arrived. The kids (at least ours) were already hopped up on rice-crispy treat paint brushes, cookies in the shape of 2, fruit loops and who knows what else, but on birthday day...

XO blowing out her candy while holding a rice-crispy treat. Happy Birthday!

Mom's awesome cake revealed a whole new personality when we peeked inside. Oh the symbolism - we are simply loving XO's personality that keeps developing and gets revealed to us bit by bit. The past few weeks have been simply amazing with the wee ones. We are truly fortunate to have these wonderful girls in our lives.

Happy Birthday Xian! We love you and are so happy that we get to spend so many years with you. Love, Mom and Dad

Monday, October 14, 2013

Flower Market

The settling process continues...One of the local stops that we can load into the tuk-tuk and "safely" get to is the Flower Market. The ride takes 15 minutes or so but places us on the dreaded Dead Ayi road. Drivers here are a bit crazy - way beyond any Taiwanese standards. This little road that parallels a river seems to have been designated as an autobahn by the majority of drivers. The market is held in a large building that is divided into small retail areas. We've found that in order to get in and out the girls need to hitch a ride on our backs.

Furniture stores selling a wide array of cabinets, trunks, lanterns and much more weave in and out of fish stores (the girls' favorite) and flower stores.

More furniture

and flowers...

XO peaking out behind a display of brushes.

At the end of the latest trip, the girls were wiped out. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Xian Odile McGowan enters our life (10.5.11)

                                                                                                                                      repost from October 2011

All eyes were on us as we made our way down the long hall, through the packed waiting room and out of the medical clinic door. In our arms were boxes of diapers, a baby bath tub, a small care package and the amazing, beautiful, adorable... Xian.

Several hours earlier our evening followed the path of many others. I finished soccer practice and in the spirit of avoiding the need to cook, we rode our scooter to our favorite pizza restaurant. Breaking tradition, the order of a slightly different pizza had just been ordered when my phone began ringing. Unknown caller. No one ever calls me so I ignored the call. Krista, thinking it odd that I would receive a call, checked her phone. Missed call after missed call after missed call. Something important - baby was available but we needed to go immediately!

Throwing the pizza into a box, we raced home to let Audrey out, grabbed the already packed baby bag and headed out the door. We've been waiting for a baby since our return from France and have weathered a few disappointments. Would this be the one?

Driving to the clinic was nerve-wracking. Trying to balance building excitement with the reality that we may return home empty-handed was difficult. At the clinic, we first met Xian. Wow! She is so tiny!

From Xian

For the number people: 17 inches / 5.5 lbs

After seeing Xian, we met and talked with her birth mother before leaving the clinic. Unbelievable - hours before we had no idea that our lives would change that night. The feeling was amazing - an instantaneous growth in my heart unlike I've ever experienced. Love blossomed as I held this precious little girl.

Xian Odile McGowan
Born 10.4.11
Joined us on 10.5.11

Friday, October 4, 2013

Happy Birthday Xian!

10.4.13  - What world traveler just hit the two year old mark? Yay XO! These two years passed with much joy and happiness in our house. Her second year began in Taiwan, included trips to Thailand, the Philippines, and the United States and ended by getting settled into life in China. She's learned to walk and is rapidly learning how to talk. Her best friend is her sister and they regularly find creative new ways to fool Mom and Dad. Xian - thanks for a fantastic year. We hope this next one is every bit as fun.

So, what did we do today? Waking up early, Xian gave us our marching orders.

Birthday girl ready to roll!

Get dressed! Pile into the tuk-tuk! Take me out for some grub! The birthday girl ordered herself a blueberry muffin that was served with a bit of whipped cream and a big orange juice.

After breakfast, we caught the metro for a trip into town. The girls are getting better with Metro travel - what's the age where we cut them loose and tell them to meet us at home in 5 hours? Today, the subway at first appeared to be calmer but as we rolled closer and closer to town it became packed and we exited at the Beijing Zoo stop to larger crowds. Lines to purchase tickets are mere suggestions as people push, sneak forward and blatantly step on others.

Airplaning outside of the metro station

Wanting to do something special for XO's birthday, we decided upon the zoo. The girls are in a phase where animals are IT! At the same time, we needed to see a bunch of same but different animals to help out their sorting. Ma (Chinese for horse) is screamed each time a four-legged animal bigger than a dog is seen on a photograph or in a book. The zoo covers a beautifully landscaped area.

Unknowingly to us, there was a visiting exhibit today at the Beijing Zoo. This one slowly moved around the grounds and focused on the birds and some African mammals. This exhibit got lots of stares as people moved closer to inspect the small animals that were sometimes carried in a pack and sometimes strayed away from their parents who looked quite odd. Maybe this visiting exhibit will be back at another date...

Zebras, not horses
After snack, we returned to the exit and descended underground to catch the Metro. Each turn we made brought us to shops. Where was the subway we rode in on a few hours ago? We asked a guard and he pointed us farther down a hallway that eventually led to an exit. Fortunately, an information kiosk was nearby and we stopped in to find out that the station had been closed! The trains were too busy so there was no room for people to get on at this station. "Take Bus 87 two stops east and you will find a nice Metro station." The bus stop, located on the opposite side of the street from the zoo, held a wide choice of bus routes. Finding the 87, we went the two stops and were deposited at a mall. A bit of searching led us to an open metro station and we were again heading in the right direction.

This time, we experimented a bit with the route. We could either go in the couter-clockwise direction which was shorter but contained a transfer or go clockwise on the longer route without a transfer. Given that the clockwise choice began at the station and we would be guaranteed a seat, we decided to go for it. 40 minutes on one train turned out to be a wee bit long for the girls' limit. I think we need shorter routes and transfers to keep the transport entertaining for the girls.

At home, Mom and little sister began to work on Xian's birthday cake. Sage seemed to want to eat all of the icing but put in a helping finger or two.

So, here we are at the end of the day. Xian enjoyed her cake - the candles were a new experience - and crashed after the sugar hit.

Krista and I constantly discuss how lucky we are to have this amazing, sweet girl in our lives. Watching her grow and explore this world is a gift and we are so fortunate to follow along on her journey.

A few of her likes and dislikes at this stage of life:

  • fish--in any form
  • Tig Tig (her stuffie)
  • Binkies
  • dancing
  • to paint herself
  • counting 1,2,3 in Chinese, English and French (although her favorite number by far is 2)
  • shoes --especially taking them off once outside and putting them back on when inside
  • yoghurt
  • apples
  • bananas
  • music --the louder and heavier, the better
  • dressing herself
  • “cooking”
  • cleaning
  • drawing circles
  • Kissing sister on the lips
  • reading books
  • Li Xin (our nanny)
  • Audrey (the dog)
  • snuggles
  • juice
  • saying, “no, no, no Daddy.”
  • bossing sister around

  • being left alone for any amount of time
  • sharing with sister
  • wearing clothes
  • meat
  • anything outside of her own agenda
  • water in her eyes
  • hair washing
  • wearing shoes outside
  • being approached by strangers