Tuesday, June 30, 2009

one. two.

Sometimes when Olivia is looking forward to something she'll ask me, how many days until we go to the U.S., or until she starts first grade, or until her birthday, or Christmas.
I say "two days," or "two weeks", or "two months."
And she says “Oh. You mean like one, two?”

I say. “Well, I think it will be a little longer than just one, two.”

But the funny thing is, when I look back on time that’s what it feels like to me. One. Two. How did we get to Friday? How did we get to the end of June? Do I really have nine children? How did I get to be thirty-seven? It was like “One. Two.”
So Father’s day was nice. Sam and Rob made jumbalaya together and Sam made cream puffs for desert. I was impressed.

There were many homemade cards passed to Dad and I bought Rob a Pete Seeger book and movie that Kyle will enjoy watching too. I am sure that Kyle is Pete Seeger’s biggest nine-year old fan. That is still coming in the mail. I would not live in China without Amazon.
Monday is what I can’t remember.

Tuesday was a big day for me. I met Jessie at a recording studio. If anyone cares to read details you will have to check out my very lonely music blog. I even have pictures.

I will mention that the taxi I was riding home in got rear ended and of course the driver had to pull over and inspect and re-inspect and haggle with the other driver. I was grateful that it was a minor accident, in light of the very sad news about the D.C. Metro train accident.

Tuesday evening Rob came home with some news about his next job. I won’t give the details until the decisions are final.
Tuesday was a day when things felt like they were all moving forward. Wednesday was more of a housekeeping day. We did go to the pool and ordered French fries and icecreams right before dinner time, even though the kids were being a bit grumpy... because I am nice.

Thursday I hosted playgroup. The kids love that because they know I’ll stock up on good food. Here is Sam appreciating the spread. I let the kids roll out the dough and put the toppings on their own pizzas.

Friday, another day that flew by.
Saturday morning Sam got his wish. We went to Megabox to see Star Trek the Next Generation. I was embarrassed to find myself getting teary-eyed in a few scenes. Who would have thought?

I took the picture of the sheep on our way into town. They live near our home so we see them frequently, but we still get excited about sheep in traffic.

Saturday evening Rob and I went back in to Beijing to record our guitar songs at the studio. We had Vietnamese food for dinner.

Now I'm to Tuesday night. Sunday and Monday were "like one, two." I'll just include these pictures of Monday's Mission Impossible obstacle course, made by Sam and Olivia. We even have the theme song on our ipod. You've got to imagine it when you see the pictures.

Friday, June 26, 2009

becoming a great man

In China there's a saying “You're not a great man until you’ve been to the Great Wall.” William is off to a good start. It was Olivia’s Saturday to choose an activity. She had been asking me for some time to go on a trip up to the Great Wall. It is about an hour’s drive from our house, through countryside, villages, fruit orchards, and trout hatcheries as you wind up the hill.

The last time we went was in August with Rob’s cousin. Grant wasn’t walking then. Saturday he seemed to feel the spirit of the Ages under his feet as he took off running down a slope on the wall. Rob caught a great picture.

So how many people can say they got their first bloody nose doing a face plant on the Great Wall of China? He still has a goose egg. Poor guy.

Xiao Chen told me that she has never been to the Great Wall. That is kind of hard to imagine considering that they are from Beijing, but the hour drive is too expensive for them to take. So I wrote in my calendar on October, “take Xiao Chen and Lao Tien to the Great Wall.”

It’s nice to go in the Fall when it is not so hot.

This is a picture of the trying to figure out how much money we owe for cable car tickets process. You pay according to your height, not age. Olivia was incensed because the lady was going to make Mary pay but not her. Olivia is a year older. The pay according to height thing is a big irritation for Westerners with tall children.

This is one of my favorite samplings of Chinglish.

Olivia wanted the rest of us to walk in the opposite direction to explore a part of the wall we’ve not seen before.

After we come down the hill we always buy lunch at this little egg sandwich lady. Some of the kids just want tubs of “easy noodles.” Everyone wants a Sprite. The lady is very friendly. She has little tables and stool behind her stand. The fruit selling ladies always come over and try to give us dried cherries and ask a bunch of questions about the kids.

We usually spend lunchtime trying to convince the kids that they don’t really want a souvenier because they are all cheesy and will break or end up in the bottom of their toy box but of course the kids are never convinced. We ended up with at least four of those colorful paper umbrellas, that we’ve surely bought them a couple times before. Kyle got some terra cotta warrior guys. Sam got a feather painting of the Great Wall that he has been wanting for about two years. Bethany wanted some magic trick rings that the man tried to get us to pay eighty kuai for. We ended up paying fifteen. I forgot what Ben got but he was happy.

On the way home we stopped to take pictures in this amazing field of Black-eyed Susans.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

the most of the day

Monday...our first day of summer vacation. I didn't have a plan for the day, as much as just a hope that the ten of us could organize ourselves into happy, productive activities, for the most part.

Sam stepped up and made himself very helpful. I came home from the pool with the girls and he had his homemade macaroni and cheese baking in the oven. What a dream!

Monday night I heard those familiar firework-ish sounds. Was it a holiday? No. Tuesday we had rainclouds that turned to heavy thunderstorms storms. The "fireworks" must have been the cloud seeding. I called Xiao Chen and Lao Tien and asked them not to come out on their bikes. So we were kind of more relaxed around the house and just gave in to watching too many movies...they looked so cozy.

Caitlin found the make-up we bought for Olivia's rainbow day celebration...Scary.

Ben made some Lego creations.

The girls made the most of the day...
enjoying the puddle on the playground. I thought they would make a great picture but by the time I managed to get the camera, the guard had told them to stop playing in the puddle. "What?" I said.

"Get back over there and play in the puddle so I can get your picture." I demanded.

So the picture didn't reflect the youthful spontaneity that I had hoped it would. And I didn't take the time to compose it well because I was feeling a bit sheepish with the guard looking over my shoulder.

Wednesday the weather cleared to just polluted. Sam, our amazing coordinator, planned a minute by minute schedule so we could go in to town and see Star Trek. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, we were ten minutes late and we couldn't get in. It wasn't sold out. No one had showed up so they decided not to show it at all. Hmmm... We saw The Night at the Museum instead. I was grateful that Sam was willing to change gears. We had lots of popcorn and ice cream at MacDonald's after.

Thursday was more rain with periods of damp and foggy. The air was apparently too polluted to be measured properly. William is quite congested and I'm sure the bad air is not helping.

It's Friday morning. The boys finished up a game of Life and held William so I could get some house work done. Kyle reported that, in the game, had written a book about American History and won the Pulitzer prize and Ben said he had ordered two children on e-bay. I guess the game has changed a bit. I thought about how I hope they will make the most of their many gifts, in real life, so they can be just as happy with themselves.

Bethany is playing with Anna. Olivia went off to find Sora. I've promised we can make cookies and homemade pizza today. Sam has already started into the cookie making. I'm grateful for helpful children.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ben eleven

It’s the packout season. Walking around the compound I see embarrassed driveways crowded with wooden crates, man-sized rolls of brown paper, the contents of the household. It often makes me want to go home and start going through my own stuff.

Do you ever find yourself at the brink of a transition of some kind wondering what would happen if you did nothing? Like when the ads say…”if you like the product do nothing.” If I didn’t pack, if I didn’t make all the arrangements, if I didn’t buy treats for travelling would the forces of the universe work together and do it for me?

So surprise, we’re still in China. It seemed like, this time, we were working to make a change…our trip to the U.S. and the forces of the universe were working against us. So there comes a point when you have to just “be still.” We came up with a plan that felt better. We’ll leave together, with Rob, in mid-July.

Thursday was Ben’s 11th birthday and a big day at school. The six school-aged kids all had parties. I went to Mary's preschool picnic, Olivia's "Mission Impossible" obstacle course--complete with movie theme music, Ben's class party with birthday cupcakes, Kyle's poetry reading ("Ode to Cheese"), Olivia's "splish splash day" out on the playground, then in to see what Bethany's class was up to-- not too much, so I went back out to the playground. Of course, parents were not invited to the middle school activity. Sometimes it helps to be shunned.

In the evening, Bethany and Olivia performed in their dance recitals. Ben wanted to go to McDonald’s for dinner and have Oreo pie for dessert. I’ll include a picture (close by, hopefully) of Ben’s 5th grade performance of The Monkey King. That went on a few weeks ago. We are grateful for our whimsical, loving, dramatic, creative, sensitive, intelligent Ben.

Friday was the last day of school. We had a barbecue with the Craig family and roasted marshmallows for desert.

The weekend passed without much to write about. We took Ben over to the plant and pet market buy some new fish and upgrades for his turtle tank. He wanted to buy a fat white pregnant fish. Now the children are quite preoccupied with keeping her safe from them other fish in a special net.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Who doesn't love notebooks? Who doesn't have to buy four or five every September just because they're on sale? We have a collection in the garage. I can't part with them. I decided to start keeping ideas for my blog in a notebook and I decided to forgo the new and clean and crispy-paged notebooks for one of those kind of misused, crooked spiraled, pages torn out of, messy-handwriting-ed kinds, just to help it feel fulfilled.

A notebook is its own world, the promise that new ideas will be preserved. It's what someone heard or read and thought was worth remembering. A notebook is entering in to another person's mind. It's hard to find one closed and not peek inside.

I mentioned to Rob that no one reads my blog. He reminded me that there are hundreds of thousands of people on Blogspot so if I don't draw attention to it, it's just like a notebook in the universe. So we are all kind of like notebooks. But its actually amazing how we do find each other.

I think my friend Hollee would make a fascinating notebook. She's the one in the room who everyone is listening to. She is the type that says..."but that's another story" and you want her to tell it. She makes us laugh because she-really-just- said- that.' And she makes us cry because she tells a good sad story too. Her husband is often off on job-related ramboesque adventures and to her that's just another day, more material for the stories.

My friend Hollee was telling me about one of her daughters, She has had a few run- ins with the guards in the compound. Our guards are young men from the countryside, who stand around in slightly too large, forest green uniforms, holding stubby pencils and worn notebooks. When a car goes by, when a dog goes by, when a shirtless kid on a bike goes by, the guard writes it down.

So her daughter found a guard's unattended notebook on a bush near her home and felt compelled to spend some time with it. She grabbed it , ran home, and used her best Mandarin to determine that there was some mention of her house number and what time her Dad had come home from work.

My friend is a good parent so she quickly sent her daughter back with the stolen item. But it doesn't really feel like stealing when it's your own story. I would have had to have read it (who am I kidding? I'm illiterate in China.) I would have wished I had taken it myself. I would have succumbed to the intrigue. I would have wished I could read Chinese.

I look out my window and see those guys, looking bored out of their minds, sometimes practicing a little kung-fu, or kicking up dirt, probably just missing home and wishing the foreigners would at least give them something interesting to write about, and we foreigners fantasize that we have. I am grateful for the guards, for their ni haos and their smiles, for keeping track of all the stuff my kids leave in the playground, chasing down my dog, and for using their stubby pencils to make our lives seem noteworthy.

So just a few more days to prepare for our transpacific flight, scary. And here I am, not packing, not attending to the upheaval we created when we moved the boys rooms around. Sam moved into our study and Ben is in Sam's old room.

Yesterday I spent a few hours wondering if we should be postponing our trip. I had a temporary loss of my sense of adventure.We are lacking several plan A's. Like the plan A for where to stay, what to drive, how to actually leave the airport. We have many wonderful family members on the other side of the world working very hard to arrange plan A's for us. We're just running into a few problems here and there. But when I mentioned the postponing idea to the kids, it was quickly shot down, most convincingly by Sam (speaker of the house.)

And so today was Mary's last Wednesday in preschool, our last Wednesday of the school year to walk up to Pinnacle plaza for egg sandwiches, a wind in the willows day. I was walking and pulling the kids in the wagon and thinking about travel and parenting and notebooks.

Tuesday was a notebook page of hmmm...chaos, Grant flooded the kitchen several times with the broken water cooler spout. Grant decorated the hallway and stairs, several times, with kitty litter. Caitlin argued incessantly with her playdate friend. Kyle had to come home from school because he was sick. I took the chance to run around the school paying for lost library books. Cindy (the dog) made a big poo by the piano. Caitlin yelled "I hate you! I hate you!" at me for all to hear because I wouldn't let her go home with the Sevys after dance class.

Tuesday also had its happy paragraphs. Mary and Caitlin's dance recital...lots of eensy weensy spiders and lolly-pop, lolly-pops. In the evening we went to Sam and Olivia's performance of The Magic Paintbrush.

I am grateful to look back on the things in the day that, for better or worse, fill the notebook. And I'm here, writing about this now, to remind myself that this Saturday's adventure across the world will bring the potential for many writing triggers. What ever may come the response will be mine.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

just don't get 'the snivles'

Ben's birthday is coming. We celebrated with water guns and friends Saturday. I was grateful that Ben didn't mind the rain. He will turn eleven on Thursday.
So back to Friday afternoon for a moment. I returned to ISB for Ben's fifth grade class poetry reading. I love that Ben enjoys writing poetry.
ISB has complied with the Chinese government's request that the local schools closely moniter their students' health. So on every door there is a colorful sign that reads'
If you have a :

runny nose
sore throat

please report to the nurses office for a quick check-up.

I'm not giving any medical advice, Oprah knows that's not a good idea. I'm not necessarily even giving any when-travelling-in-China advice. But I think the sign might well include an exception for those who would like to claim their basic human right to privacy and common sense.

When we arrive in China we're handed a health screening form. It is always a source of good humor. I love the question "Are you travelling with the fecal matter?"

Since I always have two children in diapers I have to pause at that one.

When I read the questionaire, I confess that I try to be to be honest, but philosophical. "Really...what is sore?"

Never admit to having "the snivles."
We're not sure what that is, but it can't be good.
I hate pandemics. I miss the that's-just-going-around kind of humane compassion. Now everyone wears masks and looks at others like they're germs instead of people.
You don't realize that the right to have swollen glands and move about freely in society is so precious, until you hear friends buzzing about the local health checkpoints and your daughter comes home with a fever and you worry that she'll get whisked off to a local hospital.
So see we do deserve hardship pay.
So I am grateful for prayer. It keeps me grounded in the idea that "all things will work together for your good."

Bethany had to miss a friend's birthday party Saturday because she wasn't feeling well. It breaks my heart more than theirs I think. I love to live my childhood again through them. I want Bethany to learn compassion, so I asked her what would help her feel better. We brought her a little stuffed dog and a gerber daisy.

I was so grateful that everyone was well for school today. It's Monday and this morning is the dress rehearsal for the middle school production of The Magic Paintbrush. I am proud of Sam because when he found out that they needed young children in the play, he volunteered Olivia. He has really taken her under his wing and she has had a great time with it. So I am praying for Olivia because she is so excited.

I have way too much to do to sit here, but I'm also holding William. I'm grateful that I can type with one hand. We are leaving for the U.S. on Saturday and this time I will not be packing out ten people at the last minute. Never said that before.

So since this will be one of the last from-China posts for seven weeks, I want to post, to my right and yours, some interesting pictures.

Of course food. I always miss this garlic kale when I'm away from China. And I love dipping these little fried rolls in sweet milky stuff.

These guys wash our van. They're amazed at how big it is. A couple weeks ago we got out and chatted with them about the building they just put up that's getting torn down now. The characters on the building say "tear down." The man told us the government has too much money to waste. Actually, all the buildings along that long street will be torn down to put up a commuter train. That's good for our Shunyi community but I feel bad for the shop owners. I hope they will be compensated well.

I may also include a picture of a horse-drawn carriage pulling bricks. If William allows. It seems he is "travelling with the fecal matter."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

living without socks

Wednesday William and I celebrated our half birthdays. William is six months old and I am too many months to count.

Thursday was twenty years since June 4th. I remember watching the scene on the news with my eleventh grade classmates.

Rob insisted his way on to the square. They were checking foreigners' passports, although they wouldn''t say why, because they don't want to acknowledge the, dare I write the word, anniversary. There just happened to be about twenty thousand security guards about. Rob was inspired to go there. But that's his story. You should ask him about it. It's very poignant, but not appropriate here because this isn't a politics place. It's a gratitude place.

So it is appropriate for me to say that I am grateful for my ancestors who died to protect my freedoms and basic human rights. And to say that I am grateful for others...who would be my age now...who died hoping for change here. Their memory is still a light at the end of this tunnel.

Its Friday. Bethany's class showed off their insect presentations this morning. Caitlin and Grant played in the stream on the ISB playground.

I've been trying to convince Caitlin that summer time means we don't have to wear socks. It's such a pain to pull them on over wet feet. Last week when we were getting ready to leave the pool I asked, "Caitlin, can't we live without the socks?"

She said, " No. I want to live with socks."

Now when we're getting ready to go out she frequently reminds me that she wants to "live with socks."