Wednesday, February 24, 2010

two birthdays and a funeral

I have compulsive move planning disorder. I would like to escape from my own thoughts about moving...but the question is where...

and then I'm back to planning.

My mind is like a radio on search mode, looking for a signal strong enough to land on. I think about the familiar comforts of this place and the opportunities in that place. I hear Mary singing in Chinese, a song about a "little well-behaved rabbit" and I think "stay in China."

But the sun also rises in Beijing, in a word, eerily, like the mysterious dawning of a new red orb shrouded in grey film.

"Is that the moon Mama?" "Is that Mars?"

...and health issues become a concern. Airlift us please! We need real sunlight.

Here's a picture of Thursday morning. I just sent the kids off to the bus stop. I hope they find their way. I'm sure this is mostly fog, but it doesn't smell good.

I think about how to make everyone happy. Saturday morning I was getting Grant ready for the day.

"Mama, I go see lion." He said.

I think about a place with a good zoo...Salt Lake City, D.C.

"I go jungle." He says with a roar.

Sorry Grant. I'm not thinking about Africa.

Saturday afternoon, Olivia and Sora were looking for something on the refrigerator.

"Where's that picture of Michael Jackson?" She asked.

"You mean the magnet I bought in Nashville?" I asked.

"That's Elvis."
Easy mistake. Does anyone have a copy of Third Culture Kids?

What does any of this have to do with cherry pie? Monday February 22, we celebrated George Washington's birthday with our traditional cherry pie.

I think it's kind of too bad that we have President's Day and Martin Luther King Day on a convenient Monday, It makes me forget the real date, and you don't feel the real aura of history. Having said that, we also celebrated Abraham Lincoln Monday night, with our second annual Chicken Fricassee dinner. Last year, I had Kyle Google Abraham Lincoln's favorite foods, that's what we came up with.

It took me all day to make this and the pie . I think everyone would have preferred if I had stopped at the crunchy fried chicken pieces stage...

... but after the frying stage you have to add water to make a gravy and then boil the dumplings in it.

I couldn't sleep Monday night. That meal was so rich that when I closed my eyes, I just saw simmering dumplings.

Monday afternoon, Ben made a sad discovery. Stripe, his turtle of two years had passed on. He was heartbroken and in tears, but cheered up when I suggested a burial.

Grant pronounced the eulogy.
"Turtle is died."

Monday, February 15, 2010

so irresistible

I'm always grateful to find a helpful menu. Whoever made these translations wasn't intimidated by the English language. Here are a few things to choose from... "paragraph meat big slide," "sauerkraut monolithic", or the so irresistible "nausea sauce pork." Which one would you like? Monday, February 15, chu er, the second day of the Chinese New Year. I asked the kids if they'd rather go out exploring or watch movies and do nothing. An enthusiastic majority responded watch movies and do nothing. We convinced Sam and the girls, William and Grant to drive in to Beijing to check out a temple fair. The rest of Beijing arrived just as we did. We found no parking, but it was fun to observe the families enjoying their traditional walk to the temple fair as we drove by. I saw a group of women whom I thought must have been four generations laughing together on a crowded street corner. We determined that we had set out too late and headed to another part of the city for lunch.
Tired of The Greasy Chopstick, we made the trek to Dongbei Ren, for lunch, and to bring extras home for our dinner. Sam gave us a stern talking to about the injustice of being fed Chinese food twice in one day, especially since we had Chinese food on our New year's eve, last December too,
but I think he enjoyed their variety of interesting breads and the spicy lamb sticks.
Monday evening, the event we'd been waiting for, wincing for, not sure how to anticipate, the Beijing Television Spring Festival Global Gala. We invited the Sevys to come and watch with us. Only in China would we be waiting to see ourselves perform Do-Re-Mi in a variety show on television. The practices were tiring, the driving was long, and going on the big stage was scary for the kids, so I'm proud of them, and grateful to them for doing what they agreed to do. Let's see if this's a link to a video recording of our performance.
Back to the dinner...Rob hunted these down for me. They're called baocui. Gangling used to make loads of these for us at Chinese New Year in Guangzhou. Some people are repulsed by their greasiness, and others (like me) get addicted to their oily, sesame flavored crunch.

The braised eggplant, jiaozi, meat pies, and layered bread. Rob was disappointed that the pork sauce (not the nausea sauce) didn't come with his tofu.

Sam made us a delicious apple crumble for desert. Miss Bri and her boys brought us two plates of Valentine cookies to congratulate us on our television appearance. We're grateful for their support.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

year of the tiger

Sunday morning fireworks clean-up.
We didn't do a lot to observe the arrival of the year of the Tiger. Rob and I went out to dinner at Hungry Horse. They warned us that they were closing at eight o'clock. No problem, we had an hour. Then the waiter left to set off firecrackers on the wooden patio by the front door. I might have liked to have been warned about that too. Hmmm? Any other exits in the building?
Back at home we rolled out our Valentine's day cookies and decorated them with frosting and sprinkles. Sam had the evening planned so we could all be in our places at nine o'clock to watch Twillight on HBO. We were all in to it when the service was interrupted. The kids begged Rob to let them start another movie. They started in to the old Beatles' movie Help. They have been watching it all weekend. Kyle, of course, is fascinated by John, with his interest in pop culture, political activists, and historically significant assassinations. It is interesting that Pete Seeger was almost assassinated, but he talked the man out of it.
Ben went to shoot and watch firecrackers with the Carrillos and returned safely around ten o'clock. The fireworks went on and on all night long, well after midnight, all around us. I don't know why this year we didn't feel like watching. The sound felt more assaulting than exciting.
Sunday is the first day of the Chinese New year, called chuyi. We celebrated Valentine's day at our house. We opened Grandma's packages. Grandma sent the dogs a Valentine.

The girls spent the afternoon making Valentines and running out in the neighborhood to deliver them.

Friday, February 12, 2010

so what about staying

This is what I find after I let Ben borrow my camera.

I have a friend who bought a house and about forty acres of land in a small town near Kansas City. She just went back to the states, by herself, to check on the house and land and stuff. Her daughter was over Wednesday after school playing with Mary. They came in to the kitchen with the Vonage phone.

"Mom can we call Jenna's mom in misery?" they asked.
Sam and I laughed.

Thursday night I asked Sam, "So what about staying in Beijing?"

He said, "You know, Mom, I think I need to go back to America for a while. I'm starting to forget things. Like, I'm starting to think that Abraham Lincoln chopped down the cherry tree, and I'm starting to forget some of the states."

"But you haven't forgotten the state of misery, right?" I asked.

To me staying in Beijing is all about my nest here at River Garden, my playgroup, Jenny Lou's, Victor's, my Indian food, our branch. The biggest reason to stay is ISB. I don't go there without feeling grateful for the friendly and diverse community, the many traditions, the beautiful facility, interesting programs, and the amazing teachers. I wish all the children could graduate from ISB. But, I still miss home, and wish ISB weren't so far away from our family and friends in the states. And, I am looking forward to resuming voice lessons soon. I don't spend much time outside of my bubble, since I don't like to drive here. So, sometimes I feel too confined. But then again, sometimes I am perfectly content to live within a two mile radius. What is dying to go back ASAP is my skin and hair. It's withering in this dry, polluted air. I told Rob I will only stay another year if he sends me to get serious skin and hair therapy on a very long R and R visit this summer. And of course, my skin and hair will need some fresh Maine air.

Nothing's decided yet.

Friday, February 12 I went to ISB for the Chinese New Year parade and lunch with Olivia.

Mary got the Dragon award this week for her "splendid efforts in writing and kindness and concern in helping her friends with their writing." Go Mary!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

walking william

February 2, I don't know whether our Beijing ground hound saw his shadow or not. I hope he didn't see me still trying to get our Christmas tree and decorations put away. That would surely give him the sign of six more weeks of winter. I miss Santa Barbara, where the winter ends on January 2, when the fake snowman under the palm tree starts to look ridiculous.

February 3, William is fourteen months old! "William walkings" began several weeks ago, but were too rare and unexpected to catch on photo. Out of the corner of my eye I'd catch a glimpse of two out stretched arms under two rigid legs in halting movement. When I'd exclaim "William's walking!" he'd quickly drop to his knees. Now he is quite confident, though still resembles an old-fashioned model robot.

This is Swei. (I have no idea how to spell that.) We're going to give her a try and let her give us a try this month. She is new to being an ayi, but very earnest and kind to the kids.
Chinese New Year decorations in the clubhouse

Monday, February 8, 2010

anywhere but the kitchen sink

So, that Friday of the ISB assembly, in the evening, we had plans with the Sevys, movie and pizza night. I spent the afternoon cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms, trying to make the place presentable. Grant woke up from his nap just as I was finishing up. He woke up grumpy and kind of inconsolable, so I was sitting with him, in a kind of stupor, on the couch, when Pepper, the calico cat, had to chime in with her own demands. She wanted to go outside. That is a pretty reasonable request, but I was kind of busy in my stupor.

A few minutes later, Grant got lured in by one of his favorite shows, probably Sponge Bob Square Pants, so I went back to work in the kitchen. I walked in to find Pepper the Cat sitting like the Queen of Sheba in the middle of the kitchen sink with her tail propped up daintily. She gave me a cool glare, as if I were disturbing her privacy. Sure enough, I lifted her up to find a perfect puddle of cat urine. I asked her why she couldn't have used the guest bathroom, since I had also cleaned that within the last hour. Disgusting, I know.

I admitted to the Sevys that a cat had peed in our sink, but since they are our good friends they still wanted to eat dinner in our kitchen. We ordered out from a new restaurant called New York Style Pizza. At first bite I almost thought it might, possibly, be almost as good as Giovanni's of Santa Barbara. We get a little delusional in Beijing. I felt guilty because I had just developed a Friday night loyalty to friend-owned Tasty's. I promised to order some Tasty's pot pies the next week instead, maybe even some of their delicious rolls, or doughnuts, or bagels, any pleasurable way to justify my betrayal.

Less about food; I have mentioned to some of my blog visitors that I would explain more about Rob's new job situation. In November I wrote about my growing anxiety about Rob's Afghanistan assignment. (Planning the Next Step) Letting go of our full-time ayi last October helped me realize how alone I would be in managing the house, little kids during the day, and big kids' homework and activities in the night and on weekends. What's more, the State Department and Oakwood Fall's Church, the place I affectionately call the State Department half-way house, rejected our request to rent two apartments during Rob's year- long language training period, and renting and furnishing a house for eleven people is more expensive than buying. So we buy, furnish a house, and then we have a mortgage and rent when we transferred to Utah during the next year while Rob was away? It was looking like this Afghanistan assignment was going to cost us money. Not to mention the fact that we were taking advantage of an amazing group of kids who were willing to move three times in two years. And, we couldn't really know how Rob's absence would affect the kids or me emotionally. I was already losing hair and Afghanistan was still two years away! So, I found repeated opportunities to corner Rob and express my concerns

Rob agreed. Maybe he would say that he didn't need me to pester him, that he knew enough to stay with his family,all along, but he can always defend himself in the comments section. He called his CDO and in a week or so the assignment was broken without any difficulty. The same week a position opened up in Rob's current office, here in Beijing. His boss told him they would like him to fill the position for one year. He may do that, but it is not final. It needs to be opened up to other bidders and approved in D.C. Rob also has to bid on seven other positions, which will probably all be in the D.C. area, since other jobs abroad are more than picked over at this point.

Saturday, January 30 was circled on Sam's calendar. Avatar.

Here are some pictures from our day. Tyler (Sora's brother, Sam's good friend) and our friends Luke and Patricia went with us.

The Village mall houses the Megabox.
We arrived with plenty of time for lunch, thanks to Sam, who made a minute by minute plan for the day, and kept us on schedule. Mary wasn't too happy about being surrounded by those hats.

Monday, February 1, 2010

the delegate from denmark

Saturday, before chair skating, Sam went to his first Model United Nations conference at ISB. Rob and I were happy that he wanted us to sit in. Rob watched for a while then came home and let me go over to watch. What a great program. I hope Sam will continue it throughout high school. Sam gets to represent Denmark. He thought that was fun because our good friends the Sevys are headed there next.

Sunday night, the branch scout troupe held their court of honor. Sam and Ben got their Polar Bear awards for camping out below freezing. I'm glad I don't have to do that. The boys love camping, especially when it's cold.
Monday morning it was actually warm enough that Grant wanted to play outside for a few minutes on our way home from the clubhouse. Usually it is so windy that we just play in the indoor playground.

Tuesday Xiao Chen came so I could go over to ISB to help out in Mary's classroom. Here they are gathered around the table, making pancake batter. Mary loves to take my camera and be the photographer. It's fun to see things from her perspective.

Our friends from the branch.
Mary's teacher and Mary's other friend from the branch. There are four kids from the branch in Mary's class.

We fried up the pancakes and sold and served them to the kindergarten's fifth grade buddies. It was part of their unit on..something like... buying, selling, trading.
Here's Mary's fifth grade buddy.
When I got home from ISB Xiao Chen told me that Granty and Caitlin were "bu ting hua", not listening. I asked what they did. She said Granty was playing with some of my books and Caitlin kept asking her to take her to the clubhouse. I was kind of irritated at that because it didn't seem serious enough to complain about. I asked Xiao Chen if she could come on Friday, and as I thought she would do, she hemmed and hawed. Not sure how to spell that. Lately she has only agreed to come if Rob calls to ask her. I was so disappointed because Friday was the 100th day of school and I wanted to go help out in Mary and Olivia's classes. There was also an early morning assembly that I needed to attend. I felt like it was a good time to tell Xiao Chen that I needed to find a new ayi. I hated to let her go, but I didn't want to ask her to come full-time again because she just didn't seem interested in coming anymore, and she didn't seem to enjoy Caitlin and Grant. More about this later.

Friday morning William, Caitlin, Grant and I made it to the ISB cafeteria in time for Mary's 8:30 a.m. performance. The kindergarten classes were hosting the weekly assembly. Each class took turns performing a Chinese poem or song. Mary's class sang one of my favorites Xin Nian Hao
"good new year." Mary is easy to spot. We didn't get the memo about the blue shirts. We thought we were supposed to do Chinese dress. I was pleased that Mary didn't mind standing out a bit.