A Birthday Party fit for a Princess!

Our beautiful little girl turned six last week and we had an amazing time celebrating.  I admit, I may have gone a bit overboard, but I think it was well worth it!

Birthday’s can be a bit challenging for the kids as they are so used to celebrating birthdays in the US.  When you are used to celebrating your special day with your extended family by your side, it can be a bit bittersweet when they are not able to be there to celebrate with you.  Fortunately for my brood, we have an amazing group of expat friends that have grown into our family here.  But enough of me rambling, on with my Belle’s big day!

Last summer (yes I plan that far in advance) I asked my daughter what she wanted her birthday theme to be…she answered Beauty and the Beast…unaware that there was a new movie coming out.  It was fabulous planning a Beauty and the Beast themed party with the movie excitement going around.

With help from our agent, I was able to order candelabras from Taobao.  Taobao is a wondrous website unto itself, but you need someone fluent in Chinese to effectively navigate and help purchase.  Think Amazon.com meets Ebay.  You can find anything and everything on Taobao and for the most part you can get whatever you purchase shipped to your door within a day or two.  I have often learned to not be surprised when items arrive.  For instance, this is how the candelabra arrived:In a lot of pieces with no instructions.  They turned out beautiful but took what seemed like forever to assemble them.  We also ordered the table cloths, happy birthday banner, candles, table runner, and wooden flatware from Taobao. 

My amazing friend helped me immensely by making the felt rose balls.  Again,  I’m so glad for such great friends to help.

Here is how the overall look turned out: 

Yes, I spent an entire afternoon glittering and hanging 36 wooden pieces of flatware from our dining room lights!

Last but not least was the cake.  Cakes are a challenge here.  Luckily my cakes came out – all six layers managed to  come out of the oven and act as they were supposed to.  (I don’t know how to explain baking differences here.  I don’t know if it is an unusual oven, minor differences in ingredients, different quality in the ingredients I can get my hands on here or what, but I always pray that whatever I’m making turns out and meets my expectations.)  Our own Belle had chosen the birthday cake she wanted out of my buttercream bible.  I sort of put my own spin on it to make it fit more of the Beauty and the Beast theme.  I think it turned out pretty well!  In closing, I feel like our own little Princess had a pretty special day.  My friend helped me decorate the dining room while my husband took the kids out of the house before the party in order to make it a surprise.  It was priceless to see the look on her face when she saw the room.  Happy Birthday love! 

 

Ramblings….

We have been on vacation at home in the States.  It was really weird to just type that – on vacation at home in the US.  But alas it is such a true statement.  We have been enjoying being back on US soil!  Yesterday the boys even got to go sledding and enjoy beautifully white, clean snow!!!!

Being in the US has been and is great and much needed for our spirits!  Yet I am troubled by all the news I see and read.  I don’t want to turn this into a political post, but I do want to share a few of my moral and ethical thoughts.  We as American’s have such an amazing lifestyle that we take for granted everyday.  We should be thankful that we have freedom of religion, free speech, a right to vote, etc.  So many people in the world do not share or enjoy the many freedoms that we are so fortunate to have access to.

I currently live in a communist country where media, internet, and news sources are very censored and controlled.  A country where people do not enjoy the same rights and freedoms we hold so near and dear.  A country where almost all women give birth by C-section, abortions (wanted or unwanted) are extremely prevalent, and there is no freedom of religion – but rather an atheist society – where mannerisms toward others and the environment leave much to be desired.

My point is we are fortunate.  So whether you are liberal or conservative, republican or democratic….know that you could have it much worse.  Be thankful for people in your life that show compassion to you and to one another and strive to show compassion to others in your daily lives.  Count your blessings and be grateful you you have something to be thankful for.  No matter what tomorrow brings or next week, or next month, or even next year there is still hope and there is still God.  Hope for each of us, hope for our country.  Remember the power of faith in God, God’s love and providence in the world, and the power of prayer!  God bless you and may you be filled with God’s grace!

What – A new blog post?!?!?

It probably seems like have fallen off the face of the planet.  It certainly feels that way to me when it comes to blogging.  So much it seems has gotten in my way of getting my thoughts down.  Between teaching English to kindergartners five days a week and suffering from our second major computer malfunction, and life with three kids in general, I’m ashamed that I’m just now paying attention to my blog.

We had a pretty good Christmas and New Year – and I’ve slowly started taking Christmas decorations down.  We had a pretty busy December, Newbie celebrated his first birthday and was finally baptized, my in-laws visited, not to mention partaking in holiday festivities.

Anyhoo,  as it is way past my bedtime, and I am just happy I remembered how to log in,  I’m going to leave you with my New Year’s Resolution to be a better blogger!  So belated Merry Christmas and I hope you have a very wonderful and blessed 2017!

Fresh New Start

We are back in China.  We flew back about two weeks ago and this is the first chance I have had to sit down and blog – on my new laptop – so yay!!!!

I have to admit that I was really hoping and planning on blogging this summer.  Unfortunately, Newbie (who goes by Peanut now) got extremely ill – as in we are lucky he is still with us ill.  He managed to contract a bacterial infection from his older brother and that infection moved into his blood stream.  Thankfully he had a fabulous team of doctors and nurses and is fully recovered, but I was not anticipating having sick children for over half of our summer home leave.  Thankfully we are all healthy now!!!!

Anyway,  I must admit, I truly was not looking forward to coming back to China.  After all the trials and head aches last year, I was not feeling up to the challenge of life here.  Not to mention that after a week and a half hospital stay, I was starting to feel like we were just not catching a break.  Did I mention that while I was home in the States with a super sick kiddo, my poor husband was back in China having to move out of, nay getting kicked out of our old apartment for a third water leak.

So now we also have a new apartment, Sis has a new school, and we are starting out with a clean slate.  I must say I really like where we are living now.  We have a full kitchen that actually feels like a kitchen.  The kids each have their own rooms with space to play, and the out door areas are fantastic.  We are on the second story instead of the 22nd – which I like much better as there is a tree right outside our kitchen window – so you look out and no matter what the weather, you see green!

Today we visited Sis’ new school.  I think it will be a fantastic choice for her.  Bear is really wanting to attend school too – so hopefully later this month or next month he will be starting.

As I sit here typing…I feel like everything will be okay and that with these new changes we will have a better year – maybe it’s just the chocolate and night cap talking, but right now, I’m looking up!

Update!

Our computer is toast, as in no more!  Right now I’m borrowing a computer just to give a quick update.  Ever since our computer decided to up and crash, I have not blogged.  Believe me not blogging has caused some major withdrawal, yet in the same breath it has been a little bit nice not being plugged in.

We just got back from vacation in Sanya, China (Hainan province).  Hainan Island is known as the Hawaii of the East due to the vastness of tropical plants and flowers.  All the tropical flowers at our resort were truly amazing.  It was awesome to be lounging by the pool and all of a sudden experiencing a fantastic tropical fragrance as a breeze swept across your face.  And oh, the fresh air was truly wonderful!

Taking a vacation has done wonders for my spirit.  There for a while, I was feeling down – as if there was a heavy force pushing me down.  I think it mostly had to do with trying to obtain a teaching job.  In retrospect, I’m not sure why I struggled so hard with it.  I think God was telling me all along he had different plans for me.  I just did not want to see it.  There has been a lot of good to come out of all the strife.  Lucy will be attending a much better school that will fit her needs.  I think I found an awesome German based kindergarten for Henry to attend next year.  I have also had several other possible work opportunities open up.  I needed to remember how much letting go and letting God is truly freeing. I feel happier now than I have actually been in months.

I have actually started a gratitude log.  I’ve had people tell me for years how wonderful it is to write down three positive things about your day.  Previously I always thought the idea was great, I just never gave it enough time or energy.  That all changed with a gift I received for Mother’s Day.  My lovely friend, Cami, gave me a little Mother’s Day bag with some chocolate and a key ring loaded with blank cards on it.  Cami’s thoughtfulness made my day – it made me smile.  In wanting to capture the feeling, I decided to write down the positives of the day and Cami gave me the perfect place to do it.  I can carry my gratitude log with me, it is actually quite small and now I don’t have to worry about a journal here, a piece of paper there, etc.  I have started ending my night writing down three things I am most grateful for each day.  I have even noticed that I am starting to look for good things that occur throughout my day that I might not have noticed before.  It helps when life can seem so difficult to look back and see that there were actually good things that happened today.

Lastly,  I will be resuming the blog after we arrive home this summer, as we will not have a replacement computer until then.  Don’t worry, I have saved some pretty good posts and some pretty awesome pictures to share!  24 days until we set foot on US soil, but hey we aren’t counting or anything 😉  TTFN!

Our Help

Ayi and kiddos
Ayi and kiddos

Our Ayi: Ayi Zou

We switched ayis mid-December.  We hired a new full time ayi to help out with kids and cleaning around the house.  We hated to see our old part time cleaning ayi go, however as Bear still ran and hid every time she walked in the same room as him, we could not continue with her employment.  Our old ayi came on just a little too strong for Bear’s comfort and with Bear having trouble adjusting to different situations as it is, we felt we could not keep subjecting him to an unnecessary level of discomfort caused by an ayi in his own home.  So when our current ayi became available for full time employment with an expat family’s return to the States, we snatched her up – and I have to say we are so happy that we did.  I will say that having an ayi certainly spoils us!  She currently works Monday through Friday from 9 to 5.

So you may be wondering about the role of our ayi.  Our ayi cleans our apartment daily, washes dishes, does laundry, irons clothes, changes sheets on our beds, dusts, vacuums, cooks dinner three nights a week, watches the kids when I have errands to run, and grocery shops for us. She is amazing and I do not know what we will do without her when we move back to the United States.

As a person she is amazing and very caring – you can tell by how she interacts with my kids.  She builds Bear a fort out of the couch cushions almost daily or takes the time to build a train track etc.  She is just as eager to snatch up Newbie and change his diaper, rock him to sleep, etc.  Some days she picks Sis up from school and is always eager to teach the kids and me Chinese.  Bear is even starting to respond to her in Chinese!  Even though she works for us she feels like a family member.

Mr. Xu
Mr. Xu

Our Driver: Mr. Xu

We are not allowed to drive ourselves in China (thank goodness).  JD’s company does not want the liability or headache if we should get into an accident and possibly end up in jail.  With the way cars are driven over here it would only be a matter of time before we were in an accident if we were driving.  Therefore we have a van and driver.

Mr. Xu is an amazing driver.  I cannot begin to tell you how many times that we were in the car and I think “thank the Good Lord Mr. Xu is driving and not me!  We would have been killed if it were me and not him in that situation.”  Mr. Xu navigates traffic like a pro and seemingly with ease.  He is defensive and extremely alert.   I’ve been in the car where he has done a three point turn on a busy street with lots of traffic and was amazed by his ability to maneuver  the van.

When Mr. Xu drops us off somewhere, he will often park himself as close as he can so that he can readily see us to pick us up.  That way we do not have to text him to come fetch us (not all drivers do this).  Mr. Xu also keeps the van incredibly clean inside and out.  There have been times that I have felt terrible when we are picked up after letting the kids play and sand falls out of pant legs or shoes.

Most importantly Mr. Xu is great with our kids.  When I was 9 months pregnant with Newbie and had a hard time walking Sis up three flights of stairs in the morning for school, Mr. Xu would walk her in.  He would also pick her up in the afternoons from her classroom.  Now in the mornings, I leave Newbie and Bear with Mr. Xu as I walk Sis in.  When I come out, I often find Mr. Xu sitting in the back seat trying to comfort Newbie or chat/play with Bear.

Fiona
Fiona

Our Agent: Fiona Xu (no relation to our driver)

Fiona is hired by JD’s company to help us out with living in China.  I would honestly hate to have her job.  She works very hard and tries very hard to keep us happy, which can be very difficult when things seem to constantly need fixed.  Not to mention she takes care of a lot of expats here.  She is constantly running to assist people.

We met Fiona back in March when we first came over here to see if we would or could make a go of this work experience.  Fiona showed us around as well as took us apartment hunting.  We spent two days just looking at apartments (yes it was like being on House Hunters International).  She negotiated our lease with our landlord as well as helped shop for furniture we requested/needed for our apartment.

She loves to shop – which is awesome as there are definitely times where you want her along to help translate and negotiate.  JD and I often say that we get the ‘pale skin price’ around here simply because vendors know we do not know enough Chinese to understand what is being said to our faces when making a purchase.  It is hard for us to negotiate, argue, or even return items.  So when we shop with Fiona, we actually feel as if we are getting a better deal!

 

Clearing my head!

I should be getting to bed, but my head is awake.  Awake and thinking.  So I figure if I type and get my thoughts out of my head and onto digital paper I will be able to go to sleep.

JD and I finally booked a trip to get out of Teda for a week.  This may not seem like a big deal but believe me – after living here so long, one needs a break.  Julie always tells me that the best advice she ever received was from a previous expat who told here that you need to try to escape here every three months for your sanity.  I believe every word of that statement.  Between smog, general stresses and confined city living – where it is hard to even go on a simple walk, you need to escape and refresh.  We have been promising the kids a beach vacation for a while and in may we are going to go to Sonya – the Hawaii of China.  We actually thought about stopping in Hawaii on our return trip to the states, but after seeing it would mean two bad days of travel instead of just one, we opted to just fly home.  I think this is for the better for the kids too.  I cannot tell you how excited I will be to see the Midwest again!

My kids have been asking to go to a beach for a while.  Bryan jokingly told me the kids are young enough that we could just take them to the Teda beach and they would not know the difference.  (insert smile and wink) Thanks but no thanks – Teda is a port town and just let me say there is a reason we do not eat the local sea food here.  You just don’t know what has been leaked or poured into the water.    Anyway, there are sand pit areas at school and every time we walk by both kids want to build a sand castle and ask when can they get to a real beach to do so.  And after these past few months a week on the beach sounds amazing.

I’m in the middle of trying to nail down a teaching job.  I think this is probably what has been weighing on my mind the most.  When we toured Teda International School back in March on our exploratory trip over here, I wanted to know more about how they got teachers to even come to Teda.  So it was soon discovered that I am a certified teacher.  The next day while we were touring apartments, I got called in for an informal interview (even though I really wasn’t looking for a job).

When we arrived home from our trip, I sort of mauled the idea around in my mind, but soon found out I was pregnant with Newbie and soon put the idea of teaching out of my mind.  Then there have been a few times when I was dropping Sis off at school that the principal sought me out to ask if I would be interested in teaching.  I stayed at home with both Sis and Bear and I guess I thought it was just a given that I would stay home with Newbie as well.  This was all before our new Ayi came into our lives.  Ayi is amazing with my kids and I trust her completely with my kids.  She has fun with them but also knows when to put her foot down and discipline them.  I trust her with watching Newbie during the day while I’m at school – where my older two kiddos will be.

All that is left is to work out my teaching contract which I hope will go smoothly, fingers crossed!

 

Sometimes you just need an awesome night and a new friend!

This is not the post I intended to post tonight, but as I’m still smiling from ear to ear every time I reflect back on tonight…I just had to share.

I think it is safe to say I found a new friend and not just an expat friend, but an English speaking Chinese friend.  His name is Warner and he is my wine and spirit guy.  By wine and spirit guy I mean that he has a business importing wine and spirits for area restaurants and people.  My friend Julie hooked me up this past Wednesday by asking Warner if he would not mind taking us to his warehouse and letting us select a wine and spirits from there.  (FYI a bottle of wine here costs around $30 for the same level of wine you could purchase in the U.S. for $10).  With Warner we get a price that makes buying a bottle of wine much more comparable to the U.S.

Anyway, Warner picked us up at our apartment and drove us to and from his warehouse.  On the way home we somehow got to talking about my kids and music.  It turns out that Warner’s friends were having a music demonstration tonight demonstrating the Ukulele.  Well, Sis received a children’s guitar last year for Christmas and has been wanting lessons ever since.  So when Warner invited my family we decided that this is something we were definitely interested in.

The demonstration tonight was amazing.  They had Ukuleles for all the kids in attendance to try.  I do not have pictures because I was trying to help Sis with her fingering, but let me tell you how cute it was.  Both kids were super excited to get to try to play – Sis even had someone by her who spoke English, teaching her where to place her fingers and how to strum the Ukulele.  Bear tried his hardest to figure out his figures.  It was amazing to see my older two entertained for over an hour with musical instruments.

After the demonstration, we stuck around while the musicians got out their African drums and let the kids try playing them.  We are even welcomed back next week when they will be instructing on the African drums and dancing.

After the kids went down to bed, Warner sent me pictures he took on his phone and we got to talking.  He loves kids as well as socializing.  As we took our entire family he got to hold Newbie as well as help the older two.  Warner is the type of person that can walk in a room and make anyone feel at ease – which I believe is a true gift!  Just thinking of his interactions with us tonight brings a smile to my face and lifts my heart!

So thank you God for placing Warner in our lives!

A Case of the Blues….

I apologize in advance, but I’m in a bit of a rambling mood.  Yesterday was good.  I went to Beijing to pick up Newbie’s passport.  I had Fatburger for lunch – which is probably the closest thing to a great American fast food staple you can get here.  Note all the delicious juiciness: Fatburger I must say that I ate slowly, savoring every bite – which sort of backfired as I could not finish the excellent ‘fat’ fries.   Then I headed to the Pearl Market for some speed shopping where I picked up an amazing antique basket.  I have never seen a basket like this before and I just love it!  Then it was Sam’s club and then home. Just in case you were wondering our U.S. Sam’s card works here.  The store itself is similar – just more Chinese in flavor.

 Here is the basket!  I’m using it to store blankets in by the sofa.blanket basket

Yet as I am sitting here typing about a fun day, homesickness is starting to creep into my my being and a melancholy mood is setting in.  Looking out the window doesn’t help as it is becoming rather smoggy and increasingly grey.  I just finished my Chinese lesson for today and am no smarter or wiser in Chinese than when I started.  Thank you lack of sleep!  My ears lack the phonemic awareness that is needed differentiate between the ‘u’ and umlaut-ed ‘u’ (which is not truly an umlaut).  Not to mention the four different Chinese tones that set my head spinning.  Ah, Little Bear just awoke – I’ll take the snuggles!

Any bout of homesickness is hard, but I think when your kids have it and they cannot express that they have it, it is even harder.  Our kids have not had the easiest or smoothest move over here.  Yet they have done well enough given the circumstances.  I’m not sure when the last time it was that Bear slept all night.

I am starting to think a large portion of the kids’ homesickness is from the lack of our extended families.  Back home grandparents played such a large and important role in our kids lives that in moving so far away has left a gaping hole in our family’s sense of home and security.  This has been the longest my kids have been away from their grandparents.  We were used to seeing both sets of grandparents approximately once a month.  We use Skype on a regular basis to talk to them, but as human contact such as hugging, kissing, and snuggling is missing – it’s just not the same.

I also think it is fair to say that we miss non-city life.  My kids miss playing in the snow, grass, fresh air…all that fun stuff, but I also think we miss quiet, freedom from depending on assistance, and sights other than city lights.  Sometimes I even wonder if my kids feel like the miss the ability to blend in with their peers.

Julie and I often talk about how life can be so different here.  For instance, I feel like I am never truly satisfied food wise here.  I do not know what it is, but it feels like I have a craving for something that I just cannot put my finger on.  Well, I take that back, I would really enjoy a nice juicy steak right now, but that is not going to happen for another five months.  Maybe it is the lack of red meat in our diets that is causing the feeling of never being satisfied.  Don’t get me wrong, we will enjoy an amazing Chinese meal, but at the end  of it I always seem to be wanting something more.  If I new what that something was – I would not be going this crazy.  I will say that I have baked more in the past few months than I have probably have in the past year in the States.  I think I’m searching for that something and still coming up short.  Maybe it’s lack of dairy too?  Oh well – if I ever figure it out – I will let you know!

I was talking to JD the other night about how I just feel the need to escape for a little while.  I don’t know where to but its almost as if we all need a little break.  Thankfully, JD’s parents will be here soon.  We may take them up into the mountains near here – which I really hope we do as it may be just the escape we all need to renew ourselves.

Starting to Feel like Home (and a few other tidbits)

So this is a little late as we just had baby #3.  More about that later, but in the meantime here is the post I meant to post before I went into labor:

Last weekend was a pretty busy weekend to begin with.  Thursday was Thanksgiving of course, so the kids and I did what any American would do in China when you have small kids and your husband is at a work dinner – you order the most American food you can think of: Papa John’s.  Friday evening we had a proper Thanksgiving Feast put on by the Parrot (a restaurant owned and operated by an American).  Each row of tables received it’s own turkey and the rest of the fixings were served buffet style.  The only item that was truly missing was the dinner roll, but that was okay as at least there was pumpkin pie.  Saturday Sis and Dad had a special date to the super market to pick up a Christmas tree.  Then we all went to Lucy’s school festival.  The festival was pretty neat – there were vendors selling crafts, a bake sale, games and a huge bounce house for kids, a book fair, and food for sale.  Bear and Sis spent an entire half hour in the bounce house.  Then I went to my prenatal appointment in Tianjin.  Saturday evening, JD and I decorated and made food for Bear’s birthday party on Sunday.  Needless to say by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around we all took naps.

Parrot Thanksgiving Meal
Parrot Thanksgiving Meal

We have also been busy sorting and putting our apartment in order and I think it is finally starting to feel like home.  We have rugs down, we had a massive IKEA trip on Monday, and I finally took my bed in the bag out of it’s bag and have the new bedding on my bed (which is a pretty big deal to me).  Tuesday evening IKEA delivered a new sofa, dresser for Bear, dresser for Baby, cabinet for the kitchen, and shelf for the bathroom (we were short on towel storage space).  As mentioned before, we have a pretty awesome landlord who was generous enough to flip the bill for these new pieces (don’t worry, she is making enough money off of our expat assignment this is no big deal.  I think she is also glad that I did not ask to have the living room furniture replaced with leather – which was my original intent.  BTW, think of what a decent piece of leather furniture costs in the states and then double it to buy it here!)  Oh, I forgot to mention that the IKEA delivery people also assembled all of the pieces (which is really fun to watch a sofa be ‘IKEA’ed).  We had a dinner to go to at 6pm so luckily Fiona was here to supervise the construction while we were away.

Little side note here:  After dinner on Tuesday, we walked back to the Renaissance hotel (where we lived for three weeks) to see their massive two story Christmas tree.  I covered Sis’ eyes as we walked through the door so she could get the whole experience in all of its glory!  I would say she was amazed!  They also had a huge gingerbread house, Bombay Sapphire tree, and real gingerbread facade on their bakery shop.  The kids even got to dance and sing with the singers – so I think it was a pretty awesome night over all – especially for the kids!  I jokingly told JD that we should have just stayed at the Renaissance just so we could have Christmas morning under the massive tree – I’m sure the hotel staff would not have minded as much as they doted on my kids 😉

Anyway, back to feeling more like home.  After we got the kids to bed on Tuesday, JD and I worked on getting the wire wrack out of the kitchen and into the laundry room and rearranging our bake/cookware.  Now our kitchen does not feel so claustrophobic!  Each night this week we have been working of finding more and more homes for the random items that were placed in the spare bedroom by the movers.  So slowly but surely we are arranging our space to make it home.  I know you are wanting to see pictures – so trust me when I tell you they are in the works.  Give us another week and I will see what I can do!  JD and I are hoping to make enough progress this weekend to get the baby’s crib assembled as well as decorate a little for Christmas – including put up the tree.  I have another Dr. appointment tomorrow and then we have a going away party in the evening and another on Sunday (so another busy weekend).  Not to mention my due date (which we all know doesn’t mean much) is quickly approaching.