Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Unfortunate Spring Festival Guest

It's Chinese New Year around here
Or Spring Festival as it's also known
The loudest, most raucous time of year
Fireworks like a bomb drop zone

Is it possible to do life this this?
With incessant background noise
Of the zip, ZoOm, HISSSSS!
Emanating from all the fiery pyro toys

If I'd had a friend over as a guest of mine
The past few days this week
I'd hope he would have a splendid time
With lots of stories to speak

For example, at dinner time, he'd ask his wife
"Would you please pass the crash, bAnG, BOOOOOM?"
But instead of a knife,
He would end up with a spoon

Dinner would end, time for dessert & chatter
"Would you like apple pie or crackle, SiZzLe, WHIZZZZZ?"
Unsure of his choices, he would opt for the latter.
Too bad...pie on my plate, glutinous rice balls on his

Since he'd be so far from home, I would offer him a bed to crash.
Tired from jet lag, he'd fall asleep without much trying.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz, pop, bLaM, BASH!
All of a sudden, my guest would be crying

Midnight marks the grand finale
When precious sleep is just a plea
Fizz, sCrEecH, SWOOOOOSH echo through the ally
Car alarms honk in harmony

Smoke settles as morning is at hand
Yet the party isn't through
Woosh, PoW, BAM!
Dear guest, no need for an alarm to wake you

And that's why I didn't invite friends to be guests of mine
During Chinese New Year this week
Because they might not have a splendid time
And then I'd be afraid afterward to me they might not speak

Happy Year of the Snake from our home to yours!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

It Takes a Village

Hands down, the most difficult aspect of being overseas is being separated from family.  Among our small ex-pat community here, our kids call the other adults Aunt & Uncle.  It's culturally appropriate because Chinese kids call anyone about the same age as their parents ayi (aunt) or shu shu (uncle).  But more than that, we are trying to simulate as much of a family atmosphere as we can.  We're not trying to replace precious aunts & uncles back in the States (especially for the family who has a related Aunt Becca and Uncle Kevin in North Carolina), but we try to take our role as faux aunt & uncle very seriously.  We want to invest & love on these kiddos as if they were are own.

So when certain members of our little circle find themselves solo parenting for 10 days or uncomfortably pregnant, it's time for Aunt Beck & Uncle Kev to step in for a wild night of preschool fun: a sleepover!

Really, it's not that difficult.  Just google "balloon games for kids" and you've got yourself an evening's worth of entertainment.

And when that runs out, just let them ham it up on their own.  

Just as long as our little friends are willing to eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on red bean bread (thanks for doing the shopping, Kev.  Oh, house helper, when will you return!?!?) and sleep in rather cramped quarters, we have a jolly ol' time.  A jolly ol' time including Sam deciding to address me as  Becky since he so frequently hears his friends call me that. 

The best part about slumber parties is being able to serve the other families here and making memories for the kids that we love so dearly.  On a selfish note, the best part of slumber parties is that the subsequent nap & bedtimes go delightfully smoothly.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Before Five in a Row--Angus Lost

Despite the fact that last week we were (gasp!) without a house helper and I was responsible for putting lunch on the table each day, we had a pretty successful project week.  We studied "Angus Lost" by Marjorie Flack.  For all the books we've covered, I've taught Micah the authors' names as well.  Sorry to say that it was an unfortunate week for Ms. Flack to have a three year-old try to learn her name.

On Monday, we made a paper bag puppet version of the dog in the story.  We usually do our projects during Hudson's morning nap.  Sam was pretty sick at the beginning of the week, so all he wanted to do was sit in my lap.  We postponed project time until after nap when his spirits were a little brighter.

For our puppets, I even busted out the googly eyes that I brought back from the US.  Luckily, later in the week my friend April showed me where I can buy googly eyes here in town.  Now I don't feel pressured to rip apart their project in order to save the eyes!

I taught them how to put on a puppet show as well.  But that only lasted about 15 seconds before they decided to turn the couch cushion into a slide instead of a stage.

Then we acted out the story with random toys we have around the house.  

The goat that tries to butt Angus and the car that ran away.

Angus hiding in the cave during the snow storm (again, how handy it is to have a dryer in your living room!)

And Angus following the milk man home.

On Tuesday, Sam was so snotty and grumpy that I made him take a morning nap, leaving me with only one child.  One child?!?!  How gloriously easy!  No wonder people usually start with one instead of three in 11 months.

I snagged a grid game off this website to work on Micah's counting.  The goal is to roll a pair of dice, count the dots, and put that amount of pom-poms on the grid.  

Maybe instead of counting pom-poms, we should count how many days in a row I've worn my workout clothes.  Or how many of daddy's fleeces I steal out of his side of the closet.  That might make things interesting enough to get the kid to put 7, 8, and 9 in the right order.

On Wednesday morning, we work up to fresh snow on the ground.  Instead of going out to play, I turned my son into a cow.

We talked about the milk man in the story and watched a few clips on YouTube about where milk comes from.  Micah was convinced the man in the videos showing how to milk a cow was not a farmer as he claimed because he wasn't wearing a hat.  

The boys took turns milking each other.

Then we made our own milk wagon out of a diaper box and delivered milk boxes to the various rooms in our apartment.

On Thursday, the boys dressed up like pets and held our own obedience school.  It's a great day when you can sit back, throw a ball at your kid, tell him to fetch it, and call it an educational experience.

Micah insisted on being a cat.  I have some new eye liner coming in a package from the States soon, so I wasn't too concerned about using it for whiskers and noses.

On Friday, I was completely out of idea so I printed some activities of this website.  We did a story sequencing activity and played character memory.

I'm not sure whether it's a fault or a virtue but I will pretty much always choose playing with my kids over doing dishes.  It probably helps that I have a door to my kitchen, so I can just shut it and pretend like the mess doesn't exist.  That's pretty much how things happened last week with our house helper being gone.  Whether a cluttered or clean house, projects will go on!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Let It Be Said...

For anyone who has expressed any sort of sentiment resembling "Wow Beck!  I'm so impressed with your recent book projects with the boys!", let me go ahead and let you in on a little secret:

I'll whisper the coveted answer to the epic how-does-she-do-it?!? question...

Lean in close now...

There ya go...

I have a full-time house helper.

That's right.  Someone who comes to my house every weekday to help me cook, clean, and grocery shop.  All for less money than what most people pay for their data plan!

We've never had full-time help before, and I have to admit that I was a little resistant to the idea.  It just felt so privileged to have someone else doing the things that I felt like I should be doing.  Plus, I didn't know if having a helper would cause all the local people to think of me as the rich Western girl.  But it turns out that local people would think less of my husband if we didn't have a helper.  They would think he didn't value me enough to provide help for me.  They would feel sorry for me too and wonder how in the world I remain standing at the end of the day with three kids.

So in a wonderful display of God's providence, our dear helper came into our lives.  Her name is actually the same as the part-time helper we had before.  It seemed a little odd to me at first, but then I remembered how many Ashleys and Rachels I have in my email address book.

This chick loves to talk.  She talks so quickly that my head spins, inserting blank stares and awkward pauses in our conversations.  She also uses a whole slew of new vocabulary that replaces words I thought I knew.  She's younger than me, evidenced by the fact that she addresses me as older sister and uses a lot of hip slang words, like adding the Chinese equivalent to "super" to everything and comparing Hudson to a flash-sale on Chinese E-bay.  Words like that are definitely not in my dictionary!

Micah & Sam are getting used to her and are slowly learning how to communicate with her.  She admitted to us in the beginning that she found them a little frightening.  With all their pent up winter energy, I can't exactly blame her.

But her favorite part of the job, as she reminds me multiple times a day, is Hudson.  If there is a lull in her day and he's not sleeping, the first thing she does is swoop him up.  She also asks me daily if she can take him home with her.

I let her choose a Chinese name for him: En Qi.  It means "mysterious & wonderful grace."  We call him Qi Qi for short.

She also has a son that is right about Micah & Sam's age.  Like most toddlers around here, he wears split-bottom pants instead of diapers.  When he came over to play at our house one day, both boys were captivated by his exposed bottom.  They tried to touch it with toys and asked me if he has a "peanut" like them.  It was so striking to Micah that during our prayer time that night, he confidently announced to me that sometimes Chinese friends don't wear underwear.  No truer statement, my son.

We invited her & her family over for a pizza lunch last weekend.  They had never seen nor eaten pizza before, so it's hard to say if they actually enjoyed their food.  But thankfully, her husband speaks slower than she does, so we were able to have really pleasant conversation.  In fact, both she & her husband individually told Kevin & me different ways she has changed since starting to work in her home.  It was very humbling & encouraging to hear how God was using us (and hopefully will continue to use us!) to be a blessing to her, as she is a most certainly a blessing to us.

Spring Festival is now upon us, which means our dear helper got her nails all dolled up (hence her pose in all my pictures) and headed to her home town for three weeks.  That means we're on our own for the rest of the month.  I keep reminding myself that people have been raising three kids alone for centuries, so it shouldn't be that hard.  But then I remember that this country really isn't designed for big families.  Not only is going shopping by myself with all the kids terrifying, it's practically impossible.  Long gone are the days of car seats and race car shopping carts!  So feel free to check in on me from time to time to make sure that the dust bunnies haven't eaten us alive and that we're not eating pancakes for every meal (not that Kevin would object to that!).

Monday, February 04, 2013

Before Five in a Row--Blueberries for Sal

Last week's Five in a Row book was "Blueberries for Sal."  I'm glad I chose this book because I just love the story.  Plus, I have a very dear friend in Texas named Sally who Micah remembers well because he loves her daughters.  This book reminds me of my Sal.

Lest you think our projects are all gumdrops and lollipops, I will say that this week and this book proved to be a tough one for us.  It's very long, so I found myself rushing to get through it before Sam's attention span timer ran out.  We did have a daily vocabulary exercise during reading time to break up the story.  McCloskey always uses the word "hustle" to describe how Little Bear moves, so we took a few hustle breaks to get out some little boy angst.

Our project for Monday was to make paper blueberry pies.  Since my pack of construction paper I brought back from the States surprisingly didn't have brown, we resorted to yellow crust on bottom and crayon-colored crust on top.  Since I have never even fathomed attempting to make a pie here, I had to do a Google image search for pie pictures to give the boys an idea of what we were making.

Scissors were a big hit as we cut out strips for the crust weave on top.  (Is that what you even call upper pie crust?  It sounds like a gross hair-do if you ask me.)

After cutting & gluing the crust pieces, we added blueberries with a blue ink pad.  The blog that I stole this idea from suggested using paint.  If you haven't noticed, I'm still a little shy about using paint with the buddies yet.

Then the boys went to put their pies in the oven.  We did not have a lesson on converting Fahrenheit to Celsius, which would have been necessary if we were really baking as my oven only runs on Celsius.  As soon as the boys left the kitchen, I took the pies out.  Our house helper is still a little scatter brained when it comes to western cooking with strange appliances like ovens, and I surely didn't want to deal with a burning paper debacle if she happened to need the oven that day.

On Tuesday, we skipped our project because one of my best, good local friends came over with her daughter.  I've known Lisa since our first month in China and was immediately won over to be her friend when she told me I looked like Meg Ryan.  Application point: when trying to win friends & influence people, compare them to movie stars.

I've loved watching the boys become 朋友 with Chinese kids here.  Too bad for them that almost all of the kids they've met so far have the same name.  I guess it will be just as confusing to them as it is to our Chinese friends why all the Americans here are either named Rachel or Kevin.  Despite the confusion with names, playing dress-up is apparently a very cross-cultural activity.

On Wednesday, we baked blueberry muffins.  To most people, that seems like a pretty straight-forward endeavor.  But, then again, most people live within a stone's throw of a grocery store that sells reasonably priced blueberries.  The only reason I was able to pull this off was because my dear friend April hoarded all the blueberries when they were available for one week out of the year. And she was kind enough to share them with me in the name of education!

My friend XL came over that day to help us out.  I've also been trying to figure out how I'm going to devote myself to my main priority of being a wife & mom while still connecting with locals here.  It's kind of like having two jobs, and it's not easy!  I've been trying to invite women I know into our home to hang out or join in on whatever craft or baking activity we have going on that day.  It doesn't necessarily lend to great conversation ("chat, chat, chat, Sam, stop eating the batter!, chat, chat, chat, Micah, cover your mouth when you sneeze!") but at least it's a start.  

The muffins were tasty and well worth the investment of import butter and borrowed blueberries.  In fact, I ate three that day.  

Ironically enough, the lunch we had with my friend & our house helper before the muffins were served involved several comments about how thin they think I am and inquiries as to how much I weigh.  I hate, hate, hate these types on conversations, so I'm always looking for ways to graciously deflect.  During this particular conversation, I told them that my weight isn't very low because I have a lot of muscle from running & exercising.  This comment elicited peals of laughter from both of them.  The word for muscle actually sounds the same as the word for chicken, so I was terrified that I had just told them that I have fowl all over me.  But evidentially what was laughable was a woman having muscle at all (in my opinion, women here are kind of wimpy when it comes to working out).  After a morning of chatting in Chinese while trying to bake and wrangle my little people, I didn't have the energy to try to explain to them that muscle actually promotes weight loss.  And then I ate three muffins to underscore my point.

On Thursday, we sprung off one of the pages at the beginning of the book where Sal & her mother first arrive at Blueberry Hill in their classic-looking car.  This book was written in 1948, and there are traces of the time period throughout its illustrations.  We looked at pictures of old & new cars on the iPad, and I talking with Micah about observing differences & similarities.  We practiced sorting his collection of cars based on color, counted them, and made a chart.  

On Friday, I wanted to focus in on the characters in the story, especially the more obscure animals that the boys aren't too familiar with.  We watched some YouTube footage about crows & partridges, listened to a crow caw from an online recording, and learned that crows eat frogs.  Then Micah requested to see a picture of that.  Sure enough, you can find pretty much anything on the internet!

I also made character cards of Sal, Mother, Little Bear, Mother Bear, crows, and partridges by making photo copies out of the book and gluing the pictures to index cards.  We played a relay game where I said an animal and they had to hustle/fly/flap/walk to the couch to pick up the appropriate card.  We're still basically on house arrest because of the pollution, so I'm always on the hunt for indoor ways to get them moving.  I had intended to play memory with these cards, but that didn't work out at all.

I also made a counting game using blue pom-poms as blueberries and a cardboard bear head with its mouth cut out.  I had exactly 10 blue pom-poms, so it made me turn into a bit of a neurotic mom every time we played because we had to find every single one.

Despite the rocky week with attention issues, I'm still really glad we're pressing on in doing this.  I have been so pleased to see Micah begin to love books more & more.  He will sit by himself and "read" for at least 30 minutes, which seems like a long time of independent activity for my guys.  He makes connections between books we've read in weeks past and will retell the stories to me.

Sam, on the other hand, still likes to chew on baby toys.