Saturday, June 23, 2012

Summer Memorization Part I

Below are the taped results of our first two weeks of memory work this summer. 

If it seems we have an extremely "American" theme going on-- it was not entirely intentional. It is true however, that living outside of the American school system means we get a little behind on some of the standards, like the Pledge of Allegiance. Before we left for China, I remember a friend who grew up overseas telling me about her experience. Often as an American abroad, you can feel a little gun-shy to be to overtly "American" because as you quickly realize, most of the world either sees you as obnoxious, ethnocentric, ignorant, or all of the above. Or even if you don't have that experience, when you are surrounded by a host of other nationalities, you want to be accomodating and interested, not caught up purely in the nuances and traditions of your own home country. But, my friend noted, that in her parents attempt not to be obnoxious and over-the-top about their American-ness, they failed to pass on down to her some of the basics every citizen usually knows. Things like the Pledge of Allegiance, or the names of the States, or the song about the Presidents. So make sure your kids know that stuff, is what she told me. And I can see the sense in it.

The other thing I want to say is that iMovie is just way too much fun. I could get locked in a closet for the summer and possibly never come out if I had that nifty little program all to myself. Pure genius.

Without further ado... I bring you Summer 2012 Memorization Bonanza, Part I. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

{day 10} a trip to the embassy means special treats

{day 10} a trip to the embassy means long car rides and China-style, no car seats

{day 11} friends for lunch

{day 11} happy about what we are eating...

Tried a bit of rabbits head today. Our friends who came for lunch brought it with them, cooked Sichuan-style with a lot of lajiao (hotttt) and huajiao (numbbb). The boys wanted to try the brains but chickened out in the end. I know there is an ignorant, ethnocentric part of me that wonders, "why must we eat the head of a rabbit?" when all the while my freezer is mostly full of one single part of the chicken, the chicken breast, which would probably lead most people in the world to ask, "why must we only eat one part of the chicken?" Add this to a long list of things I wish was different about me... more frugal, more willing, more thoughtful, etc. etc.

The days have been surprisingly mild weather wise, while everywhere else in the northern hemisphere I read of scorching temperatures. It has meant some reprieve for us though, who know our scorching months are just around the bend. We are making good use of the outside time though. Scout did her typical independent wonder-woman thing and merely one day after having her dad mount training wheels, took them off by herself, and proceeded to teach herself to ride. Now she is whipping around the neighborhood like it's nobody's business. 

We have been plugging away at our Summer Memorization Bonanza (not really called that) and I am so proud of these kids. What I am proud of is their hard work. Memorization comes quite naturally to children, I think, but hard work does not always and they have stuck with their daily routine to review and plug away at the next card. So only two weeks in and we are reaching goals I thought would take us a good while longer. I can't wait to share their results soon. The best part is: I end up memorizing all of their works as well! This is old hat probably for most homeschooling moms, but I don't have that kind of opportunity, so this has been surprisingly gratifying for us all.

And finally, today is my little sister's birthday. She is so far away and it seems strange to have spent more than half my life with her (to date) only to now have so little face to face time with her. She is a beautiful, thoughtful, talented wife and mother of two and I'm thinking about her and our masking tape room dividers and matching watermelon dresses today.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

{day 8 and 9}

{day 8} rain

{day 9} fresh and lemony

{day 9} orzo goodness

The East Meets West Medicinal Cocktails are working (I think) and I feel a little better these past two days. They have been full though, and this is a good thing. Even though the summers here in this line of work may be a bit more dull and lonely than what we "normally" think of for summer, the upside is that we have more time as a family and more time with others. It is much easier for us to have people over several times a week than it is during the school year and we try to take full advantage of that. But cooking for large groups of people usually takes up most of my day, if not only because there are so many little people around and other home tasks to be attended to and usually at least 1/2 if not more of the meal needs to be made from scratch. So, I have to start early and keep trucking away at it through the day.

I walked outside today and watched my daughter push off without training wheels, completely of her own doing. She's such a go-getter, that one. Fearless and determined. She is much that way with people too which can be both off putting at times, and charming at others. She has made friends with more grandma's and little kids in this neighborhood than the rest of us combined and it has actually helped the boys to get more comfortable with that too. Our upstairs neighbor, a sweet and mannerly middle aged woman, has taken quite a liking to Scout and now all our kids are calling her "Song Mama." She brought us jiaozi yesterday. And she gave all the kids a chinese name, but the family name she gave them was Song, so I guess that means she thinks they are hers now.

Tomorrow we are heading into the city to take care of some things at the embassy. That means I will get to go to Starbucks and eat a muffin. I love it when there is something, even something small, to look forward to.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

{day seven} family workout

The last two days I have been sick as a dog. Feverish, achy, coughing up a storm. It's been going on for over a week but the last two days put me down and out of commission somewhat (can you ever really fully go out of commission when you have a nursing baby?). I have been mixing up East meets West medicinal cocktails with Chinese herbal remedies, antiobiotics, and some Ibuprofen. Something is bound to work, I think to myself, hoping I don't end up in the newspapers tomorrow.

Anyway, hoping to be in better form after a (sort of) good nights sleep, or two, or three. There are only so many days dad can handle making three meals a day-- though he does it like a champ.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

rotten asparagus and the state of my chinese

{day five} first lessons: it's all about the hand position

{day five} the girl got herself a bike

If you break your day up into twenty minute segments, you would be amazed at how many things can be done. I think at this stage of our lives, twenty minute segments is the way to go. Half hour... too long. Fifteen minutes... too short. Twenty minutes. Perfect. I don't know how I came upon this magical number. But it is even finding it's way into my nap... which just happened to be twenty lovely minutes long today. 

My son just walked up to the computer and saw this picture of Scout. "That is soooome girl." was all he said. Reminded me of Wilbur. But he's right. She is quite a girl. She's something alright.

I took all four kids to the market this morning. I ride on the front of our three wheeled scooter, with the baby strapped to me, and the other three ride on the little seat in back. My Chinese teacher says this is "very interesting" because the three wheeled scooters are typically only used by the old or infirm. I suppose having four children in China puts me in the class of the infirm. When I drove to the large grocery store the other day, I noticed the parking sign for large scooters said in it's awkwardly translated English, "three wheel park for very old." I felt ashamed and misplaced. I was not very old, but I did have the three wheeler. Would they yell at me? Would they look scornfully at me? But my teacher just says they will think it is "very interesting."

I have been meeting with her, my teacher, every day this week for 2 hours. In the five years we have been here, I have studied off and on as babies and schedules allowed, and that has amounted to approximately one year of formalized study. The rest has been picked up here and there through things I read or hear or ask. This has served me okay, but I'm finding this week that I have a lot of bad habits, and have been confusing people for years now with my backwards way of saying some things. Such as, the Chinese put "le"  (sounds like luh) on the end of nearly everything they say (it seems), so some time ago when I was made aware of that, I started doing it too. I know sometimes it makes a phrase present tense and sometimes it makes a phrase past tense and yet there are plenty of times when you shouldn't do it, like when you are saying something in the negative I guess, so when I just found that out yesterday I realized how out of control my use of "le" really is. Basically I've just been piece-mealing together words and phrases with abandon and now have to deconstruct quite a bit of it. But I did have a small success in calling the piano tuner, which I've waited nearly an entire year to do and our poor neglected upright is starting to sound like a bad bar-room honkey tonk.

Anyway, we went to the market, the kids and I, with my newly brushed up, deconstructed Chinese and I found asparagus! What a treat! Only to come home and find the entire mid section of the bundle rotting out and moldy. The smell reminded me of old, wet shoes. It was disappointing. I didn't feel like hauling everyone back on that "very interesting" scooter to make my complaint. And perhaps my "le" would get in the way of my explanation and we would be sent home with a Chinese herbal remedy for old, wet shoes or something.

But if you think about the fact that you bought a bushel of rotten asparagus for no more than twenty minutes, you're bound to be okay. You just move on to the next thing.le

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

summer days {are numbered}

{day one} 
opening summer packets with matching water bottles

{day two}
after dinner journal time

{day three}
the baby, hanging out and happy as always

{day four}
chicken pot pie: it's what's for dinner

I will now shamelessly confess I received an ipod touch for Mother's Day. It is the most advanced piece of technology I own, and I'm happily planning to make good use of the camera function- which is a considerably lighter way to document the moments of the day than my Canon DSLR. Plus it has fun functions and I think my fingers look cool and trendy and maybe even graceful sliding across the screen in quick little confident strokes. So now you know.

Also, we are four days into our "summer schedule" which is going quite well, 96 hours along. It is going so well in fact, that the kids, excited by the presence of fun little details like a color-coded "summer packet" filled with sketch pads and journals and memorization cards and chore charts and gum packs and water bottles, get a little bent out of shape if we deviate from the daily routine I have mapped out. It's flexible, I keep reminding them. It is okay to go to the bathroom, answer the door, or spend five minutes without asking me, "what's next now, mom?" But truly, I am glad they've taken to it so well. It is certainly helping my peace of mind and I think I may even have become a nicer mom.

I heard someone say the other day that summers for children living overseas are not the idyllic summers we remember growing up as North Americans. As a typical kid in the USA, I looked forward to summer as a time when school was out, friends were free to roam and play at will, there were pools to swim in and neighborhoods to roam, and our family usually had at least one or two vacations planned with the Jayco pop up camper hitched up to our station wagon. 

Here, as member of a community of expatriates who are living far from their home countries and families, summers are typically marked by slightly less jovial experiences. Most people and many of your friends, leave town. There are always people who are leaving town for good as well, so summer typically is a time for heavy goodbyes, for friendships that are ending in the "everyday" sense. Some people you may not see again in this lifetime. Watching some of the older kids who have lived here for some time now, I can see the toll it takes on them, this time of year so heavy with change and loss. They lose friends year after year after year.

It's easy to see the downside in all of this. The important thing to remember is that there is also a lot of good. There is a strength that can come from this kind of experience. And there is no perfect, truly idyllic way to live life anyway... so even if we were rid of these negatives I'm sure there would be others we would be dealing with.

So we are taking the quieter pace as a gift to spend time as a family, to get creative and not wasteful of the time we have been given. It is also a time to invest a little more in the people around us who are still here that we typically don't have as much interaction with. My upstairs neighbor has had the kids up a few times now, treating them as her honored "foreign" guests and we both try awkwardly to polish our language skills with one another. My Chinese tutor took me to the store today to buy a knife sharpener. We talked about raising kids and how silly I look driving around a scooter that is typically only used by very old and infirm people. I think I count as infirm- what with four small kids and no minivan and all.

I won't say I don't dream of a pop up camper and four little sets of feet around a campfire sometimes. But I think where we are can be okay (and with the help of those cool apps like Instagram) a little dreamy too.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

summers are (not really, but really) for schedules

Do you know what this is?

It is our summer at it's best; all nicely packaged into neat little boxes that are arranged with order and precision. But words like neat and order and precision all sound rather un-summery to me even as I type them, so there is probably a sense in which they should all be muffled and strewn about a bit just for summer's sake. I'll tell you the real reason I'm laboring over something like a jigsaw puzzle for our summer days-- well, I'll tell you a few reasons if you don't mind.

Summer in Chengdu (a place I'm starting to like if you read the last post) appears challenging from where I sit. Summers in China alone can be challenging. They are certainly restful, with the slackened pace of no school and our general modus operandi which is to lay low, be together, not go anywhere, and hang out with the people who are still in town. And yet, the downsides are, among others: lack of pools, backyards, museums, libraries (and all the other fun free stuff those summer bucket lists on pinterest tell you to do), and such. So the upside is, we have to get pretty creative, and flexible.

My panic button started to go off a few weeks ago when I realized that this summer also had the added challenges of a husband-now-administrator who has to work more office hours in the summer, leaving me at home with four little children (including one small baby), and a few weeks of language study to juggle between us. I won't say I didn't shed a few tears before The Man attempted to calm me down with his typical reality check speech (they always work). And the reality is... life is not bad. It is quite good, actually. There are challenges, yes. But there is a lot of good and the summer will be good in spite of these glaring obstacles that I allow to stare me down until I run away like a scaredy-cat school girl.

So, this schedule above is one of my ways to tackle the challenge. 1. Kids enjoy structure. 2. I need help. A schedule will allow us to have both. It will organize my ideas of what they can do and hopefully give them some independence as well as freedom within a set of parameters. And the best part to me is getting them excited about it. It's like our own little summer camp. One of my hopes with this is to allow the kids to have plenty to look forward to, to enjoy, but also plenty that involves them in helping one another and our family with all that needs to be done. 

And then we will eat. Things like pizza (sun dried and spinach on whole wheat crust, below), and homemade popsicles, some birthday cake for a special turning-six-year-old, and probably a few vietnamese-iced coffees on my end.

It will be good. I have hope. And where would we be without hope, right?