A quick reminder:
You can click on any photo to view it larger.
A quick reminder:
You can click on any photo to view it larger.
Some of you might know this already about me but Halloween has to be my most favorite holiday....regardless if we're in the USA or here in China.
What's not to love about Halloween? Lots of colors, fall is in the air, pumpkins everywhere, dressing up in funny and outrageous costumes, CANDY, treats...and who can forget the jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, skeletons, mummies and other creatures that creep and crawl through the night????
And what better way to celebrate my favorite holiday than with a PARTY??!!!! (plus, I really wanted to share all the Halloween stuff I'd brought back with me from home with my friends).
Naturally the main floor of the house should be decorated:
Annika's creative addition to our Halloween party:
TOXIC MOLD!!!! (peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips that Annika colored green with edible markers) and CAUTION! Beware of the creepy brownie monsters! Annika baked both the cookies AND the brownies....how awesome is that?????
And naturally Halloween isn't complete without a pumpkin patch....ours is just different than most. ;-) It works for us though! Here Annika is busy creating a Treasure Hunt for all the kids coming to the Halloween party. The treasure hunt will take the kids on a wild goose chase on all three levels of the house and the girls used their Halloween candy stash as the "treasure".
We're all set! I've got two kinds of soup on (chicken with homemade noodles and pumpkin & red lentil soups), home baked bread, treats, goodie bags as filled by the girls (with Halloween candies and stickers), and several arts and crafts projects that young guests can do.
Rachel's super duper awesome pinata jack-o-lantern cake:
Check out what's inside the cake: (candy!!!!!)
Ava and one of Crystal's twin daughters (either Abby or Jordan- it's tricky for me to tell them apart) got to work painting small green winter squash (in lieu of the sugar pumpkins I'd normally use back home) and painting cinnamon scented salt dough Halloween ornaments that the girls and I made the previous night:
Annie and the other twin (either Abby or Jordan; I feel terrible that I can't tell them apart!) busily working on their creations:
That was an awesome party! Sadly, Mark was on a business trip to India and therefore couldn't join us. Boooo!!!! Let's see....who attended the party? Agnes & Robert with their children, Crystal & Mike and their kids, Sam and her kids, Jen & Andy and their munchkins, Kathy & Dave, Holly & Kevin and their kids, Claudia and her kids, Rachel and Chris and their kids (they drove all the way from TEDA to join us!), Frances and her boys....did I miss anybody? I didn't end up chatting with the adults in the group for very long as I supervised the arts and crafts projects happening on the third floor. Some of the older kids even tried carving the tiny winter squash.
Whoopsie...I just realized that the following photos were actually taken a day before the above photos. So...this blog isn't quite following a proper timeline. Oh well. Let's not worry about it and move along...alrighty?
Several of the OC (Original County - the name of the community we live in) friends and neighbors hosted a large outdoor Halloween party of sorts. One of the American families organized the event and provided the pinatas. Last year we went door-to-door trick-or-treating which was lots of fun but due to some lovely road blocks in place this year it was decided that it just wasn't safe to go door-to-door. So, instead the adults handed out candy to eager little hands who had to stand in line to get their treats. (after the pinatas came down).
This year Ava wanted to be a ZOMBIE cheerleader. I think she's got the cheerleader part down but I'm still questioning the zombie part. LOL!
Even some of the adults got bitten by the Halloween spirit and dressed up for the occasion:
(Kathy, Petra, Renata, Julia, friend, and Claudia)
Pinata time! The American family that set up the event really had a smart idea- they had different pinatas for different age groups...starting with the youngest and gradually moving up to the big kids:
Ava with some of her friends in front of one of the pinatas:
Ninja Annika! I bet you didn't even recognize her, right? Isn't that costume just the coolest ever???
One last look at a very proud Annika and her Halloween food creations. I am SO VERY, VERY thankful to have two creative daughters that genuinely provide help and stimulate the creative juices. Thank you , girls!!!
So...that was our Halloween. The kids did have an after school Halloween party on Friday 1 November 2013. That was huge fun for the girls. I, along with several other parents, helped the teachers decorate the play room for the party. And this year the secondary (that's middle school and high school combined) students got into the Halloween spirit....they created a haunted house for the primary students to walk through. It always make me happy to see the older kids involved in doing things for the younger ones.
Fun! Fun! Fun!!!!!
27 September 2013-
Too darn many ...I mean several weeks ago the school hosted a fundraising event for a Tianjin group (ICCO) that helps support a local orphanage.
Here's the cool thing about this event: it all started with one of my friends (Frances) chatting with her son (Simon). Frances suggested wouldn't it be nice to do something for other people and Simon mentioned that he'd be willing to give up his weekly ice cream money (at school the kids can purchase ice cream...really popsicles every Friday for 5RMB). That conversation sparked an idea to involve some of the other Grade 5 students - including Marko (before he left for SA) and ....Annika.
They put together a fundraising campaign for the entire primary school which then culminated on a Friday morning all-school assembly. And...if you might be able to already guess this ...the students were asked to wear blue.
Ava holding her classroom's fundraising box:
Ava is the class representative for her Grade 2 class in Elementary School Council....and here she is with some other grade 2 classmates with their collection box:
The kids raised quite a bit of money for ICCO. :-)
Can I just say how proud I am of our school???? Our kids, teachers, parents, staff are just totally awesome and supportive!!!
11 October 2013 Friday morning school assembly:
I got the word that both Annika and Simon would have the honor of receiving the first ever Action Award handed out at IST for their work on the Blue for You event.
Congratulations, Annika!!!! EEEEEeeeeeeeEEEEEEEeeeeeEEEEEeeeeEEEeeeEe!!!!!!
I'm so proud of you!!!!
How is that the month of October just flew right past me and I *still* haven't finished up the posts to Cambodia????
It's now NOVEMBER! How did it get to be November already??????? Shoot me now! I've got too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. Okay. On second thought- don't shoot me but an ounce of sympathy/empathy lobbed in my general direction would be nice. Or....just laugh at me. I did bring this on to myself! (umm....yes, I AM indeed laughing at myself. Apparently I'm not as good at multi-tasking as I thought I was!).
Any hoo.... Here are some photos from our last day in Siem Reap. Due to the nature of our red-eye flight we got to spend the *entire* day in Siem Reap.
So.....come join us as we whiz through our last day in this interesting city!
So incredibly difficult to tell if these people were men or women:
4 October 2013-
Good morning! How did you sleep last night??? The beds are a bit hard and my back is reminding me of that fact. (sigh. Small price to pay considering the beautiful location.)
Let's head up to the top floor for some breakfast. Sounds good, right?
View from the top floor:
Today we've got a different tuk-tuk driver and he DOES speak English. Funny, how communication can be such an important and vital issue while traveling.
On our To-Do List today: get coffee drinks (to-go), buy UMBRELLAS (we'd rather NOT get soaked again, thank-you-very-much! and visit two temples: Banteay Srei and (THE) Angkor Wat. How's that sound???
3 October 2013-
It's time to chill out in our hotel room for a few minutes before heading out to our cooking class:
We're ready to head out to Le Tigre de Papier (the Paper Tiger) located on Pub Street in Siem Reap. Are you ready to learn how to cook Khmer-style dishes?
Okay...the tuk-tuk driver dropped us off here but this looks like a restaurant....where is the cooking class????
Ah, we finally found someone that can help us. They just handed us a menu and we're each supposed to pick out one appetizer and one entree. ??? Oh! You mean we get to choose what we can make? I thought it'd be a set meal that we make. Hmmmmm....what to choose? All the dishes sound good. I think I'll go for green papaya salad and fried noodles, Mark and Ava are both getting the banana flower salad and Annika wants to make fresh spring rolls. Ava wants the Khmer style fish (with chips...sigh.), Annika wants the pork and baby corn dish and Mark wants to try some interesting Khmer-style chicken dish.
We just met Sam, she'll be our cooking instructor tonight. She just explained that we'll first take a quick tour of the Old Market and pick up a few ingredients (the majority of the ingredients are already prepared for us).
The Old Market is just a hop away from the restaurant. It looks a lot like the markets I go shopping at in China:
One key difference between the market here in Cambodia and those in China is that here the vendors are sitting on the tables alongside their produce/wares.
Ooo!!!! Sam just stopped at us one of the stalls that sells all sorts of spices. We picked up black pepper, powdered coconut, green curry mix, dried lemongrass, dried kaffir lime leaves, and a few other things. Rats! I forgot to take a photo of all those packets of spices!
It's time to head back to the restaurant and start cooking:
Time to start the actual cooking:
Annika is going to make our dessert : cooked bananas
Annika practicing her fresh spring roll making skills:
I even have rice paper at home. Annika, can you make these for us when we return home????
Nearly done now...and getting kind of hungry!
2 October 2013-
I'm not sure how our driver managed to stay awake for that entire drive from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap but I'm sure glad he did! All in all it was a smooth ride....with the one exception of watching a large truck nearly plow into a bus (just missed us by inches!). Eep!!! The bus wasn't quite so lucky but it doesn't appear that anyone is hurt.
It's 1:00am and we're back where we started from - at the Siddharta Hotel in Siem Reap. I think we all had a big sigh of relief (including our driver!) when we got to the hotel. It's raining...we've got our keys and now it's time to race to our room (on the first floor). Ack! I bet we're going to get soaked!!!!
I don't know about you but it's been a *very* long day for us so please don't mind us if we just crash.......
September 29- October 2, 2013-
In China the first week in October is a national holiday (I've heard it called Golden Week). And as you've no doubt figured out by now - we took this week as an opportunity to visit yet one more place on our Asian Bucket List (I really should post my bucket list, shouldn't I???? That way you can see how much progress we've made. 'Cuz I know you want to see what's on our list, right???!?).
Where, oh where, did we go?????
Any hoo.....after doing some research on tripadvisor we realized that Annika and I could also finish up our open water diving certification in Sihanoukville at a highly rated dive center, Scuba Nation.
Problem is- the only flights we could get were into Siem Reap and Sihanoukville isn't any where near Siem Reap. Problem??? Nope! Through the hotel in Siem Reap we hired a taxi driver to take us all the way to the coast (a little more than 8 hours drive). Oh...and did I tell you that we arrived in Siem Reap a little after midnight AND our driver came to collect us at 4am in the freaking morning??? If you think that's going to feel awful; you're right!)
Why go to all that trouble getting the scuba stuff in the first part of our trip instead of the last part of the trip? Well, with scuba diving you have to wait between 12-18 hours after diving before it's safe to fly. So we crammed the diving into the first part of the week so we wouldn't have to worry about flying home.
More photos to come from that particular drive but here's a glimpse of what it looked like:
Is that really a road????
Our taxi has been retrofitted - it uses natural gas instead of regular gasoline:
We saw lots of people traveling....many of them were piled on top of trucks or crammed into cars and vans. We learned from the taxi driver that a Cambodian public holiday is coming up soon (October 3-5) and that many people are traveling back home.
Our driver suggested that we stop for a meal at a road-side restaurant that was situated next to the Mekong River. Our driver spoke a little bit of English but he found a lady who spoke fluent English who helped us order a nice lunch meal (fried noodles, soup, and two kinds of fried rice...YUM!):
September 21 & 22, 2013-
So...here's the deal.
Mark finished up his PADI Open Water Scuba Diving certification while we were in Cebu (that was early June). The girls both tried out scuba diving at the Shangri-La resort we stayed at in Cebu and they both LOVED it.
Now, I've said all along that I would NEVER GO SCUBA DIVING.
Never, never, never.
Not gonna happen!
So guess what I've been doing over the past few weeks???????????
Working towards my Open Water scuba certification.
If you can't beat 'em....join 'em!
I didn't want to be the left all alone on the boat or beach while the other three went diving.
Yeah, I'm eating my words. Too bad those words don't taste like chocolate. (mmmmmm.....chocolaaaaaaate)
So, the short story (which is already too long. Whoops!) is that Annika and I completed the eLearning portion of the PADI certification together (that's the online coursework).
This past weekend we zipped on down to Shanghai via the bullet train and completed the confined water dives portion of our certification.
We completed our confined water dives through Big Blue, a PADI certified dive center located in Shanghai.
So...Annika and I had a super easy and relaxing train ride (except for the loud little boy sitting in front of us) and one subway ride over to our hotel. After checking in at the Marriott we ventured over to Big Blue to fill out the necessary paperwork and visit with our diving instructor. We also learned that another girl (13 years old and from Spain) would be joining us. That's not a bad student to teacher ratio! Annika and I had a fantastic salmon dinner at one of the hotel's restaurants and promptly plopped into bed to get a solid night's sleep.
(Oh, are you wondering where Ava is???? Jen, a good friend, watched Ava during the day until Mark returned home from his trip to the USA on Friday evening. That means that Annika and I started this Shanghai adventure on our own!)
Saturday morning- up waaaaaay too early. We grabbed a light breakfast at Starbucks (which wound up being too light - next time remember to get more protein before spending the day in a pool!!!!). Walked the umpteen blocks to the dive center. After rendezvousing with our instructor and the other girl joining us we were driven to the pool. A pool with lots of Chinese swimming in it and several swimming lessons for Chinese children taking place. My goodness - they don't give those little kids any slack when it comes to swimming practice!
First thing - jumped into the pool and swam four lengths of the pool in one go. Easy! Next we learned about the equipment AND how to assemble it properly.
Now, have I mentioned at all that I've never ever tried scuba diving???? (both Annika and Ava have).
The instructor had us go through lots and lots of exercises and I learned two things:
1. it wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it'd be
2. I couldn't clear my mask when it was filled with water - no matter how hard I tried! AAAAArgh!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Yes, I kept calm. Yes, I told myself I could do it. No, it didn't work.)
After many hours of being in the cold water (do they heat any of the pools in China?????) and chattering teeth and blue lips (that being Annika's) we finally called it a day for the pool work and headed back to the dive center.
Once at the dive center we took the final exam AND - best of all - got to see Mark and Ava. :-) We also assembled and disassembled the equipment three times.
Which brings me to another sad point about Saturday - we were supposed to go eat dinner with Mark's old high school friend, Randy, and his family. Sadly, Randy was sick. Bummer! We just found a restaurant to eat at on our walk back to the hotel....Swiss food. Funny...the only Swiss food I can think of is fondue. Do they really have any other food? (ummm...yes they do!)
After a wee break we hit the hotel's swimming pool where I proceeded to practice the mask clearing exercise. Yes, I could do it! Mark also discovered a potential reason for my failures (not a proper seal). I feel so much better now that I KNOW I CAN do it.
Early to bed!!!!
Sunday - we ordered room service breakfast- omelets, hash browns and Greek yogurt. Good protein! Hopefully that will help both Annika and me last a lot longer than yesterday.
Annika and I walked over to Big Blue and after rendezvousing with the others we were driven over to the pool for Round #2 of exercises.
One of the first exercises I did - complete the three mask clearing exercises I failed on the previous day. Oh, I forgot to mention - we'd just bought Annika a narrow dive mask the previous day. Annika very reluctantly let me borrow her brand-new mask - which, by the way, I'm extremely grateful for. As it turns out- the mask size was definitely the main problem for me. I had absolutely no trouble at all clearing out the narrower mask (while underwater you flood your mask with water and then you have to clear it by breathing out your nose). YAY!!!! We finished up all the exercises and were back at the dive center before our teeth started to chatter.
Then it was back to the dive center and we were done!!!! YAY!!! We did it!!! Annika and I successfully completed our confined water dives.
PS. The instructor was not at all worried about the kids completing the course successfully but she did mention that she was concerned about me. ;-)
I just proved to myself that I CAN conquer fear and that you CAN teach a dog to do new tricks. Okay. Did I just compare myself to a dog????? Oh dear. I think perhaps it's time for me to hit the bed.
PPS....Here's what Ava and Mark did while Annika and I were busy at the pool:
After a few painful hours that we managed to somehow kill in the train station we boarded the bullet train and headed home to Tianjin.
What a weekend!
The plan is for Annika and me to finish up our certification in Cambodia (we're heading there the first week in October). Can't wait to find out what that will be like!
September 17, 2013-
Today is the day I've been dreading for the past few months.....
The day one of my nearest and dearest friends returns to her home country, South Africa.
Debbie is a sweet angel. She's been a confidant, a friend, and a wonderful mentor. She's shown me how to open your heart and welcome new friends and new experiences. It's because of her that my doors are always open. (Okay, so my doors aren't literally open all the time as I DO lock them at night but I think you get the idea, right?)
And...I know that I'm not the only one who thinks this.
It's the nature of the beast....I mean life as an expat. People are constantly coming...and going. Still, it doesn't make her departure feel any better. Like a former expat explained to me - she's laughed and cried harder while living here in China than ever before. I couldn't agree more.
I bet you're not going to miss that nasty air either!!! Send some clean, bright blue skies our way, please!!!
Debbie & Croydon - wishing you a safe journey back home. I wish I could say "hope it's uneventful" but I already know that to not be true. :-/ I guess China wasn't ready for you to leave last night either!!!
I'm NOT going to say good bye though. Nope. Not gonna say it. I'm just going to say, "See you later!!!" Because, we WILL see them this coming summer.
See, there IS a silver lining in that dark cloud.
See you soon, dear friend. Words cannot fully express how much we'll miss you!!!!!!
August 16, 2013-
Okay...so this happened a little more than a month ago but HEY! At least I'm getting around to posting photos now! (right????)
Anyhoo....Ava lost Tooth #2!!!!!
Soooo....I can't remember. Does the Tooth Fairy pay a visit to children living in China or not???? I guess we'll soon find out.
Update: The Tooth Fairy does visit children in China but only when she remembers to pay a visit. Apparently she was *extremely* busy with lots of other children. ;-) Oops.