A quick reminder:
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16 March 2015-
Waiting for Freedom:
Annika is currently enrolled in the most awesome after-school activity: singer/song-writer class (with...Ava's teacher!).
Please listen to this song. Annika wrote the lyrics and sang the song while her teacher, Mr. K played the guitar.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Thank you, Mr. K. for emailing me this song!
--One Proud Mom!
16 March 2015
What's been happening in our house?
Here are some random thoughts on life right now...in no particular order.
My sweet little Ava at TJMex (Mexican restaurant in AoCheng, Tianjin). Ava *always* gets guacamole and chips. It's her favorite!
Well, I'm in the middle of my first online course in the Master's in Project Management degree. It's going oh-kay. I definitely struggle a little bit more with it being strictly online and in a completely different time zone. Asking questions and waiting to get the answers takes longer than expected. I hope I'm doing the right thing. The good thing is I feel like my brain is back in business.
For that matter, I'm stalling - I have homework I need to be doing right now. I'll get it done, I promise! (after I drink another cup of coffee and go for a jog on the treadmill....yes, after that is completed I PROMISE I'll be a good girl and get my homework completed)
The girls have a new favorite movie : Big Hero 6. Annika also loves the Pirates of the Caribbean series and Avatar. Ava claims she loves the Pirates movies as well. (Me? Not so much.)
Me? I'm feeling nostalgic. I go through this feeling of nostalgia every year...right now I'm watching "Murder, She Wrote". Yep. Guilty pleasures! Mark and I area also enjoying watching "Psych". It's really funny!
We're listening to a Scottish band called Chvrches. It's pronounced "churches". I'm also constantly listening to nature sounds. Yes, I have an entire, very long, album that is full of nature sounds - I especially love listening to thunderstorms and birds twittering away.
Mark is busy building Still 2.0. It looks like a Dalek from Doctor Who! All I know is that it's got a gorgeous, shiny copper look. I love the copper!
Annika and Mark also busy with the forge - Annika is working on creating a handle for a dagger that Mark created and Mark is working on a new kitchen knife.
I'm working on sewing quilts - one for Ava and the other for Annika. Piece-by-piece they're slowly coming together. I've had to abandon the Ikea sewing machine (it failed too many times) in favor of returning to my old Singer sewing machine that requires a power converter.
I'm busy working on two upcoming trips. Both will be short, extended-weekend, trips. We'll be heading to Zhangjiajie to hopefully see some gorgeous mountains and to Singapore. And I'll get to check off two places on my must-see-in-Asia bucket list! Woo Hoo!!!!
A few recent photos:
"Shut up and take my money"...HUH??? Rather a bizarre billboard:
Spring is definitely in the air! It's warming up and it's lighter out later and later.
Enough stalling....time to get back to my homework!
13 February 2015-
Welcome to the Year of the Lamb....or Goat....or Sheep!!!!!
The girls' school held a Temple Fair on the Friday before the Chinese New Year (CNY) one-week holiday began. It's an entire day filled with lots of Chinese related activities and every year it's fun to attend. Sadly, the secondary kids don't get to participate in the festivities. They're probably "too big" or "too old" or "too mature" ...yada yada yada ....to watch and participate in the festivities. ;-)
Listen to the Guzheng....
Can we please go back to the lazzzzzzzy days on this tiny island?
Strolling. Beach combing. Swimming. Snorkeling. Swimming. Splashing. Digging. Kayaking. Reading. Dreaming. Looking. Observing. Climbing. Listening. Tasting.
And sleeping on rock hard beds.
Oh, and getting stung by jellyfish. And getting bitten by mosquitoes.
(Darn! Can't win them all, can we?)
Sleeping in tents on a beach on a teensy weensy island in Thailand we so amazingly awesome. Seriously. But, let me just say this - it's most definitely not for everyone.
It was perfect for us though.
Look to the left....dramatic cliffs:
20 February 2015 -
Mark got up extra early to take photos of the beach near Mook Lanta (now do you see why it's not a great swimming/playing in the sand kind of beach? It's too rocky):
Today we're going on an adventure. Why are you laughing? Well, I guess flying to Thailand, cooking up Thai masterpieces in cooking class, and visiting the undersea world at Koh Haa DO classify as adventures. This one is different...why? Because we're not really sure how to get to our end destination. Which makes it a true, knots-in-your stomach, hoping & praying-kind-of-adventure!
(heads up: we DO get to Koh Laoliang)
Melissa and her staff at Mook Lanta have graciously helped as much as they could by arranging the ferry tickets and transportation to the ferry to get us as far as Hat Yao Pier (near Trang). After that it's up to us! If you haven't guessed already, we highly recommend staying at Mook Lanta. The beds are hard but the service is EXCEPTIONAL! [as a matter of fact, I'm kind of sad we're leaving so soon....we didn't get to see much of Koh Lanta but it's going to be okay!]
First order of business: BREAKFAST:
A truck from the Tigerline Ferry is supposed to come pick us up.
A truck came by, expecting to pick up a family. Melissa's husband (didn't catch his name) asked if it was a pick up for the Tigerline Ferry and the driver said yes. So we climbed up into the back of the pick-up...another guest was already seated. Apparently they had been waiting there for 20 minutes (while we were standing around waiting). Whaaat? Sounds weird! Well, we drove a short ways to some office where several women come out and ask us where we are planning on going. We tell them that we're heading to Hat Yao Pier via the Tigerline Ferry. That's when we find out that this is NOT the shuttle for the Tigerline Ferry but for a different ferry service. What the heck? Leaving the other passenger (who is on the correct shuttle and LATE) the driver returns us to Mook Lanta. Which now leaves us wondering if we're even going to get TO the ferry, let alone ON the ferry. Hmmm.... thankfully minutes later a shuttle for the Tigerline Ferry pulls up and we're back in business. Whew! That was a close one!
On the boat. Seats are CRAMPED! I'm grateful that Melissa warned us about this and she was right. There is zero leg room here (especially since there is no place to put our backpacks and bags). I'm also glad she advised us to buy snacks and water for this trip.
Well....that was an interesting-ish boat ride. The ride that was supposed to leave around 10am that actually ended up leaving after 11:30am. At least we're not on a strict time schedule! The ride itself was very smooth...and this boat can move FAST through the water.
At the pier we inquire about hiring a private long tail boat to take us the rest of the way. Melissa had suggested that it should cost in the 600 Thai Baht range and she also said that you can haggle on the price. Well, the STARTING price was 3900 Baht but they said they would take us for 3000 Baht. (well above the 600 Baht price! That's ok.) It's cash only too. Good thing we thought ahead and brought cash with us.
Climb all aboard! The Koh Laoliang Long Tail Express is about to leave! The driver said it'd take about one hour to get there.
Here's a sneak peak for you...this is a view from our tent (you're looking at an outgoing tide that is exposing a huge, wide beach and a coral reef with a dramatic rock cliff in the background):
19 February 2015 -
Get up! Get up! Get up!
Time to get up and get packed up! Our ride for our all-day scuba diving trip will be picking us up very soon. Very soon.
We're going to have breakfast on the boat. Since the boat ride out to the dive site will take about two hours. Yep. TWO hours!
Mook Lanta helped arrange our dive today with Andaman Dive Adventures. Melissa suggested this dive location because it's an easy dive (with little or no current). That's great for us beginner divers!
Do you see those things sticking out of the water??? That's a big pod of dolphins! They even swam *really* close to the boat ...so close that Ava and I got up close view of them. (I didn't have my camera with me, Mark and Annika were in a different location of the boat and got to see them as well.)
Ava is taking a bubble-maker class with Matt. It's absolutely awesome as it's 1 student: 1 teacher. Ava had a great time with Matt - he was great teacher and she felt really comfortable with the entire scuba diving experience.
Here we go!
Hi Mark! He's the one manning the GoPro camera:
We did two dives (with an hour break in between). Heading back to the big island and it's time for lunch (yummy green curry!).
And here are a couple of sacked out divers:
We asked at the front desk of Mook Lanta for recommendations for where to go eat dinner. Melissa told us about May's Kitchen and how to get there on-foot. On the way there we also passed by several stores where we bought snacks for tomorrow's ferry ride and big towels (since we didn't think to bring ours from home! Oops.).
After a long, wonderful, adventuresome day of swimming, swimming, and more swimming (with some walking and playing in the sand thrown in) Mark really wanted a massage. And Annika is a very good beginner masseuse!
Thank you Annika!
4 March 2015-
It's exactly one week since we returned home from our Thailand, island-hopping journey. I don't want those delicious memories of our time relaxing in the water on the nearly solitary little Thai island to fade away yet sadly life is back to its full vigor.
What did we do and where did we go????
The plan was to fly to Bangkok, stay the night close to the airport, fly to Krabi, Thailand the following morning and connect up with the hotel's shuttle bus to drive us out to Koh Lanta (an island south of Phuket). After two nights on Koh Lanta (and having completed a cooking class and a scuba diving session) we'd make our way to a *tiny* island called Koh Laoliang where we'd camp in tents. Four nights sleeping in a tent with the stars shining ever so brightly for us! Then back to Bangkok (via a flight from Trang) and then back to Tianjin.
Got all that???!?
Korean Airlines is such an AWESOME airlines! Our flights were smooth and on-time. Know what else? I accidentally, for the FIRST TIME EVER, left my brand-new headphones on the airplane (they're Bose noise canceling...definitely ones I want to keep for a long, long time). The Thai airport personnel weren't helpful AT ALL but as soon as we found a Korean Airlines representative- the headphones were returned to me in less than ten minutes!!! Now, how's that for service??? Trust me, it's awesome.
We are staying overnight in Bangkok at the Bussaba Hotel as we couldn't get a flight to Krabi at night. Thank goodness the hotel has an airport shuttle waiting for us. It's late and time for bed!
Swans in our hotel room waiting for our arrival:
23 February 2015-
Ava is nine years old today.
My baby is NINE YEARS OLD!!!?!
How on Earth can she already be nine? It seems impossible- was there a hiccup in the space-time continuum? Like I know what that even means...seriously, I don't have a clue what that means but doesn't it sound cool?
It's her last year in the single digits...YIKES!
What can I say about our sweet, little baby-girl???
You've finally fallen in love with reading- and now it's hard to get you to take a break from reading. I'm more than happy to see this delightful change. It seems that you've finally discovered a few book series that you've fallen in love with. (like "Geronimo Stilton" and the "Ramona" series)
Your writing skills have improved remarkably this past year! Not only is your handwriting neat and legible, you're also writing interesting stories that are fun to read.
You've definitely inherited your father's tinkering tendencies. You love building things and taking other things apart.
You love cats and dogs but especially cats. You really love and miss Mittens.
You're still quite the talker. I can gauge your comfort level with strangers through this- if you're comfortable with someone you will talk. If not, you refuse to say a peep.
You're brave! You're already scuba diving!!!! It took me 41 years to finally dive and you're not even 10 years old and you're comfortable diving. WOW!
You love to cook. Where would we be without our Saturday morning waffles that you make for us? It's interesting how strong that urge is for you to make waffles on Saturday - you'll forego sleepovers with friends to make sure you're home for those waffles.
You still follow your older sister very closely- you like what Annika likes; you watch what Annika wants to watch. Your sister is really into the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie series...which means that you, too, are watching it. It's sometimes difficult to tell whether or not these really, truly interest you.
I absolutely ADORE getting hugs and cuddles from you! I don't get enough...I don't think I could ever get enough.
24 February 2015-
We celebrated your actual birthday while on Koh Laoliang in Thailand. (photos to come in following posts). You requested lemon meringue pie for your birthday so when we got home on the 24th I went quickly shopping for ingredients and baked you up this treat:
Mind you, after not having properly slept in several days I had to read and re-read the recipe several times. I sure hope it turns out!
The hardest part about this entire project was waiting. Waiting for the pie to cool down enough so that we could eat it! We downloaded and watched the movie, "The Labyrinth" (do you remember it? It's super OLD!!!!) while waiting not-so-patiently for the pie to cool.
Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday DEAR AVA....Happy birthday to you!
Now stepping back in time by one day:
23 February 2015 -
On Koh Laoliang, Thailand. (I think "Koh" means "island" in Thai.)
"The Magic Ava":
Ha! Ava, did you think we'd forget your birthday??? Nope! We secretly stashed two gifts...thoughtfully wrapped in black trash bags...in the suitcases. Okay, not the nicest wrapping job but it worked!
After a full day of playing in the water and on the beach it's dinner time. Can't beat this beach-front dining location:
I had asked the front desk (of sorts) to make something for Ava's birthday but sadly they fell short with this task. Annika to the rescue! She stepped in by asking the cook for bread, peanut butter, honey, and nutella. Annika and I worked on making this very unusual sandwich "cake". We layered bread with nutella, peanut butter and honey. Perhaps it's not pretty to look at but I can attest that it was a tasty, easy-to-eat treat! We sung happy birthday to this lovely little lady:
Happy birthday to our sweetest, tiniest, gooniest Baby!!!! May you continue to shower us with your fanciful, fun stories. We love you to the Ends of the Universe and back.
A quick glance on some of the things we're up to right now....
5 February...new dishwasher installation! We had an agreement with the landlord that he would purchase a new dishwasher and refrigerator for the house (the existing ones are really poor quality and don't function properly). We ordered the dishwasher on Saturday and it was installed the following Wednesday! Talk about SUPER FAST service!
My ayi is watching the landlord's maintainer and the dishwasher installation work in progress:
The existing oven got moved into the wet kitchen (they took out what I think is a sanitizing unit we obviously never used and put the oven in its place). The new Bosch (yay!) dishwasher was moved into the oven's former space. The old dishwasher is still in place. It's absolutely amazing how different the new dishwasher is compared to the old one- it actually cleans the dishes and it's so quiet! The new dishwasher is not a full-size one so with both dishwashers we have the equivalent of one full-size dishwasher. The installation took less than two hours to complete. Talk about FAST! I don't think I've ever seen any installation happen that quickly. I used the oven just a short while later to roast up a turkey. Yes, it works in its new location.
Isn't our new dishwasher so pretty??????
Can you tell what it is? It's a hydroponic growing station complete with plant lights and it's growing HERBS!!!! I've got two kinds of basil, dill, cilantro, chives, parsley, and mint growing ...and they're growing up fast! I'm so excited! This photo was taken a few weeks back- all of the pods have now germinated and some of the seedlings are going crazy and growing tall. It's such a wonderful, happy thing to look at every day. Thank you!!!!!!!
On the same day as the Third Grade Assembly, Smervyn made an appearance in Ava's classroom (with Mark in tow). Many of the kids had already seen him (Mark showed Ava's first grade class) but it seemed different this time around. Mark was asked many excellent questions about how he designed and built Smervyn. It also got Ava's teacher thinking about the possibility of having the kids build something in their classes. GREAT IDEA!!!!
6 February 2015...IST's Winter Formal for all secondary students was held at the Ritz Carlton hotel (it's a super, duper, fancy, schmancy hotel). Where did our little girl go??? Annika is all dressed up (in one of my dresses) and ready for her first dance (which includes dinner beforehand).
Hmmm...I didn't get a photo of Mimi and Annika before the crawled into the back of the hired van but here's a photo of Mimi's beautiful older sister, Ngufan, and her friend. Looking gorgeous for the formal! I am so grateful that our friend (Frances) helped us hire a van for the evening to safely transport the girls (+ one boy) as Mark was at a business dinner.
Oh, and have I mentioned to you the weirdness regarding license plates here in Tianjin and Beijing? There is one day out of the week where our car is not allowed inside Tianjin between certain hours (I think it's from 8am until 8pm but I could be wrong). Our car is not allowed into Tianjin on Fridays...and naturally the formal is held on a Friday evening. That means needing to make alternative transportation arrangements. I think many of the older secondary students end up taking a taxi but I'm not comfortable with Annika doing that without adult supervision. (I'm sure it's safe; I'm just not ready to take that leap of faith.)
7 February 2015 -
David, Lynn, and a much older Mumu came over to hang out with us and eat dinner with us. RIBS!!!! Andy, Lachlan, and Anna also came over to hang out with us as Jen was on a Beijing shopping excursion. This is the first time that Mumu interacted with us where she wasn't immediately terrified of us! LOL! She also knows that Ava is her Older Sister and Annika is Big Older Sister. I think Mumu really liked playing on our trampoline.
Here Mumu, Anna, and Annika are busy painting:
Thank you to everyone that stopped by the house (we had other friends stop by for a quick visit). It was a wonderful day!!!
8 February 2015-
Hmmmm....some of you might be aware of Mark's schnapps production. For those of you that aren't: Mark is learning how to make fruit schnapps (what you get when you ferment fruit and then distill it). He's having Still 2.0 built - it's going to be made of stainless steel and copper and will more closely resemble the still our friend, Gerhard, uses in Austria. Mark has learned a lot from Gerhard. Okay, on with the story regarding the below photo....Mark needed to make a small copper overflow cup. As I watching him pound away on the piece of copper I figured I could try making something as well. And, well....here is my first attempt at hammered copper:
Don't ask what it is....it's tiny.
Next up? A bowl? I'd like to figure out how to hammer the piece to a thinner thickness.
More randomness: Check out this funny car-shaped cutting board I found at the Aeon mall. Do you see what it states it can be used for?
"For pick nick..."
Heading over to one of the new indoor malls in downtown Tianjin (there are so many of them! How can they all co-exist??? It seems very likely that we'll see mall closures while we're living here.) This particular mall is called Riverside 66 (I'm curious if 66 means anything to anybody or what). We saw this funny Shaun the Sheep installation....I think maybe for Chinese New Year?
I am very curious if this is an authorized use of Shaun the Sheep or just fantastic look-alikes. Hmmmm....
Meanwhile in the basement of this beautiful mall is this bakery:
It's the Itchy Bakery (okay, it's not spelled exactly like itchy but it's close and I bet it's pronounced the same too). This is where they bake itches. Now you know.
Chinese New Year is coming up fast....