Tuesday, 11 December 2012


shanghai [ˈʃæŋhaɪ ʃæŋˈhaɪ] Slang
verb 1) to force or trick (someone) into doing something, going somewhere, etc.
2) the act of moving to Shanghai against ones better wishes
Okay, we weren't forced or tricked, but after only 9 short months months to call Nanjing home, I really am not ready to be leaving. Of course 95% of that is the wonderful community of people that we met here and immediately clicked with. Something that I did not feel even after nearly 5 years in Portugal, it took all of 2 weeks to find here. I will really miss the amazing ladies I met who go out of their way to befriend and support each other. For the last few weeks I have been playing ostrich and pretending that if I don't do anything to prepare for the move, then the move won't happen. That strategy apparently didn't pay off, because tomorrow the movers are coming to do an inventory, and then will be here again on the weekend to pack up our house and take everything away. Luckily I don't have far to go, and plans are already underway to see several good friends next month on a girls get-away weekend.Yea!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Chinese Halloween???

Purple Octopus!

 As you might expect, the Chinese don’t celebrate Halloween. But it is an excuse for all the expats to get together, dress up the children, having a party and trick or treat at each others’ homes. And there is the added element of seeing the expressions on the Chinese faces as a pack of young witches-devils-ghosts lǎowài walk by.

Katrin and Clare working at the NIS Autumn Fest
After last year’s Halloween Amelia declared “next year I want to be an octopus” and, Amelia being Amelia, when the time came this year and we asked her what she wanted to be she said “I told you, I am going to be an octopus.” So Katrin did what she does and fashioned a great octopus costume. The first Halloween party at her school didn’t go so well as Amelia was a bit freaked at anyone wearing a scary mask. And the first trick-or-treating house didn’t go so well either as the German couple that answered the door went a little overboard…eerie music playing, the wife creeping out of the corner of the porch in a witch costume, and the husband growling from inside the house. Amelia claimed she was done trick-or-treating after that, although we enticed her to a few more homes with the lure of waiting candy. Next year will hopefully be a little smoother, although by then maybe it will be Tristan’s turn, since this year's lion wasn't too cowardly.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Golden Week in Japan and the Philippines

Hikone Castle
China doesn’t take holi-days, they take holi-weeks. For both the National Day (establishment of the PRC was on Oct 1, 1949) and Chinese New Year the country shuts down for an entire week. So we decided to take advantage of the time off and tour some parts of Asia. With so many options to choose from, we decided to spend one week in Japan and then take an extra one in the Philippines.
Aquaduct at Nanzenji
The week in Japan was the mommy & daddy vacation where we spent a lot of time with the kids on our backs and trying to make things interesting for them while still getting to appreciate the sites and culture that we wanted to see. 
Discussing the art at the Hakone Open-Air Museum
Walking near Lake Ashi
After arriving a day late due to a typhoon, we explored the beautiful national park area around Hakone and Mt. Fuji. Despite not being able to see the mountain as it was clouded in, we enjoyed hiking around and taking in the natural landscapes. And the kids had fun on the various trains, gondolas, cable cars, and boats, as well as the wonderful Hakone Open-Air Museum, which we highly recommend for both adults and kids alike. There we all loved discussing and interacting with the installations in a beautiful mountain setting. 

Kiyomizudera Temple

Tristan waits for a bus
We then spent a few days in Kyoto which is daunting in the number of temples you feel compelled to visit (including 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites). We selected a few highlights and toured around for a couple of days at a relaxed pace and even caught a glimpse of two Geisha slipping out of a cab and into a tearoom one evening in the Gion distirct (though I wasn't fast enough with the camera). And then we would return to our shoebox hotel room in the evening and take a glorious Japanese bath. Amelia especially liked the ritual of showering and then climbing into the various baths of different temperatures. It was a very relaxing way to end a touristy day. We also did a day trip to the nearby Hikone to see a Japanese castle.

Hiking in the 2,000 year old graveyard
Amelia loved the dressed-up grave stones
After Kyoto we took a train to the mountain-top town of Koyasan where some of the 50 Buddhist temples have opened themselves up to overnight lodgers. So we had the opportunity to sleep in the temple, sit down to our private dinner (eating on the floor with pillows can be good with tired children!), take another Japanese bath, and attend ceremonies in the morning. After taking in quite a few temples on the journey, I wasn't sure how the kids would feel about staying in one, and was pleasantly surprised when Amelia said "that is so cool!" She didn't find the different tastes and textures of the vegetarian cuisine nearly as cool, but I quite enjoyed it. 
Enjoying dinner in Shukubo Temple

Joining in the Serenade 
We then left Japan for our more kid-oriented vacation in the Philippines. We stayed in a small resort in Bohol by the beach, but, as usual, the highlight of the trip was the swimming pool. Amelia and Tristan are getting much more confident in the water. Tristan can “swim” with floaties without any support from us, and Amelia is super close to being able to swim on her own without her water wings. She likes to jump into the pool so she goes completely underwater, and on this trip she practiced swimming with her snorkel mask (the snorkel got a little complicated). So when we went on a snorkel trip she jumped into the water with us and we strapped her mask on. She swam around with us looking down and saw lots of fish and even a blue starfish! She would put her head in the water for 10 seconds and then come up and very excitedly describe everything she had just seen. I think we might have a water girl on our hands. She wants to go back to the Philippines when she’s ten so she can learn how to scuba dive.
First of the boat to hit the dance floor
In addition to the pool and the ocean, we took the opportunity to take in some of the sights on the island on a day tour, including a butterfly farm, a sanctuary for tarsiers, some of the worlds smallest primates, the chocolate hills, and a river cruise. The kids really enjoyed all of these activities, and it was a great day out. 
Butterfly farm
It was great to take a two-week vacation from the Chinese hustle and bustle. And, us being us, the next planning is already underway. We’ll be in USA (California & Oregon) for the Christmas holidays and we've just purchased tickets for our February trip…Vietnam and Cambodia! For more photos of the trip, click here (and I'll be adding more in the next week or so). 

Saturday, 29 September 2012

And the little 2

That's my Happy Guy!
Tristan turned 2 while we were in the US in August, so instead of a party, he got several parties each time we visited someone new. But he didn't get a blog entry, so he deserves that as well. While 2 has brought some additional challenges, like when he is determined that even though it is 90 degrees out I need to wear shoes, not sandals, and yes, the world will end if I don't, in general he continues to be his easy-going self, nearly always cheerful, loves to laugh, talks up a storm, loves to help out, and definitely the peace-maker around here. If he hears anyone mention they need something in passing he is off to go and find it. A little sneeze and he comes running with a tissue for his big sis. When there is a disagreement he is always the first to change his tune and when asked to compromise. For example if he and Amelia are both yelling and fighting that they each want the green cup, I'll ask if he can have yellow, he will totally stop, say "OK," hand Amelia the green cup and go on like absolutely nothing was the matter 5 seconds ago.  He is my special little guy.
Hanging out with Cousin Calvin
Notice any family resemblance? 

The big 4!

Amelia's new Playhouse!
Our little big girl turned 4 this month. What a delightful person she is. At the current time she is significantly more rational than her 2-year old brother, though we expect (hope) that gap lessens with time. They are both caring, compassionate people, that make me feel (at times) like I must have done something right. Just yesterday Amelia and I baked cookies for a charity fundraiser at her school. When she noticed a few sitting on the counter she asked "why are those cookies not on the plate?" I told her I left them out for her and Tristan and Dan and I to have later. She looked at me and said "But if we take them all to school more kids can have money to go to school." Man I love that girl.

The Hungry Lion
The Tall Giraffe
For her party we invited her 15 student class of preK kids and their parents to join us for what we hoped would be games and bbq in our garden and the inauguration of Amelia's new playhouse. But with the weather gods (or the chinese government, depending on what you believe they are capable of) not cooperating we had to keep everyone in out of the rain. A few weeks prior to the party I had spied a large bin of cardboard for recycling outside of Dan's office, so I asked him to bring some home and asked Amelia what she wanted to create for the party, suggesting a castle or a house or some other singular structure. She wanted none of those. She wanted a cardboard zoo. And here it is:

The Friendly Elephant

Zebra and Pals

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Beijinhos para Biju

April 2009 - August 2012
It is with great sadness that I am writing this message. Our lovely cat, Biju, passed away suddenly on Tuesday night, two days before the kids and I returned home from our trip back to the US. When Dan got home from work that evening, Biju was quite ill. Dan took him into the vet and he was apparently in renal failure and died within a couple of hours, we do not know why his kidneys failed, as he had never before been sick a day in his life. So what was planned as our happy family reunion, turned into a sad time in our household. Here is a video in memory of him and all of the good times we had:

For those of you who did not know Biju, here is a little more about him. He was a Portuguese street cat that we adopted as a tiny 6 week old bundle of fluff who quickly grew into a 14ish pound solid cat.

He was a huge fan of all baby toys, from swings to play mats, and every little thing he could bat around. We could not have asked for a better cat with our kids, but I guess being introduced to a 9 month old baby at six weeks old probably help. He was such a stable guy, they could hug him and lie on him, and even pull his tail with nothing but a quiet meow in protest as he looked at me to ask for relief.

My favorite variation of "Biju in a Box"
His favorite games included "Biju in a Box" and "Biju in a Bag." He loved to sprint from one end of the house to the other at top speed, sliding under chairs and into furniture. He would also chase string and rope toys over furniture and in circuits around the house. Both kids loved to grab a toy and run around calling "Biju, Biju, Biju," and he normally would follow playfully.

He became fast friends with Tazzy, a friendship they maintained his whole life with frequent play sessions and  afternoon naps together. It was not uncommon to look over and see his entire head inside Tazzy's mouth as she growled in jest. He also tried to entice Blaze to play, and was even occasionally successful, although normally he would just wait until Blaze walked by and swat him in the behind.
Best of Friends
He was an indoor cat, who wanted to be an outdoor cat, so whenever the door was open and he saw his chance he would sprint through it, and about 10 feet further to the nearest pavement, where he would lay down and roll in the sun and wait for me to come and scoop him up and bring him back inside. He was so mellow and calm I could flip him over and lift him up and he just hung there. He would go limp in my arms and let me take him anywhere. We did let him have his outdoor time on harness and leash, and he was one of few cats I have met that this was an acceptable solution. He loved coming outside with us and having backyard adventures.
Lying in wait
He wanted to be part of all of the action, and was always around for family events (looking at the kids birthday pictures he is in the background of nearly every shot). He usually came to greet us at the door with the dogs, and when I walked the dogs at night, I loved looking for him sitting in the window watching for us to return.

He was never a lap cat, but when he wanted to cuddle it was normally in the middle of the night, and I would wake up with a large weight on top of my chest, and an enormously loud purr in my ear. On cold nights I could sometimes convince him to sleep under the covers as an extra body warmer. When we adopted him I was still nursing Amelia, and he loved to be with us during that time, and was super affectionate and cuddly. I was surprised when he continued this habit when Tristan was born.
Anywhere he could climb into served as a playground
This was the first time the kids have lost such a big part of their lives, and explaining it to Amelia went well. She asked some questions about his sickness and was very matter of fact about it and accepted it easily. We talked about our favorite memories of him, and watched the video together when I finished it. She brought me her doll when I was sad, and explained the doll helped her when she had an owie. We didn't explain it to Tristan, as at barely 2 we have not introduced the concept of death to him. However  it was really sad when he asked me where Biju was. I told him Biju wasn't here, and he spent the next several minutes asking me to come with him to "go find Biju."

He was much loved in his 3 short years with us. I always pictured him growing up with Amelia, as her first word was "kitty" shortly after we adopted him. We miss you big guy, and I hope you've found green fields to run in and warm patches of sun to sleep in. I'll treasure your memories and all of the happiness you brought to our family.
Baby Biju, May 2009

Sunday, 1 July 2012


A Very Accommodating Baby Elephant

It had been six months since we went on vacation, and in that time we moved our family to China and started a new life…new home, new job, new school, new country, new language. It was time for a break. After deliberating for a while to decide where to go, which mostly revolved around where it was the rainy season and where it was not, we hit on Malaysia. We just returned from a 1-week trip there.
Elephant Ride!
As you might guess, our vacation style has shifted recently, and this time more of our activity selection was centered on the kids. From Kuala Lumpur we had a guide take us out into the jungle area where we visited an elephant sanctuary. Here the kids got to ride and feed and bathe elephants. They absolutely loved it (except for the splashing). We also visited a fort with some very friendly monkeys that would take food from your hand and Amelia would let out an adorable giggle every time. The kids also had the chance to feed deer and rabbits at another little animal park. We only had to be sure to steer clear of the pythons which Amelia made very clear she did not want to see (Katrin got to detour to go check them out). We also made a stop at Batu Caves to view the temple, had a very tasty seafood dinner followed by a boat ride in the dark to go observe hundreds of fireflies lighting up the trees on the bank like Christmas lights.
Steps up Batu Caves
Also in Kuala Lumpur Katrin went to visit a biotech company that supplied us with a trial drug for our cat, Baba. She has Feline Leukemia, which is not curable, but so far they have had good results suppressing a lot of the symptoms, so we are hopeful this will make her feel better. When we returned home she had taken a turn for the worse, but seems to be perking up again, and I will let you know how she progresses.
This lady knows who to sell to!
Going Boating
A short flight then took us to a quiet resort on Redang Island. Here was pure relaxation with the softest white sandy beach, a plethora of tropical fish to see while snorkeling, warm and calm water, ice cream walks on the beach after dinner, and so on. We also found it unusual to be on holiday at the beach and spend a few hours each afternoon in the hotel room, but since the kids are still napping each day and, like I said, this trip was centered around the kids so we had to take turns hiding in the room during nap time. Of course, the kids spent most of their awake time in the pool and ocean, which is also good as Amelia is getting more confident as a swimmer (using floaties) and Tristan is learning from her.

Water Slide
The area was a bit special since there was good snorkeling right off the beach. It was a good opportunity for one of us to go snorkeling while the other played with the kids by the beach, and then switch. Most of our fellow tourists were from Japan or China or India, and the snorkeling was interesting because most of them can’t swim. So they would float around in their life preservers holding onto each other, occasionally poking their heads into the water. They were also into feeding the fish and I was impressed to see my kids literally surrounded by little reef fish and not freaking out. It was quite fun.

Palau Redang...Is it Paradise?
It was a great trip, and I guess to attest to that fact, the worst moment I can think of was when we had to explain to Amelia that when we said we were going to take a ferryboat, it didn't mean a Fairy Boat. The big watery eyes and quivering lip were heartbreaking. Other than that it was all really wonderful, not only to relax on the beach, but honestly also to take a break from China. It’s a fun adventure here but it’s also not easy sometimes. It was a nice opportunity to leave behind the traffic and noise, the pollution and endless smogginess, the challenges of shopping and getting stuff done. And the trade that in for a quiet peacefulness, a night sky full of stars, and bright blue sunny days. Now it’s back to work for awhile and looking forward to the next trip…for Katrin and the kids that means California and Oregon in two weeks, but for me it will not be until October when we’re thinking of going to Japan and perhaps the Philippines.

Monday, 25 June 2012

We're Still Here!

I can't believe we went two months without posting...I guess in some ways you can take that as a good thing, since that means we have been keeping ourselves busy in other ways.

May started out with our first visitor, as Grandma Karen made the trip and got to spend her 60th Birthday with us. The kids got to have a lot of wonderful Grandma time, and I was able to actually get a few things accomplished. Unfortunately one of those things was to take our second cat, Baba, to a western vet in Shanghai where we learned that she has a tumor in her abdomen that is most likely cancer. It wasn't a huge surprise, since she is FeLV positive, but still not good to hear. We have tried some new therapies that seem to be making her feel better, including a new trial drug from Malaysia (more on that later), so hopefully we can at least give her a good quality of life in whatever time she has left with us, which has been our goal since we pulled her off the street last summer.

Just a few days after my mom left, our container finally arrived! It only took 11.5 weeks, and then it was like Christmas, except with way more work organizing everything afterwards. Amelia was shrieking and dancing when nearly every single box was opened and it's contents revealed (oh wow, look at that! Salad tongs and a can opener and a frying pan, hehehe!) Now we feel like have things basically organized, but still a long list of things we want to do and buy to make the place feel like home. And there is still currently nothing on the walls, so still a ways to go.

June brought us Amelia's school production (will post photos separately), a 10 day trip for Dan to Australia and New Zealand, which felt like a long time to those of us still at home, and a family vacation to Malaysia. I'll try to post more on these soon, but wanted to post something to let everyone know we are still out here!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Tomorrow after Tomorrow

We tried to go to our neighborhood post office to pick up a package (thanks Coco!) yesterday, and it was closed, in the middle of the day on a Friday, with a sign taped to the door. I wasn't the only one surprised by this, and many people were crowding around to read the sign. Of course I might have been the only one who had no idea what it said. Our driver got out to offer his help and read the sign and I guess didn't know how to explain it in English to me, so he simply said, "maybe tomorrow?" And then added "or the tomorrow after tomorrow." While not grammatically correct, it struck me as a beautiful turn of phrase. Maybe we should start using it.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Easter Egg Hunt

Found all the eggs (and the chocolates)!
Found one!
There it is!
Jello-Dyed Easter Eggs
I wasn't really planning on doing eggs this year, as obviously Easter isn't really celebrated in China, and I didn't think Amelia knew anything about it. But when we bought some regular old eggs at the store and they happened to come in a small plastic basket, she said "We can use that basket for our Easter eggs!" I don't know where she learned about Easter from, or if it was just coincidence that she said this 2 days before Easter, but I took it as a sign that we should color some eggs. Next problem, of course there are no egg dying kits and I also couldn't find food coloring, so what to dye the eggs with? I weighed some options and ended up going for...Jello! It was relatively cheap, colored the eggs well, and Amelia and I had a lot of fun decorating them. They ended up rather sticky, but it turns out that washed off and still left all of the color, so a successful venture after all. The Easter bunny hid the eggs and some chocolates in the yard, and both kids had a great time finding them, in fact so much fun that we have been playing Easter bunny all week and hiding all kinds of things in the house and yard. 

In case you were wondering, the bandage on Amelia's chin was a little too much twirling in the shallow end of the baby pool. Healing nicely now, and after the first day she didn't seem to notice it too much.

No match for an eager 3-year old

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Boxes of Fun

We received word recently that our container that left our house in Aveiro on February 29th and started it's long journey around the world a few days later, was held up in Spain and waited out nearly the entire month of March there. So what we thought would be 6-8 weeks of waiting is already stretching longer. The current estimate is arrival in China the first week of May, followed by 7-10 business days to clear customs, puts us at about May 15th for the earliest possible arrival, though I think the smart money is even later. Luckily our house is semi-furnished, so this time around we have beds, sofas, and a dining room table. Plus our air-shipment arrived with a couple of boxes each of kitchen supplies, clothes, toys, and a few other miscellaneous essentials. However, after a month the kids are already getting a little bored of the few toys we have on hand, so we had to create something to bridge the gap until the rest arrives. So, those boxes from our air-shipment are now doing double duty and keeping the kids entertained. 
Baking up a Storm

 A New Home for the Dolls


Once we made the Doll's House, we had to go bigger!

We've only got one left though, any ideas? 

Sunday, 1 April 2012

No Foolin'

In what I hope to be the first of many installments of interesting and amusing signs we see during our stay in China. Here is a good one from our walk yesterday:
Ooops, forgot a very important word here...what could it be?
And a little family photo. Currently Spring is in full force with trees in bloom everywhere you look.
Amelia is still not fond of everyone wanting to take her picture, however, when we saw a wedding couple taking photos in the park and they asked Amelia to be in one, she could not say no, after all she was going to get her picture taken with a bride, a BRIDE! And she had flowers, and a tiara, and PINK SHOES, and did we mention that Amelia is a little obsessed with brides and weddings at the moment?