Sunday, August 28, 2011


Dude, I wasn't doooooooooooooooone. So. My mouse just goes all over randomly and selects random things by itself sometimes. I'm not kidding. It's been like this forever. It's a laptop, right? And I think that, if it sees a shadow from one of my fingers, it goes there. We've tried using a normal mouse, but then the laptop mouse won't turn off and allow the normal mouse to do its thing. It's crazy. And it really, really makes me mad.

So just a couple of more things to add. An appendix to my last e-mail, if you will. I was going to write about Ben's trip to Beijing. In that e-mail, it just says, with no period to end it, "Ben went to Beijing". Nice.

Mr. Smith Goes to Beijing

Kay. So Ben went to Beijing last Monday. He had to pay a company there to translate some architectural drawings from the states into Mandarin - just, like, the notes on the sides and all that stuff. But they wouldn't take a credit card number. Ben had to pay them cash. And they required him to go up and pay it in person. No kidding. So he and Jack headed up there. Ben arranged a meeting with the Chinese company he works with on this project, NCPE. Their main office is up there, so he wanted to meet with them regarding some of the LIES the guy down here has been telling.

So they got up there (they took the "bullet train," but it still took an hour to go 80 miles), got a taxi, drove for a zillion years and paid an enormous taxi fare, and delivered the money to the translation service. There is a mass transit system there - an underground subway - but Jack is really unfamiliar with it and was nervous trying to navigate it, especially since they had to have this meeting at a specific time.

So then they went to the meeting. The liar man was actually there, and he continued with his lying. But everything got ironed out in time. When Ben and Jack were leaving the meeting, Jack said, very naively, "You know, I think that man is using you as an excuse because he is not doing his work." Ben said, "Ya think??" Haha!

Then they got into another taxi and drove for a zillion years and found my western market. The sweethearts. It was very over-priced, so Ben only bought a few things. Baking powder, baking soda, yeast, chocolate syrup, and chocolate chips. We actually made pancakes the other morning, but we didn't have syrup. Ben tried to make some of his own with our sugar, but it didn't turn out very...syrupey. Maybe next time he goes up there he can find some maple syrup.

Then they drove for another zillion years, went to the train station, waited in a huge line for a zillion years, and finally got on the train and headed home. He didn't get home until 10 at night. Left at 7 a.m. and got home at 10 p .m. A long day. Most of it spent in a taxi.

Household Cleaning Adjustments

See? My laptop just did it again. It tried to make me type clear up by "Mr. Smith Goes to Beijing." My heck. Welll, you can't see that it happened. But you'll have to take my word for it.

Kay. So. Our kitchen does not have hot water. I think we would have to purchase a little separate water heater for the kitchen if we wanted hot water. And I don't get the feeling that Professor Han cares to put any more work into our apartment. So what I do is I get a big old bowl, go to our bathroom, fill it up with hot water, and bring it into our kitchen. Pour it into the plugged sink. Then do that two more times, then add a little bit of cold water from the faucet, and voila. I have warm water for cleaning my dishes properly. Sheesh.

So these bathrooms don't have any, like, shower doors or curtains or anything. The bathrooms are set maybe 2 inches lower than the hallways outside the bathroom doors. The floors are supposed to slant down to the drain under the shower head. "Supposed to" being the key words there. Our floor does no such thing. So it's a good thing the bathroom has that big lip by the door, because otherwise it would flood our entire bedroom every time we showered. So anyways, when we're done showing, there is a two-inch pool of standing water. So we have to use our floor mop and kind of sweep the water toward the drain. Sweep, sweep, sweep. Then it gets to the point, after a long while, that you can use the mop as a kind of squeegie. Sweep to the drain, squeeeze the mop. Sweep to the drain, squeeze the mop. What a pain in the arse.

They're Kids; They Don't Need to Match.

So with fall/winter quickly approaching, we've decided to start buying cold weather clothes. We didn't have space to pack both summer and winter clothes, so we planned to kind of buy clothes here. You gotta do what you gotta do - we had a flight luggage weight limit per person, and that was that. I decided that we should kind of spread the expense out into several weeks, buying one family member's winter clothing one week, another family member's winter clothing the next week, etc.

So I decided to take Gagey with me (and Summer, of course) to the flea market to get some clothes. I say "flea market," but it really is nice. Think Portabello Road. Or if you haven't been to Portabello Road, think several booths, all with new clothes that are, like, the price of Old Navy. And you got it.

I had to take Gage along, because their sizes are different here. They have baby size small, medium, and large. Then children's size small, medium, and large. And then adult's size small, medium, and large. Etc. I had no idea what to get for him.

They have tons and tons of adorable clothes. My problem is that nothing matches each other. And I've noticed that on the streets. Kids wear clothes that don't match. The adults' clothes match, but not the kids' clothes. It's bizarre. So I would find the cutest little shirt, and then look around for some pants to go with it - none to be had. And no plain jeans, either. All the jeans have huge, neon writing on them and fake paint splashes on them and stuff. Or I would find the cutest little pants, and no tops to go with them. I saw the cutest little Angry Birds pants. I had to get them. And then I had Summer ask the lady, "Is there a shirt that matches it?" The shopkeeper looked at me like, "Why does it matter if your kids match?" She halfheartedly pointed to some random shirt that did not in ANY way match the pants. I was getting really hot, and Gage was having a barfing day and had barfed all over me, and he was ornery, so I got just these few random things, none of which matched each other, and hightailed it out of there. I think I'll try to go back this week and see if I can find matching stuff, just all on my own. Sheesh.

Again, I am persnickity. I like clothes to match. If I get a Plants vs. Zombies shirt (Summer calls it Plants and Zooombeey. So cute), which I did, by the way, that is red, with a green plant on it, I want to find either some jeans for Gage to wear, or maybe a green pair of sweats. Or a black pair of pants. Or something. I don't want to put him in bright orange sweats with big purple English sentences with bad grammar! People here wear shirts that say English things on them all the time, but they're written badly. Like, I was telling my friend Nicole this - one girl I saw wore a shirt that I saw that said, "Done't leave me." Another shirt I saw in the store says, "Sports is life in the history." Just funny stuff like that.

Kay. So now I'm done with my e-mail for reals this time. Sorry so long, guys.

Peace out,

Chinese Siesta‏

What's up, homies? :)

Hm. I'm not sure the last time I sent one of these blasts out, but I'm sure it wasn't that long ago. Who knew that I had that much to say? Oh, wait, you ALL knew that about me. Kar always has something to say.

The thing is, we're not really doing a whole lot. We wanted to take this trip to the beach, but we've decided to hold off. Here's the deal - we are required, under our visas, to leave the country every 90 days, and then re-enter. I don't know why; but we do what they say. :) So we have to leave the country the first week of October, then the first week of January. Lex will be here the last week of December and the first week of January, so we're going to do Beijing the first week she's here and then we've decided to do Thailand with her the second week. And we really want to see Hong Kong, so we've decided to go there the first week of October. These trips won't be cheap, especially Hong Kong, which I have heard is really expensive, so we decided to just kind of hunker down and save money. It was, "should we do a bunch of little trips or a few big trips?" And we decided on the big trips. So we're really boring; we don't really go anywhere or do anything. Yet I still have so much to tell you. So here we are.

General Kid News

Gagey-pooh now has five teeth - three upper, two lower. He's doing a pretty good job feeding himself certain types of foods, but sometimes, for instance, I'll be eating a sandwich and he'll want a bite, even though he's had an entire half sandwich two minutes ago. So I'll rip some off and kind of tuck it in his mouth, and I've gotten bitten HARD. He bites and then doesn't know how to let go. Kind of like that toddler in that A Series of Unfortunate Events book. He bit Micah's finger today when Micah was trying to help him eat, and he just...couldn't figure out how to unchomp his jaw. It's funny. Yet painful for the recipient.

Micah is...Micah. He is my little shadow - he's always been like this, but it's been especially intense since we've been in China. If I go somewhere, even down to the corner store to buy water or anything, he HAS TO BE WITH ME. I usually acquiesce - it's good for him to get out of the apartment. And he has to hold my hand the ENTIRE TIME we're outside. Usually, that's fine. But if I take garbage bags down with me (and I usually do), if I let go of his hand to unlock the front door of our building, he freaks out. I'm like, "Hon, I needed my hand to unlock the door." Tonight, he had a big freak out when Ben had to let go of his hand for a moment to throw the garbage into the dumpster outside. It's driving me nuts. I'm trying to figure out what I can do to make him feel more safe. I feel badly that he feels so threatened all the time. He copes by picking his nose or grabbing his private parts. Therefore, he spends most of his time with his hand on his crotch and his finger up his nose. Sigh. I need to do some more praying and thinking about that kiddo. Any ideas?

So I've told you that small children, from birth to maybe two years old, either go around without pants on at all, or they wear pants with big holes where the crotch should be, right? Right. We've established this fact. Sadie is still struggling with seeing everyone's private parts all over the place. We were getting housewares at the flea market a few weeks ago, and this adorable little boy was with his mom and was just fascinated by Sadie. Sadie and I were waiting inside, out of the rain, for Summer to try to call a taxi. So the little toddler comes up to Sadie, smiling huge, just adorable...and then Sadie saw his nethers, frowned, and hid behind me. I felt badly. I told the child's mom I was sorry - "toy po she." I'm sure she was confused as to why Sadie suddenly was so cold to the kid - it's his privates.

We were down on the street last week, walking back from the post office, and we stopped to watch a man who was making sculptures to sell. He used some kind of extremely fast-setting solution. He had rubber molds of all kinds of stuff - dragons, elephants, horses, Chairman Mao, Buddha, etc. So he would use this stuff that looks like flour, add some water, mix it up really fast, and pour it into one of these molds. Literally 30 seconds later, the sculptures were set. So he would peel the rubber molding off, and there was his sculpture. Then he had this gold paint. The customer who had committed to buying one of these sculptures could paint it themselves if they wanted, or they could have the guy do it. So you paint the sculpture with gold paint, and voila - a cheesy knickknack that kind of looks like real gold! I thought they were ugly as sin, but my kids were just fascinated and wanted to watch for awhile. There were a whole bunch of people on the street watching this guy work. Among them was a grandma and her husband, who were looking after their twin grandbabies. The grandbabies looked maybe Gage's age. So they were holding the babies and watching, and Sadie caught a glimpse of one of the baby's private parts. She frowned and said to me, "I can see that baby's pee-pee." "Yes, honey. Remember that they don't use diapers here," I reminded her. The grandmother heard us speaking, and she heard the word "pee-pee," and I don't know what "pee-pee" means here, but it must mean something really great or really worth talking about, because she just started chattering on and on. "Blah blah blah blah pee-pee. Pee-pee blah blah. Blah blah pee-pee blah blah blah." On and on about pee-pee. I just nodded vaguely, smiled and said goodbye to the lady, and steered the kids home. It was funny.

Cute Stuff My Kids Say

Sadie loves to play checkers on the iPad. But she keeps thinking that checkers is called chess. And she is so cute - she calls it "chest." It's so cute - I don't correct her. Is that wrong? Tonight, she said, "Mommy, when you put the baby to bed, can you and me play a game?" "Sure, hon. What do you want to play?" "Chest."

Sadie is quite the worry-wart lately. We have lots of conversations - initiated by her - about the future. About turning into a woman and being a mom, specifically.

Sadie: Mom, how am I going to know how to cook when I'm a woman?

Me: I'll teach you while you're a child and a teenager. By the time you leave the house, you'll know what to do.

Sadie: Do I have to shave my armpits like you do when I'm a woman?

Me: Well, you don't have to, but don't you think it's pretty gross when men lift up their arms and there's all this hair in there?

Sadie: Yes. Will you teach me how to do it?

Me: Sure, when the time comes. You bet.

Sadie: If I want to become a cook when I'm a woman, how do I do that?

Me: Well, you go to culinary school.

Sadie: Well, what if I want to be a hairdresser?

Me: You go to beauty school.

Sadie: What did you do to earn money when you became a woman?

Me: I taught school.

Sadie: [laughing] No you DIDN'T!!

Me: [smiling] Yes I did!

Sadie: What if I don't want to be a mom? What if I just want to be a woman?

Me: You don't have to be a mom unless you want to be.

Sadie: I want to be married. But I don't want to be a mom.

Me: Well, that's just fine.

Sadie: But how to I keep from having kids if I'm married?

Me: take a pill every day to make sure.

Sadie: Do you take that pill every day?

Me: Yep.

Sadie: But you had kids!

Me: Well, I stopped taking my pill when I wanted kids.

Sadie: [the lightbulb turns on over her head] Ahhhhhh...

I have such worrywart children. I wonder where they get it from? *cough*my mom*cough* :) Love you, Mom!

Having Babies in China

Speaking of having children, Summer and I had an interesting conversation the other day. We were on the bus, and there was this cute little baby in his/her mom's arms. I can't ever tell which sex the baby is, because they shave all kids' heads until they're, like, three. Someone asked me the other day if Micah was a boy or girl. I was like, "Uh, boy." I think they're used to seeing girls in boys' clothes and not knowing which sex the kid is. They make no efforts to dress infant or toddler girls in girly clothes. If the girl has an older brother, she wears his old clothes. Or if she has an older boy cousin, she wears his clothes. Back to my story. So this baby's cute little chunky butt cheeks were there on his/her mom's forearm
I pointed at the baby and said, "Aw. I love babies so much." Summer said, "Oh, I do, too, but I don't know if I'm brave enough to have one." I laughed and said, "All you need is the epidural. Then you will be brave enough." After some discussion, I cleared up what an epidural is - she didn't know the term; I didn't expect her to. She says, "Oh, the shot in the back?" "Yes!" She frowned and told me that, in China, yet another law which totally tramples on peoples' personal lives is that you can only get an epidural if you get an elective or emergency c-section. If you choose to deliver vaginally, and there are no complications (despite the fact that you feel like you are going to DIE from the pain), you are SOL. Isn't that horrible??? I told her she'd better have her babies in the U.S. She laughed. So then she wondered if she should someday just plan on a c-section or deliver vaginally. I told her that was a tough call. Then she said, "I think I'd rather have a c-section then have that cut that they give you so the baby's head can come out. Did you have to do that??" I laughed. "Have you SEEN my kids' heads?" Hahaha! I told her that it didn't hurt at the time, because I had an epidural; that I couldn't imagine how it would feel without one. I told her it was easy enough to recover from, though. She shuddered. She said I was so brave to have had four kids - I've heard this before, from other women here. I've always thought they referred to how hard it is to raise four kids, but now I wonder if they're all under the misguided notion that I had all four vaginally, with no epidural, and got those cuts with no painkiller at all?? Trust me, ladies, I want to say, I am NOT that brave.

Oh, and another thing - men are not allowed in the birthing rooms. Your mom can be there, and the doctor and nurses can be there, but not your husband. Sad.


I just can't get used to the whole milk. I can take a bus to this one market and get 1% or 2%, but if time is a problem, I go to the corner market and just get the whole milk. Ben and the kids love it - I'm not a huge fan. So I usually go without, or drink something else. And if I refrigerate the milk and eggs and pretend that's how I got them in the first place, I feel better about it. It's a little game I have to play with myself. Hahaha! It's hard, being a persnickity person, and living in China. China is not a place for persnickity people. :) The milk comes in 8-oz bags, which I think is funny. We pour several bags into a pitcher and keep it refrigerated.

The eggs don't come in cartons. They put eggs in a regular grocery bag. And you have to hope that they don't get too jostled on your way home. You keep them in the bag in your fridge, and again, you hope they stay put and don't roll out onto the floor and crack (that happened to me tonight).

Luckily, I'm able to access anything on the net that's not social media, like facebook or blogger. So I can look up many, many Asian recipes. That's what I did all this week. I got onto and looked up Chinese food recipes - they have zillions of them. But they're Americanized Chinese recipes, so they're more like what you would have if you went to a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. Earlier this week, I decided to make Kung Pao Chicken and Cabbage Salad - that kind that has the crunchy ramen noodles, chopped almonds, etc. All of the ingredients were available either down on Stinky Street or at the market down what we call Party Street, two bus stops away. And then I made rice for the chicken to go on, obviously. And it turned out great! Ben made a stir-fry the other evening while the kids and I were finishing up with homeschooling (more on that later), again, with rice. And tonight we had Asian pork ribs and Chinese potato salad, which has bok choy, red bell pepper, and cilantro in it. I was so surprised/excited that they had cilantro at the market that I let out a little squeal, which made the veggie ladies laugh at me even harder. I think they must call me "Wa schwah da bo how Girl" or something. Because you might remember that I said that to them last week, which means, "I don't speak well." And they had laughed so hard at me at the time - I wonder if I accidentally said something different, like, "I love to kiss chicken beaks," or something. Because now, whenever I go to get veggies, they chuckle and keep saying under their breath to each other, "Wa schwah da bo how.... blah blah blah....wa schwah da bo how... hahaha!!" They're good-natured when they laugh at me, and honestly, I'm laughing at myself most of the time, so whatevs. I know they like me.

Summer went with me to the store on Party Street to help me find stuff - chili paste, brown sugar, etc. Thank goodness she was there. She had to ask the women in the store about a lot of the stuff - I don't think she cooks very often. She didn't know where to get cornstarch, but the ladies showed us. Cornstarch here is yellow, and more course than the cornstarch in the states. I grabbed butter (I know where that is now), and Summer made the comment that the Chinese don't often use butter. There were, like, only four boxes available to grab, instead of whole sections for butter, like in the states. I told her that butter is the reason Americans are so fat. :) I have everything I need to make chocolate chip cookies except for a cookie sheet and shortening. I described what shortening is to Summer, and she said, "The bakery must know where to get some. They make things that have to require that ingredient." I agreed. They've got weird-tasting cookies and some weird little pastry things they make. So she asked the bakery lady about it. She nodded and said she has some, but doesn't know where to get it. Then she actually offered to put some in a canister and sell it to us, but then her boss said no. So that was that. Ah well.

Cheese is soooo not available here. But I did see some at the market that is farther away, Da Fu Yuen. I'll have to go get some sometime. Oh, and I did find brown sugar! It's very dark, and it smells strongly like molasses. So what you told me, Deann, about the lady you know who makes her own brown sugar with molasses, can't be far off. I had no idea you could do that!!

I buy my bananas from the same lady always. She's adorable and has really cute little dogs. (Everyone on Stinky Street brings their dogs with them to work. They are extremely docile. I love it.) She thinks I am so, so funny. And she thinks my kids are funny. The whole time I'm getting bananas from her, she just chuckles and chuckles. When I ask for 4 or 5 bananas, hahahaha. When I ask how much they are, hahahaha. When I give her the money, hahaha. She's hilarious. Sometimes my kids and I, or just I, pass by her on the other side of the street when we are going to the vegetable market or to the corner store to get water or whatever. And I hear her laughing when she catches sight of us. The cackling banana lady. I love her.

There are a few things to eat here that we actually LIKE. The list is small, but it's there. They have all of this luxuriously-flavored milk. Mango milk. Apple milk. etc. etc. Dylan really, really loves apple milk. I think it tastes horrible. But I buy it for him, and he drinks it by the gallon. I haven't been able to find ice cream in tubs or gallons or anything like that, but they do have ice cream bars, and they are YUMMY. There is one I really like that is vanilla ice cream on the inside with white chocolate on the outside. Oh baby. Ben had one the other day that was mango-flavored on the inside with white chocolate on the outside. I want to try that one next time.

Um, yeah, and that's our list of things we like. Hahaha! Two items.


I've heard of cicadas, just in passing, but I've never really seen them. They are all over the trees here, and they are LOUD. They get louder when people walk under the trees. And I notice that they're louder on hotter days and quieter on not-so-hot days. I've never actually seen one - I had no idea what they looked like. Until I saw a dead one the other day on the sidewalk. Actually, I thought it was a really, really gigantic fly. Like, the size of Micah's fist. Enormous. Ben was like, "No, that's a cicada!" Whaaaaaat? That's what has been over our heads all this time? Apparently, they only come out and breed every five to ten years. This year happened to be the year. Then they, like, have little bug sacs or whatever the heck and bury them in the ground. And then in five to ten years, those babies will come out and hang out in the trees and be loud. Who knew? Not me.

Ben's Work Status

Good news - Ben went to his job site a week ago because another shipment of stuff came in from the states. When shipments come in, he always goes to make sure things get unloaded carefully and correctly. And guess what - they have started work on the job site! I guess the kind of...angry...e-mails they got from Ben's bosses in the states made them a little more motivated to get the ball rolling. So it looks like things are going better. (Part of me was hoping we'd be sent home! Hahaha!) One of the boss guys was there, and he invited Ben out to eat when they were done - Ben didn't get home until nine or ten. I guess they went and got donkey burgers - a local specialty. Barf me.

Ben in Beijing

Ben had a meeting in Beijing

Laundry in China

People are always like, "I love it when clothes dry outside on the line! I love how they smell!" But I've always felt like 'outside smell' is kind of stinky. Like, when my kids come in from playing outside, I'm usually like, pew. Hahaha! And hanging clothes outside here is just a bad idea. It's wayyyy too dirty and stinky. I'm really, really glad we got our lines set up inside. I have to do some more laundry today. For some reason, having this system, with the clothes lines, is making it easier to get laundry done. I don't know why that is. I wash two loads every day, then hang them up. Then, the next morning, I pull them down and fold them, then wash two more. And I'm actually on top of the laundry situation for the first time in...years. :) The kids ADORE hanging up and taking stuff down from the line. And I let them. I just set up some chairs in there and let them go at it. They actually fight over who gets to hang stuff up. I love it.


Ugh, school started Wednesday and we still haven't gotten their school supplies yet. Ben's company shipped them ages ago, but we haven't heard or seen anything. We work with this teacher through e-mail, so she mailed me a contingency plan for one week of lesson plans that are only web-based. So we're doing that for now. Usually, it's a bit of old-fashioned book learning mixed with on-line learning. And different kinds of assessments - some online, some worksheets that the kids do, and then you scan them and e-mail them. So we had to do a bit of improvising. The kids take a 2nd grade science class together (Dylan's in 3rd grade and Sadie's in 1st grade), and we had to do a lesson on tools used for metric measuring. So what we were supposed to do was get these tools out of their school supplies boxes, show them how they work, and do this flash card matching thing where we match the card, which has either the name of a tool, what a tool measures, or what unit of measurement the tool uses. So you get a card, and if it says, "mass," you put it next to the balance. If you get a card that says "graduated cylinder," you put it by the graduated cylinder. If you get a card that says "degrees celsius," you put it next to the thermometer. So, we didn't have any of these things to show, so I printed pictures of them instead and had the kids match the things up to the pictures instead of the actual objects. (Sadie did NOT get it and only got a 60% on her online assessment, so we have to do that lesson for her again. A big difference from 1st grade to second grade.) They also take history together, and we had to do this activity where we color and cut out pictures of several animals, and then we were supposed to have this big inflatable world globe. We were supposed to tape the pictures of the animals onto the continents where they live. So instead, I printed out world maps and had the kids tape the animals onto that. So we're making due, but dang, I'd like to have the books, workbooks, teacher resource books, etc. to use. But I really am impressed with the Idaho Virtual Academy. I think it's going to give my kids a challenging and thorough education.

If I can figure out how to not take 12 hours a day teaching both of them. Maybe it's because we don't have the supplies. Maybe it's because I'm a bad time manager. I do try to have them do things at the same time whenever possible, but the fact of the matter is that our broadband is very small. So we can only have one person online at a time. And often, the kids need help navigating the online lessons, assessments, etc. So yeah. It's taking us 12 hours per day this past week. Thank goodness Ben hasn't had a ton to do at work; he's been kind of cooking and cleaning while I've been teaching. But when he has to go to work every single day, I am so screwed.

The Adult Big Toys

I have to come up with sixty minutes of P.E. EVERY SINGLE DAY! This is such a pain in the butt!!! We went down to this big toy area in our little neighborhood for the three days of school last week and had a good time.

It's interesting - the big toy-type playground I took the kids to has stuff for adults, too. Things that rub your back; things that help you stretch, things that help you exercise... It's hard to describe. Okay. They have, like, a metal, very old thing that's like a NordicTrack. And they have this thing that is like a disk that rotates. It's near the ground. So you step on it, and hold onto these bars, and you twist from left to right, left to right, to, like, stretch your sides. There's this thing that massages your calves. It's so weird! So when we were there, the sun was just setting, and that's when all of these old ladies and old men came out in droves, to do these exercising/stretching/rubbing things. The weather is actually cooling down and feels quite pleasant at night lately. A bunch of them tried to speak to me, and of course, I couldn't understand them, but I'm catching on a little bit more. I figured out the word for "pretty" all on my own - they all use it when they're talking about Sadie and touching her hair, which she really hates. It's "pee-yow lee-ong." And I'm starting to recognize the names of the ages of my kids - "sahn-sway" is "three years old," "wu-sway" is "five years old," and "bah-sway" is "eight years old." Again, I've only figured this out because when I'm out with the kiddies, people seem to indicate, "How old are they?" So I point to the kids and use the hand signals. So, when I do the signal for "three," they nod and say, "Ah. Sahn-sway..." Things like that. So being here, seeped in the culture, is helping my Mandarin a TEENY bit. "Ee-tay-are," which means, "a little." :)

I've seen these types of playgrounds-for-adults-and-children all over the city, and after my experience the other night, I'm wondering if all of the other play areas are just as inhabited by adults at night as ours is. And then I wonder why everyone is always so sore, needing to rub and massage and stretch. Maybe because they are all older. But here's my theory. I think it's from those horrible Chinese mattresses that feel like rocks. Seriously; how can anyone's body feel okay when they sleep on something like that??? I would be sore all the time, too.

Rubma But

Funny story. I hope Nat doesn't mind me sharing it. So there was a girl she went to college with named Amber Tub. And I don't know WHO figured this out, or HOW, but they figured out that, if they said the girl's first name backward, it was Rebma, and the last name back word, But. So if you put it together, it's "Rebma But." Which they decided is like "Rubma But." Like "rub my butt." I love that story.

I had sciatica pretty badly on my left side when I was pregnant with Micah, and it flares up every now and then. And it feels really good to, well, "Rubma But." I have this massaging wand thing that I'll use. I don't have it here - luggage room was so minimal for us coming over. But my bumb has been really, really hurting since we've been here - on both sides. And since I don't have my wand, I'm always begging Ben to "Rubma But." I'm trying to figure out why it has flared up since we've been here. Possible causes I've come up with are as follows: 1) These floors are different than the flooring at home. Hard concrete with laminate floor on top (it's NOT hardwood, like I thought). So maybe my body is having a hard time with that adjustment. 2) Stress. I've heard that people carry a lot of stress in their butts. And emotions. In their butts. I heard from somewhere that, if you get a deep tissue massage on your butt, you cry and laugh and scream and sob, etc. It just lets everything out. Maybe I'm carrying my stress in my bumb. 3) Increased intake of coke, or as they say here in Northern China, "Kaluah." (Gabby told us they call it Co-Cola, but she's from the south, by Hong Kong. I found out later that they call Coke "Co-Cola" in the south, but in the north, it's "Kaluah.") Water isn't clean out of the tap, right? We have bottled water in the fridge, but it just tastes weird to me. I'm trying to drink as much water as I used to, but I must admit that I've been bad. I find myself reaching for Coke more often as a result of stress, also. I've always used Coke as a stress-relief thing, which is unfortunate, but true. And I think Greg, my stepfather-in-law, once told me that caffeine makes his sciatica worse. I wonder if I should get off the coke and see if it helps. 4) Sitting on these piece of crap chairs for like 12 hours a day doing dang homeschooling. I don't know how these ladies who homeschool and make homemade jam and sew all their kids clothes, etc. (I'm talking about you, Lyndsay - you are ASTOUNDING) DO it!!! I'm failing horribly! Hopefully I'll get into more of a rhythm and get better at doing two things at once with my kiddos. But for now, we sit on these horrible chairs, which are like a piece of cardboard with a crocheted thingey on them, which are then on top of these metal bars that cross to make a chair. Think the torture chair in Casino Royale, and you have our kitchen chairs. But with cardboard on them. Okay, not really cardboard. But plywood. For sure. No spongey material. No cushioney material.

Another Retraction

Baoding has two million people, not six million. My bad. Just FYI.

Cute Things Dylan Says

Dylan and Sadie are taking an art class. I had to read the introduction to the class with them on Wednesday. The introduction is all, "You'll be going to your local craft store and buying this and that and making sculptures and doing this project and that project..." and I'm like, "Um, craft store???" It's just going to be tons of work and tons of preparation. I'm soooo not thrilled about it. However, Dylan was so cute - I love the things that come out of his mouth. They were all, "Look at both of these pictures. They are both of animals. One is realistic and one is abstract." So it showed, like, a realistic painting of a rabbit on the left, and then some Picasso thing on the right that is supposed to be a dragonfly and a snake, but you can't tell. I thought Dylan would be like, "That picture on the right is so weird. That doesn't look like a dragonfly and a snake!!" But he was adorable. He looked at them and said (all by himself - no prompting from me), "You know, even though the one on the right doesn't look like an animal, it's still beautiful." Sniff, sniff. Tears welling in my eyes. He takes after my own artistic heart. What a babe.

Another cute thing he said the other day - he had, like, a blood smear on his cheek. And I was like, "Dude, what's on your cheek? It looks like a blood smear." And he goes, "Oh, it's probably chocolate." (The kids love this chinese snack called Cacao Pies. Think Twinkies with chocolate on the outside of the spongecake part.) I was like, "Well, go wash it off." So he went into the bathroom and washed it off, and he came back out and said, acting like he was admitting something horrible, "The truth? I sometimes pick my nose. And then it bleeds and it gets all over." Hahaha! I laughed and laughed. "The truth?" Oh, how I love him.


I tried to go get my haircut last week - the haircutting joints stay open until, like, 10. It's crazy. And cool. I decided to go to a different one this time, because I seriously got PTSD after my last haircut - they didn't sweep up the hair on the floor until the end of the day, and then they just dump it all in the gutter. I'm not even kidding. There was something leaking in there, so you had to wade through old, stagnant, water-from-who-knows-where, with hair in it, to go get your hair washed. And then, when they dry your hair with a towel, they hang it outside on a rack to dry, and then they USE IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. All day. I'm not kidding. Who knows how many heads my towel had touched when they put it on my hair!!! Shudder. So I decided to go to a place that, like, maybe won't give me tapeworm. Hahaha! I brought a picture so that poor Summer didn't have to accompany me again. So I printed off my picture and headed down to this place Ben got his head shaved at. He said it was much cleaner. It's further down Stinky Street, across from the post office. So I showed my picture to the dude in there, and he spoke a teeny bit of English. He muttered and tugged at my hair, turned the picture upside-down and right side up, muttered some more, tugged some more, and said, "No, you hair too short for this cut. You come back in three weeks." I was trying to tell him that I just needed it shaped upa bit; less shaggy, less Ramona Quimby, Age 8-ish - but how do you communicate that to a person who can't speak English? I didn't necessarily want it cut shorter - I wanted it shaped up. A very different thing. Anyways, he just shooed me out the door - "You come back in three weeks. Then I cut." Alrighty then! Haha! It reminds me when I went with Lex once to get a pedicure. The Asian lady told me to pick a nail polish color, so I picked purple, of course. She looked at it and said, "No. That ugly. You pick red instead." Uh, okay! Or when my Asian doctor in California responded to my concerns that my weight gain was thyroid-related, said, "No, I think you're just getting fat." I think Asian people are just...very honest. Very blunt. But it's funny and really endearing, I think. It doesn't matter if I go three more weeks - I hardly do my hair anymore - my flat iron died, so I got one here, and it's crappy and doesn't really do much. And honestly, I'm just soooo unmotivated to do stuff - makeup, hair, working out...meh. I just don't care about anything anymore. I think it's my depression, rearing its ugly head. I'm trying to fight it.

Chinese Siesta

So I went down to the vegetable market yesterday - it's really close to our building - just a few doors down on stinky street. It was around 3 o'clock. And it was...well, it looked deserted. I was like, huh? Weird! All the vegetables were covered up with blankets, and I couldn't see anyone. And then I realized that all of the merchants were taking naps behind their little counters. They got cardboard, lay it on the ground, and lay on the cardboard and took a snooze. It's like a Chinese siesta. There were three dudes at the back that were playing cards on top of an overturned box. They were gambling - big wads of cash were held down near each man's right hand with heavy objects to keep the money from falling down or whatever. I love watching men play games and gamble. I see it in the streets all the time. Often, they have a big audience of other men, looking over their shoulders and mumbling appreciatively when someone makes a good move. I'm not sure what card game they're playing, but I just think it's really cute.

So anyways, I told Ben about these shopkeepers all asleep behind their tables, and he nodded and said that it's the same at around 3 p.m. all up and down stinky street. The doors are open to all of the businesses, but everyone is lying down inside, either napping or chatting amongst themselves while lying down. Or gambling. Interesting, huh?


I learned something else today. Something I really should have figured out sooner. Ben taught me. Chinese toilets have these buttons on the top of the tank thing that you push to flush, right? They're kind of shaped like yin/yang symbols. So they're right next to each other. And they can be pushed independently or together. I never knew what to do, so I have always just pushed both buttons at the same time. Today Ben told me that the button on the left is for flushing just poop. The button on the right is for just pee. If you do both, you push both. WEIRD!!!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chinese Knives - 3. Kar - 0.‏

Friends and fam -

How are you? I hope all of you are well.

The other day, we were at May Dong Low (McDonald's. But "May Dong Low" is so much more fun to say). Ben was ordering some food, and I was at our table with the kids. This one kid came up to us, and I was like, "Oh, cute. He is curious to see my blonde children." Which he was. But then he kept holding out two yuan to me - they're like dollar bills. I was trying to figure out what he was doing - is this kid trying to give me money? I thought. After he held out the yuan a couple of times, I finally was like, um, I'll take it if you want...but then he withdrew his hand. I was like, whatevs. He walked out the front door, and that's when I realized that he didn't have any parents with him. There were a bunch of bikes parked out front, and he started digging through the baskets of each bike. He found a coke, looked around, took it then ambled off. I realized that the kid was poor and had been trying to ask me for a couple of yuan, not give me a couple of yuan. I'm so daft sometimes.

That lady I met in our hotel a few weeks ago actually called Summer and arranged a playdate with us. So here's the deal - when she and I first met, she said that her daughter was 12. And I thought it was kind of weird that a 12-year-old would want to play with a five-year-old, but I was like, whatevs. But then I swear we ran into the lady on the street. If it wasn't her, it was her spitting image. And she was with a little girl that looked just Sadie's age. So I thought maybe she had said the wrong age, because her English was pretty halting (not as bad as my Mandarin, obviously). So then, when the lady called to arrange the playdate, Sadie got excited, thinking, "I get to play with that little girl my age!" So they came over...last week? Maybe the week before. Aaaaand...the daughter is 12. She goes by the name of Allan. I can't remember the lady's name. Mrs. Poay, or something like that. It was soooo awkward. We did our best to try to communicate, but it was really difficult. And Sadie was really upset that the girl wasn't her age. She was making it no secret that she was mad. I found out why Mrs. P_____ was at the hotel - she is studying for a big exam for her job, and she wanted solitude, peace, and quiet. Um, because a house with only one 12-year-old daughter - and a well-behaved one, at that - isn't quiet enough??? Hahahaha! I don't know; I think that's funny. So they were here for an hour, and it was agonizing for both parties, and that was the end of that.

Well, we got fan things for the bathrooms - it's so funny - the workers put them into the holes in the wall, but then they have these cords, and you have to actually plug them into an outlet. No outlets are close to the holes, so we had to get extension cords. And then we had to kind of drape the cords over the shower head and over the water heater thingey, down to the plug-in area. It makes me a little nervous - I'm worried we're going to get electrocuted mid-shower or something, but Ben assures me the cords are high enough. The one fan in the master bathroom seems to be really helping, but the kids' bathroom seems just beyond help. We have the fans running constantly in both bathrooms. Ben thinks he may be able to install his own P-trap behind one of the sinks, which I think will help. Every little bit helps, I'm sure.

So, a couple of nights ago, Ben cooked our first-ever dinner here! Our kitchen is finally in - I really need to take pictures of it. I was thrilled, and then I went to the store, and I got disappointed again. I wanted to make this Italian meal called Carbonera - kind of like spaghetti and meatballs, but in a cream sauce instead of a tomatoey sauce. It calls for Italian sausage. Couldn't find it. I found many, many types of sausage, but who knows what's in them? And nothing is in English. I did find spaghetti and olive oil, so I got those.

And then I was like, I need some french bread. No such thing in a Chinese supermarket. So I was like, "I saw a bakery down the street that says, 'Blah blah blah Western Bakery." So I walked down there, and nope, it's not really a western bakery. A whole bunch of crazy-arse crap. False advertising!!! So then I was like, "I can make my own bread. No prob." So I went back to the supermarket and looked for the baking aisle. There is none. I did find some flour, but I don't know if you use the same kind of flour to make those rubbery dumplings that you do to make bread. I just got some and hoped for the best. And then I looked for yeast. Nope. No one spoke English - my little friend that works in the noodle aisle must not have been working that day; I couldn't find her. I couldn't see anything that resembled yeast - I thought for a moment I had found it, but it turned out to be Sesame Paste, whatever the H that is.

Then I looked for some sugar. I did have the word for "sugar" in my Chinese/American dictionary, so I pointed it out to a lady, and she showed me to this table full of things that look like crystals. They actually pound the crystals, and that makes the small grains of sugar! Dude. They're in the freakin' stone ages! Luckily, the lady had pounded out some, so I bought it, and it was cheap, but it's a totally different texture and moisture than sugar at home. I wanted to maybe make a green salad, but there's no ranch here, of course. I looked for cheese to grate for it - no cheese. They had something called "morning cheese" that looked spreadable - I wondered if that was cream cheese, but I have no idea.

I actually found a can of Hunt's spaghetti sauce. Cue Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. And they sell corn on the cob down on Stinky Street. So I was like, we can do spaghetti and corn on the cob. And our oven has a toasting setting, so we made garlic toast - they don't have garlic powder, but they do sell lots and lots of garlic heads on stinky street. So we cooked garlic in butter, then took the garlic chunks out of the butter. It's not a good idea for Ben to have too much garlic - trust me on that one! So we put this butter concoction on the bread.

All this work for just one meal. My heck. I think I'd better just stick to Asian recipes from here on out.

Here's my question - when you boil corn on the cob, do you boil it for half an hour? I thought it was for ten minutes, but they sure didn't taste done. And then I realized that, usually, we grill our corn on the cob. So I have no idea how long to boil corn on the cob for. The spaghetti sauce was horrible. Hahaha! I did see some tomato paste, tomatoes, and tomato sauce at the store, so I'll just have to make my own sauce next time, eh? And the toast was alright. So, not a huge fail, but not fantastic, either. We'll get used to it.

We chucked the corn, because it was so awful, so yesterday, I went down to Stinky Street and bought some green beans. I was trying to figure out how much I owed the lady, and between she and I, we just couldn't get it right. We finally figured it out - 8 yuan for four pounds of potatoes and 4 pounds of green beans - that's like $1.30. Not bad. So I told her, "Toy po shee. Wa shwah da bo how." Which means, "I'm sorry; I don't speak well." And she and her two little veggie-selling compatriates just laughed and laughed. "Wa shwah da bo how! Hahaha! Wa shwah da bo how!!!" They thought it was hilarious that I could say that. People here are so cute.

I remembered the recipe for white sauce, so I made a white sauce (I totally guesstimated the measurements, because I can't find any cup measures, teaspoons, tablespoons, etc., and I actually succeeded!!!), steamed the beans, and put them in the sauce. And it tasted great. My kids were so excited!!! As was I. I baked some potatoes in our little oven last night to make hash browns to go with our eggs this morning. And now that we have a gas range, I can control the flame and not burn the crap out of stuff.

I'm very impressed with the cutlery here. Impressed/annoyed. I have chopped the crap out of my hands. Maybe all my knives in the U.S. are dull?? Maybe knives here are especially sharp? Like those infomercials you see on TV - "These Chinese knives can cut through this CAN!!" I got a little cheese/veggie grater and basically grated the crud out of my thumb, and then I've cut myself twice in the same finger with the same dang chopping knife. I actually dripped blood on my beautiful bedspread while trying to find some band-aids in my armoire. Sad.

Yesterday, for virtual church, we had sacrament meeting, and then they did Elder's Quorum. So I'm beginning to think that they kind of rotate. Because last week, it was sacrament meeting, and then Sunday School. So maybe next week, it will be Sacrament meeting, and then Relief Society. Who knows? They called a new Primary Presidency - they said they'll be e-mailing me soon. It's kind of funny to me - will they let me know about the primary program, which we can't have? What about a primary activity, which no one can attend, unless they drive for 20 hours? Hahaha! A woman from Shenyang spoke in sacrament meeting - Shenyang is up by North Korea. The girl's name is Shanshan, and she's actually a Chinese citizen - here's the deal - normally, Chinese citizens can't go to church with foreigners. But, because she's married to an American citizen, she's allowed to attend our branch, but he's not allowed to attend her local branch. She told a little bit of her family's history with the church - her mom went on a trip to the U.S. and happened to stop in Salt Lake. She visited temple square, and there were some missionaries there from China who spoke Mandarin and got her interested in the church. She was in the U.S. for a few weeks or something, so she took all the lessons and totally got baptized there, then came home to China. There was a branch in her hometown, with members, so she started going to church there, and they and she got her husband and the rest of her family interested in the church, and they all got baptized. This was like ten years ago. I've often wondered how the church is able to grow, with such strict limitations, but I think this is how it works - people go to the U.S., or to Hong Kong, or to Taiwan, or wherever, to work or go to college or whatever, and that's when they get the exposure. And then they come back and are allowed to establish branches here. The bishop told us today that Chinese members in leadership positions are allowed to go to Hong Kong or Taiwan for training meetings, so that everything is being done properly, and that there are area authorities from Hong Kong or Taiwan that are allowed to come in to China and attend meetings and strengthen members in that way.

Anyways, I thought that was interesting. Shanshan and her husband met at BYU-Hawaii when they were both going to school there. They married and lived in Utah for awhile, but there was something about her visa that needed changing or something, so they are stuck here for two years until that comes through. Then they'll be able to settle permanently in the U.S. I loved hearing her talk and testimony. Her husband was supposed to talk, but he was "sick." I was like, um, you can't sit on your couch in your jammies and give a five minute talk into your computer microphone? You're too sick for that?? Hahaha! Men, when they're sick, are ridiculous.

Ben is in Beijing today for a meeting, and I've given him strict instructions to find a western market that I know exists up there. He is to buy as much as he and his interpreter can possibly carry, and bring it back home. :) Shortening. Baking pans. Brown sugar. The works.

And then I think that, tomorrow, Ben and Summer will go and book that trip to the beach! Woot-woot! I'm ready to par-tay. We've also been contemplating another trip at the beginning of October - we have to leave China and re-enter every ninety days, so that will be our first trip out of the country. I guess Hong Kong officially qualifies as "leaving the country." So we could go there, or Taiwan, or Thailand, or Japan, or Korea...the sky's the limit! It's exciting to me. My sister, Lex, is coming during Christmas time - we're planning to do a week in Beijing, and then maybe a week outside of the country, because it will be about that time again, for us to leave and re-enter. I love planning trips.

Gage is having a little meltdown, so I'd better go. Love you tons! Write me, you punks! Hahaha!

- Kar

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Like the Crowing of the Rooster‏

Hey, friends and fam,

Something funny I've noticed here - people shoot off firecrackers ALL THE TIME. Well, let me take that back. Not all the time. Only, um, in the day. Which is weird to me. They seem like more of a nighttime thing. For the first couple of weeks, every time I would hear firecrackers going off, I would think, "Is it some kind of holiday??" And I would look it up in my leetle book. Nope - no special holiday has really happened, except for Chinese Valentine's Day. I think people just like firecrackers. Or maybe they use them to celebrate personal things with their family - job promotions, pregnancy, etc. Who knows?? I would say that the most likely time to hear random firecrackers going off is early in the morning. I guesstimate that maybe five out of seven days per week, Ben and I are woken up at 7 a.m. not by our kiddos (though sometimes that is the case), but by people lighting firecrackers. Ca-razy.

I've seen a couple of firecrackers lit mid-day, downtown or whatever, and people that are passing the firecracker-starter always stop what they're doing to watch the firecrackers. They put their hands on their ears and stare at the firecrackers popping. No smiles, no frowns, no eye rolling. They stop, they cover their ears, and they stare. Like strange robots.

They are a kooky people. But I'm really starting to love them. They are patient and kind and have great senses of humor (except when it's time to watch firecrackers go off - that's serious business). I'm a fan.

I guess I'm in a very magnanimous mood, because guess what got (halfway) installed today? That's riiiiiiiiiiiiight, our kitchen!!! Woot-woot! Professor Han called us last night and said, in his broken English, that he was coming today "to install." Ben said, "To install what?" Professor H responded, "Do-ay [the Mandarin word for "right"]. Install. See you tomorrow! Bye-bye!" and hung up. There are just sooo many things that need installing - fans for the bathrooms, an air-conditioner in the living room, our kitchen...we weren't sure what to expect.

Bright and early, he shows up with a guy who had an entire kitchen's worth of cupboards. The guy worked most of the morning installing them - I like them. They're very Ikea-ish. Professor Han just kind of hung out. And then he found out that Ben is learning Chinese Chess on our iPad, and that was it. The game was on. Those two played for, like, probably two hours. I see men on the streets all the time, playing Chinese chess. It's supposed to be really difficult. I have absolutely no intention of learning Chinese Chess at all. I hate regular chess - why would I take up Chinese chess? Ben is a chess lover, though, so this is right up his alley. He has actually started teaching it to Dylan, who is catching right on, in his normal, freakishly-smart kind of way.

So I'm not harboring as much Professor Han Hatred as I have had for the past two weeks. After the cabinet man left, some different men installed a fan thingey to blow air from cooking, out of the building, and they are supposed to be back to bring the stove and hook it up, and then some different guys to put on countertops and our sink. So we're getting there. I'm sooooo excited. I guess that, when people move, they take their cabinetry with them. Interesting, huh? They also take their hardwood floors with them. Pull them up and take 'em. Which is why, when we first looked at the apartment, the floor was concrete and the entire apartment was gutted.

Ben and Jack went and found some bathroom venting fans for our horrible sewer smell, and I'm very, very excited about those, as well. They are also to be installed tomorrow.

Ben also went with Summer to the travel agency to talk about maybe taking a trip to the coast for a few days! He can't remember the name of it, but it looks fantastic. I've been feeling an urgency to get out there and see stuff, but the weather has been so dang hot. And then it occurred to me - what better time than now to see a beach?? While it's warm. It will be perfect. Ben is waiting for a couple of days before he books it because of some weirdness with work here.

Kay, it's midnight, and Ben needs to talk to his dudes in Idaho now; I'll finish this tomorrow.

Alright, it's tomorrow. A man is sawing wood to make countertops in our kitchen and making a big ruckus. I'm holding Gage while I'm typing so he doesn't get in to all our kitchen stuff, which is in the living room while the dude works. I'm thinking his morning nap might not happen - it's too stinkin' loud.

You know, I don't want to get too excited, but yesterday and today, it hasn't been oppressively hot. Kind of nice. We'll see if it lasts.

So. The weirdness at work. I don't know all the details, but here's what I know - they haven't been getting the work site for the domes prepared. They told Ben's company that the site was ready, so we came here a month and a half ago, and nope, it wasn't ready. So, since we've been here, Ben goes over there every now and then to see if progress has been made, and nada. The company from China that is working with Ben's company was telling us that there was some kind of dispute with a railroad company or something, but Ben's interpreter overheard a conversation that indicated that the REAL problem was with some financial backing for the project. But they hadn't wanted to admit that to Ben's company. Well, apparently, the financial stuff finally came through a couple of weeks ago. And still, nothing has been happening over there. Ben's company has been mailing things over from the U.S. - a special foam and other things. Ben goes over whenever a shipment comes in and supervises the unloading of the supplies.

Ben's bosses have been in contact with the boss guy over here (Mr. Ju, who helped us move), basically saying, "Dude, why aren't you guys preparing the site?" And Mr. Ju is trying to blame the delays on Ben - "He's been unavailable to us." Which isn't true. Ben's over there all the time. They have his phone number and his e-mail, and whenever they ask him to go over, he drops everything and heads straight over. And then Mr. Ju was saying that Ben's company hadn't given him the drawings yet, but they have. And this foam stuff that Ben's company shipped over is supposed to be the foam they apply when it's warm outside, so when it starts to get cold outside, it will be no good, I guess. They'll have to chuck it. Which will be a big financial loss. And the company here is saying that they aren't responsible for that. And Ben's company is saying they are. They're throwing around "breach of contract" kind of stuff.

The other day, the main boss guy here, William, who lives down by Hong Kong, called Ben and said, "Hey, they're having a meeting today at the work site and they want you there." So Ben threw on his clothes, grabbed his interpreter, Jack, and went over. There is a main gate, and someone from the inside has to let you in, right? So Ben gets there and calls Mr. Ju, saying, "Hey, I'm here for the meeting. Can you let me in?" And Mr. Ju says, "I'm not there. I'm in Beijing. What meeting?" So Ben calls William and says, "Mr. Ju doesn't know about the meeting, and he says he's in Beijing." William says, "No, he's there. I know he is. Call him again." So Ben calls Mr. Ju again. "Are you sure you're not here?" "No; I'm not there. I'm in Beijing." And back and forth. Hahaha! So Ben sat at this gate for two hours. No one would let him in. And it started raining. The gate guys felt bad for him and Jack and let them into the little gate house thingey. Neeeeeeeeat.

I was wondering if Dome was going to throw in the towel and bring us home, but after a big meeting they had in Idaho yesterday, they decided to send Ben's boss over here a couple of times to kind of kick butt. If the job site hasn't been started with preparations in four to six weeks, we may get sent home and the project postponed. Will I come back here to China with Ben if all this happens - if we're sent home until the project is ready, and then it's time to come back? Hahahaha! I don't know... :)

So that is that. Fun, fun dishonesty.

So Ben was putting off the trip thing until they had that big powwow at Dome. Now that we know we're here for, at the very least, another six weeks or so, we can feel free to make some good plans. So here's what happens with the beach trip - we ride a bus for seven hours - that won't be fun, but oh well. Then we have half a day to play. Then we have the whole next day to play. Then the third day, we play all morning, then drive home all afternoon and evening. They pay for two meals per day. So, with the bus ride to and from, the hotel rooms for two nights, the beach stuff, and two meals per day, it's $80 for me, Ben, and Dylan. And I think maybe $40 for Sadie and Micah, and free for Gage. Touring is insanely cheap here. I love it.

And really, I think we'll end up staying here for the duration of the project. Don't be alarmed or assume we're coming home next month. I think things will get smoothed out. That's the feeling that I get. Neither company wins if everything gets abandoned now. I won't deny that the thought of coming home very appealing to me, but I want Ben to succeed in this project manager thing. And I do get more and more comfortable every day. It's not as hard as it was at the first.

Summer told me that she is the new rock star of Stinky Street. Well, actually, the street is called Nogda something something Cheah, but you know what I mean. The hole in the wall place where she has taken all of us to get our hair cut now gives her haircuts for free, as a thank you for all the extra business our family has brought them. :) When she goes to buy fruit or veggies, people are always like, "Hey, you know those Americans, huh? Have a free melon, on me!" So funny.

She and I went and got an oven the other day - the only ones we can find here are the countertop kind, about the size of a large microwave. It will have to do. The dial for temperature is in celsius, so I'll have to kind of convert that in my mind when I do my baking. They were sold out, but they let me buy the floor model for a teeny discount. I guess they take the rack and broiling pan thingey out of the oven when they put floor models out because people steal them. A lady said she would deliver those to me the following day - I don't know why they couldn't find them when I picked up and paid for the oven, but whatevs. She did deliver the innards the next day. So we're getting there. Soon I will be doing some cooking, and I'm excited about it.

Maybe about half the stores here have their signs in both Chinese and English. And the English interpretations of the business names make me laugh and laugh. One bakery is called "Taste the Delicious Cake." One clothing store I've seen is called "I Like Myself." Today I saw a children's clothing store called "Children's Shopping Paradise."

We had virtual church again on Sunday - for the first couple of weeks, we only had sacrament meeting - while the branch president was on vacation in the U.S. Now that he's back, we're having sacrament meeting, with Sunday School right afterward. The Relief Society president sends us a little e-mail every week telling us which lesson to read and study for Relief Society that week. I fell asleep during Sunday School, which always happens to me, whether I'm in China on my couch or in the U.S. in a classroom. I don't know what it is about that second hour of church that makes me so drowsy. I try so hard to stay awake, but I often fall asleep sitting up. It's so interesting to hear where people are from. A man and his wife spoke in sacrament meeting from Dalian, which is clear up by North Korea. The girl that gave the Sunday School lesson was clear down in Nanning, which is kind of by Hong Kong. That big group of 16 that meets in Chengdu every week for our virtual church? Chengdu is clear over by Tibet. We are all over the place. If the workers from Idaho ever get to come over here - haha - and if any of them are LDS, I have visions of meeting here for virtual church, and then eating home-cooked, American potluck afterwards. Ahhhhh. Can you imagine?

My clothes are getting enormous. But I don't think it's just me. I think it's from hanging clothes to dry on a line. Especially knit clothes. Without a dryer to shrink them, they just grow and grow and grow. :) Ben has this one red shirt that is starting to look like a shirt dress. I told him the other day that he could belt it and look really cute. :) Hahaha! I do think I've lost a little weight here, which is nice. But boy howdy, you bet I'll gain it all back when I get back home, and then some. I'll be like, "Ice cream!!! Mexican food!!! Numnumnumnum!" I'll probably get bigger than I was when I left. Like that thing that happens when someone is deprived of food for so long, and then they kind of hoard and overeat and stuff, because they're used to going without - like that. The kids have found Chinese snacks that they like, and we eat American fast food a lot, so the kids seem not to be losing weight. That's all that matters to me. We give them lots of fruit and hard-boiled eggs, etc. And the whole milk - they love that. I'm not a fan. So I'm thinking they're getting enough calories. And if I'm not, well, then I'll lose weight. And that ain't a bad thing. They're not sick of McDonald's yet, but I am. When Ben brings it home, I just say, "Eh, no thanks. I'll just drink a coke for dinner." The bread here is really gross and stale-tasting, but the kids are cool with it and like peanut butter sandwiches. When Ben is like, "Do you want a sandwich?" I'm like, "Eh, no thanks. I"ll just drink a coke for lunch." Hahaha! I know; healthy. I do eat lots of fruit, though, and I drink lots of bottled water, so at least that, right???

Kay, friends, I need to get going, but I love you tons and I'm working on individual e-mails to you.

Kissy, kissy,

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thunderstorm Redemption‏

Hey, all you folks lucky enough to have a kitchen!

How are ya? We're doing aight. So. I have two things to correct that I've told you in the past - 1) The "hang ten" hand sign does NOT mean the number eleven. It means the number six. Oops. So. Jot that down in your memory banks. And, 2) Baoding has SIX million people, not one million. I wondered. I know that Salt Lake City has one million, and Baoding was seeming a lot larger than the Salt Lake area... turns out, it is! So now ya know.

So here is what you do if you are a country with 1.3 billion people - instead of sending out power bills to people, having them send you checks, etc., you do this pre-paid card system. So if a person wants power to their apartment, they buy a pre-paid card from, of all places, the post office. Don't ask me why. But you buy them and load them at China Post. Then you go into the basement of your building to this big row of things that look like credit card swipey things at your local grocery store. You find the one with your apartment number, you swipe your card, and voila, you have power. Within seconds. We learned about this the hard way a couple of weeks ago, when our power turned off, and we had nooooo idea what was going on. So, two weeks ago, we put a whole bunch of money on the power card, swiped it, and, forgot about it.

Until last night at 10 p.m., when our power went out. We were like, Oh yeahhhhhhh..... we should have checked our credit card swipey thing to see how much money we had left before we ran out of power. And, obviously, China Post was not open at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. So we spent a very hot evening in our beds. I was just....seething. Seething with anger. I was like, OH THAT IS IT! I HATE IT HERE SO MUCH! WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE????? I AM HOPPING THE NEXT PLANE TO THE UNITED STATES!!!!

But then something wonderful happened while I lay there in the heat, listening to Ben snore, grinding my teeth together. We had another thunderstorm.

I've told you about these thunderstorms here - they are ca-razy. I have never seen anything like it. Sooooo much lightning, it's like there is a strobe light outside of every window. And the thunder is striking, HARD, all around us. Every building has those lightning rods on top, with wires you can see leading from the rods and into the ground. And for good reason. I swear our building itself got struck once or twice last night. Each strike made the earth just SHAKE. It's amazing. And really cool. Micah woke up and was scared, so I lay with him and just listened and watched this storm and just felt...happier. I've always loved rain, and I've always loved thunderstorms. It put me in a better mood, and once the thunder and lightning subsided a little, Mikey fell asleep, and I got back into my own bed and was able to fall asleep, at, like, maybe 3 a.m. But I felt much more at peace. I guess I'm one of those Emo girls that loves rain, like in that song by Garbage, "I'm only happy when it rains." Hahaha!

Ben went out first thing this morning and loaded our power card with more money, so we are sitting in blessed air-conditioning once more. And we were able to boil some eggs on our really hyper hot plate for breakfast this morning. We had them with fresh mangos from the market. Things are looking up. A little bit. They'll look up more when I have a kitchen....


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pics of Gage's Birthday‏

Hey, dudes,
Here are the pics from Gage's birthday: Oh that boy. What would we do without him? He's such a blessing in our family. A much-needed, laid-back Indian in a family of chieftains. He's the bomb dot com. And he's growing up wayyyy too quickly.

We miss you all and love you.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hot Plate Fail‏

Hey, Fun Friends,

So. I know the question on all of your minds is, "Do you have a kitchen yet???"


Why would a kitchen be important for a family of six? Doing your dishes in your stinky bathroom sink is just fine!!! Cutting vegetables while sitting cross-legged on the floor, cutting board on the floor in front of you - it's fanTAStic!! Using the top of your microwave, which is balanced precariously on your husband's future office fridge, as a countertop - fun!!! Who needs kitchens? We don't need no stinkin' kitchens!!!

Sorry. This letter is dripping with sarcasm. Yeah, no kitchen yet. We ask our interpreters every single day to call Professor Han and ask what in the H is going on. Well, if we told them to say that, they would wonder what "what the H" means. You know what I mean. We are reassured all the time - "Oh, it's being custom-built to fit the kitchen. It will be done in four days." Then, "Two to four days. Sorry. It's just taking longer." I don't know if it's a man thing - most men I know don't treat things as priorities unless they think it's a priority - or if it's a Chinese thing. All I know is this - Gage's birthday was Wednesday, and I'm so angry at him that I didn't tell him about or invite him to Gage's party. Yeah, as Beads told me on Skype the other day, "Woooo. You sure showed him." I know, I know. But it made me feel a teensy bit better. In a nice, passive-aggressive sort of way.

So we continue to eat out all the time. We have found decent bread, peanut butter, jam, and honey at the supermarket down the street, so we have that at least once per day for one meal. I've never really been a fan of pb&j sandwiches, but I can't afford to be too picky nowadays. I gulp them down. We can't find creamy peanut butter, so we settle for chunky. We can get any kind of fresh fruit and vegetable just outside our apartment complex, so that's not a problem, and we're making sure we get lots of that. We're even getting used to the milk here. It's boxed, and not refrigerated when you buy it. It gives me the willies. But you just ignore it, buy it, bring it home, stick it in your fridge, and pretend that you bought it nice and cold to begin with. You get used to it. The kids and Ben la-hove it. I'm getting used to it - it's whole milk, so it's pretty rich compared to what I'm used to. I just barely found some 1% the other day, though. I've made a friend at the supermarket. She's a freshman at the university, majoring in English. She and I are tight. I find her in the noodle aisle, and she takes me all around the store, helping me find stuff I need. Sometimes I have to look up stuff in my dictionary, but mainly, she and I understand each other. She's cute, cute, cute. Can I pronounce or remember her name? Uh, no.

The other day, I was returning from the supermarket with a few bags on each arm, and a lady was getting into the elevator at the same time as me. She spoke English amazingly well, saying, "Oh, do you have a baby?" She saw that I had bought some baby wipes. I said yes, and we chatted on our way up. She lives on the 13th floor. I told her that her English was really good, and she said, "Oh, it had better be good - I'm an English professor at the university!" I was like, "Ohhhhh my gosh, please be my friend!" She said that, if I need anything, I can just go upstairs and pay her a visit. I should have probably invited her to Gage's party, but I was worried that my cake wasn't big enough for everyone to have a slice if I had her family down.

We continue to kind of set up house here, despite our kitchen woes. . We got a pretty sweet-lookin' formica table to act as our desk while we're here. The top looks like fake tweed material, and the sides are striped in a rainbow pattern. Classy. We got it for like 8 bucks on Stinky Street. Gooooo Stinky Street!! I guess I should figure out the real name of Stinky Street sometime. We live in this neighborhood called the Candlelight District. Summer taught me how to say it: "Ju gwon jow chu." And she told me which syllables to make slope downward and which to slop upward, and which to keep up high, and which ones to make go down and up in the same syllable. She's like, "Okay, if you say this to your taxi driver when you are anywhere in the city, he will take you right home." I was excited. So the first time I got into a taxi after going shopping, I said it: "Ju gwon jow chu." With proper up, down, down, up pronunciation.

And he just stared at me, agape. And then started giggling. And then said something that I actually understood: "Wa bo ming bai ni schwa shemma," which means, "I don't understand what you're saying." Jeez Louise. So I pulled out what Ben and I call The Book of Knowledge, a.k.a. our little stapled thing of papers that have written addresses for every place we usually go - McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Da Fu Yuen (the supermarket), etc. I pointed to the paper that has the address of our hotel, and then, when he dropped me off there, I had to walk with all my groceries all the way up Stinky Street to get home. And that's how it's been all week. I really need Summer to just write down the address for "Candlelight District" for me in Chinese. My pronunciation leaves a lot to be desired. Learning Mandarin has been easy for me so far, but the pronunciation nuances are really difficult to get right. I think that's where English-speaking people struggle with Mandarin.

So this week, Summer was like, "Let's get you a hot plate so you can cook at home, at least a little bit. I'm worried about the childrens [she calls them "the childrens," and I love it] eating fast food at every meal." I couldn't agree more. So we set out to find a hot plate and a high chair for the Gage-meister. We went to a place like the underground flea market, but this one is above-ground. You can get anything and everything you can hope for at these flea markets. It's like Portobello Road. But enclosed. Summer wanted to find one of those sleeping mask things that you wear over your eyes. I guess the street light shines through her window and through her curtains, making it difficult to sleep. So we were wandering around, and we passed a little underwear-and-bra stand, and she sighed and said, "Oh, how I love the underwears and the bras." I laughed. I guess she likes pretty underwear and coordinating bras. I just love how she said it: "Oh, how I love the underwears." She found her mask and I found my high chair and hot plate.

We came home, and she showed me that there are seven settings to the hot plate. I jotted down the settings. One is for frying stuff in oil, one is for heating up milk, one is for boiling noodles, etc. etc. So I was like, sweet. We so desperately wanted to cook a healthy meal for my kids, so I thought we'd try scrambled eggs, hash browns, and fruit. You can get eggs, potatoes, and fruit just outside out apartment gate. The eggs aren't refrigerated, but they aren't in the supermarkets, either. Again, you have to pretend. Play a little game with yourself. Pretend that they've been refrigerated all along. And almost all eggs for sale are brown, which I think means that they're free-range chickens? I'll have to have Lex tell me if that's the right deduction.

So Ben ran down and got the eggs, potatoes, and fruit. And we got all ready. I pulled out and washed my teflon pans. Now, when I bought these pans, the store lady had asked Summer if our apartment was going to have gas stovetops. She checked with Professor Jerk, I mean, Professor Han, and he said yes. I thought it was strange at the time - who cares what kind of pan you use on gas stoves? I thought. When I bought this hot plate, it actually came with two pans. I figured the more the merrier. So back to my story. I prepared the potatoes first, put them in the pan, and set them on the hot plate. And the dang hot plate started dinging at me. It wouldn't turn on. Just ding, ding, ding. I was like, weird. So then I put one of the non-teflon pans (one that the hot plate came with), and no dinging. Heating up normally. Okayyyyy. So I have this hot plate that can actually detect teflon pans, and hates them. The Chinese can't even put P traps in their bathrooms (which, as my friend Melanie pointed out to me, were invented by the Romans in the 7th century, and yet the Chinese haven't caught on yet), but they can make THINKING hot plates? So we tried our best with the non-teflon pans to cook hash browns and eggs. No matter which setting we tried, the food just kept burning and burning and burning. No matter how fast we stirred and how much butter we put in the pans, no matter how attentive we were, burnt city.

So. Hot plate fail. I very reluctantly sent Ben out to get Pizza Hut for the 12 billionth time, and he brought it home at like 9 p.m. We ate and went to bed disappointed. That's the last we've tried the hot plate. When they call them hot plates, they ain't kidding. Mom suggested I try to find Ramen noodles. There is an entire aisle of instant-meal-type noodles, but I can't tell what meat taste is in them. What if I get, like, "Pickled Pigs Feet Flavor" and don't discover it until we try to cook it? The Chinese really, really love their pigs' feet. And I'm not kidding. I can't read any of the packaging, so I'm just kind of stymied by fear.

Mom asked the other night when we're going on another adventure. I know we're super-boring. It's just still so dang hot, you guys. I swear I got PTSD from our trip to Badda-Bing Lake. I just really want to wait until it's, you know, under 100 degrees and under, like, 90 percent humidity, aight? If we could get Professor Jerk to commit to a date when our kitchen is going in, I might lift my "let's not go outside" ban and arrange a day trip so that we can stay out of the workers' hair. And not have to sit in our apartment and hear the loud hammering and smell Professor Jerk's breath. The man has some funky breath. I'm just sayin'. There are a couple of other places nearby that I'd like to check out. One is called the YeSanpo Hillside. The other is called Wolf's Tooth Summit. So I don't know. If we get word on when the kitchen goes in - and we probably won't - we'll have Summer arrange something with the travel agency for us, and we'll set out for another adventure in which we play the part of the Jolie-Pitt clan, getting accosted at every turn by the loving public, photos snapping, people taking video of us as we walk, etc. So funny.

We have real, live, honest-to-goodness rope hung up for drying clothes properly. We use clothes pins and everything. I feel like my great-grandma Watts. It's crazy. But it's alright. As long as I can find a way to clean our clothes, I'm all good. I asked Summer last week: "So, how do we string up some rope? Should we get hooks and anchor them into the walls?" She laughed and said, "No, silly. You just hammer nails in the wall and tie knots. The heads of the nails keep the knots from slipping." Oh. So Jack, Ben's interpreter, helped him find some nails and rope. So then I asked Summer, "So where can I buy a hammer to hammer the nails in the wall?" She gave me a quizzical look. "Well, you just go find a rock and use that, silly." Are you KIDDING me? Is this the STONE AGES??? Come ON!!! Luckily, Ben had to buy a bunch of special kinds of bolts for the construction site, so he bought a hammer and brought it home and rigged up the rope properly. And then we hung up our two pictures that Ben got for his birthday, and a clock I bought at the corner market.

So. Gage's birthday. I've been having a hard time finding motivation to do ANYTHING. So it was the day before his birthday, and I was like, "Well, I guess we should celebrate in some way..." Luckily, I was able to order a cake from the bakery (with Summer's help over the phone) at the last minute. Then I bought a couple of toys at the grocery store.

I'm noticing that plastic things are very expensive here. It's funny to see the things that are cheaper here (clothes) and the things that are more expensive (plastic anything, makeup). Many of the toys were, like, 200 yuen - so about $30 - for something really small and simple. Things that I would probably peg as being maybe $7 or so in the U.S. It was interesting. I'm still on the hunt for a plastic set of drawers - you know the kind - 3 feet high, 3 feet wide, maybe 1 1/2 feet deep - because I'm holding everyone's toiletries in my armoire, so there's no room for my clothes. But I just can't bring myself to spend $100 on one of them. I can't find one cheaper. $100! For a plastic set of dresser drawers! Something that would cost you like $15 - $20 in the states. Crazy. So I continue to have all my underwear, jammies, socks, etc. in my suitcase for now.

When I get any time on the iPad (and it's not often), I read books that we download on our iTunes account. I read The Other Boleyn Girl this week. It was fantastic, and fascinating. I just downloaded Vanity Fair today, so I'm excited to tuck into that.

Well, I need to get off so Ben can check his work e-mail. But I'll re-size and put up Gage's birthday pics, hopefully tomorrow. And then I'll let you know when I have them up on smugmug.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

More Pics for You!‏

Alright, I've uploaded some more pics on Smugmug.

Pics of our apartment:

Pics of our neighborhood:

Pics of our karaoke party:

Love you guys!
- Kar

Harry Potter and Virtual Church‏

Hey, Fun Friends,

This won't be too long, but I'm sure you'll welcome that! Hahaha! I tend to be a bit verbose...

Soooo, last night, Summer and Maria offered to baby-sit our kiddos so that Ben and I could go to Harry Potter by ourselves. I forgot to tell you how it went, going to Transformers 3 last week - um, it turns out that taking kids to movies is just as big a pain in the butt in China as it is in the U.S. We're really just not going to bother anymore. Micah asked to go pee THREE times, and Gage was grumpy and whiney. Sadie kept saying that she was bored. So yeah. We won't probably take them again.

Summer and Maria were reeeeeally nervous to baby-sit. And we had to write everything down for them and then teach them how to change a diaper. It was really cute. But they were good sports.

So we went, and I had a great time. It's so nice to be in a theater and get transported for a couple of hours. For a couple of hours, I forgot all my frustrations with our apartment, etc. and just enjoyed myself. And I cried and cried and cried. When Snape died, when Harry saw Snape's memories in the pensieve, when whichever twin it was died.... and don't get mad at me for "ruining it" for you. If you didn't read the books, you don't care THAT much, right?? Cried and cried and cried. It felt good. Very cathartic.

Movie popcorn here is sooo much better than movie popcorn in the states. It tastes like carmel corn. No kidding. None of that fake buttery powderey stuff. It's really quite good. And it was my dinner, because it took so long to get stupid Pizza Hut food last night that we were a little late getting to the movie. I got home, threw pizza at the kids, taught the girls how to change a diaper, and ran out of there. We were exactly 12 minutes late, but we thought, "Oh, no big deal, there are previews for like 20 minutes before..." Nope. No previews. We were 12 minutes late, so we missed the first 12 minutes of the movie. :) We'll have to watch it again when we get home.

So yeah. Pizza Hut. We are such regulars there that the lady already knows what we're going to order. It's funny. And sad. But it took a zillion years, and there were a zillion people there. At first, I was like, "Maybe it's because it's a Saturday night. Maybe everyone likes to go out on Saturday night." But then I realized that it was also Chinese Valentine's Day. So that was probably part of it. The city was a continual traffic jam. Everyone was out celebrating with their loved ones.

While I was waiting for our pizza, I went next door to the department store. I have had my eye on a high chair there. We've been strapping Gage to a chair with Ben's belt, kind of like in Grandma Upstairs, Grandma Downstairs - style. But yesterday, when I was feeding Gage, he rocked backwards and almost tipped the chair backwards. The chairs are kind of flimsy. It was a miracle I was able to catch him before he hit the floor. I spilled baby fruit all over myself in the process. Baby gear is pretty expensive here. It's interesting to see the things that are more expensive here and the things that are less expensive. I'm noticing that plastic things are more expensive. Like, we need some of those cheapo plastic drawers for clothes - the wardrobes have rods in them for hanging stuff up, but no shelves, and the kids' other clothes - socks, underwear, jammies, etc., are all in a jumble. So I was looking at the supermarket the other day, and the very cheapest little plastic drawer set (and it was tiny) was $20. One that I would buy for Ben's clothes or my clothes - and we need some too - are $75!!! You know the ones that are, like, three feet wide, three feet tall, maybe a foot and a half deep? Crazy. So I just bought one tiny one for now - I'll spread out the expense over several weeks.

So back to my story. There were three high chairs at this store, and I haven't been able to find any anywhere else in the whole city, and I'm desperate. The cheapest high chair is $60. Yikes. Bikes. But it's really a necessity. And Gage is getting to the point where he needs to learn to start feeding himself, so he needs that tray in front of him - you know what I mean. So I went in and kind of indicated to the store lady (they have soooo many associates hanging out in the store, totally bored. Like, every five feet or so, you see an associate, standing there, waiting to help) that I wanted to buy that high chair, and...I don't know. She conferred with two other associates, one went away and came back, and nothing was happening. They were talking to me, but, as usual, I couldn't understand them. And, as usual, they just kept repeating themselves. Like I'll suddenly magically be able to understand them. So for whatever reason, they couldn't sell me that high chair. And I don't know why. So I just muttered, "Um, it's okay. Never mind, I guess..." and walked away. Blah. I told Summer this, and she said that she knows of a place where they're much cheaper, and that she'll take me tomorrow. Thank goodness.

So back to the movie stuff. We came home, and walked down Stinky Street to get home. Everyone was packing up their stuff for the evening. We stopped and chatted with this one fruit stand lady who has two adorable puppies - she is my favorite. I buy all my fruit there. Then wash it like crazy and peel everything possible before eating it. :) Hahaha!

So we got home, and the kids were all asleep, and I said, grimacing, " were the kids?" Usually, when I get home and ask that question, our baby-sitters in the states are like, "Oh, fine, no prob." Maria and Summer were brutally honest - "Oh, they were really, really bad." Hahaha! They said Gage was good, but that the other three fought and hit each other and screamed and pulled hair.... This is all normal for me, but I think it really traumatized them. I felt so badly. I told them that I'm so sorry - that we try to teach our kids correct principles, but that they don't always take those principles to heart. :) How embarrassing.

We had our very first virtual branch meeting this morning! It was really cool. People from all over China were logged in via skype or conference call. The president of the branch is in Provo, but the counselor who was conducting was in another city, the person who gave the opening prayer was in a different city, etc. So cool. It was testimony meeting, so if anyone wanted to bear their testimonies, they would unmute their microphone and bear their testimony. There were a couple of cities where two or three families were meeting together in one family's home, and I found myself feeling really jealous of them. How comforting it would to have another member of the church here to meet with us. But I found out that Chinese nationals are not allowed to meet with foreigners in the same meeting. So, if there are members of the church who are Chinese, they have to hold their own meetings. And we, as foreigners, have to hold our own meetings separately. They have this thing they read at the beginning of each week's sacrament meeting, I guess, where they remind us of our limitations - no proselyting allowed, etc. Which we know. We're very careful, I promise. Anyways, one family blessed their newborn daughter, and we got to hear that - their family was visiting via skype from the states to listen in. So that was cool. There seemed to be an Australian guy and his family in one city. Another man. who I think is probably my parents' age, is in China with his wife, and he told a really cool story - he was wearing his BYU t-shirt and was just out touring wherever, and another American expat came up to him and talked to him. She used to be active in the church, but hasn't been for several years. They sat and talked about the church for awhile, and she told him she wants to start attending our little virtual branch with he and his wife next Sunday. He said that he felt like he and his wife were put here for this American girl, to be examples to her and maybe bring her back to the gospel. So I thought that was cool.

Because the branch president is out of town, we just had sacrament, but usually, they have sacrament and sunday school all in the same virtual meeting. That's how next week will be. And we've been doing our own primary lessons for the kids each week, so we'll just continue to do that, as well. So it was nice. It's been a nice Sunday.

I uploaded my first book to the iPad the other day - I saw the movie, "The Other Boleyn Girl," and wanted to read the book, so that's what I'm reading now. It's fascinating. I plan on getting lots of reading done while we're here.

The weather is getting less intense lately, which is so exciting. I want to find out when Professor Han plans to put in our kitchen. The day that he and his workers come to install it, I want to be out touring somewhere.

Yesterday the cable guy came to install our TV cable. It's soooo important to Professor Han, but dude. There are no English-language channels. Hahaha! Like we'll watch that much! I'm like, "Um, let's focus on important things, shall we? Like having countertops and a stove. Or maybe a bathroom fan or two." Priorities...

Well, the kids are fighting again. They're special. So I'm going to maybe feed them and shower them and all that crap that a mom has to do sometimes. :)

Love you guys.
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