Monday, December 08, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 8

My kids love for me to chaperone their field trips.  And, while I do enjoy spending time with them and seeing parts of Beijing I might not normally visit, field trip chaperone is not my favorite pastime. Despite that, I promised I would accompany each of them on at least one field trip this year and Caleb's was this week.  Unfortunately, it was also to an ice skating.

Now, I grew up in Hawaii.  We don't have ice there, ever.  We had one ice skating rink on the complete other side of the island from where we lived.  Ice Palace.  And, we only ever went there on field trips, and even then, probably only a handful of times over the course of my schooling.  And while I did go to college in Utah, winter sports are not so much my thing, so add another handful of times to my tally, throw in a random date here or there and you've got a grand total of about 12 times that I have ever donned ice skates.  In my entire life.  But, when one is surrounded by a passel of third graders, one has to appear confident and together and ready to meet all challenges with grace and poise and a complete lack of totally justified fear that one is about to careen head-long into said third graders or the wall and certainly come away from the day more than a little bruised and battered.

There were 4 parents on the trip.  3 moms and 1 dad.  The Dad is a hockey enthusiast and he brought his own skates.  The other two moms stated in no uncertain terms before we even boarded the buses that under no circumstances would they be going anywhere near the ice.  I was delighted to hear this was even an option and was all set to join their club when Caleb piped up and said to all of his friends, "Of course my mom can ice skate, she'll be going out on the ice with us.  Right, Mommy?"  Um, right.  And, so, I did.

I was no help as a chaperone.  That is indisputable.  I could not hold hands or steady wobbly children or catch anyone.  I could barely even stay our of their paths.  But, I am proud to say that over the course of 2 bone-chillingly cold hours, I managed to stay upright.  I didn't even have to grope the wall for support, ahem, much, and I was able, on a few occasions, to turn around, change direction, and even stop.  I don't think I'll be ice skating again anytime soon, but it's nice to know I've still got it.  And by it, I mean the ability to suppress my rational and irrational fears and do things my logical self would normally run away from as fast and far as possible.

Caleb was fearless and he had a blast.  
Thank goodness for his helmet and protective pads!

He spent more time lying on or crashing into the ice than he did upright, but he was still smiling at the end.

In fact, we both were!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 7

Today we chanced upon a random display of the Coca-cola Christmas Polar Bears.  We happened to be at a mall in Beijing and saw 30 or so of these larger than life Polar Bears outside the mall and up and down the corridors inside, too.  I'm a big fan of the Coca-Cola Polar Bears commercials, and I am certainly missing them this time of year, but I had no idea this was even a thing.

Of course, I should not be surprised.  Malls here routinely bedeck themselves with characters of every variety, just, as far as we can tell, because.  And people flock to the malls to see the characters (not humans dressed in costume ala Disney mind you, instead they come to see plastic figurines or posters or blow-up replicas) and take pictures.  The malls will advertise their latest character displays on buses, billboards, the internet, and even in publications.  I guess they assume if you come to see the Minions you'll stay to shop.

But, no one shops in Beijing malls.  No one.  The stores are always empty.  The food courts and restaurants and movie theaters and cafes are always bursting at the seams with patrons, but everywhere else is a ghost town.  Well, that's not entirely true, the Apple store is always so jam-packed you can barely breathe.  Anyway, we decided to do as the locals and snap some pictures of the bears as well.  Strange display, but cute just the same.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 6

Today we watched a brand new Christmas movie...

...well, brand new to us anyway.  If you haven't seen it, you should.  It didn't make it into our top 5 for Christmas movies, but it's certainly now among the top 10.

What are our top 5 you ask?  Well, as long as you're asking...






I'm also a huge fan of Love Actually, but that is not so much a family friendly film so it didn't make the list.

What's your favorite Christmas movie?

* Thanks to for the photos

Friday, December 05, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 5

At the boys' school the students have been collecting donations for a local orphanage.  Shepherd's Field takes in special needs orphans from 15 different orphanages across China.  They do excellent work caring for these children and our school has joined with them in the past for similar collection drives and other fundraising efforts.  The children brought their donations to their classrooms over the course of 2 weeks and then all the items were gathered together to be boxed and sent to the orphanage.  

To thank the children for their generosity, Santa Claus paid a visit to the collection site and brought each child a small treat.  The children were delighted.

The Parent Organization (of which I am a member) coordinated the project, so I was there when the boys came to see Santa.

We collected 68 boxes of food, diapers, formula, and winter clothes for the orphanage and then a few days later a group of students and parents
delivered the donations in person.

Students from Caleb's school came to meet the children at the orphanage and to help them with a craft project.  We met with 35 of the orphans, all those that are mobile and able to be around other people.  There are many more whose illnesses make it impossible for them to leave their living quarters.

We also decorated gingerbread cookies with the children during our visit.

 The orphanage was founded by an American who came to China and decided to adopt a child.  Through this process he became acquainted with the conditions of orphanages and in particular the services available to orphaned disabled children.  He was disheartened by what he saw and decided he needed to help.  He spent years building relationships with Chinese officials and orphanages and eventually Shepherd's Field was born.

The orphanage has been at its current site since 1994 and is constantly expanding.  Through the generosity of various organizations and the cooperation of the local government the facility is able to provide quality care and education to an increasing number of children.

 On the grounds of the orphanage is the hand print wall.  Each child that has been adopted since the founding has a tile on the wall recording their name and hand prints.  Some of the hand prints are impossibly tiny.

 Over 4000 special needs children have been adopted from Shepherd's Field since its founding.  This facility and especially the wall of hand prints were beautiful to see.  We so enjoyed meeting and interacting with the children.  They were so excited to see us and we look forward to our next visit.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 4

Stockings are my favorite part about Christmas morning.  I love digging inside to pull out all manner of unexpected trinkets and gifts.  When I was growing up, I looked forward to the contents of my stocking more than opening my gifts, I still do.  My parents put our stockings up right after Thanksgiving and then all month long my siblings and I and Santa's elves (Mom and Dad) would fill the stockings with all sorts of goodies.  It was always fun to come home from school and see a new lump in the stocking.  We spent hours speculating what it could be and even more hours thinking about the perfect anonymous gifts to give each other.  On Christmas morning our stockings were full to overflowing and always contained an assortment of writing utensils, an orange, nuts, candy, random coupons for breakfast in bed or a no chore day, and then a whole bunch of other, well, stuff.  It was great.

Kenny's family hung their stockings after Thanksgiving as well, but they went empty all season long. Then Santa, and ONLY Santa, would come Christmas Eve and fill them with goodies.  I see the merits of this approach, but I just don't think it is as fun as filling stockings all month long.  Kenny and I debated this our first Christmas together when I dutifully filled his stocking throughout December and my stocking hung limply by bereft and forlorn.  I don't know if he agrees with my approach, but he acquiesced so that is how we do it now.  We put things in the kids' stockings every other day or so and they wake up every morning and immediately investigate if anything new has appeared.  They love it and we love their enthusiasm.
What about you, who filled/fills your stockings?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 3

As you might be aware, we sort of have a thing for nativity sets.  We like to collect them everywhere we travel, though we're not always successful.  It's been a few years since I posted pictures of our nativity collection and in the intervening time we've added several more.  We've also been to a couple of countries where we couldn't find anything even remotely resembling a nativity, but that isn't surprising since we have visited a lot of of not-so-Christian countries in recent years.  Here are some, admittedly less than stellar, shots of our latest additions.

 This is one of two we have purchased in China.  It is made of camphor wood and has over 20 pieces.

 We bought this at the Sydney Airport in Australia, because who doesn't want/need a Koala Bear nativity?

 And, because one koala bear nativity is probably not enough, here is a second nativity we purchased in Australia.  This one is made by an Australian company called Bristlebrush Designs and the figures, which are native animals, are crafted from the Buri Palm.

 This set we acquired in South Korea.  We nearly couldn't find the store in Seoul, despite many conversations between the proprietor and cab driver.  And, though the taxi ride cost a fortune and we aren't certain the type of material from which it is carved, we love it. 

This is our other Chinese nativity.  It is tiny, in fact, most of the figures measure about an inch high, and made from bamboo.  We bought this and the other Chinese nativity set in Beijing from the appropriately named Christian Woodcarver.

This last one is not exactly a nativity, but it is the closest thing we could find in Turkey.  And, we looked and looked.  We bought this at what is purported to be the home where Mary, the mother of Jesus, spent her last years.   

Next year we hope to add Japanese, Cambodian, and Thai nativities to our collection.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 2

One of the children's most favorite things to do at Christmastime is to make gingerbread houses.  Before we left the US for China, Kenny had the genius idea to buy several gingerbread house kits.  I know we could make gingerbread from scratch, but getting molasses is no small feat and what I can find I like to use for making gingerbread cookies -- another holiday tradition.  And, frankly, the kits are SO convenient, apart from the fact that the icing was too old to use and the candy that came with them was hard as rocks.  But, I whipped up a new batch of royal icing (one of the only reasons why my spice cabinet has cream of tartar) and supplemented with some leftover Halloween candy and we were in business.  The kids had a ball, though I think at least Claire ate more than she used in her decorating.  She certainly has a sweet tooth, but I'd be lying if I said she didn't come by that honestly!

This particular kit came with 5 miniature buildings, (only one of which was slightly damaged, miraculous indeed!),  perfect for everyone to have a chance to get in on the decorating fun.

Claire hard at work placing gummy bears at the end of the path to the
front door of "Santa's Cottage."  Eventually she added an iced over pond
complete with skating bears.

 Claire's finished product, see the ice skaters?

Isaac's two structures.  The one on the left is the "Chalet."  Doesn't all that red and green tinted snow look inviting?

Caleb took a more minimalist approach and paid particular attention to the symmetry of his decorating scheme.  I think their gingerbread houses perfectly reflect their personalities.

Our Gingerbread Village - good enough to eat (apart from the fact that this particular kit is almost as old as Claire!).

Monday, December 01, 2014

25 Days of Christmas - Day 1

The Chinese love Christmas.  They love Christmas music, they love Santa Claus, they love Christmas lights, and all the trimmings.  If fact, they love it so much, they love it ALL. YEAR. LONG.  Santa is not seasonal in this part of the world, he is with us all the time and often when you least expect him.  If you love Christmas music or are the type who doesn't take down your lights or tree until St. Patrick's Day, you should move to Beijing, you would be in great company.  Mariah Carey belts out "All I Want for Christmas is You" at least every other time I go grocery shopping and nearly every establishment in this country sports some configuration of twinkle lights.  That said, they aren't so much into celebrating Christmas at Christmastime per se and definitely all their celebrations are of a secular ilk.  

We, on the other hand, love to do Christmasy things this time of year.  And, we generally do something every day of the month to keep us feeling festive and to remind ourselves what this season is all about.  Sometimes our activities are more Santa-centered than focused on the Savior, but even in the midst of the parties and merrymaking we try to remind the children of the importance of both giving and being gracious.  Most importantly we encourage them to remember the wonderful gifts we should be grateful for this time of year and always.

Our first Christmas event of the season was the Annual Tree Lighting and Train Launching at the Hilton Hotel.  Caleb's school choir was asked to sing a medley of Christmas songs, so we went to hear him sing, to watch the tree lighting, to see the train, and maybe, to get a glimpse of Santa Claus. We managed to do everything on our list, despite the chaos and crowds and Isaac even shook the big man's hand.

 Caleb's choir sang 6 songs.  This is not a great picture, but I couldn't get close enough to take a better one.  
If you look closely, behind the boys you can see the green train whizzing past.  
It was one of 4 trains on the track and the fastest of the lot -
 so naturally, their favorite.

Another of the trains.  The kids loved watching the trains go round and round even through the haze of a very smoky lobby (the pollution AQI that night was over 400 and I'm sure not much better inside).

All of the evening's sponsors and participants were given recognition somewhere along the train track.  Caleb's school was honored with a billboard - coincidentally right in front of where we were standing. 

My three and the tree -- a fun night to kick off this year's 25 days of Christmas.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Family Pictures 2014

It's that time of year again.  Actually, it's past that time of year, but I didn't get my act together until now, so let's just pretend this is last month and not the waning days of 2014.

We tried a new photographer and I think he did a pretty great job.  Herewith a sampling of our photo shoot in Beijing's Chaoyang Park.  


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