Friday, December 28, 2012

Recent Favorites

One of my boys is at a friend's house. The other is curled up on the couch devouring the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book which our friend from America was kind enough to bring over (for half the price of buying it here in Shanghai!). Having the afternoon to myself, I thought I'd finish up the half dozen blog posts in the pipeline that are just in need of photos...
 
Ha! Joke's on me, all the photos are stored on an external drive thingy which is currently not talking to my computer, and I can't even open the program to see them! Since my personal IT guy is working at his day job right now and can't help me, all I can do is pull some photos off my phone to share with you. They happen to be some of my favorites from this past week down in Hong Kong, so that works.
 
First up, here is me and my boys outside Hong Kong Disneyland:
 I love, love, love Disneyland. All of them. I especially love the Disneyland Parks during the Christmas season. All the extra decorations, music, snow (it's actually tiny, foamy bubbles, which is the kind of snow I like!), and extra good cheer from guests and cast members alike. We've always gone to Disneyland during the holidays (in whatever country we happen to be in) so this made it really feel like Christmas to me. I ordered my Mickey shirt from Old Navy a month or so ago and had it shipped to my friend who brought it over the from US in time for me to wear it. Love it!
 
This one is my three favorite guys standing in front of Victoria Harbour with Hong Kong Island in the background:
This was our first day in Hong Kong and the chilliest day of the week we were there. But the cool breeze was refreshing, not frigid like the icy wind here in Shanghai, and I was okay with that! Wanna see an almost identical shot from seven and a half years ago when we actually lived in Hong Kong?
Father's Day, 2005. My how they've grown! (I pulled this off my old website).
 
This is one of those photos that I knew I had another photo of and had to take a moment to recreate it.
Nathan, age 12, December 2012:
 
Nathan, age 4 1/2, May 2005 (pulled off my old website):
Both times Nathan said to me, "Why am I doing this?" In the photo where he's 4, you can see the question on his face. But in the photo where he's 12, he's had more experience with me and my crazy photo taking ways, and just goes with it. I love that kid! These stars have the names and handprints of famous Chinese film actors. The older Nat has his hands in Jackie Chan's handprints. The younger Nat is crouched over Tony Leung Chiu Wai's hands.

And finally, a photo of Benjamin that just absolutely slays me:
This is our first morning in Hong Kong. We were staying at the Disneyland Hotel. The boys knew we'd be going to Disneyland, and assumed we'd do it on the first day. Sadly for them, this was not the case. Our first day involved meeting up with ten different friends throughout the day and evening, as well as going to an art exhibit. This did not meet with Benjamin's approval. Especially since getting to where we were going involved taking the hotel bus to the entry area of Disneyland and then riding the Disneyland MTR train (as seen above). Benjamin loves Disneyland as much as I do. He was so unhappy and refused to speak to us when he realized we were passing the park without entering. But I had to take a photo anyway, because just seven months ago when we still lived in Macau, we went to Hong Kong Disneyland one last time and Ben could only reach those Mickey Mouse rings by jumping or standing on his tippiest-toes. Now he can stand flat footed like the rest of us. But I adore the juxtaposition of his incredibly grumpy face with the cheery Mickey window and hand ring. Kills me to see it! This one is going on the wall for sure. I love this kid, too.

And finally, one last photo from my iPhone, taken on the supposed "last day of the world" of the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty's Castle:
As I stood there with my husband and boys and two dear friends from Macau who came over to Hong Kong for the day to join us at Disneyland, my heart swelled with joy and I thought to myself, if this is the last day on earth, this is absolutely the way to go.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Shanghai Christmas!

 
 
I had a pretty spectacular Christmas Eve birthday yesterday despite the fact that temperatures here were below freezing (and definitely not part of my birthday wish list!). We spent the last week in Hong Kong with a quick one day visit back in Macau, and spent every single day hugging old friends. I was willing to spend Christmas in Hong Kong, but the boys wanted to wake up Christmas morning in their own beds at home, not a hotel room, and the fact that they consider Shanghai to be home means we're doing pretty well at getting all of us settled in here.
 
More about today's celebrations coming later! Just wanted to pop on and share our 2012 Christmas card with all of you. The photo was taken at the Shanghai Sculpture Park in Sheshan by our friend Luke who (along with his wife Anni) came to visit us for a week last month. The sculpture is called 'Meteor' by Italian artist Riccardo Cordero. And yes, the artwork at the Park is meant to be explored and is all quite interactive. There's no disrespect in climbing around on it, most pieces were designed to encourage it!
 
I hope wherever you are in this world, your day today was filled with both peace and joy. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pajama Party



Every December for as long as I can remember our friend Miss Amy has thrown a family Christmas Pajama Party on a Sunday afternoon. Everyone comes in their jammies and brings breakfast foods and the kids get to open a gift in a massive crazy moment of joyful noises. (Here's 2008, here's 2009). We missed it last year, and we'll miss it again today. Another challenge of living abroad - missing out on traditions. Tonight we put on our Christmas pajamas and took a photo to send to Miss Amy and our Southern California friends, and then we snuggled up on the couch to watch Singin' in the Rain.

Our nine year old son didn't get the movie at all, and asked us to explain the whole thing to him when it was over. And neither kid understood what was so wrong with Lina Lamont's voice. I think today's cartoons and animated films have inured them to crazy voices that don't necessarily match the character's image. But then again, they also hear many different accents and voices and languages every day, so maybe that has opened their ears to the fact that not everyone sounds the same. Yeah, I'll go with that one.

It will be the middle of our night when our Southern California friends will be eating pancakes and ripping open presents. We'll just have to enjoy the party in our dreams!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Be light

In the last seven months, I've turned on our television three times. The first two times it was just out of curiosity to see what channels we get on our satellite (we get a lot actually, I just never have time or the inclination to flip through and watch anything). The third time was last night.

I'm under the weather and trying my best to get healthy before our upcoming, much needed, long awaited vacation to Hong Kong on Tuesday. Last night friends were having a big Christmas party and since I was fevery, I stayed in bed while Michael took the boys to the party to give me quiet and time to rest. I napped with our lap dog, and then got up and turned on the television, flipping until I got to CNN to watch the coverage 24 hours after the horrific event in Connecticut. I just sat and let the tears fall down my face while listening to stories from the parents of survivors.

One father said his six year old son was evacuated through the hallway where his schoolmate's lifeless body was laying, and he told his dad he'd seen his friend sleeping on the floor. That about did me in. But there were other stories which lifted my spirits, that of teachers who realized something horrible was happening and instead of freaking out, calmly locked the children in and quietly read to them. Another teacher believed this might be the last moment they would all have alive, so she looked at her students and told them how much she loved them so the (possible) last thing they would hear would be a message of love.

What happened was a horrible, horrible thing. I'm so incredibly grateful that in the darkness of this world there are people who bring light. I pray for peace for everyone affected by this senseless tragedy, and pray the rest of us can be light in the dark places.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Do or do not?

I'm going through a year's worth of photos, looking for something specific at the request of two of my sister-in-laws, and I came across this one from May.


It was taken in Chiangmai, Thailand, outside the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a Theravada Buddhist temple which sits atop Doi Suthep mountain. We left our shoes with the shoe attendant who sat in a large alcove about twenty feet behind where I'm standing under a giant sign that said Leave Your Shoes Here. When we entered, there were piles and piles of shoes under the red sign above. When we came out, there were less as you can see. But it's still funny.

It's been quite a trip to cruise through 2012 in photos. It's been an awesome, amazing, difficult, heartbreaking, magical, change-filled, adventurous year. Looking forward to 2013! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas in the Classroom

I'm a strong supporter of the arts being taught in school. This little video with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, Mariah Carey and a bunch of instruments typical of what you'd find in the average classroom (along with some students) made my heart bubble with joy.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Comet, on Cupid!

This year Santa's sleigh looks a whole lot like a suitcase, flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong. And Santa looks a whole like like dear friends of ours from seven moves ago when we lived in the city of Benjamin's birth in the San Francisco Bay Area nine years ago! So excited to get a whole bunch of products we've been without for a really long time, along with some new clothes and a few surprises for the boys which we'd said no, absolutely no to when we saw the markup price here in Shanghai.

Photo my friend sent this morning! Hope it doesn't go overweight!
Of course suitcase full of gifts aside, we are excited to see our friends. Our brief time in the San Francisco Bay Area was quite the roller coaster. We'd just moved to America from Tokyo and experienced some of the worst culture shock we've ever encountered. And then we had Benjamin, born with congenital heart disease requiring surgery when he was just days old. My friends were the safety net that kept me walking the high wire of navigating life with a medically fragile child. And look where we are today! The love and encouragement of good friends set us back on a path around the world. It will be good to see these particular friends once again, exploring Hong Kong and Macau together at Christmastime!

In other news, we received our first Christmas card yesterday, along with chocolate advent calendars for the boys from a friend in Macau. I was lamenting the cost of the advent calendars I saw here in Shanghai (well over $10 USD apiece) and she popped some in the mail from our less expensive former home to the south! What a sweet treat for the boys! Thank you friends!

My goal is to get our cards out in the next 48 hours. I send our Christmas cards from a printing company in America which addresses them and includes postage as well. Saves a few hundred dollars in postage. Just need to find a local printing press here in Shanghai for our local friends!

Back to the Christmas card workshop for this elf...



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Be humble

I've done a lot in my short life. Gone a lot of places and seen a lot of things. But every day I'm reminded that there is so much more to see and do. Even with the crazy vast collection of experiences I've amassed, I don't know everything. I'm still learning. I'm a hungry student of the world, insatiably curious.

Today I was involved in a conversation with three people who were absolutely convinced of something which I knew first hand was completely incorrect. First hand, as in I was intimately involved in the creation of this large thing for over a year of my life. When I tossed out the correct information (without mentioning my background with it), they dug in even deeper and got very defensive. It was such a bizarre situation to be in. I wanted to tell them how I knew the correct information, but I also know no one likes to be told they are wrong. So I shrugged it off, as I'm no fan of conflict and this wasn't something worth rising their level of agitation over by any means. What's that saying? You can be happy or you can be right? I wanna be happy.

It's only now, hours after the fact, when my mind is replaying the conversation instead of shutting off for sleep that I realize I have surely been guilty of doing the same thing as this group was today, looking foolish in the process. Most of the time I'm the queen of research, studying something from all angles before forming an opinion or telling someone about it with great confidence. Having an iPhone changed my life because I have all the info I want immediately, wherever I am. I'm certain there have been times where I've assumed too much about something I know just a little about, and I look ridiculous trying to pass myself off as a knowledgable person about something I'm not actually all that knowledgable.

Which brings me around to this blog. It is here to show you life around the world as I experience it, raw and to the best of my ability. I'm no expert in many of the things I write about, but I am an expert at me, and hopefully my writing it down allows you to see life through my eyes. Hopefully you are entertained and keep coming back.

I don't even come close to knowing all the things that I don't know. Like I said at the beginning, every day brings something to show me there is so much out there to see or do which I haven't experienced yet. I'm grateful I have this blog and a place to record the small amount of what I do know, based on personal experience. But please let me stay humble and never trample over the person who is an actual expert in anything I'm trying to say. Because woo boy, I've been there and it's awkward.

Now back to your regularly scheduled Wandering Life blog... Tomorrow brings some toilet humor, China style. Get ready!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Most Popular

I added a little sidebar on the blog which lists my ten most popular posts here on My Wandering Life. I just went back and read them all, wondering what about them makes them the most popular.

If you are new here (welcome!) or read this in a reader or via email (thanks!), feel free to click through to the blog to check them out. My current favorite of the list is this one. I guess I'm a sucker for a good love story, especially my own!

Sticky

On Saturday Michael and I went off to pay our mobile phone bills in person like we do each month (good grief, this is a frustrating way to have to do things! More on bills later). We pay this bill on the second floor of the local grey market (grey market = place to buy semi-legit and knock off electronics that you've heard about plus every little gadget you've never heard of but now can't live without. Bargain hard.) In front of the building there is always a large tented area selling something new each week. Once it was Lee Brand denim (most with cut labels meaning they are seconds/overruns). Another time it was a knock off of Uggs boots. Sometimes it's luggage or tennis shoes. Always a new configuration with new products. This weekend it was a Muslim food fair.

All the food at every booth was served on a long wooden stick. People could dispose of their sticks in one of several boxes placed around the perimeter. I couldn't help but be that anoying person stopping the flow of pedestrian traffic to take a photo. It's not every day you see an urban tumbleweed tall as the people passing by.

 
It's impossible to be bored in Shanghai. There's something new to see each and every moment!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gifted

I hate to say it, but I've been having one of those weeks. I'm not usually the type to wish a day (or a week in this case) to be over. Every day is a gift, we shouldn't squander our time away, and all similar sayings are ones I take to heart. But this week was the kind of gift you desperately wish to exchange, only to find the store has an adamant policy about receipts (which you must have left in your pocket which went through the laundry), and even regifting isn't an option because it's truly a stinker and you don't dislike anyone enough to lay it at their feet no matter how fancy the wrapping. Yeah, that sounds about right. I'll spare you the details, but just know there was more than once where I quietly locked the door to my bedroom, sat in my picture window looking at my beautiful view, and let tears stream down my face in solitude (the jean ripping incident was the proverbial straw that provoked one of those tearful episodes).
 
I awoke early this morning after far too little sleep, realized my mood was already cloudy, and with great determination fought back using two great tools in my blues-kicking arsenal, Bob Dylan and baked goods. Though I've well documented my lack of love for cooking, there is one thing I always look forward to each autumn: making pumpkin bread. My recipe makes two loaves, so my habit is to keep one and pass the second along to a friend or neighbor. Today was the perfect day for heating up the oven and filling the house with the aroma of fall spices, armed with the knowledge I'd be visiting a friend in the evening. Friends bearing delicious gifts are good friends indeed.    
 
The friend I was visiting just moved house and I didn't know exactly how to find her new home. Being the spectacular friend she is (and also one that happens to have a car and driver unlike ourselves), she offered to pick me up at a halfway point easily accessible via the Metro. This, I thought, was the highlight of my pathetic week. One less thing to be overcomplicated and too much to handle. I wasn't originally going to meet her until 7:00 p.m., but she said 4:15 would work best to pick me up. Extra time with my friend before dinner? No complaints here!
 
Pumpkin bread still warm from the oven, she collected me and informed me of a small detour she needed to make. We then pulled up to a spa where she informed me she'd paid for an hour massage with my name on it. She shooed me in the door where a week's worth of tension, frustration, and general blah was methodically and professionally drained away. I was a new woman when she returned to bring me back to her house. She got busy in the kitchen and handed me a plate. As if a massage wasn't enough, she'd gone to the bakery and procured one perfect slice of the only baked good in the world I love more than pumpkin bread: carrot cake. I couldn't help it, tears started flowing again. This time it was happiness spilling down my cheeks.
 
Especially carrot cake. Especially when you're me.
 
There's another saying out there about needing the bad times to make the good times really good. I'll happily proclaim here for all to read that as tough as this week was, I wouldn't trade an icky minute of it for the absolute goodness of having a friend to share my struggles and ease rough times with such a sweet surprise. It makes sailing through future difficulties look like, well, a piece of cake.
 
I don't know what kind of week you had. Maybe you also need a friend to kidnap you for an hour of tension busting followed by baked goods. And if you do, I wish I could be the one to ease you out of this week and into the blessed release of the weekend. What I can do, however, is offer you the closely-guarded gift of my pumpkin bread recipe and a recommendation to crank up some Bob Dylan (or melancholy artist of your choice) and make some for yourself. And if by some chance you just had the best week of your life, then this recipe is still for you. Bake up a couple loaves and share one with someone who could use love in the form of sweet carbohydrates. 
 
 
Heather's Holiday Pumpkin Bread
 
Ingredients:
1 15 ounce can of canned pumpkin (or the equivalent of finely pureed cooked pumpkin)
3 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
3 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
 
Directions:
1. In large bowl, beat together pumpkin, sugar, water, oil, and eggs until well mixed.
2. In medium bowl, add flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Stir until combined.
3. Slowly add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth.
4. Grease two loaf pans, evenly divide batter into pans.
5. Bake for 60-65 minutes at 350F/175C until toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool 10-15 minutes in pans. Remove, share, enjoy!