Tuesday, December 23, 2008

HAPPY FESTIVA!!

TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY!!

SANTA COMES THROUGH WITH A NEW SLEIGH

You know that you have arrived at a certain point in your life when the only lust that you feel is for a mini-van. In my younger days, I drove many makes and models of vehicles, mostly bought very used and cheap from a relative or friend. The first car I owned was a 65’ Chevy Impala three door that I bought for $100.00 from one of my brothers, I don’t remember which one since they both had owned it back and forth a few times. It had once been a four door until one of my brothers; again I can’t remember which one, got mad at it one day and kicked in one of the back doors so hard it would no longer open. I was twenty-one and in college and to that point I had either ridden my bike to get somewhere on campus or taken the bus, all well and good if you are going to class, but quite difficult if you were trying to do the grocery shopping, not to mention I went to college in northern Ohio where the winters and snow last half the year so no bike riding most of the school year anyway. Though this first car was somewhat a sad thing, it ran and was welcome, although it burned almost as much oil as it did gasoline leaving a huge cloud of heavy white smoke in my wake. And if it hit a bump at a rate of speed higher than 10 miles an hour, the whole thing began to shake and quake violently for a few minutes until it settled itself down again. I sold it a couple of years later for $50.00 to some high school kid, that car sure did get around; bless its little metal heart.

At some point not long after the Chevy I got an old Delta 88 that I was convinced was trying to kill me. Its wheels came off twice! The first time it was a broken tie rod. The second time something somehow sheared the center part of the wheel rim away, it looked like someone had come along and used a giant can opener on it. Both times I was able to feel something was wrong and pull over before the wheel completely fell off. Finally, I went out one morning and when I started it the battery exploded and the hood flew up and I decided that I had had enough! I got the title out of the house, laid it on the seat along with the keys and called the junk yard to come get it.

The one exception to my ownership of used cars was a 1994 Ford Ranger, the only new automobile that I have ever bought from a dealer. I drove that little truck to 275K without once changing the timing belt and it was still going strong when I sold it. That was the vehicle I owned when I adopted my first daughter 7 years ago, but having a baby in the front of a truck just plain wasn’t safe or comfortable, so I also got a used 1994 Isuzu Trooper, which was like driving a tank; it could plow through just about anything. That one I sold several years ago, again, still going strong at 300K and with its original engine! You can’t say I don’t get my money’s worth when it comes to vehicles I’ve owned.

The car/truck I have been driving for the past 3 years is an old Ford Explorer, again, bought used from a family friend and believe it or not, it is a 1994 model… I just can’t seem to get beyond that year. It now has 185K on it, has only two doors and I have two rather large child seats in the back. I have become amazingly adept at lifting my youngest, who weighs 23 pounds, one handed into her car seat on the opposite side of the back seat, then stretching the length of the car to strap her in, then somehow managing to wiggle my way out again, I must then wait for daughter #1 to get in and settled then readjust my driver’s seat for the billionth time and get myself in. When it is raining we all get soaked and cranky going through this procedure, the mom most of all. Once recently, there was a piece of paper on the backseat floor and as I was kneeling on it to strap in daughter #2 the paper caused my knee to slid sideways and I ended up stuck on my belly with my legs poking out and waving helplessly. I had to reach around and push the front seat adjustment forward in order to give myself enough room to get some leverage, (thank goodness for yoga!), my 8 year old laughing her head off at me the entire time. Oh, my lost dignity.

Although this old Ford has been amazingly faithful, and I bless it and give it a little encouraging pat each time it starts in the morning, I have for some time (some time being at least seven years now) lusted after a mini-van. I have always bought what works for my lifestyle rather than what looks good, trucks and small SUVs have worked for me because I have two kids, two pigs, two dogs and a cat to haul, and all the stuff that goes with that kind of brood; groceries, bags of feed, bales of straw, bicycles, the occasional stray creature, not to mention garage sale purchases that might require a bit of room. Plus, I commute about 90 miles a day for work and have relatives that live from Ohio to Florida, requiring space to have handy whatever we might need for whatever situation might arise. I have a very strong Boy Scout mentality (“always be prepared”), so should a situation ever arise where we might be required to live in our vehicle for say a week, I’m ready! Food, water, stroller, books, toys, diapers, candles, matches, glow sticks, blankets, bungee cords, rope, flash lights, hand warmers, gloves, hats, extra clothes, weather radio, tissues, baby wipes, karate gear, plastic bags, maps, port-a-potty, yup, I’ve got it all. Can you say “preparedness”? Needless to say, we need some travelin’ room when we roll, so a mini-van, which in reality are not really all that mini, is what I have had my eye on for years but have been unable to budget for. Though as the Explorer began its inevitable wind down, and I adopted a second child this past September, I just had to try and swing it. I have been saving and had planned to go to the local CarMax in January in hopes that I could find a deal. I was hoping they would be desperate and had been keeping a watch on the internet to see if prices were coming down at all…nope, but I was gonna try and get what I wanted for the price I could afford. Then, out of the blue this week, a co-worker in my department sent around an email offering her 2005 Honda Odyssey for sale for 2K less than I wanted to spend and half of what I thought I would have to spend! Wah hoo! I stared at the email a moment in wonder, what a fabulous coincidence! “M.”, my co-worker, is well organized and meticulous, her family had bought the van new and I knew it would have been well taken care of, and sure enough, she had all of the service records in order in a binder; every oil change! The van was spotless and she was even going to throw in the dual DVD player. I told her that if she threw in the holiday air freshener dangling from the gear shift we had a deal and within 30 minutes it was mine, the object of my long held desire!

As we went over where everything was and how everything worked, M. practically apologized saying that it was a basic model and didn’t have all the fancy features that it could have had. Are you kidding me? This amazing vehicle appears downright futuristic to me, the newest vehicle I have owned was made in 1994! I’ve never even owned a car with airbags before and this van not only has them in front but on the sides. The dash board panel glows like a space ship and tells me if the van needs something, this is more than my kids currently do. It balances itself, it self regulates, and it lets you know when something is wrong, even if your tires need air, goodness! Its passenger side airbag activates automatically only if someone larger than a child is sitting in it. This van’s keyless entry (that cool little push button door unlocker thingy), makes the use of a key to unlock anything almost crude, no more fumbling in the dark to find the keyhole while hold one child in my arms and having the other jump up and down beside me in her impatience to get in, with a push of a button on come the lights and open go the doors, fantastic! It has little cubbies everywhere to store stuff, even in the floor! And cup holders! Lots of them! A family can never have too many cup holders. It has a CD player; my last car had only a broken tape player. And FOUR doors?! Two of them sliding? Oh wow! I feel like I am finally taking the great leap forward! But of course, you who live in the 21st century are already familiar with these kinds of features.
Of course, there has been some getting used to this new-fangled family conveyer, like the first time I stopped to get gas and couldn’t figure out how the little gas door opened since it apparently locked automatically when closed. There I was, running late to work, 17° outside, hunting for some sort of button or latch amongst all of the controls. Just when I was about to resort to the manual, I found it down by my left foot, fortunately, it had a little image of a gas pump on it, otherwise I would not have guessed that that was what I was looking for.

And the second day I owned the van I put the key in my pocket while helping the kids out of it and apparently leaned against the panic button! Yikes, the lights flashed, the horn kept up a loud distressed honking, I looked around in horror... Lucky for me I had asked M. that very day what would happen if I pressed that button, so I knew that was what had probably happened. I didn’t ask how to make it stop however, I tried pressing the button a second time and that caused it to cease. Whew!

So we now ride in the lap of relative luxury among modern conveniences. I feel so much safer now and driving is, well, if not a pleasure, at least more enjoyable than it used to be. The kids of course love it almost as much as I do. Although daughter #1, in her loyalty, wanted to know what would now happen to our poor old Ford, anyone in the market for a mature but sturdy Explorer cheap? We’ll throw in a holiday airfreshener.

Just as a side note: In China, their mini-vans truly are mini (see photo). They were incredibly cute and actually looked like there was a decent amount of space on the interior. Unfortunately, they were not mini enough to fit into my suit case.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

TEA PARTY!

All the tea trees in the world have their organs either directly or indirectly from China, and Asia still produces 90% of the world’s output. China’s tea culture dates back to as early as six thousand years and along with silk and porcelain, was introduced to most of the rest of the world about one thousand years ago. Not until the seventeenth century though did it become the latest craze in Europe and America.

While in Beijing, we were taken to the Lao She Teahouse, which is an amazing combination tea museum, tea café and entertainment house where a succession of short shows are performed before a live audience. Guest are treated not only to examples of time-honored Chinese entertainment forms, but are also served a menu of traditional tea cakes and most importantly several different kinds of tea, one for each season.

Our guide Judy arrived with us to the tea house but didn’t stay to watch the performance. She said she had seen it several times and told us that most young people are not really interested in this kind of “old fashioned” theater. She said she might go off and probably text her friends and meet us after the show was over. And I couldn’t blame her, it had been a very long day of steering us around Beijing, we had already been to the local “Dirt Market” (kind of like a giant flea market), and to the Han MeiLin Museum, both of which I will write about later. And now it was into the evening and she had brought us to the teahouse, she deserved a break from us, no doubt.

Upon entering the Lao She Teahouse we were greeted with musicians playing water harps and an Er-Hu, a two-stringed fiddle whose base is positioned on the knee and bowed. The two together produced a sweet and delicate sound in which to browse the first floor with its indoor fish pond. Making our way up the grand staircase we viewed many displays of traditional Beijing Opera costumes, beautiful artwork; paintings and calligraphy, and a really cool set of panoramas depicting the evolvement of the Chinese tea house. (see photos)

The room in which the performances were to take place was crowded with elaborately carved square tables and chairs. Chairs being arranged all around the table right up against each other so that it was difficult to get in and out, but cozy. We shared our table with several other guests. Throughout the approximately two hours that we were entertained I was amused also with watching the audience. What did others find exceptionally worthy of applause? What made them oooww and ahhhh or left them flat? I was also puzzled as to the actions of several of the audience members around us. One woman at our table who told us she was visiting from, um, can’t remember, but some other country besides the USA or China, was there because she had traveled with her boyfriend who had business in China but was now busy with a meeting. She had brought her laptop computer and stayed on it the entire show, barely glancing up at the wonderful acts. Then she and a server spent a lot of time negotiating the sale of a large quantity of moon cakes, the conversation just went on and on… and on, until she finally obtained a huge stack of boxed cakes. Another young Chinese woman behind us was texting on her cell phone the whole time while one of her companions actually lay down across the chairs and fell asleep! There were quite a few tables that engaged in conversation throughout the performances, though generally in undertones. Which all made me wonder why many of the audience had come to the tea house at all if not for the entertainment?

The first act up was a Tea Ceremony; a woman dressed in traditional clothing gracefully prepared a cup of tea while a musician played the Er-Hu. This was the spring tea, a light and refreshing green tea which was being served up to us in traditional covered tea cups as we watched the performance. Further delicacies were placed before us such as green tea cakes, small tasty spring rolls, sweet and delicate candied crab apples and of course, Moon Cakes, it was after all the first day of the Moon Festival. Between the acts at intervals the next “season” was represented with another tea preparation demonstrated and a new tea served to us. The tea leaves were loose inside the cup and before she left us, Judy had demonstrated the proper way in which to hold and use the cup; the hand holding the cup part sort of reaches around away from the body and the cup is tilted forward while the other hand is used to position the lid for blocking the flow of the tea leaves. It was a bit awkward, but indeed, looked quite elegant when done right. We all pretty much resorted to our old clod-hopping American ways after a few sips done properly. The tea representing summer was cold, I wasn’t expecting that, I always think of Chinese tea as being served hot.

We were thrillingly entertained for over two hours with a magic show, and short selections from Beijing Opera; a man and a woman appeared on stage dressed in resplendent costume with full face paint and high pitched voices. Quite unlike anything in Western culture’s entertainment venue and though interesting, we decided we were glad that we hadn’t elected to attend a full performance of Opera which could mean many hours of gong banging and singing in a language we couldn’t understand.(Go here for a performance clip)

There was also a master opera “face changer”. This is really fun to watch, a masked person, in this case a man, comes out in full opera regalia. The mask he wears is highly detailed and elaborate. He prances here and there, sometimes spinning on the spot and when he is facing you again, the mask has magically and completely changed! Or he will put his hand before his face moving it from top to bottom and a new face on the mask will have appeared by the time his hand has reached his chin. He even got right down into the audience so that people could witness the change up close, and still it was remarkable. (Go here for an example of this kind of performance).

Another performer was part musician, part comedian; he did amazing bird calls as well as used his voice to imitate a high pitched musical instrument, everyone laughed and clapped at this, and it did sound quite funny. Lily especially liked his recital as well as the shadow puppet play which was fun!

There were women with rings and sticks that twirled and tossed and spun. There was a magic show and acrobats and a very entertaining “long spouted teapot” pouring performance where men with tea pots that have spouts that are about 3 feet long prance and twirl and seemed to defy gravity while dispensing into tiny cups in unison their important amber liquid.

The evening ended with a Kung Fu demonstration, with bare chested men flying through the air over one another and tumbling and kicking and chopping. Lily has been a marshal arts student for three years now, so she was quite impressed seeing what could be done if one just practiced enough.

The evening was enjoyable and tasty, the perfect ending to a lovely day visiting several exciting Beijing sites.

KKW ©2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

LOST IN TRANSLATION

So what is the hottest fashion item in China these days? Well, from what I observed it is t-shirts and bags with sayings on them in English. Have you noticed that in the past several years Chinese characters have become very popular as decoration in the USA? They adorn fabric, wallpaper, jewelry, and yes, t-shirts. Do we as English speakers know what these particular combinations of characters mean? Uh… no. Indeed, it has occurred to me that though I am sporting a shirt with what appears to me to be a beautiful example of Chinese calligraphy; I could very well be wearing a shirt that has something quite funny or even offensive written on it.

This also appears to be the case in China where random words and phrases are used as fashion statements. Sometimes they kind of make sense, like our guide Tracy wore one that said ”Dearly Wish To Be Perfect”. But mostly the words appear to be quite arbitrary and either makes no sense at all or could just be poor translations of what is trying to be communicated. Here are a few examples: “Baby Bumpy” and “Passion Active” and “Golden Snow” and “The Cute End Hopes To Be”. Here are a couple that another mom that traveled with us remember: “Hot Wind Life” with a picture of shoes and “Army Life” which was wrapped around a smiley face. (Thanks Love S.!)

Teddy bears are also quite popular on t-shirts, and not just for women. At the Chengdu airport was spotted one middle aged man sporting a black t-shirt with a large rhinestone teddy bear on it with the following statement: “BEAR 400% BRICK”…..alrighty then. Again thanks to the other mom Love S. who not only remembered the exact wording but looked it up and discovered that Be@rBrick is actually a toy popular in China and that the percent sign means the size of the bear (to find out more click here. Funny thing is that I saw these all over the place while we were there and even brought home a small one with an opera face painted on it. So I guess that t-shirt made sense after all.

I truly wish that I had been faster with my camera and had captured more examples, but since the shirts we saw were usually on people walking in the opposite direction on the street, it was difficult. Far be it from me to have chased down some innocent Chinese person in pursuit of reading their shirt. Can you imagine the headline? “Crazy Foreigner Yells To Be Watching The Shirt!” The article probably would have gone on to say that I had fallen flat on my face in my pursuit, certainly that would most likely have happened owing to my ever present graceful abilities, I do seem to have a flair for falling.

Menus were also a good source for literal translations gone awry. One restaurant we ate at, which turned out to have really delicious food, had a very interesting menu. Here are a few examples of dishes and their translations into English: “The Black Pepper Sheet Iron of the Fillet Steak Burns” and “The Fatty Cow Sheet Iron of the Type Pickles Burns” and my personal favorite: “The American Carbon Roasts a Cowboy Row to Burn” Hmmmm, I am guessing that charred meat is involved somehow in each of these dishes. Then on another page of the menu there was “Sleeping The Pepper Fries Cow” and “The Bacon Fries a Cabbage”. I am thinking about turning a couple of these into t-shirts of my own on my Café Press site! Quite attention grabbing, don’t you think?

Translating Chinese into English I am sure must be very difficult, for one thing one must take characters that convey whole words or even concepts in Chinese and translate them into letters that form words in English. It’s gotta be tough. If you want your English name translated into Chinese, say you want a chop made ( a “chop” is a stamp or seal carved into stone), the sales person whips out a translation dictionary and looks up the sounds of your name. The combined sounds could end up as a jumble of words that make no sense or a combination that means something quite bizarre and amusing. On my first trip to China I had a chop made for a friend who’s first name is Bernard. The young woman at the shop pulled out her battered dictionary and looked up the sounds of “ber” and “nard” and proptly started to giggle. “What is it?” I asked. At first she just shook her head, but I persisted. She told me that those sounds translated into something like ‘stinky old uncle’. “Perfect!” I cried, for indeed, this name for Bernie was spot on and he being a person with a great sense of humor, would appreciate the merriment at his expense.

Signs translated into English were much appreciated by us while traveling; it is very kind of the Chinese to even think of us and our need to know where we are as English speakers. We saw this sign at the temple where they did not want you taking photos inside, it read: ‘Don’t Burn Incense and Film In The Hall’. And when we arrived at the Han Mei Lin Museum, the sign directing us where to park read ‘paking’ and was elegantly engraved into stone markers. Perhaps this one had been translated by someone who had visited Boston?

I will be forever grateful that Coca Cola was more readily available for this most recent trip to China, I so very much craved the stuff back in 2001 but couldn’t find it anywhere. This time there was Coke and Pepsi and even diet Coke, yippee! In fact, Coca Cola was first sold in China in 1927, it was then that shop keepers who sold the new drink attempted to transliterate the name into Mandarin and created home-made signs with characters that were the nearest phonetic equivalent to “Coca-Cola" without regard to the meaning and ended up with a product called “bite the wax tadpole” or in another case “female horse fastened with wax.” Doesn’t sound too refreshing does it? So The Coca Cola Company got busy mighty quick in trying to find suitable characters that approximated the sound of their product without it meaning something totally absurd. The closest Mandarin equivalent that fit the bill was “K'o K'ou K'o Lê” and means “to permit mouth to be able to rejoice.” Much better than tadpoles and wax, no? So obviously, the translation problems run both ways.

We searched in vain to find some of these English translation t-shirts while we were in China, but apparently we didn’t know where to shop, and we did go into just about every back alley we saw. However, we did purchase many t-shirts with Chinese writing on them as souvenirs. And no, I don’t have any idea what they say, although BFF Pegeen did try and get someone to translate them while we were there and was just told “it’s okay, it’s okay, nothing bad.” Sure hope we don’t discover otherwise someday while wearing one!

KKW©2008


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

PORTRAIT OF SISTERS

Giving thanks and graditude for all that we have. Just look at those faces! The picture says it all. Blessings!

DEAR LILY

Dear Lily,
There seem to be a lot of kids that don’t believe in Santa Claus, what do you think?
Inquiring in Ithaca


Dear Ithy,
This is what my Mom says: “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive.” And she still believes, and indeed receives presents from Santa every Christmas, but not nearly as many as I do. My Mom is big into fantasy; she says that is why there always seem to be so many magical creatures around our house. There is evidence for this all the time. For instance, things are always going missing and then reappearing days later in the very spot where we had already looked for it. Those we blame on Mischief Elves. And with all the holidays that there are this time of year, there are the inevitable disagreements between the various groups of holiday fairies. Last month for example, I came home to find what looked like red, orange and silver glitter all over the dining room table and chairs and floor. I asked Mom if she had been doing crafts and she told me no, that it was the result of a fight between the Halloween Fairies and the Christmas Fairies, who thought that the Halloween Fairies should have returned to their own tree in the woods and let them start working their magic in the house. The Halloween Fairies said that they still had at least another week before the Thanksgiving Fairies showed up and that the Christmas Fairies had no right to even be in the house yet. A terrible battle ensued and fairy dust got all over the dining room. Mama said she took cover under the dining room table and watched the whole thing. She described in detail every moment of the battle and said she barely missed being speared by a horned Halloween Fairy knock off his balance. I asked her who won and she said that it was hard to tell since both sides had many injured and were last seen carrying out the wounded bandaged up with spider's web and laying on wee stretchers made of oak leaves, trudging out the kitchen door and to opposite sides of the garden. Mama had fairy dust in her hair for days and there is still sparkling evidence of the great battle in various parts of the house. Fairies can be so inconsiderate sometimes! At present the Thanksgiving Fairies are defiantly in residence as there is orange and red dust all over the house. Though the other day I spied a pinch of blue dust glittering in the hallway, I expect it is the New Years Fairies trying to jump in early. I plan to keep my eyes peeled for trouble, because there is sure to be some once the Christmas Fairies find out!
So Ithy, if I were you I would heed my Mama’s words. Sure you would still get gifts from your parents and friends if you didn’t believe, but nothing can compare to the haul that Santa brings. And Mama says that a magical mind is far more fun and interesting than one that only believes what it sees with the eyes in its head. After all, what we see with our eyes is only one way of perceiving the world. So keep your options open and look with your heart. Simply put: believe it baby, believe it all. Lily

Saturday, November 22, 2008

HAIR CULTURE

For nearly all my life I have had long hair, meaning that its length has been anywhere from past my shoulders to as long as to my hips. I had it cut very short once when I was seven years old, the cut was called a “Pixie”, anybody remember those? But other than that it has been long hair for me. I suspose it has been a kind of security blanket of sorts. But now that I am of a certain age it just seems like maybe it is time for a change. I had hesitated up to this point for two reasons, one was just not knowing how I might look with short hair, I assume I looked quite cute the last time, but I was seven, of course it was cute then, but it is now many decades later, I believe my cuteness expired back in the 80's somewhere. The other reason was that my mother has short hair and we are constantly being mistaken for sisters when we are together. (I'm not kidding, it's great for my mom's ego, but highly annoying to me and not so wonderful for my ego), so anything that was going to make us look more alike I was naturally going to feel timid about. Yet when I asked a few of my friends what they thought about my cutting my hair short they were, to a person, very enthusiastic. Okay, so perhaps this change was somewhat overdue. But what finally got me thinking seriously about it was looking at all of the pictures taken while in China. Of course I did most of my own picture taking, but my BFF traveling with us took quite a few hundred as well and there I was from behind... YIKES! Is that really what my hair looks like from the back?! (We won't even mention here my reaction to what the rest of me looks like from the back...one self image dilemma at a time). That horrid realization coupled with the fact that trying to color long hair ever two weeks was really getting quite tedious. And so, I made the appointment to have it cut off. I bought several hair style magazines for inspiration and direction and my friend Jennica generously volunteered to watch both girls so that I could go to the salon for what I hoped would be a remarkable transformation in peace. Thanks Jennica!! Really!

I arrived early, magazines in one hand with examples circled and a large Starbucks in the other (hey, if the Mama is going to have a wee bit of time for herself, let's do it right!) So I had some time to sit in the middle of the salon's waiting area and listen to the conversation going on around me as well as observe a slice of modern culture in action. My stylist was running late, which was okay since I didn't currently have two small, active children to attempt to keep in check like I would normally, and so I just sat back to listen and watch.

Across the room was a mother, teenage daughter and her tween brother, all quite involved in the haircut being given to the teenage girl. Mom was taking pictures, daughter was batting her eyes and giggling and brother was hamming it up and trying to jump in front of the camera, or give his sister rabbit ears with his two fingers. Daughter even wanted the stylist to get in the photo too. Goodness, has this child never been to a salon before? Still, they all seemed to be enjoying each other and their morning task. It made me smile.

Behind me I could hear a matronly voice spouting tidbits of historical trivia. On and on she rattled; about the Victorian hobby of creating hair jewelry from loved one's cast off hair. (Want to know more? Go here ). Then it was on to the origin of the saying “getting the bugs out”, like when you say “I need to work the bugs out of the system.” Which apparently involved Henry Ford, a shortage of horse hair stuffing and the substitution of oak moss for padding in car seats. (I was unable to verify this, but I'll keep searching). On and on went the trivia without any response that I could hear from the listener. After a while I had to take a look at this seemingly endless source of minutiae and turned around to discovered that instead of an elderly client chattering to her stylist, what we had here was a male stylist, a wee bit advanced in age, blathering on to a very dignified looking woman who appeared to be no younger than eighty or so, yet spry, who currently had her arms folded across her chest and was starring at the floor with a look of utter irritation on her face. Oblivious to her lack of interest, Mr. Joey moved on to the oh so fascinating subject of the origins of Jello.

To my right was a baby getting his first hair cut and a proud mom and dad beaming and cooing. Baby looked stunned and bewildered. The place was bustling and humming. Hair was dropping to the floor and being swept up and mingled together with the other contributions falling all around, creating fluffy little piles about the room. What an interesting social snapshot this was when one stopped to look. There were young and old; members of every race; men and women, children and elders, long hair, short hair, black, white, gray, yellow, red and brown hair. Curly, straight, braided and almost non-existent. And all this hubbub was about one thing – hair.

The client my stylist was working on before me was a woman probably about my age with long hair reaching down her back. She was having it trimmed and it looked exactly the same when she was done as when she walked in. Normally, that would be me, but I smiled and to myself said, 'Not this time! This time I will walk out, for better or worse, looking different than when I walked in.'

Finally, it was my turn. I showed my magazines, I discussed, I listened to suggestions and we got on with it. No messing around from my wonderful hair cutter, she put the bulk of my hair in a rubber band and off it came, just like ripping off a band aid, do it quickly and you don't have time to register the sting. And there it was forthwith before me looking like the tail of a dog laying on the counter. Then suddenly it was like Edward Scissorhands had stepped up behind me; hair flew, combs seemed to come from nowhere. Snip! Snap! Poof! Spray! Brushing and combing and twirling of the chair ensued. When it was over I peered at my image in the gigantic mirror and found I was almost unrecognizable to myself. After all, I had never seen this adult face without a curtain of long hair surrounding it. So do I like it? Ah, yeah, I think I do. It will probably take some time to get used to what ever I am suppose to do with it besides washing it. I was warned that it might be a little more work than I was used to with my wash-and-go long straight hair. For sure the sensation of suddenly short hair is fantastic! My head indeed feels ten pounds lighter. And when I wash it for the first time I suspect it will seem like I am practically bald headed.

And do I now look even more like my mom? Well, probably. I'm willing to bet the whole sister comparison thing will most likely get worse. Bother. But that's just the way it is. I'll get back to you in a few days after I've lived with it awhile. I do sort of dread work on Monday, I don't like a fuss, and I am sure there will be comments, but I suppose it would be worse if no one said a word about it, right? Then I would worry that it either looked totally horrid or I was just plain invisible all together. Isn't it interesting that this bit of fluff on the top of our heads is so very important to how we see ourselves and each other. How it becomes a part our security and identity. How we worry, fuss, groom and baby this bit of keratinous filament growing out of the top of us. And how very entertaining this hair culture has been to witness on a cold and blustery Saturday morning; a little snapshot of humanity centered around hair.

I feel it only appropriate to leave you to ponder the brilliantly written words of Galt MacDermot from the rock musical HAIR:

She asks me why...I'm just a hairy guy
I'm hairy noon and night; Hair that's a fright.
I'm hairy high and low,
Don't ask me why; don't know!
It's not for lack of bread
Like the Grateful Dead; darling

Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there, hair!
Shoulder length, longer (hair!)
Here baby, there mama, Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair! (hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair)
Flow it, Show it;
Long as God can grow it, My Hair!

Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees
Give a home to the fleas in my hair
A home for fleas, a hive for bees
A nest for birds, there ain't no words
For the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my

I want it long, straight, curly, fuzzy
Snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Oily, greasy, fleecy, shining
Gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen

Knotted, polka-dotted; Twisted, beaded, braided

Powdered, flowered, and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled and spaghettied!

O-oh, Say can you see; my eyes if you can,
Then my hair's too short!
Down to here, down to there,
Down to where, down to there;
It stops by itself!
doo doo doo doo doot-doot doo doo doot

They'll be ga-ga at the go-go
when they see me in my toga
My toga made of blond, brilliantined, Biblical hair
My hair like Jesus wore it
Hallelujah I adore it
Hallelujah Mary loved her son
Why don't my Mother love me?

KKW ©2008




















Friday, November 14, 2008

INDUSTRIOUS WOMEN OF OLD AND LITTLE WORMS

According to Confucius, in about 3000 B.C. a young girl named Hsi Ling Shi, who also happened to be the empress, was relaxing in her garden while sipping tea. PLOP! Something falls into her tea cup. ‘Oh drat!’ She delicately mutters. She reaches in to fish out the offending missile and pulls out the cocoon of a silk caterpillar. ‘Ewwwwww, well that’s just nasty!’ she exclaims. She daintily tosses the cocoon to the ground and orders a new cup of tea from a palace servant. While patiently awaiting the beverage’s arrival, she glances back down at the cocoon at her feet. It is now soaked and rubbery looking and she notices the end of a thread has unraveled. Carefully she bends and grasps the thread and the cocoon begins to unwind. Being a young woman of ingenuity, and having nothing better to do, she decides to try and weave the thread. ‘Well’, she thinks while admiring her handiwork, ‘this has turned out far better than I thought it would. This cloth I have woven is so soft and, um, silky, yes; 'silky' is such a cute little word.’ She is only fourteen after all, an age when “y”s are added to the ends of most words in a girl’s vocabulary. Recovering from this moment of girly-ness, she begins to study the life cycle of the silk caterpillar and then instructs her gaggle of lady friends in the art of raising them, an art form now referred to as sericulture. And from that point in history she becomes the goddess of silk in Chinese mythology. You go girl!

The resulting industry is wildly popular and an imperial ban was placed on silk worm exportation and sericulture remained a carefully guarded secret in China for nearly 3000 years. Until that is another young princess, who was about to be married to a prince from far away Khotan, refused to go without her luxurious silk fabric and hid a handful of the caterpillars in her hair as she bit fair-thee-well to mom and dad, thus opening the way for trade and the Silk Road as the other teenage girls of the world demand the wondrous fabric.

Again, the Chinese pretty much had a corner on the silk market until in 550 A.D. When the Roman emperor Justinian I (ruling from 527-65 A.D.) sent two Christian monks to China to risk their lives in stealing mulberry seeds and silkworm eggs. They succeeded and secreting their treasure in their bamboo walking sticks, high tailed it to Byzantium. From there sericulture spread through the centuries to the West and into Europe.

Recently, an archaeological find; a small ivory cup carved with a silkworm design, thought to be between 6,000 and 7,000 years old, coupled with other discoveries along the lower Yangzi River reveal the origins of sericulture to be much earlier than originally thought.

While I, daughter #1 and best-friend Pegeen were visiting Beijing, we were taken to the Yuanlong Silk Factory where we were educated on the process of silk making and were able to witness and even participate in parts of this fascinating procedure. Of course, we were also presented with the opportunity to purchase finished wares.

Entering the factory we were first directed to view a display showing the life cycle of the silk worm, or more correctly, the silk caterpillar, which first involves the incubation of the tiny eggs of the blind, flightless moth (Bombyx mori) until they hatch as caterpillars. They are then placed on their favorite food source; mulberry leaves and covered in a layer of gauze (I assume to prevent escape). The little caterpillar packages are kept on woven trays that are stacked on shelves in a climate controlled environment, which not only means controlling the temperature, but also protecting the worms from loud noises, drafts and strong smells. The racket made by a roomful of munching worms sounds much like heavy rain falling on a roof. For six weeks they chomp away almost continuously, by the end of which they are ready to spin their cocoons and they are given the branches of trees on which to attach themselves. They produce a jelly-like substance in their silk glands, which hardens when it comes in contact with air. For eight days they make their cocoons in one continuous thread which measures from 2,000 – 3,000 feet long. It takes 5,500 cocoons to produce about 2 pounds of raw silk. These thousands of cocoons are gathered and the poor little buggers inside are killed by heating them either in ovens or by steaming or boiling. Boiling also dissolves the gummy substance that holds the thread in place. From there the ends of four to eight cocoons are joined and attached to a reel where they are twisted together first with each other, then with other similarly combined fibers resulting in a thread referred to as raw silk that contains 48 individual silk fibers. These fibers are then twisted again with others to make a thread strong enough for weaving. This is called “throwing” and produces four different types of silk thread depending on how many twists are made and in what combination of directions. I began to think about how very complex this process was, but then I realized that the Chinese had several millenniums in order to perfect it.

We were allowed to pick up and even take home a cocoon of our own. They are oval in shape and about an inch and a half in length. The papery cocoons are very light and if you shake one you can feel the dried up caterpillar inside rattling around.

From there we were shown a reel machine. This is where the fiber ends are attached to reels after being soaked in water to loosen the strands and are then unwound. When one cocoon is finished unraveling, another is attached and a continuous thread is produced. You can see the basket in my photo where the dead caterpillars are collected once the fibers are completely unwound. The cocoons that are processed in this way are ones with a single caterpillar in them. Apparently, there are caterpillars that want to share their little abodes and two will get together and spin one cocoon, their fibers becoming hopelessly entangled. Since these are not able to be unwound like the single caterpillar cocoons, they are soaked in water and then a slice is made down one side. The woven cocoon is stretched over a “U” shaped loop (see photo) to make it big enough for four people to grab a corner and the cocoon is stretched to amazing proportions in order to make a delicate, fluffy layer that is added to the pile of other such layers to compose the filling for a quilt. The three of us tried our hand at this stretching and I don’t think that we will be working a silk factory any time soon, the layer we produced was somewhat lopsided. It really was quite interesting though and in true American consumer fashion I really wanted one of these remarkable quilts. And indeed, the factory wanted me to have one as well. I expressed regret that an entire quilt would not be able to fit in my already over-burdened suitcase and was helpfully told: “We make small for you!” And they did, the quilt was folded and all the air was sucked out, it then took up no more space than a travel pillow. Way cool! Though the duvet covers being displayed were truly gorgeous, they were also beyond my budget, and I would have had a very hard time deciding in any case. But oh! the feel of them! The extravagant opulence of contact with this lush textile makes you just want to slip in and wrap yourself up like, well… a silk worm. Perhaps this is why at various times throughout history silk was only allowed to be used by royalty because should the common man sleep upon it he might never want to rise and go to work. Yes, right about now I believe that I will be crawling under my prized silk quilt for a good night's rest. Thank you little caterpillars for working so very hard to keep me comfortable and warm. And thank you too to all of those clever teenage girls thousands of years ago who sought to make themselves useful and not just sit around under trees sipping tea all day long. Your mamas would be proud!

KKW ©2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

WHAT’S SO FUNNY?

About ten years ago, while eating lunch at work with my friend Judith, we were discussing the changes that come along with aging and comparing what others had told us about it. After some dialogue, she matter-of-factly stated that the only real difference she had noticed was that she fell down more. This declaration nearly caused me to choke on the over-boiled bite of cafeteria food that I had in my mouth at the time, because having a visual mind, I immediately picture whatever anyone says to me and I find slap-stick the height of hilarity. I love guys like Steve Martin, Steve Carell and Rowan Atkinson. Even if the Pink Panther movies aren’t the greatest in terms of script, I will still view it again and again just to watch Mr. Martin crash through walls and fall through floors. I can laugh myself silly watching the old Mr. Bean show where visual humor makes up the bulk of the amusement and Mr. Bean only mutters an indistinct word every so often. And that scene in Evan Almighty where Steve Carell is attempting to build his ark and keeps hammering his finger or falling off a beam? Well, let’s just say that when I took Lily to see it in the theater she was sitting on my lap at the time of that particular scene and she started complaining because I was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down my face and soaking the back of her shirt. There is also a scene in the movie Nine Months where Hugh Grant is racing through town to get his pregnant girlfriend to the hospital in time to deliver their baby and they keep hitting people and having to take them along to the hospital. Well, you get the picture, I like the shtick!

Interestingly, my love of Mr. Bean is apparently shared by several million Chinese where visual humor makes up a lot of what the Chinese find funny. While in China my friend Pegeen and I had asked one of our guides, Judy, about Chinese humor and how she thought it differed from Western humor. She was the one who told us about Mr. Bean, and indeed, his most recent movie was playing on the TV while we were there and we even saw a bill board with his picture on it in China. I asked Judy what her favorite funny American movie was and she replied ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith.’ ‘Huh’ I thought, because though I had not seen this particular movie, I was familiar with it and I don’t remember it being advertised as a comedy. I was really quite puzzled so when it happened to be playing on cable after I arrived home I sat through it. Um, no, I don’t think that it was exactly a comedy and I now wish I had asked Judy what it was that she found so hilarious in it. I mean, I can sort of see the tongue-in-cheek absurdity, but laugh-out-loud funny? So, I remain perplexed.

One time when Lily was 3 and she had just started sleeping in “a big bed”, I heard a dull thunk in the middle of the night. I waited, then heard the whimpering. I rushed to her room to find her on the floor.

'What happened sweetie?'

'Oh, I just fell out of bed.' Okay, so I really tried not to laugh at that one but it was difficult and fortunately she wasn’t hurt, if she had been I am sure that I wouldn’t think it was funny, trust me. We purchased a thingy for the bed to keep her from falling out the next day.

Even if it is me doing the falling I still find it exceedingly funny. The other day I was trying to fix a cable under my desk and went to sit on the tiny plastic chair that belongs to my two year old. The thin little leg twisted and down I went, my fanny landing right on the length of that “V” shaped plastic chair leg, which amazingly didn’t break. I lay on the floor writhing in pain, yet still laughing my head off. Lily rushed to my side,

'Are you okay Mama? What did you do?’

‘My bum landed on the chair leg, oooooooohhhhhhhhhh!! Haaaa Haaaa!!’

'Oh Mom, you have to be more careful….that’s gonna leave a mark!’ More laughter from me ensued at that. And boy oh boy did it ever leave a mark, about six inches by three of dark purple. Good thing it is where no one can see it.

So a visit to China just wouldn’t be complete without me falling down at some point. The first time I went in 2001 to adopt Lily our group asked to stop at a huge lotus field so that we could take pictures of the beautiful plants. I think our tour guide thought this was a little ridiculous, but humored us. As we wandered about the edge of the field, the lotus being planted in a wet marshy-like muck, I thought I spotted a four leaf clover. ‘How lucky!’ I thought to myself. Well, it turns out, not so much. As I bent kind of sideways to pick it, Lily being strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, my heel slipped on the edge of an irrigation ditch and I fell backwards into it. I threw one arm across Lily and the other out behind me…and it sunk up to my elbow into the sludge. The ditch was just wide enough for my hips to fit snuggly which meant I was stuck like a turtle on its back. The bus driver and our guide were truly horrified and had me hauled out in seconds and then arms came from nowhere to get the baby off my chest. She was fine of course since I had fallen backwards not forwards and she hadn’t even seemed to notice her sudden change of direction from vertical to horizontal. Of course I was laughing, I wasn’t even embarrassed, it was just plain funny to me. There was a small crowd of mostly older Chinese men and women standing on the road above the fields to stare at the lao wai (foreigners) and they too were laughing gleefully. I suspect that the tale was told again and again over dinner that night of the clumsy lao wai with a Chinese baby strapped to her chest who fell in the, um…fertilizer.

So I didn’t disappoint on this most recent trip to China…I tripped of course. This time it was in Beijing and we were walking the length of the pedestrian shopping area. My eyes were everywhere drinking in the new and unfamiliar. Everywhere that is except where I was walking. I was saying to Lily and my friend Pegeen, ‘What do you suppose are in those little grey crocks with the straw sticking out?’ (see photo), when I tripped over one of those rubber electric cord protectors. There was even a big yellow sign over it warning of its presence, but I wasn’t looking there. You know that split second when you slip or trip and think you are going to catch yourself? Yeah, I hate that split second, it lies! Down I went onto the cobblestone in front a group of tables filled with locals eating dinner. I had even been holding Lily’s hand at the time, but when the big Mama goes down, a tiny eight year old isn’t gonna save her. Okay, this time I was embarrassed…a little, but it was still very funny. Looking back on it now I probably should have jumped up, thrown out my arms and shouted “ta da!”, because not one of those staring Asian faces was laughing, or even smiling for that matter. Nor did they look concerned or sympathetic at my lack of grace, which made it even worse, they just stared. Maybe they burst into gales of laughter after we had made our way out of site, who knows. Oh, and what was in those little grey crocks? Drinkable yogurt. Silly me, I should have guessed.

So what would make a person in China laugh? I wondered and so I did a wee bit of research. One form of comedy that has been popular in China is something called xiangsheng, which translates literally as “face and voice”, but is usually referred to in English as “crosstalk”. It was developed as street theater in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) and by the mid twentieth-century had become a complex oral performance form with anti-authoritarian overtones. Xiangsheng takes the age-old formula of humorous repartee being exchanged between an exasperated straight-man to a muddle-headed clown and draws upon all aspects of Chinese culture for its subject matter. American comic performers have something similar, minus the anti-authoritarian
overtones, an example would be Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First routine. Additionally, teams such as Martin and Lewis, The Smothers Brothers, Burns and Allen, Rowan and Martin, performed this kind of back and forth banter. But the Chinese form adds to this dialogue a complex play on words rich in puns and satire.

Here you can watch a classic example of Xiangsheng, although unless you understand Mandarin you will have no idea what these two guys are saying, even so, you can get an idea of how it is performed. And Mark Rowswell, a Canadian known as Da Shan in China is considered to be the most famous foreigner in China because of his mastery in performing Xiangsheng which the Chinese find amazing since Mandarin is not his first language and Xiangsheng is considered an art form like any other which takes many years to master. In our house we know of him because we are able to get CCTV, China's English language channel where he gives lessons in speaking Mandarin. Here is a link to him performing a solo Xiangsheng skit. Watching these has really gotten me interested in knowing more about this type of comedy. Although I suppose there really isn't any way of truly understanding it without understanding the language and culture in which it is spoken. (sigh)

It has also gotten me thinking about why and how and what makes us laugh and how culture plays a part in this. Our guides in China were all amazing; personable, knowledgeable and reliable. It can’t be an easy job leading large groups of addle-brained new parents around a large, busy, very crowded country. It does seem that a person with an ease of temperament and good humor would have an easier time working as a tour guide than others. All of the guides that we had while in China had a good sense humor, but one especially knew what we as Americans might find amusing, making us laugh easily using some traditional self-deprecation with a certain amount of fun being made at both our cultures. Of course, we were a very easy audience; a captive group of giddy new parents who’s only really deep thought in the last 24 hours was how to find a decent diaper among the local retail offerings. Still, she was quite entertaining and kept us smiling, which is exceedingly important to nervous parents or anyone else under constant fluctuating levels of anxiety, humor brings calm to the heart and mind in stressful circumstances.

On the opposite end of the stick, people with no sense of humor puzzle me. It always makes me wonder how on earth their branch of the evolutionary family tree has survived this predicament that we call the human experience to this point in history. There is so much tragedy in the world, how else to endure without hitting it head on with wit? Frankly, I would become hopelessly ill informed otherwise, for I would cease to listen to the news daily if I wasn’t also able to counter it with absurdity. I am drawn helplessly to people with a great sense of humor. These are also usually the folks with a ready smile and an easy ego; who don’t take themselves too seriously. I don’t think that it is an evolutionarily accident that “a good sense of humor” ranks in the top three traits that young men and women look for in a mate. It ranks higher with what women look for in a man than what men look for in a woman (attractiveness would be number one with men….big surprise). But with women, being able to make us laugh makes the man more attractive to us. Interesting isn’t it? I would be willing to bet that looking for a sense of humor in a mate goes up even further as women grow older. So why is this? Do we need to laugh so badly that we want to pass on these genes to our offspring in hopes that they too will keep us in stitches? Or is it that we wish to be entertained by both our mate and our children? Perhaps it’s just that we want someone to come along and grab the neck of that balloon of stress that inflates throughout the day and release some of the hot air in it while simultaneously making that funny squeaking noise, because funny squeaking noises are FUNNY and we all know it. Laughter releases stress, promotes bonding, encourages love and friendship. Laughter to me equals not just survival but happiness.

So writing this has really got me pondering the comical side of humans. Are we born with a sense of humor or is it developed? Are there cultures that are funnier than others? Are there cultures that use humor more effectively than others? Is what makes us laugh vastly different between cultures and individuals, or are we pretty much on the same playing field? These are all questions I am now preoccupied with and want answered. I know that there are folks reading this who are from other countries and cultures. Anyone with knowledge who would like to enlighten me, please, I am begging you, weigh in and leave your comments. Especially if they are funny!
KKW ©2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

VOTE!

Our wait to vote on election day 2008 was relatively short, about 40 minutes, which is a blessing since attempting to wait in any line with two small children can be a challenge at the best of times. The line that chilly morning snaked out the door and across the parking lot of the local fire department hall. So I put Meika in the stroller and handed her a granola bar which kept her contented, but left a trail of crumbs throughout the line. Lily was not contained, physically or mentally. She remained in constant movement and non-stop conversation the entire wait. Yep, that’s my girl alright. ‘I’m cold. I’m hungry. Hey, what’s that on that guy’s shirt? Meika, watch me do this. Meika, make a face like this. Meika, you are getting crumbs everywhere! Mom, Meika is getting crumbs everywhere!” All at full volume of course.

I had reminded Lily about the voting “rules” before we ever left the house. She has always come with me to vote and we have discussed that she must remain silent and just watch and not get in the way and NOT touch the screen. She assured me that she remembered the rules. So when we finally get our turn at the designated “booth” what’s the first thing she does? Touch the screen of course. Fortunately, her fingers didn’t hit any critical spots.

‘Lily! Don’t touch! I’m the one voting.’

‘Oh, sorry Mama.’

The choices for president come up…

‘Mom! Vote for ‘***’! Vote for ‘***’!

100 sets of queued up eyes turn our way.

‘Lily, remember what I told you.’

‘Oh right, sorry Mom.’

I check the box of my choice.

‘Yeah! You voted for ‘***’ Good job Mama! That’s who I wanted you to vote for!’

Oye, so much for the anonymity of the polling booth.


KKW ©2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Our Build a Bear Visit

Our Build a Bear Visit.

Thanks to a gift certificate from our friend Becky, the two sisters had a delightful first time at Build a Bear. Meika chose a cuddly teddy and picked out a Hello Kitty t-shirt for it. Lily chose a husky dog and a purse for her critter. Both girls enjoyed themselves to the extreme as is evidenced by these photos. Meika's teddy fast became her sleeping buddy. We also went for pizza and had a great day. It was a fun reward after both girls had gotten flu shots at the doctor's earlier.

KKW ©2008

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

BOUNCING BACK

Okay, so I am finally bouncing back from the post adoption trip exhaustion. Oh, did I say bouncing back? Okay, so it's more like crawling and clawing my way back. There is defiantly a certain bit of let down when reality hits one in the face when one arrives home from an exciting, exhilarating and life changing trip, especially when the trip involves bring a new member into the family; a beloved second daughter for me and a little sister for daughter #1.

My new daughter is adjusting wonderfully so far (although we haven't started the daycare transition yet, that will be the true test of her flexibility). She has started to finally eat, which is a relief. And has slept through the night for the past 4 nights! Yipee, that's a big one for me, I am just NOT good on sleep deprivation, although I have to stay in the room with her both at naptime and bedtime until she falls asleep, but that is sooooo much better than her screaming the first week for me to hold her all night. Can a mother sleep standing up? Horses and cows can do it, well, yeah, but they have four legs, not two, and don't have to be somewhere the next day. No, this mom can't sleep standing up. Zoned out and dazed while standing, yes, sleep, no.

I am also enjoying my time with her at home very much. That is when we are in fact at home and not at a doctor's appointment...or the store... or ferrying daughter #1 to and from school and karate classes... or going to and from some other appointment or other. But, this is just what we do; run around like chickens with their heads cut off (did you know that chickens really DO run around when their heads are cut off? But that's a story for another time), and the sooner that daughter #2 gets used to the gentle chaos that is our life, the better.

That is one of the things that is so much fun about going somewhere far, far away, you get to put everyday life on hold...sort of. After all, if I am on the other side of the world, I can't do a whole lot of worrying about the dreary old bills, or economy, or daughter's school, or my work, or whatever usually wakes me up in the middle of the night. Being in a completely different country and culture is not only fun and interesting, but liberating as well. Certainly, not understanding what anyone is saying could be frustrating, but I found it oddly freeing: my mind didn't have all of those background stories to block and filter, it was just white noise except when I understood the random word or two.

And all of the new experiences are wondrous and have no relation what-so-ever to my everyday life; it's fantastic! Seeing and experiencing something different everyday really wakes you up in the morning. And leave for the day and when you come back someone has made your bed for you and cleaned up your mess. Hungry? Go and find a place to eat with new and interesting offerings and someone else will serve you and take away your dirty dishes. Need to get somewhere? Hail a cab and hand them a card with your destination on it, no need to worry about traffic or gas prices. Even the money is so much more fun to spend since it doesn't look like money that I am familiar with, so there is much less guilt associated with spending it, not to mention the fantastic exchange rate making me feel like I was a real high roller: sure, sure, no problem spending two hundred yuan on dinner for four (the equivalent of $28), I've got a wallet stuffed full of 500s! Fun, fun, fun!

But then one comes home. Hey, don't get me wrong, I totally love my life! And having a new little one to love and show the world to is unlike any other happiness there is, but there is that blasted thing called responsibility that keeps nagging at me. You know, just the regular stuff: job, housework, home repairs, bills, kid's school work, dinner, laundry, pets, you know... life. Drat. But then, a trip like I have just had probably wouldn't feel so wondrous if everyday were carefree. Besides, I have to admit that coming back home brings to the forefront all of the little blessings that we enjoy without really thinking about them too often, like having a home that belongs to me in a place that I have chosen; living in a house that has running water that I can drink and a bathroom in it, with a toilet that doesn't require me to squat over it; that has heat and cooling and enough room to allow my family to live comfortably. Coming home to a city with stores that have a wealth of food, and a job that includes health insurance for my family; to doctors that are well taught and know how to keep my family healthy. To a home that was kept safe by good neighbors and friends. Oh, and my bed, my fantastic, comfy, soft and downy feather bed, oh how I missed thee! And my washer and dryer, my, my, what an incredible blessing is a washer and dryer! Home to a place where I feel free to make all of these choices for myself and family, especially the choice to add to it through adoption as a single mother. Wow. What a grand and incredible world it is out there, but as the saying goes, “There's no place like home.” Even with all of its quirks and annoyances, what better place to curl up and recover from life's attempts to throw you a curve-ball. What a fantastical, marvelous, howling good trip we've had... and it's good to be home. (Sure do wish someone would come and pick up after us though, this place is a mess!)

KKW ©2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

MEIKA UPDATE

So here it is the third day after meeting Meika. It is truly remarkable how well she seems to be adjusting. She sleeps through the night (score!), wakes up smiling and does not appear to be grieving her departure from the orphanage at all. She knows who the Mama is, totally loves Lily, and copies everything she does (which isn't really a good thing) and is content and loving towards my friend Pegeen as well, but does seem to know which one of us is the Mama.

She laughs a lot, loves to be tickled and loves to cuddle. She knows how to feed herself, but isn't eating much at all, she only seems to want the bottle of rice cereal and formula mix. Any suggestions out there? The first day after I got her she ate pretty well, but today she doesn't want any food at all...except to play with it, she loves to get the spoons and a plate while we eat and practice eating without really getting much in her mouth. And when I try to feed her she laughs and shakes her head and turns away.

While we are in the hotel room she is very comfortable and plays alone well with the stacking cups and coloring book, or with Lily of course. But if we are out and there are other people around she won't let me put her down for even a second. The only time we have seen tears was when she was in the stroller and myself, Pegeen and Lily were all behind the her and none of us was talking, she didn't know where we were and started to cry, but once she saw me and I reasurred her, she was fine. She wants to know where we all are and if one of us gets up from the table at breakfast she will look around until we come back.

She throws herself at my legs and hugs me and if she is sitting on my lap she will through herself at my chest arms outstretched and try to hug me. If Lily throws out her arms Meika will run into them and give her a big old hug. What a sweetie!

She has a lot of energy and her personality seems to be a very happy one like her big sister. What a blessing these children are!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CHINESE POTTY TRAINING

So have I mentioned my fear of public restrooms? Well, it runs deep – very, very deep. Probably stemming from those early childhood memories where I am standing - no taller than the toilet, my mother at my side plastering the entire piece of cold white porcelain with prodigious amounts of scratchy toilet paper. “Don't touch the seat! Don't let your legs touch the sides! Don't hold on to any part of the toilet!” Leaving one small child precariously balanced with arms and legs outstretched and trembling upon the edge of what I was convinced was a giant germ ridden throne of death. Enough to give anyone a deep and abiding complex, complete with nightmares. Oh my yes, I actually still have recurring dreams about white tiled public restrooms, complete with loathsome crud and an urgent need to relieve myself with no where else to go. Horrible, simply horrible!

In China, “western” toilets are not common. A western toilet is the kind where there is somewhere to sit, and though I don't like for myself or especially my child to sit on a public toilet, and like my mother attempt to plaster it in paper, nothing compares to the experience of an Asian toilet, which is basically a porcelain, flushable hole in the ground.

So too late did it occur to me that Lily, my eight year old, might need instruction in the proper way to use a Chinese toilet. We were at the Lama Temple in Beijing and were told by our guide Thomas that this would be a better place to use the restroom before we went to lunch, it being relatively cleaner than the restaurants. For those who do not know, a Chinese toilet is flush with the floor. It is also white porcelain and flushes like a western toilet, but there is no where to sit, you must squat over the toilet, balancing precariously and concentrate on many things at one time; hitting the right spot, NOT hitting the wrong spot, such as your clothes or shoes. It would help if there was a handle of some sort to hold on to, but there is not. And of course, there isn't much room in which to work all this magic. And most restrooms don't have toilet paper, you must bring your own, and if there IS toilet paper to be had, it is in a role when you come into the restroom and you have to remember to get some before going into a stall or you're stuck empty handed so to speak.

So into the stalls we all went, the silly Mama not giving any instruction nor grabbing any toilet paper. And while I was busy and unable to do anything about it I hear Lily tell me she is sitting on the “floor” to go potty, isn't that cool?. “You're what?! Seriously? You're sitting on the floor?!”

Small unsure voice from the next stall, “Uh...no?”

“Lily, tell me the truth, did you sit on the floor to go potty?”

“Yes....I'm sorry! I didn't know!”

“Okay, don't do anything else, have you pulled up your pants yet?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Hold it! Stop! Do nothing else!” I shout. I finish doing what I need to do as quickly as possible and rush to my child. She has indeed already gotten her clothes back up, which horrifies me further since now it probably won't make a bit of difference whether I attempt a clean up with wipes or not. Then I spot her backpack on the floor, oye! how it didn't get soaked I will never know. I try my best to wash her down while she strattles the toilet since there are now two of us in the small stall and no where else for her to go. Once she is as clean as is possible under the circumstances and put back together, I point to the foot petal that is used to flush the toilet and Lily for some unknown reason thinks I am pointing to the toilet itself and puts her foot right down in the center of the thing. Arrrrgggg! NO NO NO! This isn't happening! She has now stepped in the worse possible spot imaginable for someone as germophobic as me. Fortunately, I had invested in waterproof hiking shoes for both of us before traveling and soon have her hopping to the bathroom sinks. So there we are at a temple, me lifting my child to run her entire foot, shoe and all, under the tap. I certainly hope the laughing Buddhas were laughing at this spectacle. After taking a deep breath, the humor in the situation hit me and as I waited for my friend Pegeen outside I told our guide Thomas what had happened. I do believe he was horrified that I was even telling him about it, and possibly even more horrified that I thought it was funny.

So get busy all you soon to travel Mamas out there, start practicing your deep knee bends and squats, you'll need the extra training, believe me। And instruct those young ones, this could happen to any of you! Be vigilant. Be prepared. Mothers have enough complexes when it comes to their children without adding the fear of tumbling into an Asian toilet.


KKW ©2008