Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday afternoon downtown

Our weekend started early with an overnight get-away at a hotel while my parents watched the kids.  (this is pretty much the optimal way to begin a weekend!)

Matt and I spent most of Friday morning working on renewing our local drivers licenses.  In the past three weeks I've done paperwork to renew my ND drivers license, my local drivers license, and passports for both of the girls.  In other words, I'm just about done with filling out forms and waiting in lines and chasing random papers and all sorts of other frustrations that come with the territory.  My new ND license is good for 6 years and my local license for 10 years (woohoo!) and the girls get another 5 years with their new passports.  So I seriously bought myself some time this past week.  [Of course with five children and minor passports only valid for five years.... well, we renew a lot of passports.]

It feels good to have a few of those 'biggies' behind me.  Life as an expat adds all sorts of layers and levels of complications to life :)

This morning Matt and I arrived home to a house full of smiling children.  After we snuggled and hugged and heard the recounting of the previous 24 hours we headed out on our Saturday adventure.  First stop, the subway line.  Destination: downtown.

[Lydia and John Paul were buddy partners all day long.]

In the mall area of a subway stop we saw this store selling all sorts of creative dressers.  One had license plates covering the drawer fronts.  From NC of all places!  

Then it was off to the science museum.  The children and I are somewhat frequent visitors but it was Matt's first trip.  Confirmed what I've known all along - he is the perfect science museum daddy.  

As we left the science museum the familiar "I need a snack" chorus started up.  The alleyway was lined with fruit sellers who were happy to oblige.  Pineapple for everyone.  

We crossed over to the big square right on top of the subway stop.  This is the very center of downtown where the major east-west artery crosses the major north-south artery.  

There's the Chairman (facing south) presiding over the citizens.  Behind him is the science museum.  Directly in front of him is a beautiful plaza, complete with fountains and foreign children dancing in the spray :)  

It seemed most appropriate to take a few more pictures.  

Boredom is not a problem around here :)  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the finish line is in sight!

We are so close to finishing up the school year!  Two months ago I thought we would finish earlier than this, but we've slowed our pace a bit and been busy (distracted?) with other things, and spent a week traveling and it's just slowed.  I'm extra thankful we maintained a nice solid pace for much of the fall.  Spring is busy.

The pile of "finished" grows daily and we are in the midst of a big math review of the content we covered throughout the year and our last writing assignment is 'due' Friday and I'm excited, but also a bit nostalgic that it's all coming to a close.

This is the first full year that we have (somewhat) successfully navigated the home school - local school combo.  Hallelujah.  I feel like we all deserve a medal :)  

Today Isaac sat at the home school desks with us for a short while.  It's definitely going to be a new ball game with him out there this fall.  I joked that I might need to invest in another white board.  The girls LOVE to pretend they are the teacher and they can't resist the pull of the white board!

The biggest changes next year are for Isaac though!  He'll be leaving local preschool (probably in late June, early July) and starting local elementary school in early September.  That means he will always be home in the mornings and attend 1st grade in the afternoons (same schedule as the girls).  I'm excited to have him with us, but also not sure how it's all going to shake out :)

Mostly, right now, I'm looking forward to some slower paced days this summer.   Just a bit more to do and we will be done for the year!  yay!  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

around here

Last weekend we said a (temporary) goodbye to some family friends who are headed to the States for the summer.  The girls double-sleepover-ed the weekend .... the first night at our house, the second night at theirs.  Friday night they made a double batch of cookies to sell on Saturday morning.  I decided to totally step out of the kitchen and see where they ended up.

And where they ended up was with over 20 dollars in profit!  They also learned a few hard(ish) lessons in teamwork/cooperation, and there may have been a few small measuring errors.  ha.

We often stop at the playground on the way home from preschool pick up.  In the winter I'm trying to soak up the warmest sunniest part of the day.  Today I realized that this schedule is going to have to change.  Noon is HOT.  We've got lots of daily schedule changes headed this way as we finish up home school, and then taking a break from both local elementary and preschool too.  Still not sure what it's all going to look like but I. DO. LOVE. SUMMER.

My older three spent Monday evening at a dino-themed birthday party and 24 hours later the talk is still dinosaurs dinosaurs dinosaurs.  

The hatch-your-own-dinosaur-eggs party favors are a big hit.  Isaac got a dinosaur book off the shelf and started identifying his new pets.  I wish you could have seen his face when he heard the word "velociraptor" for the first time.  It was a mix of "that is the coolest name you could ever have for a dinosaur" and "how have I lived six years and never heard this word before".

We definitely have a few emerging themes for the summer.  Dinosaurs might be one to add to the list!

Friday, May 15, 2015

back at the ranch....

While I was away in Beijing Mom and Dad had their work cut out for them, keeping the household moving smoothly.  I got a phone call the afternoon before I left asking if the girls could be in "one last performance" from the Tang Dynasty poetry contest last semester. 

I groaned.  Not even inwardly.  I outwardly groaned :)  In retrospect I hope the drama teacher on the other end of the line didn't hear it!  

But I was happy to bid farewell to all Tang poetry in January and had no intentions of ever revisiting the subject.  Since the girls school did so well they were invited to one more award ceremony of sorts.

They didn't have to repeat the performance, but they did have a few short lines each and wore the costumes and it all went off without a hitch, with only two days of rehearsal :)

Only 6 of the original troupe of kids were invited to this little outing. I'm guessing that being the only blond-headed ones helps move your name to the top of the list.  There are certainly many perks, and plenty of drawbacks too, in the life of an expat kiddo.

So Wednesday Mom helped get the girls in their gear, and them to school early, and off on their outing.  I got a stream of photos from the drama teacher as I was boarding in Beijing later that afternoon.

I was thrilled to see them looking so happy.  The previous "last performance" was grueling.... long bus rides, long waits backstage, few smiles at the end.

So this was the perfect ending (*fingers crossed that it's really the end*) of the whole shebang.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

a quick run up.....

to Beijing.

Ack.  How and when did I get myself into so much travel this spring?  48 hours after we got off the train John Paul and I headed for the airport, Beijing-bound.  This month was definitely the best time to go though, since Mom and Dad are here to manage the logistics while I'm away!

He's a dream travel partner (4 years old is definitely a sweet spot!) and the trip was smooth as silk.  He had a blast, every moment of each day.  But I am so glad to be home!

We arrived Tuesday noon-ish, my friend Leah picked us up at the airport and we headed for her house.  I have several friends in her neighborhood and enjoyed visiting with them while John Paul ran around with the other kids.

Wednesday morning we headed for one of the few English-speaking therapy resources in the country.  I would love love love to go back and see our original Speech Language Pathologist from ND days, but that's just not a reasonable option.  And Matt and I really wanted to have a current speech eval, so this was our best bet.

He rocked his appointment.  So much testing and he hung in there til the end.  I'm fairly confident the results are gonna be exactly what we're hoping to hear, but I won't know anything definite until I get the official write-up from the clinician.

His speech has come so far!  I'm excited for him.  I think he's now 80-85% understandable (to a stranger).  I understand almost everything he says.  Even in the past two months he's added some new sounds - /f/ and /v/ - and while he's not getting it every time I hear those sounds more with each passing week.

Tricky sounds for him (in addition to /v/ and /f/), are the /ch/ and /th/ and when he's tired or talking extra fast he can still miss the initial /s/ (but this is less and less common).  Also a little concerning is that he's releasing air through his nose when he says /v/ and /f/.  Honestly, I'm not even sure how he manages to do this, because try as I might I just cannot breathe out my nose and say 'fish' at the same time, but some how John Paul has picked up this (bad) habit.  The good news is that it happens more in isolation and less in normal speech, so hopefully this will be a short lived problem.

For a 4 year old with a late palate repair (at age 2) and only 4 months of speech therapy under his belt, he's doing amazing.  So grateful for the Lord's healing touch.  I'm eager for him to be age-appropriate speech, but I don't want to miss out on the journey he's on, always looking ahead for the next thing.  So we'll keep walking forward, and see where the Lord leads.

After speech and lunch we headed back to the airport.  He sure looks little right there in the world's largest airport, huh?

He is easy to entertain, happy to watch the trains and airplanes on the ground, and play cards in the sky.  Of course, he also pushes every single button within reach (overhead light on, off, on, off) and virtually takes apart the headsets and this might have been the first flight where we didn't accidentally call the flight attendant.  I call it a win.

Matt and the kids drove to pick us up and sweet John Paul..... oh, this was maybe the best moment of the trip.  He ran for his Daddy's arms, got covered in hugs and kisses from the siblings, and then settled in his seat, right in the middle of the van.  And before Matt or I knew what was happening, he burst into tears.  "I didn't want to go on the airplane.  I wanted to stay here."

More tears, heaving sobs, and all this time absolutely no convincing him that he actually had a great time (which he did!).  He remained adamant that the trip was an absolute disaster and he never wanted to leave again.

He's four, and he's learning how to express his emotions.  And this was perhaps the most convincing way to tell each of us that he IS SO GLAD TO BE HOME!!!!

We woke up this morning to a rocky household.  Matt headed out early to the train station (he's the one who typically has the travel, so this is closer to normal for us) and we all struggled to find our groove.  Tired boys (late night at the airport) and overwhelmed Mommy (why didn't I plan more meals ahead of time?) and we ended up barely making it through lunch!  [Actually this whole month has been full of days where we struggle more than normal.]

Now it's quiet.  Girls at local school, Isaac playing on the living room floor, tired boys sleeping.  I'm off to build a dungeon with Isaac :)

Monday, May 11, 2015

the cave

Our final day in Yangshuo we visited a cave.  There are lots of caves in karst mountains and I'm sure if I understood more geology I could tell you why.  On some of the mountains you could even see caves, high up on sheer rock faces.

This one is huge.  And ready for visitors.  The lighting was really cool.

We followed a path through the cave, up and down stairs, around corners, etc.

See the lights?  It's really quite pretty, and attention grabbing.

the team pic

Stalactites and stalagmites and all sorts of interesting formations, captivating scenes.  

Here's the view from the cave entrance.  The scenery is just so dramatic.  Every view is different, and it never gets old.  

Oh, and at the end of the cave tour?  a mud pit swimming pool.  Only Dad and Matt were ready to fully enjoy the experience.  

The kids might jump in next time?  Me?  I'm pretty sure I'm never getting in that mud :)

It was a full-on trip.... the travel, the time there, the whole thing.  So so glad to be traveling with this man.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

two trains home

So our return trip was an even bigger success.  The main reason?  We had soft sleeper tickets.  And let-me-tell-you, it's a game changer!

A few pics from the journey....

John Paul working hard to shoulder Matt's bag.

I really like this picture of Luke reaching out to hold his Daddy's hand.  This is boarding the bullet train - you can see the station is soooooo nice!  New train stations here are just beautiful.  The old train stations are, ummmm, not so beautiful!

Matt's carrying a week's worth of laundry and all sorts of other stuff too.  His pack is bigger than Luke :)  Luke is carrying a half-eaten pack of Mentos and his water bottle.  When he gets tired of his load I tie his bag onto Matt's.

It's good to be 3.  And it's good to be the Daddy of a 3 year old.

The bullet train is a smooth ride.  The seats are roomy, the aisles provide plenty of room to roam.

Isaac and the big sisters did a lot of reading.

And here's Mom and Dad, big smiles, ready to board the night train home.

Great trip, and good to be home too.