Wednesday, December 14, 2011

a new dress

We're back in the US and currently battling jet lag. Usually I'm a stickler with jet lag.  No naps other than the usually scheduled ones, and you must stay up until regular bedtime, but this time I've been trying to be nice.  Babes and I took a nap the first and second day, and I thought it was going to be ok.  The first day she went to bed at 9 and woke up at 5.  Not good, but not too shabby.  But the second day she was up at 3.  NO GOOD!  So yesterday I was back to my old nazi self.  NO NAPS!  And yesterday she slept from 6:30 to 5:30.  I'm going to keep her up again today and hopefully we'll make it to 6 tomorrow.
Aside from that I've been furiously knitting Christmas presents and I'm almost done with almost all of them (I really hope to finish them so that people have presents under the tree).  It doesn't look like I'll get to my grandmother's shawl, but I know she won't mind that it's not under the tree.  I can't post any Christmas present pictures, but I will post a picture of Zora's dress that she wore on the plane.

Friday, December 09, 2011

I'm a big kid now (or make things easier on yourself)

There's a lot out there on the internet about kid proofing your house, but not nearly as much about making your kid more independent in your home.  I put a lot of thought into making things very accessible for her so that she can do many things by herself.  None of it's perfect, and I don't think any of it is original, but I thought I would share because sometimes its good to have inspiration.  And I also know that sometimes I won't think of teaching Babes something until someone mentions it (like it only recently occurred to me that she might want to learn how to tie shoes).
Anyway, the biggest place you can help yourself out is the bathroom.  Babes potty trained at two (I can't give potty training tips because she basically trained herself, she HATES to be dirty) and I cursed myself for doing it because every hour or so I was running into the bathroom to lift her on the potty, and hold her up to wash her hands.  I eventually ended up putting in two stools, a short one so that she could climb on the potty herself, and a bigger one so that she could reach the sink to wash her hands.  Add to that a towel with a topper so that she can't pull it off the rack and after a while I only needed to spot check to make sure she was cleaning herself and washing her hands well.  I also added a hook at child height so that when she's done with her bath in the evening she can hang up her own towel. 
From Blogger Pictures

In her room, I started off by making sure that she could reach all the drawers with her clothes in them.  Which is actually not that hard since her clothes are so little that she really only needs two drawers.  We used to fight about what she could wear (starting at two WTF?) so now she generally picks out her own clothes (starting around 3).  I try to keep things in sets so that she knows what goes together and only seasonal clothes at her reach. In her closet I took a shower curtain rod and hung it at Babes' height so that she could hang up her own clothes, so whenever she takes off a jacket or a dress she's supposed to hang it up herself (it takes some teaching, putting clothes on a hanger is not intuitive).
From Blogger Pictures
  We also bought her (well actually my Mom bought her) a my Tot Clock, it has a face that changes colors and she knows that when it's blue it's night time and time to stay in bed, but when it turns yellow she can come out and get us because it's morning time.  It worked really well for Babes (I have recommended it to friends and it works for some like a miracle, but not as well for others).
In the kitchen and dining room, there aren't too many things.  I am thinking about making a shelf easily accessible that has snacks and cups, but I haven't done it.  She has just started being able to go into the fridge and get her own tiny oranges and peel them herself which is fabulous.  The only thing I would recommend is a really tall stool so that she can help out with the cooking.  With the very tall stool she can see into the bowls and really see what's going on.  But I only let her stand on it while I'm next to her, it's really tall.
From Blogger Pictures
The other thing is a booster seat for the dining room chairs.  Once again it brings her to a proper height for using forks, knives and spoons and reaching cups and having conversations. 
From Blogger Pictures

Well, that's all the tips I've got?  Do you have something that makes things easier for you? Let me know I'm always looking for tips.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Cold in Chengdu

So the weather has gotten cooler... And I'm sure you're thinking, well it's December it should be cool right?  Well yes and no.  Chengdu is a weird place.  It just dipped below 60 yesterday.  While the weather is mild, it's also damp, which makes it chillier than what the actual temperature says. It's a chill that also seeps.  If you are standing around outside, you don't feel cold at first, but as you stand there it seeps up under your clothes and gets you.  BUT all that being said, it is in the low 60's upper 50's (between 12 and 17 Celsius).  You would not be able to tell it from what the Chinese people are wearing.  NOW granted most of the homes here are built without heaters (something about geography, central planning, and temperatures, Chengdu didn't rate built in heating for their buildings).  So I can some of the extra layers, I imagine that if you get cold, it might be really hard to warm back up.... maybe.  BUT, I have not turned on the heat once in my apartment and it's still a comfortable room temperature.  I'm not in short sleeves, but I also am not in a sweater, and we're not cold.  Here's where it gets tricky.  Chinese people leave their friggin' windows and doors open ALL THE TIME!  Even at the school where we take Babes.  I brought her into school one day, and she was dressed for the weather.  Her teachers FREAKED!  They said the classroom was too cold for her to wear what she was wearing and they pulled a sweater out of her bag and made her wear it.  I looked out the back of the room and the outside door was WIDE OPEN!  I was a little worried when we signed her up that her classroom wasn't heated, but it's not that cold in Chengdu, I figured it would be a learning experience and toughen her up.  But the fact that it's not heated, AND they leave the doors wide open drives me crazy! 
The other thing that I don't understand is the towel down the back.  Go to any public playground during the winter in Chengdu and you will see a bunch of sweating, red faced Chinese kids running around the playground.  They all look about half a step away from heat stroke because despite the fact that they are running around at top speed and often on an indoor playground they are still wearing there long underwear, sweaters, winter jackets, arm warmers, leg warmers, and a towel down the back.  Why the towel,  you may ask, Well, someone I know asked about it.  The towel is there because the kids get sweaty, so they run around, the towel gets all sweaty, and when they're done, they remove the towel and viola!  The kids dry again!  Forget the fact that their hair is now soaked in sweat, and I'm sure they're legs and arms too, but they are mostly dry.   Don't believe me?  Here is a picture I took of Babes' dance class (note some days the window is open in the studio too, which is why Babes is also dancing in a sweater, which I feel is somehow wrong).

From Blogger Pictures

Sorry it's so blurry, I was using the bad camera through the studio glass.   

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Good bye Thanksgiving... Hello Christmas!

So I survived the Thanksgiving Extravaganza!  Even though I kept waking up in a panic the whole week before I managed to pull it off and no one got sick (my measure of a successful meal)!  And despite a mishap with the macaroni and cheese (I pulled it out of the fridge to put it in the oven and it was still frozen!) the lunch was on the table and ready to eat at 12:30 as planned.  There were even times in the morning when I was standing around thinking that I should do something, but everything was done (except of course for the frozen mac n cheese).  To make a meal like this involves LOTS of planning.  I started a month before, I picked out recipes, looked around to make sure that I would be able to find all the ingredients for everything I wanted to make, then I made a menu.  The menu went up on the fridge and beside each item I had a make ahead schedule.  Then for the day of the event I had an oven schedule, also posted on the fridge so that everything was cooked and things that needed to be hot were hot, and everything was cooked (except the mac n cheese, which ended up in the microwave and then stuffed in the oven at the last second).  I ended up with twice as much food as needed; a whole extra turkey, an uneaten cake, and a gazillion leftovers!
 This is what a Thanksgiving meal for 20 people looks like before it's cooked. 

From Blogger Pictures

And here are some pictures of the spread.  Thanks to a friend of mine who actually has an eye for photography!  

From Blogger Pictures

From Blogger Pictures

 And the end of Thanksgiving means the beginning of the Christmas season so this past weekend Babes and I decorated the tree to the first playing of Xmas music this year!  I used to have fairly strict rules on when Christmas started and when I would start decorating for it, but since I've been overseas I've realized that it's important for me to decorate because otherwise, in many places, you won't see Christmas.  Oh sure, you'll see some trees and lights, but it's nothing like the holiday spirit that you get in the US.  So every year after Thanksgiving I put away the fall color and bust out Christmas. 

From Blogger Pictures

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mac N Cheese to feed a crowd

Next week we are hosting "The Great Consular Section Thanksgiving Extravaganza!" Ok, well, it's not actually all that impressive, that's just how I refer to it in my head... Anyway, we are hosting DH's section for a Thanksgiving lunch.  All totaled we are looking at about 20 people to come and eat Turkey.  I went to the fish market this morning and bought two 10lb turkeys to serve.  I took my camera, but was too focused on not slipping on the muck to take any pictures, but I intend to go back so I will be sure to snap some pictures next time.
Anyway, last night I made the Macaroni and Cheese to put in the freezer for the extravaganza and I realized that for this I actually have my own recipe.  It tastes very similar to my Aunt P's recipe which uses cream of mushroom soup and old bay seasoning, but since I have neither cream of mushroom soup nor old bay seasoning I can't make that.
Anyway, I made this recipe, but tripled the recipe.  I took the double portion, without the bread crumbs and put it in the freezer for next Wednesday.  In case your wondering, this is what a double portion of Mac n Cheese looks like. 

From Blogger Pictures

The third portion I topped with bread crumbs right away and served it for dinner with sweet and sour cabbage and a tomato, cucumber and basil salad. 

From Blogger Pictures

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A shawl for my mamma

At the beginning of the summer I started making a shawl for my mamma.  I started on this idea because I saw this picture of a shawl in the knitpicks catalog and it was beautiful!  (If you're a knitter and have not looked at the knitpicks website then you must go there now!) Anyway, to make a long story short, I did not get to knit that shawl, but started looking around for a shawl to knit my mamma for Xmas because she didn't want anything that would be too hard to put on or take off.  The one I picked is named the Elizabeth Zimmerman 100th anniversary camping shawl (which is a mouthful to say) by Mwaa knit obsession (it's free on Ravelry).  I took the idea from the original idea and held my yarn double and then changed colors as I knit to give it a fading looking. 
To be honest, I never really saw the point of knitting lace shawls...  I'm not 80, I don't generally wear shawls, but by God was that fun!  I found myself wanting to knit on the shawl exclusively.  I had a couple of other projects that I was supposed to do, but this one was so much more fun.  I've already planned out at least two more, possibly even three or four.  I guess what I'm trying to say is.... I get it now.  

From Blogger Pictures
From Blogger Pictures
From Blogger Pictures

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lasagna from almost scratch

Last week I embarked upon  an afternoon of lasagna making.  Why, you may ask, would I do this?  Well, I recently rearranged my consumables closet (read-hordes of food) and realized that I have like 12 boxes of lasagna noodles!  So I said to myself, Self we need to make lasagna! Then I looked around and realized why I have not made lasagna before... no ricotta cheese.   BUT have no fear, ricotta cheese is very easy to make.  It apparently only takes 20 minutes (despite THIS websites claim to do it in 5)
I bought some milk, blocked off an afternoon and prepared myself....

From Blogger Pictures

and gathered together the ingredients.  Milk, salt, vinegar, a big bowl, a slotted spoon, and a colander lined with paper towels. 
Then I put 3 cups of milk, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, and some salt in a big bowl and put it in the microwave. 

and I microwaved it for 3 minutes, but....

it was still too milky and had not really separated out. So I popped it back in the microwave some more until

the curds are much easier to see and the liquid was pretty clear.

So I drained it...  And while that was happening

I boiled the noodles (it occurred to me later I could have made the noodles from scratch, but lets not get carried away shall we?)

and made the sauce.

grated the cheese.

And finally assembled the lasagna. 

then it baked for awhile.

And I served it with some stir fried greens and honey glazed carrots and radishes

Monday, November 07, 2011

There and back again.

Well, the bidding process is almost over!  DH has been offered a position in DC for the next two years to start next summer (Hmm that was an awkward sentence).  I'm excited, but...
ACK!  We're going back to the US!  This means I'm going to have to mop my own floors and clean my own toilets!  And OH NO I'm going to have to get a job! Who is going to hire me?  I've been at home now for more than 5 years?  How do you translate overseas stay at home mom into recognizable skills on a resume?  And yes, I do have skills.  I can organize a move, including suitcases, airfreight, ground freight, and storage shipments across continents, seasons, and languages.  I can arrange transportation for an 80lb dog including import/export paperwork requirements.  I can organize a meal for over 15 people with one oven, 4 burners, and no catered or boxed dishes (meaning no stove top stuffing, or pre cooked turkey from the grocery store).  I can think about what we are going to have for Xmas in October so that everything is ordered and arrives at post before the holiday.  I can arrive in a country speaking only minor amounts of the language and find grocery stores, vegetable markets, bakeries, etc.  I can start from scratch every two years....
*sigh* despite my whining it will be good to go back. We'll be super close to family.  I'll be able to understand the dominant language spoken.  Everything will be much more convenient.  I'm curious to see if all my hard won knowledge will become rusty once I am back in the US and can go to the store to buy granola and yogurt and fresh baked bread.  But oh the cheese, and ooh fresh milk.  Oh and one stop shopping!  I'm curious how much time shopping and making food will consume when I don't have to go to three different stores for my weekly shopping and still not find everything that I'm looking for.  And we'll be living in our own house, so if I want to paint a wall, I can.  Oh to have color on the walls!  I can't wait to paint!  I'm going to have to start looking now to see what colors I want to use!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Out with Babes

So Babes and I walked up to (what I feel to be) one of the better dumpling shops in our area.  We had a nice walk there, and then a nice lunch and a nice walk back.  While we were there it crossed my mind that I have not done a "useful things to have when traveling with a child" post.  And while none of this is earth shattering, if you've got a toddler or preschooler and you travel you might like to have some (or all) of this stuff with you. 

1. Umbrella (in a lot of places rain pops up unexpectedly and it's always nice to have a tiny umbrella to keep dry)
2. Travel fork and spoon in carrying case.  (I have been many places overseas and in the US where a child sized fork and spoon made all the difference between me feeding my child and my child feeding herself)
3.  Scissors with protective case (CANNOT BE CARRIED ON A PLANE) these are awesome, I saw some Taiwanese mom chopping up noodles with a pair of scissors and I've been carrying them ever since.  They make quick work of noodles, dumplings, large pieces of meat, vegetables and fruit.  Much easier than trying to carry a knife, and easier to lean over and cut something too. 
4.  Hand Sanitizer. 
5.  Liquid soap in a travel sized hand sanitizer container.  Can I tell you how many times I've gone into a public restroom and not had soap.  Call me fastidious, but my hands feel yucky for the rest of the day if I have gone to a bathroom and only had water to scrub with. 
6.  Wet ones (I used to carry a lot more, but now this is just for emergencies)
7.  Travel sized bug spray.
8.  Travel packs of tissues.  These can be lifesavers, not only for blowing your nose, but also makes excellent replacement toilet paper.
9.  Water bottle (how many times have you gone somewhere and the only drinks they have are cokes?) 
There are other very useful travel items, but these are things I carry in my purse.  Because I go into public bathrooms too. ;)
If you can think of anything that I've missed, or that you've found really helpful let me know.  I'm always looking to make my life simpler. 

Thursday, November 03, 2011


Did you know how easy it is to make your own granola?  It's even easier than making yogurt.  As with everything else my first thought was "why make it when you can buy it?" So I never bothered, but, as with everything else, we ran out of granola and I looked into buying it, but it is expensive!  So I finally broke down and looked up how to make it.  It didn't look too bad so I decided to go for it.
It's messy and involves smooshing ingredients together with your hands so I enlisted my resident ingredient smoosher to help me out.

From Blogger Pictures

ingredients in the bowl.

From Blogger Pictures

then the smooshing

From Blogger Pictures

after the baking in the oven, add the dried fruit (if you like that sort of thing)

From Blogger Pictures

tasty granola in your cabinet with the rest of your cereal!  Did I mention that I love oats (oatmeal, granola, oatmeal bread, oatmeal muffins)?  I think I might be turning into a horse.  

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Fall is in the Air

We're back in Chengdu, and the weather has turned grey and cool.  Cooler weather always turns my mind towards soups, baking, and knitting.  In fact, I had to make a run to the Yarn Market near the North Market today because I realized I did not have enough grey and black yarn to finish my shawl.  I've only been to the yarn market once before, and that was during the summer.  Back then it was a listless place with empty stalls, and brilliant sunshine driving the merchants under awnings.  But today, all the stalls were bustling, there were little old Chinese ladies everywhere fingering the yarn (and my hair... grrr!) and discussing the colors and weights of yarn.  And the colors!  I had to keep my blinders on because I was only there for black and grey, but oh!  I wanted to stop and touch and take home everything.  I wish I had taken my camera because despite the greyness of the day (a usual occurrence in Chengdu) the yarn market was awash with happy colors.  *sigh* but I digress.
Anyway, I have already made my first soup of the season (actually second soup, I made a baked potato soup earlier this week).  My family loves Chicken n' dumplings. 
From Blogger Pictures
Can you believe I'd never had it before I started cooking for myself?  My dad despises dumplings so ne'er a dumpling was seen in my parents' house growing up, but in my house Chicken n' dumplings is a regular on the rotation, I can't wait for the weather to cool down so that I can make some more.  Then I baked a loaf of bread (another sourdough oatmeal loaf) and made some pumpkin gingerbread for Halloween. 
Oh!  And I discovered that I can make more than fudge!  I made these Halloween pumpkins out of peanut butter and confectioner's sugar!  Super easy and super cute!

From Blogger Pictures

Up next: make your own granola.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The end

We have reached the end of our vacation.  Surprisingly, we did not tour any temples, or visit farms, or do a lot of shopping, but we had fun.  Our vacation routine was simple but relaxing.  In the morning Babes would wake us up and we'd watch an hour or so of cartoons, this was followed by breakfast at the hotel and then off to the pool.  After the pool we'd hit the town for lunch, then back to the room for quiet time and then back to the pool.  We'd end the day with dinner then off to bed to repeat the next day.  I thought I'd get bored with this routine, after all we were on vacation for two weeks, but it was relaxing and nice.  I didn't even feel the need to get a massage or a pedicure (even though I really did need a pedicure). 
Some thoughts on Bali....  First of all, the weather was GORGEOUS!  Big blue skies, just the slightest touch of humidity to soften the breezes, and the temperature hovering right on the edge of hot.  I think part of the reason we were reluctant to do anything was that we just wanted to soak up those blue skies.  Coming from the grey days of Chengdu, blue skies are worth just sitting around in. 
Second, the Balinese seem very friendly.  They have that old fashioned customer service with a smile that you don't see very much anymore.  I saw very few people with evil scowls.  I wondered if the smile was the default expression of the Balinese and they were really happy at all.  But i decided that I didn't care.  I can't stop you from thinking bad thoughts about me, at least this way everyone looks pleasant. 
Third, like Taiwan, religion in bali was part of their daily life.  In front of every business, in the entrances to restaurants, every so often on sidewalks there were these little baskets of fruit, flowers, and rice that I assume were offerings to a God (are Hindu Gods Gods or gods?).  There were tons of little mini temples or mini shrines everywhere.  Driving from place to place you could see larger temples with people attending services in the neighborhoods we passed.  Bali reminded me that Islam and Hindu are two religions that I know very little about. 
Despite the touristy nature of Bali I really enjoyed myself.  It is very nice to have the infrastructure there and not have to worry about little things, for instance everyone that we encountered spoke enough English to make transactions.  I had drinks with ice in them (something I generally don't do when I travel) and didn't have tummy troubles. 
Bali October 24, 2011