Monday, February 27, 2012

tips for pack out and moving part 2-- the purge

All right, so I've figured out what I want to go into my airfreight, now what about the rest of this crap?  Now it's time to purge.  This step is not really necessary, but it helps to keep your weight down and believe it or not it helps when you unpack.  I usually start my purge a couple of months out so that I can take my time and I don't get frustrated with how long it takes and quit half way through.
I don't know about you, but for some reason my stuff breeds in the dark.  I might start off with a few sheets of paper or a couple of books here and there, but by the time we leave in two years I've got stacks and stacks of paper, shelves of books, clothes, craft items, and other assorted--well crap that has limited use.  So every two years or so with a pack out date looming on the calendar like an ominous cloud I begin a purge.
I usually start with the least used room, no reason, except that in that room I can make as much of a mess as I want and it doesn't disturb anyone's life.   Then I open all the drawers, go into all the closets, look at all the bookshelves to see what we haven't used in the last two years that I can get rid of.  In this way, I slowly move through the house from room to room getting rid of things. 
I know this step sounds simple, but it is time consuming and will help you when it comes time to actually organize your things for pack out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Where am I?

I'll give you three guess as to where I took this photo?  Did you guess the US?  Well you'd be wrong.  I took this picture at the new mall just around the corner from our place in Chengdu.  The new Wangfujing mall is only one of the dozens of new malls opening in Chengdu all the time.  In the year and a half since I've been here I can think of at least three new malls that I have been to.  I don't know how many more are out there that I just haven't been to yet (and probably will not get to).  Although strangely enough, many of them are almost always empty. 

I took this picture in the Bellagio restaurant.  It is inside the Wangfujing mall.  When we first arrived we walked up to this place trying to find the restaurant because it's fabulous, but the mall was completely gutted.  Both the mall and the Bellagio opened during Chinese New Year so we took the opportunity this weekend to go check them out.  The Bellagio was fantastic!  We liked everything we tried and would go back there again.  It wasn't dirt cheap, but the atmosphere and the food were well presented. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

I don't know what to cook

 Before we joined the foreign service I was a pre-made girl.  If it came in a box, a can, or a bag, I knew how to use it and expand on it.  About the only thing I consistently made from scratch was cake.  But then we joined the foreign service.  Our first post was Beijing, and it was delicious and cheap to eat out, and eat out we did (and we both gained a bunch of weight)!  Then we went to Baku.  The first year I didn't cook a thing.  The markets were crazy, the food odd, everything was in Russian-- oh and I was pregnant.  By the end of the second year I had started to cook some things, but I was still having trouble coming up with things for us to eat.  After all, I couldn't go to the store and buy a can of soup, or a box of tacos... what's a girl to do?  By the time we moved to Taiwan, I realized that the world simply did not supply their grocery stores the way America does, and for better or for worse I was going to have to make some changes in the way that I thought about cooking. 
So I began simply.  Instead of dwelling on what wasn't there, I started to look at what WAS there and I tried to figure out what I could make from that.  I discovered that with a little flour, sugar, and vegetables there are TONS of things that you can make yourself.  Now, despite the fact that we live in China and nothing looks familiar we eat Western style almost every night. When we go out we eat Chinese because Chinese food in Chengdu is good, Western food...not so much.  This is true in most places outside of the major cosmopolitan areas, you are not going to get quality __ food unless you are in that country.  In all other cases it will be expensive and tasteless.  So cook what you can at home, and eat the local foods out, this way you get the best of both worlds. 
I guess my point is, that if you are a foreign service spouse, or officer, you have to be brave, and daring even on the culinary front.  There are very few things that you can buy, be it in a can, a box, or a package, that you cannot make, and often times make better, at home with a few simple ingredients.  And when you start to think it's impossible remember that your grandmother (or maybe your great grandmother) used to do all this AND she didn't have a microwave or a refrigerator.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tips for pack out and moving in Part 1--air freight

I know it’s still early, but we are getting close to summer transfer season.  And while I’m not supposed to leave post until July (at the earliest) I’ve already started making my lists and mentally preparing myself for pack out. 
Why, you might ask, are you worried about pack out now?  For heaven’s sake, the movers will come and do everything for you!  Well, my friends, I’m glad you asked that, because, as this will be my sixth move, experience teaches me to prepare early.  While the movers will pack everything for you they basically just want to get everything in a box as quickly and carefully as possible.  This might not sound like a problem, but imagine 3-6 strangers in your house with boxes, paper and tape emptying drawers, closets, boxes, in 16 hours—and this includes loading the truck—and you might begin to understand why you need to be ready in advance. 
First things first:  Do you have items going to more than one place, or in more than one shipment?  For instance do you have an air shipment and a sea shipment?  Are you sending some of your things to storage, or to another house somewhere?  What about your suitcases?
Think about where you are sending your things and by what method.  Speak to your shippers early on in the process to find out if you can ship food, electronics, liquids, or aerosols.  If you get a lighter shipment (like an airfreight) to get you settled in before the main bulk of your household effects arrives, separate out those items first.  In this shipment you want to think about what is the bare minimum that your family can survive on and feel at home.  Things like kitchen supplies; pots, pans, plates, silverware, anything you use regularly to get food on the table—and take it from me pack your muffin pans and loaf pans if you might ever make muffins or bread.  I now have 5 loaf pans and 2 muffin pans because every time I move I don’t think I’ll need them, and every time we get there I need them and buy new ones. Bedding; sheets, towels, blankets, pillows—these may or may not be provided for you when you get to post, but chances are they will be weird, scratchy, and unfamiliar.  There’s nothing like sliding into bed in your own sheets to make you feel at home.  Toys—if you have kids this is a must.  There is nothing worse than arriving to an empty house, except arriving to an empty house with kids asking every two seconds “what can I do?”  Clothes—I would bring as many seasons as will fit, I once packed only summer and fall clothes because we were supposed to arrive at post in early summer and there would really be no way it could take 6 months for our items to arrive… well we didn’t get to post until late summer and by the time our shipment arrived it was late fall and I was freezing! 
Of course, every family is different and you are going to have to make your own lists as to what you send by air.  One way to do this is to make a list of everything you use as you use it for a month, then pare this list down to the essentials. Like getting rid of a pizza cutter when a knife will do, or instead of 3 plates per person per day, one set of dishes for each person. 
On packing day have your packers pack and weigh this shipment first so that if you have extra space you can add to it, or if you are overweight you can take things out before your entire house is packed up. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dragon Dance Competition (picture heavy)

This past weekend we (the consulate community) were invited to a day of activities sponsored by the Pujiang government.  The whole day of events was 14 hours, but our clever Community Liason Officer finagled a way for a few of us to just go for a three hour section of dragon dance competition and tangerine picking.  The whole day looked like it was chock full of fun, but I'm glad we were only there for three hours.  The crowd was enormous!  We entered the city, and it looked like a ghost town, there were a few stores open here and there, but the wide streets and storefronts were virtually deserted.  We couldn't figure out where any of the people were....until they stopped the bus.  As we left our buses and were hurried towards the VIP seating area for the competition we walked through a corridor of Chinese at least ten people deep and elbow to elbow  for at least 100 hundred yards (and that was just a small section on the crowd I think the buses plowed through half the crowd to get us as close as possible) it was like walking down the sidelines of a packed football stadium. Oh yeah, and there was a line of police holding the crowds back too.  The performances (once they finished ALL of the speeches) were pretty interesting and creative too.  Many of them put together to depict scenes from famous Chinese folk tales (well famous to the Chinese, I have no idea why there were tons of bulls being pushed around by a fat guy fighting soldiers).  Anyway, here are some pictures to enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Temple fair pt 2 -what to eat (picture heavy)

One of the main things that Chinese people like to do is eat.  I think that might be one of the reasons that I like China so much. They take food and eating seriously and there are so many different types of Chinese food that you can eat for a week on nothing but Chinese food and still not eat the same thing twice.  Temple fairs are just an extension of this love.  The street food available at a temple fair is wide and varied.  There are bugs and sea creatures on a stick, sugar juice, rice balls that are thrown at a peanut powder, fried things, noodles, meat on a stick, and so on....And while I did not sample a great variety of things while I was there, I did take lots of pictures....  Enjoy!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

At the Temple Fair pt 1 (picture heavy)

Chinese New Year, is the biggest holiday in China.  Despite communism and all the years of suppressing Chinese culture, Chinese New Year is still celebrated in a big way.  It's one of the few days of the year when you will actually see people in a temple in China burning incense, and giving offerings.  The cities themselves empty out as everyone goes home to visit family.  For at least the first two days of the NY almost everything is closed.  From the big foreign chain stores, to the tiny mom and pop shops on the corner.  You can almost walk down the center of the streets because there is no one out.  Not only is it traditional to celebrate with family, it is also traditional to celebrate with fireworks.  And while this year was subdued compared with last year, the displays were impressive.  (I have video, but I can't post it here) The back yard fireworks displays (or middle of the street firework displays) could rival those of any US city's fourth of July celebrations.  And that is just any one display, and there are hundreds.  From about 11:30pm-1 or 2 in the morning each firework display is like the grand finale at a 4th of July display.  It's a solid wall of explosion like sound.  Our poor dog.  
One of the other things that people do is go to a temple fair.  A temple fair is, well a fair outside a temple.  There are vendors selling food, drinks, clothes, trinkets... well almost everything.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and while I could describe to you the chaos of a temple fair, I will let you peruse these pictures so that you can get a feel for it. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

On the plane with Babes

My child is a professional traveler.  No, she's not on the plane every week, or even every month, but at least several times a year we are flying somewhere, and at least once a year the flight is over 8 hours.  I'm sure I've said this before, Mr. Business Man, but my child and I are NOT going to hold you up for your flight, so no cuts!  At 4 1/2 my child can get off her own shoes, and coat and put them in those stupid plastic bins for x-ray.  I have been doing these flights often enough that I have packed our carry-ons strategically so that I can pull out the liquids (of which we usually only have the minimal amount, I carry an empty water bottle until we get through security, but there's sanitizer, lotion, chapstick...) the computer, AND get my own shoes off and through security faster than Mr. Business Man and his stupid laptop and expensive shoes. 
But that's besides the point (sorry for the rant).  Tips for flying on the plane with a 3-5 year old girl (I imagine these tips will work for a boy too, but the toys will be VASTLY different). 

From Blogger Pictures

I ALWAYS pack Babes her own carry on bag.  She has a back pack with wheels, that's just the right height for her to pull.  This makes her feel grown up, because she's got a bag like mommy's AND it's got most of her toys in it.  This way it's separate from my stuff and she's got it in her control.  It's usually a surprise what's in it.  When she was younger it was always new toys and books, but now we have a closet shelf of toys that are only brought out for plane rides. 
In the picture are: a magnetic dress up set (about the size of a book), a coloring book and color set from target, play doh, woodkins (another dress up but with actual cloth), a read along book, sansa shaker (an MP3 player that she can operate by herself loaded up with books, and her music), child sized head phones (this is important even if you don't bring an MP3 player because the plane headphones will just fall off), coloring books, books to read, colors, stickers, strawberry shortcake and my little pony.  I also made her a notebook, with coloring pages, and letter practice pages, and places for her to put stickers, and a few games that we could do together.  Not pictured but also useful is a playmat which gives the ponies and Strawberry a place to live.  We've also had a lot of use out of magnetic paper dolls, but as you can see my child REALLY likes dress up. 

At the airport, don't let your child sit down.  The temptation is there, you're waiting with a bunch of other adults, everyone is sitting and quiet, you want your kid sitting and quiet too.  DON'T DO IT.  Get up and walk, make your child walk, if you need to sit try to send your kid on quiet, but purposeful runs (ie throw this out, or hey what's that on the wall over there, Oh can you see the plane out that window) or try the mommy says game (it's like Simon says, but easier if your child is not there yet-"Mommy says, touch the ground, Mommy says jump").  Your kid is going to be strapped down on the plane for at least the first hour of the trip so you want to get as much wiggle out as humanly possible (I know for some kids this is not possible but it will make the beginning of the plane ride at least a tiny bit easier, and every little bit counts).

Pack a few snacks, we almost never use them, but they are good for unexpected delays and if their ears get stopped up on take off and landing.  I usually also carry extra toys and books in my carry on in case the surprise toys are not cutting it.
Pack extra clothes-it's always better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.  Kids are messy, and things happen. 
A pillow and a blanket can also be useful but I haven't packed one in awhile, we've just been using the ones on the plane.  

You can also adapt some of the kids games for plane travel. We have a dice game and a couple of card games that travel really well.  And I made a travel spinner for our silly faces game and put the rest of it in a folder and that traveled well too.

Monday, February 06, 2012

After the New Year

I have been busy and I have been lazy.  After we came back from the US for our marathon Christmas visit (5 weeks baby!) there was jetlag, and WHAM right into Chinese New Year.  And like last year, DH was out of town for it.  I thought with DH out of town I would have plenty of time for blogging, knitting, cooking, and preparing the house for moving... BUT NO.  What I did not count on was 1 child who, after spending 5 weeks at the grandparents house, was constantly used to being entertained EVERY WAKING MOMENT.  And 2 dogs who generally got along, but could not be left alone because playing could turn into fighting.  So between the three of my small charges, and the ball tossing, and the dragging, bikes, dogs, balls, and whatever downstairs for daily exercise, by the time evening rolled around I did not do anything at all.  I pulled out my extended versions of Lord of the Rings and I methodically went through all six disks over five evenings.  Nothing like escaping into the reaches of Gondor with some knitting and decaf tea to bring a soothing end to your day. 
I'm not saying it was stressful, or hard, because I only have 1 kid (I honestly don't know how people with more than one do it), just busy and tiring, I'd forgotten how much energy puppies have, AND how long a day is when there is not 4 hours of school to break it up.  It was really my own fault, I did not have enough planned for either the dogs or the little one until mid week, and after that everything went along smoothly. 
SO, I'm done, with that, and I'm done being lazy after that, I've got some posts planned, and some pictures from some Chinese New Year events to post, but until then here are some pictures of some of the things I've been knitting: 

The big dresses are things that I've previously knit for Babes.  For Christmas, Santa brought her a Madame Alexander doll and I thought she might like some matching clothes for "Christina".  I adapted the patterns from the big dresses myself. 

I've also got a glove and a half of these, but I ran out of yarn on the second day of Chinese New Year, and the yarn store is still NOT OPEN!!!!!! I really want to finish them because the pattern is amazing and so beautiful on.  I would post a picture, but their in the car, waiting anxiously for the opening of the yarn store so I can buy matching yarn!