Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Holiday madness

Dulwich had their Christmas concert the week before Thanksgiving, which really threw me off my game!  I don't know why they did it so early, but they did a fantastic job.  Each class had a song that they sang, with the other kids backing them up.  The costumes were amazing and so adorable.  In previous school productions Lily has been very shy.  Not anymore!  She was front and center and singing her little heart out.  She loves her music teacher and is always singing around the house.  I couldn't have been more proud of her.

Being an expat can be challenging, but we do our best to celebrate all the holidays the way we would back home so the kids don't miss out.  In the spirit of that, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the Saturday after T-Day.  With the kids in school and Lucas working it made the most sense.  We had Jane and Duane (Brits) and Mark and Carmen (Canadian) over along with the kids to celebrate an American Thanksgiving complete with too much food, the Macy's parade, and football.  It was a great day with good food and good friends, can't ask for much more than that!

On Sunday we headed to Mohamed and Warda's for a second Thanksgiving with our BASF family.  There was turkey and two different lamb dishes as well as all the usuals.  We always have fun with our BASF family, swapping relocation stories and vacations ideas and tips.  It's always hard to be away from family during the holidays, but Lucas and I are so lucky to have made so many good friends here in Shanghai.  Without them the holidays would be a depressing thing indeed!  Now, if you'll excuse me I have to go wrap presents, I am determined to have it done before the 24th!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

UN day, Halloween, & Mommy's birthday!

One of my favorite school activities is UN day.  In the weeks leading up to UN day, the kids learn about different countries, and how they differ from us.  Parents are invited to go in to the class to speak to the kids about their home country, I volunteered to speak to both kids classes, but unfortunately Charlie was sick the day I was to talk with his class so I had to cancel.  I did talk to Liliane's class though.  I read a book that talks about what makes America the Land of the Free and showed them pictures of the things they talked about in the book, and then showed them pictures from around the country so they could see the huge diversity of America.  Most had no idea just how big America is.  I finished it up with a quick book about Betsy Ross and a flag for the kids to color.  It was loads of fun and the kids asked lots of smart questions.  On UN day the kids are all invited to dress up in their countries local costume for a parade that the whole school puts on.  Charlie was still sick for this so he had to stay home, but I dressed Lily in jeans and fourth of July shirt and a Red Sox cap, sounded pretty American to me. You can see how proud they are to take part of the parade and show off their country. One of the best things about being an expat is the exposure the kids get to other countries, languages and cultures.  Most Americans never leave the country (Canada does not count) and in my opinion, this often makes them very unaware of the world beyond America.  It's a shame really, because there are so many amazing places to see and things to experience.  But I digress...

For Halloween this year, the kids were allowed to dressed up in costumes for school.  Charlie made an adorable pirate, and Lily a beautiful mermaid!  I think they just loved the novelty of wearing something besides their uniform to school.

Last year we didn't go trick or treating because the idea of running up and down stairs in the apartment just didn't appeal to us.  This year a friend invited us to join them in Green Hills an American style neighborhood.  The best part, for the hours of trick or treating the whole complex is closed to cars, no worrying about crazy drivers! The kids had so much fun running from door to door collecting candy, and I'm pleased to say, remembering to say Thank You.  If not for the ayis taking kids around the neighborhood we could have been back home in New Jersey, well maybe not Jersey, there was no snow after all.  The kids came home with an impressive haul.  Charlie was even complaining about his bucket being too heavy for him to carry, poor guy!

I celebrated my eighth 29th birthday this year, yay!  My day started with beautiful cards that the kids made for me, my favorite kind, and each gave me a Pandora mom charm and a new leather necklace for them.  I proudly wore them all day.  After dropping the kids at school some of my friends took me out to breakfast and surprised me with flowers and a gigantic cookie.  We had a great time enjoying a leisurely breakfast and chatting, something that we can't seem to manage with the kiddie around.
Lucas has planned to take me to dinner in Puxi at an Italian restaurant originally, but our ayi had to go home to help with a minor family emergency and our backup babysitter was busy too!  So, we decided to just do a family dinner instead at the Blue Frog, one of our favorites, that just happens to be across the street.  Little did I know that Lucas had also invited friends to join us.  It turned out to be an amazing birthday, it's going to be hard to beat next year!  I am super lucky to have such a wonderful family and such good friends!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sports Day

Dulwich celebrated there annual Sports Day a few weeks before Halloween, yes, I'm that behind in my blog.  Anyway, each year has their own day so it's not too crazy.  Year 1 had fantastic weather, that actually had the parents seeking out shade.  Starting in Year 1 each child is assigned to one of the four houses of Dulwich, designated by color.  Liliane is in Howard, the red house.  The point of each sporting event they took part in was to earn a point for their house.  To earn a point they had to complete the task properly, not finish first.  Don't want them getting too competitive!  Lily did very well in following the instructions and seemed to be quite fast when racing.  We may have a future track star.  It was only an hour long, which flew by, as we cheered the kids on.  The points were tallied at the end and unfortunately Howard came in dead last.  Luckily Lily and the other kids didn't seem to be upset by this, and I can only think that it has to do with how well the school encourages them to be supportive of their fellow students and even to reward house points to someone if they feel they did something nice or really well in class.
Nursery had their sports day just two days later.  We didn't have the sun, like we did for Year 1, but it wasn't bad either.  Since the nursery kids are all 3-4 years in age, parents were asked to take their child around to each of the ten activities.  They were given a sheet with the activities and explanations and once they completed them they got a stamp.  There was no competition here, just a fun way for the kids to spend an hour.  Charlie really loved the obstacle course and once he completed all ten activities we headed back to do it over and over!  I was worried that he would be upset when I left, but he gave me a hug and kiss and got in line with his class and waved good bye!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Toilets and Family Picnics

It was a busy week for the Marks family, so what better way to relax and unwind than a night out with your hubby and some friends?  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I just had to try More than Toilet, the restaurant themed around the toilet.  It did not disappoint, as you first enter the restaurant you walk past a tub with a pair of leg and smoke coming out of it, complete with a poo filled sink.  Then, in keeping with the theme you walk past a row of gold urinals hanging from the wall just like any other artwork you'd display.  We were shown to a table with four toilets with two sinks between them.  Each sink had a little pile of "poo" in it, which was covered with glass, thus making up our table.  The seats are all sealed and they do not flush.  Cold drinks came in little urinals and hot ones in small toilets.  Food came served in a variety of dishes, including a tub, sink, and a toilet.  It was mostly Western fare and nothing spectacular, you are obviously not there for the food.  A unique experience for sure!
Sunday we took the kids to the Green City Annual Family Day Picnic.  The kids got to play in a bouncy house, slide down a shark, ride a bull, and play a clue game.  These events are always sponsored by local companies that all have booths set up and in an effort to get more traffic they made a game out of it, giving you a clue card that would send you to a vendor that would then give you an informational pamphlet and another clue.  All in all we visited maybe 20 vendors and came away with several pens and a few other little goodies.  The kids also each got a Halloween hat and a popcorn and soda.  However; I would personally like to thank who ever came up with the clue game.  If it had not been for that game, I would not have visited the Philippines booth and entered their raffle.  I am a planner and I can tell you exactly what trips we will be taking right up to our move back home in June 2015.  The Philippines did not make the cut, there were other places that were just higher on our must see list.  But, I did go to the booth and I did fill out the raffle ticket, and I did WIN the grand prize of a trip to the Philippines!  Holy Crap, right!? Guess I'll be revising that plan!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


We spent six days in Tokyo, and it was not even close to enough!  Our first day we saw the Imperial Palace gardens, where lucky visitors could come across the Emperor feeding the koi, or like us, you can just enjoy the absolute beauty of the gardens.     From the palace gardens we headed to the Hama-rikyu garden where we stopped at a tea house and had probably the worst cup of tea I've ever had.  We then caught a ride on a boat to the Drum Museum in the Asakusa district.  Here the kids were allowed to bang and hit all kinds of drums, it was a loud 30 minutes!  From there it was a short walk to the Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo's largest and oldest temple, and 
very different from any other temple we've seen.  The street leading up to the temple is lined with stalls selling all kinds of stuff, mostly touristy junk.  We didn't stop much along the way because it was absolutely mobbed!  With Charlie no longer using a stroller much I worried about him getting bumped into so I kept an iron grip on him as we walked, hoping the temple was less crowded.  It wasn't, but at least there was room to move instead of being trapped on a narrow road between shops.  The temple was loud and chaotic, and pictures were allowed.  All other temples we've been to have been quiet and there is absolutely NO photography!  We ended the day with a walk down kitchenware street.  Unfortunately most of the shops were closed, but there were a few open.  Here locals can buy anything they need for the kitchen.  We also got to check out an entire shop dedicated to plastic food.  The truly amazing thing is that it wasn't the only such shop!  It was a long day, but we had a lot of fun exploring Tokyo.

Our second day in Tokyo was much more relaxed, we didn't have anything planned until after lunch, so we had a leisurely breakfast and spent some time at the hotel pool.  That afternoon we joined a small tour group to the Ghibli Museum.  For those like me who didn't have a clue, Ghibli is a famous Japanese anime studio.  The only film name I even recognized was Spirited Away, but Lucas knows many of their films.  The whole museum is very Dr. Seuss and was designed by Hayao Miyazaki, an anime artist and director who has won an oscar for his work.  Kind of Japan's Walt Disney.  The kids loved it, especially the short film they showed, and Lucas seemed to be in his element.  This robot friend is on the roof of the museum and can be seen from a distance.  Even though the museum was very kid friendly, the Japanese adults seemed to way out number the kids.  We grabbed an ice cream at the cafe before heading back to the hotel via bus and taxi.  I should mention that they drive on the left on Japan, but after visiting Vietnam and Hong Kong it doesn't freak me out too much anymore to see the driver on the wrong side of the car or to turn into the wrong lane of traffic.  
Tired of the ridiculously expensive hotel restaurant we asked at the concierge for a family friendly place to eat.  He gave us two places to look that each had multiple places to choose from.  The first was the top three floors of a high rise, but they were all VERY expensive.  Apparently the guy at concierge dose not have kids!  We headed on to spot number two where we found a German place.  We were handed menus in Japanese.  I can not read Chinese characters, never mind Japanese.  We asked for and received an English menu, but Lucas and I were both shocked by the lack of English menus.  Everywhere we've been, even the smallest towns in SE Asia had English on their menus.  Apparently Tokyo is not as international as we thought.  

Day three we headed to Tokyo Disneyland, by bus where we checked into our hotel and turned right around to head to the park.  We were thrilled to see all the Halloween decorations, it hadn't dawned on me that Tokyo would also celebrate Halloween.  They are also celebrating 30 years of magic at Tokyo so we picked up a few special souvenirs including our Halloween inspired Minnie ears.  We had a lot of fun at the park, most of the rides can be found at WDW, but it was fun to pick out the differences and similarities of our favorites.  We saw three parades including a Halloween one and the electrical parade, which WDW needs to take note of, it was awesome!  We had dinner at the Queen of Hearts Banquet, which is cafeteria style, pick your meal and sides, pay, and grab a table.  But, Disney doesn't do a boring normal cafeteria.  Aside from all the Queen of Heart decorations much of the food was shaped like a heart and you could of course pick up souvenir plates.  Yep, we've got two.   We stayed till park closing, ending the night on the Splash Mountain ride with some ups and downs.  Charlie peed his pants, having refused to go to the potty several times and Lucas was so crammed in his seat he was in pain.  On the up, Lily and I loved it!  But, I don't think the Japanese considered extra large men like Lucas when they designed some of these rides.  

Rain, lots and lots of rain.  That's what greeted us at Disney Sea.  Luckily we had already bought ponchos at Disneyland, but with it coming down so hard we ended up buying two umbrellas and a cover for our rented stroller.  Unlike Disneyland, this park had a lot of unique rides, including several that are Little Mermaid themed, which is Lily's current favorite.  No parades or character greetings with all the rain, and with no English at the park, no shows either.  We were able to finish the park early and get back to the hotel for some rest after two very busy days.  

We were on our own the next day, so after a ridiculously expensive taxi ride we checked back into our Tokyo hotel.  I had planned on seeing the Sky Tree, the Oriental Bazaar in Harajuku, and Ginza for dinner.  We only made it to the Sky Tree.  What I didn't realize was that it was a 60 min walk/subway trip and on the other side of everything else I wanted to see.  I am glad we got to see the Sky Tree, which is the world's tallest tower (for now).  The kids enjoyed seeing all of Tokyo from so high up and loved the souvenir Hello Kitty Sky Tree box and cookies they got.  The Japanese seem to have a serious love of food that comes in souvenir boxes.  Lucas and I brought home a very cool replica of the tower and I got my magnet.  By the time we finished the sky tree including a detour to McDonalds the day was pretty much over.  As we headed back by subway we looked up the bazaar and found out that it was closed every Thursday.  Yep, we are just that lucky.  At this point we decided it was best to go back to the hotel, grab an over priced dinner and go to bed early.  We knew that our trip to Mount Fuji and Hakone was going to be a long day and it started early, best to rest when we can!

We took a group tour to Mount Fuji and Hakone, it was a nice drive and our guide had a lot of information about Tokyo and Mount Fuji.  Once again the weather wasn't the best, but at least there was no rain this time.  The bus took us to the 5th Station, the highest you can go by car.  If you have good weather you can see the summit, if you have our luck, you see it for a few seconds before it disappears again.  After Mount Fuji we took a short boat ride across a lake to Hakone where we took a cable car ride.  We got off at the second stop and walked around, enjoying the views as best we could with the fog.  Done for the day we took the Bullet train back to Tokyo where we switched to a local train at the Shinjuku station.  The Shinjuku station is not only the world's largest subway station it's the busiest.  This station has over 3.6 million people pass through it everyday.  It is gigantic and very confusing, and we were trying to catch a train during rush hour!  Luckily our tour guide took us right to the platform we needed and we made it back to the hotel.  As crazy busy as it is, the Japanese would stand in lines on the platform waiting to board the train.  The doors would open, people would file out and then everyone would file in.  We were amazed.  All in all, Tokyo was an awesome city.  The weather and the kids nonstop arguing took a lot of the fun out of the trip, but I'm glad we went.  I'm working on a new plan of attack for our next trip.  There will be less arguing or there is the possibility that we will come home with fewer children than we left with...


Monday, September 23, 2013

Lily's 6th Birthday

My little girl isn't so little any more!  We celebrated Lily's sixth birthday with friends from school and the class mascot, Ollie the Orangutan. The princess bash was a huge success, Lucas and Charlie headed to the Wild Insect Kingdom for some boy time, while Jane, Ayi, and I watched over seven princesses.  The girls were amazingly good, they played with Lily's princess castles and dolls, colored, and played with the kitchen.  They took a break to fuel up on sandwiches and goodies before ripping into the gifts.  We ended the party with a pink cake and seven happy girls!

Lily's class is the orangutan class, hence Ollie, the orangutan mascot.  Every Friday Ollie goes home with someone, and since it was Lily's birthday he came home with us and enjoyed a busy weekend.  Saturday we took everyone to the kids favorite place in Shanghai, the Ocean Aquarium, and spent an hour enjoying all the wonderful sea animals.  Ollie even found a long lost cousin hanging in a tree and posed for a picture to put in his journal.  Of course he also graciously posed for pics with the birthday girl too.  After the aquarium it was time for lunch and then a quick trip to the market where Ollie got a prime seat in the basket.  After such a busy day we headed home for naps.  Ollie and Lily snuggled together and got in a nice nap and feeling refreshed we headed out for dinner at The Blue Frog.  By the end of the weekend Ollie had a lot to put in his journal but, since he can't write Lily helped him out.  We pasted pictures of his weekend and then Lily wrote all about what we'd seen and done, finishing it off with a lovely drawing of Ollie.

More recently we spent some time exploring Puxi.  Sunday we headed to a breakfast place called Egghead Bagel that had, wait for it... bagels!  OK, it had more than bagels, it actually had an impressive menu that had many classic American breakfast foods.  Lily and I stuck with bagels, while Charlie and Lucas opted for a hot breakfast.  After out yummy breakfast we went to Tainzifang, a pedestrian shopping area.  This little block is a warren of alleyways filled with cool boutique shops selling unique (Beijing mask fruit forks) and some not so unique things (cheesy magnets). There was also a cool candy shop where we could watch them make candy and, yes, we brought some home.  There is also a variety of restaurants, but one in particular caught my eye.  It's called More than Toilet, and it is themed all around toilets.  The seats are toilets and you sit at a glass covered sink, and the food is even served in mini toilettes.  Oh yes, we will be going back to try it!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Getting back to a routine!

We've been back a few weeks now, jet lag is behind us, and we have quietly settled back into life in Shanghai.  Lily started at Dulwich, her fourth school, this August.  Dulwich is a large British run international school that covers age 2 up to high school seniors.  They have several schools around the world and they are absurdly expensive!  Thank goodness BASF takes care of the tuition.  Lily as always has adjusted to her new school incredibly well.  She likes her new teacher and is making new friends quickly.  She is the oldest in the class since they have a strict cut off of Sept 1 and her birthday is Sept 8.  Technically she is repeating kindergarten, but I've talked with her teacher already and she is aware that Lily is way ahead of the other kids.  I will be working closely with her teacher to make sure that Lily continues to be challenged at school and not bored.  My hope is that by the time we move home she won't be too far behind her American classmates.  
This year my little boy started school too.  Charlie was super excited to be going to school like his big sister.  He is really enjoying school and his new friends and feeling like a really big boy.  The nursery program is five days a week from 8:30-3, but I will pick him up after lunch tuesday and thursday since he still naps most days.  We'll see how he does with napping at school and home and adjust his schedule if needed.
I've also made new friends with many of the moms at the school and Lily and Charlie went on a playdate today with another sister and brother that are in their classes.
Lucas has been away on business in Malaysia this week, but we did manage to get in a family trip to the Oriental Pearl Tower before he left.  This was the third time Charlie and I have been, and Lily's second, but so far Lucas hasn't been able to join us.  It was nice to go as a family and check the tower off the China bucket list!  The kids enjoyed the views from the top and had fun pointing out the boats on the river.  We grabbed surprisingly good pizza in the base of the tower and then headed to the Shanghai History museum.  It was a really nice day and we look forward to seeing more of China through the year!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summer in NH

What an amazing summer we had!  The kids and I spent a busy 5 weeks in NH visiting with family and friends.  We started our NH summer with a weekend trip to North Conway.  The trip got off to a rocky start with a quick trip to the ER when Charlie fell from a highchair and hit his head hard on a cement floor.  I've never been so scared in my life!  Luckily he has a hard head and was fine after a bit.  It was the last time I put him in a highchair.  By the next day it was as if nothing had happened, his only reminder of the fall was a small bump on the back of his head.  The next morning we spent the day with Thomas.  Charlie was beyond excited to see Thomas and Sir Topham Hat in person. It was a little boys nirvana.  We climbed aboard an engine, took a ride on a railcar, and even got a ride on Thomas!  Charlie came home with a new Percy toy, and a few other goodies including a balloon almost as big as him.  Lily enjoyed herself too, sinking four hole in ones on the mini golf course and getting a butterfly painted on her face.
That afternoon and the whole following day we spent at Story Land.  This year Charlie was tall enough to go on all of the rides and was not about to miss even one.  We got soaked on Dr. Geyser's Raft ride, spun ourselves sick on the Turtle Twirl and screamed on the Polar coaster.  By the end of the day we were all exhausted.  The kids went home with my folks, while Lucas and I headed a bit farther north to the Mount Washington Resort for an anniversary getaway.  We had an amazing meal in the main dinning room with a view that over looked the mountains.  After dinner we sat out on the back terrace and enjoyed the sunset before exploring the historic hotel.  We checked out the Cave, which used to be a hidden prohibition speakeasy, and walked through what would have been private dinning rooms originally, and took in some of the historic photos that are all around the hotel.  We headed back to our room to enjoy the chocolate covered strawberries and champagne from my folks and some other yummy treats, a gift from the hotel, for celebrating our anniversary with them.  
Of course we also hit many of the "local" favorites while in NH, including Parker's Maple Barn, which has been around since I was a little kid, and has possibly the best breakfast in NH.  We also made a couple of stops to Hayward's for gigantic ice cream cones, another icon from my childhood.  Of course, what summer could be complete without trips to Silver Lake.  We made two trips to the lake.  The kids had a blast playing in the water, tracking fish, digging holes, and having picnic lunches.  We also spent plenty of time playing in the yard with bubbles, bikes, chalk, and their arrest me red mustang.  They even had fun helping Grammy mow the lawn and water her flowers. Mom and I also spent a day with the kids in Boston shopping at Faneuil Hall and eating at Quincy Market (I got my chowda fix!) and then taking a ride on the Duck boats.  We even swung by the Boston Aquarium to watch the sea lions swim for a bit, and made a quick detour to the North End for some Italian pastries before we headed home.
While my folks spent a weekend in the Hamptons for a friends wedding I kept the kids busy by taking them to see the Clydesdales at Anheuser Busch.  It was a much bigger hit than I thought it would be.  The kids were absolutely fascinated by the huge horses and got to watch two of them get bathed.  We even got to see some of the horses practice around the complex hitched to one of the wagons they use in parades.  We weren't alone for long though, that Sunday my sister and brother-in-law flew in for a few days to surprise Dad for his 60th birthday.  Dad was totally surprised by the unexpected visit and enjoyed a fantastic birthday dinner at The Bedford Village Inn and then dessert with the kids and good friends.  But, I think the highlight of the day was the box of letters from family and friends that Holly spent months putting together.  As he so eloquently put it, the gifts he was given were nice, but eventually they will either break or be tossed, but the letters he got from everyone will be with him forever.
A big thank you to my wonderful brother-in-law Steven for suggesting a day at Canobie Lake Park.  I can remember visiting this park as a kid and on school trips and I had forgotten how much they have for young kids to do.  The kiddie land has been expanded and they still have all the old favorites I remember as a kid, including the duck and fishing well games.  The kids had so much fun on the kiddie rides and I loved that I didn't have to go on the rides with them, such a nice reprieve!  We did a few of the "big kid" rides too, including the Boston Tea Party, a huge log ride that soaks you to the bone.  Steve and I spent the rest of the day trying to dry off, Uncle Steve gets a gold star for going with us!  We also enjoyed a few rounds of skee ball, a ride on the train, and of course we had the requisite ice cream and powdered fried dough.  By the time we left the park we were all exhausted, had tired feet, and two kids covered in powder sugar!
When we'd walked around Boston Lily noticed the boats going on whale watches and really wanted to go.  Since we had already planned the Duck boat and Grammy and boats (on the open ocean) don't get along we had to pass.  So, Papa "volunteered" to take the kids with me on a whale watch out of Rye, NH. We headed up early and had a picnic lunch at Ordiorne State Park and then said goodbye to Grammy at the dock as two very excited kids headed out to see whales.  Before we even pulled away from the dock though Lily lost her second tooth.  Something she had been nursing for a month and a half!  The whale watch was a big hit, we saw a bunch of Minke whales and even saw two seals.  Just a tad bit disappointed we didn't see any Humpbacks though... maybe next summer?

We also got to squeeze in a visit with cousins Henry and Louisa, who came up from Queens to visit us.  Unfortunately we had a rainy day so after lunch we took the kids to see Despicable Me 2 and then to the hotel for some pool time!  The kids had such a good time together, it was as if they'd seen each other just the week before.  Thanks guys for making the trip!  Also squeezing in a visit to NH was my Dad's cousins Richie and Gail.  The kids loved seeing them again since we used to visit each other so much when we lived in NJ.  It was a great two days spent together.  Thanks for coming up Richie and Gail!

It was an awesome summer and we've taken many wonderful and amazing memories back to Shanghai with us.  Thank you to my folks for putting up with us for five weeks!  Thank you to all my family and friends for taking time to visit with us and helping to make the summer so special, as always it went by too fast.  We miss you all and can not wait for next summer!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Exploring the flower market

I have been to my local flower and fish market many times since moving here, but I have never taken much time to explore the second floor until now.  The second floor is full of shops with fake flowers, frame shops, and other odds and ends.  This shop had all shape and size wood shelves and stands.  The smaller stands are often used to display decorative carvings of semi precious stones, jade being a popular one here in China.  Since this seemed to be the shop's niche, they had a huge variety including large shelves carved in the traditional Chinese style of a circle.  I find these shelves so beautiful and I've seen them many times and even found a shop that will build custom ones, which I am considering having done before our move.  Beyond the shelf shop I passed by other traditional wood carved furniture shops, some with stone carvings or huge stones larger than a basketball, displayed on stands.  There were rows of fake flowers shops that had every kind of flower imaginable.  I even found bamboo and other long sticks for sale at one shop. Of course with all these flowers there are also shops with ceramic and glass vases in a dizzying array!

I also found some beautiful ceramic pots which I plan to buy after I get back from our trip to NH.  Anyone who has bought a ceramic pot at a garden shop know how expensive they can be.  Here, they are a fraction of the cost.  I may not be able to bring my plants to the US but I can bring the pots!
Walking around a corner I came across a shop selling framed art work, including the Mona Lisa.  Despite the temptation I managed to pass on it.  After getting the two paintings we bought in Hong Kong and the embroidered scene from the water village we visited framed I am out of wall space... oh well!  I did see that you could have a photo turned into a painting.  That may be worth looking into, it might be nice to have a painting of the kids, and I can only imagine how expensive it would be to have done the in US.  Gotta take advantage of the perks that come with living in China!
I will say, one of the big perks, aside from the travel, is the variety of food!  Shanghai is without a doubt a very diverse city with a large international community.  As any expat can attest to, having a meal of some of your favorites from home can help with homesickness.  Whether this is the reason there is such a variety of restaurants or not I can't say.  I do love going out and trying new places though.  This week Eric took me to a Korean barbecue place.  Here you order your meats and then they bring you a huge tray of leafy greens, which is what you use to wrap up the meat, and several appetizers.  They cook the meat in front of you at your table and use scissors to cut it up.  By the time we finished lunch we were both stuffed!
I'm spending the rest of the week getting ready for our trip to NH.  I can't wait to spend time with my family and friends.  I am not exactly looking forward to the flight over though.  Hopefully with a backpack full of books and toys and the TV the kids will happy and quiet.  Fingers crossed!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sofas, Sinks, and floors, oh my!

To celebrate the start of the summer and the end to his potty training, Charlie and I took a trip to the aquarium.  We had some fun checking out fish and other aquatic creatures from around the world.  He seemed to really enjoy running around from exhibit to exhibit peering into each tank.  It's not often its just the two of us and we had the added bonus of it being a really quiet morning at the aquarium.  He made me super proud when he asked to go to the potty, fingers crossed, we haven't had any accidents!  After we finished with the fish, we walked past the Oriental Pearl Tower to the Super Brand Mall, 13 floors of shops and restaurants, to pick up Charlie's reward for potty training.  Unfortunately, the little man was coming down with a cold and became a bit of a zombie following me around, not even the least bit excited about his prize.  We headed home for lunch, which he actually passed on, asking instead to go to bed.  Luckily he was 100% in just a few days.

Having finally had it with my rock hard Chinese sofa, for the life of me I can not figure that one out, I have been looking around for replacements. Last week I took a trip to Macalline.  Wow, is the only way to describe it.  This is 8 floors of shops that have absolutely everything you need to finish a house once it's built.  It was mostly broken up by floors, lighting, flooring, bathrooms, kitchens, and different styles of furniture.  I thought to start at the top and work my way down, so I took the 7 story escalator up and wandered around.  I'm continually amazed that the Chinese seem to prefer to have shops of the same kind grouped together.  So, I walked past shop after shop of light fixtures on one floor, hardwood flooring and windows on another, even staircases.

There were also a lot of furniture stores, but most of them were very asian in style, or Donald Trump, with gaudy being the theme!  Past all the gaudy furnishing, I made it to the floor with traditional wood Chinese furniture, which is all hand carved and truly beautiful works of art.  Lucas and I hope to bring home a few pieces with us, but have no room for them in our apartment right now.  Finally, on the lowest level I found shops with leather sofas and some fabric ones in a more Western style.   Unfortunately, nothing really impressed me.  By this time I was so done walking around this monster furniture store.  Should I have found myself hungry I could have stopped in at the cafeteria or picked up a quick snack at the convenince store.  I just headed home instead to rest my feet!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Graduation Day!

After being pulled out of two schools for relocations, Lily was finally able to finish out an entire year at one school.  During her time at Children's Montessori Lily has learned so much and grown in confidence.  This past friday parents were invited to the school to watch the children sing and dance and demonstrate some of the things they'd learned at school.  We were treated to two songs in Chinese and a Chinese style dance.  Lily may not have much of an interest in learning to speak or understand Chinese but she does love to sing in Chinese, as we heard the songs constantly around the apartment.

After the kids finished their songs and dance we had some snacks and tea while we waited for the other class to join us for the graduation ceremony.  After receiving their diploma both classes sang a song (in English) about all the things they could do now that they are graduating.  Lily and her fellow graduates were all given a personalized album with a class picture, pictures of their time at the school, and a drawing from each of her classmates.  They were also given a hand carved stamp with her name in both English and Chinese.  Both wonderful mementos of her time at Children's Montessori.  There were lots of hugs and pictures with her teachers and friends, but luckily it's only good bye for the weekend as most of her classmates will spend the next three weeks at summer school with Lily.  And, no, I'm not the meanest mom ever.  Summer school is a lot more like camp than school.  She'll get to spend time with her friends and keep busy instead of being bored at home with me and will be taking trips to the pool twice a week!

Not to be outdone by his sister, Charlie managed to potty train in just a week!  We had a few accidents our first two days, but once he fully grasped the concept of using the potty he hasn't had an accident since.  I do have to thank a fellow potty training mom for her inspirational idea of using Hot Wheels to motivate.  Between stickers, candy, and Hot Wheels, it was actually easy.  I know they say boys are harder, but not only was Charlie much easier than Lily, he also potty trained earlier than she did.  We've done a few outings in undies and managed to use public potties too.  We may be completely out of diapers soon as he's also waking up dry in the morning and using the potty without help!  For the first time in over five and half years I will not have to worry about carrying diapers with me when we travel, wonder where I might change my child, or if I have enough wipes on me.  Do you know how much space diapers a week of diapers take up in a suit case?!  To say I am happy about Charlie learning to use the potty would be an understatement.  I am doing a no more diaper dance as I type!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Potty Training

It's that time!  Mothers everywhere love/hate this time.  While I am thrilled at the idea of no more diapers, I do not look forward to the accidents and arguments about the potty.  Up to this point Charlie has not shown a lot of interest in learning to potty train, but with school this fall it has become a necessity.  I'm hoping to give him plenty of time to potty train so that it is not a stressful experience.  So, after talking to another mom about ideas, I've posted a chart on the bathroom door.  Each time he uses the potty he gets a Skittle and a sticker for his chart.  When he gets seven stickers he gets a Matchbox car.  Once fully potty trained he gets a Matchbox car holder.  He really wants the cars, so I'm hoping once he gets a couple of stickers he'll be more motivated.  In the interest in keeping him on the potty I've put it in front of the TV.  Once I think he's got the hang of using the potty I'll move it back to the bathroom.  I would love to be able to not travel with diapers this summer!  Fingers crossed!

We made a trip to Puxi this weekend to check out the Avocado Lady.  A bit of a Shanghai legend, she has a small market, and I do mean small, in a tiny Puxi neighborhood.  Although I've seen most of her import goods at City Shop, a chain that specializes in import foods, her prices are very good.  Probably not good enough for me to go on a regular basis with gas prices, but certainly worth a stop when I'm in Puxi.  Many were surprised to hear we hadn't been to the Avocado Lady after being in Shanghai for over a year and I'm glad we finally made the trip.

After our stop at the Avocado Lady we went to Xintandi and had lunch at the Pauliner, a German restaurant.  This is my second time going and definitely the last.  The food was only okay and for the four of us it was $100, and that's with the kids sharing a meal!  The only thing they do that is worth the expense is the Bavarian style pretzels.  With literally thousands of restaurants in Shanghai its not worth out time or money.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Charlie's 3rd Birthday!

I know its cliche but, where has the time gone?  It's hard believe that my baby is already 3! We had a wonderful weekend, starting with a family bike ride on Saturday morning and some final prep work for Sunday's big party.  Sunday just flew by!  Thank God for Ayi, with her cleaning up breakfast and making beds, I was able to focus on getting everything set up for Charlie's Thomas the Tank Engine themed party.  It seemed like I had trains everywhere, coloring pages, books, decorations, toys, balloons, and of course Thomas on the TV!  Charlie seemed to be in his element!  He was very much aware that it was his birthday, and his friends coming over to play.
We kept it short and sweet, just two hours.  I don't think I could handle 7 toddlers much longer than that... Charlie and his friends bounced back and forth between his room and the family room with a pit stop for train shaped ham and cheese sandwiches, fruit, and even some train shaped macaroni salad, with Thomas cupcakes and train shaped cookies for dessert.  He ripped into his presents before I could even get the camera, and I've gotta say, he got some really great gifts.  From mommy and daddy he got a balance bike and a couple of books, and big sister Lily, got him Belle, and really useful engine!  There were other gifts from family, and Charlie says thank you very much.  Being a mom is amazing, and by far the best thing I've done besides marrying my best friend.  Charlie is such an amazing little boy, funny, sweet, and so smart.  I could not ask for more, just watching my kids grow up and learn about the world is amazing, and I'm thankful that I get to be here with them everyday!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hong Kong

We finally made it to Hong Kong, well, Lucas has been several times, but for Mom, the kids and I, it was a new and exciting trip!  We got in around lunch time, and after a quick bite to eat at McDonalds, which we seem to eat at a lot more when traveling, we got settled in at our hotel and relaxed for a bit before our evening tour.  To start off our HK trip we took a guided tour that brought us to the famous Temple Street night market for some souvenir shopping, and drove us around on a open-top bus to see the hustle and bustle, not to mention the many shopping opportunities HK has to offer.  Then it was off to a harbor tour on the Bauhinia with a dinner buffet and dancing.  We were also supposed to see the Symphony of Lights show, which is in the Guinness World Records, from the boat, but the weather did not cooperate.  The kids really loved the harbor tour, especially the music and dancing.  It was not easy to pull Lily off the dance floor once she decided to get her groove thang on!

Day two in HK started with another guided tour which took us up Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram, which is over 100 years old!  It was pretty obvious as we climbed that we weren't going to get much of a view with all the clouds and fog.  Our mantra for the trip was, "at least it's not raining!"  After saying goodbye to the clouds we headed to the Aberdeen fishing village, which turned out to be a bit of a misnomer.  The "village" was a collection of fishing boats tied together, and while many do live on the boats, it was not exactly the village we had expected.  Still, it was a nice boat ride, and the kids loved it.  Next we headed to the Tse Sui Luen Jewelry factory, but with it being the weekend we mostly saw empty work stations.  Still, the tour did end in a huge shop, big surprise there!  Mom found a gorgeous ruby and diamond ring and with some persuasion on my part and a few back and forth texts with Dad she bought herself the ring to celebrate her upcoming 40th wedding anniversary.  I figure I saved Dad from having to go shopping!  I too came away with some bling, a Chinese zodiac charm, which is something I've been wanting to get.  Our final stop on the tour was the Stanley Market, which is a lot like the markets in Shanghai, we didn't expect to find much, after all, if I can get it in Shanghai for less money, why would I buy it in HK?  While we didn't buy souvenirs at the market I did find and fall in love with a painting of a HK street scene, we actually ended up getting two.  A large on that will eventually go over our fireplace in NJ, and a smaller one for our bedroom.  We paid just over $100 for both and had them both framed here in Shanghai for about $60.  Finally back at the hotel, the adults relaxed while the kids napped.  Mom and I took the kids to the pool for about 30 minutes after the nap, it was an outdoor pool, and although heated, it was NOT warm!  Lucas and I ended the day with dinner and Iron Man 3, thank you mom for watching the kids!

Day 3 we headed out to see an old and much loved friend, Mickey!  The kids were super excited to see Disney and I have to admit, so were we.  We took the metro, which goes straight to the park.  You get off at the end of the line and transfer to a Disney train which brings you to the park's very own train station.  We got lucky with the weather, it was overcast and not too hot, and since it was a Monday, the park wasn't too crowded either.  Since we only had the one day at the park we decided to pass on meeting characters and the shows and head straight for the rides.  It was fun to see many of our favorites and compare notes on the differences. In HK, they have Tarzan's tree house instead of the Swiss Family Robinson's, the Jungle Boat is the Jungle River Cruise and is offered in 3 languages.  Fantasyland had the Mad Hatter's Tea Cups, Dumbo, Cinderella's Carousel, Winnie the Pooh, and of course It's a Small World.  I loved It's a Small World in HK.  First, the boats were bigger and much more comfortable to sit in, and second, they had Disney characters placed throughout the ride.  It became a game to see how many we could find.  We all had such a good time, even the "mainlanders" couldn't ruin it with their line cutting and out right gawking and picture taking of the the kids.  Disney has and always will be a "magical" place for us.  I am so glad we went.

Our final day in HK we headed to the Po Lin Monastery which is home to the world's largest outdoor bronze Buddha.  Unfortunately, the fog and clouds made seeing the Buddha a bit like a game of peek-a-boo.  We only got a few glimpses of the giant Buddha and with poor weather we decided it wouldn't be worth climbing to the top to say "hi".  Instead we grabbed a bus and headed back down the mountain to catch our flight home.  Little did I know that our flight was going to be delayed endlessly due to weather.  Our original flight arrival in Shanghai was 9:00pm.  Our actual flight arrival was 2:00am.  And, just to make it more fun, we got to go through security twice when we changed to an "earlier" flight and sit on the plane at the gate for two and a half hours.  Thank you China Eastern, you suck!  The worst part is, the employees all speak English, I use that phrase very loosely, but always look at me like I have two heads whenever I ask a question.  So frustrating when you have two tired kids and three tires adults who just want to get home!  It was not exactly the way I wanted to end our trip, but, it didn't rain, and we did make it home in one piece.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mom & Mrs. Schreck visit!

My mom and Mrs. Schreck finally made it to Shanghai last Thursday, and we have been on the go since they got here!  Wiped out, but excited to have finally made it we treated them to dinner at one of our favorites, The Blue Frog.  We got started early friday after dropping Lily off at school.  Our first stop, Shanghai's iconic, Oriental Pearl Tower and Shanghai History Museum.  After we finished the tower and surprisingly large museum we headed across the street for lunch at Southern Beauty and enjoyed a wonderful Sichuan lunch while taking in the Huangpu river.  With rain forecasted for Saturday we decided to absorb some culture and visit the Shanghai Museum.  Having had our fill of culture we headed home to drop the kids off with Lucas and indulge in some retail therapy!  Both mom and Mrs. Schreck had a grand time bargaining for the best price and spending their "Monopoly money".
With clear sunny skies on Sunday, we decided to enjoy a day in Puxi, starting with Nanjing Pedestrian Street.  Filled with shops and restaurants, this street is a must see, and I don't think mom or Mrs. Schreck were disappointed.  We even took a short detour down a few side streets and got to watch a man make noodles for the days lunch. We made our way up the Nanjing Street to the Bund.  Known for its beautiful, and eclectic architecture, we took our time strolling along the river walk and even peeked inside the Peace Hotel to check out its marble lobby.   Not wanting to get lost on our way to the Yu Yuan Garden and Market, like we did when mom and dad visited, we had our driver drop us off instead of walking it.  With the kids complaining of empty bellies we made a pit stop at McD's for some Happy Meals before heading to the famous Nanxiang Steamed Buns for xiao long bao.  Reenergized, we headed off for the walled gardens, which Lucas and I had never had the pleasure of seeing.  It certainly lived up to its hype.  With tons of ponds, rock gardens, and traditional Chinese buildings throughout it was peaceful and you could almost forget you are in the middle of a city of 23 million people.
Monday we got to enjoy Lucas's company since he had an afternoon plane to catch to Tokyo and wasn't planning on going to the office that morning.  We started the day at the Jing'an Buddhist Temple which was originally built in 247AD!  We switched gears and left the peace and tranquility of the temple behind, and headed to trendy Xintiandi.  Originally a neighborhood filled with the Chinese version of brownstones, it had been neglected and was restored and turned into a busy and popular spot for shopping and grabbing a tasty meal.  It was after our tasty meal that we headed to the small museum  which brings you back in time to see what life was like in old Xintiandi for a typical family.   Unfortunately, we had to head home after so Lucas could make his flight, the kids were wiped out from all the walking too.  However, it was not the end of our day!  Mom, Mrs. Schreck and I enjoyed an amazing dinner at The Peninsula Hotel where we had not only a fabulous dinner, but and equally fabulous view of the Bund and downtown Pudong all lit up for the night.  Thank you mom, and Mrs. Schreck for the wonderful dinner!

With time flying by and more rain forecasted, we decided to press our luck and see the remains of Shanghai's old city wall.  Unfortunately most of it was torn down for construction but a small 50 meter section remains.  It was a nice piece of history that until today I was not even aware of.  With Mrs. Schreck love of small out of the way streets we wondered a bit and came across a plant and pet market where you could by crickets for competing.  The Chinese LOVE to gamble and will gamble on almost anything, even crickets.  We also found a local produce market which was filled with meats and veggies for sale.  Not surprisingly there was no poultry around.  After calling my driver we headed back to the Bund to check out a local shoe maker, and although we were a bit disappointed by the shoes, they did have beautiful silk purses, which Mrs. Schreck bought for me as a totally unnecessary thank you.  With a bit of time, we decided to poke our heads into the one of the banks along the Bund to see the amazing marble foyer and breathtaking ceilings.  We grabbed lunch on Nanjing Street and headed home for Charlie's nap.  Tomorrow we head to Tongli a local water town!  

Monday, April 15, 2013

To eat or not to eat...

With the recent cases of H7N9, or bird flu in the news it makes me stop and wonder just how safe the chicken I buy really is.  Although, it is considered safe to eat chicken so long as it is properly cooked according to WHO and the CDC.  Now, with the thousands of pigs found in the Huangpu River, pork is coming into question.  As an American, I am used to being able to count on both local, and national news to keep me informed on food safety.  In China however, it is very different.  The government does their best to cover up or play down any negative news  While I find that to be a huge disservice most Chinese will just shrug their shoulders and just go on about their day, considering it just a part of life.

After talking with both my Ayi and Eric, I've decided to continue to buy chicken from Carrefour, a large French chain in Shanghai, and for the time to pass on the pork.

On a lighter note, my little girl lost her first tooth!  She told us about her loose tooth a couple of weeks ago and has been diligently working it loose.  This weekend she could wiggle it so much that it would actually lay horizontal.  With a bit of coaxing I managed to convince her that letting me pull it out would not only hurt, but was a good idea.  So, with a tissue and a little tug, her first tooth came out.  She was super excited to put it under her pillow so the tooth fairy could come and take it.  Unfortunately, her tooth pillow won't get here until the end of the week so we made due with a tissue.  But, when the tooth fairy went to remove the tissue the tooth fell out, which made for a tense moment until the errant tooth was found.  Can't have a visit from the tooth fairy and leave the tooth! For her first tooth she got 20RMB, or about $3.  We explained that her first tooth was special so she got a bit more than usual and that her other teeth would only get her 10RMB.