Saturday, April 26, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Tiffany has done it--I once again had the happiest birthday of them all.Here is a list of my surprises and gifts of the day:

-It started with Tiffany waking-up early to spend time with me before work. (I'm usually forced to kiss her cute morning face just before going to work. Because I am lucky if I get as much as a 'grunt of acknowledgment' before my departure, you can imagine how thrilled I was when she woke-up just to be with me.)

-At school, Tiffany surprised me again with a visit to class, offering homemade cookies and foreign babies to appease the masses. She also made a Happy Birthday dunce cap that I was forced to wear, while they sang to me. Afterwards, she took me out to eat yummy Kung Pao Chicken and Fried Tofu at the restaurant across the street from school that I frequent.

-After lunch, a student from my friend's class came halfway through the period to retrieve his textbook from his homeroom desk. Now, when a student interrupts my class like this, we only let him get his stuff if he sings an embarrassing song or dance (now before you judge me, creative discipline is common and expected at our school-- it usually involves push-ups, holding a chair over your head until your arms shake, or any form of good ol' fashioned embarrassment). This 17-year-old student is a repeat offender; the previous day, we had him sing the ABC song and passionately play the air guitar. When I asked him what song he would sing today for our class, he treated me to an enthralling--and heavily accented--rendition of 'Happy Birthday.' Nathan, his teacher, suggested it as an appropriate tune.

-After work, in a rush to visit some friends for dinner (she told me of the casual dinner days ago with an accompanying logical explanation and apology why it wasn't a birthday dinner... which shows how good of a liar... hmmm, I mean jokester... she can be when there is something good to be hidden). I started getting suspicious, though, when Ellie told me "There's a BIRTHDAY CAKE!" I asked Tiffany if this was true, and she said yes, "...but we have to make it when we get home. Sorry." Ellie was quick to correct her lying mother and said, "There's a BIRTHDAY CAKE in David's car."
"Oh, really," I said.
"Please, tell me more."
Tiffany started laughing hysterically saying "I don't know what you're talking about, Ellie--what a creative imagination our little daughter has!" At the restaurant there was a party of good friends and delicious food.
-We got to eat the cake with chopsticks; no forks at this restaurant.
-Later, some of our friends watched the kids while we went to see a movie at Nankai University, I think the movie was called 'Dreamer' was about an injured race horse and a father and a daughter (which I liked because I am a father to a daughter.)

-As for gifts, Tiffany bought me a lovely heart-shaped alarm clock, Ellie bought me a hamburger timer (a plastic timer shaped like a hamburger), and Tiffany's family sent a great book I have been wanting to read called "The Mormon Way of Doing Business," which talks about how to balance your life as an LDS businessman. -Can't find that one in China! Thanks everyone!

-To top off the night of fun, Didi pulled out his charming present. He had also been secretly planning a gift for some time, just like mommy; he began to take his first steps on my birthday! We have been trying to entice him the past while, but he was completely uninterested. We thought he was too fat and out-of-shape, but he was only being lazy like his older sister was at his age.

What a memorable birthday it has been.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thanks, Grandmas!

This is a shout out to Grandma Larsen for the package we received yesterday which was, as always, brimming with yummies and beautiful clothes for the kids (I always forget how cute they make them over there!). Ellie has plans to wear her new "dancing dress" for the third day in a row. Thanks also to Grandma Nai-nai for the birthday gift for Kyle, though I'm making him wait until tomorrow morning to open it! Yay for Grandmas!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Baby models

Well, Kyle lucked out this time, but only thanks to chance (and aesthetically-pleasing posterity)! I've been trying to gently coerce Kyle into having family pictures taken at a real photography studio since before Erik was born. We tried out the Walmart portrait studio with Ellie and her bosom buddy Kimberley, but the results were so melancholy that I only saved them for sport.

Mother's Days, birthdays, and holidays have come and gone, and my walls remain void of professionally-captured family moments. And yet here, in the land of little emperors and emperesses, regular, extensive photo shoots are the norm even for families who really can't afford them. With every photo shoot comes a darling album of pages brimming with nothing but your child, clad in frilly dresses or frilly suits, donning sometimes forced smiles, the bright pages accented with cheesy Chinglish phrases, but I just gotta love it. Alas, even in China we just can't justify the cost.

And then... when I had truly forsaken all hope of professional baby albums, bless that Ellie for sitting so photogenically on the back of Kyle's bike as they rode to the grocery store last week. Ellie's foreigner cuteness was discovered, and we landed an offer for a free family photo shoot with one of the nicer studios in town, in exchange for being able to use pictures of the kids to advertise their company! Cha-ching!

So, the better part of today was spent at this studio, tugging shirts on and off of moving heads, placing and replacing barrettes in fine hair, coaxing with toys and more toys, bribing with candy/soda/chicken sandwiches/rides on the rocking horse, making all sorts of embarrassing googly noises, etc. in the pursuit of luring the cutest expressions out of the kids. Part two will be taken outdoors when the weather starts cooperating.

It's hard to conjecture how well they'll turn out, as it always is with kids, but I think Emma, our photographer, was able to capture them well in their elements, and as far as I could gather, very much in the essence of their personalities. Ellie was fiercely independent as she fiddled with toys, looking down of course, or danced in circles, but never looking where we told her to or offering more than a momentary, forced smile. Didi spent the majority of his limelight time slobbering on his hands, toys, binky, or all of the above, but even through tears could not help but smile widely at almost every flash.

So, in the coming weeks feel free to browse Chinese magazines, or billboards and buses, for two familiar little faces... and at that point, I will be demanding more compensation than a scrapbook album! =)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring Sugar Fest

Even in the absence of an Activities Committee (common in our church congregations), the Tianjin branch manages to throw quite a party in the backyard of one of our members' homes, and true to the Asian in each of us, this mid-March celebration was an all-you-can-eat buffet, complete with barbecue burgers and a lifetime supply of desserts. Our purpose was three-fold: enjoying the bit of the nice weather sneaking into Tianjin at that time, bidding farewell to our beloved Emily and Chris Hardy (who shortly afterward returned to the US), and raising funds for an upcoming youth conference in Shanghai by selling homemade treats.

I was unofficially in charge of the bake sale and thought we could just charge a few coins for each item and call it good. The idea of an auction arose, and I tried to coerce Kyle into being our auctioneer, but thankfully there was no need-- we had a legitimately licensed Canadian auctioneer in our midst! Thanks to Merlin Olsen's tongue twisting, pocketbook-luring techniques, a picnic table of home baked goodies raised $900 for our youth! Not bad for a crowd of twenty or so. I had the crucial task of tallying auction sales by recording how much each type of cookie sold for and how many each family was purchasing-- that third grade math sure came in handy! The auction really was riotous fun, especially trying to explain auction rules in three languages.

Ellie and her toddler minions, plotting who knows what sort of shenanigans-- don't be deceived by their innocuous expressions.

As if the cookies, cakes, and candies weren't enough, we pumped the kids full of more sugar with a three-minute Easter egg hunt in the living room. In a outbreak of charity uncharacteristic of toddlers, here Xixi is actually offering one of her eggs to Ellie.

After everyone else had gone home, our friends from Kyle's work, the Whites, stayed late with us at Chris and Emily's discussing all things intellectual, from population control policies to child disciplinary methods to the advantages of communalist vs. individualist societies to the purpose of life, etc. Plenty of heated debate, but also heated agreement.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Asian Mullets

During those glorious days in Little League, my hair flowed from the back of my baseball cap like a ribbon tied to an electric fan. Around the same time that I cut my masterfully designed hair, the MN Twins traded Danny Gladden (a well-known MN mulleteer) to the Detroit Tigers. After that, people even stopped line-dancing to Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart with that empowering "I don't care what I look like right now" fervor. Since then, America's exposure to mullets has regrettably been limited to monster truck rallies, hard-hat construction zones, and Wal-Mart checkout lines.

In China, however, mullets are becoming shockingly common on the streets. I first noticed one a few months ago creeping down a third grade student's neck. Next, it was my 10th grader Timon (whose friend's name is Pumbah) who chopped off his long hair... but left the back hairs to carefully drape his collar. Now that people's hats are coming off as the season changes, my eyes enjoy the energizing hunt whenever I'm outdoors (Tiff gets annoyed at the daily report). It's like a real life 'Where's Waldo' game, and you have a good chance at finding him around every corner.

...While I am not trying to sluff my mullet reporting duty to my fellow citizens of planet earth, I unfortunately do not have time for a full analysis at the present time... so in other yet related news...

Now that you are on the edge of your seats, you are sufficiently prepared for the next Ellie Milestone. We have joked about Ellie's 'mullet' ever since she rubbed the hair off the back of her cranium as an infant (while the hair near her neck remained untouched)... and on March 1st, we gave her the inaugural trim of her life. Though not a traditional mullet, Tiffany says this was the closest she'll ever get to having one (not if I have anything to do with it... though I probably don't have anything to do with it).

IMPORTANT UPDATE: I was just informed by my Korean colleague that the word 'mullet' in Korean is simply translated as 'MacGyver Style' (it is also confirmed on Wikipedia). How inspiring!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Putzing don't pay

My idea of a dream house has never included stairs. My earliest memories of them are plagued with creepy crawlies lurking in the dark and chilly basement. Ascending stairs requires way too much energy, descending is bad for my knees (oh no, Ma-- I'm complaining of knee pain already!), and vacuuming them is just a nuisance. Plus, I have this nagging fear of kids falling off ledges and through railings and down stairs. No, I'd much prefer a safe and sound one-story house. In China, where free land is scarce, yards cease to exist and a "dream house" is only large because it's layered into five or six stories. Such is the case of the home where Chris and Emily had been living.

Wednesday night we had our last sleepover at their house before their return to the homeland (we miss you already!) and I suffered quite a poignant reminder of my aversion to stairs. Basically, long, velour pants + hardwood stairs + holding Didi so no arms to catch my fall =

In true Goodwin-style, I giggled my way through the pain of the crash so none of us thought much of it until we noticed that the entire left side of my bottom had swelled and hardened to an African booty proportion. Actually, this isn't a picture of my bruise-- you can probably tell it's an arm. Even from a strictly clinical standpoint, Kyle refused to let me photograph my injured rump. I think my award-winning shiner is even more impressive than this one, though. Mine is still colored solid black, though it's starting to purple around the edges, and measures the size of a small planet (8" x 5.5" oval). I'm happy to report that last night I was finally able to sleep on my back and the limp has been replaced by a nice, comfortable waddle. I've been chugging lots of oj, but it looks like this shiner is here to stay...

In better news, spring is here! And Ellie finally let me put her hair in pigtails.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Season Schitzophrenia

One more silly China quirk is the winter heating system, which is strictly and universally determined (aka turned on and off) by the government. Somehow, somebody important decided that winter kicks in on November 15 and abruptly ends March 15 (even in Northern China!), leaving Tianjin homes freezing for a month before and after. (I feel bad for the folks up in Harbin!) Because the heating is centralized, you can't control the temperature at all; we often found it was too hot in the middle of January and had to open the windows to manage the situation. Ironically, now that winter is "over," we've traded in our comfortable gym shorts and tees for sweaters and ultra-thick thermals. Thanks for that hot chocolate, fam! We were too roasty to use it in the winter but it's warming us up nicely now that it sometimes gets up to 60 degrees outside in the sun, but unfortunately remains much colder indoors.

A similar attitude (ignoring actual weather patterns with an arbitrary standard) was first demonstrated to us around October 1st when all of a sudden it was "the cold season," and therefore it was coat-weather regardless of the temperature. Chinese masses criticized us daily for only giving our children two layers of clothing, since summer had technically terminated. They didn't seem to notice the sweat beads accumulated on Didi's head. (This practice still continues today; our favorites are when people scold us for under-dressing our kids as they ride by on bikes, or there's the infamous roll-down-the-car-window tactic, in which we are sometimes labeled as 'unfit parents' as the strangers drive off into the horizon... )

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tiff's Show and Tell

I realize that some people don't really care exactly how much things cost if they really want them, if the item is high-quality, etc. I will never be one of those people. In fact, after a highly satisfying day of bargain shopping at an outdoor market (thank you Didi for your three-hour nap that made the excursion possible), I even devised Operation Show-off-my-finds: a fashion show! Somehow boasting to Kyle the almost scandalously low prices I paid for the kids' spring wardrobe just didn't suffice--I must prolong my glory and expose it to the blogging world, via two cute little bodies.

Kyle eventually convinced me that no one cares exactly how much every item of clothing cost me, so I'll refrain from sharing the specifics and suffice to say that not a single item of brand spanking new apparel cost me over the equivalent of three US buckaroos, and the majority sold for either $1.50 or 70 cents (disclaimer: ballet shirt and Didi's jammies were gifted by Grandma L so I won't be taking orders for those items). You undoubtedly will not enjoy this fashion show as much as I enjoyed heaping piles of baby clothes onto my stroller with a guilt-free financial conscience, but nevertheless feel free to bask in my success with me.