Monthly Archives: April 2006

Two Nice Flash Movies

Here are links to two of my favorite Flash movies:
 
If you need a moment of peace, this is a breath of fresh air:   
 
If you need to remember to take time for living, this will help:  http://www.inlibertyandfreedom.com/Flash/Think_It_Over.swf 

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Seek and Ye Shall Find ?

Easter approaches with lightning speed, it seems.  One moment it’s Ash Wednesday, then boom it’s Good Friday.  Last year I was caught totally unprepared.  Last year I had a flu and then, by the time I got out of bed, it was too late to do much preparation.  There were no eggs in the house, no egg dye, no baskets, no chocolate, no Sunday dinner, no family, no friends . . . you get the idea.   On that Saturday I dragged myself to the store and scrounged up some baskets and chocolate bunnies, but my (unsuccessful)  attempt to pantomime "Easter egg dye" to a food store employee was one of the low points of my China experience.  Apparently, they had ordered a few bottles of food coloring but they were all sold out by the time I got there, or maybe they just enjoyed making me try to explain what an Easter Egg was.  
 
Altogether, I think Easter weekend last year has to be counted as one of my worst times in China so far.  Christmas is hard, too, but it is also a secular holiday so there is some recognition of Christmas.  It’s also easier because it’s at least possible to find Christmas decorations.  But beause there’s no secular recognition of Easter, it simply doesn’t exist here.  Well, in fact there are Christians here and it does exist.  But imagine the strange look on the faces of my Chinese friends who are Christian when I tried to explain to them what the Easter Bunny is.  Sometimes it is a bit of a reality check to view our culture from the spectacles of someone else!  🙂  And there is a Good Friday service we could go to, but it is all in Chinese.  I’m just not there yet.  But Easter Eggs are still fun, even if they are a bit strange and pagan.  So this year, I was determined to make sure we had a proper Easter.  An American Experience, as well as to seek the true meaning of Easter.   
 
The first bit of Americana in my American Easter this year was that I was asked to make a uniquely "American" product for the school’s annual "International Day" on Saturday.   I signed up to bring Rice Crispy Treats.  And since it was Easter, I decided to make the "church windows" kind, where you put multi-colored mini marshmallows into them and slice them thin, so that they appear slightly like stained glass windows.  Laugh —  reality check — think again — I think I’m in China!  My first stop to find the ingredients was the Australian store "Park N Shop" which is something like a super wal mart including groceries.  Yes, Corn Flakes.  No, Rice Krispies.  No marshmallows.  So then I went to the small import shop Corner Deli.  None.  Then the import shop Aussino’s.  None.  Then to the larger import shop Oliver’s.  No luck again.  Then to David’s Deli at Gold Arch housing compound.  You guessed it — none!  Sometimes no matter how much you seek, you ain’t gonna find! 
 
As I returned home empty handed from this expedition, I thought about how to thrive in another culture, you simply must be flexible in your expectations.  After all, every store had brownie mix.  If I hadn’t been so stubborn, I simply would have capitulated and made brownies to start with.  Here I was, seeking ingredients, and not finding, and this reminded me of the song we used to sing from Matthew.  Lazily, and in a pseudo-religious-Easterish mood, I had been thinkinig to myself, "seek and ye shall find."   Except actually, that quote isn’t right at all.  What Matthew actually quotes Jesus as saying in the Sermon on the Mount is:  "But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33) "  No matter how American and Apple Pie they are, I don’t think Rice Krispy Treats have very much to do with the Kingdom of God, do they!?  If there was a spiritual lesson in my four hour expedition to find ingredients for Rice Krispy treats, perhaps that lesson was to give up a little bit of my American smugness (righteousness?).  The Kingdom of God has nothing to do with Americana or Rice Krispy Treats.  I know I’m stubborn, but in the end the Brownies won the day.  As far as I know, they all got eaten just fine. 
 
But speaking of Americana, in another Americana way, I was READY for our Easter celebration!   This summer I looked high and low in the USA for Easter Egg dye, only to find that it is strictly a seasonal item.  None could be purchased.  But fortunately, I had one egg dying kit in my kitchen cabinet, which I carried with me in my suitcase last fall.  And then two weeks ago in Hong Kong, David found some food coloring.  So we were "set."  I made up 12 different colors of Easter Egg dye!  I told my teens they could invite some friends over, too, if they wanted.  And I purchased 40 white chicken eggs.  We settled on Saturday afternoon.  I boiled the eggs.  Then, about ten teenagers showed up at my house!  All but one of the kids had dyed Easter eggs before, but none of them had dyed eggs since they had lived in Guangzhou (and for one of them that was 9 years).  To top off the experience, I made a cherry cobbler.  Some of them had never had a cobbler before.  And, we splurged and put ice cream on the cobbler (ice cream is off the charts expensive here).  I think a good time was had by all.    Actually, the party didn’t stop until the next afternoon.  After egg dying, the teens watched a movie, went to dinner, then spent the night.  The next morning they used food dye to make "easter pancakes".  J awoke long before the teens and found all 40 eggs the easter bunny had hidden.  Then, while I went back to bed, she hid the eggs again for the teens to find when they woke up.  There are pictures of everything in the Photo Album labeled "Easter".  
 
But really the whole big deal is all about the Kingdom of God part, isn’t it?!  There is a church here in GZ that I imagine might mirror pretty well what the Kingdom of God might really look like (except for the fact that there are no Chinese people in it because they aren’t allowed to attend, which is another story.)  This church strictly for expats meets at the Star Hotel, has a Sunday School, a regular worship service.  And it’s very multicultural:   African, American, European, Indian, Malaysian . . . .  Frankly there’s nothing WASP about it.  And I don’t like it.  First of all, it’s extremely fundamentalist and literalist.  All about sin and guilt, not about love and redemption.  That was a big turn off.  But as we think about it there’s another reason we’re not drawn to it.  What we miss most about our home church — Forest Lake Presbyterian —  is our religion taught by someone who understands our cultural viewpoint, our own concerns and the way challenges come up in our individual lives in the reality we inhabit.  When our home preacher teaches a sermon, it makes me think, "Yes, he’s exactly right."  Perhaps it’s not ideal for us to be so centered in our own culture and what is comfortable for us, but religion taught from our own perspective is about where we are spiritually, and that’s often not the same spiritual place as someone from Europe or Africa or India.  It’s what we can relate to, what we are thinking about, what concerns us.  We visited just  one time at the Star Hotel.  Other than meeting some people who didn’t think we were lunatics, we didn’t find anything of such substance that we had any desire to return.  But still, we miss Bible teaching and fellowship. 
 
So imagine my delight when last week I was invited to a Ladies Bible Study.  The person who invited me hit the nail on the head to make me interested when she said she enjoyed it because it wasn’t too "extreme."  I understood that comment.  It’s not that I’m not extremely committed.  It’s that I’m not interested in extremely outlandish expressions of faith; extreme interpretations; extreme literalism, extreme emphasis on sin, extreme judmentalism.  And what is most offensive to me is to confuse some "extreme" modern or political viewpoint (you name it —  conservativism, capitalism, democracy, republicanism, etc) with Christianity or to use Christianity to justify one’s particular cultural viewpoint.  I think, figuratively speaking, there are a lot of money changers making capital out of the temple these days, and I think Jesus would kick them all out wholsale — Republicans, Democrats, all.  So I was delighted to be invited to . . . and find . . . a "normal" fellowship.  Lovely songs, solid Bible study, great fellowhip, American accents galore, and good food for the covered dish lunch, as well!  And better yet, they invited me to their Easter fellowhip!  I was so excited, that sight unseen I invited two of my other friends who I suspected might be pining for something.   And we were not disappointed.  On Sunday we had a very low key "Passion Play" enacted by expat children in the group, followed by some singing and prayer, and a covered dish supper.  It was my perfect opportunity to cook the big turkey that never got cooked at Thanksgiving or Christmas.  (Finally there is room for something else in my freezer!) 
 
So, it’s true.  Seek and ye shall find, after all.  Not rice crispy treats.  But that which really counts — the Kingdom of God.  It’s here, too, right now.  Right where we are, wherever that is.  If nothing else, read the book, and look inside. 

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J’s Special Days

Yes it’s true, the birthday was in February and we didin’t have the party until the end of March.  That’s because the real birthday was the same day we flew to Thailand during Chinese New Year, and the real cake was the brownies we carried on the plane, and the friends were all out of town because nobody stays in town for Chinese New Year.  For the big event, for the real party that happened much later than the birthday, David did his special Daddy thing.  He carried on the tradition of making a very fancy cake and decorating it himself.  This tradition began on the year of S’s fifth birthday, when he made a "My Little Pony" birthday cake, complete with green coconut flakes for grass.  But this year was a bit of a challenge for several reasons. 
 
One was the issue of what kind of party to have and who to invite.  J wanted it to be a Barbie Princess party with only girls, and this theme seemed to lend itself to "dress up."  But we didn’t have a school directory to get addresses, and mailing a letter also involves a special trip to the post office and standing in a very crowded "line" to get stamps.  (Chinese lines are a bit confusing to Americans and have different rules, but that’s another story.)  If we distributed the invitations at school, the rule is that all the children in the class have to be invited.  I checked with the teacher.  It’s not sufficient to invite all the girls.  All the children — all 21 of them — must be invited.  But in the meantime, J decided she wanted to invite the boys too.  We decided they were welcome to come if they didn’t mind the princess theme.  So, then the search was on for a place to have the party. 
 
Last year just 12 kids in our small apartment felt like bedlam.  And we had gone to the expense of hiring clowns to help with crowd control.  This year, I made scouting trips to numerous potential not-my-house locations.  Play gym, local parks, special "children’s park," movie theater.  It took some time to scope out the possibilities.  A lot of asking (nobody does this type of birthday in China it seems), and there were some language barriers.  For instance, the local park has about 25 kiddie rides and various activities (including a bona fide "goat cart" and I mean a little goat hitched to a cart that takes the children on a little ride).  But they told me it’s not possible to do a birthday party there (I can’t quite believe that, so it must be a language issue).  The children’s park told me the child got free admission on their birthday, but otherwise paying about 50 RMB per child for rides for a lot of kids could get really expensive.  The local theater wanted 35 RMB per child (about $4.50 U.S. times 21 kids, hmm).  One local play gym wanted 30 RMB per child.  This city has special children’s theaters and puppet theaters, but I don’t know how to get in touch with them and they probably only speak Chinese.  So, finally, I settled on a particular play gym that every other child in J’s class uses.  It was just 7 RMB per child on Monday – Friday, which meant we could also add in a McDonald’s Happy Meal from the Mickey D downstairs.  So we decided on Friday afternoon.  I had wanted to be creative and innovative and different, but I guess there’s a reason every mother chooses the exact same place.   I made a reservation, and then planned the party. 
 
We had purchased the Disney Princess invitations (along with napkins, plates, and party favors)  in the USA and shipped them to ourselves in China.  So they were very precious.  Once the time and date were written, we were committed!  But then a glitch. There are 21 kids in the class and only 16 invitations.  Okay, a few kids will get color photocopies.  Of course the boys?  No, random.  Then, I couldn’t find all the ingredients for the cake.  I had shipped two fancy cake pans and our Wilton cake decorating tips (which we now store in our tiny bit of closet space)  but we ran out of flour.  The local foreign grocery was out of everything but Bread Flour.  I just decided to use boxed cake mix which we can get for about $4.50 U.S. per box from the same store.  (That’s one aspect of how the tendonitis in my foot has affected things a bit, didn’t want to engage in a long walking expedition to find cake flour.)  The next hurdle for cake decorating 101 was to get cream cheese for the frosting.  But the cream cheese at the foreign grocery runs about $3.50 U.S. per small package, and I knew I could get it at a wholesaler for significantly less.  Well, I never made it to the wholesale market, again due to the tendonitis.  (The good news is that all this pampering is paying off and the tendonitis is very, very gradually getting better.)  Anyway, finally I broke down and purchased 4 packs of cream cheese.  Surely plenty, right?  But there was no food coloring to color the icing.  What to do??!!!  Try as I might, I couldn’t find food coloring in the store nor locate the food coloring I was sure I had shipped from home.  About an hour into searching our cabinets, David admitted that some of the items we shipped to ourselves were still in Hong Kong, waiting to finish their journey by being placed in our suitcases.   (This is how we have carried in almost everything we have brought from home; we literally each came with only two suitcases, and only four boxes were delivered to our door; the rest has been carried in by hand after being shipped on containers carrying industrial supplies to David’s employer in Hong Kong.)  I think he finally found some red food coloring in our cabinet, which is good because the foreign groceries had none. 
 
After David made frosting in two shades of pink, he decorated the cake.  He ran out of cream cheese and added some crisco to the mixture.  But the big battle stemmed from the fact that we don’t have an electric mixer here.  The powdered sugar was lumpy, and he couldn’t get the lumps out.  He borrowed a manual egg beater from a neighbor, and I remember thinking "That thing’s gonna break!"  as he tried to turn it in the frosting.  In the end, the sugar made lumps and also the frosting was just a bit too runny and so hard to work with, and the food coloring didn’t work so well.  But Daddy made it, J helped daddy make it, and so it was absolutely a perfect cake.  And J topped off the decorations with sprinkles which had also been shipped from the USA.  The rest of the story will be shown by pictures in the photo album labeled "J’s special day."
 
But that was just the first of two special days.  Each year at the school, two days are devoted soley to Student Led Conferences.  Every student prepares a presentation for his or her parents about their school work, their interests, and their goals for the future.  The objective is to give each student an opportunity to self-reflect and to learn how to make a formal presentation.  J’s class spent two weeks preparing their portfolios for them to present.  Additionally, children were encouraged to take their parents on a tour of the school and to visit with their special subject matter teachers (e.g. art, music, P.E.).  On the second of J’s two special days recently, she took both parents on a tour of her work and of her school.  She very proudly dressed up in her best dress and her pearls, walked us to school, and presented her portfolio and gave a tour of her classroom.  Then she took us on a tour of her school.  We learned that P.E. is her favorite subject.  She demonstrated every P.E. activity including climbing rope, jump rope, and we all played mock field hockey for a little while.  She is quite good at P.E.!  Go J!  Then we toured the music classroom and played on the Orf Instruments which J has been taught how to handle.  After two hours at the school, it was time to go.  So now the rest of that story is also shown in the same photo album (see the drop down menu on the photo album page to choose which photo album to look at). 

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