Friday, July 29, 2011

Family Fridays: Family Hike

Edge of Kunming
We really appreciate a lot of the conveniences available to us in this big city of Kunming. The ability to get dairy, whole grains, and clean chicken (without having to kill it myself) is truly appreciated. But at heart, we are not really city people, so sometimes we like to escape to nature. God's beautiful creation is so refreshing.

So Thursday we decided to do just that. We walked quite a ways to get to the edge of the city. Kunming is basically in a bowl of hills and mountains. It is very beautiful. Whenever you get to the edge of the city, you pretty much hit a hill or a mountain. So after walking to the edge of town we started going up, up, up.

Nate and Aaron had taken a bus part of the way before and done a little exploring to find a nice path so we started walking up the road. We walking past a temple and heard some chanting. Walked past a few more buildings to the much smaller walking path. A lot of it was paved, but it had a lot of steps. Nate had his work cut out for him with the stroller, and I carried Andrew part of the way.

Easy flat part of the path
I am amazed had how much of the trail that the little boys actually walked themselves. Aaron walked the whole trail by himself, holding onto a parent's hand when it was a little dangerous. And Andrew walked all of the flat parts holding onto my hand and a lot of the steps. He allowed me to carry him some of the way up, but insisted on walking almost the entire way down himself.

Andrew doing it by himself
Of course they had been riding in the stroller all the way up to the path, and back through town as well. So they still didn't have nearly as much walking as we did, and they still had plenty of energy to run around when we got home.

Mommy and Andrew
It was a fun afternoon in the woods. The boy really like hiking in the hills. Aaron and Nate went a little further up and got some more pine cones for us to use for crafts. Aaron is really excited about making something with the pine cones. And yes we did check everyone over really well for any bugs. None to be found.
Daddy and Aaron
Looking back at Kunming

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Easy One-Dish Dinner: Complete Potato Salad

This is an easy, one-dish summer meal. It combines egg, potato, and green salad into a one-dish meal. Like green eggs and ham, we want to eat it everywhere in the summer.

Greens, Egg, and Potato Salad

4–6 medium potatoes washed, chopped, and boiled (you can peel them if you like, I am generally to lazy to peel things, and besides I like the extra nutrients found in eating whole foods)
8 eggs boiled and chopped
1 head of romaine lettuce washed and torn, half a bag of washed spinach, or your choice of salad greens
mayonnaise, ranch dressing, French dressing, or Italian dressing to coat the salad

Prepare the potatoes and eggs and refrigerate until cool. Mix with greens, and then coat with dressing of your choice.

This dish is best eaten right away, although I have saved leftovers and eaten them the next day, and the salad was still good.

I would eat this here or there. I would eat this anywhere.

DIY Ranch Three Ways

My husband loves ranch dressing, so this was one of the first DIY conveinence food I learned to make when we we married. Aaron and Andrew share their dad's love of ranch and will eat it on just about anything. These recipes saves us a lot of money.

Ranch Seasoning Mix

1 Tbsp parsley
1 Tbsp dried chopped onion
1 tsp garlic powder (more if you like)
1 tsp oregano (optional)

It stores in an airtight container until ready to use. Great for dressings, dips, and adding to bread crumbs or shake & bake for coating chicken. You can make multiple batches at a time and just scoop out two heaping tablespoons for each batch needed at the time.

Ranch Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise (or half mayonnaise and half yogurt for a reduced fat dressing)
1 cup milk or buttermilk (or yogurt for thicker dressing)
1 batch ranch seasoning mix
1 Tbsp vinegar

Mix all ingredients thoroughly with a whisk. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. I find that this dressing tastes much better when made at least a day ahead; it allows the flavors of the herbs to mingle more.

Ranch Dip

2 cups sour cream (or half sour cream and half yogurt for reduced fat dip)
1 batch ranch seasoning mix

Mix all ingredients thoroughly with a whisk. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator. I find that this dip tastes much better when made at least a day ahead; it allows the flavors of the herbs to mingle more.

DIY Easy Peanut Butter Granola

This recipe is super easy to make. It saves a lot of money even in the States. Here, where cereal is so expensive that I have heard of cereal being requested as a Christmas gift, it really cuts breakfast costs. Especially, when I buy the ingredients in bulk.

Peanut Butter Honey Granola

½ cup honey (maple syrup, or pancake syrup can be substituted)
1 cup peanut butter (or regular butter)
6 cups oatmeal
1 cup or more of additions (such as raisins, dried fruit, nuts, or seeds) (optional)

Truth be told, I usually don't bother to measure this recipe anymore, but this is the basic ratio.

In a large non-stick or cast iron pot, melt the peanut butter, stirring frequently. Turn off heat, and stir in honey. Add oatmeal, and stir to coat evenly with the peanut butter and honey mixture. If you wish to add unroasted nuts or seeds to the granola, do so now. Spread on cookie sheets and bake at 350F for 10–15 minutes. Check granola at this point to see if it has browned lightly. Stir and bake for another 10–15 minutes if necessary.

Allow the granola to cool before mixing in other additions and transferring to an airtight container for storage.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 双胞胎

My most used foreign language phrases have always surprised me. In high school, I took Spanish for a couple of years and learned lots of useful words and phrases. However, for a long time my most useful Spanish phrase was not learned in the classroom or a book. I was amazed to find myself saying over and over, "these fish like to eat other fish," as I worked in a pet department through high school and college.

After I graduated and began working as a nurse, this phrase wasn't nearly so useful, but it was replaced with another Spanish phrase that had to be learned on the job: "nursing or bottle."

Now, neither of these phrases, or any phrase in Spanish, will be that helpful to me.

I do use a lot of standard Mandarin phrases here like "hello" (nǐ hǎo, 你好), "goodbye" (zài jiàn, 再见), "thank you" (xiè xiè, 谢谢), and "how much is that" (duō shǎo qián, 多少钱). Although we haven't kept a tally or anything, quite possibly the phrase I say the most when we are out walking around is yet again a very unusual one, that can't be found in any beginning Mandarin books. I find myself saying over and over, "they are not twins, (bù shì shuāng bāo tāi, 不是双胞胎)."

Almost everyone we meet automatically assumes our boys are twins or asks if they are. Even though are boys are 18 months apart and very different sizes, in China most people are only allowed to have one child, especially if the first child is a boy. And for those who are allowed to two children, like minorities, they usually wait at least six or seven years between kids, to space out the school entrance fees (which can be thousands of dollars).

Ben and Nate
And I will agree the boys look fairly similar. Also, together they both look so much like their daddy and uncle's baby pictures it is amazing, and I guess even people in America sometimes wondered if Ben and Nate were twins.

Perhaps if you didn't know them and saw pictures of Aaron and Andrew at the same age you might wonder if they were fraternal twins.
Aaron 19 months
Andrew 19 months
However, one is a head taller than the other. How many twins are that off in size?

We know someone who raised two boys 18 months apart in China and she got this question all time too. In fact she said that she got so tired of it that she started saying that they were twins, she was just doing an experiment and only feeding the bigger one. She was joking about saying that, I think.

Aaron and Andrew
So when we go out I just get to practice my Mandarin by explaining yet again that no they are not twins, (bù shì shuāng bāo tāi, 不是双胞胎). The "older brother" (gēgē, 哥哥), or the "bigger one" (dà de, 大的) is "three years old" (sān suì, 三岁), and the "younger brother" (dìdì, 弟弟), or "littler one" (xiǎo de, 小的), is "one and a half years old" (yī suì bàn, 一岁半).

Sometimes it people still don't believe us or just think we didn't understand their question. But more often than not they just smile and give us a thumbs up. I think that translates the same here as in America.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Family Fridays: Uh-Oh, No-No

"Uh-oh, no-no" is Andrew's new favorite thing to say. Andrew has recently learned to nod and shake his head. He is also trying out new words almost every day. This stage is so fun because he is starting to be able to communicate so much more. But (at least with my precocious boys) this increased ability to communicate also seems to come with the "N" word: no-no. They both seem to realize that there is power in words and wanting some of the power that  comes with saying "no-no."

I can distinctly remember asking Aaron, at this same age, if he wanted ice cream and hearing him say, "no-no-no," while gobbling it all up. Andrew hasn't said "no" to ice cream quite yet, but he has specifically asked for a Pooh or a Thomas video (which he loves) and then the second it is turned on started shaking his head and saying "no-no."

I am working on being patient and remembering the extreme cuteness that he has also recently developed when he asks for something and then nodding "yes-yes," while emphatically signing "please" with both hands. Also, maybe his negative side will begin to fade early, like it did with his brother. And thankfully by grace it seems that just as one boy begins to be more difficult in a certain area, the other is beginning to be easier to deal with.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Three-Year-Old Sweetheart

This is my three-year-old; he is turning into quite a sweetheart. Sure he can still throw quite a fit, even bigger ones now, but they are much fewer and further between. And there is much more intentional unprompted sweetness mixed into his behaviors. More "I love you mommy," more hugs, more "I like your hair down mommy," and more flowers. Today he picked the biggest bunch yet. Sure, they are only clover in a peanut-butter-jar vase, but he spent a long time picking them, for me....

Help me to demonstrate real love to him and remember these moments of sweetness more than the trying moments.

Paper City

For a little extra gift for Aaron's third birthday, I printed and cut out this neat paper city from Made by Joel, who has a lot of simple ideas for making things for children. As a guy who makes things for his son and daughters, he has some unique ideas I haven't seen before. This is kind of like paper dolls, but for boys too. You could even pair this with new crayons, markers, or paints for a more complete gift. You could also give an older child a pair of scissors and let them cut it out themselves.

It would also be cool draw your own. You could make your own paper home, city, and family for your children to play with. Maybe I could do this in time for Christmas.

At the very least, it is a neat rainy day activity that will keep a preschooler entertained for quite a while. It also packs up small for a traveling activity.

The only problem with a paper city right now is that baby can destroy it like Godzilla. So for right now, it is an activity for Aaron to do while Andrew naps. But that is good too because it is a nice quiet activity.

Studying America

The boys are enjoying the extra planned activities in our day. Actually, they have been enjoying them so much that we have already finished most of the activities that aren't reusable and reused the reusable ones a lot more than I thought we would. I didn't want try too much for this first unit study, but clearly next month I should add more.

The boys have enjoyed doing more worksheets. Aaron has suddenly become really careful about coloring and tracing. This happened right around his third birthday, but I think it had more to do with him observing me actually color Thomas the Tank Engine correctly, than simply turning three. Andrew loves to color, so he scribbles happily along beside.

I was pretty happy with the collection of American themed activities I chose, as they covered a little bit of everything. Preschool basics like tracing, counting, coloring, sorting, graphing, as well as facts about American history. We did do one quick craft I made up where we glued stars and stripes that I had cut out of wrapping paper to make our own flags.

Probably everyone's favorite thing was the special Fourth of July food. The hamburgers, watermelon, apple pie, frozen yogurt, and sparkler cookies were all a big hit.

We are still continuing our American facts calendar and singing songs about America. Aaron has learned quite a few facts and songs this month, and Andrew likes to chime in too. It is really neat to hear Aaron requesting to sing The Star Spangled Banner, presidents song, state song, Battle Hymn of the Republic, and America the "Beauty" (as he calls it). Don't let him convince you though that it was Thomas Andrew Jefferson that wrote the Declaration of Independence though, as Thomas Jefferson really has no middle name. Aaron just throws that in when he is feeling silly. I love that he is learning so much but is still a funny three-year-old.

I'm looking forward to continuing with this theme slowly for the rest of July and starting to plan our next unit study for August: D is for Dinosaurs. Although whenever Aaron sees me starting to work on it, he wants to do everything right now.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 交费

Last week, we were finally able to pay (jiāo fèi, ) the last of our utility bills, the cold water bill (shuǐ fèi, 水费). Some things like rent (zū, ) they want to to pay in advance, but other things require long "processing time" or something here. You would think if you lived in an apartment for several months they would want to to pay up right away, but surprisingly when we thought we were late, we were actually early.

The bill system is quite confusing, thankfully it seems fairly forgiving as well. For each utility bill you have to pay you have to go to a separate place (dì fāng, 地方), after a certain day (tiān, ), of a certain month (yuè,). Some bills are due after the 10th of the month and some after the 20th of the month. Some are due on odd months and some on even months. Some other types of bills are only collected once a year (nián, 年). It's annoying to have to pay it all up front, but at least it is easier to keep track of.

We are thankful that we took care of our phone (diàn huà, 电话) and internet (wǎng luò, 网络) for a whole year at a time. Not only did we get a better deal, but we don't have to worry about it getting shut off anytime soon, like happened our poor neighbors who got the months mixed up.

Everyone's electric bills on the door
Some bills like electric and gas they post on the outer door of your apartment building. No, they are not in envelopes. Yes, you can see everyone's bills. Yes, you can go around comparing your bill to everyone's bills if you wish.  Privacy isn't the same here.

But they don't post water bills for some reason. And to make matters more confusing, we have both a cold (or regular) water bill (shuǐ fèi, 水费) and a solar hot water (tài yáng rè shuǐ, 太阳热水) bill. These are due at different times, and you have to go to different places to pay them. This is because we have to pay water company the cold water bill (shuǐ fèi, 水费) and the apartment complex a management fee (wù guǎn fèi,物管费) for the solar hot water. They manage the solar heaters that are on the roof of the seventh floor of our buildings. The solar water heaters do a really good job heating most of the time, but if it rains for quite a while, you may want to wait for a sunny day to take a shower.

Electric office guard likes Andrew

If the system isn't completely clear, don't worry, it is still confusing to use too. Just be glad if you can simply mail your bills out each month. Thankfully, we have some friends who have lived here for a while, and they helped us sort all of this out. One of our friends spent a whole afternoon taking us around to all four places to try to pay our bills, so even though we couldn't get them all taken care of that day, we were able to keep going back to check. Now that we have paid each one once, it should be easier in the future.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Family Friday: Dinner, Grocery, and Bus Adventures

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit the extremely nice Chinese-American gentleman who hosted us the night we first arrived. Sam is back in town a for a few weeks and kindly invited us out to dinner with his wife and son. They took us to a very nice Chinese restaurant near their home. I have never seen a fancy restaurant with a playplace, but I think that it is an idea that Olive Garden and even higher end American restaurants should pursue, because it made the evening so enjoyable. The boys were able to play while we visited, and everyone was happy. After we talked for a while, gave them a small gift, and attempted unsuccessfully to pay the bill (Sam really is to nice to us), we agreed to keep in touch and bid them good night.

We thought since we were already right next to Metro (a German version of Walmart), we would try to stock up on a few bulk purchases before heading home. We got pasta, tomato paste, oatmeal, peanut butter, real Hellman's mayonnaise, and a huge tub of chocolate ice cream. The ice cream is the only item that is not fabulous, but the boys love it (Aaron has nick-named it, "a big ol' kind of ice cream"), and it is cheap to buy it this way. Thankfully, we were able to find everything we were looking for and ended up purchasing about 24 kilos (50 pounds) of western food staples for about $60 US, which is quite a good price for rare and imported items. Besides making everything yourself, buying in bulk is the only really affordable way to have western food here. It is nice that we are able to have some of these convenience foods on hand for some easy meals. Yes, these are convenience foods to us, and no I didn't always view these as convenience foods either. Hopefully, these items will last us about two months.

On a very crowded bus
Now for the inconvenient part of the story: the bus system. To get to this part of town, we needed to take two buses. We were late getting to Sam's house for dinner in the first place because we had to wait a long time to get the connecting bus, and boy was it packed. It was so packed in fact that for several stops, they couldn't accept any more passengers. This very rarely happens on a double decker bus. There were even people standing on the stairs.

A not so crowded bus
We were really hoping that it wouldn't be quite so crowded on the way home, as we had 4 bags of food, 2 small boys, and 1 awesome but still bulky double stroller to get on and off of two buses to go home. We were really blessed and got seats on both buses on the way home. We were very glad to be home. We had some big ol' kind of ice cream and went straight to bed.

Nate is very glad that he won't have to ride the buses so often for a while as he finished his first semester of classes and has a short break before classes resume in the fall.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Frozen Yogurt Recipes

We love ice cream, but around here most of the ice cream is less than stellar. Even the cheapest ice cream isn't that cheap and often has a strange taste. Chocolate lovers beware of Chinese chocolate; we've eaten tastier crayons. And I don't know about you, but we can't be spending $13.50 for a pint of Haagen Daz very often. So aside for buying an occasional giant tub of ice cream, I've come up with some great frozen yogurt recipes for everyday desserts. Although they are certainly good enough to serve for company, and most are healthy enough to eat for breakfast.

All of these recipes can be made using plain homemade yogurt, and you don't even need to own an ice cream maker. Just use the method described here to churn out your own frozen treats.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

DIY Mango Frozen Yogurt

Three simple ingredients combine to make a light and refreshing summer treat. It is such a healthy recipe too, so it is like you are eating frozen breakfast for dessert. Or you could even serve it for breakfast and make everyone extra happy.

Simple Mango Frozen Yogurt

(makes about 1 quart or liter)

1 large mango mashed or pureed
3 cups of yogurt
½ of sugar

Peel mango, and remove pit. Puree in a blender, or mash well with a potato masher. Stir in yogurt and sugar.

Freeze in an ice cream freezer or in a regular freezer using the method described here.

DIY Lemon Ice

This is a simple and refreshing summer treat. The first time I made it, the boys licked their bowls clean.

Easy Lemon Ice

1 cup yogurt
1 cup lemonade concentrate
about ½ cup of sugar (more or less to taste)

Mix together yogurt and lemonade concentrate (store bought or homemade), and then sweeten to taste. I used about ½ cup of granulated sugar, as I was using completely unsweetened yogurt and lemonade concentrate.

Freeze in an ice cream freezer or regular freezer using the method described here.

DIY Powdered Sugar

Recently, I learned that you could make powdered sugar at home in your blender using plain old granulated sugar. I was really excited because powdered sugar is quite expensive here, so it is one of the first things I tried to make in my new blender. But even if it just saved you a trip to the store when you ran out, it would totally be worth it to make it yourself because it is so simple.

Powdered Sugar Recipe

Granulated sugar

Pour a small amount of granulated sugar into your blender, and blender until all the sugar is finely ground like powdered sugar. That's it, wasn't that simple?

I did notice that the amount of sugar pretty consistently increased by 25% when I ground it into powdered sugar. When I ground 1 cup of granulated sugar, I would end up with 1¼ cups of powdered sugar. Something to keep in mind, if you only want to make enough for a specific recipe.

One other thing that I noticed was that the powdered sugar I made wasn't quite as fine as American powdered sugar, but the granulated sugar and powdered sugar here are grittier in general. So the powdered sugar I can make here, is about the same as the powdered sugar I can buy here. Homemade powdered sugar seems to work well in everything I have tried it in so far, but if you are trying to make super sweet powdered sugar and shortening frosting, there might be a difference in the final texture.

DIY Fresh Lemonade an Easier Way

I came across this method for making fresh lemonade a little while ago and could wait to try it out. Thanks to my sweet honey, we now have a new blender. This method is simple and fast, and you can actually use less lemons than if you squeeze them by hand. Here is how I use this method.

Easy Blender Fresh Lemonade or Concentrate Recipe

(makes 2 quarts)
2 lemons
½ to 1 cup sugar
First wash the outside of the lemons thoroughly. Then lemons cut into fourths or eighths. Place lemons in the blender and cover lemons with water. Blend for a few seconds. There should still be chunks of lemon. Strain this mixture over a pitcher. I usually have about 2 cups of lemon liquid at the point. Now you can either add sugar and water to equal two quarts, or freeze as concentrate for later use.

DIY Fresh Squeezed Lemonade

Lemons are quite cheap around here, and lemonade is becoming one of our favorite summer treats.


(makes one quart)
4 lemons
¼ to ½ cup of sugar
Enough water to equal 1 quart of prepared lemonade

Roll lemons on the cutting board to loosen the juice and then cut them in half. Squeeze juice into pitcher, add sugar, and then add water. Stir and and serve.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

DIY Berry Smoothie

This is a refreshing and light smoothie recipe. Other berries can be substituted for mulberries.

Mulberry Smothie

2 cups ice
2 bananas
1 cup yogurt
1 cup juice or lemonade
½ cup mulberries

Layer ingredients in your trusty blender, starting with the ice, and blend until smooth.

Happy Birthday Nate!

Yesterday, we got to spend a fun-filled day together enjoying and celebrating Nate. Daddy stayed home from school, and for the third day in a row, we all got to eat breakfast together, delicious mulberry smoothies. Aaron and Andrew had colored some Thomas pictures for him, and I gave him some birthday cake truffles.

Later that day, we had a simple brownie cake (I even used icing from a can), but I also made three kinds of homemade ice cream. The mango frozen yogurt was very refreshing. All of the boys' favorite was the moose tracks, and my favorite was definitely the caramel (it was amazing).

We went out in the late afternoon, to play at the park in our apartment complex. The boys also had fun "rock climbing." Then we cam back home for homemade manicotti and more dessert. It was such a nice relaxing day of family time. We are so blessed to have Nate in our lives and look forward to another new year of adventures together.


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