Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Blossoms / End of grade 12

I’m pretty happy about spring right now. As my Instagram followers know all too well, I’ve been filling my feed with buds and flowers and blossoms. Going for a morning run is almost fun these days, with the scent of lilacs and apple blossoms as I run past gorgeous pink fluffy trees. I’m trying to enjoy every second because those blossoms disappear way too quickly.

Chloe had her very last exam of high school today. Actually she finished her high school exams in late April and has been doing IB exams for the past couple of weeks. She ended off her grade 12 year with a French exam this afternoon.

Last day of school!
No one enjoys hearing people boast about their children, so let me just quietly and humbly state for the record that Chloe is pretty amazing. I really wanted to type that in all caps, but I’m holding back. She has worked super hard the last few years to complete a tough internationally-recognized program (IB) that consists not only of university-level academics, but also emphasizes independent thinking, cultural awareness, and a minimum of 150 volunteer hours in order to receive your diploma. While doing that, she was also on the cheer team (practices were two evenings a week), she got her lifeguard/instructor certification, she got a part-time job teaching swimming two nights a week, has a regular babysitting gig one night a week and usually another one on the weekend. Before you feel too sorry for her and her busy schedule, don’t worry – she still finds lots of time for snapchatting and watching Netflix. But she’s pretty happy to have the weight of school lifted for the next 3+ months. This will be the first summer in four years that she hasn’t been away for part of it (ie. youth trips, Churchill, French exchange program) so I’m looking forward to having her around more. Although she does have a lifeguarding job lined up for the summer which will cut into our vacation plans. In the fall, she’s off to U of W which is a short bike or bus ride away. Having your first born graduate from high school is much less traumatic when they’ll still be living at home and part of your everyday life. I can’t even imagine what the transition would be like if she was moving away for university. I know she’d be fine; it’s the rest of us I’d be worried about.

If that wasn’t bragging, I don’t know what is. I’m sorry.

Now go outside and take time to smell the flowers before your kids are all grown up and moved away!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Last China post

I'm going to wrap up my China trip and move on. I haven't properly sorted through my pictures yet so there are lots more, but I've got to stop somewhere.  I'll end with some fun signs we saw during the trip. The English translations were a constant source of entertainment.

Sign on the Great Wall


No bad English on this sign - they made a bar for me! If I had one wish, I'd wish they hadn't put an owl (or whatever that is) on the logo.

Not entirely sure what they are trying to tell us here, but I liked how they'd often have warning signs with happy cartoon police officers. The police officers I saw in real were the exact opposite of happy cartoons.

Kind of like this: (well actually, exactly like this)

They don't make this easy. You have to bring the yardstick to find out how much breakfast is going to cost. Sorry, tall kids - you're paying extra. Also, a larger right margin would have been great.

This building was under construction so I believe this was a safety warning. I felt like I should stay and give it some attention.

Whoever did the translation for this just wasn't even trying. I  get the feeling he/she does not take pride in their job.

These are pretty mild ... click here or check out for other translation fails that are way more extreme and not always suitable for children.

I'm looking into planning another Chamber trip to China next spring. It's really a fascinating country and even if you're not into bus tours, I have to say it's a really good way to do China. Not to mention super easy. All you have to do is give me your credit card number and every detail is taken care of!

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mother's Day

I'm feeling pretty lucky today … three pretty amazing kids that make me proud to be a mother, a mother who has been there for me for all 46 years of my life, and a pretty great mother-in-law as a bonus. I'm sorry for the many people who don't have their mothers anymore. It's just not fair; we should all have mothers until we're at least 70. I'm so thankful for all of them and try not to take it for granted. 

One thing I did not do this weekend is starve. It feels like I ate non-stop. Dale and the kids took me to India Palace for dinner Saturday night. 

I got breakfast in bed this morning, along with lots of presents. My family may not be perfect, but they buy great gifts. Neve made cute paintings and poems at school, including a painted paper wrapper around a little geranium. I love that so much - I know the years of home made gifts are coming to an end so I'm not taking it for granted. Chloe wrapped a mason jar with Body Shop soap, shower scrub and nail polish, Starbucks gift card, and chocolate. Spencer told me he would give me my gift at the end of the day, but it's now 11:22 p.m. and I have yet to see it. And Dale bought me the case I wanted for my new phone.

After Neve saw what I was wearing, she found clothes to match. She must love me the best because none of my other kids did that.

Here is Spencer drawing a rainbow on his leg during church with a dull pencil. I was so proud.

After church, we went to my sister's house to celebrate with my family. It was warm and sunny and we had a really fun afternoon in their beautiful yard.

We took many pictures, with every possible combination of people. I won't show them all, but trust me. Here are just a few:

Grandma and grandchildren

My mom with four out of five of her children

My mom with her daughters and daughters-in-law.

Then we went home and I went for a quick bike ride before eating yet another meal. Dale's mom came for dinner and we barbecued burgers.

 More pictures followed. I haven't taken this many pictures in one day for ages (other than in China).

Dale and his mom

We spent a beautiful evening on the deck. Dale set up the trampoline this afternoon and Neve jumped for hours. Then Dale's mom mentioned that Jupiter is currently visible, so we dug out Dale's old telescope. We could see Jupiter and two of its moons, which was pretty cool. 


It was a good day. Why can't it be Mother's Day every day?

Monday, May 02, 2016

Half marathon and much more China

There’s a joke that goes like this:

Q: How can you tell if someone has run a marathon?
A: They’ll tell you.

It’s true. We bring it up in every conversation possible, proudly wear our finisher t-shirts, and post pictures on social media.

We also always complain that we’re not ready for race day: “I haven’t trained as much as I should have” or “my knee’s been bugging me” or “my only goal is to finish.”  I’m guilty of all of that so I'll say no more. 

Here’s Dale and I after running the WPS half marathon yesterday. We couldn’t have had a better day for it … perfect temperatures and not a cloud in the sky. I’m not going to say it was fun, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Now back to China …

There were a few things that surprised me about China, which I will now proceed to tell you about in great detail with many photos. 

China was a lot prettier than I’d imagined. They have many green spaces like parks, gardens, and public areas. Also lots of trees everywhere. There was a large park near a temple that we went to in Beijing where seniors could go and hang out every day and play cards and mah-jong with whoever else showed up. 

It was a warm, sunny day and I decided that’s what I want to do when I’m retired. If Winnipeg doesn’t have a place like that, I’m moving to Beijing. However, apparently their main purpose of playing games is to gamble so maybe it wasn’t as idyllic as it appeared. Also at that park was also a large group of seniors that were singing revolutionary songs of praise to their country and to their communist leaders.

I’ll probably just stay in Canada.

A friend who went to China three years ago said the smog had been so bad that when they looked out of their 53rd floor hotel room (!), they couldn’t see the top of the tall buildings due to the smog. (She was there the same time of year we were, when the smog is at its minimum.) But it wasn’t too bad when we were there. It was a bit hazy in Shanghai (above photo) and you could sort of feel it in other cities too, but it was better than I imagined. They are trying to reduce or eliminate the use of coal as a power source, so hopefully they are heading in the right direction. Also, the photo above was taken from the 88th floor and this neighbouring skyscraper (creatively named the Shanghai Tower - still under construction) towers far above.

The photo below is taken from the 88th floor observation deck as well, but looking down into an interior glass window. The top 50 floors of this building is a Hyatt hotel, so we're looking way down to the hotel lobby. The rooms are all around. That's where I'd like to stay next time.

There were quite a few discrepancies between what the guides told us and what is probably the truth. They say communism is awesome and that it’s much more open than it used to be. Yet they continue to block western social media and websites* and are currently removing crosses from buildings and trying to scale back religious freedom. Here's a recent Globe & Mail articleDoesn’t sound that awesome to me. They also don’t like to discuss what happened at Tian An Men Square or the empty ghost cities.

* One of our guides said the reason they block Google is because on Google maps it shows that a couple of fought-over islands belong to Japan and not China.
Tian An Men Square. There is space for a million people to gather.

Construction everywhere, and yet many buildings seemed almost empty.

I was also surprised by how few people spoke English. English is mandatory in school (so they say) but it was almost impossible to find an English-speaker when you needed one. I know China is huge and powerful and doesn’t bow to western influence like other countries, but I guess in my self-centered worldview, I thought at least the young people would know English. In Cambodia and Vietnam, communicating was never a problem but here it often seemed like they didn’t even try. Ordering food in a restaurant or even speaking to hotel staff was a struggle. Some of us tried to take a taxi one night and even though many empty cabs drove by, the only one that stopped quoted us an exorbitant rate. When I asked our guide about this later, he feigned surprise and said it was probably because they were concerned about the language barrier. I think it was because they didn’t like foreigners. We ended up taking the bus back to the hotel, after someone with decent English told us which bus to take. By that point, I was suspicious of everyone and was kind of surprised when the bus route actually did go to our hotel.

We had to work very hard to order our food and still weren't sure what we'd get.

This server was an exception - she worked VERY hard to communicate with us via iPhone translation. There were a lot of things lost in translation and some swear words added but we ended up with a delicious dumpling meal. She loved us a lot and waved to us til we were out of sight. For all I know, she's still waving. 

While taxi drivers may not have liked us, Chinese tourists sure did. The big tourist attractions we went to were jam-packed with tourists, usually from other parts of China. Apparently some of them rarely see westerners, so a group of 49 white people was a sight to behold. Often they would stand near the group with their selfie sticks and take selfies with us in the background. Or they would approach someone from the group to pose for a photo with them. They especially loved tall, pale or blond people. I can just imagine them showing their friends back home all us freakish Canadians. 

The rest is just random photos ...

This is a wall of flowers along the Bund in Shanghai. It's made up of thousands of individual flower pots.

This is where we lost one of our group members for ten minutes. See all the people on the right? Needle in a haystack, I tell you. At least it was a white needle.

Crazy architecture in Beijing

The Bird's Nest - built for the 2008 Olympics and will be used again in the 2022 Olympics.

Rickshaw ride through Hutong, an old part of Beijing

Our guide joked that laundry was China's national flag.

This food contained hooves of some kind. Mmmm

We were all pretty impressed with these brightly coloured fruits until our guide advised us not to buy them. He said they're injected with questionable dyes and didn't even know what fruit they were.

Lovely cruise on West Lake.

It wasn't clear why there was a giant Charlie Chaplin and three mossy elephants here.

Watching hockey on the bus
Some garden somewhere