National Comic Book Day

It was a nice treat to walk into the library today and be greeting by so many super heroes.  (I was not aware Dr Who was a super hero, but he must have a comic book.)  The tardis was not real authentic and Batman probably would not have answered the call in the sky, but it was a real neat thing for my older kids to do.  They both made a mask with duct tape for decorations.  They got some type of “goo”, too.

We also found out the library’s summer reading program will be available online this year.  And, the reading hours can all be logged online, too.  This will be my daughters 6th year doing the reading program in Texas.  The rewards they get for certain goals are not incredible, but they do provide a little more motivation to crack open those books.

With all of the activities, I don’t think they even had the chance to look at any cookbook or craft books today.  (My wife did get quite a few travel books.)  I have always enjoyed going to libraries, and fortunately, my kids have also.  But, if they didn’t, seeing a dwarf with an ax sure would make you curious!

Dawn surprised to have a Dwarf near by when getting her picture with the bat call

Dawn surprised to have a Dwarf near by when getting her picture with the bat call

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Abby standing next to the Tartis

Abby standing next to the Tartis

She Answered In French

As our exchange students move into the second half of their school year with us, I continue to be amazed!  They may hop off of an international Skype call talking to their parents/friends, and be able to immediately switch to English to talk to us mono-lingual Americans.  In my single language brain, I daily suffer from a bit of jealousy for those who can so easily slip between languages with barely a breath or pause.  In my brain, all foreign phrases are tied to their American equivalent phrase.  (The “How are you?” gate must be passed prior to me getting to “Como estas?”)  As I watch our exchange students easily converse in both languages, I realize this is not a very effective filing system.

Of course, having two exchange students does give the opportunity to assess their individual language switching dexterity.   While our Chinese exchange student truly does make the transition between English and Chinese seem nearly seamless, our Korean student has been known to have a slightly blank stare or give a generic, “That is an interesting thought.” when her brain does not effectively switch linguistic gears.  Earlier this week, both of our exchange students [they share a room] failed to hear their alarm.  As they got up late, their minds locked into the language of their dreams [I can only assume you dream in your native tongue.], and I was told both of them spoke excitedly in Chinese and Korean, respectively.  (I am guessing things like, “Oh, my gosh! We are going to be late.” were uttered in the appropriate language.)

It is these events that lead to me recent mindset as I called a customer up today.  I knew the customer was in Montreal, so I knew to expect a French accent.  However, when I was greeted in French, my whole grasp of other languages seem to change.  I believe I have grown callous (sort of) to easy switching between English and an Asian tongue.  (Without regular contact with any other bilingual people, I kind of “forgot” some people are fluent in English and other European languages, too.) When I said, “I will be speaking in English.”, she quickly switched to English.  As my language jealousies were rekindled, I tried to communicate effectively to her in English.  Our exchange students have programmed me to speak more slowly when I hear an accent.  And, I believe I was probably choosing words that I believed were on the elementary level rather than any more difficult words. Due to her role at this company, despite her accent, her English skills were likely immensely better than her accent would lend me to believe.  I can only assume I didn’t score any points for Team USA by forcing her to listen to my pathetic attempts to communicate with someone who is practically genetically bi-lingual.

I wish I could say living with exchange students and talking to those with superior language skills has made me want to learn another language.  Truth be told, I would like to learn another language–it is the work to acquire the new skill that seems to leave me committed to being a mono-lingual.  When they come up with the USB drive that can plug into my skull OR if they can do a language download through hypnosis or something (the TV show “Chuck” on Netflix gives a view of this), I think I will be able to justify the work to go to bi-lingual and beyond.  Until then, I will be the American who thinks he is communicating effectively by slowing pronouncing English words and throwing in a few hand motions when I believe they will add translation value.

Grandma Therapy

My mother came down for Thanksgiving last month.  It had been a few months since she had seen her grandkids.  Even though they had never met my mother, it certainly seemed like our exchange students needed a little attention only a grandmother could properly give.

Both of our exchange students (both Chinese and Korean student) have at least one living grandmother in their native countries. Whether the grandmother lives with her family (Korean) or a short train ride away (Chinese),  they speak of an active grandmother who travels, cooks, and plays an active part in their lives.  Enter my mother…

Prior to my mother arriving for Thanksgiving week (her birthday usually falls during this week if not on the day of), we sat around the dinner table talking about how busy grandma likes to stay.  We mentioned how she likes to keep a conversation going.  And, of course, how she likes hugs.  Apparently, these conversations were not lost on our exchange students!  They seemed to have painted a picture in their minds of a grandmother not very different from their very own grannies.

In my view, grandmothers are people who do not seem to have to make or enforce rules.  Grandmas are along to be almost entirely accommodating to any and all requests of their grandkids.  It would seem this is also the case for Asian grandmas.  Having said this, an American grandma can help some exchange grandkids (grandkids to someone else, but somehow the title of grandma seems to easily be transferrable.  If you are grandmother to someone else, then you can be temporarily adopted as someone else’s grandmother, too.)  Being a grandma is not a transferable title, but it does appear to be one that can be borrowed.

It seems “hugs” are a great grandma thing to “demand” of all grandchildren or grandchildren-like people.  My daughter told me that even though they were busy doing “Black Friday” shopping, our Chinese student insisted on giving my mother a hug every half hour or so.  (I don’t do Black Fridays any more, so I will have to trust her.) I have also seen our Korean student give her frequent hugs.  It isn’t just the quick hugs that are the “obligatory hugs”.  These seem to be hugs that say, “if I close my eyes, I can pretend this is my real grandmas I am hugging” hugs.  Since my mother has always been a strong proponent of hug therapy, the extra residents of the house gave her more people to entice into her arms.

Although it was initially voluntary, my mother had even requested a couple of extra massages from our exchange students.  I am not entirely aware if this is done in their native countries to their older relatives, but my mom has never been good at saying “no” to special attention.  Her hand massages while driving paled in comparison to the back/neck/arm massage she received before going to bed the one night.  She took it all in, and likely slept better because of it.  I am pretty sure there was at least one more massage scheduled before she left.

Finally, our Chinese student and my mother also took a walk together to the park.  I haven’t seen the selfie, but apparently they took a one together while they were setting on the swings.

It wouldn’t be a very good story if all was perfect!  One of my daughters has been quite distraught about sharing her grandma.  She is glad grandma can get so much attention, but she was hoping to just draw the line at sharing her house with the exchange students.  It was her strong desire to keep her grandma in a special category reserved for baby toys and other things only shared with blood siblings.  As my mother’s stay has ended, my daughter seems to have gotten her “maturity” in this area.

My mother’s visit more than most other things we have done with our exchange students made the line between “family” and “non-family” clear.  As the parent, any child under my roof qualifies as family.  (There are degrees of family, but this is mostly sound.)  As a child in a rather diverse household, it seems the same philosophy does not apply.  I don’t blame my daughter for not embracing her new siblings  And, I don’t blame our exchange students for doing anything wrong.  Every experience we have in life gives us a chance to find out more about ourselves.  Learning about ourselves is not always fun, but knowing we are almost half way into this chapter (the chapter entitled, “Our Asian Exchange Students”) of our lives lets us treasure the remaining experiences on the downhill slide.

Kimchi Suicide

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As we enjoyed another meal from our exchange students (it has been awhile between family visits and Thanksgiving and overall busyness), we had a healthy discussion around the table.  My youngest daughter was overnighting with a friend (she would appreciate us saving her some of the curry chicken w/ carrots and potatoes and the soup with squash, tofu and a few baby shrimps in the soy based broth.), so she missed the fun.

Since this meal was made by our Chinese student (our other student volunteered to help as well as myself), it did take a little time to pull together after school.  Maybe it was hunger that loosened our lips more than usual.  Whatever it was, we had a laugh (for our Korean student) and a tear (for our Chinese student) before the meal was over.

Our Chinese student had worked so hard to prepare Chinese pancakes for the International food day at school a couple of weeks ago.  The night before, she spent over 2 hours in the kitchen preparing and cooking the egg/flour batter.  She attempted to fry them into near perfect, untorn pancakes for people at school to try.  Because of her desire for perfection and her need to make sure there was ample pancakes for all, she made nearly 20 of them–each done individually in our small, cast iron frying pan.  I was a little concerned about the texture of the pancakes when they arrived at school the next day.  When the sampling began at school,  this was the one story she told….

EX (Chinese exchange student):  I am so happy you like the meal I made tonight.  The last time I cooked they did not like it.
US:  What are you talking about?
EX:  (Her English is very good, but my retelling is certainly not exact.) When I took the Chinese pancakes to school, not everyone liked them.  I was okay they did not like them, but one person really hurt my feelings!  She tried my pancakes and told me she liked them.  When I saw her a little later, I heard her tell someone, “I will never eat Chinese pancakes again.  They tasted awful.”  She (since it is a small school, my daughter could not help but guess which person at the school was rude enough to say something like this) saw me and knew I heard her.  She lowered her head, and she walked away embarrassed.
Daughter: I am sorry about that.  That person is not a very nice person.  I would not worry about it.
EX:  Again, I am so happy you liked the food I made for dinner.  When she said that, it really hurt my confidence.  (Her smile is covering her whole face.)

After a meal cooked by our Chinese student, we had a little discussion about what our Korean student might next cook.  Since kimchi is a such an important part of a Korean meal, we do have half of a jar sitting in the refrigerator.  In Korea, they have refrigerators for ONLY their kimchi.  Not having that luxury, the kimchi has to share its surroundings with our other “American” items.  The first jar of kimchi was able to participate in two meals while the remainder of the jars contents met an untimely end….

Me: What is [our Korean student] going to cook for us next? The last jar of kimchi decided to commit suicide rather than let [Korean student] make another meal with it! (Our Chinese student gets quite a laugh out of this comment.  She seems to really appreciate my wit–or whatever it is called.)
EX (this time our Korean student): Yes, I do not know what happened to it.  It turned green and even for kimchi, it did not smell good.
Me:  Maybe we need to go back to the classic Korean Barbecue.
EX:  Yes, we could make our own barbecue sauce with pears and other fruits.
Daughter:  I really liked what we got out of the store bought jar.
EX:  We would include the same things in our sauce they include in the bottled sauce…

And, so it went.  We will likely have Korean cooking again with either kimchi or barbecue or both.  We will likely have more Chinese variations on some already cooked meals.  And, we will likely look back at many moments during this school year with our exchange students and realize how much we miss them, and the year we shared our lives together.  Maybe the food around the table was not always our favorite, but if the food is shared with some of your favorite people, then you are blessed–no matter what country you are in!

Orange Laptop

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Although I like my technology, I don’t stay on the front edge of the technology curve.  I have had a couple of laptops.  I bought an Ipad over 3 years ago before my wife and I went to Europe, but my most recent addition seems to get the most attention.

My son got a Chromebook for school this year.  He enjoyed its features and its ability to be so easily mobile.  I put it on my list of things I would like to have sometime soon.  And, as our exchange student needed to borrow my Ipad for the first few months she was here, the Chromebook moved up the wishlist considerably.  I tried to make one of my old laptops work, but it did not possess the mobility I needed.  As my birthday approached, my wife went ahead and greenlighted the purchase of the Chromebook.  So, I purchased it and handed it over to my wife to add to my gift stash.  (She got a cruise for her significant birthday while i got a laptop…)

Even though it is “only” a Chromebook, I did personalize it with an orange shell.  While the shell allows me to tilt the computer to assure proper typing angle,  the non-screen orange shell-side does catches quite a few eyes. While I was at Panera recently,  a little boy could not take his eyes off of it.  He kept turning around in his highchair.  His mother kept adjusting the chair to make it more difficult for him to see it.  Not to be deterred, he kept cranking his little head around to have his eyes tickled by the neon orange “TV” without a changing picture.

My daughters and others have also commented on my orange laptop.  It looks kind of like a Macbook.  The orange cover distracts and allows anyone looking at it to just think about how something that color must be cool. Cool or not, it is a great little laptop.  If it leads to a few conversations and a few more ideas for postings, it will have more than exceeded my expectations.

Chinese Banana Bread

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If anyone who reads Chinese wants to make my banana bread, this should get you there! While our Chinese exchange student helped me make the bread, she told me about the “3 Cleans” that used to be expected of a Chinese woman when making dough….clean hands, clean bowl, and clean, shiny dough. She hasn’t achieved this herself, but she is convinced it is something to do with the water temperature….???

She was very meticulous in her notes.  When she forgot how to write an uncommon Chinese character, she resorted to English.  (She had one moment where it took her a couple of minutes to remember how to write the proper character.  Eventually the Chinese Brain search engine kicked in, and she had it.)Also, as part of the recipe, the bananas need to be smashed into a paste.  She said the Chinese word she chose for this would be the same word used if you were “making something bloody”.  She also gave me a tutorial in how a character is used when writing proper Chinese so the right “adverb” is associated with the right “verb”. (I put them in quotes because I am not sure those words would accurately describe them from a Chinese perspective.)  Apparently, the older Chinese think this character is still essential; our exchange student did not seem to share this opinion.

Her goal before she leaves our house next June is to make a batch of banana bread all by herself.  When she gets home, she wants to make it for her family.  She has mentioned the possible difficulty in finding sour cream, vanilla extract, and possibly cinnamon in China.  She is a resourceful girl – I am certain she will find some way to get there.  (Our Korean exchange student sent the recipe to her mother in Korea.  Her mother made it in Korea without sour cream or cinnamon, and they still claimed it tasted good.  I am not as convinced…)

With exchange students, you need to fully engage them in your lives!  You never know what activity you are going to participate in when some interesting rabbit trail will result.  Some days it is harder than others (my wife is on a business trip for 3 days), but the potential for mental cross pollinating certainly puts the “hardness” into perspective!

An Anti-Cheerleader

As my kids continue to grow and show a fair amount of success, I have found my role as “anti-cheerleader” is not a solitary one.  Of course, I will be there to support them and attempt to out yell my wife as we cheer them to the finish line.  I will ask them how they did on a test.  If they reply they got the extra credit and got over 100%, I will still tell them great job.  However, I do have a darker side…

I truly want them to do their best in whatever they do.  I want the cross country medals to accumulate, and I want the report cards to reflect how bright my children are in EVERY subject.  As much cheer as I may push up through my aging pours and out of my receding gum lined mouth, I secretly rejoice when the reply to my questions is not stated with a smile and absolute beamingness!  I do want my children to fail or at least disappoint themselves sometimes.  And, it is this warped and un-American view that makes me an anti-cheerleader.

The anti-cheering can present itself in a variety of ways.  These are only a few examples:

  • At a recent cross country meet, a male runner (a sophomore) at my girl’s school finished second in the state meet.  He was beaten by a senior, so it all seemed to be as it should be.  When I spoke to the boy’s father, the father also told me he was secretly cheering for the other boy.  He did not want his son to have success too early.  He wanted his son to struggle and have to strive for being the best in state for at least another year.  After his admission, we did the secret “anti-cheer” handshake.  It is pretty secret, but did involve handshakes used on “Mork & Mindy” and “Star Trek” while giving a Bronx cheer. (i.e. raspberry)
  • My daughter worked very hard on a paper the night before it was due.  She had known about it for a week, but chose to wait until the very last minute to try and get it done.  If she would have gotten it done earlier, the teacher could have provided feedback on her rough draft.  Since she chose to begin and complete her paper in one evening, I secretly hoped she didn’t get an “A” on her paper.  She probably did fine, but not all of my “anti-cheering” cheers have equal success!
  • Anti-cheering can have some darker moments.  My exchange daughters are not the most athletic, but they tried out for basketball.  Their skills have plenty of room for improvement, but since so few girls tried out for the team, they could easily make the team by default.  There is not cutting of players when you don’t have enough to cut.  If they choose to play, we will have to work around a very ugly practice schedule (one gym shared by 4 teams [junior high and high school of both genders] ,means before school, after school, and at other school are all options.)  The true darkness on this type of anti-cheering comes from my laziness-or, as I prefer to refer to it-my busyness.
  • A friend of mine’s son has made a few bad decisions lately.  As his son’s court date nears, he wants his son to escape with minimal pain from the legal process.  (The lawyer fees have prevented the lesson from being absolutely painless.)  But, he wants the judge to assess his son’s situation, and make the penalty harsh enough that making future bad decisions will not pass the “it is so worth it” test!  (I believe this is the true high end of anti-cheering.)

Please don’t be offended or call Children’s Services on me.  I think many children today have lost the ability to “fail with dignity”.  They believe they are required to meet all of their parents goals for them.  Even if children don’t understand their parents are living vicariously through them, they feel the pressure to achieve to their parents expectations–whatever the cost!  They see failure as something to absolutely avoid rather than something that sometimes happens.

Life’s hiccups keep us humble.  And, if we can learn at a young age hiccups are too be expected rather than always holding our breath to avoid a series of hiccups, we might not be so hard on ourselves when lives plan forks off from the plan we are “sure” is the right one.  Life has been a good teacher for a few thousand years.  It has not always been a fair teacher, but it hasn’t killed off our race yet.  I am grateful when I am allowed to watch the consequences of life teach my kids great life lessons….it is why us “anti-cheerleaders” work so hard to be good parents.