Friday, April 30, 2010

"Climb On! 'He's Got You!"

A couple weeks ago Ellysa's teacher forwarded an e-mail  request from the school's Phys. Ed. teachers asking for parent volunteers.  They needed help with some wall-climbing sessions they were planning to offer the students during P.E. class.  The extra hands, the letter said, would improve the safety and accessability of the activitiy for the students, as parents could assist children with donning and securing climbing harnesses,  supervising the climbing, etc..  The need seemed reasonable to me and I responded with a note that I would be happy to help. In return for my volunteer message I was invited to attend a brief training session last Thursday .

I hurried to the Thursday climbing orientation following the first meeting of a new women's Bible Study group that new friend Jenni and I decided to launch.  It was a great first meeting, clearly several of us needed to share some "faith time" in a small group setting! Anyway, I switched gears and scurried to the gym, planning to quickly learn how to help children into harnesses.  Surprise!  After we learned how children should don and adjust the variety of harnesses available for different sized bodies, we were handed harnesses to put on ourselves!   Did you know (I didn't) that climbing harnesses are not just worn by the climber but also by the person assisting with the rope on the ground level (aka the Belayer)?  Also, in case you don't know, climbing harnesses have straps that run around a person's rear, up between the legs, and then secure just below the hips?  "Duh" once again for me - the non-athletic, non-adventurous one! I was the clear amatuer in the tiny circle of volunteers as I was wearing a dress!   But, relieved that on that particular day I had put on a pair of "presentable" underwear, I forged ahead, not looking too "sporty" but surely qualified to be called "a good sport"!
Belayers helping students climb the walls in Gym at Shekou Int'l School.
My friend Jenni is standing on the left.

Our hour of "training" flew by.  I frantically tried to commit to memory all that I was told about the different harnesses - which were best for the tiny 1st and 2nd graders, which suited the older kids, which were best donned like a jacket, which should be put on like a pair of pants.  (Since I have raised three bike-riding children but never figured out how to adjust their helmet straps, I was seriously concerned that I might not "get" this, but I listened carefully and stared at every harness with deep concentration.)  Then it was time to add a carabiner to the harness straped 'round my stylishly gathered up dress so I could learn to "Belay". ( "Ahh..., excuse me, did he say I was going to "belay" and is it getting drafty in here or is it just me?")

Jenni waiting for her next climber -No, she's not responsible for the
girl climbing the wall behind her.

The gym teachers showed us how to loop our belaying rope into a "basket" device, being mindful if we were right-handed versus left handed.  I'm right-handed, BTW.  Next they showed us how to (1) "pulley" the rope through the basket with a quick left hand down/right hand up motion , then (2) drop the dominent hand ("but keep gripping the rope!") into a position beside just behind the hip, then (3) bring the left hand down, position it above the right hand, close to the basket, to secure the rope in the safety position, and (4) slide the right hand up to the take over the position of the left hand ("Never letting your right hand lose contact with the rope!") so the left hand could go back to it's original position on the ever-slackening rope feeding from the climber's progress.  "1, 2, 3, 4", we went throught the motions over and over as a brave (foolish?) teacher climbed short spans of the wall so we could practice. 

We also learned the verbal exchanges required of all Climbers and Belayers.  The Climber asks, "On belay?"  The Belayer, if ready, says, "Belay on."  The climber says "Climbing" and awaits the Belayer's command to "Climb On!". Finally (biggest deal of all)  when the climber wishes to come down from whatever height they have achieved, they say, "Take".  The Belayer then confirms a strong stance, both left and right hands in a safety position with the pull rope across their dominent hip side, and the Belayer says "I've got you!"  The Climber can then feel safe about sitting back in their harness and using their legs to "walk down" the wall .
The P.E. teacher in the "safety position"
 belaying a climber on highly challenging wall, number 7.

The little troop of volunteer parents took turns practicing this and watching others practice.  We listened to advice of experienced Belayers ("Always rest in the safety position.", "Lean back and sit in your own harness to get more leverage on climbers close to your own weight or heavier than you."  "Watch, watch, watch, as a climber may lose their grip and start to drop at any time.")  Hands became red.  Sweat formed , not only from the exertion but also from the sense of impending responsibility we all were feeling.  I was not alone in thinking, "You want me to do this with some scared, squirrely kid on the other end of this knot?"  But, miracle of miracles, I learned a lot about wall climbing in that short but intensive orientation.  I left promising to help all that I could in the weeks ahead. 
My own climber reaching the top of her wall.

On Monday, I assisted with my first groups of climbers.  I also helped classes on Tuesday and Thursday.  Some children were experienced, having participated in an after-school wall-climbing enrichment activity that is offered each trimester here..  Others had no clue.  Some were llike spider monkeys, shooting up almost faster than I could keep slack out of the rope.  Others were scared and cautiously deliberated every hand and foot placement.  More than once, balance was lost and I felt the weight of my responsibility.  Some children made it to the tops of the many of the 7 walls in the gym; others gradually bested the distance of an earlier effort.  "Climb On!" , "Take!", and "I've got you!" repeated over and over as boys and girls did their best.
Jenni belaying her daughter, Erin.  "I've got you!"

And the awesomeness of holding someones life in my hands made me think about how God is like our Belayer.  We can pray and ask Him and we can read his words and know, He is "On Belay".   He is always ready.  He wants what is best for us and He wants us to reach all of the potentials He created in us.  When we say in our small and fearful voices that we are "Climbing", He says with encouragement "Climb On!".   Like the children I helped climb, we all scale our mountains in our own way.  Some listen carefully to instructions and make progress "by the book".  Some, failing to listen or deciding to try their own way, struggle along, working harder than needed because they are not following the teacher's guidance.  But, no matter, our ultimate Belayer has still "got us".  And as we rise, He rejoices.  When we fumble and falter, when we cannot lift ourselves further or, worse, when we loose our grip altogether, He watches and waits to reassure "I've Got You!".  And He does!  He's got us.  We can lean into the rope He holds and He won't let us fall.

My friend Pernilla's daughter (from Sweden) tackling tough wall #6.

Amanda, after making it to the top of
a tough wall hangs on and enjoys the ride down knowing she's in good hands.

It was so rewarding to see the fearful children go farther than they thought they could. It happened once they trusted the one saying "I've got you."  It was also energizing to see the experienced climbers, those who were certain from the first leg up that they would not/could not fall.  Their spirits were charged and they were ready to show others what heights could be reached.  And it is like that with God too.  If we only trust , we'll go farther than we think we can. 

Erin Hwang on reaching the top!

I learned a lot of new things this week as I helped the children.  But I'm grateful that I've been secure in the knowledge of one important rule: 

Make sure you know who your Belayer is, then "Climb on", 'cuz  "He's Got You"!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Confessions of An Expat. - Part 2 (Mary Mary Quite Contrary.....)

Ahhh, if I had a nickel for every time I was asked, "How Does Your Garden Grow?", I could hire a gardener and just forget about it!  Hold on, (confessional drum roll please) I DO have a gardener!  In fact , this being China, I have several!!  No kidding.  We are fortunate enough to live in a rental home, within a gated (and barbed wire fenced) community of all rental homes.  As such, all of the homes, yards, sidewalks and common spaces are maintained by the central corporation that owns the community.  And maintain they do!!

Each and every day of the week (except for major Chinese holidays), a small army of gardeners descends on "Jing Shan" (the Chinese name for our neighborhood).  Equipped with ancient looking tools and rakes which appear to be hand-made, they DAILY sweep all of the streets and sidewalks.  I swear I am not exaggerating.  Every inch gets swept and/or raked.  Every fallen leaf and twig get collected.  Every day

A couple of the members of the Jing Shan Gardener Brigade.

But that's not all.  Every home gets a minimum of 45 minutes of lawn care each day as well.  Thus our flowers are watered and weeded, our fallen leaves collected, our shrubs kept shapely. Even the potted plants we added to the patio ourselves get watered, pruned, fussed-over.  The grass (such as it is and let's just say it is NOT up to Bill Groh standards!) also gets cut (Bill says "scalped") regularly.  And I lift not a finger.

Our flower beds - no thanks to me!

The climbing vine on our front yard fence - again no thanks to me.

More flowers, compliments of The Gardeners

A shot of the Gardener working in the yard next door.  This is not our Gardener - we ususally have a young woman.  Good thing as I am often in my PJ's when she arrives at 8 on Saturday mornings!

"Yes, dear, I'll check the pots."  (See the fallen leaves?  They WILL be gone tomorrow.)

My old friends and neighbors in Knoxville will find this impossible to fathom.  We (especially "He") had a reputation of being a bit obsessive about our yards.  Bill never shrank from any lawn/landscape challenge.  From our first yard in Knoxville (1333 Candlewick Road) to house number two,  just a couple yards down at 1341 Candlewick Road, and then across town to our last home in Tan Rara, we did it ALL!  Manys the Friday when Bill would say, "I think we need to spend some time in the yard this weekend." and I could see the blisters rise and feel the muscles ache before we even got started.  Bill was a "yardwork machine"!  Our old Toyota van was a great momma-mobile but it just as often doubled as a workhorse hauling river rocks, straw bales, mulch, pinestraw, fallen tree branches, paving bricks, sand, potting soil, shrubs, flats of flowers, sod, and anything else Bill sent me in search of whilst he stayed in the yard, scheming and prepping. 

And I know many wives who wished for a "Bill" now and then.  (Honestly, never in going-on -29 years of marriage did I have to nag him to cut the grass!)  But the downside to this self-motivated lawnboy was that I, his faithful (and  maybe too liberated)  partner, usually tried to give an equal measure of time and effort to our jointly-held properties.  I mowed, raked, shovelled, pitched, dug, hauled, spread, watered, seeded, fertilized right alongside him on most occasions.  (Side note to prove my point: I was out of town on the fateful week Bill chose to install an entire sprinkler system, by himself, in our very steep front yard in Tan Rara.  Good thing because some of his "we can do it ourselves" ideas were over the top and THAT was one of them.  When I returned from my travels, neighbors approached me to describe how they saw him wrestling a trench digger, in the TN August heat, and feared he would collapse.  And if I had been home?  His last words before keeling over would have been to tell me how to finish up where he left off!)    

So.... am I loving the gardener thing?  You bet I am!!  Bill is too, and he'll be the first to admit it.  However (and this is SO "Bill")  he still goes behind the gardener and pulls weeds, waters the trees, and even did some pruning a while back!  He's never home when they do the mowing but if he was I just know he would ask them to raise the blade a couple notches!!  And, no big surprise, he also frequently but kindly asks me to "check the pots on the patio". 
Yup, I love my Gardeners - the new ones and, oh yeah, "the old one" too!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Confessions of An Expat.- Part 1

When we tell people we live in Mainland China,  the usual response is a wide-eyed "Really?", "China?", "Wow!" , "For how long?".  Once in awhile we get the impression the listener is trying to tell us they think we're lucky, but most of the time it seems they are trying to keep from blurting , "You must be crazy!"
And if you've read my posts or know me at all, you know that I too regularly question our sanity.  But, I need to confess a few things about living here that are pretty darn 'sweet'.  Part 1 of this series will cover the joys of having a 'Driver'.

Mr. Tian, or 'Tian' as we call him, makes life here so easy for us.  I definitely miss the independence and security of having a car in the driveway 24/7, but I still am emphatic that I could not/would not/should not get behind the wheel here.  So, I have learned to appreciate the joys of a driver.  I chat with friends, (safely) text on my phone, (safely) make my grocery list  or accomplish some other necessity while Tian navigates the considerable hazards of Shenzhen's highways.  Plus, I get to remain blissfully ignorant of how far/how long/exactly where some destination is.  Instead, I hold up a little business card with a Chinese address and Tian has to do all the thinking!  Sometimes he calls for advice on finding some obsure store, but whoever he is talking to (His boss who has a better map?  A driver pal with more experience?) usually gets him to where I want to go.

Of course no road trip happens without me wincing now and then at some perceived "near miss"  I also shake my head daily at all the horn-honking that the drivers here find necessary.  I still manage to check Tian's blindspot regularly before lane changes too (I WAS a Cerified Driver's Ed. Teacher, remember?), but I am more relaxed than in the early weeks of our relocation.  And I have to say, I have gotten VERY used to being dropped off right at the entrance to stores, and then picked up in the same place when I make a "I'm ready, Mr Tian", call or text.  And though I always used to decline the offer of the bagger at Kroger to help take my things to the van, it is very nice when Tian hops out of the driver's seat and helps me get things transferred from cart to trunk.  He 's also Johnny on the Spot to assist me carrying things to my doorstep.  I don't ask him to tote bags all the way to the kitchen or the pantry because he would rather be struck dead (I think) than trot in without taking off his shoes.  So, I wave him off with a smile and a "XieXie" (that's "Thank you"), glad to have me and my bags under cover.

Tian doesn't limit his help to all things driving either.  Since we cannot speak mandarin, he efficiently calls to order water for us whenever he sees the empty bottles lined up on the porch.  If he drives up and the re-fills have arrived, he carries them in to the kitchen.  (I usually don't refuse this offer, as the 18 liter jugs are heavy!) I have even asked Tian to accompany me into stores to retrieve something especially heavy or large.  We make for an odd couple since our interactions are still limited to mostly gestures and halted conversations.  And Tian is ANYHING BUT comfortable in unfamiliar stores (like IKEA) with an unpredictable woman (like ME).  Still, he always rises to my requests and tried to help - pretty sweet, right?     

Fianally, I need to take this opportunity to say that Tian's english is improving!  Slowly but surely he is adding words to his vocabulary, he asks me to repeat less, and sometimes he gets out a fairly complex sentence.  (This is leaps and bounds beyond my strides (HA!) with mandarin!)  His text messages to me to clarify or confirm driving plans are also increasingly complex.  "Ok" is still his most frequent response to a text from me, but sometimes he adds "see you then" or "see you tomorrow", and I feel like I am reading a short story!  "Chatty Cathy" that I am, it has been tough to limit converstations to one or two word phrases.  That's why I donned a silly grin today when Mr Tian, upon understanding that a slice of zuchini bread I was holding as I entered the van was, in fact , for him, said (rapidly and without hesitation), "Thank you.  Thank you very much."   I resisted the urge to start a conversation about Elvis Presley and said sincerely, "You're welcome.  You're welcome very much!"

Friday, April 16, 2010

I Live in Southeast Asia and I NEED TO VENT!

This title might imply that a good public rant is about to unfold.  Well, it just may come across that way, but I have actually calmed considerably.  In fact, my alternate title idea was "There's a Fungus Among Us", but that was cheesy, grade school science teacher level humor -  even for  me!  Anyway, here's the point is - WE ARE GETTING MOLDY! 

The humidity in Shenzhen is something I have written about before.  When we arrived last August, the consecutive days of rain and heat were unlike anything I ever experienced.  Our flip-flop straps stayed perpetually soggy, snails the size of fists slugged along walkways and up walls.  Mushrooms sprouted everywhere.  We lived temporarily in a third floor apartment during the peak of this phenomenon, and I don't recall any indoor affects of all the moisture.  Soonafter we settled into our "just- finished-being -completely- remodeled rental house".  By necessity, we kept the AC cranking and by early September the rainy days became few.

Fast forward to last week  (and it IS going by fast I must admit and give thanks).  Increasingly, days have periods of a little or a LOT of rain.  The air feels thick, sticky, like something you must push through.  Mother Nature's furnace has not yet added her blast though, so we have not had to run the AC too much.  BIG MISTAKE!

I guess I should have gone on higher alert when the spices started seeming a bit "clumpier"; when the salt in the shaker turned into a solid block.  And then there were the notes from our friendly community management office.  "SWEETLY REMINDER", these notes are always titled.  They warned us to prepare for the upcoming hot weather by running AC and putting dehumidifiers in our drawers and closets.  Since I picture a dehumidifier as a big electrical appliance, I filed this suggestion as I do other puzzling things here.  (Meaning I tilted my head, shrugged my shoulders, wondered why there is so much every day that I "don't get", and and went on my merry wayIgnorance has always been blissfull for me!)  Another mistake!

The moldy shoe!

But the other shoe dropped (literally!) when Emily came walking out of her bedroom a few days ago holding her favorite Sperry Docksiders at arms length.  The "Mom!  Big Problem!" that she proclaimed as she marched toward me got my attention.  To our disgust, the inside of her shoes, which had been resting innocently inside her closet on a wire shoe rack, were a fuzzy blanket of mold in many shades of green.  We looked at the shoes and each other, disgusted and puzzled.  I strode into Emily's room, cranked the wall-mounted AC down a few degrees and told her to "keep it running, wear a sweater if you have to, but get some air moving in here."  Emily swung her shoe closet doors open wide.  We concluded that "dockside" shoes are meant to get thoroughly wet and I told Emily to clean them up and spray a mild bleach mixture on them.  All done, or so I thought.

Another day or two passes and I am skipping  up the stairs ("Mom, you don't skip!  Who are you kidding?", I add this because Elly will SO say it if she ever reads this blog!) .  I glance over towards the corner stand that sits on a landing part way up our steps, fosusing quickly on the bowl of potpourri on the middle shelf.  Double-take!  It is covered in the same lovely blanket of green that graced Emily's shoes!  Okay!  This is serious stuff, this mold.  More AC everywhere.  Throw out the potpourri.
Another day goes by. 

The moldy potpourri!

"MOTHER!", comes the scream from Emily's corner.  This can't be good, I just know it.  I walk hesitantly in the direction of the probable disaster and sink at what Emily holds in her hands.  They are collages of treasured memorobilia she put together last summer.  She worked for hours arranging photos, quotes, ticket stubs, etc. and mounted them on tall cardboard poster frames.  When she set up her room she hung them in a place of honor next to her desk here where she could glance over at good memories.  They fell from the wall a couple months ago when the 3-M stcky hooks just "let go" one day.  (Humidity?).  Since their fall, she had kept them propped against the wall by her desk.  And....yes....the backs of both framed pieces were covered in fuzzy mold!  A peak behind a newer print above her bed revealed the start of another crop of the hairy stuff.

Emily's collages after being vacuumed and wiped down.

So yes, I live in southeast Asia and I need to vent !  Apparently, I need to vent A LOT!  We vacuumed the backs of the pictures and rubbed them down with bleach solution.  A friend who has lived here longer told me to turn on all the bathroom fans and never, never turn them off.  I went to the "Park and Shop" and bought "dehumidifiers" for enclosed spaces (like Emily's shoe closet).  I bought two today but will go back and get a few more! 

Moving to another part of the world brings new discoveries every day.  I just hope that I stop discovering mold!  Luckily, no one has had any illness/allergy yet.  If anyone has "advice for the moldy", I'll take it!

A "dehumidifier".  Who Knew?  Not Me!  As Erin would say, "Oh, China!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bake..... Someone Happy

Bake just one someone happy.....

For those too young or too deprived to recognize the reference, the title above should have you humming!  Personally, I like the Jimmy Durante version of "Make Someone Happy".  Never heard of it?  Poor you - go to search it by title and artist.  You can listen for free.  It's a new vice of mine!

But I didn't say "make", I said "bake".  We've been doing a lot of baking lately - even more than usual!  The youth group at our small church is going on a mission trip to Cambodia at the end of this month. While we were away from church to pick up Kathryn and Donna Coffey in Hong Kong, Emily's friends decided she should head up a couple bake sales to raise money for the trip.  These friends routinely show up in our kitchen to devour some delicious treat Emily has concocted.  On a weekly basis, she also prepares desserts for her Wednesday night Bible Study.  Every Tuesday, and many others days as well, our kitchen smells heavenly and, if we're lucky, we get a sliver or two of the chef's choice before it is sealed in our precious USA tupperware and labelled "Hands Off". 

Hmmmm..... Marshmallow and Chocolate
Field of Dreams.....

That's right - Home-made Cinnamon Rolls!  Heaven on a Plate!

Just to clarify...yes, that's a brownie-like cookie with raw
c-chip cookie dough sandwiched in the middle! 
Say it with me "Oh my gosh....."

"How many do we get to keep?" Peanut butter rice
krispie bars dipped in chocolate......sigh....

Yes, definitely a good chice to put Emily in charge of a bake sale!  Like anything to do with the kitchen, she handled it without blinking.   But I LOVE a good bake sale too! Forgive me, Hillary. I'm liberated. I (once) brought home the bacon. I can mow the yard, use hand tools, and I routinely take out the trash, but I love to bake! Emily loves it more than me, true, but I do think I might be a good share of the reason she finds contentment in the kitchen. So this week I made zuchini bread and brown sugar cookies. (I also had the ingredients for rice krispy bars ready to go but "somebody" used them for something else!) I played Jimmy Buffet with the volume turned up and sang along as I puttered. Simple, I know, but it gave me great satisfaction to imagine my sweet treats making someone happy.

Of course I wince sometimes at the costs of a pan full of something gooey.  Here in Shenzhen a bag of flour is $6.65 US.  The same for a bag of chocolate chips.  Butter is never on sale and we pay $5.65 for a pound of Land-O-Lakes.  (We ARE from the "Dairy State" and believe in butter, real butter!)  Sugar is about $1.00 per pound.  But the truth is, baked goods in bakeries here are just not all that great.  They are works of art to look at but too often they lack any flavor or sweetness that, to us anyway, qualifies them as "dessert".  So, though made from scratch can be pricey, most days I  am glad my family has their priorities straight and I happily keep the pantry stocked.
My zuchini bread!  Made from a recipe a secretary in Oak Ridge gave me
over 20 years ago!  I love my recipe book.  It's a walk down memory lane!

The first bake sale raised over $500 dollars (US!).   It was such a novelty (and hey, REAL sweets for a change!) for a great cause,  that many church members threw out their 100RMB notes and left the change behind.  We're having another sale on Sunday.  We're also grilling hot dogs to sell as a quick lunch in the church courtyard.  The youth and their leaders are excited.  Some 200 children in the Cambodia town they will visit come un-parented and unprotected each day to a location called "The Dump".  There is great need and there will be great opportunity to brighten some days for these children.

It can be so enjoyable to "Bake Someone Happy".  Excuse me while I go soften some butter.  I think I feel a recipe coming on!