Thursday, January 06, 2022

book report / 2021 faves.

Just as I have for the past few years, I set a goal at the beginning of 2021 to read 52 books—not to be competitive, but because I enjoy reading and want to spend more time reading than scrolling. I know that reading approximately one book a week is doable for me, so that's what I aim for. 

I ended up reading 55 books. Here are my favourites, the ones I gave a 5 star rating: 

A Promised Land by Barack Obama / Happily listened to all 29 hours (at 1.5x speed) and am eagerly awaiting the second volume.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo / Highly recommend if you love long family sagas. When I wasn't reading it, I wanted to be. The writing was exquisite; I wanted to highlight so many passages. 

They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School by Bev Sellars / I recommend this to anyone, but especially my fellow Canadians. I learned a lot and kept thinking, 'Why wasn't I taught about any of this in school?'

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart / Heartbreaking and beautifully written. When I finished reading it in March, I wrote, "I know I'll be thinking about this book and Shuggie for a long time." I was right. 

The Push by Ashley Audrain / I'd heard it was intense and it was. So intense. I couldn't stop reading. I had no idea what would happen and felt like I was holding my breath the whole time. I think it's in part because I'm a mom; I wonder if people without kids would have the same reaction. I recommend it, but with a warning for moms, especially new moms or moms with young kids.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs / This had been on my to-read list for years but I didn't read it because I thought it would make me too sad. And it did make me sad, but it was really beautiful too. Worth the good long cry I had at the end.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai / Set during the AIDS epidemic and thirty years later, this made me feel so much. I was so sad and angry and was reminded how imperfect and lovable everyone is. I still think about the characters months later. 

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 by Joanna Faber & Julie King / I read the first few chapters a long time ago and just the strategies I learned from them were so helpful with my kids. I finally finished the book last year and added more strategies to my "toolbox." I'd recommend this for any one who takes care of young kids; I wish that I had read it when I was a preschool teacher. I like that the book is divided into sections, so you could pick and choose which parts you really want to read, plus there are summaries at the end of each part. 

It Had to Be You by Georgia Clark / Loved it from the very first page! An ensemble of characters, all connected, all trying to figure their (love) lives out.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk / Loved, loved, loved. I loved the characters, the plot, the setting. The writing was beautiful. It gave me a lot to think about. (It's a middle grade novel, but I loved it just as much, if not more, as the adult novels I read last year.)

We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride & Jo Piazza / A perfect book for the times we are living in. It's written from alternating viewpoints of two best friends—one a white woman who is the wife of a police officer who has shot an unarmed Black teenager and the other a Black woman who is the lead reporter covering the resulting story. I cried more than once and think maybe reading this could be a way for people with different points of view to begin to understand each other.

What were your favourite books you read in 2021?

P.P.S. If you want more frequent updates about what I'm reading this year, you can follow me on Goodreads or Instagram.

Friday, November 12, 2021

happy friday!

I started today thinking it was Monday so I guess the happiest thing today is that it's actually Friday! It was a bit of a rough week because both Mabel and Clarke have been sick with a cold, but there were still happy moments: 

+ Clarke was sick and had a bad dream Monday night, so he ended up sleeping in our bed for the first time and sleeping on me for half the night. (Obviously only the second part of that is the happy part.)

+ A colleague gave us this cute hand-me-down winter jacket for Clarke! He wanted to try it on as soon as he got it and then refused to take it off.

+ A friend gave me a chocolate croissant for a morning snack at work. 

+ T and I had our weekly date on Thursday. Most of our dates are simple—a walk, eating, maybe shopping—but it's so nice to have a dedicated time to connect. 

+ I participated in #OneDayHH and it was so fun to share my day and see others'. I'm such a curious person so I really enjoyed it!

What made you happy this week?

Sunday, November 07, 2021

the first snowfall of 2021.

It didn't snow much last year in Beijing. Not enough to put on snowsuits and make snow angels and build snowmen. 

The last time we played outside in the snow was the beginning of 2020. (Yes, that 2020, the 2020 that brought us Covid.) Mabel was 2 years old and I don't think she remembers any of the stress and uncertainty of that time. I think she only remembers the good things, like the unlimited family time and playing on a whole soccer field of untouched snow

All day yesterday, Mabel talked about snow—"It's going to snow tomorrow!" I hoped for her sake it would. Then right before bedtime, it started snowing! 

Her refrain changed from "It's going to snow!" to "It is snowing!" and she quickly added, "We're going to play in it tomorrow!" 

I explained that we didn't know that for sure. I explained that it could stop snowing, that it might not snow very much, that it could start raining and that would wash away the snow, that the AQI might be too high for us to go outside. Killjoy much? 

I just didn't want her to be disappointed. 

As the kids slept, and Tony and I watched The Sopranos, the snow continued falling. We were hopeful. 

Mabel insisted on bringing carrots, sure we would build a snowman. 

In a very rare turn of events, Mabel slept until 8AM(!) this morning. When she woke up, she ate her breakfast at record speed, while Tony and I gathered all of the items we would need for the kids to play outside. We were thankful for hand-me-down snowsuits and relieved that the snow boots from last year still fit (just barely; we'll need to buy new ones). 

I wish that I had walked outside ahead of the kids to capture their first reactions, especially Clarke's "Wow" and look of amazement. I'm pretty sure his mouth was a perfect O. This was his first time playing in snow!

In the spirit of full transparency, there might have been more grumpy faces and tears than smiles. It was windy and cold, and I said more than once, "You guys would never survive in Canada!" 

We had fun though. Mabel made a few snow angels. 

In the beginning, Clarke stood very close to Tony and just took it all in. He got into it eventually and started making snowballs and chasing people around. He even wiped out once and fell face first, but got up still laughing. 

The snow wasn't packy enough to make snowmen, but we made little snow castles. 

Mabel wanted nothing to do with a family photo; this was the best we could get :) 

I want to remember the sound their little snowsuits made as they walked—swish, swish, swish—and that Mabel happily noticed the sound too. 

I want to remember that as we were getting them dressed to go outside, Tony said, "I'm sweating." I laughed and said that the fact we don't need to do this every day is one reason to be glad we don't live in Canada. 

I want to remember that both kids ran to see themselves in the mirror, so excited about their winter getups. 

I want to remember that before we even came back inside, Mabel was asking for hot chocolate. 

I want to remember that Clarke quickly drank his cup of hot chocolate, said "Yummy!" and asked for more. 

Here's hoping for more snowy days in Beijing this winter!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

a trip to IKEA.

Last week, my friend Dani and I made a trip to IKEA. We talked beforehand and agreed we were in no rush and were okay with taking our time, browsing, chatting, dreaming up ways to make our apartments and classrooms better.

I had a (short) list of things I knew I wanted to buy, but was so glad Dani was happy to browse. We spent 5 hours(!!!) shopping, but the time passed so quickly. It helped that there were a few funny moments.

+ A couple of young guys approached us, trying to sell us shoe cleaner. This is common in malls and other public spaces. Dani told them no, but they didn't listen, and one started to bend to show her how the cleaner would work on her shoes. That's when I told them (in Mandarin), "She said no! She likes her dirty shoes." One of the guys looked surprised, but the other one laughed and we did too. They left us alone though!

+ Towards the end of the fifth hour, I wandered over to a wall and was looking at some hooks. I didn't realize I was talking to myself about whether I should get silver or gold until a young girl beside me asked (in Mandarin), "What?" Without thinking, I responded in English, "Oh, I'm just talking to myself." She gave me a nervous look and moved away. I turned around to find Dani laughing at me. *insert face palm emoji here*

I wanted meatballs!

We even laughed (after a few minutes of whining on my part) about the restaurant being closed and having to eat our IKEA hotdogs outside. 

On a completely different note, I remembered Bridget's Target posts, and was inspired to share the things I wanted to buy at IKEA, but didn't: 

I spied these ottomans (they come in yellow and black) and thought they might be perfect for Mabel and Clarke in our entryway. The kids are always plopping down onto the floor to put on and take off their shoes, and while I'm sure they don't mind, it might be nice for them to have a place to sit. Plus they have storage! This would be greatly appreciated for hats and mittens once the cold weather arrives again. I didn't buy them because I need to measure the space, but they're on my wish list. 

Mabel has been asking to paint her bedroom walls pink, and while I'm not ready to commit to that, I did tell her we could get more pink accessories for her room. I spotted this pillow and took a picture to see if it met her approval. 

I can't decide if I would love or hate this coffee table for storage. Good for things like blankets or will I be annoyed that I can see everything?

I want a new lamp for the living room but haven't found any I love. Maybe this? Or is it too short? Too office-y? 

Okay, I'm not sure I like the look of these, but thought one might be good on the wall in our small bathroom for storage? Or maybe on the wall of the entryway? I showed T and he ixnayed it, but I'm still pondering, especially after reading this article

Would love this Hemnes shoe cabinet for the entryway. I don't think I'd use it for shoes though; I'd use it to corall a bunch of our junk. 

We have an art area for the kids where we keep paper, markers, watercolours, etc. The paper is all just stacked, but I want some kind of storage for it to keep it organized. These are a possibility but I'm wondering if they will be sturdy enough.

These organizers remind me of similar ones at Muji, but for a fraction of the cost.

This cart and the cutting board on top would be great as a side table in a small apartment, wouldn't they?

We're supposed to sort our garbage, recycling, and compost, and I'm still looking for an easier way to organize it all in our small kitchen. I want to check if this can be attached to the inside of a cupboard door under the sink. 

Another pink thing for Mabel. I actually ended up ordering this for her in pink and it's already hanging on the side of her bed, storing the Junie B. Jones book we read every night at bedtime. 

Also ended up ordering these pink storage containers. Mabel and Clarke put their "treasures" in them as soon as they arrived. 

I don't need these bowls, but I want them. They remind me of Tupperware we had when I was growing up. Perfect for making and storing taco salad or cuddling up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn. 

I wasn't sure if Tony would want this storage container for rice, but my hunch was right and he did! Unfortunately, it was too big for our space (luckily I measured before we ordered it), so we ended up getting this smaller container instead. 

I can't stop thinking about this lamp. If it was available to order online, it would be on my bedside table already. It'll have to wait until my next trip. 

Pretty storage; need I write more? 

I actually ended up ordering this mirror too. I like it, but not sure I love it. I just don't like clutter and don't use a small mirror very often. 

I'm so happy I live in a city that has IKEA. Not so sure my bank account is though. 

Do you have any fave IKEA purchases or something that's on your wish list?

Saturday, August 21, 2021

happy saturday!

Will I ever write a blog post other than a "happy friday!" (on a Saturday or Sunday) post? That remains to be seen but stick with me. 

I did my best to soak up the last few days of vacation and I think I did alright. Here are some things that made me happy this week: 

+ A delicious lunch date with T at Larry the Bird. We got into a great routine of 1-2 lunch dates a week this summer. I'll miss them, but they'll be replaced by weekly date nights! 

+ We walked home again from Sanlitun. I'm really trying to get into the habit of moving my body more in everyday ways. So far so good. 

+ An IKEA date with Dani. 5 hours there and most of it was wonderful (except the part where the restaurant was closed—womp, womp). 

+ Successfully updating my info at the bank, and opening Alipay and Taobao accounts! My fellow expats in China will understand that this is reason to celebrate!

+ Clarke saying great job and giving his version of a thumbs up. 2 is one of my favourite ages (so far). 

+ My first visit to The Cheesecake Factory. It won't be my last!

+ A yummy pumpkin chocolate chip muffin made by thoughtful colleagues. Made me excited for autumn! 

+ Celebrating the first day back to work with HeyTea (for me) and DQ (for the rest of the fam). 

What made you happy this week? 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

happy sunday!

This Sunday is my last Sunday without the "Sunday Scaries" because my summer vacation ends this week, as long as Covid doesn't have other plans again. (I was supposed to go back to work on August 4 and kids were set to return to school on August 9, but that was delayed because of a few new cases of Covid in BJ.)

I've been struggling a little with enjoying the last days of vacation. It's a mix of the kids being home all day, every day (even though we're lucky enough to have a nanny); not having fully processed the last year and a half; and wondering what this new school year will bring. 

But this blog post title has the word "happy" in it, so let's get to it! Here are some of the things that made me happy this past week: 

Shake Shack Beijing

+ I ate at Shake Shack for the first time! It did not disappoint, and it felt a little extra exciting because of my love for NYC

+ A dinner date at Taco Bar with Dani and Krista. Their "buy a drink, get a taco" happy hour was greatly enjoyed. (I recommend the Burro and the fish taco!)

+ A lunch date at Mosto with Tony. Eating lunch out feels extra special because being a teacher means it doesn't happen often September-June. 

+ Walking home from Sanlitun along the canal after each of the above dates. 

+ Getting new furniture for our bedroom! My love for IKEA's Kallax continues. 

+ My hunch that Clarke and Mabel would love these folding gym mats from IKEA proving correct. So far the mats have been used as couches, beds, snack tables, yoga mats, forts, and a stage. 

+ Krista and Dani urging me to start blogging again. 

What made you happy this week?

Thursday, March 11, 2021

chinese new year 2021.

Chinese New Year was very different for our family this year (and for lots of other people, too). We stayed in Beijing to celebrate because we weren't able to travel to Tony's hometown in Henan to see his family like usual.

It's the Year of the Ox.

Mabel is old enough to remember past celebrations, and she kept talking about seeing family members. She also talked a lot about the hongbao she got from her teacher last year filled with chocolate coins and the dragon dance they did at school. Since we couldn't see family, and school had moved online for the two weeks prior to the CNY holiday, we tried to ensure she and Clarke would have special memories from this year, too. 

T and I bought special outfits for the kids. Normally they would wear more traditional clothes to school for the CNY celebration, but we decided to go with something more "fun" and that they could wear regularly throughout the year. I want to remember that we almost didn't buy the red headband for Mabel but I'm so glad we did because she was most excited for that. I also want to remember that for days after we gave them the clothes, Mabel would ask if she could wear her "Chinese New Year clothes" and Clarke was so happy to be the "same" as Jiějiě ("big sister" and what we often call Mabel). 

We put up special decorations to bring good luck. I want to remember that Mabel showed the ox on their doors to anyone who came over and that Clarke wasn’t interested in hanging the decoration until he realized it meant climbing on a stool. 

We made dumplings with friends. The kids loved it, especially Mabel! But even after all her hard work, she only ate one. I was surprised, because normally she eats a lot of dumplings, but I think it was because she was more interested in running around and playing hide and seek than eating.

T's older brother and parents would usually give the kids hongbao (red envelopes with money) and they still did, but digitally, by transferring money through WeChat. So for the first time, T and I gave the kids hongbao from us. Mabel didn't really care about the money, even after we told her she could use it to buy a toy; she kept talking about the hongbao with chocolate from her teacher. Luckily, I had told Auntie Jo, our best friend, and she made sure to bring the kids hongbao with chocolate coins. I want to remember that she also brought hongbao for Tony and I. His had money, and mine was empty but taped to a bottle of wine—such a funny and sweet gesture!

We ate hot pot for dinner, and then when the kids were in bed, the grownups drank champagne, enjoyed a charcuterie board, and played What Do You Meme? Tony was the winner! We also watched the CCTV New Year's Gala, which is tradition!

We FaceTimed with T's family and they sent us a photo of their dinner. I counted extra bowls and chopsticks and when we asked them about it, they said they set places for us. It was really touching. This was the first year T hadn't been with his family for the holiday. Hopefully next year we'll be there!

How did you celebrate your big holiday this year?

P.S. Chinese New Year 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

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