Chinese New Year – Lantern Festival

I’ve been quiet these few weeks due to working on my other writing projects and enjoying Chinese New Year. A few nights ago I took Mei Mei to the Lantern Festival in Taipei. They did a fabulous job with such details. I really loved how they had a walk through history. Enjoy!

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“Hua Mulan Takes Her Father’s Place in Battle”

"Zheng He's Expedition"

“Zheng He’s Expedition”

He’s known in this part of the world, and in other parts as well, as the “pioneer of the Age of Discovery.” He made his expeditions starting in 1405.

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“Qin Shi Huang’s Dedication to Politics and Economics”

Qin Shi Huang Di is famous for the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, as well as unifying the country of China.

"Zheng Chenggong Negotiated a Peace Treaty with Dutch"

“Zheng Chenggong Negotiated a Peace Treaty with Dutch”

And a bit of history of the island of Taiwan.

They also had some that Mei Mei enjoyed more than others…

20150306_18522320150306_184205Later this week I’ll post a few more that resonated with me as an expat raising TCKs. I think you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

 

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Joy…sometimes you just have to choose it

Christmas is supposed to be a time of great joy – time with family, gifts, laughter, food – oh, the food, and the time when many celebrate the birth of Jesus. Yes, Christmas is the time for joy, but sometimes it’s just not all that joyful or peaceful. I find that can be true for the expat. Like…

It is hard to be a single living in a foreign country during this holiday. I remember…

It is hard living in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday. December 25th is just another workday, just like all the rest.

Some years the entire family is sick… (I’m sure we are not the only family that can relate.)

You grew up in a place where “White Christmas” was not just on a postcard, but now you live in the tropics where it is warm all four seasons. Or you grew up where Christmas was spent celebrating on the beach and now you need to wear three layers in the house because the radiators just don’t kick out enough heat to your liking.

And the family Christmas picture. To take one that has everyone smiling and looking at the camera is next to impossible. My photographer friend posted on Facebook their “other Christmas pictures that didn’t make the photo for the Christmas card” to show all the drama behind the perfect shot that did. (We haven’t even really tried this year yet…that is on my list to do this week.)

This year we went “home” for the holidays…home to my husband – well sort of “home” since he’s a TCK. Honestly, we’ve all had some culture shock moments at one time or another. We’ve been upset or frustrated sometime during this holiday of peace and joy. Yet, at each of those times for me (yes, I’ve had multiple) I have found myself having to make a choice…to choose frustration, anger, or to find and choose JOY. Let me give you an example.

Germany is known for their Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets). They are beautiful, full of food and crafty trinkets to buy. It was on my list to do while we were here. Oma found one that was nearby. Perfect! Except, we had also planned for that day a visit to an aunt and a little shopping to kill time before the market opened. All this, and our kids were still on jetlag! We had taken the train, so we were bound by the train schedule. We had given ourselves less than an hour to eat and roam around the lit-up booths. I was disappointed, but decided not to say anything.  Instead chose joy and thankfulness as I grabbed my mug of gluehwein (spiced wine, or what I call Christmas in a mug) and marveled at the scene around me. I was surrounded by beauty – white lights outlining the buildings, the market stands, the trees; Christmas music playing; people laughing and smiling; and my kids enjoying their second round of warm waffles because you know bribery helps during those times of jetlag. Yes, I could have stood there angry at the less-than-perfect situation, but instead I wanted to make a memory that I could look back on and smile.

We did end up catching the later train, so we could have time to eat in a relaxed manner and enjoy wandering around and looking at each booth.

Here are some pics of that magical evening:

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Life-size nativity set up on a staged area.

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Can you see the remains of a castle on top of the hill? One of the many things I love about Europe in general…all the history!

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Kids with Oma finishing up the first round of waffles. Notice my cup of gluewein on the table?

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*This post was inspired by Velvet Ashes’s The Grove and their theme of Joy.

 

Vacations and Special Needs – it can happen!

Vacationing with children is SO different then the days before children. Before children Uwe and I would just pick a destination and plan around job schedules. Packing could be done the night before. Living abroad, travel was almost as easy as breathing.

Then child number one came and travel changed just a bit. Packing was focused more on what he needed and therefore took more planning. We still hiked up mountains and other non-child friendly activities. Our thoughts when choosing a destination was – If we can carry him in the backpack carrier, then we’ll do it. Once child number two came along traveling wasn’t nearly as easy as breathing. Then Jie Jie was diagnosed…and what seemed easy required much energy and planning. She required so much – feeding tubes, food to feed her, stroller, diapers, extra clothes, etc.

By the time child number three came along, we weren’t sure about traveling at all.

Those early years, when we had three under four-years of age, I learned something – keep my expectations low. Kids get sick on vacations. Kids get tired and grumpy on vacations. Kids might not like the vacation places you chose. And a whole lot of other things can go wrong, like the weather, the food, the room…you get the picture.

No as our kids are older, we involve them more with the vacation planning. We ask them their opinion. We look up the place on the internet or on Google Maps and let them see where we are going. We ask them what they would like to do while we are there.This has helped with Ge Ge and Mei Mei, but Jie Jie is different. With her we need a different approach.

We still involve her in the planning.

We show her the pictures of the parks, the playgrounds, the beaches, and any animals we might see. We tell her how we are going, whether it is by train, plane, boat, and or car. This gives her an idea of what we will be doing and gets her involved as well.

Flexibility

This is probably true for raising kids while living abroad, but for vacationing with special needs kids it’s very important. They don’t always respond the way you think they might and they may do better than what you thought. For instance, Jie Jie loves the beach and the sand. She likes fish and turtles, so I thought she might like snorkeling – well, a modified version of snorkeling. Geared up in her blue life-vest and mask, we walked her across the shallow reef to the edge. The plan was to let her look into the water, but after one short glance she was done. I’m not sure if it was the water that seeped into her mask, a darting bright blue fish, or just all the new experiences at once that caused her to freak out, but she was done. We didn’t force her to look anymore. We told her she did a great job and walked her back. She was perfectly content playing in the shallow water. Having flexibility allowed us to change plans – like I stayed with her on the beach while Uwe took the other two out snorkeling.

Try new things, but still keeping expectations low.

We do this not because we are negative thinking people, but because we try to be realistic.  For instance, we just took a vacation to Xiao Liu Qiu, a small island off of Taiwan. This island is very small and doesn’t have many cars. Our original plan was to bike with the kids, but once we got there and saw the hills we knew that biking wasn’t going to work. We decided to try the scooters for a day and see how it went, not thinking Jie Jie would sit still and behave. She surprised us. She did just fine. We scootered around the whole time we were there.

Slow it down.

Don’t expect to do everything. As a family choose a few things and do those. Allow for breaks and even rest times in the room. We allow the kids to each choose one activity they would really like to do or see – then we do those things first. Sometimes Jie Jie can’t participate in the chosen activity – that’s when either I or Uwe take her to do something else.

Not every child is the same. This goes for special needs children as well. Just because your child may have some issues that are harder to deal with doesn’t mean that you can’t have a fun family vacation. With a bit of creativity and flexibility, you can even take more exotic trips with your whole family.

Your Turn: Have you traveled with your special needs child? What are some vacationing tips that you have when you go? Please share in the comments below.

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Packing Problems? A Quick Fix

114/365: April 24 2007

Photo by ::d::’s photostream via flicker

It is that time of summer when we all travel back to our homes overseas. Many of us are getting our kids ready for the new school year. We’ve bought new school clothes, maybe even some supplies that are hard to find in the country we are now living in.

I have just returned from such a trip and as I re-packed our belongings I realized I had a problem.  I have this same problem each time we visit family. It doesn’t matter if it is in the US or in Germany, I struggle with this.

The Overstuffed Suitcase Dilemma                                                          

Please tell me I’m not alone in this. I followed my own tip, “Stash It”, when I packed to go to the US this summer. I thought that having that extra bag would be enough. I even packed clothes to take that I knew I’d leave behind and not take back, which would leave more space for the new clothes and gifts that we acquired while there. Sadly, I still had the Overstuffed Suitcase Dilemma. Fortunately, though, I found a solution.

Plastic Storage Bags

I have used these oversized shrink-wrap storage bags to help me pack up winter clothes and blankets in our apartment, but I’ve never used them for packing suitcases. If you’ve never used one before, they are really great. You simply put the desired clothing or other clothed-based material into the bag and zip it up. Unscrew the cap, and then place the hose of your vacuum cleaner on the opening. Turn your vacuum on and let it do the work. Once the air is out, put the cap back on. It usually shrinks it down to at least half the size. Take a look at what I did for packing.

Before

After: One blanket wouldn’t fit.

The Important Tip 

The one thing you must remember is that the weight doesn’t change. My pile of lap quilts my sister made still weighed five pounds after I bagged it, but I had a whole lot more space to use.

Your Turn: Have you ever used these storage bags for packing suitcases? Do you have other tips to share on gaining more space (I know, don’t buy anything to bring back. HA!) Please share in the comments below.

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Making Change

Change

photo by spcbrass via flickr

I was standing in the check-out lane and opened my wallet to see that I had about two handfuls of change. I am headed back overseas in a few weeks, so I want start getting rid of the excess change. As the cashier began to ring up my items I noticed that the there were a few people standing in line behind me waiting patiently.

My heartbeat picked up.

My hands started sweating.

My eyes darted into the wallet trying to make out what kind of change I had, so I could quickly pull out what I would need.

A few seconds later, the cashier told me how much I needed. What? I didn’t hear him. I frantically looked at the register to get a read and asked again for the price. He told me.

I handed the bills and began to dig for the coins I needed. My fingers were not working. The coins kept slipping from them. Finally, what seemed like five minutes, I got the exact change and handed it to him. I know I heard a sigh from the person behind me.

The cashier handed me the receipt. I apologized and quickly made my exit.

I’m in the country I grew up in, yet counting change causes me to stress. What in the world? Here is what I think it is…

1. The money is foreign. As expats, we live outside the country for at least 11 months or longer ~for me it’s been 2.5 years. The money has become foreign. We are used to our RMB, Yen, Euro, or Pounds and have forgotten what “home” country money feels like. If you’re a TCK, it may all feel foreign and familiar at the same time…

2. Identity problems. I’ve lived in Asia for over a decade and there is so much grace when I don’t get it right because I don’t look Asian. As for going to Germany, I look the same, but as soon as I open my mouth the people there understand and have shown me grace. Being in the US, I look and sound “American”, so they are so confused that I can’t count change, don’t understand the debit card scan, or whatever the “new-to-me” procedure is in public places. If you’re a TCK, is this how you feel all the time?

So, how to beat this? I guess I could “play” with the money before I get back to just get a feel for it. Instead, I just keep shopping and using cash OR I skip the cash part and use the debit card. As for the identity problem, I’ve thought about putting on an accent at the checkout, but mine is terrible and I’d probably start laughing at myself and blow it. So, instead I just take a deep breath and remember that it’s okay and normal ~ my friends all have the same problem and we will sit with our tea/coffee at the end of the summer laughing about the “trauma at the grocery stores” and how we “survived the cereal aisle”. 

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5 Tips for International Traveling with Special Needs Children

Wheelchair

photo by Tom Magliery

Earlier this week I posted about traveling with kids alone. I had just traveled with my two girls alone from Asia to the US. My oldest daughter has special needs, so I wanted to add a few other tips regarding travel with special needs children.

1. Ask for help. This may sound obvious, but sometimes I get into an independent mode and forget to ask for help. I have found that most people are willing to help when asked. During this last trip I asked for help with getting my carry-on down from the overhead compartment. I also asked the flight attendants for extra water. I have to mention that the flight attendants on my flights were extremely helpful and nice. Anyone that travels often will know how oddly pleasant this was.

2. Accept help. Another obvious, but for the flaw I have about independence, I have to remind myself to accept the help that is offered. I know I’m pathetic at times. This trip a man helped me get my luggage from the hotel van into the airport. Although, one needs to be careful and watchful about strangers when traveling alone, I have found that most people just want to be helpful.

3. Wheelchair/stroller use. If you don’t have a wheelchair to bring or you don’t want to deal with yours after you arrive at your destination, then use the airline’s wheelchairs. In the past, we have let the airlines know that we needed it and they have had them ready with someone to push them for us. One instance, we even got to ride in the golf cart from one gate to the next. For this trip, I chose to bring our own wheelchair. Jie Jie is walking okay, but she tires easily and with jet-lag and such I was afraid of meltdowns. I checked her wheelchair in at the gate and she walked onto the plane on her own. When we arrived we had to wait a bit, but they brought her wheelchair to us. Although, I do remember a few years ago they forgot to load the stroller, but the airline was great about providing a wheelchair at each layover. A few days later our stroller arrived at our door from the airline. So, if you do take your stroller/wheelchair make sure you have the correct address on the check-in tag.

4. Make it known. Let the people at check-in, security, and at the gate know that you have a child with special needs. This may sound so ridiculous, but I found that not everyone “saw” Jie Jie’s situation. I guess they thought she was just a child in a stroller? Anyway, letting the people know made all the difference. We were able to board earlier, and the security went really smooth. They were understood that we were going to be slower. Some officers helped me put my carry-ons on the x-ray belt. Most of them smiled and were friendly with the kids. I know this ALL depends on the individual, but I really had a good experience with security checks. 

5. Be grateful. I think as a parent of special needs children we sometimes have the expectation that we should get special treatment. Don’t get me wrong here, I agree that the disabled have rights and we need to stand in and fight for those rights. That is not what I’m getting at here. What I’m saying is, we shouldn’t forget to say “Thank you” to those who help, even if it is part of their job. Smiling at the people who are helping and being pleasant is another way of showing gratitude and it brightens their day, too. Demonstrating gratitude for our children, whether they are disabled or not, is a great way to begin teaching them to be grateful and polite to others early on. *Note that with international traveling, other cultures may not treat children with special needs with the same “rights” as the country you come from.

Your Turn: Have you traveled  with your special needs child? What are some tips that you have? Please share in the comments below.

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Top 5 Tips for Traveling with Kids ALONE

Creative Commons – flickr

World travel with kids is doable and can be possibly fun if you do some planning and preparing beforehand. Usually, I travel with my husband, so we have split responsibilities to help each other out. This trip though, I traveled alone with the two girls. We traveled to Beijing for a few days and then on to the US from there. I can’t say that the entire trip was enjoyable, or that everything went just according to plan, but we made it to the final destination with only loosing one small backpack. Below are my top 5 tips that I was able to either do on the trip OR wish I had done.

1. Movies/TV shows. Since we can’t control the movies the airlines show –unless you are super lucky and get the individual screens – I try to upload their iPod with a new movie and some TV shows that the kids haven’t seen yet. I’ve also seen others bring the portable DVD players for their kids. The TV shows were also great for them to watch while we were waiting in line for check-in, immigration, etc. I only got a few TV shows downloaded, but will have more ready for that trip back.

2. Small “gifts”. I usually buy a few inexpensive items that are new to the kids. This trip I got each of the girls a new small notebook and pen. I gave it to them when they got bored with everything else that they had brought. I have always wanted to try wrapping small gifts and give them out every couple of hours during the trip, but just haven’t planned that well in advanced. Maybe I’ll get to the Dollar Store before I leave to return home and try that idea.

3. Snacks. I always take extra snacks to munch on for the kids and for myself because you know that airport food is expensive and kids may get hungry before the snacks and meals arrive on the flight. Also, I had the girls eating during take-off and landing to help with the ear pressure. For this trip, I should have added some chocolate for me, something that I could indulge in after moments of tension.

4. Tylenol. I take some sort of medication for headaches for myself. Also, I take some children’s Tylenol for those “just in case” moments. This last trip one of the girls had leg pains from growing and couldn’t get to sleep. I was so thankful that I had some children’s medicine to help her – and me.

5. Flexible. This is probably the number one thing…kids are kids. They have to use the bathroom more often, they need water and snacks, they have LOTS of questions, and they get tired and cranky. Also, plans don’t always turn out as smooth as you had hoped, so being flexible helps defuse problems from erupting into major meltdowns.

Your Turn: So, what are your top tips when traveling with kids alone? Please share in the comments below.

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