One Couple's Stumblings Through Parenthood and Marriage

Thursday, August 31, 2006

U.N. in Miniature

Yesterday marked the departure of our last foreign student, and the end of our international experiment - for the time being at least. Majda, seen below, taught us a lot about Islam (mainly of the Sunni variety), tattoos, Arabian culture, being placed on the NSA wire-tap list, and Oman. I'll be posting on some of it later. One topic, Joe will be happy to know, will be on the Djinn (genies). She and I had a very interesting conversation about them.

All these students - from China, Japan, and Oman - have caused Annie and I to reflect upon how we run our household, and it has had some unforeseen consequences. The main change is that, given the multi-national nature of our home over the past while, we have instinctively adopted many United Nations procedures. Here are a couple of examples.

1) When our children are hungry, we no longer simply feed them. No, instead, Annie and I form a committee and negotiate the details. This usually leads to a lot of crying, but the nice thing is that if we stay in committee long enough, the girls will eventually make their own way to the pantry and start searching for food themselves. Problem solved.

2) This next example is trickier and deals with the disciplining of our children. For instance, say Genna is caught grappling Julia and making her cry. Previously, we would have disentangled the two and dealt with it. Not anymore! Now, Annie, Kate, and I will gather in the kitchen for the purposes of drafting a resolution against Genna. It can be hard to do over Genna's growling and Julia's wails as the attack continues, but we plow forward. Unfortunately, Kate often sides with Genna, and forces us to lessen the force of the resolution.

Once the resolution is complete, I present it to Genna, along with a deadline to have her stop her attack. Usually, Genna either eats the paper on which the resolution is eaten or she completely ignores the deadline and continues digging her fingers into Julia's eyes. When this happens, we write an even stronger resolution.

This makes for an interesting dynamic in our home.
But this is a small price to pay for the kickbacks I get (each of my children offer me candy and loose change they find, in return for me turning a blind eye to their antics).

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

So Much to Learn

Seems like an odd picture, right? Why a photo of Julia's bib? Look closer - go on, look closer. See that little nub of pink with a small stem? That is what's left of Julia's sucker after she was done with it. She and her sisters were busy working on them for quite a while. When it came to getting Julia down from her high chair, we were confused when we couldn't find her lollypop anywhere. Then we looked in her bib.

Yes, Julia seems to enjoy the sucker's stick as much as she does the candy itself. Toddlers. So cute. So much to learn.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Uncle Ian got swarmed the other night. True, my daughters were all after Max (get used to it young man - women will be chasing you for years to come!), but Ian was the one who had to bear the brunt of their assault. He did a fine job of both shielding his son from my over-enthusiastic girls and of not panicking under the shear weight of cute little children that had piled up spontaneously on top of him.

As a side note, my girls' hair is not greasy. To the contrary, it is freshly washed and therefore glistens in the flash of my camera. Also, yes, Genna has her nightgown on backwards. When it is on backwards it is a Sleeping Beauty dress. When it is on forwards it is a Cinderella dress. Don't ask me how Ariel, who is actually featured on the nightgown, factors in.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Climbing Ambition

Though Julia has taken to toddling as her primary mode of ambulating, she has been climbing for a lot longer. Everything is fair game - couches, table cloths, water bottles - you name it, she'll try to climb it, almost always with success.

It was therefore no surprise that after I myself climbed up on a step stool that a moment later I could feel the little hands of Julia climbing up beneath me. I had to step down and grab the camera. She obliged me with a smile and her head cocked at a playful angle.

I just hope her climbing ambition doesn't excede her climbing skills. I see bruises and knots on her head in her future (yes, I'm psychic).

Friday, August 25, 2006

Cotton Candy

The main event of the county fair wasn't the pig calling, or the livestock auction, or even the toss-a-dart-at-a-balloon-for-a-lame-poster championship. No, it was our girls trying cotton candy for the first time.

The twins were dubious at first, and I couldn't blame them. Few things look less food-like than pink and blue lumps of fiber. That said, they had faith in their parents when we tore chunks off and cajoled them into eating it. They were hooked immediately.

We actually had a number of people who stopped to watch and take photos. Like I said a couple of days ago - mini-celebrities.

Julia took a bit more convincing, which surprised us. She has no problem stuffing dead leaves and spider webs into her mouth, but then she balks when daddy crams some pink stuff in her mouth? Come on!

After a few moments of sitting and contemplating her options, she finally got a taste of it and, like her sisters, demanded more.

Come to think of it, Julia spent quite a bit of her county fair time begging for various foods from her seat in her stroller. Not all of it was cute enough to photograph.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Flower Girls

On Sunday was my aunt's wedding. Several months ago she asked that the twins serve as flower girls for the big event. We were honored and excited by the invitation. It took quite a bit of effort to get the tutus and the hair scrunchies properly lined up, but it was worth it. Here is the end result:

As you can see, everything turned out painfully cute (please note the petal-laden baskets beside them). Not even the splendor of the Blackhawk Golf Course (in the background) could dim their beauty.

Kate and Genna were given specific instructions: walk down the center aisle, BE CUTE, and toss the petals as you go. They excelled at the first two tasks, but failed at the last (only Genna remembered to toss her petals - and only after the bride had left). Their cuteness was so over the top that every camera in the 150+ person crowd was focused on them and snapping shots feverishly.

[gasp] I need to take a moment here and pull back from my fatherly pride in my girls. I am being undone. Okay. All better. No wait, here's another adorable photo! AAAAHHH!

They were very intrigued by the geese, ducks, and fish in the lake behind them, and spent quite a bit of time leaning out for a better view. This scene was so enchanting that people - complete strangers - stayed behind to photograph it. Even the paid photographers scrambled to capture the moment.

I am becoming way too feminized. Will someone invite me to go to the rifle range, or to a monster truck rally, or strike up a conversation about tanks or motorcycles? Anyone? Please?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Free of Charge

The county fair was fun and free of charge. All except for the food and rides, which cost both an arm and a leg. For Kate and Genna to take a three minute ride on a pink elephant rip-off-of-Dumbo ride it cost $5!. The rest of our $20 strip of tickets was spent on a single Ferris Wheel ride.

But, looking at these photos, it was worth it. It was their first ride without mommy and daddy. We were nervous at first, since they had to be placed in their seats by a gruff, rough looking ride operator (carnie). He turned out to be pretty nice, though.

I guess we'll keep them. Their pretty cute. We'll just have to take out a second on our house next year to fund additional rides.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Grand Champions

Cute little twin girls are automatic mini-celebrities. You wouldn't believe how many people comment on our girls and even ask to have their pictures taken with them. It is fun, because by extension Annie and I are celebrities, too. The auto-fame of Kate and Genna kicked into hyper-drive at the Yolo County Fair this weekend.

Evidently, there are few things that will draw a crowd more than our two bonnet-wearing twins seeing their first large cow up close and personal (no fence between them). See the people standing there? That is only part of the circle that formed around us as people gathered 'round to see a pair of award-winning twins be introduced to an award-winning bovine.

The owner was so enchanted by the image that he brought over the cow's "Grand Champion, Yolo County Fair 2006" matt for our girls to hold up. You can see the cow standing next to the twins (who have learned to ham it up for the cameras) - the cow seemed to have grasped the chance for a great photo op and stood still for several seconds while the camera flashes and shutters started up.

Friday, August 18, 2006


I can't explain my excitement for this movie. It's visceral.

Transformers. They were such a huge part of my childhood. Autobots, Decepticons, the toys, the series, the different generations ... ah, nastalgia is sweeping over me.

It is still a long ways off (July 4, 2007 - 7.4.7). Check out the movie site and watch the trailer here. All the site does is tease, but it is enough. For now.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bare Branches

This story was forwarded to me by my buddy, Russ. It's about a book written by a BYU professor, Valeria Hudson.

"Hudson earned academic honors for her research on China's gender imbalance and her appearance on "60 Minutes" was the latest manifestation of her work's widespread impact. Her book "Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population" is bringing more global attention as it addresses the growing disparity between the number of boys and girls in Asian societies where families value having sons instead of daughters ...

During the one-child policy in the 1980s, the kidnapping of baby boys was the problem. Now, about 25 years later, the first generation is reaching marriage age and, according to the "60 Minutes" reporter, could leave an estimated 40 million men bachelors for the rest of their lives. Effects from the one-child policy are also leading to illegal trafficking of females to become wives.

The Chinese government recently confiscated a large plastic bag full of 28 baby girls ranging in age from two to five months, Hudson said. They were found stuffed together, latched under the roof rack of a cross country bus and sold by their families for as little as eight dollars a piece."

Wow, wow, wow. I cannot comprehend what circumstances would lead someone to sell their baby daughter for a mere eight dollars (I don't care about rates of exchange here - $8 anywhere wouldn't give you much of anything). It has got to be the worst confluence of abject poverty, minimal education - or miseducation - and, most of all, abominable goverment policies. This makes me worry for Seven and Kevin.

I'm gonna go wake up my daughters and play with them now.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Okonomiyaki & Shiratama Dango

Here are our two Japanese students. They are fifteen-years-old and will be staying with us for a total of eighteen days. Their names are Okonomiyaki & Shiratama Dango.

Fools! Don't you know your Japanese cuisine? Those aren't their names - those are names for food! When will you learn? Their real names are Rina and Chikako - rolls quite a bit easier off the American tongue, eh (that was some Canadian inflection for Chelsa). Last night they made us dinner and dessert. Chikako is on the left holding her plate of okonomiyaki (stir fry pancakes) and Rina is on the right holding her bowl of Shiratama Dango (boiled dumplings). They were very eager to cook some Japanese food for us.

They were quite adept at cooking - they even cleaned each dish and utensil as they finished using it.

Annie and I both agree that girls make for easier and better students than boys (they don't seem to slurp near as much, for one). These two have shown us that Japanese young women are polite, helpful, pleasant, and possess voracious appetites. (Rina, the shorter one, has gone back for thirds on more than one meal.) I enjoy passing judgment on an entire people based upon one little example. It's fun. You should try it.

At least, that is how I, a simple gaijin, see it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Genna's Embrace

I had to do another one. This site has a bunch of more toys. So many distractions.

Friday, August 11, 2006

New Site

I found this new site which lets you make photos like this. I will be using it a lot. Be prepared.

BTW, this is my mom's cat.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Henna Hands, Pocahontas, and Scorpions

Aside from the additional income housing our myriad foreign students has brought us, the best thing about having them stay in our home is getting to know their cultures and outlooks, and exposing our children to new faces, languages, and peoples (and slurping and smacking and gun-toting and mystery hair on our bathroom floor ...).

Take Majda, for instance. She agreed to an arranged marriage and didn't meet her groom until the day of the wedding - which was the Saturday before she arrived at our house. She has only spent 4 days in her husband's presence! Now that is a cultural difference.

In these photos you will see her hands, first palms down and then palms up. It is custom in Oman (and I imagine in many Arab cultures) to paint henna tattoos on the hands and feet of the bride. Since these tattoos begin to wear off within less than a week of being applied, you can see how quickly she left Oman after her wedding (they are still intact, if you need me to spell it out for you:) ).

Isn't the detail amazing? The cousin who did this for her used only the tube out of which she squeezed the henna. Majda was more than happy to let me take some pictures.

Our girls really enjoy the students, even though they only spend a few weeks with us (which can be its own blessing sometimes - "sleeping at the library" and having guns pointed at my face take their toll). Our girls have really taken to our most recent batch of students, Majda, and two students from Japan.

The other day Genna walked up to Chikako (one of the Japanese girls) who was sitting on the couch. Genna asked, "Are you Majda?" Chikako looked at her confusedly. Genna then asked, with an overly-patient tone, "Are you Majda, or are you Pocahontas?" See what happens when cultures and Disney collide? We almost had an international incident!

The funniest incident so far with these students involved Majda. It was her second day here and she was in the bathroom. After a few minutes she shrieked and called out to Annie, "There is a scorpion in the toilet! There is a scorpion in the toilet!" Annie walked into the bathroom, not knowing what to expect, and rather than finding a scorpion, she found a daddy-long-legs in the shower. Getting your words right is important! Though, it did leave me wondering what she was using our shower for ...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

All of Kate's Friends

Here are Kate and Grandma, having a laugh and a enjoying themselves. What's so funny anyway? Are they talking about me? Is there something on my face?

Kate has obviously gone to great lengths to gather all of her animal friends and place them in my mom's lap. And Grandma has been complicit in the activity. Maybe that's what has them laughing.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Open for Questions

On Thursday we picked up three foreign students that will be staying with us for the next few weeks. Two of them are from Japan, and one of them is from Oman.

Majda, the woman from Oman, is a Sunni Muslim. Annie and I are very happy to have her with us. She is polite, very willing to help out, and since she is so proficient in English, also a lot of fun to talk with. She got married the Saturday before she left for her three-day trip to reach us. It was an arranged marriage (her choice) and she didn't meet her new husband until the day they got married!

One bit of instruction she was given before coming to the U.S. (this is her first time abroad) was that she is to work to improve the image of Muslims in the eyes of Americans by fielding questions and letting us know what Islam and the Middle East are all about. I have already asked her a number of questions (no, she doesn't know where bin Laden is or where the WMDs are, Chris), such as, What is with the whole martyrs receiving virgins thing? What is the main difference between Shi'ites and Sunnis? What's your opinion of Al Qaeda?

So, if any of you have any questions regarding Islam, Arabs, the Middle East, etc., feel free to leave a comment. I'll forward them to her - if you're lucky.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Extra Reading Time

Most animals have an inherent instinct not to crawl into dark holes. My twins seem to have misplaced this life-preserving trait. I let them stay up late the other night, and look where I found them! In the play room, under the stairs - a dark hole.

They were busy reading books and being awfully bright-eyed for the late hour, so I had to grab the camera.

Not too bad, eh? When mom's away, the girls get some extra reading time in. I'm such an awesome father.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Blog In Space, Again

I had to post this. These guys drove a fair amount of traffic to my site. Plus, they are helping me communicate with a wide variety of alien life forms. That's great.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Julia the Faker

Julia is quite the ham. She has set aside the meek, soft-spoken baby of old and assumed the role of vocal, assertive, and precocious toddler (she is taking steps now).

Here she is, just up from her nap and pretending to be upset. Mommy was so sold on Julia's performance that she ran to get the camera. Sorry, Julia, but you have some practicing to do.

Julia knows that she is still a rookie at the whole fake-crying thing. To her credit, she only kept up the fake-crying for a few minutes. She finally dropped the act and chuckled, if a bit ruefully.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Passing Judgment

I will now pass judgment upon an entire nation of people based upon 18 days with two 16-year-old Chinese students, and the conversations my family had with their Chinese housemates over the same span of time.

Let me start by saying that both Kevin and Seven were good kids. Though we had some run-ins with their manners and boredom, they are fine young men and will do well in life. I genuinely liked them, as did my daughters (which counts for a lot in my book). Also, in their defense, Annie and I hadn't prepared sufficiently for the demands that two teenagers would place on our meager resources (time, money, patience).

That said, I have some observations to make on the Chinese culture and nation. We have had plenty of experience with Japanese students, so the contrast was pretty sharp.

I shall lay them out in bullet points. To my family, if you have additional observations to add, let me know, and I will revise this post.

- Chinese parents are allowed one child. To have an additional child, you must pay a hefty fine. A third child on up is 'right out.'
- Many Chinese youths spend their teenage years living at school, 5 to 6 days a week.
- These first two factoids allow for both parents to be in the work force.
- This next generation of parents (my students would be in this group) will be allowed two children.
- Given the preference of the Chinese for sons, there are quite a few more males than females in China. This will no doubt lead to a lot of trouble as these boys turn into men and begin looking around for wives.
- One of the biggest concerns in China, as in Japan, is the aging population.
- They are very focused on the saltiness, sweetness, and quantity of their foods.
- They do, in fact, love rice and ramen (breakfast, lunch, or dinner). That was a shocker.
- Electronics such as portable DVD players, MP3 players, video games, etc., are profoundly cheaper in the states than in China - even though they are made in China. The same went for shoes and clothing. Our kids seemed to have plenty of discretionary cash to spend.
- They are seemingly force-fed the mantra of "study hard, get good grades, get a good job, and get rich." That is exactly how Kevin explained it. I know this doesn't sound like a communist ideal, but it is the ideal in China.
- Some of the students in the group were of fairly humble means. Others had servants and had never washed a dish or done a load of laundry in their lives. Some preferred to do their laundry by hand.
- Smacking and slurping of food, when enjoyed, is good manners. Ugh.
- They were very impressed by the cleanliness of Valley air. They commented many times on it. Air pollution is rampant in China (at least in Sichuan and other over-populated and industrialized areas).
- They love shopping, even more than American teenagers.
- One of my folks' guests had been shown a video of the man in front of the tank in Tiananmen square. She didn't believe it, saying it was a fake, and thought my family was odd for thinking it was real.
- There is a difference between being communist, and being a Communist. To be a Communist (party member) is to be an elite in Chinese society. The same guest at my parents' house was quite proud of her status as one.
- One of my students was dismayed that his fellow classmates spend so much time studying the books that they have little to no knowledge of their own culture.
- My students had seen all of the big western movies, like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. They seemed very keyed-in to western culture. They all own PCs.
- Despite pretty dramatic cultural differences, I was struck by how kids are kids and teenagers are teenagers, no matter where you live. These students all seemed bright and eager to learn. I believe there is hope for China.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thank You

I just want to take a moment to thank Disney and the creators of the Baby Einstein series of DVDs. Their products have smoothed over many a rough moment for our family. Mind you, our kids don't watch TV more than a couple of times a week - we keep it to a minimum. But when things are hectic and kids are screaming, it is wonderful to be able to pop in a DVD and shut them up - I mean, entertain them.

Julia has turned into a huge fan of the Baby Einstein series (or Baby Moses, as Kate calls them). Here she is eagerly watching Neighborhood Animals. Not even a pull on the ol' sippy cup can tear her eyes away. What I love about this video is Julia wants us to watch it with her, because she points at it, squeals, claps her hands, and makes sure that we are enjoying it, too.

So, once again, thank you Disney (who distributes the videos, and has provided countless princess-moments for our girls) and to Baby Einstein for helping us be calmer parents. Without them, we would actually have to do what our video-less forefathers have done since the dawn of time ... whatever that was.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Our poor boys. Poor me, too. We were all stuck in the house almost the entire day on Saturday. Annie had a bridal shower to go to, and I had the girls to look after. That left our two 16-year-old students wallowing, slumping, lumping, draping, and floundering around our house for an interminable length of time. It became so grating that the only way I could cope with it (aside from feed their insatiable appetite for DVDs) was to take a few pictures.

Here is Seven - after he brightened up for the picture. Yes, I had to abide with this for many hours. I felt bad, but there was literally nothing I could do to entertain him, aside from hitting myself on the head with frying pans for his amusement. I don't think even that would have lasted long.

Kevin wasn't so bad. In fact, by the end of it, he had been engaged by the twins and began a throw-dice-at-each-others'-heads game, a very popular mode of entertainment in Sichuan. Genna eventually decided she had taken too many lumps and moved on. That left Kate (as Sleeping Beauty) and Kevin alone to battle on, with Kate as the aggressor.