Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Abi turns two!

Abi turned two years old at the beginning of January. I just cannot believe it. We had a small tea party with some of her new friends and a couple of old ones including Arin, her BFF from Shanghai!!

the birthday girl

a cake with bright squiggly candles. hooray! Abi recently learned the 'happy birthday' song and insisted we sing it three times. 'happy birthday again' she says!!

She got to enjoy two of her favorite things. Balloons and a bouncy house. Unfortunately she didn't want to share, so she carried around 30 helium balloons on ribbon until she forgot about them and they floated away...oh, the tears! But the priceless vision of her climbing in and out of the small opening to her bouncy house with 30 balloons trailing her was worth any of the cost.

and there was, of course, a tea party, complete with tiny cupcakes. yum.

We are all loving our new California life, but I think Abi is definitely a natural west-coast girl, except for her aversion to sand...which we're working on. She has a very busy social life with her cousin Michael (yes, i'm a bit jealous!). The two of them, along with their nanny Martha, can almost always be found at either one of the local parks or one of the many music/story events that the nearby libraries put on for the kids.

needless to say these two are usually up to some very serious business

Michael turned two in early December. They had a huge blow-out with pinatas, ice cream, bubbles and bouncing. And of course airplanes...Michael will most likely NEVER have a party without airplanes in attendance in some for or another.

can't you just see the mischievous glint in his eye...?

lots of airplanes and a GIANT chocolate cake.

Abi got to play with the bubbles.

and had ice cream with Daddy and Uncle Dave (or Eeberdoo, as she calls him).

Abi has a growing appreciation for fashion flair. She insists on a number of accessories (some more appropriate than others) and most days insists on wearing a 'pretty dress'. We've gotten quite good at layering her up for the California winter.

Her absolute favorite is of course the fairy skirts that she keeps being given. Apparently our friends just can't resist. I blame Sonia and Jan for her first fairy's gone downhill (rapidly) from then, in the best way possible.

a trip to Los Angeles (for whale watching of course...what else do you go to LA for?!) gave her the chance to lounge poolside in her newest fairy gear. Thanks Aunt Carlyn!!

In spite of our discouragement of her creative side, Abi has discovered crayons and ignored all of our efforts to steer her towards calculators. (haha) So we have one new addition to the N38 office environment. It's doing wonders for our productivity. :)

welcome to N38, Abi!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Off the Grid

It turns out that I barely exist in the system. Between our lack of cell phones, my refusal to use credit cards, and my expired Florida drivers license, I am beginning to feel like one of those people who have been living 'off the land' completely outside of civilization and all of its related bindings.

One thing has become very clear...I will get a lot more done if i can drive. So off to the DMV I go on my borrowed bike. It is in an industrial area two towns over and a bit of a ride, but I make my appointment in good time and even have time to have my first 'in n out burger' experience. I am pretty sure that I startled the poor kid behind the counter when I wandered in with my helmet in hand (safety first!), looking a bit hot and sweaty, asking for the time and a coke. If my appearance on bicycle in an industrial park wasn't enough, when I pulled out my wallet to find the change, the first thing that popped out was the xanax pill that Korrie gave me for my flight with Abi. You should have seen the poor guy's face!

Anyway, back on my bike and onward to the DMV, coke in hand. On arrival, I was very suprised to learn that the DMV of all places is the first place I've gone in California with no bike racks. I would have thought that surely I couldn't be the only person who couldn't drive myself to an appointment to get a drivers license...right? So I chained my bike to a chain-link fence (yes, I realize how redneck that sounds...but what else was I supposed to do?!) and hoped it would still be there when I got back.

DMV was fine, although I highly recommend an appointment. Passed the test with two to spare and proudly posed for my picture. Not my best shot, and I will certainly be reminded of my bike ride through the Valley in the heat. :)

With license in hand, I realized that I was very near to the car dealer that Jason had found locally. So off I rode once again (bike happily waiting for me outside) to find a car. After much research, Jason narrowed our car choice down to include the Subaru Outback, so up I rode to the Subaru dealer where I parked my bike and asked to see an Outback.

Once the guy got over his initial (visible) surprise at my bike, he moved smoothly into sales mode and showed me some cars. He even offered me a test drive (after asking if I could drive), but I told him that I hadn't been driving regularly for nearly 12 years and I'd rather not start with his new cars. The relief on his face nearly made me laugh out loud.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Immigrants: Cell Phone Adventures

I am having true empathy for newly arrived immigrants to the United States. In fact, I'm beginning to feel like one myself at this point.

Abi and I arrived at Dave and Lori's doorstep on the 4th of September. We had a great Labor Day weekend in their newly rented Menlo Park home. Abi and her cousin Michael have taken over the lovely backyard, while the adults are working through the many things that can be grilled for dinner...the options are endless!

Tuesday dawns and while Dave and Lori are off at work, I get started on my endless 'to do' list. One of our first priorities is getting cell phones set up. The websites were far too confusing, so I hopped on a borrowed mountain bike (which i'm pretty sure Lori last rode in the late 90's) and rode to my nearest Verizon and AT&T stores.

The first stop was in downtown Palo Alto. For those of you who have not been here, this is a very nice little downtown...a bit like Winter Park in Orlando, and after an easy 15 minute bike ride from home, I was cruising along the very nice tree-lined streets. An informative stop and I was back on my bike and onward to my next stop.

Following my notes, I took what I assumed was a secondary route to avoid the main commercial road. It soon became clear that instead, I had basically taken a highway route and was pretty much onward I went. Around an under the interchange, onto an expressway, before eventually finding my destination. So in a wander to explain my goes a bit like this.

AT&T guy: Do you have an existing contract you're looking to renew or move?
CWA: No, I don't have a cell phone.
AT&T guy: So do you have a number you need to move over?
CWA: No, I don't have a cell phone.
AT&T guy: don't actually have a phone? (clearly thinking...what planet have you been living on?!)

Anyway, you get the idea.

And although I rode home (by a different route) empty-handed that day, you'll be happy to hear that we now have working cell phones that we are very happy with.

I think my favorite part of the whole adventure was chatting with the retired gentleman sitting inside AT&T fueling up with a Red Bull and Snickers. It turned out that he was the owner of the only other bike in the parking lot...although his was a 'customized' ride, with a full-size wheely-bin (garbage can) strapped to the back. He explained when we crossed paths on our way out that he was only partway through his recycling route. He had two more areas to cover and wouldn't be finished until midnight. I just couldn't make this stuff up!

Chapter 2: The West Coast

We have taken a leap of faith.

We have resigned from our company of 12 years and are relocating to San Francisco. It was a difficult decision to make, but one that we are feeling great about. It is definitely time to be near family and back in the civilized bosom of the USA.

So we began the process of once again moving a family across an ocean. It took 8-10 chinese men two days and three small truckloads to get all of our worldly belongings packed, wrapped and headed to a ship bound for the West Coast.

A week later, we were given back our passports and were able to make our escape. And a great escape it was; first to London to visit our family and friends, before making our way onwards (yes, the long way around) to our new home.

Abi loved London. There were still lots of people on the streets to talk to, with the very big addition of very good parks with lots of swings (her absolute favorite). We caught up with as many of our friends as possible and met the newest member of the Philips family, Maeve Kathryn. Such a beautiful girl!

After a week of fun in London, Jacqueline and Barry waved goodbye to the Ambrose family with mixed feelings since they finally get their flat back to themselves! And Abi and Christy head Westwards to the California coast while Jason returns to China for a few meetings and a workshop; our first ex-RTKL commission!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Just another Sunday

Like most things in Shanghai, our Sunday plans revovled around this case lunch. The Ambrose clan climbed aboard our city bicycles (Abi in her flashy pink bunny helmet) and cycled down the road to Boxing Cat Brewery, one of our weekend brunch favorites.

After lunch, during which Abi showed us exactly how much her cousin Michael's influence re food and eating has finally taken effect by eating most of Jason's waffles, we went for a walk. BCB is in a new development of old mansion houses called Sinan Mansions. So there are some nice plaza areas with fountains and the random sculpture. All of which attract the ubiquitous chinese students of photography who are all obsessed with photographing poor Abs.

Abi really couldn't care less that the guy beside her is snapping away with his camera. At least he was nice enough to ask first, and we have long given up on trying to run them all off.

Abi loves splashing in the fountain here and is all but inside of one, except for Jason holding onto her.

As we take a short hop across the road to visit Fuxing Park, Abi decides to take a breather in an unfortunate spot. The cart behind her is being loaded up with recycling. This is the way most recycling is done in China.

'what's wrong with right here? I'm tired!'

A short hop across the road and we visit Fuxing Park where Abi can run around a bit in real grass, of which there is a real shortage in Shanghai. She found a kid with a bubble machine and took off. Not much longer and the running around results in Abi having a face the color of a tomato, so we hauled our fair-skinned kid home out of the sweltering heat for a nap.

As we leave, we watch the recycling couple ride off down the street. These bike carts have small electric motors (usually) and can be piled as high as you can imagine...actually probably higher. They have to be seen to be believed.

And in answer to your question...yes, the lady is riding on top of all the stuff.

Abigail and Christy hit Aptos Beach, California

With a desperate need to escape China for at least a short while, I arranged for Abigail and I to spend the 4th of July in San Francisco with Dave and his family. My parents were arriving from Florida on their annual cross-country RV tour so I figured it would kill a number of birds with one trip.

I don't think I really thought the whole thing through very well, and I can only recommend to anyone reading this that you carefully consider taking any unecessary trans-Pacific flights by yourself with an 18 month old girl (or boy for that matter!) in your lap. We couldn't have had worse seats and Abi slept one hour of the twelve nightmarishly-long hours that it took for us to reach SFO.

However, once Abi was safely deposited in the arms of Grammy and Uncle Dave, things were MUCH better. Abi was in shock by this time, so she was up for anything. Soon enough Grammy, Grampy and her cousin Michael were fully in charge of her entertainment and our vacation began.
We started with kiddo haircuts...Abi's first! She looks so grown up with her new hair-do. I can't stand it! But at least her hair isn't in her eyes all the time now. And she just looks so cute.

Abi getting her first haircut at Snippety Crickets in San Fran

Our extended family visit to Dave and Lori's expansive apartment (with only two bedrooms) ended quickly as we were whisked away to the coast and an 8 day stay in Aptos, between Santa Cruz and Monterrey. What a beautiful place! We rented a house up on a bluff just on the beach. A short climb down to a quiet beach and another short walk down into the small beachtown. The kids took over the beachfront deck and began their week of terrorizing each other.

Abi on the beachfront deck. There were huge trees that grew up in front and the view of the coast was amazing.

Michael and Abi enjoying some beach games

Our friends from Shanghai (recently re-located to San Jose) came to join us for 4th of July. Arin is 8 months older than Abi and her name was Abi's first word. It was very sweet to see the girls together again. They had a blast!

The three kids playing in the wagon

Abi and Arin playing 'dragon' with the tunnel

Abi and Arin hit the beach with their volleyball loaned to them by a nearby family who took pity on them as they stared at it covetously. Who can say no to a pair of baby blues and a set of big brown eyes?

A trip to the Santa Cruz boardwalk and Mikey was able to show Abi what amusement park rides were all about. We started on the carousel and once we pried her off the horse (screaming of course) she proceeded to try out each and every ride at least once. She and Michael had a blast!

Then it was off to Monterrey where we visited the world famous aquarium. it really is as impressive as its reputation and we all really enjoyed the visit.

We took the kids to a nearby farm to pick strawberries (which Abi insists are called apples). The kids ate their way through the patch and managed to get themselves covered with mud and berry juice. You can imagine the mess...but we all had a blast. I'm pretty sure we could never eat the 10lb of strawberries that we all picked. But it was sure fun and the berries were delicious!

The rest of our trip was spent lounging around the house with an occasional trip out to the nearby Redwood forest for a walk/run/cycle (depending on which family member you ask). The forest holds the epicenter of one of the great quakes from 1980's and although we never actually got that far into the park, I can only imagine it's impressive. We just need the little ones to grow some longer legs before we try dragging them that far!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Great Wall Marathon

Early this year, my friend Korrie and I decided we needed a bit of a fitness goal to motivate us to keep running, so we signed ourselves (and our reluctantly willing husbands) up for the Great Wall Marathon in Beijing.

May 21st came and off to Beijing we went with our friends Korrie and Brian and Korrie's parents visiting from NC. On the morning of the run, we left our hotel at 6am to head off for the mountains north of Beijing. 3 hours, and a few missed turns later, we arrived at Huangyaguang, one of the ancient forts along the wall north of Beijing. It is a beautiful village that has obviously been well-maintained thanks to the World Heritage status of parts of the wall i guess.

The run started at the central square, through one of the formal gates, and straight up a set of stairs. And that is pretty much the next hour of our lives...straight up stairs. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the views were amazing. The route itself was a little precarious and at parts only had wall on one side with a drop-off straight down the hillside on the other. I can see how people are injured every year!

It took us 1 hour and 50 minutes to finish what would normally take around an hour. Korrie and I finished around the middle of the runners. Brian definitely beat us pretty soundly and Jason beat us all by coming in 36th overall. And he didn't even do any training runs!!

The route was beautiful, but hard to appreciate the view throught he sweat.

The steps were relentless. We didn't think they would ever come to an end. And everytime we saw the top we would reach a 'gate' along the wall, only to find that we were stepping down to yet another climb. Ugh!

We couldn't help taking a few candids along the way...anything for an excuse to stop for a second!

We collapsed that night but managed to fit in a trip to the famous Summer Palace before our flight. The Summer Palace is actually a collection of very elaborate pavilions and halls set around a large central lake and stepping up the hillsides. The 6 1/2 of us and several million chinese people enjoyed walking around the grounds and a boatride across the lake.

This is the central lake. It was lovely with little islands with temples dotted around it and beautiful giant stone bridges.

We took a boatride across the lake. We were definitely the only foreigners on-board and Abi was an attraction on her own.

These are a FEW of the millions of people we shared our afternoon on the lakeside with.

Abi, sadly, slept through the entire trip!! But Jason and I enjoyed it, and I imagine that Abi would have been slightly less interested in the architecture than we were...

The palace itself was built in the Qing (i think) dynasty for the empress to have a place to get away from the Forbidden City in the summer heat. It would have been accessed from a boat through the canals and rivers throughout Beijing. The buildings looked stunning but given the heat, the crowds and our flights, we just walked around the lake for awhile.

One of the pavillions. You can see the inner buildings stepping up the hillside behind the front 'gates'.

Unfortunately, every single corner of the place and its beautiful pavillions was occupied. But we enjoyed the place anyway.