Beneath this bowl of stars...

toddler activites, food, photos, and other orbital occurrences

After the night of Cry-it-out when Amber fell asleep on the doll bed, Daddy refused to let it happen again. So I decided it was his turn to deal with getting her to sleep. The new routine is bath, jammies, brush teeth, mommy turns off the lights and rocks and sings for a while, then tucks into Amber bed and gets Daddy. Daddy comes in and lays in bed and tells her a story and convinces her its time to go to sleep. So far it has worked very well the last 4 nights, varying between 5 min and 25min. (much better than my recent 2hrs). Tonight, he convinced her to roll over and close her eyes if he left the door open when he left. She agreed and as he was walking out after she was all snuggled in and facing the wall, she called out for the first time unprompted "I love you daddy". He instantly melted.

Article of clothing: pumpkin hat -- I do not have a recent picture, but for some reason this week Amber has taken quite a liking to her pumpkin hat.... so much that she sometimes will not take it off! Last weekend we were out and about and she was all of the sudden very upset going on and on about the pumpkin hat... "where's pumpkin hat", "amber lost pumpkin hat" it was so sad, her voice was the saddest I think I have ever heard it. Luckily our new stroller has the underbasket positioned in such a way that it catches things like pumpkin hats that get dropped :-)
Food: Sandwiches -- Amber has really started to enjoy sandwiches this week. I think it started a couple weeks ago when I got a quesedilia for lunch and she took it from me calling it a sandwich. Then all of the buns that we eat are a little like sandwiches. So I have started putting her eggs in a mini pita and also including tomato and cheese. She is now requesting sandwiches and hopefully I can start adding other yummy good for her ingredients.

Song: Ring Around the Rosey -- I taught Amber how to play Ring around the rosey this week. She loves it! And she truly understood what was required of her for "we all fall down" on the first time :-)

Activity: cleaning the house -- Amber likes to take the broom and dustpan and run around cleaning. Usually right before bed, or in the morning when its time to get dressed... never when she actually should clean up a mess that she made.

Way to annoy her parents: not sleeping -- We have been having all sorts of sleeping issues this week. Everything from not going to bed for hours, to waking up in the night wide awake to play, to waking up for several hours in the middle of the night just screaming for no reason. We tried Cry-it-out on Tuesday night, exactly one year after we did it the first time for the crib. It was both harder and easier this time. Eventually she did stop crying and fall asleep, but not exactly in her bed...
Word: Remember -- for some reason (i think because I have recently asked her if she remembers her birthday party last year and what santa brought for her), Amber is constantly asking us if we remember things. "Remember our car, car seat, remember mommy?" "remember crabs" "remember gymboree music class"... most of the things she asks us about happened in the last day or two so its kinda funny b/c of course we remember :-)

Daddy had to work all day, so we decided to go to the JW Marriott for their Thanksgiving buffet. Amber has several thanksgiving day outfits, (notice that the red dress was worn on last year's thanksgiving):

I had called ahead to make a reservation but for some reason they could not find it when we arrived (and we were an hour late), so we got to sit at a special table that was actually outside the main restaurant in the lobby. It felt like our own private dinner party. The buffet was amazing. Not only did they have all the usual thanksgiving offerings but they had just about every sort of food you can imagine (even guac and quesedillias) as well as every condiment for that food in a cute little dish, bowl, jar or some type of container. They had a mashed potato bar with 4 kinds of potato (regular, sweet, taro and something else) and a dozen different toppings including truffles. They had sushi and indian and pizza and everything really. Dave ate and ate and ate. It was perfect for him since he is not a big thanksgiving food fan. The only complaints i have was the the stuffing was really horrible and the pumpkin pie was more like an apple pie then custardy goodness.
Amber loved the tiny cup of jello (no its not a jello shot):Here are some shots of the lights below:

Yesterday we made and stuffed a turkey... ok so it was not an edible turkey, but far cuter. We got the idea from The Crafty Crow, with instructions on this blog. We started by tracing Amber's hand on felt. I cut out 2 at once. Next I hand stitched them together.
Stuffing it was a little more challenging than stuffing a real turkey, but only b/c Amber has such tiny long fingers.
Next I cut out feathers and hand sewed them on along with the gobbler, beak and eyes.
The hand is hard to see with all of the feathers, but it is a good memory to keep. Maybe we will make one each year and use them as centerpieces on the turkey day dinner table.

Amber begged and begged to do rubber stamping earlier this week. It was a short, sweet, messy activity but it made her smile.

Its been 4 weeks since we arrived, and today is thanksgiving. So I thought I would take sometime out from regular posts about Amber or with pictures of silly things around Shanghai and spend some time focusing on describing in words what it's like here...

I thought I knew what to expect, and what I would learn about. Much of those expectations have been on the right track, but the shocking contrasts here are so astonishing. One aspect is that these contrasts exist at all, but the way that the differences exist in pure harmony is truly an amazing thing to experience. There is no segregation of affluence or architecture. 5 star restaurants in brand new high tech buildings are next door to crumbling ancient row houses with occupants selling additional servings of their noodle dinner from their doorstep. From culture to restrooms, beer prices to transportation methods, and fashion to cuisine. Everything that I do, everything that anyone can do here is one extreme or another, and there really is not much in between. I have had dinner with billionaires tasting dishes that cost more than most of the country's weekly pay, and I have lunch with the true working class on buns that I could buy with a US dime. I have ridden in luxury cars with private drivers and walked down streets dodging bikes, carts, mopeds and construction debris (i have considered riding a bike, but its really not going to happen). I sit in my multimillion dollar serviced apartment surfing the Internet while my neighbors across the street don't have running water or heat. I have browsed for belts costing hundreds of $ and walked past blankets on the corner with belts for 1rmb. I have bought bok choy down the street for 3rmb and bought the same boy choy with an organic sticker for 10x the first. I buy a bottle of shanghai beer for 2rmb one day and a belgian for 32rmb the next. I have used restrooms so fancy you can't tell the toilet from the sink and others that are simply a hole in the ground (that flushes). It's not that these differences don't exist in other cities. It's just that here they seem to stare each other in the face. Maybe it's the sheer number of people who live here that both creates the contrast and forces its coexistence, or maybe it's the history of the country and way of life of the past that allows it....

I am quite thankful to have the opportunity to be here and experience it all. I am also very thankful for all of my friends and family who have been so supportive especially in all the skyping, IMing, emailing and reading of this blog. And I am so so thankful for all of you who read and write comments :-)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today, the first day in exactly 4 weeks of being here, my blog is on the otherside of the great fire wall! How am I posting this? I can access via but I can only add text. So the first thing that I am thankful for this thanksgiving is proxy4china! yay!

Hopefully it will be back on this side again soon, b/c i have a lot of time and a lot of pics I want to post.

I think I now know the answer to this question... parents like me. It all started in the middle of the summer when we were on vacation in Europe. We went to dinner when Amber was sleeping in the stroller. When she woke up there was a full suit of Armour staring at her (from behind Dave). She was scared of it at first but then became curious... That night she would not go to sleep. It was near midnight and Dave and I were already in bed and she was bouncing off the walls, we didnt know what to do, so we told her the Armour man was going to come get her if she didnt get in bed... 2 seconds later she was in bed under the covers and didnt move another muscle. A second time on this vacation we introduced her to a monster at dinner. This time it was a giant wild boar that was over the fireplace in the restaurant. It was scary looking and we told her it was a monster. She was scared but interested in seeing it again and again. Over the last few months from time to time we have used monsters to get her to sleep. For some reason this week she has remembered the monsters. There are lots of noises in this apartment, mostly the elevator and people emptying the trash in the service hall. Amber says "what's that" when she hears something. Sometimes I say "monsters"... she gets scared. Many times lately she will not settle down and fall asleep (right now I have to lie with her until she is asleep), so sometimes I knock on the wall and I say "whats that" and she asks "monsters?" and i tell her that the monsters will come out if she does not go to sleep. Sometimes she asks if the monsters go to work during the day (i told her they also dont come out when the sun is awake). I said yes, they do go to work... she then asked if they took a taxi like daddy. I said no, they walk. She then turns over and goes to sleep. I am evil.

I should have learned a couple weeks ago when reading a friend's blog to steer Amber away from balloons if I wanted to keep the peace for the afternoon, because although parents think balloons make kids smile, in the end something always goes wrong. Today we were walking down the street and there was a guy on a bike with a big bouquet of balloons. They were very bright and colorful and I wanted Amber to have one... I thought it would make our stroll home a little more fun. We wanted her to pick, but she didnt really seem to care. They had chinese zodiac cartoon characters like a pig and a fish and a lion and one of the olympics characters, and of course Dora. Amber only knows who Dora is from the few hours she spent at the Kids Club at my gym in nyc last winter, but whenever she sees Dora or Diego on anything she wants it :-( I was trying to point her in the direction of the pig (she has had an interest in pigs this week) and she spotted the evil Dora. I had already selected the pig... Dave was paying and I was tying it on the stroller. She started crying for Dora. I thought it would pass, but as we turned to walk away it got worse, "no pig, give pig back" and then "Amber needs Dora... Amber NEEDS Dora" As horrified as I was that my kid NEEDED Dora, it was sooo sad. I mean we bought the balloon to make her happy, not sad and crying. So, Dave turned around and payed double for Dora (the pig was 5rmb and Dora was 10rmb)... we gave the pig back. A block later after not wanting Dora tied on the stroller and wanting Daddy to hold her, Amber proclaimed that she now needed the pig. I spent the rest of the 30 min or so walk home with Dora punching me in the head and blinding my view (which is really quite challenging while trying to walk in Shanghai). We got home and she still remembers the pig, but I think is happy enough with her Dora selection. (on a slightly related note, sometimes at night when I am putting Amber to bed, she will call out to Dave, "Daddy I need you" b/c she need to kiss him goodnight, thats a really cute use of the word 'need').

So these pictures are really not as exciting as the title makes them sound... (i didn't take any pics of the food!)
Here is Amber who was starving after being dragged through floors and floors of isles of booths at the fabric market. The poor girl kept asking when we were going to Lunch with Daddy (b/c thats what I told her when we left this morning, 3 hrs before we actually ate).
Since we were eating so late, the restaurant was about to stop serving, we were the last customers before the afternoon staff break. The staff (specifically all the cooks) gathered at a table to play cards (a very common occurrence). There were some crazy discussions which lead to heated arguments about something related to the game. It was very entertaining. I tried to take a picture without looking too obvious, didn't capture it all...
The highchair was by far one of the strangest or maybe scariest we have encountered in our world travels. It was more like a barstool lawn chair than a highchair for a child. The funniest part was the piece of fake wood vinyl flooring that was taped to the back. As usual, we washed Amber's hands with Purell when we sat down, but then she touched the chair... so I cleaned them again... but then she touched the chair...

Food: Sushi -- we went out for sushi one night this week and Amber had her first real sushi! (it was slightly seared tuna belly). Dave cute it up and reformed the rice to make her little toddler bites. She LOVED it! We were of course drinking cold sake and she had some crazy juice that was cloudy white just like the pearl sake. Sadly I didnt bring the camera.
Game: color matching -- (this is really more of a recent obsession than a game) for some reason everything has to match... if we are using a blue bowl for yogurt, she must must have the blue spoon... green cup, green bowl. Matching item dirty? be prepared to clean. She also likes to point out when random things match like her socks to my shirt, or the stroller to her pants.
Activity: Making turkeys -- We have been making all sorts of turkeys for thanksgiving. Most of them involved hands. She really likes tracing her hand and mind. She asks if we can make more turkeys from time to time.
Song: Great Big Stars (again) -- she sings it all the time.
Place: Gymboree -- we have only been going once a week, but she asks about it and gets so excited when its time to go
Clothing: my underwear -- for some reason she really likes to put it on over whatever she is wearing :-)

They make soup out of just about everything here.... whole chickens, fish heads, turtles, shark's fin, bird's nests, etc. Luckily they really don't make toddler soup.

There was a funny Campbell's chicken broth marketing thing going on today. We waited in line and went in the little building where there were 3 chefs making soup. You got a taste if you waited for it. At the end you gave your phone number and got a free box of chicken broth! (i dont know my phone number so i just made one up).

For some reason Amber calls all older chinese women NaiNai (grandma). She calls all young girls (waitresses, our realtor, teachers, girls we meet out and about) Lisa. The reason for this is that the main older Chinese woman that Amber is familiar with is her NaiNai. Dave's cousin is named Theresa and she is really nice to Amber, but Amber cannot say Theresa, she just calls her Lisa.
Here is a picture of some flowers Dave bought downstairs at a little flower shop for like 50cents each.

Just when I thought being in China was alone enough to claim I was living in the world's largest dollar store (because stuff is so cheap and everywhere from shops to little markets to backs of bikes to blankets on the sidewalk), I actually found a building, or really about half a dozen buildings all seeming to fight for the title of largest junk store. These markets make Canal Street or the shops on Broadway and 28th in NYC look like those overpriced carts at the tourist mall. I can't decide if I am in heaven for all of the fun cheap crap I can buy or sick b/c of all the waste and the price that we pay for a lot of this crap back at home.
There is really no way to describe these markets without actually being there. I tried to take some pictures but they just cannot convey the scene at all. There are 100s if not thousands of these little booths in these markets. Most of the market buildings have 6 floors. Sometimes the floors lean toward a specific theme like tights/socks/underwear othertimes its just a menagerie of junk. In some areas the isles are so small and so crowded and there is just stuff falling off of people's booths onto the ground getting squished. You can really find just about anything here and depending on the quantity that you want, you can get it for less then 25cents. Here is just a tiny TINY list of items I saw today (usually each stall sells one thing or type of thing): pens, tape, craft supplies, cell phone accessories, jewelry, towels, sheets, baskets, stickers, toys, masks, wigs, nail polish, key chains, silk flowers, plastic bags, clocks, handbags, watches, fabric, lace, ribbon, wrapping paper, stuffed animals, wooden toys, plastic toys, party supplies, chinese new year decor, christmas decor, beads, buttons, buckles, zippers, needle point/cross stitch, yarn, hooks, clothespins, hangers, sponges, bad art, creepy dolls, hello kitty, scarves, pajamas, etc. When I was packing to come here I made sure to bring my box of craft supplies like pipe cleaners, construction paper, pompoms, felt and glue sticks, b/c I thought it would be impossible to find without a Michaels or ACMoore around the corner.... but no. There is a whole building full of just these items!
The isle in this photo was on the edge so it was not as crowded as most.

This guy just sold rubber bands!
This is the view looking down to the ground floor of the mall that specialized in fabric notions like ribbon, zippers, buttons, etc.

Here are the items I purchased today:
Felt: 8rmb per meter
Pink socks for Amber: 6rmb per pair
Magic wand for Amber: 5rmb
Thick socks for Amber: 10rmb for 5 pair
Leggings for me: 40rmb each (i think i paid way too much for these)

DIY felt food kits: 5rmb each!!!!

yes folks, these are the Christmas decorations I get to buy this year...

I'll have a gaudy, gaudy Christmas;
It'll be the cheesiest time of the year
I don't know if there'll be snow,
but I'll have a cup of beer.
We'll have a gaudy, gaudy Christmas;
And when we walk down the street
we'll Say Ni Hao to friends we know
and everyone we meet.

Oh, ho, the plastic mistletoe
hung where all can see;
Somebody sold it cheap;
The buyer it was me.
Have a gaudy gaudy Christmas,
and in case you didn't hear,
Oh by golly, we're gonna have a gaudy,
gaudy Christmas this year.

Today was day 3 of Amber's Ayi. (Ayi is nanny/maid in mandarin). We currently have 2 Ayis, one who comes to clean and the other comes to play with Amber and teach her mandarin. I was originally intending to stay home most of the time with them, but it didnt go very well the first day... Amber just wanted me to hold her or cling to my leg. So day 2 I went downstairs to the gym. Today I went out and about exploring. I decided to take the subway. This was the first time I have been on the Shanghai subway (Dave has never been) and I have to say I was very impressed. First off, all of the cards (tickets), even the single use, are proximity cards. No swiping needed, just hold the card over the giant circle as you walk through! I was planning on taking a picture of the card but I had to give it back as I exited. The next great part is that they have a glass wall all along the platform, so no risk of falling in and the sound, and air gets muffled (no big gusts as the train approaches). There are doors in the glass and the trains stop in perfect alignment. On the platform there are lines painted so that you know where to stand. Compared to other subways i have ridden this was great, b/c it meant you knew how many people were trying to get on each car ahead of time.
Once on board, they have a nice signaling system of lights and sounds to let you know the doors are about to close. Upon exiting, you are greeted with a map of the streets above listing all of the exists. Each exit has a number allowing you to easily locate it on the map. So smart!

Food shopping is not as easy as it was in NYC or even Wellfleet. There are 5 main methods of getting food.
1. Street markets/wet markets -- I cannot believe I do not have a picture to post here, I will go take one tomorrow. In all of the local areas there are either street markets, where most of the street is just people selling some type of food, maybe from a shop or a bike, or a blanket on the ground. You will also just see people on a random street corner with a blanket, a bike or a basket selling fruit or veggies. A wet market is a building that has a water supply where vendors have a specified space. Mostly the very locals shop here. They get really shocked if a tourist or even someone as chinese yet westernized as Dave stops to buy something. The food here is so cheap you might think its a joke.
2. Local supermarkets -- these cannot even come close to a US supermarket. They are more like a US local quick mart with a produce section.... very small. These are extremely cheap, and a great stop for local beer, trash bags, furniture pads, frozen dumplings.
3. Giant market complexes -- there are several large chains (i am talking multiple floors including escalator ramps for carts). Carrefour, Walmart (nothing like the US walmart), Emart, Metro, and probably others. These stores are like a Walmart or Kmart in the sense that you can buy all your basics there, sheets, towels, clothes, socks, electronics, small appliances, light bulbs, office supplies, toys, books, household items, cosmetics, etc, but different b/c they focus on food.... also, all of the non-food stuff is CRAP, think dollar store crap. These stores tend to be far from where we live and no where I would want to go alone with Amber (mostly b/c I dont want to go anywhere with Amber these days much less alone)... but definitely no where I want to go on a weekend. (far far far too crowded). But, the food selection in these shops is great. Great prices on imports and a huge selection. They even have organic produce and dairy and they deliver.
4. Shopping Plaza food marts -- this is a category of shops that are in the basements of the shopping plazas that are in all of the buildings. This is not going to make much sense until I write my big post about the shopping plazas, so for now, just picture a small shopping mall with a food store in the lower level. Most of these stores have a large import section (some of them are import/organic only), all of them are overpriced, and none of them are ever crowded. They are also quite small and have a limited selection overall.
5. Delivery services -- for higher prices, you can order imported meats, delicacies, organic fruits and veggies, organic dairy, yogurt made with milk from australia and bacteria from france, wine, fancy cheeses, import goods, etc. But its not like shopping at Amazon or peapod. You get emailed a list once a week of products and prices. You send an email with your order and you do your own math. Then you must be home to pay in cash for the delivery.

Yesterday Amber and I went to City Shop the expat food shop in the lower level of one of the shopping plazas. Its a 20min walk from our apartment. I dont enjoy going, not when i have to pay $7 for broken chips which I need to go with my guacamole and fajitas. But she seemed to enjoy it.

Here are some recent pictures of Amber, mostly playing at home:Putting baby and carebear to sleep in the "little bed".
Reading in the "reading circle"
Happy on the couch!
Making play-dough porcupines
Carrying a big leaf with daddy
play dough fun
Cutting her new food!
Little people on the farm
"Little people going potty" (she lined them all up like that and notice how she separated out the little figures that are not actual little people brand people, i guess they don't go potty).