define "cold".....

COLD: \ˈkōld\adjective, having or being a temperature that is uncomfortably low for humans; not heated.

Now having experienced the depth of Urumqi winters - we find the above Webster's definition an inadequate description. We have found there to be variations of this uncomfortable predicament. Here is our expanded definition:

1. COLD: 50 to 35 degrees F; this is when jackets/sweatshirts become necessary, headgear is optional and when appropriately dressed there are no hindrances. Snow can fall, but never stays for long. This can make for a pleasant winter, full of family outings and strolls in the park. This is all we knew before we moved here to northwest China.
2. VERY COLD: 34 to 15 degrees F; proper attire is necessary to assure comfort & ease of movement. Earmuffs, scarves, long-johns & gloves are all important when endeavoring outside for any length of time. Hindrances still exist, but are quite manageable. Snow falls, and sticks. This temperature can make for a beautiful winter when endured for the appropriate amount of time (less than 1 month).
3. BITTER COLD: 14 to -5 degrees F; proper attire is now essential for survival. Covering as much skin as possible is highly desirable when exposed for long lengths of time. Transportation is slow and difficult. In our case: be prepared to wait for extended periods of time for a taxi, or squeeze on a crowded bus of people huddling together for warmth. Snow falls in large flakes, and any liquid quickly becomes ice. While not impossible, going out is challenging at best (without a car) and bundling children up requires significant motivation (for all involved). The picture below shows how condensation build-up froze overnight. And yes, this is indoors!!

4. BONE CHILLING COLD: -5 to -30 degrees F (and below); there is no such thing as proper attire. As the name suggests, cold finds its way thru any fibers to grip your bones and turn what should be a casual stroll or trip to the market into a survival experience. All forms of transportation are undesirable. Leaving the comfort of your warm house (if is it still warm) is only attempted under the most necessary circumstances. Blinking often is necessary so that your eyeballs don't freeze. In our part of the world, when it is bone-chilling cold - one buys hot nan bread to stick in your jacket as you walk. We might eat it later. A redeeming beauty of this otherwise dire situation, is the frosted trees glistening with ice crystals and the hot tea waiting for you at home.

Finally WARM - enjoying some hot tea, popcorn & a good book in my comfy chair.
2 great Weather Forecast sites: AccuWeather & Yahoo Weather


Santa = Salsa in our home

Have we ever told you about Salsa? Not to offend, but we have told our kids the truth about Santa. Yes, he's a real person (Saint Nicholas) but he won't be visiting our house at Christmastime. No, this day is reserved for gifts from our loved ones, and the best Gift that has already been given! But the humorous story to this begins last Christmas - when Eden's vocabulary was exploding with verbosity. In the midst of striving to repeat big sister's amazement of seeing Santa's face all over Santa Cruz, she exclaimed - "SALSA!" We immediately loved her idea, and have adopted her name for "Santa." It really fits. And for your viewing pleasure, here is Chinese Salsa with a bewildered Sydney.....

festivities with friends....

Welcome to our Christmas party! We served a delicious lunch to anyone who could come - about 15 classmates, teachers, friends - and played "Dirty UNO" too! It was so neat to share a special holiday with our local friends, and offer tasty American treats. I made Chicken Soup, a spicy Chili, lots of Veggie Pizzas & Sugar cookies. We also gave out a homemade Hot Chocolate mix, which many had never tasted before! The girls love having visitors, and they take full advantage of teaching new English words, reading books and giving loooong tours of their bedroom.
Here are three Uyghur sisters....we tried to get our three chicas to pose with them, but only Sydney would cooperate! Aren't they beautiful??
A group shot - 4 Uyghurs, 5 Americans, 1 Hui, 2 Chinese! An intercultural festive affair!

perfect timing?

Have we mentioned that we are in crunch-mode? And yes, today is Christmas! The past 2 months we have been researching, marketing and preparing our business plan & application as we gear up to open our Ice Cream Parlor in our beloved city. These months have been quite busy with numerous details - countless trips across town, insurmountable phone calls with officials/businesses/consultants/friends, brainstorming sessions, recipe experimentation, price comparisons, overall cost-estimates, etc etc....and 2 weeks ago (Dec 11) we handed in our first draft of our Business Application to be translated in to Chinese! After a few edits - it was turned in for the first Official step (Dec 20) to have the name of our Shop approved. This was a very stressful day, but overall - we got the "stamp of approval." In the process, we were asked to change the name, but it was minor Chinese semantics. Last night (Christmas Eve) we made another trip to our Consultant/Liason's office to sign a few papers. She is working on the 25th, and will be turning in our updated application for its next step in the process - clearance with the Project Approval office. Each step is obviously crucial in the overall process, and we are hoping for smooth sailing at each office. We have a wonderful Liason, who has really streamlined the procedure. The main reason for the time crunch, is that we need to get approved by January 12th....so we can change our Visa's out of country. In the meantime we are searching for the perfect Location (also crucial to success)! We'd love to be centrally located, highly visible, and near lots of foot traffic - maybe schools, restaurants, hotels, and bus routes.

By the way - we chose a name!! It will be translated into 3 languages!
In English
= Ice Mountain Creamery
In Chinese = Xinjiang Bingshan Bingqilin Youxian Gongsi 新疆冰山冰淇淋有限公司
In Uyghur = Muztagh Marujna Shirkiti
We chose this name (Muztagh) because it is a famous Mountain in this area of China. The mountain is over 24,000 feet tall and is known for its beautiful glaciers & ice-capped peaks. We hope our Ice Cream will be associated with its clean, clear, fresh glacial ice. Here is a picture of our glorious namesake....
So yes, we are amazed that the process is coming along, and we hope the TIMING continues to be on target!


"too much meat"

We are sad to report: We were unable to visit our friends' home because her father was rushed to the hospital the morning of our gathering. Our friend said she thinks her "dad ate too much meat, and his heart was hurting." Of course we were bummed, but glad that he got to the doctor. She is a very sweet girl, and we are excited to become closer friends (Her dad is better now too).

On the other hand: This was our first time witnessing a Korban Celebration, and whoa....it was graphic. Early in the morning, trucks unload hundreds of sheep on all the main intersections, where herders corral them into temporary pens. The crowds are already gathering - hoping to get the best pick. Some families will share one sheep with another family, so its not too expensive. Muslim Imams will bless the sheep right there, and slit its throat right on the street. The sheep don't make a sound, but there is lots of blood. Its messy and not for weak tummies. We saw men with skinned sheep all over town. Ali saw a huge cow on the road being skinned, and huge plies of sheepskins on almost every major intersection. This holiday is quite intriguing. Maybe next year we will kill, gut & pluck our own turkey for Thanksgiving. We'll see. If we are feeling inspired.


passed my test!!

We just completed our 4th book of Mandarin (in a series of 6) and I passed my test for the semester! Wahoo!! To celebrate - our class went out to lunch at the only Texas Deli in the city - which was a stretch for some of the Asian's in my class, but I gave a fajita rolling demo, and they caught on fast. Eden came along with me, as you can see her little head at the far end of the table, with her beaming smile.

This is one of the only places in the city where you can order some homemade tortillas and refried beans. Believe me, its a craving! We have gotten great at making it ourselves at home, but its so nice to have a place like this in our city - complete with chili, burgers, pan pizza and milk shakes!

Here are some Korean classmates posing for a picture.
This is my teacher on the left, and her friend on the right. And I am proud to say that all our conversations were completely in Chinese. Well, except if Eden needed some translation. I mean, she translated for me. :)


The KORBAN Festival - 3 days long!!

The KORBAN Festival (Eid Al-Adha) is one of the most important holidays among the Uyghur people here in Xinjiang, and among all Muslims worldwide (other Muslim peoples in this region include Hui, Kirghiz, Kazahk, Uzbek, Tajik, Tatar, Salar, Dongxiang & Bonan). 'Korban' is Arabic - meaning, "to draw near," or "sacrifice/gift," also called the Festival of Sacrifice. The word is used in Genesis when referring to Cain & Abel's sacrifices, when Abraham willingly offers his son upon the altar, and later in Mark 7:11. In Islamic terms - Korban is associated with the slaughtering of a predetermined animal with the intention of drawing close to Allah. Korban begins on sunrise on the 10th day of the 12th month of the Islamic Calendar (Zhulhijah ذو الحجة) thru sunset on the 13th, right after the Eidul Adha prayers at the Mosque. This year, it happens to fall on December 20-23!

From our reading, Korban was first celebrated the 2nd year after the Muslim migration to Medina. I am not sure of those exact dates, but on or around 622CE.

Korban Laws, Rituals & Practices...
The practices have all been laid out in the Qu'ran, Sunnah & Ijmak. Very early in the morning, the homes are throughly cleaned, and everyone takes a bath & wears beautiful clothes (women wear sparkling jewelry & bright scarves, and most men wear their traditional doppa cap) - to visit the mosque. After prayers, families gather in homes to share a feast of mutton dishes, fruits, traditional cakes, and more!

There are different kinds of Korban/offerings; not all are compulsory acts. Each animal must be slaughtered in a humane way,
and only certain animals are acceptable: goats, cows, camels, oxen, or sheep (healthy & of certain age) - depending on your family's ability. Acts of charity are highly encouraged and many families give a portion of the meat to the needy.

Korban is an act of worship, remembering the historical act of obedience of Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice his beloved son on Mt. Moriah. God provided a substitute sacrifice (a ram) after witnessing Abraham's obedience (Gen 22).

Activities may be different across the globe, cultures, ethnicities, etc. Uyghur people celebrate with lots of singing & dancing, while Kazakh, Uzbek, Tajik & Kirghiz people enjoy horse-races and even wrestling! **This morning - Justin saw a huge truck of sheep awaiting their final destination. We have also been invited into a friends' home to be part of their family Korban celebration on Saturday. It is such an honor to share this festival with her & her family. I will try to post pictures after the party.


XAU Christmas Banquet

So as you can tell by the Chinese characters on the banner above us, this was our Universities Christmas/New Year banquet. They roped me into being the one of the four MCs for the evening. On the far right is my spoken Chinese teacher and next to her is one of my classmates. He is Kazahk. Next to me is a Korean classmate. The four of us translated the Chinese into our respective languages and hosted the entire evening. There were many performances and a pretty good dinner to follow.

Here is our class singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" in three languages!

Ali & Sydney sitting with our Dean of Foreign Student (Waiban = 外办) and a Russian translator. Our Waiban has been such a help to us as we got settled, and deals with all of our visa issues while at the University.

This is most of the students in my class -- Americans, Koreans, Kazahks, Kirghiz, Tajiks -- all trying to learn Mandarin!!

Sydney took the show. I think it was the shiny stage that she was attracted to.


my mom would be proud

*1977 - sitting with my Mom & Bootsocks on the porch in Santa Cruz, CA

My mom instilled in me a love to create things from scratch, including sewing & cooking. Both of my grandmothers also were wonderful with a needle & thread. I have such fond memories sitting at the old sewing machine with my mom, trying to finish up a costume or skirt. She always had a project in the works (sounds like our house!). I liked to think of myself as an amateur seamstress, until yesterday!

In an attempt to make our home feel more Christmassy this year, I made Christmas Stockings, with my limited supplies. Asia & I hunted for some beautiful material & notions downtown, and I drew a simple "pattern" on newspaper. In one short evening I managed to finish three Chinese-y stockings for the girls, complete with colorful fur & ribbons! I miss this sort of crafty outlet - so it was relaxing to hand-sew the hems and add unique decorations for each girl. I think I will figure a way to embroider their names or add them in felt (next project!). I think I also have my mom's hands.

And because this is China, this project would not be complete without a funny educational experience as well: I gained great respect for the Chinese woman who patiently, graciously taught me to use her hand-powered sewing machine. Its called a Treadle, for those who have never seen one. Growing up in America - I was blessed to learn on an old Singer, powered by electricity! A Treadle is what modern sewing machines are modeled after, with electric motors added. But a Treadle is powered by your foot! If your foot is coordinated enough, you can keep the momentum of the wheel rotating to sew without being plugged into the wall! Its amazing. The woman was so patient, soft-spoken & precious....also incredibly skilled, precise & fast! Eventually, she had me move over (after I broke the thread 3 times) and she finished my small amount of stitching. She even let me use her Treadle for free! Total cost = 48kuai = $6.48! Here are the finished products!


a neat tradition

Every morning (in December) the girls look forward to tearing off a new link in the Christmas chain. We made a construction paper chain to count down the days until his birth-day. We also focus on a different aspect of his character or name by reading different excerpts. It has been such a fun way to stay focused on the Gift, and not the many gifts. You can also see the blanket of white snow outside our apartment. Today never got above 22F, and the wind was sooofreezingcold. We are so very thankful for the amazing heat inside!!
p.s. Isn't Eden's camera smile classic?


cracker houses...

Asia made a "gingerbread" house at kids club this week, and she loved it! She vaguely remembers making one last year with Nana (mostly because of pictures!) but it was amazing to watch her, as she was very serious while placing each hand-picked piece of candy on her little home. She didn't even attempt to eat any of the candy, but made sure to put lots of big ones on (that's my girl).

Here's some of the other kids beautiful creations!
By they way, does anyone have a great Gingerbread recipe they could share with us?


I am ONE today.

It takes a little while to load, but we hope you enjoy this video of Sydney's first year. She is such a gift to us!



2 days until Sydney Grace turns ONE year old!! she is amazing.
22 days until Christmas - He is amazing.
40 days until our family vacation.
248 days till Beijing Olympics begin!

...not that we are counting, but when winter hits - its nice to have something to look forward to!