Saturday, May 30, 2020

South Korea Week!

While I love all the countries we have been exploring, I have to admit, South Korea was a particularly fun week. We didn't get done as much as we planned, but we had a great time.

We had grand plans to do several crafts, but ran out of steam. We did manage to make little paper dolls that turned out so cute. Did I take a picture of the final products? Nope. But here's Asher making his.

Our neighbors are South Korean and were happy to share their knowledge and experiences with us. Their story is actually really interesting. The daughter is the same age as Zahara and they've become fast friends. Her grandparents lived in Argentina for 30 years before moving to the States. They speak only Korean and Spanish. Her dad owns a food market and has been self-quarantining in a rented apartment away from the family since March. What an incredible sacrifice.

These neighbors helped us learn how to write our names in Korean, and also taught us an interesting fact. In Korean, there is no "z" sound. It's the same sound as a "j." That's why Zahara's name is written with a J in English.

They also lent us some of their traditional clothes that they wear to celebrate the lunar new year. The kids loved touching all the rich fabrics and seeing the beautiful embroidery.

We watched this catchy video to learn about South Korea, and now the song is stuck in my head.

Zahara has been taking karate for 1.5 years now. Every class they count to ten or twenty in Korean. It's so adorable hearing all the kids shouting hana, dool, set... Even Asher has picked up on the numbers. We used that knowledge to teach my parents how to count in Korean (or at least tried to).

Of course, no South Korea week is complete without a K-Pop dance party! K-Pop, or Korean pop is a huge phenomenon that has crossed over into the American market--most famously with Psy's 2012 hit Gangnam Style. Crazy fact--that song has been viewed more than 3.6 billion times on YouTube! We had a blast dancing around in our living room after dinner one night.

I know I say this every week, but I really loved the food this week! We had a few favorites and a few new-to-us dishes. I loved them all. The one that surprised me the most was the lotus root dish. I ate these like candy. We made japche noodles (sweet potato noodles); Korean beef bowls (with the yum-yum sauce); sweet and salty lotus roots; gama jorim (potato side dish); steamed red bean buns, and a yummy Korean candy.

Another stamp in our passports. Next week is Italy week!

See our other country weeks here.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Russia Week!

Another week, another country! This week we were off to Russia.

Russia was an easy choice because my in-laws are from the Former Soviet Union, speak Russian as their first language, cook delicious Russian foods regularly, and are a great source of knowledge on Russian culture. Dan and I have also been to Russia, so we were able to share a few memories and pictures from there.

This was my week to work (remotely), so Dan was in charge of crafting. He made adorable matryoshka dolls with the kids. You may not recognize their name, but you've definitely seen these nesting wooden dolls. We have a small set, but we saw some really incredible ones in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

He also bought two packs of cheap wooden spoons to make these lacquerware replicas. As with most of these crafts, Zahara gets pretty in to them, Asher...not as much.

We read lots of books in Russian and about Russia (like Masha and the Bear). We watched the National Geographic kids video about the Russian ballet. And, we got to revisit some of our favorite memories of our Baltic Cruise in 2012 by showing the kids pictures of Saint Petersburg.

Asher may not be that into the crafts, but he loves cooking. This week, we made so many of our favorites. We had borscht, blini (crepes), ikra (salmon roe), smoked sprats, kasha, pelmini (cherry and cheese dumplings), seledka pod shuboi (herring in a fur coat), sirniki (cheese pancakes), and black bread.

We cooked a lot, but we also bought food from our local Russian store (how lucky are we?). We also picked up some yummy Russian chocolates. My favorite is the squirrel one (belochka).

Do Svidaniya, Russia! Now, on to South Korea!

See our other country weeks here.

Mother's Day 2020

Well, this Mother's Day was obviously a bit different than previous years. What wasn't different was how special I was made to feel by my family. Dan and the kids did a great job working with what we've got to give me a relaxing day filled with love.

As is our tradition, Dan made me a delicious smoked salmon benedict topped with salmon roe. I had a nice cup of tea to go with it.

Dan got me some nice smelling candles and bubble bath--just what I wanted. The kids each made me very sweet cards. Zahara spent all week picking flowers and arranging them into a picture frame. We had a little photo shoot the other day where she took a picture of her blowing a kiss. Then we printed the photo and she taped it into her frame. So sweet and creative.

She also wrote me a couple of other very sweet notes that told me she respects me and that I help her. Asher didn't totally get the concept, but he is such a love bug all the time that I have no doubts as to his feelings.

"Dear mom, we appreciate you. We respect you. You help us and we love you. Thank you. Love, Zahara."

"Thank you. You're welcome. I hope I like it. I wish I could have another one. I wish I could have a bear colored in a circle. I wish it could be real. I hope you might like it."

We've started a new tradition of exploring towns around us. It's been so nice to get out of the house and see new sights, even if it's all a bit strange. We've found towns where we can get carry-out food and walk around a main street or downtown. This week we went to Ellicott City, MD. It's pretty close to our house, but we've never managed to visit.

The town has had several years of extreme hardship, with two devastating floods in 2016 and 2018. The town has managed to rebuild a good portion of the downtown, and recently had some help from Gordon Ramsey! Sadly, we didn't get too many pictures, but it was a really nice day out!

See some of our previous Mother's Day celebrations here:
2014, 2014

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Mexico Week!

We're on a roll now with our country weeks. And good thing, because this week we learned that distance learning will continue for the remainder of the school year--another six weeks! We knew school wasn't coming back in person, but to hear the official announcement was difficult. Since we also don't know whether camps will be in session, it looks like this is our new norm for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness there are plenty of countries to explore! Next on our itinerary was Mexico!

We chose Mexico for this week because it coincided with Cinco de Mayo, a holiday celebrated in Mexico and the United States on the 5th of May. The holiday memorializes the Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla over the French in 1862. Today, it is mostly celebrated by eating Mexican food and drinking Margaritas.

We started our celebrations by making our own mini-pinatas using this tutorial. This was really easy and fun. And I had all the supplies on hand already--win! You need paper cups, construction paper, tissue paper, ribbon, a rubber band, and of course some candy or other treats. Here's the tutorial we used. I'll say that it was fun to make, but not super successful in getting the treats out on the first try. Still, we had fun and had some candy, so overall it was a win.

We read a lot of great books on Epic Kids (Zahara's school e-reading platform) about Mexican history and Cinco de Mayo. We also watched a fun video of kids meeting a luchador (Mexican wrestler). But my favorite part of this week was when we got to speak with my co-worker Monica who is Mexican. I asked if she would tell the kids a bit about her background, but she went above and beyond and created a PowerPoint presentation on Mexican history and culture! The coolest thing I learned was how many English words are based on one of the languages spoke in Mexico called Nahuatl. Words like avocado, cocoa, guacamole, chile and chocolate are just a few examples.

Oh, man did we have fun with the food this week. Growing up in Texas gave me an appreciation for Mexican food--or at least Tex-Mex. Here was our menu for the week (recipes linked): chicken fajitas, homemade tortillas, Mexican rice, tacos, chilaquiles (a baked egg dish), elote (Mexican street corn), and churros! Obviously that was over the course of the week...not just one meal!

Making churros and tortillas was really fun. Both were surprisingly easy and SUPER delicious! I used margarine instead of lard in the tortilla, and it was perfect.

After a great week in Mexico, it was time to stamp our passports and head on to our next country: Russia!

See our other country weeks here.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

England Week!

After a successful first country week, we packed our bags, grabbed our passports and headed to England!

The kids picked the location for this week, and I'm sure it had nothing to do with them wanting a tea party. If you've been following for a while you know that we used to live in England, though we left when Zahara was 14 months old. Asher was born here in the States. I've been back a couple of times since then, and even brought Zahara on a girls trip last May. So needless to say, we have very fond memories of England.

Making Jam
Our first activity for the week was making our own jam. When I lived in England, there was a summer I went a little crazy making jam. Once you start though, it's hard to stop. It's so easy, if a little messy. This round we made strawberry-rhubarb and strawberry jam. We tried the Joy of Cooking's strawberry recipe, but it was only OK. I am still in love with the strawberry-rhubarb recipe--highly recommend!

Making Scones
You can't have a tea party without scones. We used my favorite recipe from BBC and they turned out perfect, as always. Dan also made a different recipe with raisins that turned out well too. And he made Fat Rascals, which are a local treat we used to enjoy at Bettys in Harrogate. Bettys' recipe is secret, but these turned out pretty close.

Tea Party
For our tea party, Dan made clotted cream (from scratch!) and finger sandwiches (nutella and jam; and cucumber and hummus). We drank our favorite Yorkshire tea on our fancy china. Hot tip, check your local thrift store for tea sets. We bought all our china for pennies. They don't match, which I think is part of the charm.

Talking to Friends
I thought it would be fun during British week to talk to people who actually lived in England. I arranged for a call with many of my British friends--my yoga mums. We still all keep in touch regularly but we rarely have time for video chats anymore. Among the eight of us, we now have fifteen kids! And to think we all met when we were pregnant with our firsts! The video chat was chaotic, but fun nonetheless. It's always good to connect with friends.

Funny story about Zahara. She's been listening to a ton of audio books lately. She listens while she colors, snacks, in the bath...any free time she has. And a lot of these books have a British narrator. So now Zahara can speak in a really good British accent!

Other British Food
Yes, England week was pretty heavy on the food elements. And you know what, that's OK! To round out our week, we also had a big brekkie--one of my favorites. It includes hashbrowns, baked beans, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, runny eggs, toast, and sausage.

We also picked up fresh fish and chips from a local pub. We've never been there before, but the Queen Vic was really good. The fish was super flaky, which I love. The mushy peas weren't great, but everything else was.

We had a great week in England. Next up, Mexico!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Japan Week!

We just wrapped up week seven of our covid-19 stay-at-home orders with no clear end in sight. There have been a lot of ups and downs and figuring out things as we go along. And while there are plenty of difficult moments (hello two working parents, plus distance learning, plus a preschooler!), there are also a lot of bright spots. Getting to spend more time with the kids and with Dan is certainly a bonus.

I'm always looking for ideas to how to make our days a little easier and more enjoyable. My friends Laura and Nick* had a great idea they've implemented at their own house that I knew I wanted to copy. Each week they pick a new country and plan their meals and some activities around that. What a great way to introduce our travel-loving family to new places and cultures!

We started our stay-at-home-world-adventure in Japan--mostly because I was craving sushi. A restaurant near us was open for carry-out, so that cemented it. Then I did what I always do and scoured Pinterest for other ideas for Japan-themed activities. Here's what I came up with:

Activities included making a volcano and a Japanese flag, painting Mount Fuji, reading books about Japan, doing a Japanese craft, learning about a Japanese school, and eating Japanese food. I found most of my inspiration from this website that had a treasure trove of printable activities and recommendations.

Making the Volcano:
Japan has more than 100 active volcanoes, more than any other country in the world! To celebrate that fact, we made our own volcano. There are a few ways to do this (here's a good tutorial), but we took the easy route and opted not to make a papier mache version. Instead, we buried a plastic bottle in dirt and let the eruption flow.

Here's what you need:
  • An empty 1 liter plastic bottle 
  • 4 tablespoons of baking soda
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • Red and yellow food coloring

Use a funnel to put the baking soda in the empty plastic bottle. Mix the vinegar with food coloring until the color looks like a burning lava (nice and bright orange). Bury the bottle in a patch of dirt or grass so that only the neck remains above ground. Pour the vinegar mix into the bottle and watch the eruption!

Painting Mount Fuji
This was a fun activity too. We took this template and let the kids go to work. I cut out materials for Asher and let him glue them on a background. Zahara had fun making her own scene.

Kimono Bookmarks
We used this template from Crayola to make these adorable kimono bookmarks. Then we went online and learned about kimonos and saw lots of beautiful examples.

Japanese Culture
Dan went to Japan 15 years ago, so we did a slideshow of his trip. It was hilarious though because he remembered the highlights, but this trip was before cameras had GPS and he couldn't quite remember every place pictured. There were a few educated guesses and a few ask Googles. It was fun.

We also watched a video about a school in Japan and what their lunchtime ritual looks like. It's incredible. They are so disciplined and orderly. Check it out here.

And then, of course, we ate sushi! I love that my kids love sushi as much as we do. We also had soba noodles, miso soup, and edamame. What a successful first country. Next up, England!

*You may remember Nick from my Spouses on Sabbatical Days. They're back in the U.S. too raising their two adorable munchkins.

See our other country weeks here.