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Sunday, September 22, 2013

It's the United Nations of food at my house.

When we first signed up to take on a Chinese International student, the agent advised us to invest in a rice cooker. She said the sight of the familiar kitchen item would make our student feel at home in this strange land.  Well, I bought one. Still haven’t used it yet.
John and Martin are both not very fussy eaters. They will eat almost everything you put in front of them, but they do have some habits that seem a bit strange to us at first.
On one of the first days John was here, he said to me, cup in hand, licking his lips, “good milk.” I smiled, then later when I was in the fridge getting the milk I realized it hadn’t been opened yet. He had been drinking the coffee cream.
We went to the T&T Asian food store in Hunt Club one afternoon so that John could buy Chinese food to cook for us. He selected some pork legs, then we went to the fish section. Martin and his friend Mikal (also from Spain) watched horrified as John chose a live fish which was promptly thumped over the head with a mallet and placed in a plastic bag. Sudden exclamations in Spanish, complete with sound affects (BANG!) and gestures.
That night we watched as John cooked us a delicious meal that involved pork, fish and a white radish the size of your arm. He was a little disappointed in our glass-top stove, as he is used to cooking with gas. He was quite pleased to discover the old wok that I brought out of basement storage, however.
John loves to eat salad. I thought most Asians liked their vegetables cooked so I was pleasantly surprised to see that he will eat two large helpings of tossed green salad at every supper time. He also loves Catalina salad dressing. And salsa. And ketchup. Anything with a tomato base, it would seem.
One night we had traditional spaghetti bolognese (“Italy noodles”, as John calls it) for dinner. John got up to get something from the fridge and came back with the ketchup. He started to squeeze it over his plate of salad and spaghetti-with-meat-sauce as the Farmer and I promptly reacted with a “No!” John halted, his hand holding ketcup bottle in mid-air over his plate, and yelled, “OH!” It was hilarious.
“What?” he asked. I told him we really only use ketchup on hamburger s in this house. And meatloaf. And some people like it on their eggs.  He poked at the hamburger in the spaghetti sauce and looked at me, raising one eyebrow. Then he held up the Catalina dressing in his other hand. “I think this is the same thing,” he said, and proceeded to paint a wide swath of High Fructose Corn Syrup (ketchup) all over his dinner.
In our house, cookies are for breakfast. Both my Chinese and my Spanish student seem to agree on this point, and so I have been searching for the healthiest cookies available. Really, when you look at the sugar content in other breakfast foods, they are probably on the right track. So we have lightly sweetened almond and oatmeal cookies available for the boys, which they eat with milk. Sometimes Martin eats Rice Krispies and milk, but it has to be out of a china cup; not a bowl.
Sunday dinner is always a feast at our house, with close to 20 people in attendance. This is where Martin notified us last week that he had never eaten beef before. I think he probably meant he had never eaten roast beef before; I’m sure his family just prepares beef differently in Spain.
This morning it was Martin’s turn to cook for us. He had a recipe for crepes on his phone and he made them to perfection. The thin battered crepes were served with Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread and sliced bananas. I showed them how I eat them Eastern-European style with jam and sour cream. No one wanted the maple syrup except the Farmer. John got up from the table to get the salsa and we said nothing. Even when he spread it on his crepes, with a layer of Nutella on top.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cody the Storm Chaser

After calling for thunderstorms with much fanfare and very little follow-through all summer, it was bound to happen eventually. Last week we got hit with a storm like I don’t remember seeing ever before in this hemisphere of the world. Cody knew it was coming.
Like many dogs, our Gordon Setter is afraid of storms. The Farmer says the dog ‘developed’ this behaviour only after I arrived and showed concern but I think Cody probably was always afraid of storms and just wanted to appear tough. When a storm is simmering in the distance, he starts jumping up and down on the back porch where he can be seen from the kitchen window.
Then the high-pitched whining begins. Cody is an outdoor dog. He loves being in the house for a visit and a nap but he isn’t housebroken (at 14 years of age) and can’t control his urge to eat everything in sight so he can’t be left alone in the house. So when we go to work or leave the house for any reason, out he goes to his back porch and doghouse – whether a storm is coming or not.
A storm was coming the other day, but The Farmer and I had an event to attend for the hospital at the golf course. Ominous clouds rolled in out of nowhere and cracked open, pouring rain down onto the party tent. The light was flashing on my phone so I opened the email and there it was. Severe thunderstorms eminent with the possibility of a tornado for our area. Great. And here we were, under a party tent that was being held up by a huge electricity conducting steel pole. Suddenly an image of Cody cowering in his doghouse crossed my mind.
The winds whipped at our golf course tent and Lowell Green himself held the wall flaps together as the buffet table threatened to topple over. We got through our festivities as quickly as possible, and excused ourselves to return home.
Dogs are extremely sensitive creatures. They have been known to predict earthquakes and to save people from fires. They take the whole storm / natural disaster thing very seriously and they trust their instincts.
Cody probably waited a few minutes for us, watched for a sign that someone was coming from the house to rescue him, then he just took off. No chain can hold that dog if he really wants to go. And go he did, down O’Neill and around to McDonald and up to County Road 20, where a nice lady opened her front door and he just ran right in, thank you very much.
Finding no tag on him, she and her daughter made a sign and put it at the end of their driveway. Both the Farmer and I drove by said sign about an hour later and didn’t notice. Then she piled Cody and her daughter into the car and off they went, to the vet for a microchip reading. We didn’t even know he came with a microchip. But then, the Farmer had him scheduled for a neutering before he realized he also came without that particular set of equipment. I guess he didn’t spend a whole lot of time poring over those adoption papers.
So Cody got a ride in to town and back, which I am sure he thoroughly enjoyed. Before they even returned from town, the vet had tracked us down in her system and called us. We called the keeper of the dog and she kindly agreed to drop him off to us. Her daughter was more than a little disappointed that we had been found. She was already formulating plans to keep Cody as her very own. The Farmer and I exchanged a look over that comment.
At about midnight, six hours after Cody’s original panic, the storm really hit. The flashes of light ran one into the other, illuminating the sky for several moments at a time. I climbed out of bed, opened the back door and there he was, our storm chaser, drenched to the bone and looking quite distressed. I rubbed him down with a towel and ushered him up to our room, where he dozed the rest of the night in contentment at the side of our bed.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hockey in three languages

Pictured above: the boys from Spain and China meet the animals.

We gained another temporary son last week. Martin, who hails from a seaside community on the northern coast of Spain, is living with us for the month of September. Upon arrival, Martin, a slim handsome boy with brown hair, brown eyes and braces on his teeth put his hands lightly on my shoulders and kissed one of my cheeks, then the next. “Nice to meet you,” he said, in the sweetest Spanish accent.
It soon became apparent that Martin’s English was quite advanced. He was here not to study but to experience. Unlike our Chinese boy John who is from the big city, Martin is from a village of “5,000 people in summer, and only a few people in winter.” His father is a pediatrician and his mother an OB-GYN. He has no idea what he wants to do when he grows up. I told him he has time. He is 14 years old, in Grade 9.
The first week was a bit exhausting as school began the day after Martin arrived. Although his English is quite good, when thrown into an English world it is still stressful and tiring to communicate and understand at times.
While our Chinese son John is thoroughly plugged in with his new Canadian SIM card in his beloved i-Phone, so that he can talk on We-Chat (a Chinese version of Skype) at any hour of the day, Martin only uses his phone to play a couple of video games or listen to music. And he doesn’t go near the computer. He spends his time at home in Spain playing basketball, football (soccer) and riding his bicycle. We spent his first evening here looking at his family photos of trips they have taken all over Europe. But it was the photos of his seaside village near Bilboa that most intrigued me. I have my eye on one of those beach houses and would love to visit one day.
On the evening of the first day of school, we packed Martin and his good friend Michal and John with his best friend Jerry in the back of the Explorer and headed off to the Ottawa 67s game. They had never seen a live game of hockey before. Not exactly a frequent spectator myself, I had to call my sister for advice on wardrobe. She confirmed that although it was quite warm outside, we would need long pants and sweaters and maybe a blanket too. I grabbed one small lap blanket for each boy and although they looked at me strangely, they certainly appreciated it when they first walked into the rink and drew a breath of icy air.
“It doesn’t get this cold in Spain,” one of the boys said. I told him I thought it probably did, as they had a light dusting of snow in winter; about the same amount as Vancouver, and Qingdao, for that matter.
From the first few bars of the national anthem to the last slash at the puck in the first period, the boys barely took their eyes off the ice. It was kind of surreal hearing the same sort of exclamation in English, Spanish and Chinese every time someone slammed into the boards.
On the intermission, I turned around to notice John and Jerry had disappeared. Then I heard a bit of a ruckus in the hall going down to the changerooms. They had been stopped by a security guard at the door. I retrieved them and told them to tell me before they go wandering again but when paired with someone who speaks their language I sort of disappear into the mist.
I recognized Coach Brian “Killer” Kilrea and told him I remember going to the 67s games with my father. Dad’s favourite players were the scrappers, of course, and I reminded the retired coach of Lance Galbraith, one of the best. He also remembered the Farmer’s cousin Mark Paterson, who he said was one of the toughest guys on the team in the 80s.
After the game Coach Kilrea made a point of coming right over to our group to ask the boys how they liked their first hockey game. I thought that was pretty nice. It will definitely be an experience they take home with them and remember for years to come.
Now they all want to buy hockey jerseys to hang on their bedroom walls. I’m going to push the Senators brand.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Accidental Farmwife Becomes Surrogate Mom

I became a mom again this week. Well, surrogate, anyway. My new child is a 16-year-old boy from China. Jia-Yong Xin, pronounced John Shinn in English, will study in Grade 11 at North Grenville District High School in Kemptville, and he will live with me (and the Farmer) until next June. Maybe longer!
Canada Homestay International came to do a live interview at STAR 975fm in Kemptville earlier in August. They said they were having trouble finding homes for all 225 of the international students that will be placed throughout the Upper Canada District School Board this year. We just became empty nesters, the Farmer has hosted children before and I taught English as a Second Language for three years when I lived in Taiwan. We’re kind of the ideal candidates for this sort of thing. Besides, I’ve always wanted a son.
I conferred with my husband and it didn’t take long for us to come to the decision that yes, we would open our home to one and maybe two international students for the year, so that they would keep each other company. I contacted Canada Homestay and within the week, our paperwork was processed.
John slept off and on for the first couple of days after his arrival. I took him to the store and attempted to get him connected on his beloved iPhone (and failed miserably, I might add). That was an exhausting afternoon. He handled it gracefully, suggesting we wait until after his orientation meeting with the other (more experienced) homestay leaders. We’ll work it out. Have to get him a Canadian bank account and card as well.
Each morning this week the Farmer and I went to work and left our new son to explore the house on his own. Each night I asked what he had eaten – because I didn’t see any dirty dishes or obviously diminishing food. Those first few days he didn’t say much and I wondered how we would get through the first stage of his transition to Canadian life. I worried he would get frustrated and discouraged without being able to understand or be understood.
Then, something happened. Hallelujah. I came home from work one afternoon and suggested we go on a shopping trip – something I used to do with my ESL students in Taiwan as a language lesson. First stop, Canadian Tire. Within seconds of entering the store I learned the following things:
- when John said he loves cars, he meant fast sportscars; not antique or classic cars.
- John’s previous English teacher says the Montreal Canadians are better than the Ottawa Senators (I will be connecting with that gentleman on Facebook and setting him straight).
- My Chinese boy thinks fishing is boring. This may just break the Farmer’s heart.
- John has seen the military shooting demonstration in China. He would like to learn to shoot a gun also. Not sure if this is going to be possible but we will find out.
- John is not fond of water or swimming but he is looking forward to going kayaking.
- He owns a big backpack for climbing mountains in China but he doesn’t sleep in tents. He climbs back down the mountain and goes home to his own bed.
- Before today, John did not know the word “boots”. They were just water shoes. He is in for a surprise come winter.
- He has never played hockey, baseball or volleyball. He loves table tennis.
- In Qingdao (or Tsingtao, like the beer), John’s home city, the population is 5 million people and pets (for the few that have them) live outdoors all the time.
- Liquids are best consumed at body temperature; not too hot or too cold.
- Jackie Chan is probably his favourite actor.

And the main thing I learned today: a young man in a strange new environment comes out of his shell and talks a blue streak when he has had enough sleep, feels safe and is happy (because he has chatted online with his mother and has just found out that his best Chinese friend will also be hosted in Kemptville).
If you happen to meet my boy, make a good impression, will you? He’s planning to finish his high school here, then go to university and probably settle in Vancouver, where his family will immigrate to join him.
I am proud to share my culture, my country and my tiny little town with him.