I’ve metioned Show Hope a few times before (see 18 Gifts for Giving Tuesday and A Cure for First World Problems). Founded by Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Show Hope runs several care centers in China dedicated to providing loving care — and medical help — to special needs orphans. The care centers go through more than a million diapers each year!
Let’s help Show Hope stock the diaper cupboards —
$30 for one package
$60 for two packages (choose this option and a donor will fund an additional package in your name!)
$90 for three packages/one case
$180 for six packages/two cases (choose this option and you’ll receive original artwork from the kids one of Show Hope’s care centers!)
Earlier this year, a kids’ room I styled was featured in the winter print edition of Babiekins Magazine. I shared photos on Instagram and Facebook — but I just realized I never posted any images here on the blog!
It was such a tremendously fun project. I started with the idea of exploring all the different methods of transportation available across the world — ships, camels, elephants, motorbikes. When I walk into this space, I can immediately imagine rattling down the streets of Italy in a Vespa, lifting up high over the ancient ruins of Myanmar’s Bagan in a hot air balloon, or sailing across the waters on a creaky wooden ship.
I tried to pull in as many elements as I could from various countries, too. There’s a doll brought back from a friend’s visit to Kenya, a red and gold bowl and dumpling spoon from Taiwan, pink Hmong textiles, a yellow and fuchsia strand of mirrors and bells originally meant to decorate a camel, an embroidered dress from Guatemala, a row of delightful matryoshka illustrations representing different cultures.
And there’s a cozy reading nook, too, because what better way to transport yourself across time zones and eras than through books?
Thanks to the always-amazing Priscilla Barbosa for capturing this room through her camera lens.
I’m not an expert. I didn’t grow up speaking Chinese. But if you’ve followed @oaxacaborn on Instagram or @oaxacaborn on YouTube for any length of time, you’ve heard my daughter speak Chinese. This little fact delights some people, and perplexes others. Now, if you know Aveline, you know that she talks to everyone. EVERYONE, everywhere. Most people, when they hear her speaking Chinese, look bewildered and then quickly look away in confusion. After all, it is completely out of context for a little blonde girl to be reciting traditional Chinese poems down the aisles of Target in the suburbs.
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Other people, though ask questions — a lot of questions. Many are just curious, “Why Chinese?” You’ve heard the old joke, right?
“What do you call a person who knows three languages?” “Trilingual.”
“What do you call a person who knows two languages?” “Bilingual.”
“What do you call a person who knows one language?” “American.”
But I’m not one to talk, since I lost both Spanish and Slovene to the cobwebbed recesses of my brain. So I usually just say, “Why not? Most people around the world learn more than one language, and ~1 billion people speak Mandarin . Only about 480 million people speak English.”
The truth is, while the characters seem intimidating, Chinese grammar is simple when compared to English’s complexities. For the most part, basic Chinese doesn’t concern itself too much with tenses, plurals, the gender of nouns, or articles like a, an, the. There are exceptions to this, of course, but the bottom line is that you can learn Chinese without spending hours pouring over verb conjugations they way you would in, say, French or Spanish. Yes, it’s a tonal language, so the tones are challenging, but children are much better are differentiating pitch than adults — and the earlier a child begins learning Chinese tones, the better. (Here’s a slightly off-topic study on pitch, musical ability, and early language development. But I digress.)
Another question many curious people ask is, “How do you get her to learn Chinese?”
Well, if you have figured out a way to get a human being — much less a four-year-old — to do anything, let me know, because you sure aren’t going to find the answer here. But I can share the resources we use that make the process fun!
Learning Chinese Through YouTube Videos
YouTube is just overflowing with language tutorials, and videos of native speakers demonstrating how to properly pronounce the words and phrases. And it’s free! YouTube is where it all started, actually. I was trying to find something fun and different for Aveline to engage her brain. She was three, begging to ‘do school’ and ‘have worksheets’ on an almost-hourly basis, and I was going through [English] preschool workbooks like there was no tomorrow. I really didn’t have some grand, well-thought-out plan to begin Mandarin instruction, I was just trying to get through the afternoon. (True confessions.) She was hooked after just one kids’ video in Mandarin. After that, it took going through several different Mandarin instructional channels before I found a teacher she really connected with, but once we found our favorite teacher, it was amazing how quickly she began speaking Chinese. I can’t recommend Emma form Learn Chinese With Emma highly enough. Our first video? Learning to count from 1-10 in Mandarin Chinese, seen above. Bonus? Learn the numbers, and you’ve learned the tones, without even realizing it.
Flashcards, Audio CDs, and Reference Charts
If you ask me, there’s only one solid resource in this category, Tuttle Chinese for Kids: Flash Cards Kit Vol 1! It’s just that good. This set comes with sixty-four beautifully illustrated, sturdy flashcards, an audio CD with all the vocabulary words in context, as well as a separate 24×36″ poster which shows the front side of all flashcards. We keep the poster out in the living room at all times, at kid-height, and our daughter consults it constantly. I really believe a big part of success in language learning is to make it a part of everyday life, rather than segmenting it off into a separate “learning” time. Isn’t that true with anything, though?
The CD is very well done. Each track was recorded at a relaxed pace, with pauses in just right places, so the child (and you!) can repeat back what’s said. Because this kit is designed for children, it’s a refreshing change from the stale “Where is the airport?” and “Can you exchange this currency?” phrases taught in so many (dull) language programs for adults. All sixty-four vocabulary words are included in the CD, as well as a couple of sentences for each, so each word can be learned in context as well. The sentences are spoken in Chinese as well as in English — and some of the sentences are even included on the back of the corresponding flashcards. For those interested in the proper stroke order to write the characters, that’s diagrammed on the flashcard back, too.
My daughter is in Chinese school — more about that later in this post — and I noticed that the content covered in this set was very on-track with the content covered in the first semester of her class. This week, since we’re already well into the second semester, I ordered the sequel set, Tuttle More Chinese for Kids: Flash Cards. These sets have turned me into something of a Tuttle fangirl, actually. Tuttle is a speciality publishing house focusing all Asian language, culture and history, and I’ve discovered it’s a terrific place to order books about Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other Asian cultures. I guess I can wave zài jiàn 再見 to that money I’d stashed away for a rainy day!
Coloring and Activity Books for Chinese Education: Dover Books
Dover Books is another great resource for inexpensive, yet impressively detailed, consumable books. The coloring books, like the Chinese Fashions and Mandarin Picture Word Book titles shown here, have intricate black and white line drawings and historically/linguistically accurate captions. No, it’s not a Chinese language curriculum, but it’s such a fun — and cheap! — way to supplement cultural education. The various Dover Chinese Paper Dolls are great too!
Coloring and Activity Books for Chinese Education: Practical Chinese Series
The way Wendy Lin’s Practical Chinese Book Series is titled is a little confusing — at least, it was for me. I ordered Practical Chinese: Traditional Characters for Beginners I at first, but then realized what I really wanted was the first book, Chinese for Children,which is the red coloring/activity book pictured on the left. There’s no bells or whistles here, and the illustrations certainly aren’t high-quality, but the workbook lets very young children begin familiarizing themselves with with Chinese characters through basic coloring pages, matching exercises, and other similar activities. The book covers body parts, names of clothes, colors, fruits, numbers, and a few adjectives like “big” and “small”. I wouldn’t really call it curriculum, but it’s a good cursory, hands-on introduction for a young, interested, child. (If you’re learning Simplified Characters rather than traditional, then you’ll want Chinese for Children, Simplified Character Edition.)
Chinese Phonetics [Pinyin] and Learning to Read and Write Chinese Characters
We started out with mostly spoken Chinese, but now we’re moving on to learning to read and write Chinese characters, since Aveline has expressed a great deal of interest in that. (Ok, fine, my strange child is begging.) And for reading and writing, I LOVE the Chinese Made Easy for Kids Textbook 1 with CD and the accompanying Chinese Made Easy Workbook 1, which also dives into Chinese pinyin. I think the phonetics aspect might be overwhelming if it was someone’s very first introduction to any kind of Chinese, spoken or written — but already being familiar with spoken Chinese, seeing the pinyin and learning to match them to the tones given on the CD hasn’t actually been very daunting. These books are fun — colorful, energetic, and designed to really motivate and give the child a sense of great accomplishment. They’re early elementary, but could definitely be used for someone older who wanted to start out as well — I’m doing them alongside my daughter. Again, we’re doing the traditional edition, so if you want Simplified Characters instead, you’ll want the Chinese Made Easy for Kids, Simplified Chinese Edition Textbook 1 and Workbook 1.
Your Local Chinese Cultural Center
Many areas have an active Chinese-American community association, dedicating to teaching Chinese language, culture, and traditions. Don’t overlook this — it’s is an incredible resource! Through our local cultural center, my daughter not only attends language and folk dance classes each week, but she’s also participated in Chinese festivals like the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, gotten to watch traditional Chinese opera, lion dance, kung fu and musical showcases, and even performed a Chinese folk dance performance with her classmates at the big local Lunar New Year parade and festival. It’s a terrific, welcoming community, and she (and I!) are able to practice speaking Chinese with native speakers on a regular basis.
Where to Buy Bilingual-Chinese Books, VCDs and More
We love to have bilingual and Chinese books around the house, too, to keep the Chinese flowing between classes or workbook sessions. A few places I’ve found to order Chinese books, puzzles, and VCDs (video CDs that get around that pesky DVD region issue) are China Sprout (the site is split into Cultural and Education categories), Language Lizard, Asian Parent, and the Happy Panda Shop.
Don’t be afraid to begin learning Chinese! To quote a Lao Tzu cliché: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And, today’s internet makes the world so much smaller when it comes to venturing out on a journey like this. There are SO many resources available.
If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer! And if you found this helpful, why not click here to get this post’s Permalink, then pin it to Pinterest? :)
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Ah, springtime, and with it, another delightfully styled Toast UK collection. I love the specific feeling each of these catalogues evokes, and Early Spring + Spring/Summer 2015 Toast edition is no different. Can’t you just feel the strong, early morning Mediterranean sunshine pouring in through the windows and smell the percolated coffee wafting across the sleepy air?
I’m hearing it more and more lately, this idea that repeatedly sharing beautiful corners of your life is deceptive, because the viewer isn’t able see what’s hidden around the edges — this idea that the sharer, by selective portrayal, is perpetuating a view of reality that isn’t representative of the human condition.
I don’t think I buy it. I think instead, our preoccupation with beauty is precisely because of our human condition. It is because we are broken that we long for wholeness. It is because of the darkness that we crave the light. It is because of the chaos that we ache for order. It is because of life’s temporal nature and inevitable death that we rejoice when new life comes into the world.
I hear women talking, in that sometimes-cruel way women do, mocking the writer whose blog is filled with anecdotes of small joys, mocking the photographer who sees the one sparkling thing while rust and dust ravage on. “It is not realistic,” they chide. “It doesn’t show the whole picture.” “No one really lives like that,” they laugh. “You should see my house.”
But I don’t want to join them.
I’m not an optimist by any stretch of the imagination and yet — I don’t want to join them. Has the world really become so bleak that we need to mock the light? Has the world really become so dark that we now say the one who points the way to beauty is shallow?
I don’t think that’s the way to live this “one wild and beautiful life”. 
Instead, let’s set out to see beauty. The kitchen sink may be filled with dishes, but the sun is catching the single blossom on the cactus just so, and let’s celebrate that. The corner chair may be heaped with clean laundry, but the wind is pulling at the curtains just the tiniest bit, and the just-budding branches tap against the window with every ebb and flow of the breeze, so let’s celebrate that. Your child maybe screaming and you may be exhausted but just look! She’s alive and she’s miraculous, so let’s celebrate that. And even — oh especially! oh, give me strength!– in the face of death, we can’t erase it. There will still be piercingly bright sun and there will still be blueberry pancakes and the seasons will still change and time will still march on. We can’t reject it all.
It’s ok to see the beauty and the brokenness, side by side.
Let’s set out to create beauty. Eat on the living room rug with the nice dishes in the middle of the week — not because it’s been a good day, but because it was a bad day. Serve breakfast in bed even though your kids will definitely climb onto the tray and spill it all, and the people on Instagram might whisper, “No one actually does that.”
But that’s okay.
Let’s be the ones who do the things no one else does.
Let’s be the wild ones. Let’s be the uncommon ones. Let’s be the ones who are a little bit of light, a little bit of crazy, the ones who aren’t afraid to shout “Glory!” at that one glowing cloud on the horizon when the rest of the world is fixated on the storm. <3
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I remember when I first read a news article about Lee Jong-rak, the South Korean pastor who built a small street-facing deposit box on the front of his home. On a sign on the front of the box, Pastor Lee wrote, “This is a facility for the protection of life. If you can’t take care of your disabled babies, don’t throw them away or leave them on the street. Bring them here.”
And people did. People brought babies there.
In the night, in the dark, in the cold, in the heat, in the spring, in the winter, in all hours and times in between.
Since 2009, people have placed more than six hundred babies there.
Image Credit: Arbella Studios
There’s something about this baby box — something about Pastor Lee’s reckless, wild, all-in, risk-everything love — that won’t let go of my heart. Of course the baby box is not the answer to all the issues, to all the problems, to all the hurts and wrongs in the world.
But the drop box is life to the one child who is placed there. “The babies that come to me,” says Pastor Lee, “are the ones who’d otherwise die.”
And now the story of Pastor Lee, the story of these children, will be in theaters across the United States on March 3, 4 and 5.