Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

We've had a great week this week preparing for Christmas, but it surely has been busy!

Christmas really snuck up on me this year, suddenly it was the 20th of December and I hadn't made serious plans for our family activities. But we've already enjoyed some pre-Christmas fun; here's a few highlights. . .

We had a baking marathon at my friend Rachel's on Friday. The plan was to arrive at about 5, eat a quick meal together, and then put the kids to bed (we can manage to get all four of them to bed in one house by some creative means!) and then start baking. But the best laid plans sometimes get postponed a little. It seemed like there was one child or another crying until about 9:30 pm, so our baking efforts were somewhat interrupted. We did manage however, to turn out around 135 cookies or so, including classic Christmas cut-outs, snickerdoodles, and peanut butter cookies. The last cookies were out of the oven and the oven turned off at 11:50pm! John and I didn't get home until about 1:30; it was definitely a marathon event, a real memory-maker! Around midnight or so, the combined effect of lack of sleep and sugary cookies made for some pretty funny moments!

Our idea was then to package them up, take them to a busy downtown location today, and give them out to people, hopefully with an opportunity to share about the true meaning of Christmas. I think this will be a new tradition for us here in our city. It went really well today and we were glad to share with a few folks, though it is so easy for us to attract a crowd here that it was tough to give out anything to one person without 27 other people wanting to see what we were doing. There must have been several thousand people milling about this public square, and we only had about 30 packages to give away. But it was a great opportunity and I'm really glad we did it.

Last night our house helper, Mimi, invited her family and friends to join us at our house for a Christmas party. They came, three different families bringing three children, all between 1 and 2 years of age. We ate snacks, showed them how to decorate cookies, sang lots of Christmas songs around our piano, and read the Christmas story. Other than that, the children (five altogether including our two) ran the show. It was true chaos. The kids played and fought over toys and spilled their drinks and dropped bits of cookie all through the house . . . you know, all the things kids do. It was great fun though! Take a look at a few more pictures:

We gave them some gifts at the end that included a CD of Christmas music, a movie that included the story of the first Christmas, and some other great reading material. Though our house was a huge mess after they left, we were so glad to be able to share with these dear people. I have to say it was really fun for me to see Clara Anne running around and having a great time with little Asianese kids. They just play, they don't worry about the language barrier!
Tomorrow we have some other fun things planned, including a special birthday breakfast for Clara Anne. My little girl is two years old! Amazing!
That's all for tonight. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Adventures in Shopping, etc.

Last Friday morning we took both of the girls out on an adventure--shopping at a huge wholesale marketplace on the western edge of town. According to our ever-resourceful house helper Mimi, this is THE place to go to get great, cheap stuff. Never mind that the taxi ride over there cost more than some of the items we purchased, Mimi insisted that we go there since she was going to introduce us to her friend there who could meet our needs perfectly. And what was it that we needed? We wanted to choose some fabric and then have some Asianese traditional clothes made for the purpose of wearing when we're back in the States. In actual fact, most of our Asianese friends very seldom wear this type of clothing, and maybe don't even own anything like it, but we think our western friends are going to love it.

When we walked in, I sucked in my breath in shock--it literally felt like we were entering a walk-in freezer. It was warmer outside! The cold was due to a combination of factors: it was a warehouse style building, unheated, with a huge, high ceiling, the floors and the walls cement block which were just emnating cold. At first it felt cold, really cold, but as we chose styles we liked from a book for all four of us, chose fabric, got measured, etc, and time went on, soon my feet and hands became stiff from the cold and hardly workable! I cannot imagine how people can work in that environment every day! But Mimi was true to her word--there were SO many choices of Asianese silk in every conceivable gorgeous pattern, and her friend seemed like he could sew all of our things quite easily. The items should be done around the first of the year so we shall see how they turn out! The great thing about tailoring is that we can always get them adjusted if they don't fit quite right.

Our house has been known to be overly warm during the winter--we have the regular steam heat which is regulated by the government. There is a huge coal-burning factory on the edge of town and then the hot water is piped in so we have steam heat. Once the local government decides to turn it on, it's on for everybody until they decide to turn it off in the spring! In the past I had often complained about it being too warm (sleeping with only a sheet covering during the wintertime seems a bit crazy) but on Friday I was truly thankful for my warm home. It took us all about an hour to warm up after arriving back home again!

Here's the "etc." part of this post--a few random pictures from the last few days. They aren't even very good photos, but at least you can get the idea! Here's Chloe showing off her sitting-up skill!

This one could be called: All My Children. Clara Anne seems to have equal love and attachment for all three of her dolls. Two of them (the left one and the center one) were mine when I was a little girl, and the one on the right is a recent acquisition--she came with the stroller that we bought for Clara Anne recently. Lately I've had to limit Clara Anne to only one doll to sleep with, as she would gladly take them all to bed with her every night. In this picture she is trying to spread out her blanket to wrap them up.

This is an action shot from a Christmas party we attended on Saturday night. Of course our camera battery decided to give out after this picture was taken, though I think our friends did get a better family picture of us later--we'll have to get that from them. But you can see us in our Christmas clothes, at least!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

'Tis the Season, Part 2

Thursday night was family night this week, since John's regular Thursday committment got cancelled. He called me from his bike on the other side of town, wondering if I wanted to get the girls ready and to meet him at Pizza Hut. He didn't need to ask me twice!

As I've mentioned before, the Pizza Hut here in our city is a really nice dining experience. It is decorated beautifully, spotlessly clean, and has the nicest public bathrooms of anywhere I've been in this Asian country. The service is very good and the pizzas taste almost exactly like American pizzas. And if we bring our student ID card, we get 20% off our total bill, every time! So that means we can get a large pepperoni pizza and a pitcher of Coke for just under $10. It's an affordable luxury.

Lately the Pizza Hut has been all decked out for Christmas, complete with a Christmas music soundtrack and the waitresses wearing Santa hats, with one waitress wearing an entire special Santa outfit. There's one waitress in particular who has served our table just about every time we've visited. After the second time, I asked her name and since then have tried to get to know her a little bit.

The last time she served us, she was wearing the Santa outfit and had a bag of candy gifts that she was handing out. I took the opportunity to ask her if she knew what Christmas was about. She seemed to have no idea. She knew it was December 25th, and that was about it. I was able to share just a bit with her, but I found it highly ironic that there could be such emphasis on decorating for Christmas, and celebrating Christmas, when there was almost no understanding of what Christmas celebrates.

My hope for her is that she will read what I gave her and come to accept it, and have a real reason to have joy in her heart and a truly Merry Christmas.

Listening to "O Come, All Ye Faithful" on the soundtrack, eating pepperoni pizza, enjoying Clara Anne and Chloe's antics, and sharing the reason for the season--now that's the way to spend family night!

'Tis The Season

The cold season, that is.

Yes, I know, it's also the Christmas season, and even in this Asianese city there are Christmas decorations everywhere. The major hotels have lovely, classy decorations; the nicer restaurants have nice-looking decorations too, and even the local small eating joints have tacky looking Santas and Christmas tree vinyl clings in their windows. We've got the whole range here in our city.

But for our family this week, it was the cold season. I think Clara Anne was the first one to fall victim to a runny nose about a week ago, and then John got a cold which has now descended into his chest, and Chloe's nose has been running too. Bleh! It's no fun to be sick, especially around Christmastime. Last year at Christmas we had so many parties here in our home, and were so busy, that it was after Christmas when we "crashed" and John got the flu, sicker than I've ever seen him. It was pretty bad; at one point during that week he was so weak and had such a sore throat and high fever that I had to help him sip through a straw from a cup of water, he had no strength to lift it himself. Needless to say, we're hoping to avoid that this year!

Thankfully I am feeling allright--someone's got to keep the house running! But I have a confession to make. When I was a teenager, I did lots of babysitting, and I always secretly despised snotty-nosed kids. You know the ones. They are happily running around playing, as their noses are running two rivers of snot down to their lips. I always thought it was so yucky and I did not enjoy wiping their noses. But this week, I realized that now I have two snotty-nosed kids! There was one memorable incident when Clara Anne had been playing by herself for awhile and her fine, flyaway hair had gotten stuck in the "stuff" under her nose. When I noticed her hair in her face I tried to smooth it back and tuck it behind her ear, and it was dried there. Eeewww! Snotty-nosed girl strikes again!

We have been keeping the Kleenex manufacturers in business this week. We'll hope that next week is better!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Ouch!" and "Ahhh"

So lately my back has really been bothering me. I often have lower back pain, especially as the day wears on and I get tired. I think it is a combination of factors--an old injury from a car wreck in 1999, abdominal muscles with the consistency of noodles from having two babies in 18 months, doing lots of lifting and carrying of my children, and also doing food prep in my kitchen which has limited counter space so I end up using my kitchen table, which is too low. My sink is also too low--I have to sort of lean over to do the dishes. Anyway, I have started doing some abs exercises to help improve this problem and I'm happy to say that it is helping somewhat. But my back is often still really tired and somewhat sore at night.

Then the other day, on a whim, we decided to weigh our children. Clara Anne was the first one on the scale, and she was even willing to stand still on the scale by herself so we could get an accurate reading. The result: 31 pounds! Wowza! She is tall for her age, I think, so we didn't realize that she is such a lug!

Chloe was next and we were interested to discover that she is around 17 pounds right now. So you can do the math . . . this means that when I take both girls out, with Chloe in the Baby Bjorn and holding Clara Anne, plus all of our assorted items and lately, with everyone bundled into winter clothes, I am lifting and carrying over 50 pounds! No wonder my back is tired!

Now, on to the "Ahh" part of the story. Previously, showering at our house is not a luxurious activity. For one thing, we don't have a separate shower stall, which is common here in this Asianese country. Here is a picture so you can get a visual of what our shower is like:

See the large tank hanging on the wall above my towel rack? Well, that is what we fill with water and then plug it in to make the water hot--it's not hot all the time and automatically refilling like a hot water heater in the States. This is a bit inconvenient, since you have to plan about 45 minutes ahead of time when you want to take a shower. However, compared to the dorm where we lived when we first arrived in this country, where the hot water is only on for a few hours at certain times of the day, being able to have a shower whenever I want is truly a blessing.

So you can see the tube for the shower simply comes out of the bottom of the tank and then the water comes out the shower head, like any other shower. The only problem is if you want to take a long shower, there is only as much hot water as fits in the tank and so you have to be careful not to end up all soapy and have no hot water to rinse off with.

Also, since as you can see, we have no separate area for the shower, every day, everything gets wet. The bad part is having to clean that up every time we shower, but the good part is that my floor gets mopped every day! As well, I know in some Asianese homes the shower is so crunched for space that technically you could sit on the toilet to take a shower, but our tube is not long enough so we have a small plastic stool to sit on while showering, since we found that standing really decreases the water pressure to a trickle.

So we have found ways to make our shower work fine, though as I said, it was never a luxurious experience of hot water cascading over you, creating a steamy environment. But last week, unbeknownst to me, my house helper took on a little project of her own. She noticed that the shower head was pretty grimy, so she took it apart to clean it. At first I just thought, oh, it's nice to have that clean again. But there was another benefit I hadn't anticipated.

Somehow in her cleaning, she managed to open up the nozzle more so that the water pressure was increased A LOT. I was surprised and delighted to find the next morning that my humble shower in my tiny bathroom was suddenly a luxurious experience! The hot water gushed out of the shower head and made me feel like I was staying at a nice hotel, not in my dinky bathroom! The downside, of course, was that I went through the tank of water quite fast, so I had to be careful to get all the necessary washing and rinsing done before I just relaxed under the hot spray. But, despite the time constraint, how lovely! It's amazing what a difference a small change (like a clean nozzle) can make.

The other truly wonderful thing was that I recently got a package from my parents in the States which included some Warm Vanilla Sugar creamy body wash from Bath and Body Works. So though I have no bathtub to relax in, my showering experience is now almost as good. Thanks, Mimi, (my house helper) and Thanks, Mom and Dad!


Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Week in Pictures

Here's a glimpse of our week! Yesterday we went out to a local market where there are hundreds of vendors selling their wares all inside a huge building. This place has every small item you could possibly need for your home! From contac paper to toys, from hammers to teapots, it's all there. I happened to see this stroller which I knew Clara Anne would just LOVE so we splurged the $5 and bought it. Clara Anne could hardly be bothered to eat supper last night, she just wanted to play with the new doll stroller. She also was too busy playing to pose for pictures, so here's an action shot.
And here's our mama Clara multitasking--feeding her doll while playing the piano and giving a silly smile to the camera.
Chloe had an abundant supply of smiles this week--I love to see those smiles!

John and Clara Anne spent some time drawing on her Magic-Erase Board and practicing the ABCs. Daddy and daughter time is always fun!

Open wide, Chloe! This is her first time tasting cereal, and she seemed to enjoy the face-to-face time just as much as the new food.

Quote of the Day

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Clara Anne has already won the quote of the day award, though it isn't even 10 am yet. Lately she's been stringing together longer and longer phrases (not exactly sentances, but a valiant effort nonetheless). I guess this quote originated partly from my habit of asking John if he has keys and money when we go out. So this morning, though we have no plans to go out today, Clara Anne came to me in the kitchen as I was doing breakfast dishes and said in a hopeful voice: "Mama, keys money outside Emma's house today?"

Sorry Clara Anne, not today! Maybe next time!

Friday, December 08, 2006

The One Constant: Transition

Well, we've come to the end of another week. It's Friday night again, and our friend Robert is here with us, hanging out and helping John work on his Asianese. Actually, I hear them speaking English right now so maybe Robert is working on his English tonight! Lovely smells are drifting from my kitchen as the second (and final) layer of some apple cake is baking. I meant to get it done right after supper but my daughters had other ideas, so now it is 9:24 pm and we still have not eaten dessert. Oops. Good thing I have some decaf (not regular!) coffee on hand.

Clara Anne and Chloe must have had a private conference earlier in the week, deciding amongst themselves that all of the changes they've recently gone through were not enough. On December 1st, Chloe began her transition into the world of adult food. Well, maybe rice cereal cannot quite be considered adult food, but anyway she has started on that path. It didn't take her long to catch on--about halfway through an ounce of milk she started figuring out how to swallow it and was impatient for more. I must confess that my heart sunk a bit, knowing that now begins the discipline process with my sweet Chloe girl. She will have to learn how to keep her hands off the bowl, not to grab for the spoon, and not to blow raspberries as she's eating. Thankfully she is already doing pretty well with those things. Now we will have to work on those impatient half-whines between bites! Yet another transition!

Chloe has also been doing really well with sleeping nearly 12 hours every night, so John and I decided that it was time for her to transition into sharing a room with Clara Anne. Then during the day, Clara Anne can nap on our bed to help train her for preparing to move her to a big bed at night. So far, they are doing all right in the same room. There have been occasional times this week where they woke each other up, but hopefully soon that will decrease as well as they get more used to the other being in the room.

Clara Anne used to be my sound sleeper who needed about 17 hours of sleep a day. That has now transitioned to about 15, and even those times are interrupted somewhat by her crying out, needing to use the restroom. Most of the time she truly needs to go, but sometimes I fear that she is using that as a "get out of the crib free" card. She knows the magic words that will move Mama's heart to let her out, "Pee-pee more?" I have seen the truth of Paul's words: "The Law was added as transgressions increased." We've had to establish new rules as Clara Anne keeps testing the boundaries! I am trying to make sure that her efforts to manipulate me into letting her use the bathroom "one more time" are never productive.

Speaking of which, Clara Anne has stayed dry at night for the last 10 days, at least, so we have graduated to all underwear, all the time. No more pull-ups! She is really becoming a big girl. It's hard for me to believe her two year birthday is coming up in a few weeks!

Well, it's time for me to go and frost my cake. Robert recently was in a larger city nearby where there is a Starbucks and came back with some Decaf Sumatra for me. I think it will go perfectly with that apple cake!

Check back tomorrow for some pictures from this past week!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oh, the Things We'll Do!

Yesterday morning my friend Rachel called, saying that she and Emma were going to play at the indoor play area at our local Carrefour (a large grocery store that has lots of other small stores built into its building.) Would we like to come? The weather was gray and cloudy so I jumped at the chance to take Clara Anne on a fun outing. But then as I was rushing around trying to get everyone ready to go, the thought occurred to me, "Oh, this will be Clara Anne's first time going out for a longer time where there isn't a western toilet. I wonder how we'll make that work..."

The background on this is that in this Asian country, in public places especially, there are no western, sit-down toilets. Instead there is what is called informally, a "squattie potty." For those of you who have never seen a squattie, the concept is pretty simple. There is a narrow porcelain basin set in the floor between two slabs where your feet should go. It takes a little bit of skill to be able to squat down, hold your clothes out of the way, and use it successfully. The nicer ones flush. The worst one I've ever used was just a trench--no stalls, privacy, or ability to flush whatsoever. Toilet paper is never available, so it's bring your own or drip dry. Most of us westerners who've been here awhile have developed the skill of successful squattie usage--if it is a question of being uncomfortable for hours on end or simply using a squattie, you learn pretty quickly to use the squattie. Also, you learn to always use your own bathroom before leaving the house so as to minimize the number of experiences in public toilets.

I personally do not mind too much using a squattie, since technically you can use one without ever touching anything. No seat to sit down on also means no germs. But I had not yet taught Clara Anne this skill. We have a western toilet at home, and the few times when we were out with her eating, we happened to be at places that had western toilets. So yesterday was a first. But I just thought that I would have her go before we left the house, and then maybe she would be able to make it until we got home again.

Well, as is the case so many times, I thought wrong. I had not planned well at all--I had dressed her in a onesie turtleneck with denim overalls. My original thinking was that I would have to help her in the bathroom anyway, so it didn't matter. Unfortunately it turned out that it did matter, quite a bit.

We got to the play place and Clara Anne immediately began having a fabulous time. There's a trampoline to bounce on, several large slides, climbing areas, a ball pit, a swing. . . you name it. But we were hardly there 15 minutes when Clara Anne got that awful look on her face which says. . . help, Mama! I rushed her out the play place gate, not bothering to put on my shoes (first mistake) and ran around the corner with her to the bathroom. Trying to dodge the dirtiest parts of the extremely dirty floor, I quickly chose a stall and tried to simply get her pants down so she could position herself over the squattie. That was my second mistake. It soon became evident that her clothes were going to have to come OFF--overalls and panties both, not just down around her ankles. I got her there just in time! Oh my, the things we'll do for our children! She was proud of herself but I was a little harried from the experience, not to mention my socks touching all of the unmentionables on the floor. Needless to say, my socks went straight into the dirty clothes hamper when we got home!

So we were gone a total of four hours (we ate lunch there too) and during that time Clara Anne needed to use the bathroom THREE times. This is unprecedented for her, and was truly a hassle for me since I needed to remove all of her clothes every time! I'm sorry to say that the third time we got there too late (thankfully I had another pair of undies) and that's when this mama decided it was time to be getting home.

Now I know why the locals use those split pants that I've mentioned before! It really would be easier not to have to undress them every time. Maybe I'll have to buy a pair. . . just kidding! There might be lots of things I'm willing to do for Clara Anne, but letting her wear split pants is not on that list. Next time, though, no overalls OR onesies! I learned my lesson!

Before I became a mother, I remember one seasoned mom telling me, "Yeah, before I had kids I thought it was so gross to have to clean up their dirty diapers and stuff. But now my attitude has totally changed--if I think my daughter is about to throw up, I run in front of her and cup my hands." That stuck with me as an example of the extraordinary things that moms will do for their children. I guess I'm learning that being a mom is being a servant leader. Probably I should be thanking Clara Anne for all these opportunities to humbly practice my servant leadership skills. But she's already asleep tonight, so in the meantime, I think I have some laundry to do. Good night!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Just Three Words

Today I have only three words for you. . . Molten Chocolate Cakes.

Last night was Ladies' Night. This happens twice a month when John takes care of the girls and I get to go and spend some fun times with a few other American ladies. We chat and laugh and sometimes cry. We tell stories of our kids' antics, where we found that great imported cheese, and how things are going in our life with Father. Usually food is involved in some way; several weeks ago we met at Pizza Hut (yes, we have a Pizza Hut in our city and it is actually almost a fine-dining experience) where we tried their version of cheesecake and pronounced it "very good."

But last night Ladies' Night was at my house. True, it did mean that I didn't quite get away from the children, though they both agreeably went to sleep fairly early in the evening. Also, since John was managing them (except for nursing Chloe) I still was able to do my fair share of relaxing and chatting. And last night I had found a great recipe that I wanted to try for Molten Chocolate Cakes.

It was in the Joy of Cooking, hidden way away near the end of the cakes chapter. Their chapter on cakes is so extensive that I had never really read the whole thing until recently. But when I found this recipe, and looked over the ingredients, I was surprised to discover that something so decadent and rich could be easily made in my kitchen.

There are only five ingredients: chopped semisweet chocolate which is melted slowly with butter, egg whites which are beaten stiff with just a touch of cream of tartar to stabilize and sugar to sweeten. Then the egg whites are folded into the chocolate mixture and baked in a muffin tin that has been buttered and sugared. The mixture puffs high and then falls dramatically after being removed from the oven, and the centers stay gooey.

Voila! Molten Chocolate Cakes!

The Joy of Cooking said these were worthy of a elegant dinner party. Well, I am happy to tell you, they were also worthy of a lovely ladies' night. We ate our cakes, topped with fresh whipped cream, in my sparkly, twinkly living room, with our feet up on the coffee table and the Charlie Brown Christmas CD playing its jazzy themes in the background.

Ahh. Now that's nice.

And Don't Forget The...

John and I have been making plans for awhile now for our trip back to the States. It is going to be here before we know it! Some major planning (mostly on John's part) has already gone into our trip but we still have a lot to do in order to get ready. My house, for one.

Since we're going to be gone for almost six months, we are trying to decide exactly how to proceed with our household belongings. It is truly amazing to me how much stuff we have accumulated since moving overseas. I'll never forget preparing to move here, and selling or giving away so many things that everything we owned fit in our (hand-me-down) station wagon. What a great feeling that was! I felt so free! But then we moved here. . . and bought it all again. The inescapable fact remains--you need stuff to live. Silverware, pots and pans, lamps, a blender, a vacuum cleaner, towels. . . they're all really handy for living. But now it seems that despite my best intentions and frequent de-cluttering efforts, we have gradually built up an enormous amount of stuff again.

Part of that, no doubt, is having two children. With kids comes stuff. Most of it is useful, some of it is just for fun, but there's no denying that our possessions have multiplied as our family has grown.

So the question is, what to do with all this stuff?

We plan to move to a different house soon after coming back to Asia since our family of four is a little cramped in our current location. So probably before we go, I will do LOTS of sorting, organizing and packing since there is no need for all of our things to stay out while we are gone. We plan to continue renting this apartment while we're gone, since there isn't another good option for storage. (And because the rent is quite cheap!) But at least that will be convenient, we can leave all our boxes here.

Anyway, I can see that I will have my work cut out for me in January, preparing and dealing with all of this stuff. But recently when I was telling Clara Anne stories about our upcoming adventure to Grandpa and Grandma's house in the States, I was asking her what stuff she thought we should pack along with us.

She thought for a minute and said, Telephone. "That's a great idea, Clara Anne, except that our cell phones won't work in America! But we can take your toy cell phone." Next on her list: Doll. "Certainly," I affirmed. "We won't want to leave Doll behind." I prompted her to think of one more thing we should take with us. She thought and thought, and then very confidently said, "Butter."

Well, happily for Clara Anne, we should be able to find butter at pretty much any grocery store in the States. Plus, I don't think it would pack very well...:) But I'm sure we'll think of lots of other things we won't want to forget!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

So Many "Firsts"!

It has become painfully obvious that my girls are growing up. How does this happen?! On one hand, I want them to grow up. I am always helping them to reach that next milestone, and encouraging them when they do "big-girl" things. On the other hand, I wonder how time can pass so quickly! This past week both Clara Anne and Chloe seem determined to accomplish as many new things as possible. Here's a sampling of their activities:

On Tuesday morning as I was doing the breakfast dishes, Clara Anne was playing in another room. I had heard her narrating her play (Doll! Play this! Oh, Doll! This one. Here. Oh no!Come here, Doll!) but for a few minutes there was a suspicious silence. I called to her, and she came proudly around the corner, pulling up her pants. She said, "Mama! Clara. Pee-pee. Potty!" The look on her face was priceless, she was so happy with herself. I came to investigate, and sure enough, she had successfully used the potty all by herself, simply coming to tell me about it afterwards. Prior to this she had usually told me when she needed to go and I would either encourage her to go alone or accompany her to the bathroom. So it was an important first that she took herself there! Way to go, Clara Anne! Her happiness at her accomplishment soon bubbled over, and she came to me and said, "Mama, Clara. Happy!" I assured her that Mama was indeed happy too!

In just the last two days, Chloe has shown how she can now sit up all by herself. As I write, she is happily playing with her Hippo, sitting in my brown leather easy chair, pretty much sitting unsupported. She is getting to be a big girl!

Another "first" for Clara Anne is the recognition of letters. She has a wooden ABC puzzle that she loves to play with, and can easily put together, but just recently she has started naming the letters (correctly!) as she puts them in their places. The really fun part, though, is that she is starting to see letters everywhere. The first time was when she was playing our piano, and she noticed the brand name (Toyama) above the keyboard. She said excitedly, "Mama! Piano, ABCs! Piano ABCs!" Since then she has delighted in pointing out to me other places that she sees letters. It's a fun first! It makes me realize that reading is not SO far away!

On Tuesday night Clara Anne, Chloe and I were hanging out on our bed. I was telling some stories as we relaxed together. Suddenly Clara Anne became interested in a colorful photo that was on the bedside table. She grabbed it and started looking at it, and immediately, Chloe was interested. What soon followed can only be described as a tug-of-war. Chloe was determined to get it from Clara Anne, and Clara Anne was determined to hang on to it. When Chloe managed to nab it, the glee spread across her face, but when Clara Anne took it back, Chloe cried unhappily and stretched every part of her small body to reach for it. It was the first time I've really seen her tie her emotions to something that she is grabbing for--previously she was happy to take it or leave it. I guess here is where the sisterly war over possesions begins!

Chloe is also getting her first taste of Christmas. We did our decorating on Sunday evening, and now our living room is all decked out with lights, a lovely Christmas tree, a special nativity carved by some people from the country we live in, some sparkly snowflakes hung from the ceiling, and lots of garland tinsel. It's maybe a little bit much, but it's pretty! We will enjoy it for this month, especially in the evenings when we can sit in there with Christmas music playing. Chloe is especially mesmerized with the flickering lights that shine so brightly in the darkness. I love the Christmas season, celebrating the miracle and wonder of the Incarnation. I don't love the commercial glitz that goes along with it, but since we're not in the States that is easier to avoid. In the country where we are, there are some decorations and such but most people don't know the true story. So that is also why I love Christmas--it's a great opportunity to share!

I also have my own "first" coming up this weekend. I will be meeting with our house helper to encourage her along the path of the decision that she made recently. I fear that my language skills are not good enough, but when we are weak, He is strong, right? If you think of it, lift up our time together. Thanks!

Well, there you have it. Lots of new things in our house lately! And here's another first--I'm actually done writing my blog and it's only 8:10 pm! Maybe I'll go to bed early--that would be a first!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Your Comments, Please!

Hi everyone!

I've been encouraged by those of you who occasionally comment on my blog, and some of you who don't leave comments but who send me emails! So I thought it would be fun if we tried to get as many comments as possible on this post. Especially if you have never left a comment before, now's the time! All you need to do is click on the "comment" and wait for the window to pop up where you can type a message. Then enter the letters you see in the box (protection against spammers) and at the bottom, click on Publish.

Leave a comment and if you like, tell us your location and we can see where in the world the GonewiththeWinds readers are!

I have lots of fun family news to post about, but it will have to wait until next time, since my daughters need my attention at the moment. But thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting!

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Collage of Chloe Cuteness

Chloe has been all smiles lately (except, of course, when we were all about to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner and she decided to make her unhappiness very loudly known), and here are the photos to prove it! We've got her first time in a highchair (not to eat, just to play!), hanging out on the bed, lounging on the grass, wearing the adorable cherry outfit, and finally, wearing two outfits that were mine as a little girl--the pink outfit in the bottom picture and the green crocheted dress which is especially special since my Grandma Bruxvoort crocheted it for me. Chloe seemed happy about all of these photo ops--she loves face-to-face contact and will protest when she is left to play by herself and the people have moved out of the room. Enjoy these photos of Chloe Rachelle!


So, I switched to this new "blogger in beta" thing that came up when I signed in to blogger--but instead of being easier and more convenient to post, I have just spent the last half hour trying to figure out why the formatting is so strange in my post below. It doesn't look that way when I "preview" it, and it doesn't look that way in the original box where I'm typing. Any tips from you experienced bloggers out there? To the rest of you, sorry for the strange-looking formatting! I tried, really, I tried!

A Day to Remember

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
Here's our whole family on Thanksgiving Day--if you can find Clara Anne behind our frosty mugs!

On this side of the world Thanksgiving Day is already past. What a day it was! We had a wonderful time celebrating with some American friends, and I think we turned out a pretty impressive Thanksgiving spread, especially for living in a foreign country. Look and see for yourself! At left: the appetizer table, complete with festive decorations colored by Miss Clara Anne and Miss Emma!

Here's a shot of the inside of the oven: That's stuffing on the bottom rack, green bean casserole, cheesy potatoes, and chicken on the top rack. The chicken was deemed necessary because originally we had planned a turkey and a ham for our Thanksgiving feast, but at the last minute the import store could not deliver the ham. However, a 12 pound turkey proved more than enough for 6 adults and 2 children, plus leftovers! Oh well, the chicken will be tasty tomorrow...

Outside the oven, we had a huge crock-pot FULL of homemade macaroni and cheese, another crock-pot full of the turkey which I had roasted the day before, taken off the bone (well actually John did that part) and then warmed in the crock-pot with some homemade turkey broth on Thanksgiving morning. We also had a platter of homemade dinner rolls, a pot of mashed potatoes, and gravy to go with it all. And don't forget the cranberry sauce! I think you HAVE to have cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, but I couldn't buy any canned stuff and fresh cranberries were simply not available. However, I improvised: I had a bag of dried cranberries that I stewed over low heat with some orange juice and orange marmelade and voila! Cranberry sauce!

Here's the dessert table: Cherry Crisp, Cheesecake Ball with graham crackers for spreading, Pecan Pie with whipped cream, Apple Cake with cream cheese frosting, and Hello Dollies, sometimes known as 7-Layer Bars. WOWZA! It was truly an abundant table!

It was funny this year--there were three couples coming to this Thanksgiving dinner and so the ladies made the plans...but unbeknownst to us, our husbands all had a few ideas of their own. We ladies hadn't planned on making stuffing, until one of the husbands said, "Oh, no stuffing? Too bad!" Then another husband said (at the last minute after four desserts were already planned and made) "Aren't you going to make a cherry crisp?" The third husband mentioned several times his preference for sweetened whipped cream (not plain!) and thick gravy. Happily, we were able to oblige everyone, and I think that everyone rated this Thanksgiving meal one of the best, ever. Now that's saying something!
In the afternoon after the little girls went to sleep, us adults played a "Couples" game together. It was sort of a version of the Newlywed Show, but with more interesting questions. We had a great time! John and I put our almost-10 years of married experience to a good test and did well--though I missed an obvious question about his family Christmas tradition. Oops!
We decided that we were having such a good time, we would just stay...and after Clara Anne and Emma had a fun time in the bathtub together, we put the girls to bed again and had one more round of games, after cleaning up the kitchen and dividing up all the leftovers, of course! It was a great day and one I won't forget.
We hope you all had a truly wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with meaningful conversations, thankful hearts, and good food!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share some things I am thankful for tonight...

I am thankful for my husband. We have been married 10 years next month and I am thankful for his leadership in our home, his enthusiasm for life, and his excellent Daddy skills!

I am thankful for my daughters--though they both cried hard tonight, at the same time, for no apparent reason, I am still thankful for them. They are in good health and growing well, learning new things everyday. My life is richer because of them.

I am thankful for my comfortable home. When I contemplated living overseas, I wasn't sure I could live in a remote area with unpredictable necessities like running water, and so Father has given me this home, where I can have a hot shower anytime, I can keep my food cold in a refrigerator, and I can get in a taxi and get around easily. Despite the pollution, I am thankful to live in a big city with all of its available amenities!

I am thankful for tender answers to prayer. Last year at this time I was really struggling with loneliness, and praying for a good friend. Through an amazing series of events, Father brought my friend Rachel and her family to live here. He is so faithful!

I am thankful for the ability to communicate so quickly and easily with friends and family thousands of miles away! PTL for modern technology!

I am thankful for having lost almost all of my pregnancy weight!

I am thankful for being able to have a real turkey feast on Thanksgiving!

I am thankful for Clara Anne being successful on the potty four times today!

And this afternoon, I had an extra reason to be thankful as my house helper became my sister. PTL!

Monday, November 20, 2006


That's the only word I can think of to describe the wedding that our whole family attended last Saturday--it was a cultural experience like I have rarely had.

It started out innocently enough. The bride had been an English student in a camp that John led a few summers ago, and she has several mutual friends who meet with John on a weekly basis. So when we were invited to attend their wedding, and even to give a short blessing to the bride and groom as part of the ceremony, we were happy to attend.

The wedding was held on a very "auspicious" day--November 18. In Asianese, the way that date is pronounced sounds like some words which describe getting very wealthy. Happily, this year, this date also fell on a Saturday, which was extremely convenient for weddings. In fact, as we drove through town to the wedding location, we saw evidence of numerous weddings taking place all through the city.

A modern Asianese wedding is a strange conglomeration of traditional Asianese culture, western cultural imports, and modern Asianese practicality. The bride wears two dresses--first a white one that looks like it came out of an American shop, usually rented, and then a red one called a qipao, long and slim. The wedding is held at a hotel banquet room, and the bride and groom arrive amid tons of firecrackers and confetti rockets which are supposed to ward off evil spirits and add to the general gaiety. At this wedding, the happy couple even had a small aisle to walk down (all of us guests were already seated at the tables where we would later eat), preceded by young girls holding candles and marching to the tune of "Here Comes the Bride." There was a brief ceremony up front where the bride and groom exchange vows and rings and then go and bow down to their parents as a sign of respect. Instead of a pastor to lead the ceremony, there is an MC and some sort of music person playing an electronic keyboard or some such thing.

So what made this wedding so crazy? Well, for one, it was SO VERY EXTREMELY NOISY! Asianese people love to have their gatherings full of noise and activity, they even have a word for it: renao. It literally means "hot and noisy." The theory is that if a place (like a restaurant or a wedding) is hot (meaning full of lots of people and all their body heat) and noisy, with everyone chatting and talking at once, then it means that everyone is having a good time! We have been to three Asianese weddings, and this one was definitely the most renao of them all. The sound system was pumped up full bore. The musician lady on her electronic piano was going to town. And the MC boisterously shouted directions to the bride and groom and then sang several songs, sounding like he had already had a few rounds of the post-wedding drinks.

I could hardly believe it when things appeared to be starting, and hardly anyone was paying the slightest attention to the bride and groom. Literally most people were chatting loudly with the people around them, several of them were gathered in a small knot around Clara Anne, as if she was the attraction, and then I realized why the MC was shouting so loudly--he was trying to compete for everyone's attention! The bride and groom spoke their vows and bowed to their parents among lots of noisy chatter. It was crazy!

This situation didn't bode well for John, as he was prepared to give a short blessing and share a bit about the Good News. We were wondering if everyone would talk through it! But when he went up to the stage, most people quieted down to first. He started out with some greetings and general words like "thanks for inviting us" etc., and people were clapping and the musician lady was punctuating his talk with chords on the piano, kind of like at a baseball game! However, when he moved on to speak about the Good News, several things happened--the musician lady kept playing LOUDLY, several people toward the front shot off these firecracker confetti things, creating loud booms and showers of confetti, and then the sound system started to act funny and John could hardly be heard, even a few feet away! CRAZY! We have no doubt there was some Opposition, but it seemed a bit extreme.

John finished his talk and invited me up to the front to sing the song that we sang at our wedding, The Gift of Love. Just at that moment, Clara Anne insisted on going up with me, so she stood by my side as we began. The song starts with the male voice singing solo, and then the female voice sings solo, and then the third verse is sung together in a lovely harmony. Well, just as John began, the musician lady thought that she would accompany him, and started searching around on the keyboard for the key that he had picked. For a few awful moments they were horribly out of tune, but then she settled on a key and John adjusted so it was better by the time I came in. The whole situation went from crazy to even more so--Clara Anne had quietly snuck away from my side and though I looked down while singing, I couldn't see her, and as it turns out, she had made her way behind me to a large balloon display and was wonderingly touching them. I looked around just as she popped one and the bride was trying to guide her away from them! Oh dear, Clara Anne!

The rest of the time was a little less crazy, but just as hot and noisy. We were served plate after plate of food, way more than we could ever eat, which is an Asianese way to show that your host thinks highly of you. We enjoyed the meal though it was really hard to carry on a conversation with anyone because the music was so loud. But it was interesting music--there were various children who came up and showed their talents of singing and playing the drums. One little five year old boy was really quite good on his drum set!

All in all, it was an experience to remember. I am only sorry that I forgot to bring our camera! Clara Anne had such fun after we ate playing in all the sparkly confetti on the floor, and made friends with lots of the other kids running around, but I missed getting it on film. And as an extra bonus, when we arrived home we discovered that Clara Anne had stayed dry the whole time we were gone (about 5 hours) and then successfully used the potty as soon as we got home. John reminded me that though right now I am in the throes of potty training, and it seems like it will be ages before Clara Anne is grown up, it won't seem like long before she is the one getting married. I can't even think about that yet! Take your time, Clara Anne!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More Stories?

Since Clara Anne and I have been spending lots of focused time together recently (see previous posts) I have hit upon a great trick to keep her attention, and that is to tell her a "story." In moments where I just need to occupy her for a bit, I will ask her, "Clara Anne, should Mama tell you a story?" She usually says "Story!" then sticks her thumb in her mouth (oh dear, I guess that will be the next habit to deal with!) and settles down to listen.

Now, I am not a good storyteller if it requires any imagination. I can retell things that happen in everyday life, and enjoy that (hence the blog), but John is the one with the imagination in our family. If he gets in a story telling mood, he can spin a yarn that could keep anyone listening. But I do my best. I usually try to have the story involve someone that Clara Anne knows and loves, like Chloe, or Emma, or her latest favorite, Grandpa and Grandma.

Grandpa and Grandma (my parents) are fairly new concepts in Clara Anne's life. She has met them before, but it was here in Asia only three weeks after she was born so of course she doesn't remember them. But lately we've been doing internet chats through a webcam with Grandpa and Grandma, and now Clara Anne has more of an idea who they are. She recognizes their pictures and sometimes, when the screen saver on our computer pops up with their faces, she will shout hello to them, as if we were talking online, not realizing that there is a difference between their picture coming through on the webcam and their picture stored on our computer.

In March our whole family is going to get on a plane (well, several planes, actually) and make the long journey across the Pacific to spend some time in the US. For John and I, this is going back to places we know and love, in a culture where we feel at home. For Clara Anne (and Chloe to a lesser degree) it means traveling to a new place that they've never been, to see people they don't know, and being away from their familiar and comfortable routines at our home in Asia. It's going to be quite the time. But one way that I've been preparing Clara Anne is to tell her these "stories" about Grandpa and Grandma. We talk about what we will do when we get to Grandpa and Grandma's house, how we can play in their big backyard, pet the neighborhood cats, listen to Grandma play the piano, and give Grandpa neck rubs after his long days at work. We'll sit on Grandma's kitchen counter and help wash the dishes, help Grandpa measure the ingredients for a fresh loaf of bread, and sing some songs with Grandma.

I'm really excited for Clara Anne to have this opportunity to spend several months living with Grandpa and Grandma. I think my parents are pretty brave to let us stay there--having two young children around doesn't always make for much peace and quiet! But it will be wonderful for Clara Anne and Chloe to get to know their Grandpa and Grandma, and vice versa!

When I was young, I had a fun tradition of going each summer to spend several days or a week at my Grandpa and Grandma Roelofs' house in Minnesota. They lived out in the country, across the road from a pretty lake, and one of my favorite parts of staying there was to get up early in the morning, tiptoe downstairs where Grandma would be fixing something yummy for breakfast as Grandpa relaxed for a few more moments in bed. I would sneak in and crawl under the covers with Grandpa, and he would tell me stories of adventures up on the Gunflint trail in northern Minnesota. I was never sure how much of those stories were real and how much were his own embellishment! But it made for lots of happy, snuggly childhood memories. My Grandpa has gone to be with the Lord now and my Grandma has moved out of that house, but I will never forget those times of listening to my Grandpa's stories.

So, now I'm happy to oblige when Clara Anne says, "Mama, more stories? More stories?"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Progress Report!

**Warning! Warning! This post is an update on Clara Anne's potty training progress. For those of you who aren't interested, (probably most of you!) I promise to post on a different topic next time! **

Day 4 of potty training is complete, and I'm happy to report that Clara Anne is making some good progress! The most encouraging aspect so far is that she is able to "hold it" for long periods of time. Now after four days, she has shown a fairly consistent pattern of going to the bathroom, followed by 3 or even 4 hours of total dryness, and then a period of dancing around before she finally sits down and lets go. She has had a few accidents each day but we are trying to see those as learning opportunities. Since she seems to stay dry for so long, our opportunities to practice are somewhat limited--but yesterday she was 2 for 3 on the potty and today she was 1 for 3. But she is making progress! Today she even stayed dry through her nap! Way to go, Clara Anne!

The next step will be to allow Clara Anne to do almost all of the initiating of going to the potty, to see if she can associate the feeling in her body with the coordination to get to the potty in time, and then release those muscles. The release seems more difficult for her than the getting there in time. Right now I am doing most of the initiating, though toward the end of each time period Clara Anne has also shown some clear signs that she knows she needs to sit on the potty. We shall see how it goes! The goal is to have her completely self-sufficient--she initiates going to the potty, takes herself there and uses it successfully, all without having to tell me. THAT might take awhile!

As you know, whatever Clara Anne does, Doll has to do too. Tonight after supper Clara Anne was diligently taking Doll to the potty to make sure that Doll used the potty like a big girl. Doll seems happy enough about it, though she needs to work on sitting back in the chair, just like Clara Anne. Good job Doll!

My favorite moment so far came last night after supper when Clara Anne (after sitting there a long while) finally released into the potty. First she looked down curiously and said, "Pee-pee?" Then when I cheered for her and offered her a treat, she said "Big girl! Big Girl!" Yay, Clara Anne! You truly are learning to be a big girl!

Thank You to all of you who have lifted us up in recent days. This process definitely has added some stress to our household, with me trying to focus on helping Clara Anne, John trying to study and do his work, and Chloe wondering who is going to take care of her! Thankfully John has pitched in a lot and so we have come as far as we have. We hope things will only get better as we keep helping Clara Anne adjust through this process. She seems cheerful about it (as evidenced by the above picture) and I am especially thankful for that.

I am also thankful that no detail of our lives is too petty to bring before our Father; what an amazing Father we have! He is so faithful to answer us when we call out to Him, even about potty training! PTL! He has provided some wonderful answers this week; here's two quick examples: on Day 3 (Wednesday) I was praying and hoping for at least one successful trip to the potty, if not I was considering stopping the process for now. Clara Anne was showing some signs of having to go, and was sitting on the potty just as we were ready to eat lunch. John offered to sit with her while I began eating with my house helper, Mimi. Just as I was using Asianese to ask a blessing on our food and on Clara Anne's learning process, John called to me from the other room with Clara Anne's very first success! What a great answer, and a great testimony to Mimi!

Secondly, tonight John is gone to a meeting and so I knew that the evening time was going to be a challenge--getting supper, helping Clara Anne, baths, dealing with Chloe who is usually awake from 4-7, all at the same time by myself. But our kind Father helped Chloe to take an extra-long afternoon nap (instead of getting up at 4 she slept until 5:30!) which allowed me to help Clara Anne have her first success of the day on the potty at 5:15, get her in the highchair for supper, and begin eating before I needed to go get Chloe. HE knew how that arrangement of circumstances would help me...and was kind enough to grant what I didn't even ask for. I am thankful for His tender mercies.

I hope you are experiencing those mercies tonight as well! Good night!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

From My View

Hello everyone! Mama is a little tired tonight, so she asked me to fill everyone in on the latest goings-on in our house. So let me tell you, I had a GREAT day today. I woke up at my usual time (5:30) and had a nice warm meal with some cuddling and then went back to sleep until about 8:30. I do love to sleep late, especially after an early breakfast.

I played this morning with a few toys, especially my purple Lamaze Hippo that I love so much, and this afternoon I got some reading done that I had been meaning to get to. [See picture] I had some other really nice meals today too, and even got to watch Clara Anne have her bath tonight. Daddy wasn't home, and I howled because I didn't want to play by myself, so Mama (with a desperate look on her face) came and strapped me into the baby carrier so I could be part of the fun. Clara Anne loves to splash, though! My face got kind of wet.

Speaking of Clara Anne, she really monopolized most of Mama's attention today. Mama kept talking to Clara Anne about "pee-pee" and using something called a "potty" though I couldn't tell what all the fuss was about. Mama kept giving Clara Anne lots of things to drink, but as far as I saw, Clara Anne didn't manage to use that potty thing even once, though she sat on it for long periods of time. She even sat on it and watched an episode of Little House on the Prairie, munching popcorn as if nothing was unusual, even though her pants were down around her ankles. What a sight! But I guess that was to try to help her relax--too bad it didn't work.

I did see Clara Anne succesfully pull her pants up and down today, and there were only two times where I saw some liquid on the floor. I didn't think that it was my spit-up, so maybe it was that "pee-pee" that Mama was talking about. I don't know why it's so important to Mama to have Clara Anne use that plastic potty thing. I sure don't, and look! I'm as happy as can be. In fact, tonight just after Mama gave me a bath, rubbed me down with lotion, and dressed me in all clean, fresh clothes and a new diaper, I was sitting on her lap and filled my diaper. Wow, did it feel good to get that out before I had to go to bed for the night. I gave Mama some big smiles just after it happened, I felt so great.

So, that's about it. Not much else is going on around here. I'd better get to bed now, if I want to wake up for my early breakfast again tomorrow. Thanks for letting me sit in for Mama tonight!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Broken Record

I apologize, everyone. I just can't seem to help myself from writing about potty training. Probably the only ones left reading my posts are moms who have been there, moms who are going to be there sometime soon, or women who have empathetic hearts. I'm sure all of the men lost interest long ago.

But it's really on my mind. (Potty training, that is.)

Tomorrow is the big day, and I have a nervous knot of anticipation in my stomach similar to what I used to feel before a big singing performance--adreneline pumping, no appetite, mind going over and over what I need to do. Just before opening night at the Opera, there was always a flurry of activity. Usually the final dress rehearsal had a few snafoos. Maybe the orchestra played out of tune, rushed the slow movements, or the speaker system failed so the orchestra couldn't be heard on stage. Or the conductor forgot to give the one cue you were waiting for. Perhaps the tenor singing opposite you moved the wrong way on the stage and what was supposed to be a passionate duet ended up being sung with a large piece of furniture between you. Most likely, the chorus ate too many pretzels backstage while they were waiting for their five minutes of singing in a fifty-five minute act, and thus came onstage lethargic and with gunk in their throats. I can say that since when I was a member of the Kentucky Opera Chorus, we did eat lots of pretzels backstage; what else do you do to while away the time? When we did Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, the chorus is only on for perhaps 20 minutes of the entire opera! So, snacks are the answer!

Now we know what Clara Anne has in common with the Opera Chorus: snacks. I have prepared a stash of goodies, ready to reward every successful act on her part. I've got salted peanuts and popcorn (helpful for stimulating thirst so that she drinks more, thus giving her more opportunities to practice her new skill); gummy fruit candies in peach, apple, grape and blueberry; mini M&Ms; apple slices and raisins for a healthy choice; and chocolate milk, apple juice, and water to drink. I've got my chart ready to record times and keep track of things, and her pink training pants laid out on the table. I'm ready!

The question, however, remains: is she?

Only time will tell. From what I've heard, potty training requires a lot of time and effort on the part of both the mom and the child, so I may not be able to post for a few days. I'm sure you'll be able to contain your curiosity! But when I am able, rest assured that I will update you all with a progress report.

And, if you happen to think of me and Clara Anne at any time in the next few days, take that as a clear prompting from the Spirit to lift us up! (I'm not kidding.)

Thanks for bearing with me, the broken record. Next time maybe I'll have a new tune to sing!

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Moment of Truth

The package has arrived.

Yes, THAT package. The one previously marked as a terrorist threat, including one book and twelve pairs of pink cotton training pants.

So this is the moment of truth. I plan to read the book over the weekend and start toilet training Clara Anne on Monday. Diapers, farewell!

As I was just writing the first lines of this post, I heard a tearing sound coming from Clara Anne's bedroom, where she was supposedly asleep. I went in to investigate, and to my dismay found her with the tapes of her diaper undone, and her pants pulled down slightly, even after her recent punishments and a strong warning from Mama before she went to bed. As she has struggled with this issue over the past few days, we have made the punishments more severe every time she gives into temptation, in hopes that she would learn her lesson. It doesn't seem to be working. Perhaps our permanent solution to this diaper dilemma will be to be truly done with diapers, for good.

Another person in our lives is also facing a moment of truth--my house helper. Yesterday I shared my "story" with her and also part of the Most Important Story. Today she had many questions and it seems that Someone has been working in her heart for a long time. Please think of her over the weekend--I am hopeful that on Monday, instead of my house helper coming to work, I will have a new sister. She expressed today that if she were to believe this Story, she would commit to it with her whole heart and never turn back. Amen, let it be so!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sisters by Choice

Well, today is Thursday, and you know what that means! (As all of you sit and scratch your heads...) Yes, that means it is play date day! This morning my friend Rachel arrived with her children in tow, ready for another fun morning of playtime activities...well, and plenty of Mama-chatting as well.

For Clara Anne, this is one of the highlights of her week. She seems to think that Emma is her long lost sister. Emma and her family only moved here in August, so prior to that, though Clara Anne had other Asianese friends, she did not have a concept of playing regularly with someone who she loves so dearly. Emma usually reciprocates Clara Anne's affections, and I think they truly love each other, but sometimes Clara Anne is a bit overbearing. There was that time when Clara tried to give Emma a hug and instead knocked her down...oh yes, and that time when Clara insisted on holding Emma's hand at the park to the extent that Emma cried...oh yes, and that time when Clara tried to sit so close to Emma that Emma couldn't move her's true, Clara Anne can be a bit too much sometimes.

But in general, they really do love each other and have a good time together. Emma is never far from Clara Anne's thoughts, and is usually her first answer to any "who" question. Example: Clara Anne, who is your best friend? "EMMA!" comes the shouted reply. (That question works in Asianese and English!) Clara Anne, who is coming to play today? Whose house are we going to? Who loves you? etc etc.

Lately Clara Anne has been bringing up Emma's name at many random moments, as if Emma was actually present, participating vicariously in whatever Clara Anne is doing. If we are eating, Clara Anne says, "Emma eat!" If we are singing, "Emma sing!" If we are pointing out body parts, "Emma's nose!" and on and on. Clara usually also asks about Emma when she is going to bed. "Emma? Emma?" she will ask. I always reassure her that Emma is also going to bed, and that seems to settle her.

All that being said, it is precious to watch them play together. Today we danced around our living room to Copland's Appalacian Spring while we waved scarves in our hands, then sat on the floor to sing songs and do some finger plays, and then we traced the girls' hands onto paper and let them color it as a keepsake. But the highlight of the morning was a water game. We stripped the girls down to their diapers, put a piece of tape down on the floor as a finish line, and gave the girls cups of water to carry while walking across the floor to the finish. I got the idea from a book; it's supposed to build toddler's concentration skills as well as helping them refine their gross motor skills. Well, our daughters had their own ideas. Upon receiving the cups of water, they both immediately drank most of it. We tried to get them to walk to and from the line, but instead they just moseyed around, spilling water here and there. Clara Anne was a bit frightened by the sight of the spilled water (I think it reminded her of the unpleasant incident the night before) but Emma was really enjoying herself and then toward the end decided, why not? I'll just toss it in the air and see what happens!

It was really fun to let them play and experiment and I don't know, maybe their gross motor skills were improved. If not, we had fun trying!

Invariably, at the end of any activity that Clara Anne enjoys, she says, "More? More?" and that was the case today when our playing was done. But it was also the case tonight when our praying was done. Recently when I put her to bed, she insists upon two prayers--one while I'm holding her before putting her down, and another when she is snugly wrapped in her blanket with Doll under her right arm and lately, octopus (stuffed) under her left arm. "More pray? More pray?" How can you say no to that?

I'll leave you with a picture of Clara Anne and Emma the first time they met. Actually, technically they met when they were around 8 months old, but we're not counting that because they couldn't really interact. This time was just after Emma and her family arrived in our city. We were in the airport parking lot, and trying to get luggage situated inside the van, when suddenly we looked back and the two girls, unprompted by any adult, were standing there holding hands. What a blessing for both girls to have such a good friend, so early in life! I have a good friend that I played with when were just babies; now she has five babies of her own and we still keep in touch. Friendship is a precious thing!

"Firepot" and a Pool of Pee

In my last post, I mentioned that we had guests over for dinner on Tuesday night. We enjoyed eating huoguo (literally translated "firepot") together. It's a really fun meal experience. There is a simmering pot of broth in the middle of the table, and then we gradually put in the ingredients of our dinner: plates of fresh spinach and other greens, cabbage, mushrooms, chunks of tofu, strips of tofu skins, a ground meat mixture to make meatballs, some shaved meat bought for this purpose and at the end, rice noodles. Actually, anything that cooks relatively quickly in boiling water can be used. As the ingredients cook, each person can take out portions, dip it in a yummy sauce made from sesame paste, and eat! John and I were excited to host this meal--it was our first time to try this at home. In our city, there are numerous restaurants that are solely firepot restuarants, but it is relatively expensive compared to other Asianese food. But now that we bought the special pot and have done it once successfully, I have a feeling we'll be eating a lot of this as the winter progresses. A fun and tasty meal, even if we didn't have any real fire and just used an electric pot!

In this culture, it is typical when you visit someone's home to bring them a small gift. Usually it is something simple, like fruit at the peak of freshness or something small for a child. Our guests the other night were no exception. We have been friends with the guy for a long time, and every time he comes he has brought some sort of gift--some useful and enjoyable and others that were real doozies. One time he brought some pears from his hometown (well-known for its pears, so a real treat) but another time he brought us a truly ugly sculpture made from seashells whose edges were so sharp it was a hazard for adults, much less kids! This gift, at right, fell into the "doozie" category. Can you see what it is supposed to be? I guess it is some sort of rabbit, with arms that swing up and down and beat that small hammer against itself. It was made of clay and quite heavy (as well as quite breakable!). The outside was painted but some of the paint was chipped--maybe he made it himself? Who knows! It truly is the thought that counts!

Lest you were worrying that the pool of pee had something to do with our meal, rest assured it did not. It is an entirely different topic: lately Clara Anne seems to have decided that she is done with diapers. She has been guilty of taking off her own diaper during naptime several times in the last few days; unfortunately that has added significantly to my laundry load. It baffles me that she can be punished for something and then do it again the next time she has opportunity! Oh, the stubborn heart!

However, the pool of pee occured quite innocently. I had just finished giving Clara Anne a bath, and boy, did she need it. Her hair had some yogurt crusties on one side and some sweet potato crusties on the other side, her nails were really dirty and just before the bath she had had a really stinky diaper. So though bathtime is a bit of an ordeal (since we don't have hot water in our taps I have to plan ahead to heat water in a small electric pot) I was relieved to get her into the warm soapy water and help her get squeaky clean again. After a lovely time splashing, playing, and scrubbing, I dried her off and sent her walking ahead of me to her room to get dressed. Just as I was gathering up the diaper, onesie, and jammies, I heard a splashing sound. I looked over and Clara Anne was standing, shocked, in a pool of her own pee on our wood floors. It was only the second time to experience this feeling (i.e. without a diaper) and she was a little afraid. I reassured her and immediately said, "Don't move!" But, unwisely not heeding her mama, she stepped...and slipped...and her feet went right out from under her and she landed on her back, her hair right in the middle of the puddle, soaking it all up. Oh dear, Clara Anne! I scooped her right up and brought her back to the bathroom, where she went right back into the tub, which thankfully had not yet been emptied. Otherwise it would have been a cold-water rinse for her!

I've said it before and I'll say it again, your time is coming, Clara Anne! These diapers aren't going to last forever!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Good Day

Today was a good day. Nothing earth-shaking occurred. But it was a good day. I changed about 10 diapers, talked a lot with my house helper, did some grocery shopping, read about a dozen books to Clara Anne, held Chloe when she cried, sang some songs to her, gave baths to the girls, had some Asianese guests over for dinner, and did the dishes with John afterwards. A normal day.

And yet, something important did happen. I built stronger bonds with my girls. I taught Clara Anne that ladies do not pull their pants down in public. I reaffirmed to Chloe that she is loved and wanted as an important member of our family. I shared with my family the joy of music. I prayed for my house helper. I shared my testimony with our guests, and encouraged the girl to come into the kingdom. I appreciated again my willing-to-help-around-the-house husband, and thanked him for it.

A day like today reminds me of the verse which says we should not "despise the day of small things." Today was a day of small things. But sometimes it is the small things which we later discover have made a huge difference, for now and for eternity.

I hope that tomorrow will be like today.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Proof is in the Pie

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I thought I would do a little "practice." As much as I like to cook and bake, pie has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Not the filling, of course, but the crust. Making flaky pastry successfully seems to me like the pinnacle of good baking. I have tried a few times, and though the results were edible, they did not attain to the level I had hoped. My Grandma Bruxvoort used to make it look so easy! She probably could roll out pie crust in her sleep. So I thought maybe there was hope for me--I just needed more practice.

To prep myself, I read the section on "Making Flaky Pastry" about four times in the Joy of Cooking. I decided to try a different method--a pat-in-the-pan pastry crust. Apparently this was supposed to be easier than a rolled crust, but it didn't pat like I wanted! My fluted crust was a bit sad looking. However, at left you can see my results: Chocolate Pecan Pie. I figured I couldn't go wrong with Pecans and Chocolate, no matter what the crust was like!

Well, there you have it; the pie-maker herself. This pie rated about a 7 on a scale of 1-10; next time I will underbake it slightly so it will have more of that gooey goodness that is so characteristic of pecan pie. I have to say though, it went really well with a cup of Decaf Verona Starbucks!

To look on the bright side, it's probably good that I'm not such a great pie maker. I don't need yet another way to eat dessert!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Chloe's First Swim

I love Thursdays. Every Thursday morning is our play date with Clara Anne and Chloe's friends, Emma and Samantha. My friend Rachel and I alternate houses, and plan fun things for the girls to do. Last week, at my house, we did a lot of singing and moving to music, as well as giving the girls their first chance at playing with Play-Doh. Today, at Rachel's house, we did a special craft with the girls that they could take home, then "painted" with food-coloring-colored ice cubes on paper towels. We moms have just as much fun as the girls do! After sharing lunch together, the visiting family returns home so the girls can nap in their own beds.

But today was different! Rachel and I had planned a super-special activity for the younger girls. There is a place near Rachel's house where parents can take very young babies for a swim in their own private pools! So after lunch we put Clara Anne and Emma to bed, left Josh in charge, and packed up the younger girls.

Here's what happened next:

Wow, look at Chloe! She's all ready to go swimming!

Uh, Mom, I'm not so sure what I think about this. What is this weird thing around my neck? And why don't my feet touch anything when I kick? And how come I don't have any clothes on? . . . Ok, I've made up my mind. I want OUT!

Oh, that's a little better. I like the towel. And I like Mama. I just don't like swimming!

your persuasive tactics are not going to work on me! I just know you'd like me to take another dip. Well, I guess it is better without that thing on my neck. And the water is nice and warm. Maybe it's not so bad. But I like sitting here with you, too! Next time maybe I can swim some more.

So, as you can see, the swimming was a fun idea, but not such a huge hit with our little Chloe. I guess I should have known...she has never had a real bath at home, I always just give her a sponge bath on the table--which she loves. I think she just wasn't accustomed to being in the water. You know, it's been more than four months now, so she's apparently forgotten what the womb was like! Just for fun, here's a picture of Clara Anne at her first swim, though she was only about six weeks old! She was scared and cried, but now she swims like a fish, so I guess there's hope for Chloe, too.