Wednesday, September 27, 2006

News of the Day

Evening has come already to our corner of the world (it gets dark now by 6:30!) and quietness has descended on our house. The dishes are done, all the toys have been picked up, bedtime stories have been read, prayers have been prayed, and even now my daughters are sweetly sleeping. It's a nice time of day. John is out for a meeting tonight, so it's time for me share the news of the day.

Remember how Chloe was so eager to tell you all how she is sleeping through the night? Well . . . she spoke too soon. Yesterday morning about 4 am I was lying awake in bed, uncomfortable with a stuffy nose and sore throat, and I began to hear some small stirrings coming from the room where Chloe sleeps. [sidenote: that room is actually the living room! Our apartment just has two bedrooms, so previously Chloe was sleeping in her bassinet next to my side of the bed, but then because I was always so aware of her and wasn't sleeping well, even if she was fine, we moved her out to the living room. You know that whole "sleeping like a baby" idea? Well, it's a myth! Babies actually make lots of noise while they sleep. They fidget and fuss around, and make little snuffly and snorty noises with their small noses. So when Chloe moved out to the living room we were both happier--she slept longer and so did I!] As I listened more carefully to those noises, I began to realize that they were HAPPY noises! She then started putting on the full concert, squealing in her high voice and cooing in her low voice. This went on for quite some time. Finally about 4:45 the squeals turned to yelps so I went in to check on her . . . sure enough, she had turned over on to her back and was talking to the animals on her mobile. I turned her over again, gave her the pacifier again, and we all went back to sleep.

Though I mentioned it casually above, rolling over is a relatively new skill for Chloe, maybe in the last week or so. I have not yet witnessed this momentous event--I've just seen her after it's happened! However, I hope she understands that this is not the new excuse for waking up at 4 am the last few mornings. I guess it's understandable; since she usually sleeps on her tummy, if she rolls over she gets a little scared, like "what do I do now?" Now she just needs to learn how to roll back!

Clara Anne and I had a good day today. She woke up early, which for her means anytime before 8:30, and we did some fun things together today, including brushing Doll's teeth (a first for Doll, prior to now she has had very poor oral hygiene :)), reading many books and even playing the piano together for awhile this afternoon. Clara Anne loves to listen to music and lately has discovered how she can twirl in a circle. She holds Doll out in front of her so that they are dancing together! She is also putting lots of words together to form somewhat primitive sentences. "More du-du-du?" is her way to say "more music!" John has a knack for making up his own songs: fun, jazzy improvisations where the principle syllable is "Doo" so Clara Anne has equated this phrase with music.

I thought for sure that today was going to be another milestone in the potty-training saga. During supper tonight, Clara Anne started giving indications (verbally and otherwise!) that she was about to do some business in her diaper. We rushed to the bathroom, where she sat on the potty for at least 15 minutes . . . but to no avail. I even brought her some reading material to encourage her to relax (her current favorite: All by Myself by Mercer Mayer), but it didn't work. Maybe next time . . .

My tutor was here today, helping me to keep making progress in learning the local language. I have one thing to say: my grammar is awful! I can express what I mean if I use lots of the same words in whatever order they occur to me. But I'm afraid I often end up sounding like a 4-year-old. So far I can still speak more of the local language than Clara Anne, but I have a feeling it won't be long until she surpasses me.

In other news, our household is undergoing a change in house helpers. For various reasons, my old helper was not going to be able to work here anymore so we found a new one through an agency. What is a house helper? Well, she is someone who comes to your house on a regular basis to clean, cook, buy groceries, things like that. This is a common practice in this Asian culture (remember, labor is cheap!) and some people even have live-in helpers to take care of their kids, cook and clean full time. My old helper, whose English name was Penny, was truly a good help to me and had learned her way around my house pretty well. So now I am starting at square one with the new helper, whose name is Mimi. She started yesterday and all went well--I showed her around, she cleaned, cooked a yummy asian lunch, and even corrected my language usage on occasion. (She doesn't speak any English.) Mimi will be here a few days a week. I'm looking forward to having her trained in soon so that she can do that work and I can do other things, like take care of my girls and of course, study language!

Oh dear. The peaceful silence has been shattered by the crying of a certain three month old (not naming any names) which means that it's time for this post to come to an end. I'll leave you with some recent pictures. Enjoy!

The whole family--September 24 2006

Just this morning! September 27, 2006

Our happy social baby! September 23, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Adventures of Doll, part 2

Some of you may have read about Doll's adventures in potty training the other day. Well, this morning's story involves another adventurous activity here in this Asian culture--taking a taxi.

Taxis are our main form of transportation as a family. When John goes out alone, though, he rides his bike, which he loves because he can zoom through traffic quickly and also get good exercise. I used to have a bike, also, but when I became pregnant with Clara Anne, my balance was not so great and after a near-miss collision at a busy intersection, John has forbidden me from any more bike riding. I could also potentially take the bus when I go somewhere, but with two little munchkins the bus is not quite as convenient. So usually we take taxis. There always seem to be an abundance of them so it is often just a matter of standing by the side of the road for a minute and waving my arm to flag one down.

When it used to be just John and I, we always sat together in the back seat of a taxi, letting the front passenger side go empty. That continued to be true even when carrying Clara Anne along. But now I find it more difficult to slide across that back seat with a child in arms (as a rule, the back seat door only opens on the passenger side) so now I often sit in the front, carrying at least one child, usually Chloe. Then John and Clara Anne share the back seat. However, the clincher is when I am out with both girls by myself. I have actually found that it is easier to corral Clara Anne (remember we are in the land of no seat belts) if she is in the front seat with me and Chloe in the Baby Bjorn. I am aware that this is a practice which would never fly in America--especially because none of us are wearing seat belts, much less are both children in car seats! Needless to say, taxi rides are not relaxing events for me any more. I am kept busy hanging on to both children and keeping track of our possesions, the most important of which are (in this order) my money, my keys and Doll.

So the other day (to finally get to the point of this post) we were riding in a taxi in this fashion: I am in the front seat with Chloe attached to me in the Baby Bjorn, our bags on the floor between my feet and Clara Anne sitting on what is left of my lap. Clara Anne was holding Doll, and she and I were singing songs to pass the time when suddenly she got curious about the door handle. I responded with a firm "Don't touch!" She looked at me, looked at the door handle...and then took Doll's hand and made Doll reach out for the door handle. Oh no, Doll! I wasn't sure whether to punish Clara Anne, give Doll a talking to, or just laugh. I guess Clara Anne thought maybe Doll could get away with something that she couldn't!

Until next time . . .

Friday, September 22, 2006

All About Chloe

Chloe informed me the other day that she was unhappy because she had been getting a rather small amount of coverage in the family blog. Yes, she is the smallest member of the family, and yes, she does the most sleeping of all of us, but just because she is small and quiet doesn't mean that she shouldn't get funny stories told about her! So tonight it's time for a Chloe update. [picture at left taken 9.15.06]

It's been interesting to see how Chloe has her own unique personality, different than Clara Anne. Of course we knew she would be different, though we couldn't quite imagine how, but even now at (barely) three months old, we can see how she is, in fact, her own person. For one thing, she seems like a more sensitive type. When John sneezes violently, or a door slams, or even if I am just chatting moderately loudly while trying to nurse her, she will startle and cry. But that sensitivity doesn't seem to apply where Clara Anne is concerned--Clara can do just about anything to Chloe and Chloe just seems to love it. Clara Anne enjoys patting Chloe's head, pointing out to me where Chloe's eyes are, (careful, Clara Anne!) sitting next to Chloe on the couch, basically just getting in Chloe's face. It's been sweet to see how Chloe responds with such interest to Clara Anne's attentions. They already have a sister bond!

Chloe also seems like an extraordinarily talkative baby. She most feels like chatting after she has nursed. She will look up at me and immediately begin to coo, smile and then use her high voice to squeal! I think she's a soprano; she's got some impressive high notes! It's really fun to have little conversations with her; she uses her whole face very expressively as if she is telling me a story--her little eyebrows go up and down, she rounds her mouth into "ohs" and "ahs" and she smiles and darts her tongue in and out. She's a social baby!

Chloe would like everyone to know that she is now officially sleeping through the night. About two weeks ago, she was regularly going about 6-7 hours, from 10pm until about 4 or 5, but then would wake up and cry. I would quickly go and give her the pacifier, and then she would fall back to sleep for another hour, two, or sometimes three. But the whole get-up-and-give-the-pacifier routine started to get pretty old for this mama, especially if I was giving her the pacifier numerous times in the same morning, and also I was concerned that I was just establishing a new routine for her. So last week we decided to let her cry it out--if she woke up at 4 or 5 the plan was to let her cry, trying to help her get herself back to sleep, with the goal being 6 am for her earliest feeding. Thankfully, it only took about three nights, (or early mornings) before Chloe "broke the barrier" and slept until 7 without any crying at all! She's had a really good week all this week with most nights going from about 10pm until 7am. Wow! I am a very thankful, happy and refreshed Mama.

Speaking of sleeping, Chloe's already down for the night (and Clara Anne has been for hours already), so I'd better get some rest too. Good night!

Language Learning 101

It's remarkable to me the way that Clara Anne is learning language. Just in the past few weeks, we've seen her vocabulary explode as she imitates words that we are saying, says words that we prompt her to say, and also comes up with her own commentary on life events. She is getting better with saying "Please" and "Thank You" but since she cannot yet say "thank you" in English, she substitutes the word in the local language, (xiexie) which sounds something like "shee-eh shee-eh." She can now say short prayers by herself with only minimal prompting from me--her favorite part is to list off the names of people that she wants God to bless.

One specific area that we've been working with her on is apologizing when she's done wrong. It usually goes something like this: after she's been disciplined, she has to look me in the eye and say "Mama, Sorry. I disobeyed. Please forgive me." Usually it sounds something like this. "Mama...warry...bay..." Unfortunately, it seems like Clara Anne has so many opportunities to practice this that she is getting pretty good at this routine. But the other night when another opportunity presented itself, we tried to see if Clara Anne could remember everything that she should say, all by herself. John was holding her as she tearfully said, "Daddy...warry...bay...(long pause)...xiexie." That's pretty good, Clara Anne. I guess she was assuming that we were going to forgive her and just decided to thank us instead.

Speaking of making apologies, we were at a friend's house the other day and Clara Anne had been put down for a nap. She had napped at their house before on a big person's bed and all had gone well. At home she still sleeps in a crib so occasionally she wakes up and plays quietly before we come to get her out. However, this time when Clara Anne was finished sleeping she very quietly found a pen on the bedside table and began to draw on some paper she found nearby, and then her hand, her face, her arm, her leg, and then she got more enthusiastic and scribbled on the sheets. At this point our friend heard her, went in to investigate and saw the evidence of Clara's misdeeds. Oh dear! Needless to say, Clara Anne was disciplined for this, and then we took her to our friend to apologize. Clara was very tearful and most of her words were mangled, but she said what she needed to and received forgiveness.

The most surpising part of that incident to me was my response--I cried! This was the first time that Clara Anne had sinned so directly against someone else (other than us as her parents); it tore at my heart to know that she was guilty and to hear her have to apologize. But it was good for her soul to do so. I hope that was a lesson not just in language learning, but also in learning to be a big girl who is more responsible and trustworthy in the future. Thankfully, there is grace! We'll give you another chance, Clara Anne!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Two of a Kind

We had a little photo session at our house this morning, prompted by the CUTE clothes sent to us from friends in Louisville. Here's a few pictures for your enjoyment!

Clara Anne and Chloe, September 19, 2006

"Mama, help please!"

"Yay, sister!"

Where Do Babies Come From, Anyway?

One great aspect of living in this particular Asian culture is that most service-oriented industries are very inexpensive because of the huge labor pool. There are so many people that want jobs that they will work for very little money. So getting your hair cut at one of the nicer places in our city will set you back a whopping $2. Or at my local ladies' salon, a foot massage and facial costs about $2.50. As you might suspect, it didn't take me long to take advantage of this situation and so I have become a faithful customer at the salon. I have a membership card, so I go every Monday afternoon to practice my language, build relationships with the ladies who work there, and enjoy a relaxing 2 hours away from home. It's a really great opportunity for me; I have probably learned more language in that context than with my tutor, just because the women there speak very colloquially, at their normal speed (fast!), and about topics that are of interest to women--cooking, children, school, other home-related stuff.

So yesterday I was lying on the massage table with one lady ("Dee") at my head, giving me a facial, and another one ("Joan") at my feet, giving me a foot massage. (Yes, I know, it sounds very decadent . . . just in case you thought we were really suffering over here!) I had brought some recent pictures with me, including some of Chloe when she was first born. Dee and Joan had already seen the pictures and we had chatted about them, and then the manager lady stopped by my table, saw the pictures and asked to look through them. As she did, she came to one where newly-born Chloe was getting her first bath at the hospital. She started to ask some questions, speaking very quickly. I couldn't catch all of it, but as she was asking Dee and Joan were responding just as quickly, with somewhat raised, excited voices. The puzzled look on the manager's face was replaced with a look of amazement, and she was gesturing and then pulling up her shirt a bit to examine her own belly button. I started to get the idea that . . . no, it couldn't be!

After the manager returned to work in another part of the building, Dee, laughing hard but quietly, explained to me that my suspicions were correct--this 34-year old manager woman thought that babies were born out the mother's belly button! She honestly had no idea! When my two ladies corrected her, albeit with some slight ridicule, she was truly flabbergasted. At one point Dee had said to her, "But a baby's head is this big!" (gesturing with her fingers) How could that come through the belly button? Plus, men also have belly buttons!" The manager said she had always thought this was how it worked . . . and I guess no one corrected her. Students study this topic in high school but apparently, as Dee said, she skipped that class! Either that or the teacher skipped that chapter, which sometimes happens in this culture where no one wants to be embarrassed.

We all had a good chuckle about it and it certainly made for some interesting conversation! It's amazing the things you can learn when ladies are sitting around talking!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Mama in Training

There have been lots of changes around our house in the last three months since Chloe was born. We have all had to get used to having a new baby in the house, but Clara Anne has especially had to adjust to being the "big sister" rather than the baby. Thankfully she has done quite well with this adjustment, and takes her role as big sister very seriously. She loves to help me change Chloe's diaper (she is the official powderer and trash lady--she puts the dirty diaper in the trash can) and usually wants to "help" Chloe by stuffing Chloe's pacifier in her mouth. We have encouraged Clara Anne to kiss Chloe, and hug her from time to time, but alas for Clara Anne, Chloe has turned out to be kind of a boring sister so far. She sleeps, she eats, she lies on her back and plays, and then does all those things again. So since Chloe is "my" baby, happily for Clara Anne, she has Doll.

Doll was my doll when I was a little girl, a gift from my Aunt Judy. She is a Holly Hobbie doll named Amy, and I loved her as a little girl, and my mom saved her all these years and sent her to Clara Anne last Christmas. When Doll first arrived, Clara Anne didn't show much interest in her so I thought perhaps Doll would just join the ranks of her stuffed animal menagerie, to be played with occasionally and then put back on the shelf. I was wrong. Doll has become Clara Anne's baby, the one toy that Clara Anne cannot live without. She started taking Doll with her everywhere around May or so, and then started wanting to cuddle Doll even at night. So Doll is actually quite well-traveled; she has been dragged around through several Asian countries and is looking a little worse for wear, sorry to say.

Now Doll absorbs Clara Anne's full mothering attention. She tries to feed Doll, tries to put Chloe's pacifier in Doll's mouth, wants to put lotion on Doll's face (see my previous post), makes Doll's hand wave bye-bye when we are leaving somewhere, and often Clara Anne pretends to change Doll's diaper.

But today Doll had her most exciting adventure yet. I was sitting nursing Chloe and Clara Anne was playing with Doll around my feet. All of a sudden Clara Anne said, "Pee-pee, Doll, pee-pee Doll!" I said, "Does Doll need to pee-pee, Clara Anne? Quick, run to the potty!" Clara Anne trotted off to the bathroom and then quickly returned with a triumphant look on her face. "Pee-pee Doll" she said proudly. "Wow, did Doll pee-pee? Yay Doll! Let's give Doll some candy!" So then we pretended to give Doll some candy and Clara Anne, beaming with delight, accepted my imaginary candy and stuffed it in Doll's mouth.

That was easy. So now that we've got Doll potty-trained, maybe it's Clara Anne's turn next!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My Girly Girls

Being a mother of two girls is really fun. Of course, I haven't had the opportunity (yet) to be a mother of boys so maybe I can't compare. But lately it has been really fun to see Clara Anne and Chloe grow and develop, and show their definite girl-ness as they do so.

Are you wondering how my girls show their girlyness? Well, take Clara Anne for example. This child loves shoes. It's funny, because I have never gone wild over shoes, but Clara Anne is really fascinated by them. She loves to play with her own shoes, try on other people's shoes, and even has attempted to put her shoes in her mouth on occasion! This has been going on for quite some time. The photo on the left was taken in February of this year, and the evidence is clear: just like any girl, she loves shoes. (In this case, Mommy's shoes.) Happily for her, in this Asian culture we remove our shoes when we are inside, so if guests come over and leave their shoes by the front door, Clara Anne has fun exploring other people's shoes!

She also loves to have her clothes changed and to try on outfits. We have an abundance of clothes for her, thanks to the generosity of friends in the States, and occasionally when sorting them to see which ones fit, we help her try on numerous outfits in a row. To Clara Anne, this is a really fun way to spend an afternoon! She has also attempted numerous times to get into her dresser drawers by herself and put on more clothes over the clothes that she is wearing that day, though now Mommy has restricted the playing in dresser drawers activity. Too bad.

But the most fun way lately that we've seen Clara Anne act like a girly girl is in the use of lotion. Here is where her mama has led her astray--I love lotion. Bath and Body Works is my favorite; I love their yummy scents and enjoy using it everyday. I also love to put baby lotion on my girls so they can smell all yummy. We live in a very dry city, particularly in the fall, winter and spring, and so lotion is really and truly an essential! Lately Clara Anne has picked up on my love for lotion and continually wants to play with the lotion bottles, asks to have it put on her tummy and especially her face, and wants to help me put it on Chloe. But then the other night, as Clara Anne was being changed by Daddy for bed, she was playing with the lotion bottle, managed to get it open, and then managed to squirt it all over her face. "Eye, Eye!" she said as John wiped it out of her eyes and rubbed it onto her skin. Oops. Now the lotion has joined the ever-growing list of things that are not ok to play with. Sorry, Clara Anne!

What about Chloe? Well, she's still working on all her girly characteristics, but the most evident one right now is that she sometimes gets "emotional" and cries for no reason. :) It's ok Chloe, sometimes girls are that way--and you might grow out of it. But if not, in the meantime mama will cuddle you until you feel better.

Further proof that I have a pair of girly girls is this picture in their girly dresses, taken when Chloe was 6 weeks old and Clara Anne is 19.5 months.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ahh, the Joys of Cooking

Many of you already know that I love to cook. It is a fun thing for me to try new recipes, make things from scratch, and then of course I love to eat what I've cooked! (The clean-up is another story. :)) So much do I love to cook that in my spare time you could often find me reading cookbooks, just for fun, to get ideas for new things to make. Now, there are cookbooks and then there are cookbooks. Some cookbooks are lovely to look at, with full color photos and detailed instructions, but are totally impractical because they require ingredients that no one has ever heard of, or that would cost an arm and a leg to purchase. Other cookbooks are more plain, no pictures or frills, just giving you the essential information. The Joy of Cooking is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. If you never knew anything about how to cook, you could learn just by using this book. It describes in detail both the products to buy and the process of preparing everything from a roasted turkey to an apple pandowdy. Another cookbook ranking high on the list was a wedding gift from my mom and dad--the Hull Christian School Cookbook. This is a no-nonsense cookbook, filled with home cooking style recipes that we grew up on. If you don't know how to make hotdish, this cookbook is the answer. A third favorite cookbook in my collection was my birthday gift from John this year--a beautiful Thai cookbook with many delicious and do-able recipes inside. So we have been enjoying some Thai favorites like Thai fried rice, mango sticky rice, cashew chicken, and red chicken curry.

But, recently I was loaned a copy of what may be the definitive Baking cookbook of all time--Williams Sonoma's Baking. After my first glance through this cookbook I was fairly drooling. Muffins, cakes, cookies, pizzas, homemade breads, you name it, they had it. Now some of you may remember that baked goods are a little difficult to come by here in this Asian country. Most food is stir fried, boiled or steamed--no one uses an oven because their cuisine does not require it and therefore no one knows how! So in the 2+ years that we have lived here, I have enjoyed doing some baking (Cinnamon Rolls on Saturdays!) but have been a little limited by the size of my oven. For those of you who have never seen my oven, I will post a picture here for your perusal. This was last Thanksgiving. Where is the oven, you say? On top of the microwave, of course! And the sweet potatoes were in the pans, the green beans steaming in the rice cooker, the stuffing in the crock pot . . . you get the idea.

The moral of the story is that my little oven has never seen so many tasty things pass through it; lately we've had Apple Crumble, some tasty carrot-raisin muffins, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and last night's edition was a lovely version of cranberry orange muffins. The family has been enjoying my forays into the world of Williams Sonoma Baking. In the words of Clara Anne, "More, please!" Are you hungry yet?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Welcome Everyone!

Inspired by my friend Rachel, I decided that a blog was the perfect way for friends and family to keep up with our family, since we live far, far away from many of you who are dear to us. I'll post pictures of Clara Anne and Chloe, tell stories of daily life events, and hopefully give you all a better idea of what life is like "over here."

Today is a beautiful day. The skies are clear blue with some high, white clouds; the air smells clean and fresh, and the sun is shining brightly though the temperature is cool. Fall is a lovely time here in our city. We can actually have our windows open (not possible other times of the year because of pollution from coal dust) and enjoy the fall breezes. Right now Clara Anne is excitedly chanting "outside, outside" because John is planning to take her along on his bike to run an errand. Fun times in the fall weather!

Well, just to keep you interested, here are some recent pictures of Clara Anne and Chloe. Enjoy!